Gil, interesting reading and you may be on to something. My only exposure to studios is the studio at Morin Heights, just north of Montreal. Gold and platinum records all over the walls, quite impressive. Name a popular rock band and they've likely recorded there (The Police's "Synchronicity" and U2's "unforgettable Fire" come to mind as an example of some of the records made there). I spent some time with the tech guy there and was quite amazed with the gear used in the studio/mixing rooms. Yamaha monitors that were, ahem, poor. According to the tech, they mix down to these cheesy monitors cuz "the people buying the record have this kind of equipment". Damn. I noticed a single speaker sitting there, basically a bare driver that you'd find in an old cheap transistor radio. When I asked what that was for, well "that's how the record will sound like in most peoples car stereos and we need to take that into account". My only exposure to a studio made it obvious that fidelity is NOT a priority. I was disappointed and surprised, given the quality of gear found in many studios I've read about (Abbey Road, Electric Ladyland, Frank Zappa's own home studio, etc.). If Morin Heights is indicative of what studios value, you may very well be right and we're all wasting our money and time on quality audio systems.
Interesting post, but I don't think it's as simple as you present. Even when a manufacturer produces products for both the home and pro markets, they tailor the products to slightly different needs. A primary consideration in pro equipment is realiability. The expectation is that the pro equipment will be subjected to physical abuse and when the product fails it can be easily repaired. (In studios that cater to hip/hop artists, speakers are burnt out on a weekly basis.) For the home market, looks and sound quality emerge as more important factors. The jewelry-like finish of a Jeff Rowland product appeals to pride of ownership, not sonic considerations.
Audiophiles and mastering studios have much more in common. Mastering is the last creative process in music production where the tone and dynamics of the recording are finalized. The quality of equipment in mastering studios is always much higher than in even the better equipped recording studios. Sound quality is of the utmost importance. In mastering studios many of the speakers and amplifiers are standard audiophile favs (Levinson, Dunlavy etc.). You also find audiophile cabling in mastering studios.
Gil, in direct reply to your observation, manufacturers do price their products according to the intended market. They are able to do so because of the reasons you stated. However, at the high end of pro audio (mastering studios) there seems to be a convergence towards high end audiophile type equipment. The commonality in equipment reflects a common desire for high sound quality.
Having been a recording engineer in a prior life (primarily 2 channel but also multi-channel) and a high-end audiophile, I was often at odds with people "in the business". In a studio setting, keep in mind that the sound is in a sense "artificial" to begin with and the sound an engineer is trying to achieve isn't necessarily directly proportional to the transparency of their gear. It is more based upon that "right drum sound" which doesn't sound anything like the drum kit to begin with.
You can very easily spend the equivalent money on studio gear as you do with hi-end gear. However, often times the need simply isn't there to record a pop album.
If you take a look at Abby Road, at one point in time they used to have a pair of B&W Nautilus as their primary monitors. I will wager that they probably got a lot less use than a pair of Yamaha NS-10 sitting on top of the mixing console.
Technology has also made it such that you can get a pretty good recording without spending a lot of money. Similarly, you can get pretty good playback without spending a lot of money.
However, for people on either side of the fence, raising the standards of both playback and recording gets exceedingly expensive. The best 2-channel digital recorder on the market today is A Nagra-D and runs close to $30,000. Couple that to a DCS A/D and a high quality mic pre and you are exceeding $50K. You haven't even talked about microphones at this point which could double that number depending if you are trying to obtain vintage mics... this all for a 2 channel recording. Now on the flipside, I can buy a cheap digital recorder, Mackie mixing console, and half way decent microphones for less than $5K.
The point is, the majority of the time nobody cares to achieve that extra 10% to make a sensational recording because 98% of consumers are simply happy with the results of the $5K recording setup.
Indeed, Slartibartfast! Yet, an amazing amount of detail manages to stay within some masterings. They rarely make thru many REmasterings, though!
Aren't studio monitors designed to be listened to 'nearfield' (as opposed to at a distance)?
On the other hand, has anyone read about what Bob Ludwig has at Gateway Mastering? A pair of EgglestonWorks Ivy speakers at $96K, Cello amps, etc. Makes me feel like I'm slumming with my (in comparison) jukebox.
http://www.gatewaymastering.com/ under "What's New" and "Paul Verna and Billboard Magazine..."
Let's assume for the moment that the end result of an album mastered and voiced on less than desireable equipment (based on our requirements) is determined by the producers and engineers to be "adequate" for the general public.
If it meets their approval using this "low end" gear should it not be that much better on our respective "higher end" systems????
Maybe this is too easy an answer or maybe it isn't...
The reality is that when recordings are played on high resolution systems, every little flaw in the original recording, mixing, and mastering process can be heard. You can hear punch-ins, bad fades, noise in the recording gear or instruments, etc... It can make recordings down right unlistenable on such systems. For the most part, most engineers, producers, and mastering engineers are making recordings for the mass market and don't bother (if even capable) of listening for the minutia that drives this hobby. Some of the reasons the old classical recordings sound so incredible is that the engineers paid very close attention to that extra stuff because if you didn't do it right, it truly did sound bad. It just so happened that the recording gear of the time was vastly superior to the playback gear.
I completely agree... it is truly insulting sometimes what is on the masters that is lost in production...
It depends... its not that a monitor is designed for the studio or not, its whether a speaker is designed to operate in the nearfield or the free field (I guess that is kind of what you are asking). Some can do both well... I know people that listen nearfield with a pair of Wilson WATTs when recording and then go home and listen to the recordings at freefield with the WATTs. You have vastly different characteristics when the room starts to interact with the speaker and each speaker reacts differently.
Thanks for everyone's input so far. To clarify my original post, I do agree that the "high end" of hi-fi represents the best sound that you can get, and is therefore used in some of the nicer studios in the world. However, I think that more affordable hi-fi gear ($0 -> ~$3000+), specifically CD-players, amps, and speakers, can be matched by quality studio gear costing much less. To go back to my original example, I'll bet that the Dynaudio BM-6 monitors ($899 new) are nearly identical in sound quality to the Dynaudio 1.3MKII's which cost more than twice as much (they use the same ESOTEC tweeters, same woofers, have similar construction, and have nearly identical specs). MusicSlug, yes these are "near field" monitors, but that's just a fancy way of saying that they are not full range speakers. There are 3 general types of studio monitors: near fields, mid fields, and main monitors. Near fields are just your basic mini monitor, mid fields are bigger and give you more extended bass, and main monitors are full range speakers. Jeffloistarca, while it is common practice for studios to use cheap speakers to simulate how the majority of the population will hear their music(especially on music geared towards younger people), I do not consider this to be quality studio gear...it is just cheap stuff that happens to be used in a studio. And finally, Slartibartfast, I agree with everything you've said so far, and I may be missing your point on this one, but I want to say that the cost of high quality mixers, mikes, recorders, etc. doesn't matter, because I'm only concerned with using good studio monitors, amp, and possibly CD-player to replace my existing (lower-end) hi-fi speakers, amp and cd-player. Indeed I think it is the high cost of the associated recording equipment that keeps the price of studio monitors and amps and such down. Thanks for the feedback and keep it coming.
p.s. Here's my current setup for those that are curious
Monitor Audio 5i speakers
Audio Refinement Integrated Amp
Cambridge Audio D500 CD Player
Transparent Audio MusicLink Super interconnect
Transparent Audio MusicWave speaker cable
There are studios that cater to high-end consumers and studios that cater to more typical consumer audio setups.
I recall a post where the writer bragged about how a studio used zip cord cabling throughout (he indicated that it proved cables don't make a difference, but let's not get into that). Okay, that's fine for rap and boy bands, but you won't find that garbage used for audiophile recordings.
Is high-end audio a rip-off? Well, quality is definitely not cheap. That's the reality for any small niche market. It's too bad some audiophiles happen to be millionaires. If filthy-rich people were all deaf, perhaps we could see more reasonable prices on the best equipment.
I guess I am as well a bit confused... studio monitors aren't cheaper because they are studio monitors. Any speaker in question is simply cheaper to manufacture when produced in mass. Take a cheap pair of JBL studio monitors (don't remember the model #s anymore) which I had the great displeasure to monitor with on a project... they were of no greater or lesser cost than their consumer counterpart. They were also of no better quality in sound or construction.
What I was trying to point out is that quality studio gear is equally as expensive as quality home gear to achieve the same level of sound quality. Cheap studio gear is equally priced as cheap home gear and is of the same caliber as well.
Furthermore, you said that the high cost of mixers, mics, and recorders would drive down the prices of other gear. One has no bearing on the other. The price of a $200 Yamaha monitor is not going to effect the price of a $5,000 Neumann microphone. What it might do is weigh where the studio decides to spend their money. You can substitute a $5,000 pair of monitors with a $250 pair and still get decent results in the finished music product. You cannot replace a $5,000 microphone with a $250 Shure and think that you will get even 50% of the quality of the finished product.
If what you are looking to do is justify buying a pair of studio monitors thinking they will be better than a more expensive pair of high end speakers, that equation doesn't work out. My golden rule is that no matter how expensive or how cheap the product, you have to listen to it and decide for yourself whether it sounds good to you. This is a completely subjective hobby and all you can do is trust your own ears and go exploring what is out there. There is a lot of crap in the high-end and there is a lot of great stuff and the same goes for recording gear as well.
My father was an engineer for almost 40 years and he engineered many number one pop hits, as well as many of the jazz greats, and even has a Grammy for a classical recording. I can tell you, having been in the studio a fair number of times, that, except for classical, the session and mixing is not usually about being faithful to the original sound at all. Their job is to sell product and they do so by trying to capture the sound that people are either buying now or that they think that they can entice the public to buy. Generally, their monitoring equipment (speakers) are not neutral at all. They tend to be quite forward sounding. My father preferred to do most of his mixing with headphones because he found studio speakers to be so bad. That is not to say that their isn't tremendous snob markup in the audiophile arena. You don't have to be a genius to see it. Nevertheless, most of us would be very unhappy with the sound of certain professional audio products.
Rayhall, Since your father produced what was probably the greatest recorded sound of all time, namely "Music For Bang BaaRoom and Harp" (No greater recorded Concert Hall venue sound exists, in my opinion), I would tend to believe anything you might care to say on the subject.......Frank
Thanks, Frank. I don't know much about that record, but he told me about another sound effects record which he did called "Bob and Ray Throw a Stereo Spectacular", in a comedy skit on the record, he put Bob Elliot of the comedy team "Bob and Ray" on a swing in front of several stationary microphones. At one point, you can hear Elliot swinging back and forth across the soundstage. It is certainly not a classic technique for capturing recorded sound. Both "Music for Bang Barroom and Harp" and "Bob and Ray Throw a Stereo Spectacular" were recorded at Webster Hall, considered a great hall for acoustics. He did a lot of recording there in the 50's and 60's.
Interesting thread I just bumped into. They are two different markets. The one caters to pros who have better things to do than show-off or else gloat over their equipment. The other is aimed at people who often enough have more money than sense or an equal amount of insecurity and consumer credit. Funny thing though, people still believe they can get more out of a recording produced using kilometres of very ordinary cable by using the most expensive ICs and speaker cables known to man on the tailend of the whole thing. Gives one pause, no? Bryston is marketing pro monitors to the home user (PMC I believe). Wonder if they will meet with any approval from buyers who almost always equate $$$$$ = qualty.