top of page

The Black Background Fallacy

"The inky black background that audiophiles strive to achieve is not a naturally occurring thing""

In life, the nature of silence is a big deal. It's a big deal because one of the experiences crucial to the way humans go about their lives in perspective. And noise, relative to where we expect silence, helps us with that perspective. City dwellers long for what they perceive as silence. People living in remote areas cherish it. Yet, in both cases, silence does not exist. When a city dweller travels to an area where all the background noises they become accustomed to in the city are no longer present, there is a missing constancy to life, which can be troubling. As with someone who lives in a remote area of the world traveling to a city, all of the very minute sounds that make up their daily lives are drowned out or don't even exist in the city. Their constancy of relative silence has been interrupted. But make no mistake; noise is integral to how these people experience the world. 

A consistent theme of this website focuses on eliminating noise in an audio system, and I am clear that it is my single most important job. However, it is essential to understand that true silence does not exist in a recording made with a microphone or pick-up. If you have ever had the opportunity to listen with headphones to a live microphone feed coming from an empty room, you would be astonished at what you hear. The space is alive with energy, yet nothing appears to be happening there. You hear the nature of an active air volume in an enclosed space. The space breathes and reverberates on its own because air has a lot of mass, and we experience that movement when it moves. Unless the space exists in a vacuum, the air will move.


This is, of course, fundamental as to why we can hear things. Recording studios go to great lengths to make their recording space very quiet. If they didn't, the amount of noise generated by the moving air mass would be disruptive to the microphone diaphragm, almost swamping out what they are trying to record. So they do what they can to capture or cancel large amounts of air movement. But still, the microphone WILL record some portion of the acoustic space, whatever that space is. In the vast majority of the music you listen to, whether it is from an LP, CD, File, or Internet Stream, there is noise behind the music that helps to put perspective to that music. A sense of place, if you will.


If you watch the documentary Sound City, people associated with the studio in some way refer to the sound of a drum kit in that studio where the sweet spot was to set up the kit and unusually desirable impact on how the drums related to the recorded music. From all accounts, the room should have worked differently than it did with the drums. It sounded the way it did, not because the room was so perfectly controlled that you heard the drums and only the drums, but because of how the air mass moved and created the sound to lend perspective to the drum kit. 


bottom of page