Recording quality...


A lot of time here is spent discussing equipment, which is to be expected.  But even the best gear will not mask a lousy recording.  Let's face it, some labels use better recording equipment, microphone placement, mixing and so on to create stunning sound.  Other labels just don't sound as good.  

Case in point...when I purchase a recording, I'm looking for a recording date within the last five years.  I realize that some classic recordings took place years ago recorded with analog equipment, but it will still sound old on anything modern you play it on.  I'm not a big fan of remastering either.  Look, I realize that we can't bring back Miles Davis or get Pink Floyd back together to do a modern recording, but imagine if we could.

Once, when I was a kid, I was lucky enough to witness a live recording session in a real studio.  This was in the late 60s, when real musicians played real instruments.  They used these gigantic Scully tape machines with inch-thick Ampex 456 tape running at fast speed and a mixing board, which was the most modern recording equipment of the time.  Today, that equipment belongs in a museum, considering the modern tools that recording engineers have now.  

My point here is that great equipment is nice, but paired with a recent recording using modern tools, the sound is so much better.  Just my humble opinion.  What say you to this?
mikeydee
Nope
Nope

THIS.....


can't say I agree...
I'm looking for a recording date within the last five years. I realize that some classic recordings took place years ago recorded with analog equipment, but it will still sound old on anything modern you play it on.
Try listening to some Mercury Living Presence recordings, or RCAs on the shaded dog label. Try the first Chicago LP on MFSL. Then you'll understand why many here can't agree with you.
You like what you like. End of story.
Mikey - This isn't a simple answer of which is better but I mostly disagree with all of what you said in your post (except perhaps remastering).

There are so many aspects that go into the recording process that will affect the final outcome.  Before getting into those specifics, however, I generally prefer older analogue recordings that remain in the purely analogue domain from the source (musicians and instruments) and my ears and here's why.

My preference (strong preference) is that the only software that exists in the chain is that software that exists between my ears and my brain.

Any time an analogue signal is converted to the digital domain (usually multiple times nowadays), you're hearing the limitations of conversion algorithms and effectively the original sound has been lost.  Not to say that it can't sound good, but now you have no ability to reach the source material as it was recorded.

Beyond that, there are so many other factors (some of those you mention) that go into the recording process that have a great effect on sound - For me, the label is often less important than the mastering artist themselves that contribute as much (when done properly) to the final recording than the artists and studio engineers themselves, let alone the equipment.

Case in point - I generally love most of the recordings that have done in Abbey Roads studios (among others) and often seek out recordings that were done there and actually keep a list of studios and mastering artists that I enjoy.  Many of these were done long before the availability of digital recording capability.

Now to the topic of remastering - In general I try to avoid them particularly those that are remastered versions of artists/ albums that I already know well and enjoy - they just sound weird, compressed, unnatural, etc.

One thing that I will strongly agree on is that great equipment can't mask a bad recording - quite the contrary in that lousy gear does a better job of masking lousy recordings because on these systems, well... everything will sound lousy :)

I must say that in a perfect world I would exclusively be listening to studio master tapes on the same equipment that it was recorded and mastered on....  In fact, that might be my next obsession in the pursuit of analogue purity.  There's just no denying that the fewer times the source material gets "stepped on" during the recording and production chain, the better and I vastly prefer great recordings that have never entered the digital domain - that hasn't happened in the last five years.

Greg

I can't say I put a lot of thought into it, if something comes available on vinyl that I want I buy it and enjoy it on it's own merit. Have a good 600 albums that I bought starting in 1965 and enjoy them still, even early 60 recordings I enjoy, there is a different sound but once my ears adjust I just listen and enjoy.

Most audiophile labels’ CDs have reverse polarity and many recent LPs but especially CDs have been overly compressed. The trend is not your friend as dynamic ranges have become ridiculously low. No one escapes, not hi res downloads, not SACDs, not LPs, not even the high end Japanese SHM CDs and Blu Ray discs.

Thanks for your responses to this.  I greatly respect all of your opinions.  
Yeah, have to agree most the other posters here. Most of the older analogue recordings sound better to me. 
This has always been a challenge. We assemble incredible sound systems  and yet source material is just as important. Tell you what, I'll take those old Ampex recordings any day. Just listen to "Time Out"  from Dave Brubeck. This was recorded in the 50's and yet simply sounds outstanding!

My go to source for the best version of a particular CD (or LP) is the Steve Hoffman forum. Contributors often have listened to many versions of a given CD and will rank them for sound quality. Interestingly most are not newer recordings. The closer you get to the original master.....in most cases....the better the sound quality. Good luck with your search.
mikeydee, I would say that if you're struggling to confine yourself to the last 5 years worth of recordings alone, then you are definitely doing something wrong. I think maybe you have possibly built the wrong kind of system for your tastes in reproduction...not that that would be the first time that's ever happened or anything. But, on the face of it, I'd say that there's something about your gear, or system or setup that is not currently offering you the kind of performance you're craving and that your penchant for blame on the recording quality is actually misplaced. 

It's well known that some systems are more forgiving toward lesser quality recordings than others, that some drivers or speakers are more musical or that some CDP's, or TT's or carts are more forgiving than others. Musicality is a legitimate pursuit in reproduction and shouldn't be given short shrift or anything. Don't fall blindly for the old advice that the best systems are necessarily the ones that magnify the difference between the best recordings and the worst...if that were strictly true, then everyone would be in the same position that you're in - but they're not.

People occasionally make complaints about recording quality, it's true, but I really suspect it is usually a system-dependent playback problem, not so much truly a recording quality problem.

I would say that a good measure of the real success of a system is how much justice it does to the recordings that you most want to listen to - otherwise, your system has you held captive - it is telling You what it is that you want to listen to. 
Not true. The golden era of multi-million facilities and record companies sponsoring artists to spend months coming up with masterpiece (assisted by producers and sound engineers who are often great artists themselves) IS DEAD. 

Telarc folded a few years ago as people don't care for quality anymore.

Very little produced in the last five years sounds good compared to the golden recording era that started in the 60's and ended by the 90's. 
Compare Let it Bleed to the latest Stones release. Compare U2 Joshua Tree to anything they have done since. Compare Adele 19 to the latest Adele crap. Compare foo fighters or Nirvanna early stuff to the latest by Dave Grohl. 9 out of 10 sound worse than they sounded 30 years ago.

I mostly agree with ivan_nosnibor - great post.  Some albums, new and old, that I thought were poorly recorded turned out to be gems once I  majorly tweaked my TT.  As to recording quality, I do find the original all analog albums generally sound better.    There are rereleases that sound better than the (poor) original though so technology does have its place.
Echoing @wlutke I am increasingly finding that as I improve the resolving ability of my system (both analog and digital) I am able to hear more in every recording. There is more musical information available in the vast majority of recordings, of whatever vintage, than most of us are able to access. Whether it's the subtle timing cues of the interplay of different players, or the delicate decay of an instrument into the hall, this sort of information is there even on 80 year old mono recordings, or 20 year old DAT tapes.

I will agree with @shadorne that much of what passes for mass market popular music these days is produced with off the shelf software that sounds terrible -- Adele is a great case in point, what was a natural voice in 19 became electronically processed pablum by 25 -- but lets not blame the producers, they can make great stuff (contrast the terrible sound of 25 with the same producer's work with "The Bird and the Bee") but taste/marketing whatever drives them to make the in your face hot stuff we get.

It's interesting that when it comes to classical recordings it's an opposite story -- almost everything produced these days sounds good, whereas in the 70s and 80s the high point of multi-miked recordings, many were hit or miss

Not to worry though as we have 100 years of material to access and many labels both large and small are still doing great work - so to the OP I'd suggest take the recording you hate the most but performance you love and see how as you improve the resolving ability of your system you can hear more of what the artists intended
I agree most facets of technology that have advanced; however, gold remains gold. I would not want the constraint of only listening to the output of the last 5 years. I have an ultra refined Spectral/MIT/Goldmund system with exceptional AC power/ isolation; and, countless discs/cd's over 5 years old sound fabulous to me. Case in point; with my freshly brewed coffee,sitting on the cozy sheepskin throw in my favorite chair I'm presently enjoying a CD titled "Moments Musicaux"  Musical Moments of Autumn 1999 and Spring 2000 of the Zig Zag Territoires label from Paris(now of Outhere Music in Belgium). The care put into the recording quality shines through and provides as much enjoyment ,to me,as any good disc. I think of musical enjoyment of classical and jazz recordings more like quality classical automobiles or fine art. If you are transported in a 1980 Rolls Royce I don't think you would find any significant increase in comfort in newer cars.When we observe an 'old' masterwork we cannot but see the effects of age if we're up close;but, does this detract from the art? As they say today-- "just sayin". I think with that I'll put a touch of French Brandy when I'm nearly finished my coffee. "Cheers to the Music!" 
Echoing @wlutke I am increasingly finding that as I improve the resolving ability of my system (both analog and digital) I am able to hear more in every recording. There is more musical information available in the vast majority of recordings, of whatever vintage, than most of us are able to access. Whether it’s the subtle timing cues of the interplay of different players, or the delicate decay of an instrument into the hall, this sort of information is there even on 80 year old mono recordings, or 20 year old DAT tapes.

Agree. I think what bothers listeners who did not grow up listening to vinyl is the presence of tape hiss on recordings. In the digital age, many are searching for the blackest background at the expense of dynamics and nuance in the music.


@wlutke, thanks for the kind words!

@folkfreak

"There is more musical information available in the vast majority of recordings, of whatever vintage, than most of us are able to access."

It seems it may take each of us a certain amount of time on our journey to reach this realization (whether by gear, wiring, tweaking or whatever), but I think that is the very heart of it and that it is a notable milestone in the hobby.


"Shadowfax" on the Windham Hill Record label; this recording was made on a modified MCI JH 16 recorder at 30 inches per second, and mixed to a Studer Mark III half-inch two track recorder, using no noise reduction, limiting or compression.


      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sauQ6TsdT_c


Studer MarkIII half inch two track;


     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1k1SZ2R6ME
Enjoy the music.
Studer MarkIII half inch two track;
Wonderful tape machine; excellent servo, lots of headroom. I miss analogue tape.

mikeydee, you’re not crazy. I know what you’re talking about. Newer albums can have a clarity and level of detail that many older recordings do not have. Recording technology and techniques have improved in some ways over the years, and have declined in some ways too. Some albums are recorded with the improved tech and technique, some with the damaging tech and technique.

Recording tape does deteriorate over time and with repeated playback. This can be heard on many older albums.  Also, there were many badly recorded albums released 40 to 50 years ago.  Many gems but a lot of junk, just like today.

Some people are not offended by moderate compression and there are plenty of more recent albums (last 30 years) that have been recorded with reasonable or even admirable levels of compression.

There is a lot of good music that has been recorded digitally and is available only on cd. If your ears can’t take that, that’s OK, but you’re missing some good music.

So mikeydee, enjoy what you enjoy and don’t let anyone tell you that you should be enjoying something else.

I agree that older recordings can be as awesome as any new recording, and even better. Many newer recordings can sound quite spactacular on the surface, with digital effects and compression in play. But I would hate to limit myself to the last 5 years because I haven't heard any music I would care to listen to in these past 5 years
@tomcy6 I totally relate to what you are saying but let me respectfully disagree with one point. We all are listening to our favorite tunes through the gear we care to afford, only time and our personal "audio gurus" can slooowly change our ways. However, when someone posts a question, it (sometimes) means that this person is ready to listen to something different than "you r good, please continue". 
Steven Wilson remix (using ProTools, I would guess) of Aqualung sounds better (but different) than the original. How did that happen? What they called "juicy" compression in 70-ies now degraded to CDs and LPs sounding the same through hi-end and car stereos. 
My answer to the original question: check your favorite (best sounding) albums at Dynamic Range Database. What do you see? 
I remember myself falling for the "general knowledge" (in early 90-ies) that any CDs without DDD stamp are not worth buying. I wish there was a place, like what we got here and at Steve Hoffman site, to kick me in the butt!.. so that I would start Listening...
One more sentence of "old man's rambling": it was the best day of my life when I listened to Brahms symphonies under Bohm on my hi-end rig, but I still prefer BeeGees through my boombox, the way I remember them when I was a kid. Go figure!

I agree with you sevs, it’s generally good to expand your horizons musically, but mikeydee says he likes current recorded sound compared to albums from the days of tape and vinyl. I just wanted to give him a little support in that opinion. I think you can find great sounding records of recent vintage, improved in many ways over recordings from the old days (or at least different from). I also understand people who will only listen to AAA recordings. That’s what they like.

The only problem with expanding your musical horizons is that there is too much good music to listen to. I can’t find the time to do it all justice, anyway.

Case in point...when I purchase a recording, I'm looking for a recording date within the last five years.


That's ridiculous. 

mikeydee, you’re not crazy. I know what you’re talking about. Newer albums can have a clarity and level of detail that many older recordings do not have. Recording technology and techniques have improved in some ways over the years, and have declined in some ways too. Some albums are recorded with the improved tech and technique, some with the damaging tech and technique.

Recording tape does deteriorate over time and with repeated playback. This can be heard on many older albums. Also, there were many badly recorded albums released 40 to 50 years ago. Many gems but a lot of junk, just like today.

Some people are not offended by moderate compression and there are plenty of more recent albums (last 30 years) that have been recorded with reasonable or even admirable levels of compression.

There is a lot of good music that has been recorded digitally and is available only on cd. If your ears can’t take that, that’s OK, but you’re missing some good music.

Good comment, @tomcy6 .

Over the years, like many people, I purchased remastered Rock CD’s to replace my original releases only to find that they were fatiguing and compressed.
Now that I have a higher-end transport/DAC setup, I am appreciating the sonics of the original CD’s. In general, there is more separation of instruments, natural decay, and more realistic sounding highs. It’s too bad that as digital production and mastering technology improved, the movement to add high amounts of compression in the recording and mastering chain came about.

I search the Steve Hoffman forum to find the best releases of CD and vinyl and then go to Discogs, where one can find used disks by their release date and country of origin. Now, I’m actually replacing my CD’s again with better versions.

With Classical, I own many modern CD and vinyl recordings, but I seek out older recordings, not only for the great performances and legendary conductors, but for the realism that minimal mic’ing can reproduce. This is probably the only time I look to buy a remaster, since many Classical labels take great care in restoring old recordings.

We could also take this discussion in a different direction...what is it about mixing, microphone placement, room acoustics, etc. that make for an amazing recording, regardless of time period?  

Those of us around in the late 70s remember Steely Dan's album "AJA" (recorded at Village Recorders in West LA).  It actually won a Grammy for best-engineered album.  The sound quality was amazing (I had it on vinyl).

 Also, different studios to the trained ear sound different.  Those of you who love jazz remember the Blue Note sessions that Rudy Van Gelder recorded in Englewood Cliffs NJ.  You could tell it was his studio by the sound...his piano also had a distinctive sound to it.

Fast forward to the 90s and listen to the Natalie Cole album "Unforgettable"...give it a listen just for the amazing recording, even if you don't like the music.  This was recorded at the Capitol Rotunda in Hollywood, where Sinatra made all of his famous recordings in the 50s.  

And then there's Motown Studio A (I went to see it...now a museum) and let's not forget Sigma Sound, run by Joe Tarsia in Philly (which is now an office building...should have been preserved as a museum as well).  David Bowie came all the way to Philadelphia to record "Young Americans" at Sigma  because he loved the studio's sound.   

So, I get what a lot of you are saying.  My five-year window is robbing me of all of these studios which had a distinctive sound.  You can't get that aspect using Pro Tools or whatever else they use today. 
More and more I am getting convinced that a difference in recording quality is far more important than the difference in sound quality between high end components. In other words, you may spent thousands of dollars on upgrading your system, which would be a simple waste of time (and money) unless you have good  enough  quality recordings, whereas the difference in sound between a good and bad recordings is much more notable, no matter whether you use 1k, 2k, 5k or 10k or higher price amp or cd player (you still need good speakers though).  I think this is an important issue. 

As to the quality of the recordings, not always more recent recording have better quality, in general, and many analog recordings, especially classical ones, are better than more recent digital ones (counting good labels). Early (analog) Miles Davis recordings (late 50s and 60s) are far better than late 60s and 70s (analog) recordings, and even some of the 80s digital ones. For my taste, some late Pat Metheny recordings (2010 and above) are worse in quality than earlier ones (from 90s to, say, 2010). Early ELP recordings also sound better than later ones. I am curious why this happens (e.g., did Miles Davis himself did not note this  (by the way, he used 70s AR speakers)?)

Was just thinking of all of those classic albums that I've bought in every new or remastered or improved format hoping for and sometimes getting an even better aural image of music I've loved for years...Abbey Road, Aja, Child Is Father To The Man, lately the hi rez Pink Floyd remasters of Meddle, Obscured By Clouds, etc...and other than Steven Wilson's magic on Tull,Yes, XTC, Supertramp, King Crimson, etc, the majority of the versions that left me smiling were from very hi resolution rips from newly pressed high quality vinyl...not sure how your 5 year window applies given the provenance of the various versions but this is what comes to mind for me when I think of recording quality in general. Of course, the ECM releases, many of the old DG, Phillips, etc classical releases can be game changers in terms of sound quality as well...
With all do respect - Evidently you haven't listened to MFSL recording remaster on a decent stereo lately ( Maybe a try a DAC ) ! Have fun listening to your tape hiss and poor recording equipment of the past.
You know things will go bad when people start with "with all due respect..." because the "due respect" turns out to be very little indeed.

So, may I present in counterargument the MFSL recording of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. Utter crap.

Best,

E
Uh, wouldn't the original master tape hiss be more audible on a good recording? Hel-loo!

That's what Dolby was for, to reduce tape hiss, did a wonderful job too. But a few engineers chose not to use it, I've got an old Pat Travers, Crash and Burn that brags in the liner notes that he did not use Dolby, and it sounds great actually. 

Some of the original digital recordings, or should I say analog converted to digital recordings, were not good. It took the engineers a while to get used to the entire digital process. I recall way back when CD's first came out, some were completely unlistenable. 

But speaking of recordings of the last 5 years, I suspect it depends greatly on what genre' you are listening to. Anything considered Pop Music will most likely be over compressed, and contain less frequency extremes, made to sound good on any music device. Made to sound good on iPhones with tiny ear buds, on car stereos, and whatever the young folk are listening to these days. But a modern Classical, or Jazz recording may be a completely different thing. Using digital recording techniques to get the best recording possible, with 32 bit masters in the megahurts sampling rates, using minimal compression and preserving both frequency extremes, it is possible to make probably the best recordings ever made! You've just got to find the engineers who are trying. 
@Trutopia2With all do respect - Evidently you haven't listened to MFSL recording remaster on a decent stereo lately ( Maybe a try a DAC ) ! Have fun listening to your tape hiss and poor recording equipment of the past. 

MFSL is not the end all, be all of anything. I have many recordings which I much prefer the MFSL, others I cant really hear a difference and others I think it sounds worse. I can tell that the Japanese 32XD of Appetite for destruction as well as the original Diament original are, to my ears, better than the MFSL. 
Sometimes I'll pop it in because of the extra pop on the kick drums and bass but it's the least of the three discs I play.

if you think just because it's MFSL it's automatically the best version maybe you should upgrade your equipment, in all due respect :)