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Have you noticed the sound quality in popular recordings getting worse?

Blake Klondike

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#1
This isn't true of artists on established labels, of course-- their records can generally sound as good as they want them to sound.

But, recording equipment/computing power has gotten cheap enough that that anyone can technically produce an album on her phone. As a guitar teacher and songwriter, I have to hear a lot of music that was obviously recorded by musicians in home project studios. A large percentage of the "indie" recordings the kids bring in-- tunes with 2.5 million hits on youtube, etc.-- have atrocious sound quality (solo guitar with way too much boom in the low end/poor vocal edits that cut off in the middle of breaths, etc.,-- recording errors too numerous to name.)

It isn't an obstacle to the kids' ability to enjoy the songs, but the sound is objectively terrible. This seems like an entire ecosystem that is dependent on the fact that 99% listen through their phone or laptop speakers. I don't play the stuff at home, but I can only imagine how bad it would sound on even an adequate system.

Even though it was done with one mic, we can listen to "Freewheelin'"-- even in mono-- and tell whether Dylan was playing a Martin or a Gibson, and how close his pick was to the sound hole, etc. The RVG small group jazz records were recorded in his house, but we can hear how far back and to the left Paul Chambers was standing in relation to the horn. On these new tracks, the entire world of sound quality is lost, along with whole dimensions of musical depth. For me it is a total deal-breaker.

Have you folks run into this in your travels checking out new music?
 

solderdude

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#3
Pop music is mastered to be listened to on phones and BT speakers as that's where the money is.
There are plenty of labels though that cater for another audience which is high quality, usually not pop music.
Youtube sound quality can be poor... doesn't have to be, but can be.
 

restorer-john

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#4
Have you folks run into this in your travels checking out new music?
Yep. I've tried to listen to some supposedly 'awesome artists' on recommendations of others (you'll love it John!) and couldn't believe the recordings could have ever left the 'studio'*. My HiFi equipment gave me the evil eye and made it quite clear it wasn't created to reproduce such putrid waveforms.

*studio: probably a closet with a blanket hanging up, in a 1 room studio apartment over a busy road, recorded with a Barbie Sing-a-Long Mic and Karaoke MP3 recorder.
 

Blake Klondike

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#5
Here are a couple examples. Not as egregious as many but the first that come to mind. Of course they are good enough to get the song across, but contrast it with the Stephen Bishop and the Leo Kottke, both recorded live, with all the attendant recording difficulties. Will post others as I run across them if they would be of interest.

https://soundcloud.com/user-710860162%2Fbillie-eilish-i-wish-you-were-gay

 

Blake Klondike

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#6
Yep. I've tried to listen to some supposedly 'awesome artists' on recommendations of others (you'll love it John!) and couldn't believe the recordings could have ever left the 'studio'*. My HiFi equipment gave me the evil eye and made it quite clear it wasn't created to reproduce such putrid waveforms.

*studio: probably a closet with a blanket hanging up, in a 1 room studio apartment over a busy road, recorded with a Barbie Sing-a-Long Mic and Karaoke MP3 recorder.
I would be interested in hearing the stuff that folks are recommending-- any links you can share?
 

Blake Klondike

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#7
Of course, I don't begrudge the artists making their records the best way they can-- studio time is expensive and DIY is the only option for most. And if it gets music in front of people who love it, that is the main thing. It's what this whole hobby is all about, right? But poor sound-quality is the result of side-stepping all the brilliant recording professionals the industry used to support. If you don't hire professionals, you get amateur work. And it necessarily limits the experience, for me at least.
 

restorer-john

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#8
I would be interested in hearing the stuff that folks are recommending-- any links you can share?
Trouble is, I listen and forget about it if I thought it was crap. I'll ask one of my mates who's 'into' current music and see what he suggests...
 

GrimSurfer

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#10
Modern recordings of contemporary music usually consist of compressed garbage. The same thing applies to most remasters.

I can't figure out if this is due to crazy Phil Spector's wall of sound nonsense, mastering engineers who don't know what they're doing, mastering for ear bud listening on public transportation, or the recording industry attempting to pollute mainstream digital music in order to increase sales of hi-res.

I now buy used, original recordings in CD format, referring to the DR Database when in doubt. My listening tastes (70s-80s rock, prog rock, new wave) allow me to get away with this. Younger people with more contemporary tastes are out of luck though.
 

GrimSurfer

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#11
Of course, I don't begrudge the artists making their records the best way they can-- studio time is expensive and DIY is the only option for most. And if it gets music in front of people who love it, that is the main thing. It's what this whole hobby is all about, right? But poor sound-quality is the result of side-stepping all the brilliant recording professionals the industry used to support. If you don't hire professionals, you get amateur work. And it necessarily limits the experience, for me at least.
It's short sighted nonsense. Artists and labels that record cheaply make good money, but only once.

I stopped listening to The Beatles decades ago. Their library is $hit because of poor recordings... and that includes most of what they did at Abbey Road studios. Reissues are useless because of the poor quality of master tapes.
 

Daverz

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#12
Most of my exposure to "contemporary" pop/rock is from listening to the Radio Paradise FLAC stream. Sounds great to me, but my musical diet is about 99% classical.

I also can't imagine not enjoying the Beatles because the recordings were not pristine. They are very good for the 60s.
 

GrimSurfer

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#13
I don't need pristine but muffled mono isn't worth listening to... especially when the means existed within studios for recording at a level that would stand up well today.

A good example is Uriah Heap's album Demons and Wizards (1972, IIRC). The early versions are moderately compressed but capture a very broad frequency range and feature good stereo separation. The album was obviously recorded in analog and mastered for vinyl, yet the mastering tapes were of sufficiently high quality to support a re-equalized lay down in CD format that stands up well today.

A great deal of the Beatles stuff has the sonic qualities of a wet fish being beaten on a limp drum skin. It's a terrible shame because the music itself, while dated, demonstrates considerable talent. So while the recording engineers employed some ground breaking techniques, they failed in the critical task of capturing the full fidelity of the band's instruments and vocals. Heck, Abbey Road was still using recording machines based on German WWII technology.

I'm very envious of classical music listeners because of the recording quality. I suppose it makes sense to hire very good recording and mastering engineers when assembling a very large number of musicians to perform in an expensive (and often, reasonably good acoustic) environment. Four blokes from Liverpool, however, don't get much when starting out in the business or if their tracks sell despite being of marginal recording quality.

The music business is an interesting one. The music is often quite good. The business, not so much...
 
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#15
I think the "I Wish You Were Gay" example you posted is a cover. Probably recorded in a bedroom. This is the original. Not my cup of tea, but much better production.

 

pozz

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#16
I think they've been getting better in an environment where they are sure to be bad. Producers and engineers are becoming more comfortable and better understand the limitations of hypercompressed audio.

Outside of popular music, usual mixed bag of stuff.
 

GrimSurfer

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#17

Blumlein 88

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#18
Of course, I don't begrudge the artists making their records the best way they can-- studio time is expensive and DIY is the only option for most. And if it gets music in front of people who love it, that is the main thing. It's what this whole hobby is all about, right? But poor sound-quality is the result of side-stepping all the brilliant recording professionals the industry used to support. If you don't hire professionals, you get amateur work. And it necessarily limits the experience, for me at least.
Color me not so impressed with pros in recent years either. Here is the view of an Adele recent release. Sounds about like you'd expect too. A shame. Definitely pros.
1559949410631.png

Here is the same thing with the level reduced 2 db so you can see how flat the tops and bottoms are. I can do much, much better being a total amateur. And you know what, I bet being Adele it would have sold just as well only with improved sound quality. I don't think the general reaction would have been, 'this new Adele sucks, doesn't even make my ears ring, and I can hear her voice too much".

1559949583817.png
 

Blake Klondike

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#19
I think the "I Wish You Were Gay" example you posted is a cover. Probably recorded in a bedroom. This is the original. Not my cup of tea, but much better production.

Thanks for that-- The v. "I Wish You Were Gay" that I posted was her original recording, posted to Soundcloud. I imagine it was recorded to an iphone. Soundcloud used to be the home of recordings that sounded like they were recorded on a dictaphone in the lavatory of a moving train. She got signed based on the buzz she was getting from those lo-fi recordings, and re-recorded for her new record.
 

Blake Klondike

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#20
Color me not so impressed with pros in recent years either. Here is the view of an Adele recent release. Sounds about like you'd expect too. A shame. Definitely pros.
View attachment 27324
Here is the same thing with the level reduced 2 db so you can see how flat the tops and bottoms are. I can do much, much better being a total amateur. And you know what, I bet being Adele it would have sold just as well only with improved sound quality. I don't think the general reaction would have been, 'this new Adele sucks, doesn't even make my ears ring, and I can hear her voice too much".

View attachment 27325
That is very interesting to see-- you don't even have to listen to it to tell how compressed it is. To my mind, there is no reason to release an alto/acoustic piano artist with this treatment. Compare that with Norah Jones' first record (probably the template for this new generation of piano singers?) which was very well-recorded and performed. It seems clear that hyper-compression is a sonic choice now, just like autotuning, quantized rhythm section, etc. So this is an example of a producer taking a $250,000 acoustic piano and a good singer using a $10,000 mic and making it sound like 49 cents.
 

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