What happens before it gets to us...

SteveG

Account Disabled
2002-01-07 7:20 pm
Newton Falls, Ohio
I have been reading the thread about Randy Sloanes optimos design, and the topic of signal route in audio production came up again (I think dirk posted something about it). I have seen it come up a few times in other threads, and I think it is time that we start a thread on this. I hope a few other people will find it interesting. I know that there are some musicians out there who have been involved with production, as I have. Here are a few of my thoughts and questions on the subject...

Other than the audiophile classical labels like Telarc, is there anyone who is using a short and unprocessed signal route and electronics with minimal feedback, especially in pop/rock music?
The consoles that I have used always have 3-4 eq stages. I would have to assume that they are implemented with op-amps and feedback. I have to wonder sometimes why we go to all the trouble of building these minimalist systems with no eq, etc. and then listen to a recording that has been processed so much! The typical multitrack recording may have gone through a process that includes:
1. tracking- tracking to tape with pre-eq, although some prefer to print to tape without eq.
The microphone(s) may have been run through a console preamp or standalone (better quality). It is also quite typical, especially on drums and other dynamic instruments, to record to tape/hard disc with compression (especially since digital recording responds so terribley to overload, clips hard). The a/d converters will typically be at least a 20 bit now, but I have to wonder about the quality there. Maybe when the SACD direct stream digital ends up in pro audio there will be an improvement in this area. Multiple tracks are recorded like this.
2. Mixdown- All tracks are equalized to get a consistent sound. This is typically done through the console, although sometimes outboard processors are used. This part of the process may or may not leave the digital domain. Staying digital once there is always preferred, but is not always practical (especially for smaller studios with limited resources). Compression and de-essing (frequency dependant compression, to tame spitty ssss sibilants that are a byproduct of compression). Artificial ambience in the form of reverbs and delays are added to create space. Panning is done to create the soundstage.
3. Mastering- a mastering engineer listens to the recording and adjusts levels and eq between tracks on the 2 track master to give a consistent sound. Compression may be added to the overall track now to add "punch".

This is just my understanding of and experience with some of the processes involved in making a pop recording. It makes me wonder what the quality potential is if someone were to implement audiophile techniques to the process and cut down on the signal butchering. I'm convinced that there are people doing it... I'll bet that some of the better sounding recordings have producers with more of this mindset.
I guess my point is that we can talk about the issues of feedback vs. no feedback, simple gain paths vs. complex amps with low distortion, etc. etc. But you have to wonder what is going on before it even gets to us, and how much we are missing out on!
 
I'm not sure SACD is a panacea for pro audio. The technology exists now to achieve almost arbitrarily good results with PCM audio i.e. PCM vs. 1-bit is not a limiting factor in mixing/mastering quality. There are ADC/DACs capable of greater than 20 bits of precision when properly applied.

Although I don't really ascribe to the no/low-feedback viewpoint, if you believe in it then just because other "bad" processing has occurred there is still reason to implement it in the stages you have control of. Although you can never regain lost quality, you can certainly minimize additional losses within your equipment.
 

SteveG

Account Disabled
2002-01-07 7:20 pm
Newton Falls, Ohio
"I'm not sure SACD is a panacea for pro audio."

I wasn't really saying that it was... just that it may be another option to what I consider poor digital sound quality (my viewpoint, of course). It does have an analog-like smoothness that you don't get from standard pcm.

"The technology exists now to achieve almost arbitrarily good results with PCM audio i.e. PCM vs. 1-bit is not a limiting factor in mixing/mastering quality."

I would have to agree and disagree on this point. I believe that it is a compromise for convenience sake in a long chain of limiting factors. I believe that there would be a big difference if the audio was transferred to direct stream digital from the start, and then had any processing applied either before or without a d/a conversion, until the final conversion at the listeners system. Even not going this way, and using DSD technology instead of PCM would be of benefit, because it is more like analog; it loses less information from conversion to conversion due to the higher sampling rate and the nature of the encoding itself. Proof is in the recordings being issued by Telarc, which are converted to DSD from the start. Have you heard any of these? Of course you are definitely right too... the real flaw comes in the amount of processing and lack of care taken to preserve the subtlety of the original signal, and most pro audio recorders will definitely surpass the quality of our 16 bit home systems. The bar should be raised on source formats. I believe that with DVD audio and DSD, it is on it's way to being raised. We can all hope.

"There are ADC/DACs capable of greater than 20 bits of precision when properly applied."

Yes, I know that there are a lot of 24 bit capable systems out there now, but I think that PCM is still inferior to analog, not looking at the noise(and probably to DSD too). Of course 24 is better than 16, but it still isn't what I hear from live music.

"Although I don't really ascribe to the no/low-feedback viewpoint, if you believe in it then just because other "bad" processing has occurred there is still reason to implement it in the stages you have control of. Although you can never regain lost quality, you can certainly minimize additional losses within your equipment."

Agreed. My point wasn't really "throw in the towel because there's no point". It was more to point out that maybe there needs to be a push on the pro audio industry to deliver the quality. Unfortunately, we are in the small minority who can tell the difference. Have you heard some of the overcompressed garbage recordings selling in the millions? I guess the idea is a little idealistic, but then I thought that was what DIY is all about, right?
 
It's a very interesting discussion you've started here, Steve.
Since I,ve been in the pro-audio industry as well, I know exactly what You mean.
My question is: What are our references, when we tune in our expencive hi-fi equipement. Probably some high-quality/-definition recording made by someone else!!
Very few of us are using our own recordings, where we know exactlyhow it's supposed to sound.
In other words: We're tuning the reproduction of the recorded music to our OWN taste, and NOT to an exact reproduction of what was recorded, since we have no idea what-so-ever of how that was!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Conclusion: Real audio is experienced where it's performed, the rest is merely a matter of taste and preference.

Excuse me for being a bit provocative, please.
 

SteveG

Account Disabled
2002-01-07 7:20 pm
Newton Falls, Ohio
Hoffmeyer,
No excuse necessary! I think this is a "loaded" topic, in a way. Your point is a good one, I must admit that we are all subjected to the engineer/producer's idea of what the recording should sound like. At the same time, I think there are way too many "audiophiles" out there that have no idea of what real acoustic instruments sound like. I know that not every one can be a musician. It's ok to like what you like. Audio is art. I guess that my standards may just be a little higher than other's in some ways, but are probably not as high as some people's. I just find it odd that this topic is so often neglected in these discussions. Sure, it comes up once in a while, but for the most part people seem to forget that the ultimate quality of the system is only as good as the source playing through it, and that the goal is faithful reproduction of live music. I'll get off my soap box now. ha ha.
 
"Other than the audiophile classical labels like Telarc, is there anyone who is using a short and unprocessed signal route and electronics with minimal feedback, especially in pop/rock music? "

Definatly not in pop music... pop stands for popular meaning industry born with a sole purpose of selling a copy to as many people as possible. If more than a handful (compared to the millions of others) cared about how a CD was mastered, I'm sure they would consider it. Thats what pop music is about... catering to the masses, not a select few.

Maybe I'm just another disallusioned engineer (to some of you) but I must say feedback -- negative, for that matter -- is a good thing... a VERY good thing. The idea of people throwing it out the window and cursing at it disapoints me -- especially after studying feedback theory in grad school (so it was all a waste of time??? :) ). People are entitled to their audio opinions so I won't argue the point but I had to throw my 2 cents into the spare-a-penny tray.

Oh, and if the engineers didn't do so much post processing on most of the pop music these days it would be even less worth listening to, especially for those who buy all kinds of pop music. To these people it would probably sound like crap compared to the rest, and they might not like it as much. This idea scares the record exec's. I will not mention any names but there has been a trend that started in the 90's, to master CD's with clipping up the yin-yang. This apparently started because a certain pop label began doing this, and found that people thought it sounded "louder" on their systems. In order for other label's CD's to sound just as "loud", they began doing the same, and the trend has not stopped yet. Fortunatly this is only a small section of the pop music (hint RAP =) so most of us are unaffected.

:D
 
Steve.
Maby it's neglected so often, because so many people have so much fate in the technicians who makes the recordings.
As for any other trade, there are good technicians, and bad ones, but, as You've probably tried yourself, even a good one can suffer from listening fatigue during mixdown.
Few people are aware of this, and that, I think, is the main reason for the neglect.
Another one could be, that it would kill any debate about tweeking, unless based on taste and preference, and that's not 'High-Fidelity'.
 
R. McAnally said:
I will not mention any names but there has been a trend that started in the 90's, to master CD's with clipping up the yin-yang. This apparently started because a certain pop label began doing this, and found that people thought it sounded "louder" on their systems. In order for other label's CD's to sound just as "loud", they began doing the same, and the trend has not stopped yet. Fortunatly this is only a small section of the pop music (hint RAP =) so most of us are unaffected.

I'm not defending this, but it is worth considering that many modern recordings contain a lot of intentional distortion and even noise added. Some people obviously like this (to a degree). Even to the point of causing listener fatigue, this may be the desired sound for some segment ofthe population. Again, I think it becomes a personal preference....as you say, pop music is not necessarily (usually not?) intended for the discerning listener.
 
Here is something I'd like to put forward regarding the DSD PCM debate. It comes from an article I was reading (the link no longer works) but put simply - digitizing an analog signal to DSD is not actually going to work out because you can NOT use traditional DSP techniques on a DSD signal. You can't multiply or add. Thus if you have to perform any digital mixing or whatever on it you're probably going to have to go with PCM and then convert to DSD to put it on an SACD.
So maybe you're favourite SACD was once in fact PCM!!!!!

The article I am refering to was very interesting I'll see if I can find it maybe it has moved.
It also expossed general advertsing hype put forward by sony. For example the 10kHz square wave sampled at 44.1/16 and DSD - the 44.1/16 comes out as a sinewave while the DSD version is well reconstructed. But do they put in a DVD-Audio example at 192/24 - I bet that would look pretty good as well.
 
"the 44.1/16 comes out as a sinewave while the DSD version is well reconstructed"

It all boils down to frequency response for the square wave response of the PCM (half the sampling rate). Since the square wave is composed of multiples of the fundamental frequency (i.e. 10k, 20k, 30k, ect..) 22k upper limit will only allow two frequencies 10k and 20k.. that would look like a funky sinewave.

Since the human ear can't hear anything over 20k anyways extra frequency response makes little difference in overall sound quality in my opinion.. oversampling eliminates the "brick-wall" filter that used to ruin CD sound back in the day. Higher bitrates will improve the resolution and probably make a much bigger difference than increasing the frequency response by increasing sampling rates or using other codecs to do the same. (I'm sure opinions may vary on this one =)
 

Brett

Member
2002-01-07 6:02 pm
Mapleshade.....

make some fine recordings of some fine artists, mainly blues, jazz, classical, some reggae and other stuff thrown in.

Here's what they're T shirts say..
NO mixing boards
NO overdubs
NO noise reduction
NO compression
NO multitracks
NO eq
NO reverb
NOTHING but the excitement of live music.

Check them out <a href="http://www.mapleshaderecords.com/">here</a>. If you're a real audiophile, you should have a few at least. Prices are very reasonable too.

I like what the last line on their T's says. That's what it's all about isn't it? The first album I recall buying was Supertramp's Paris, and since then I've looked for live work by artists to know what they're really like. Ideally I want to see/hear them live, but often that's not possible for a lot of reasons. I have 5 whole days of live music coming up at the Byron Bay Blues festival, though. Kewl!

I'm setting up a recording and (hopefully) distribution business this year, mainly to find unsigned, talented artists, and record them well, raw, live and exciting: to capture that moment in all it's glorious technicolour.

I am collecting mics again, and have a Studer A80 master recorder, with all custom electronics being built. Digital, schmigital.



Dave: you are correct in saying that you cannot process DSD recordings in a bitstream format. They must be reconstructed into PCM in the digital domain, processed, and then made back into DSD. I had it explained one to me by a mathematician, but the detail of it went over my head. Unfortunately I have no URL convenient to prove this.

Cheers
 
Old School

Steve:
There are engineers out there who know what they are doing. I think the problem with pop, and a few others, is the fact that the tricks aren't being passed down. Some of the young engineers today,and I'm not knocking them, are too quick to jump on the bells and whistles. Some start out as live sound engineers and there's a big difference between live and studio sound. One who is used to tweaking the eq first with no thought to moving the mic is applying the norm from one to the other. Mic placement and selection is an art. Even a mackie has an on off button on the eq section. Some of the engineers I love are Al Schmidt and Bruce Swedien (misspelled). These guys are old school and really know their stuff. The old blues engineers still use tape at 15 ips, why? They want to compress the tape because its been a part of that blues sound. A half a million dollar Neve is an amazing sounding console. Being SS discrete class a I'd expect that. Sometimes compressing before eqing will give you what you want without adding or taking away from the original signal. My point is there are really good recordings out there, just listen to Natalie Coles Unforgetable (Al Schmidt). Feedback, no feedback its all about training and then trusting our ears. In the end thats all that really matters.
 
The other day I listened to "Brothers in Arms." This CD probably came out in '84 from a studio that does not exist anymore. One of the first DDD recordings, it simply was done as good as the CD format would let you. I don't think many "pop" recordings have surpassed it.

So we have not really gained anything in the source area since then. Sure, they know some tricks, our players are better, but the quality of the source is not much better. I am listening to Emmy Lou Harris" "Spyboy" CD right now --- Its a live recording (and a damn fine one at that). No it does not have the dynamics of a live show. But then again how many of the "mainstream" have a system capable of even playing the dynamics the CD has? You would thrash the low-fi boxes to death trying to play even 30dB - forget cars with noise floors of 70dB.

Now, I work at a place that has a zillion dollars worth of equipment (yeah, 1/2 million dollar mixing desks are everywhere now days - Studer is proud of that 950, so is SSL). Coming out of a 48 track digital recorder, it is amazing. Hell, even out a 8 or 16 track.

They could easily come up with a distribution method on DVD disks that would give us what we want. But I really doubt it makes financial sense, especially since artists like EmmyLou can't even get a record deal. Think they would give up the production money to actually do it right? not a chance....

(OK, I am a little cynical about the major labels).