Does it bother you?


I'm a recording engineer who has worked in some of the world's top facilities. Let me walk you though an example signal path that you might find in a place like, say, Henson Studio A:

1. Microphone: Old. Probably a PCB inside. Copper wiring.
2. Mic cable: Constructed in house with $1/ft Canare Star Quad, solder, and a connector that might have been in the bottom of a box in the back.
3. Wall jack: Just a regular old Neutrik XLR connector on the wall.
4. Cable snake: Bundles of mic cables going to the control room.
5. Another XLR jack.
6. Another cheap mic cable.
7. Mic preamp: Old and lovely sounding. Audio going through 50 year old pots.
8. Patchbay: Another cheap copper cable is soldered into a patchbay where hundreds of connectors practically touch.
9. TT Cable: Goes from one patch to the next in the patch bay. Copper. No brand preference.
10. DB25 connector: Yes, the same connector you used to connect a modem to your computer in 1986. This is the heart and soul of studio audio transfer.
11. DB25 cable to the console: 25 strands of razor-thin copper wire, 8 channels of audio, sharing a ride.
12. The mixing console: PCB after PCB of tiny copper paths carry the audio through countless op amp chips.
13. DB25 cable to the recording device: time to travel through two more DB25 connectors as we make our way to the AD converters or tape machine.
14. AD conversion: More op amp chips.
15. Digital cable: nothing fancy, just whatever works. USB and Firewire cables are just stock.

...and this is just getting the audio into the recorder.

Also:

None of this equipment has vibration reducing rubber feet, it's just stacked haphazardly in racks. Touching.

No fancy power cables are used, just regular ol' IEC cables.

Acoustic treatment is done using scientific measurements.

Words like "soundstage" and "pace" are never uttered.

Does it bother you? Do you find it strange that the people who record the music that you listen to aren't interested in "tweaks," and expensive cables, and alarm clocks with a sticker on them? If we're not using any of this stuff to record the albums, then what are you hearing when you do use it?
trentpancakes
I notice some artists recordings are leaps better than others. Further some of them are just bad; although the music is good so I assume they are recording for ipod listening only.

Whether the artists who consistently record outstanding fidelity and who incidentally have publicly commented on the strides they go to to achieve great fidelity ever go to audiophile extremes you refer to or not, the result is profound.

I can see you came here to bait the audiophiles (or tease the monkeys as it were), but whatever is done by those who care about their sonics is noticed and appreciated. Now I expect more monkeys will begin to throw dung at you . . . .
You sound like a troll. Whats your name and what studios have you worked in? What albums have you engineered? Pardon my skepticism, but since you just joined today and this is your first post....
Trent: EXCELLENT thread, thanks for starting it! I have often wondered the same thing as I am an amateur hobbyist recording engineer in my home studio plus I spent time in a Montreal studio a few years ago learning recording, mixing, engineering, etc.
One of the paradoxes I've wondered about is, though it seems to be not so much an equipment limitation to get the music onto the media (witness Count Basie three-channel recordings from tube gear on Roulette from the late 50s) it does seem that the hardest part has ususally been achieving hi-fidelity playback representative of what was captured in the studio. That's not to say that some, well, ok, many, recordings weren't simply tracked poorly to begin with, based on poor decisions made by the recording engineer, or poor set ups to begin with. Believe me a little infomation can be dangerous; if I could go back and have my hand on the "handle" (you know the one that Charlie stole), I would gave recorded some of the finest and most classic of all recordings with a different set up and mixed them quite differently, but this is all Monday Morning QB'ing.
So becasue we're stuck with what we got, we try our best to undo as much of the damage as was done in the first place.
I'll take the bait. It would be great if the studios followed more audiophile-approved practices. But because they don't, or may not, doesn't negate the value of doing all you can to make the playback as good and true as possible. Otherwise you're compounding the problem. Or to put it another way, two wrongs don't make a right.
Does it bother me that the folks who record music do not care about sound quality? Yeah, I suppose it does a little bit, but I realize that this behavior is not abnormal.

I suspect that the folks who manufactured my automobile don't give a rat's ass about driving performance either. Many folks who squash grapes for a living are not wine connoisseurs. That's just the way of the world.
Because I am a fan of time and phase coherent speakers, I once asked Jim Thiel if he knew of any recording studios that used his speakers as monitors and he told me he knew of one that was locally based but of no others. From my experience in a large pro studio the monitoring systems alone seemed to be an afterthought and the choices were driven by so-called "industry standards," or, worse, were custom installations. Yikes, can you imagine the phase incoherence of some of these designs? No wonder we have speaker manufactures inverting the phase of the midrange drivers relative to the tweeter and woofer. Plus 4th order crossovers with high phase angles at the transition points. No wonder playback has continued to be the pursuit of the holy grail for so many.
No, what you don't know will not bother you, unless you an audio engineer. Ignorance is bliss. In the end, if the recording sounds bad, the listener is not really interested in why. Bad is bad.
Yes, it bothers me. Always has. Nothing you say surprised me, but to sit and think about all that wire and crappy connections, I'm surprised anything gets out sounding as good as it does. I hear good recordings occasionally and it makes me wonder what exactly it is that those guys are doing different. I've always thought it criminal the way the industry ignores good sound. Like an artist painting poorly, or a chef dismissing good flavor, etc., etc. For gods sake, they are selling MUSIC! They are required to present it properly. Too often it is not an honest product.
I love this thread!
Maybe its easier for the professionals to record the music than it is for audiophiles to play it back because they are professionals trained to do this stuff.
I know there are some professional sound engineers that are also participants on this site that buy into the audiophile mantra to a great extent. I'd like to hear what those folks have to say about this.
"Does it bother you? Do you find it strange that the people who record the music that you listen to aren't interested in "tweaks," and expensive cables, and alarm clocks with a sticker on them?"

I don't find the alarm clocks with sticker on it part strange. :)
I do think high end audio is a much riper playground for charlatans in general than is the recording industry, where people compete for jobs based on actual skills and abilities.
What I find surprising is that many small ensemble jazz recordings in the late 1950's and early 1960's sound better (more realistic, so to speak)--- often by a wide margin --- then most recordings of today. Any explanations from an engineering or engineering approach perspective as to why this might be?
I recently visited a local recording studio with fine equipment. But the recording techniques still gave me pause. Individual (pop recording) instruments were recorded with two mikes, but not to create stereo localization but rather to pick up some natural reverb. (Which is fine.) Thus any sound stage effects are the result of mixing.

This puts a bit of a kabosh on what had been my touchstone for audio: accuracy. I can't know what sound stage effects are inherent in any vinyl or CD rendition. Therefore I can't judge accuracy of reproduction by listening. I think the same logic applies to frequency balance.

Further, to add fuel to the fire, I read in some high end sites and magazines about outstanding spacial and sound effects that I never hear in live performances whether orchestral, chamber music, or pop group. Rather than pinpoint localization of instruments in space, I hear more of a blend with significant directionality. That is very much like what I hear on my speakers. So what is it that those guys are hearing?

So it seems impossible to determine what sound illusions (stereo images are of course an illusion)are more accurate. Just what you like.

Are we reduced to looking at measurements and calling the relative absence of distortion and coloration "accuracy"? I think so.
Why do I suddenly feel like a sucker... again?
Any kind of popular music is a business, 98% of the people who buy it have zero concept of what sounds good or doesn't.
Why waste the money on good gear ?
This is just half of the signal path, and for one channel. Now imagine this happening across 24 tracks, and including the playback signal path through various stacks of effects units. No vibration damping on a single one of them! Every vacuum tube (and there are lots) without a single damper ring on them.

It's likely that the audio you hear on a full-band production has passed through a DB25 port thousands of times in total before reaching the mastering stage. And the vinyl that it was pressed to, every single one of those masters were made on a direct-drive servo lathe with an aluminum platter, with a similar signal path to the ones I described above.

I just can't understand, in the quest for pure playback, it's always "I could hear deeper into the soundstage" and "highs seemed to lift into the air and trickle down" and "timing and pace were more brisk(??)"

..instead of..

"I could hear more of the rumble of the cutting lathe" and "a pronounced 50hz hum from the recording console became apparent" and "an air conditioning unit in the studio ticked annoyingly in the background."

How is it you're only able to hear this amazing stuff that we never heard when you buy more equipment?
Robsker, the reason why those recordings sound better is because the musicians playing the music were better. It's that simple. In the recording world, it's all about performance over equipment. You want to catch lightning in a bottle, and these old recordings did it.

There was nothing magical about the recording process. In fact, the equipment, by today's standards, was fairly poor. And just going by pure specs it was a nightmare. THD, wow and flutter... these things were off the charts.

I'd rather catch a breathtaking performance on a Tascam cassette 4-track, than a lifeless take through a Lynx AD converter.
Well, I'm sure there are good recording studios, production companies and engineers and not so good ones. The variations of sound quality I hear recording to recording help confirm that.

For me, its a reasonable audiophile goal for their system to reveal all the variations present recording to recording. Forget about "The Absolute Sound", though it might pop up on occasion with certain recordings if you are in a good place home audio sound wise.

Recordings are what they are. Audiophiles that seek to make a recording into something that it is not are unfortunately doomed, for the most part, since they also poo poo any form of sound processing, digital or otherwise. Audiophiles that can appreciate each recording as a unique work of art will probably be happier. If it takes a clock with a sticker on to achieve that, well......
There are some recording engineers who go to great lengths to make a decent recording: Todd Garfunkle of MA Recordings, Pierre Sprey of Mapleshade, whoever does ECM, etc.

Just because you came across someone who runs a crappy recording studio only goes to show just how stymied his results are. He's not in it for the sound. It's just a business for him.

You can go to any job site where new home construction is being done and see first hand all the shortcuts and shoddy work being done and when finished, you'd be hard pressed to see any faults. Only after living there for a couple of seasons will reveal the poor workmanship.

When it comes to music, a great system will reveal the limits of the recording at first listen. All of those limits you tallied up show up in the final product. A better run and managed studio would put out a superior product.

Unless you're satisfied with poor recordings, you don't have a leg to stand on, if that is your reference.

All the best,
Nonoise
08-07-13: Trentpancakes
Robsker, the reason why those recordings sound better is because the musicians playing the music were better.

LOL! It's always the other guys fault. Mechanics blame the Engineers, and vice versa. Thanks for the comic relief pancakes.
" the reason why those recordings sound better is because the musicians playing the music were better. "

That's a silly statement.
LOL! It's always the other guys fault. Mechanics blame the Engineers, and vice versa. Thanks for the comic relief pancakes.

Then what do you think it is? Do you think it was because they used more audiophile-grade equipment in the '50s? Silvered wires, cables on stilts, dampening stones, and things like that?

Or do you think it's because you had in those early jazz recordings an unparalleled level of talent sharing the room?

I'd like to hear your rebuttal instead of an ad hominem.
It was largely because hifi and stereo was new and sound quality was a novel marketed feature back then, hence more of a primary selling point and profit maker then than it is today.
That's a silly statement.

So equipment trumps talent? You really think they had a technological edge in the '50s that allowed them to make "better" recordings?

I'm giving all of the credit to great musicians, and being accused of placing the "blame" on someone else. Great musicians make the engineer's job exceedingly simple. When a world-class musician shows up, you stick a mic in front of them and hit record. You play back what you just recorded, and it sounds incredible and moving. The brand of cable used on the mic doesn't change that.
Trentpancakes,

A reason for the better sounding recordings of the 50's and 60's may be that there is a lot less of all the little "problems" you mention in rant.
Excellent question. One that should be taken seriously.

In direct answer to your question I say Yes! It does bother me in that studio wiring and connectors can be easily improved at fairly minimal cost. So much of the wiring in a studio is done for convenience as opposed to sound quality.

What Trentpancakes doesn't say is that you can still make good sounding recordings in these studios. It's easy enough to bypass most studio wiring, consoles and patchbays and go direct to the recorder. Many engineers bring a handful of "special" microphones and mic pres with them to a session. Skillful engineers can assess what they have to work with and adjust accordingly.

What I think audiophiles don't understand is the engineer's primary job is to capture a good performance. The studio can be a chaotic place where the sound engineer is not the man in charge. People can be milling around, eating pizza, the girlfriends are comparing shoes, the singer's on the phone, the producer is out of the room and the guitar player is just messin' around with some chords and he'll suddenly bark into the mic, "did you get that?". In that hectic environment a good engineer has decent sounding tape of what the guitarist was playing.

When all is said and done when a studio/producer/engineer does adopt audiophile standards, I'm thinking Mapleshade, you do get better sounding recordings.
I can make an argument that 10 of your 15 "issues" were not present in those early recordings where simple recording techniques were used.

Excellent recordings are like a fine restaurant. You have to go out of your way to find one created by those who truly care enough about the final product to pay attention to every possible detail.
A reason for the better sounding recordings of the 50's and 60's may be that there is a lot less of all the little "problems" you mention in rant.

That simply isn't something that's supported by fact.

Equipment in the '50s and '60s was marked by its high THD, noise, microphonics, and nascent electrical engineering. Signal chains, instead of having loads of DB25 interconnects, had multiple generation losses on tape decks with, by today's standards, abhorrent specs. Almost every piece of equipment in the chain was a tube device that added multiple odd and even-order harmonics (which is actually perceived as pleasing to the ear, although it is, by definition, distortion).

The entire philosophy of '80s recording and engineering was to clean up the signal path of the '50s-'70s, which was considered to be extremely low fidelity.
When all is said and done when a studio/producer/engineer does adopt audiophile standards, I'm thinking Mapleshade, you do get better sounding recordings.

Thanks for the reply, and it does accurately depict what goes on in a studio. It's controlled chaos, and it's about getting a creative spark on tape FAST. There's no time to obsess over a signal chain. Take "Something in the Way" off of Nevermind, as a rock n roll example. Kurt starts strumming the song on the control room couch, and he's killing it. It sounds perfect. So Butch scrambles and throws a mic in front of him right where he's sitting, and they captured perfection. If he had stopped to employ some audiophile aesthetic, it would have been lost.

Of course studios and engineers who specialize in audiophile recording are going to produce clean sounding records. It would defy reason to say that they don't.

But it still doesn't explain how audiophile listeners only seem to find extreme positives when they listen to traditional studio recordings on expensive stereos. It's all about "big soundstages" and "less smear" and "livelier pace." It's never "revealed more noise" or "heard tuning problems" or "hum was more pronounced" or "soundstage stayed the same."

How are you getting good things that we don't hear, but aren't hearing the bad things that we DO hear?
" Almost every piece of equipment in the chain was a tube device that added multiple odd and even-order harmonics (which is actually perceived as pleasing to the ear, although it is, by definition, distortion)."

That rings true. ALso consistent with the notions that some forms of distortion can be pleasant and others not. I do think that the tube gear used at the time, for better or for worse, has a lot to do with the unique sound of early recordings prior to when transistors took over. As does the more pervasive focus on sound quality back then and whatever went into achieving it. OFten that was a simpler approach, like in many MErcury Living PResence Recordings, or as is found in certain more modern CD labels even, like Mapleshade and Dorian.

But it wasn't that the performers were just better back then as was initially asserted. We've identified why that was a silly assertion as to why the recordings sounded the way they do. Personally, those early recordings have a unique character and tonality as a whole that I find to be pleasing, even on newer digital CD releases, especially those that are mastered well.

To answer the OPs original question, no, in most cases it does not bother me. I do not find most modern recordings as objectionable as I suspect many here might. TO me each is a unique piece of art. I would not want them all to sound the same, ie "the absolute sound". Not to say I might not have done them differently or tried to make them better if it were me. But I have no control over how recordings are made. I can only judge the results, not the details of the technology that went into making them behind the scenes. Nor do I care. If I do not like one recording, I can easily move on to the next.
The original assertion was: "many small ensemble jazz recordings in the late 1950's and early 1960's sound better (more realistic, so to speak)--- often by a wide margin --- then most recordings of today."

...which I still maintain the musicianship played a large part in. They were capturing a moment in time, in the middle of a musical revolution of sorts, with musicians that were riding a creative wave that had yet to be explored, in a studio environment that was at that time rare. To think that it wouldn't come across as a creative explosion on tape is putting too much faith in machines over man. It's the same reason psychedelic music sounds so vital and alive when you're listening to a recording from 1966. You're capturing young musicians in the eye of a creative storm, and a social movement. It's why we decorate recording studios the way that we do. It's why we want musicians to record in the same room, with every instrument bleeding into all the other mics. We want that eye contact, we want the vibe, we want emotion on tape.

5% more emotion on tape will improve the quality of the recording immeasurably over a 500% increase in fidelity. This is one of the reasons why we don't obsess too terribly much about the cables (besides the fact that our ears don't hear it). There are much easier ways to improve the quality of the album, and the results are far more tangible. Just record better performances.
I think you're underestimating audiophiles. The more resolving your playback system the more you'll hear tape edits, mismatched overdubs, vocal soundbooths with added reverb, gates opening/closing, HVAC noise, etc. One of the landmark pieces of audiophile criticism was the dissection of "The Look Of Love" track from the "Casino Royale" soundtrack.

Part of the evolution of the audiophile mentality has been a move away from systems that tell you what's on the recording, both good and bad, towards systems that prettify whatever signal they are being fed. There are valid reasons for this shift. Does it really make much sense to spend $50k on a system that makes half your record collection sound bad?

Many recordings made in the 50s were better sounding for many reasons. Basically the technology required a simpler recording path. Since you couldn't go crazy with multi-track overdubs you actually had to have musicians who could actually play together. Without elaborate EQs and effects you eliminated superfluous wiring and had to pay serious attention to microphone selection and setup. Simply put, since you couldn't fix it in the mix, the engineers back then had to know how to record properly for good sound. And even though they didn't measure that well, tube German mics feeding custom tube mixers into tube tape machines can sound oh so sweet.
Trent, I hear what you are saying. Obviously there are good and bad performances just as there are good and bad recordings. Best for both to be good whatever that entails or means to each. Hard to argue with that.

Part of the preferences and opinions expressed frequently on this site is likely a result of member demographics. I have never seen any metrics indicating, but from experience I suspect most here are older rather than younger and nostalgia plays a major role in an individual's preferences.
I am no golden ears, but I was trained as a classical musician and have been working on and with audio gear for over a generation. And I can tell you, from personal experience, Carnegie Hall in NYC does not venture far from the above stated signal path.

Performances and talent are the real gifts of music. The rest is noise. I often ask: “When did you last listen to an acoustic only performance?” Many classical fans have and do. There is no point of reference for most of the music folks listen to.

Speaking of studios, they listen for different things than we do. They are working not enjoying a turn of melody or soulful rendering. Many of the wine tasting style terms I hear do not enter that world. They are professional listeners and are working hard to keep it accurate and clean, with minimum fatigue when they are doing a 16 hour soundtrack session. A very different set of criteria for listening.

Art. Music is an art. That is what counts.
To answer the main OP question: nope! i am totally oblivious thho the problem. I play records and CDs. they sound good enough.
All a bunch of splitting hairs.. After the fact.
Woulda shoulda coulda.. Bah Humbug.
Feel free to weep in my place. I'm busy playing music.
The only thing that might concern me is if Trent tried an alarm clock with a dot on it and heard something different (the alarm maybe??) :)
The only thing that might concern me is if Trent tried an alarm clock with a dot on it and heard something different (the alarm maybe??) :)

I would be concerned, too! I would definitely love to see the results of double-blind ABX testing with devices like the Clever Little Clock and "Proton Alignment" products. I suspect the must difficult part of the test would be getting manufacturer consent.
Well, there are many things that go on in high end audio world that leave it vulnerable to criticism.

My estimate is what you read on a site like this is about 50% information and 50% misinformation or noise. 100% information and 100% misinformation or noise in some cases, though that is rare. Lots of propaganda mixed in as well. Maybe not bad really. Might even have what is called our national "news" media these days beat. Standards are on the decline overall these days, you know.
But it still doesn't explain how audiophile listeners only seem to find extreme positives when they listen to traditional studio recordings on expensive stereos.

How do you come to this statement. The bulk of recordings that have "extreme positives" are a small minority. I'd say that far less than 10% of my collection is audiophile quality recordings, with the bulk coming from small specialty labels that are obsessed with sound quality.

The rest of the recordings have lots of issues but I don't post about how my system lets me hear the issues.

In fact there are far to many recordings that are so bad I can only listen to them as backround music.
Trent, you're the one that doesn't get it. We're on the playback side, you're on the recording side. Regardless of what you've done, we're just doing our best to capture it, whether good or bad. It's our best attempt at recreating a real performance. It's all we can blindly do. We are at your mercy. Those trying to 'improve' it are the ones who are out to lunch.
Spent many years doing audio in television, so much of what you state is right on point. Which is why I myself am very dubious when it comes to tweaks and special items concerning audio.
As flawed as the recording process may or may not be, it produces something with lots of low-level information. The playback system has to be significantly better in all regards, or else losses will occur in the playback.

Regarding distortion, many of the analogue distortions are pleasing to the ear, which is why many listeners prefer old analogue recordings to modern digital recordings.
Many audiophiles treat music as if it was fragile, carefully passing it to speakers over kilo-buck elevated wires and through a dozen other danger spots that could break it. But music is incredibly resilient. Pump it through ninety miles of air and to a transistor radio, and it's still captivating and foot-stomping joy. It can be made more enjoyable at the playback end, but we can easily lavish useless "everything matters" obsession on its care and feeding, which is no different than other obsessions.

Amazing sound music from your gear in your room is the outcome of a good gear and many talent people involved in its production. It’s a chain of good events and gear. It’s the result of good taste and knowledge. It’s a miracle made real. How this chain is given? I think there are six important points:

a) Talent and knowledge of the musicians
b) Hi quality technology record equipment
c) Talent and knowledge of the mixer engineer
d) Hi quality technology gear in your room
e) People who has “good taste” and knowledge to appreciate the Art of music are audiophiles.

Beautiful music and good musicians stay in the mind of generations. The next 300 years people will listen Beethoven, Mozart, Doors, Pink Floyd, Enigma, Placido Domingo, Dave Bruveck, Smashing Pumkings and many others artists. I am sure that people in 200 years will listen the 9a Symphony and Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; there is no doubt of that.

Talent and knowledge musicians in the present days demand professional recordings. If you can give better sound recording with a clip and nuts, that’s great. When you have talent musicians in the present days they are going to demand the best records. They are not going to accept clip and nuts.

When the musicians are not professionals, they do not take care of the recording work. They will not notice clip and nuts in their records. And of course they will not stand out. Bad musicians with bad records are going to disappear in time. Nobody remember them.

Audiophile is owner of a “good taste” and “knowledge”. Common people can not notice the difference between a Steinway & Sons and Yamaha or Stradivarius in a concert hall in orchestra and any cheap violin on street. It’s the same with gear. Must of the people can not encounter difference between good gear and clip and nuts doing noise. Many people say “you should not spend money on sound quality gear. Look with this 100 pesos you can buy a radio FM and listen music” I think I am sure you have one of these in your house. I am sure you can not note any difference between Mozart and Beethoven. I am sure you do not have any musical education, good taste, music knowledge. I am sure you do not have any interest in music. That is the reason you think it’s the same to listen music in a cheap gear than any other Hi End quality gear.

Excuse me if my English is not so good but it’s not my principal language.

Spent many years doing audio in television, so much of what you state is right on point. Which is why I myself am very dubious when it comes to tweaks and special items concerning audio.
Glenfihi

Same here. Plus, I'm a natural born skeptic.
Look at my system and you won't see any strange tweaks. Still. I do enjoy the conversation here.
Look at my system and you won't see any strange tweaks.

This is getting laughable. Your system is full of technology that was originally tweaky. The most obvious are the speaker cables. Not all that long ago the question of wire making a sonic difference was hotly debated between those who are the technically inclined non believers and those who are the proof is in the pudding so give it a try folks.

Trentpancakes,

You haven't spoken of the processing which occurs to suit the producer and or talent.
Then what do you think it is? Do you think it was because they used more audiophile-grade equipment in the '50s? Silvered wires, cables on stilts, dampening stones, and things like that?

Purer, simpler signal paths. They didn't over-engineer the recordings back then like they do today. Just look at all the crap you listed the signal passing through now. Back in those days, they recorded using the KISS method, Keep It Simple Stupid.