The BBC Proms have begun...and here's how to hear them in even higher quality

Alan DaveySat 15th July 2017

Radio 3's Controller introduces a new experiment in broadcasting lossless sound

The great thing about Radio 3 sound is we try to ensure that what is captured in the concert hall or recording studio is what makes its way to you, with as little sound editing as possible. To this end, the last few years have seen massive steps forward, including our introduction of HD 320kbps sound online a couple of years ago. This requires little sound editing, with music using a bandwidth of 192kbps on DAB. 

But but but ... the geek in me knows it’s still not what it could be. That’s why for the duration of the Proms, Radio 3 are trying something new with our Concert Sound. This will transmit the music to you pretty much as it leaves us. It’ll be the best sound we can stream to people, and will capture the concerts we record in the Royal Albert Hall, transmitting them to you with sound that will make you feel as though you are sitting in the auditorium. 

I was lucky enough to experience Concert Sound during a trial earlier this year – you get a sense of space, sense of the subtle detail and the air around instrument. Mahler 2, Gurrelieder, and quieter content such as birdsong came over to me with a sense of realism; it gave me a sense of being there and of the whole musical experience. As with all mixed sound, there will of course be a degree of subjectivity in how the sound is actually captured. I think of Glenn Gould’s technique of using microphones at different distances, for example, and using whichever recordings he felt captured the music most accurately. We at Radio 3 do try and get excellent and truthful sound from the way we position microphones and how we mix the sound that goes out, but even more clarity can be achieved now with Concert Sound. How it is transmitted is in one sense more objective –  in Concert Sound the brain has to do even less work than usual compensating for what is naturally lost through radio transmission and can spend more time purely on musical appreciation. 

So if you have a computer and can attach it to a decent Hi-Fi or pair of headphones, you can give Radio 3 Concert Sound a try this summer via the Radio 3 or Proms websites. You’ll have the opportunity to enjoy amazing detail and quality of sound, hear all the instruments of the orchestra and get a sense of the room in which it was recorded, with atmosphere and bloom around the notes that make for a great musical experience. 

And as if this test of lossless wasn't exciting enough, we will also be transmitting 20 concerts in Binaural sound. This is a way of hearing sound in 3D using a computer and ordinary headphones - no special equipment is needed. The first night concert is up - Adams's Harmonium sounds literally spacey and proves that music can take you through life, time and in to other worlds. In the past we have tried binaural via a post-concert remix but these concerts are special as they are being done live. Again, you can find out more on the BBC taster site, while the friendly and dedicated engineer behind this, Tom Parnell, writes about it here.

Give Radio 3 Concert Sound, and Binaural Sound, a try and experience great sound that reflects the art (and soul) of our wonderful sound engineers, as they bring you the best possible sound quality this Proms season. If you like it let us know! 

Listen here: Radio 3 Concert Sound

Alan Davey

Alan Davey is the Controller of BBC Radio 3

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