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

agiletiger

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"But many of us are also missing something essential about audio recording for people without dog's ears: human ears don't want “clean” sound. Rather, we’re drawn to harmonic distortion. People don't really want realism or even accuracy; we prefer "larger-than-life." That's what Van Gelder gave the world, to the best of his ability and equipment: the biggest, hottest sound he could form. Like his pioneering home studio setup, that passion for “larger-than-life” sounds among both listeners and music-makers is truly the state-of-the-art today."
This! People like his recordings along the lines of people who prefer vinyl. They are a euphonic equivalent of that music, not an accurate representation of the performance/sessions. It’s a different experience. If we are going to stay true to the spirit of this forum, we need to recognize these distinctions and understand them for what they are. I am willing to admit that despite all the manipulation that RVG has done, I love the sound. I love it even better on vinyl! With the several layers of distortion on top!
 

2020

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"But many of us are also missing something essential about audio recording for people without dog's ears: human ears don't want “clean” sound. Rather, we’re drawn to harmonic distortion. People don't really want realism or even accuracy; we prefer "larger-than-life." That's what Van Gelder gave the world, to the best of his ability and equipment: the biggest, hottest sound he could form. Like his pioneering home studio setup, that passion for “larger-than-life” sounds among both listeners and music-makers is truly the state-of-the-art today."

Speaking from an acoustic standpoint, I think people want realism and a "true to life" accuracy, but they are using a different definition of what that entails. And it starts with the elephant in the room: the room!

Regular listeners are not hearing instruments played in anechoic chamber, let alone tons of content in this environment to get used to this sound profile. And by regular people, I mean the average person, not an audiophile, ie somebody who listens to their kids play instrument at a school or at home, local events, or has their own instrument, etc.

I also heard somebody say this a while ago and it's a real good technical point: rooms are fundamentally minimum phase with no ability for delay, therefore we're looking at no delay minimum phase fast roll off (non apodizing - yes it looks similar at first but apodizing is an inherently created digital technique, not something in nature). Without getting into a whole debate of whether or not different DAC filters can or can't be perceived in real life, I'll just leave you with my takeway after hours or research I did in the past: they offer subtle tone and EQ shaping options that intentionally active listers or those with good hearing (golden ears/young/gifted) may pick up on, and several direct manufacturers like AKM and ESS espouse this view as well. Now with that in mind, what do they say about minimum phase fast? It's been called distinctly "analogue", think and think about what analogue means from like a synth perspective - not-perfect, fatter, euphonic. As a fast roll off, it is one of the cleanest bandwidth wise, no high frequency drop like you'd see in slow filters, this also means no aliasing artifacts or ultrasonic being let through the filter. As a minimum phase, preserved transients but a ton of gibbs effect (aka "ringing"/ripple). Additionally, since it's not linear phase, you get a non-symmetrical impulse response (booo). Manufacturers say this filter increases bass power and overall width/ambience, while also increasing distortion. My phone has this option and I agree with these things.

What is this all trying to say? It's building up the concepts of what "clean" or "real" means to the average person. For the tech people or audiophile nerds, clean means something else... it means accuracy through technical basis, like frequency response, impulse response, phase shift, signal to noise ratio, radition patterns, recording at a high sample rate, oversampling, calibrated mics, etc. Now you can see where the two conflict - clean from an audiophile standpoint is nowhere near what a regular person thinks clean is. To get a clean sound for a regular person, you need to try to emulate the circumstances that made instruments sound "real" in the first place to them - put some room back, minimum phase, etc.

This! People like his recordings along the lines of people who prefer vinyl.
Good thing iZotope has a free vinyl plugin. Add it to your DSP chain!
 
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Suffolkhifinut

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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.
Been listening to Blues Bar on internet radio MP3 and it sounds more authentic then any of my SACD / CD / Vinyl recordings. Many years of going to Rock & Blues clubs when I was younger and this is the first time it sounds real on my HiFi. Classical music concert halls are acoustically as neutral as possible. Rock / Blues clubs no one gives a toss you’re there for the music and the vibe.
 

Peterinvan

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I have heard live music that sounds terrible. Musicians playing at their individual max volume, drum kits overwhelming, saxes whaling.

I now have much respect for recording engineers that tame all that and give us a nice illusion of a band or orchestra on stage.
 

Jim Shaw

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I have heard live music that sounds terrible. Musicians playing at their individual max volume, drum kits overwhelming, saxes whaling.

I now have much respect for recording engineers that tame all that and give us a nice illusion of a band or orchestra on stage.
As much as I detest most record producers personally, I have to give credit to those very few who can listen to audition tapes and decide which one-tenth of one percent are even worth bringing into a studio to see if they can possibly make a crowd-pleaser. Recording mixers can help somewhat, but the soloist or group just has to have some talent. Usually, a great deal of talent. Not necessarily a degree from Julliard or Curtis, but native ability and training. Take a look back at artists that have sold lots of records: most really do have some talent that the mobs like.

Figuratively, no matter how many mics you put on one drum kit, it still takes a great drummer. A bad singer will sound just as bad singing into a U87 as an SM58. Marshall's best amp can't save a crappy guitarist. And Steinway & Sons can't save a lousy piano player.

Oh, and a pair of Wilsons fed by McIntosh's best can't make a crappy record sound anything but louder crap.

There's another side to this coin. Except for classical, jazz, and solo instrumental music, record producers have no motive for recording reality. None, zero, zilch. Their jobs are to embellish the musical performance in a way that gets air time and is appetizing to an audience with enough money to pay for the record, CD, stream, etc. It is not only not real, but take away all the mixer's tricks and the records will probably not even sell to the band's family.

When it comes to jazz, symphonic, solo instrumental, and chamber music, forming an honest image is job one. What happens then is we can hear any crummy musicians for exactly what they. The string section may be precise or ragged. The pianist uneven, or the violinist unable to keep up. A conductor may be in a rush. The hall may add nasty reflections or modes. The jazz drummer might be a last-minute substitute, and still figuring it out. Reality can be brutal. It's why there are so many recordings of some musical pieces.

(Not) just one mn's view.
 

Sal1950

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Man there's a tough crowd here. :facepalm:
 

TimF

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In the background in almost all Star Trek episodes, and in many Star Wars episodes, and other movies about outer space travel there is often if not constantly a drone of brown or pink or white noise to represent god knows what---the sound of air movement or the hum of engines, and on top of that is the dialogue and music. Is that drone in the background music? Does is serve a function we could consider related to music?
 

Axo1989

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In the background in almost all Star Trek episodes, and in many Star Wars episodes, and other movies about outer space travel there is often if not constantly a drone of brown or pink or white noise to represent god knows what---the sound of air movement or the hum of engines, and on top of that is the dialogue and music. Is that drone in the background music? Does is serve a function we could consider related to music?

Much video entertainment content has suitable ambience track/s. I assume the sci-fi ones are the spaceship's mechanisms, for example. If there was silence, it would sound like a soap opera—which is ok for Star Wars fans, but not for Trekkies. But a procedural will have an office background with people's movements and murmurs. Sometimes the spatial characteristics of these tracks are quite convincing.
 
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