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Reality Is Overrated When It Comes to Recordings (Article from music Engineer/Producer)

MattHooper

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This article appeared a while back in an on-line audiophile review site. (The type I'd guess most people here wouldn't visit).

I thought it was quite insightful as a message from a recording engineer/mixer/producer to audiophiles wanting naturalistic recordings and realism.
It does cover aspects of discussions here and in most audiophile forums. But it was nice to see it sort of tied up in a bow in an article:

Reality Is Overrated When It Comes to Recordings:


My take: Assuming one agrees with the gist of the article, it does make sense of the approach of those audiophiles (typical of ASR members I think) where you just want to accurately reproduce the recording. All the production choices and effects in so much recorded music is what it is: artistic choices for the most part, and that's what one wants to hear, not some enforced "realism" per se. (But also, if a recording is meant to sound natural, it should come across that way in an accurate system).

Personally I generally agree: I consider all the production choices and artificiality to be part of the artistic content (which they obviously are). And, as cliche as it may be to say, so many of those "audiophile recordings" - minimalist micing, low compression yadda, yadda - often come across as pretty bland. I remember when a pal of mine who was a guitarist in a local artsy pop/folksy band became an audiophile and convinced the band and recording engineers to go for a more audiophile-approved "natural" minimally mic'd presentation. Well, yeah, it sounded a bit more "real" or natural in some aspects, but artistically it took a step back and just sort of "sat there" in that bland way of many audiophile recordings. To my ears it was a failure relative to their previously produced recordings.

(BTW, I'm on record here on being fascinated by live vs reproduced sound, and wanting to nudge my sound a bit more towards "natural/real" in some ways, but not in some fool's errand goal of everything sounding truly real, just enough flavour to taste, without losing the distinctive character of different recordings).

I'm curious about other people's thoughts on the article or subject.
 
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Ricardus

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Yeah. I don't get the "audiophile" grasp of music. The kind of people who follow he who shall not be named. They know next to nothing about the recording process, but think they know what it takes to make a "proper audiophile" recording.

Many things in rock and roll aren't real. They are the product of production techniques. Take rock and roll drums for example. No drum kit really sounds like that. But if you can use analog tape and crush the tracks with tape compression, and then mix them through a Farichild 670, then you get those huge sounds.

Now we can emulate that tape compression with outboard gear or plugins and get the same sounds.

I never once sat around and listened to those records and lamented how Rudy Van Gelder would have done it differently.

Nope. Not once.

I just cranked that shit up and banged my head.
 

LightninBoy

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My thoughts are that its a damn shame this has to be explained or is in any way controversial. Spend 10 minutes looking into how recordings are done and it should be blatantly obvious that "reproducing the physical event" from your home audio system is not a rational quest.

The rational goal for a playback system is to accurately reproduce the recording. And if the recording happens to strive for a natural presentation, then the system will reproduce it as such.
 

MattJ

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This reaffirmed my impression that a lot of audiophiles think that most (if not all) recordings should be done with as few microphones as possible and no equalization that could destroy the natural sound.

I think many audiophiles have little or no experience with recording. Listening and recording are two different things. The little bit of recording I have done has shown me that equalization, at a minimum, is almost always going to be necessary, at least in rock/pop stuff. IME, unequalized bass drums often come across as very lightweight, unless you are listening on an audiophile system - or at least one with a subwoofer. Compression I can generally do without, but I have seen instances where it was useful. So called "pure" sound isn't *always* the best, but the purer the better for me.

Unless the artist or entire musical ensemble is very comfortable with performing AND playing as mistake-free as possible, an “audiophile” recording can feel pretty bland. Nobody wants to risk blowing the take so they play it safe. That results in a very different feel than when a singer or instrumentalist totally goes for it, knowing they have a wide safety net.

Interesting view, although he seems to be splitting the performance from the recording. That is not a zero sum game for the artists in my experience. More for the producer.

But it’s more important to me that the system be able to satisfy my ear with a typical “fake” and somewhat hyped style of recording. Cause that’s the majority of what I like to listen to.

That is not everyone's opinion. :)
I really like a good clean recording. This is not to say it has to be a Blumlein every time, but good sound quality enhances the emotional content of a performance, it doesn't hurt it, unless, as he notes, the artists get cold feet about it. A good find, though!
 

Robin L

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This article appeared a while back in an on-line audiophile review site. (The type I'd guess most people here wouldn't visit).

I thought it was quite insightful as a message from a recording engineer/mixer/producer to audiophiles wanting naturalistic recordings and realism.
It does cover aspects of discussions here and in most audiophile forums. But it was nice to see it sort of tied up in a bow in an article:

Reality Is Overrated When It Comes to Recordings:


My take: Assuming one agrees with the gist of the article, it does make sense of the approach of those audiophiles (typical of ASR members I think) where you just want to accurately reproduce the recording. All the production choices and effects in so much recorded music is what it is: artistic choices for the most part, and that's what one wants to hear, not some enforced "realism" per se. (But also, if a recording is meant to sound natural, it should come across that way in an accurate system).

Personally I generally agree: I consider all the production choices and artificiality to be part of the artistic content (which they obviously are). And, as cliche as it may be to say, so many of those "audiophile recordings" - minimalist micing, low compression yadda, yadda - often come across as pretty bland. I remember when a pal of mine who was a guitarist in a local artsy pop/folksy band became an audiophile and convinced the band and recording engineers to go for a more audiophile-approved "natural" minimally mic'd presentation. Well, yeah, it sounded a bit more "real" or natural in some aspects, but artistically it took a step back and just sort of "sat there" in that bland way of many audiophile recordings. To my ears it was a failure relative to their previously produced recordings.

(BTW, I'm on record here on being fascinated by live vs reproduced sound, and wanting to nudge my sound a bit more towards "natural/real" in some ways, but not in some fool's errand goal of everything sounding truly real, just enough flavour to taste, without losing the distinctive character of different recordings).

I'm curious about other people's thoughts on the article or subject.
You know that emoji---the huggy heart one? Yeah, had I the option, I'd use that.

Every word he says is true. If you're the tech you want a clear open window to what you're about post-produce. At home, it ought to be your own business. You want an extra +15 db @ 50hz "just because"? I'm sure you're not alone, 'cause I often do. If you want to hear uncompressed acoustic music with a bare minimum of production, I'm sure you'll be able to find it. But if that's what you really, truly want, pick up a guitar and take some time and learn how to play. And when your hair's combed right and your pants fit tight, it's gonna be all right


Just don't bitch when the most popular artists make production choices you dislike---the production decisions they made are part of why they are so popular.
 

Cote Dazur

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As an audiophile, all I want from my gear is emotion. Music is the language of emotion, music well reproduce will help communicate the emotion that the artist intended for us to feel, everything else is noise.
The purpose of the recording is for us to feel what the artist, and the recording crew have to share.
If it is within an intimate setting with acoustic instrument or a large scale orchestra, my room and my gear in my bigger/better setup convey the message better, easier to follow and apprehend.
 

Jim Taylor

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As an audiophile, all I want from my gear is emotion. Music is the language of emotion, music well reproduce will help communicate the emotion that the artist intended for us to feel, everything else is noise.
The purpose of the recording is for us to feel what the artist, and the recording crew have to share.

I wonder how many times that a recording has been modified by "higher-ups" who think they have a better idea of what the public likes than the artists themselves? Kinda like Phil Spector with The Beatles' "Let It Be" album. Jim
 

Robin L

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I wonder how many times that a recording has been modified by "higher-ups" who think they have a better idea of what the public likes than the artists themselves? Kinda like Phil Spector with The Beatles' "Let It Be" album. Jim
You'll have to talk to their managers.

Here's the thing---Macca and Ringo signed off on the 2021 "Ultimate, no, really, this is gonna be Absolutely The Very Last Time We'll Reissue This Hot Mess, Super Deluxe edition of "Let it Rot Be", and when they did, they opted mostly for the Phil Spector versions tricked up a little by Giles.

So I guess in the end money doesn't talk, it screams.
 
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JSmith

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Quite often the live performance is nothing like the final mixed studio recording... which is why many commercial "live" concerts use backing tracks and partial or full lip syncing. Sometimes people feel the proper live concert doesn't sound right compared to the album they're used to listening to.


JSmith
 

Blumlein 88

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At least some kinds of music I do think are at the very best recorded minimally. You need a really good playback system and quiet listening area to fully enjoy that however. You aren't going to get much from such recordings listened to in a moving car even a quiet car.

Once you employ a little compression and other processing it is something like when you turn the music up from exuberance. Even if you over did the volume increase turning it down makes it sound less good for quite some time. It also makes the music enjoyable in more environments than a good quiet listening room with a high quality playback system.
 

clearnfc

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Nice!!

Regarding recording vs live, I have to say recording is actually much better than live. Some folks have mentioned that live sound is the defacto reference, but i disagree..

Live sound is affected by environment and listening position. In a live performance, where you sit in the concert hall does affect what you hear even though they are all live sound.

In a recording, the mic is usually placed right next to the instrument or the singer's mouth. This is akin to placing your ears at those position. Nobody listens at those positions in a live performance.

All the subtle details, such as sound from opening of lips, breathing, bow sliding on the strings and other subtle sounds cannot be heard in a live performance.
 
OP
MattHooper

MattHooper

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Just don't bitch when the most popular artists make production choices you dislike---the production decisions they made are part of why they are so popular.

I've been listening to a lot of a particular popular pop group and have found that, while playing much of it back on my "high end" 2 channel system reveals some really beautiful production and engineering, it's also just "sounds right" on all manner of lesser gear - smart speaker, desktop computer, car stereo. In fact there are actually some tracks I truly prefer listening on my iphone's speakers vs my big stereo system!

(BTW, I'm pretty darned amazed at how smart phone audio has progressed. The sound from my iphone 13 is surprisingly rich, all things considered, and I was actually taken aback the first time I watched a youtube video on it, and noticed immersive sound happening outside the boundaries of the phone! Those sneaky Dolby Labs people!)
 

IPunchCholla

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With most of the music I listen to, the idea of even trying to separate recording and performance becomes absurd. Even in the most naturalistic versions, elements of the performance are recorded (looped vocals, etc) and the recording itself is taken as an act of performance. Even “live” the instruments and vocals are heavily modded. Forget shoegaze. One guy will be kneeling on the stage/studio floor, playing the effect pedals by hand. Ideas of original/live and recording/reproduction are pretty arbitrary.

I have really been loving watching Radioheads, from the basement films.
 

MattJ

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clearnfc -
Regarding recording vs live, I have to say recording is actually much better than live.

It certainly can be! For anyone that has heard "The Great Deceiver" live box set King Crimson, I can damn well guarantee that the sound on those recordings is MILES (or KM) better than what any of the (likely stoned) folks in the audience heard in 1973/74. I'd walk under a ladder chasing a black cat to get that kind of clear live drum sound now!
 

chych7

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I find that the recording engineer or mix is part of the art form itself, and the presentation is incredibly important. IMO, the best presentation of a song cannot be achieved "live", and we should not limit ourselves to what can be achieved without mixing/computers. Otherwise we are constraining the musical art form if we do not let technology develop it further.

Every time I go to rock/pop concert, I am reminded that one does not go to a concert to listen to a particular song in its most optimum presentation (acoustically it's downright awful) - rather you go there for the theatrical performance, ambiance, and to listen to variations of particular songs. For pure music listening, the studio/mixed version played in my dedicated listening room is far superior. Orchestral concerts, on the other hand, do benefit from the live performance - where you can hear the instrument close up.... or not, because most concert halls amplify the music through PA speakers, so you don't actually get to hear just the instruments after all! The one time I listened to an orchestra in the Sydney opera house, it was a completely different experience. No PA speakers, just the instruments in a well-done acoustically engineered concert hall. That's how it should be.
 
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