Sound Recording(Sound Recording, CD, LP, Record Players, Turntables, Binaural)

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Sound Recording

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Audiophiles constantly seek ways to improve the experience of hearing reproduced music. Preamps are upgraded, digital processors are compared, turntables are tweaked, loudspeaker cables are auditioned, dealers are visited, and, yes, magazines are read- all in the quest to get just little closer to the music.

No matter what medium is employed, there can be no high- fidelity reproduction of music unless there is a corresponding high-fidelity recording of the music. This is axiomatic and immutable. The most elaborate and sophisticated audio component system cannot make a poor recording sound good; as we all know, the higher the quality of the play-back system, the more we will hear the sonic warts of a poor recording. The sonic quality of the best medium today, the digital recording still depends on the skills of the recording engineer, on the microphones he uses, and of the manner in which these mikes are employed after careful consideration of the acoustics.

When we buy records or CDs they are often very bright, metallic, lacking depth, devoid of inner detail, and generally unmusical, the audiophile's first reaction is to question the recording engineer's skill or commitment to sound quality.

Why the recordings vary tremendously in sonic quality?

Let see what some recordists say about their art.( I'll allow myself some remarks in bold italic).

...."Although achieving a "good" sound is on the engineering mind, the recording session is not the optimum environment for discerning differences and spend time (read "money") on what are considered matters of secondary importance. Recording engineers in a session don't have the luxury of sitting in a chairs with nothing to think about other, than the sound they are hearing. Further the differences between cables, mike preamps, and other electronics are often more subtle than and of a different nature from the large differences introduced by changing or moving microphones. The first-order effects of tonal-balance differences between microphones tend to overshadow the second-order effects of cables and electronics. Finally, it is not the engineer‘s prerogative to stop the session to experiment with tweaky techniques or components"....

...."It's very easy for audiophiles to forget that, in the vast majority of recording sessions, those involved are there to manufacture a product for mass consumption, not preserve the qualities audiophiles find important..A recording success is judged by the number of records it sells, not by how much space is captured, or how realistically instrumental timbres are portrayed"....

....Because most of the listening public hears the engineer's work on car stereos there isn't the motivation to capture the signal as an audiophile would expect it to be preserved. Engineers assume that no one will appreciate the difference. After all, why bother? The unpleasant truth is that most music is recorded for teenagers with boombox, not for the audiophile with tube-driven electrostatics"....

Another factor widens the gulf between audiophiles and recording engineer: the recording community's general ignorance of high-end audio. Very few engineers, producers, or artists listen to their music through system audiophiles would call high-end. Instead, they have scaled-down versions of studio playback systems that play very loudly, have low distortions at high levels, and are reliable. These systems also tend to be extremely colored, lack sound staging ability, and have a very hard treble. Many of the recording community just don't know what a high-end system can do because they've never heard their music (or rather any well recorded music) through one.

(These comments were from a workshop held at the 89 AES convention in Los Angeles.)

Similarly, (some engineers have learned one way of recording and see no need to change. Many techniques that could be used in modern multitrack sessions are purist in approach yet wouldn't compromise the goal of making of commercial product.

There is a good example of this in a recording magazine article that interviewed top engineers for their tips on recording brass instruments and horn section. An engineer described an accident that changed the way he thought about recording:

.... "I was miking a horn section with my usual method: a mike at each instrument's bell, horns positioned left to right in stereo image with the console's pan pots, and artificial reverb added to each instrument. This approach gives me total control over the balance between instruments, spatial position, and even allows the sound of a particular instrument within the horn section to be tailored with equalization. I also put up a coincident stereo pair away from the horn section to pick up some "room sound" that would be mixed in well below the direct sound.
One day-quite by accident-I pressed the "solo" buttons on the console, cutting out all sound from the monitors except for the signal from the coincident stereo "room sound" mikes. I was shocked to hear that they did a much better job by capturing the sound than the multi-miked, panpoted, equalized and artificially reverbed technique. If I hadn't accidentally "soloed" the coincident pair that day, I could have spent my entire career not knowing that there was another way to record a horn section"....

But look at what happens when the gulf between the values of audiophiles and recording engineers is bridged. Engineers like Keith Johnson of Reference Recordings, Bob Katz of Chesky, the engineers from "London" label, Jack Renner from TELARC, Tony Faulkner from "Green Room Production" Middlesex, England or Marc Aubort, bring an audiophile sensitivity to recording, elevating it from technique to art. They capture the music in a way that can only be described as magical. Their work and the work of few other likeminded engineers, dramatically illustrates the width of the value gulf separating sensitive listeners and most recording engineers. More important, their recordings reveal how much better the music can be preserved when this gulf is bridged.
This gulf needs bridging more often.

Here are some opinions about "Stereo":

Stereo Doesn't Exist! We all want "concert hall realism" in our living rooms. The music lover returning home from a concert hall performance and playing a recording of a concert hall performance and complaining of "not sounding the same" is right. It is not the same. It is not stereo. That's why. True stereo is totally unattainable, using a pair of Loudspeakers juggled into "proper position", propped up at the one end of the listening room with the listener seated at the other end. The sound from the two speakers mixed with the room reflections, each ear hearing both speakers (crosstalk) is not hearing "stereo". It is only a poor simulation. It should not be called "stereo". Maybe just "bi-channel". High Fidelity speakers in this case is an oxymoron. True concert hall sound means hearing with two ears, two channel signals mixed in the brain, not outside our heads, and scrambled on the way to our heads. Like an egg, it cannot be unscrambled. Super speakers, super amps, three channels, four channels, more channels, rear speakers, side speakers, equalized sound, delayed sound, surround sound, room acoustic treatment, new speakers every two or three years, etc., etc. are all exercises in futility.
Want to hear the closest to realistic sound reproduction? Tryheadphones. The complaint about headphones that "sound is inside the head", as when listening to mono through them , can be the result of poor separation within the system, such as crosstalk in the cartridge. One advantage of CD is perfect separation. Partly to blame is the microphone positioning. This is primarily done for playback using speakers, or a mix of microphones (scrambled sound again). Too great a distance between the mikes is not good. Your ears are not ten feet apart. Nevertheless, with any stereo source, the closest to concert hall realism is obtained only by the use of the headphones. "Inside The head" sound can be alleviated by playing the speakers at reduced volume while using the headphones. The speakers will be heard as ambient sound as a result of the slight delay of sound from them, which helps in moving the music out front. The so-called binaural recordings made with the kunstkopf (artificial head) are a further attempt toward realizing naturally reproduced sound, and make for exciting listening. Get a pair of good headphones, put on a record of one of your favorites, dim the lights, sit back, and enjoy the absolute sound...."
-Whitney Vreeland
Portland, Oregon

"TO EQUALIZE OR NOT?" A SOUND PHILOSOPHY .

Felix

Most recording mixing consoles have EQ capabilities, and engineers regularly utilize outboard equalizers ( either analog or digital) for final mastering. It may come as a surprise to audio purists that the majority of their treasured recordings contain some degree of post production EQ. So why is it such a heinous crime to use high-quality EQ in domestic playback situations? Because most audiophiles believe that any manipulation of the frequency balance in the original source will seriously compromise the sonic and musical result. We all recognize that recordings vary tremendously in the sonic quality. But why? Well , of course, there are different halls and different performers. But there are also different microphones (with strong sonic coloration and frequency aberrations) and studio monitor systems that vary significantly in tonal balance. Some experts state that "one system might be up 8dB in the high frequencies where another is down 7 dB. If a recording is optimized for one system, it may not sound "right" on another. Since even a dB or two can make a big difference, such big disparities pose a formidable problem . The only logical answer is to give to home listeners a user-friendly and sonically transparent instrument with which to correct ( if possible at all) the tonal imbalance.

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