Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What Does it Sound Like?

So what exactly does this great sonic quality sound like that I've been going on and on about in my other posts?

It is a full, rich-sounding aural landscape that has an unmistakeable 3D quality - not only from left to right, but also a depth from front to back - and a satisfying expansiveness of tone that makes it sound like the instruments and vocalists are in the room with you.

The first time I auditioned a stereo system that was capable of delivering an audiophile experience was many, many years ago. I was in a hi-end audio store listening to a pair of Rogers Studio 1a speakers (no longer in production, and if memory serves, about $2000 for the pair at the time), and the beginning of Mozart's 39th Symphony was starting to play.

My jaw was on the floor after about 5 seconds.

Not only did I have the very overwhelming sense that I was actually in the orchestra pit at the concert hall - the music was THAT acoustically enveloping - but I could actually tell that the violin soloist was standing 12 feet in front of me and 5 feet to the left! Not 8 feet in front of me, not 20 feet in front of me, twelve. I am not exaggerating. This is what a proper recording can reveal. And we are only talking about stereo speakers here, not surround.

And it doesn't just apply to classical music of course. Singers, drum kits, acoustic and electric guitars all have a sonic weight, depth, and physical placement to them that makes it sound like you are actually there in the room with them. You've never heard them sound so rich, beautiful and alive before. There is a 3D depth to the mix that makes you feel like you can step into the middle of it, and makes most other songs sound sonically flat in comparison. Gone is the veil between listener and loudspeaker that makes you aware that you are listening to prerecorded music, a veil that you didn't know existed until you hear a properly recorded song on a proper system.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Recording Quality, Record Companies, and Recording Studios

Okay, so in my first post I mentioned how in addition to most people never having heard true audiophile recording quality, that most commercial recordings of popular music are of inferior recording quality to begin with.

So that now begs the question: Why? Why in this age of amazing technology, now seemingly everywhere, and to be had at lower prices than ever before, why should ANY recordings be of anything less than amazing sonic fidelity? The simple answer is, as it is with all commerce - supply and demand.

The public has not created a demand for audiophile quality, and so the record companies make no effort to supply it. Although almost any studio these days is capable of making a high fidelity recording with the equipment on hand, that recording still requires a huge investment of time, and even more importantly, expertise, on the part of the recording engineer and producer in order to achieve it. If great care is not taken at every stage of the recording, mixing, and mastering process, you will end up with a product - if you're lucky -  that is of acceptable sonic quality - but far, far removed from great quality.

But as I said, the record buying public has not demanded quality in recordings. Most people are happy to hear music through inferior mediums such as mp3s, ipods, computer speakers, car stereos, and mediocre home stereo systems. As long as the performance of the artist moves them, the recording quality is not noticed, nor missed, nor is it even accessible through their delivery systems. In short, they don't know what they're missing sound-quality wise.

And honestly, there is something to be said for that. What makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck is the emotion of the performer and the song itself - not how well it was recorded. And so people are happy with the music that they buy just as it is. Nothing wrong with that.

And so if that's the case, why would a record label then bother to spend twice as long in the studio - and twice the money - nursing the audio quality aspects of a recording if it's not going to help to sell any more units?? That's right - they wouldn't - and they don't!! Supply and demand. Dollars and cents. Simple.

However let me assure you, that as inspiring and emotionally moving as your favorite record is, it is even WAY more of those things and much more visceral when experienced with true audiophile quality. (Unfortunately the chances are that your favorite song isn't all that well recorded, and so you'll never experience it that way even if you upgrade your stereo system - sorry!)

Think of it this way. You can be inspired by watching your favorite movie on a VHS tape through an old 25" TV. That's how a lot of us grew up experiencing a lot of movies and it was wonderful. But imagine now how much more of an emotional wallop that the same movie packs when you watch it on Blu-ray, on a 60" flat screen HDTV. Same art, different delivery system. Different experience.

And now because of this state of affairs with the record companies and music production, we now have many people who work in the music industry who have grown up with and gotten used to recording quality that is only of "acceptable" quality, and so help to perpetuate the problem by not seeking from those that they work with anything better. It's an unfortunate cycle.

On the other hand, there are a few artists, and a few labels, as well as a few recording studios (including my own), who make recording quality a priority, and strive to only publish music that puts as much effort into the recordings themselves as into the performances of the artists. If you have a proper stereo system (not something that you can get at Best Buy or put together for less than $1000), you can go through your CD collection one day and find out who they are - it's a real eye-opener!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Recording Quality - All those of you who care about music have heard this term before ... yet how many of you really know what this means? Honestly, I bet that less than 5% of you do. Most people have NEVER heard a well-recorded song played back through a quality sound system good enough to produce the fidelity that a properly recorded CD can reproduce. An mp3 wont come even close to cutting it, and listened to over typical headphones or an Ipod - fuggedaboutit!

And if you think that a CD played over your stereo is giving you good sound quality, think again. You would've had to have spent a MINIMUM of $1,000 on your stereo to BEGIN to hear all of the information contained on a well-recorded CD. Oh - and you would've had to have picked your system very carefully - most $1000 systems wont cut it either.

Nope ... most of you are listening to what equates to watching a movie on VHS tape on an old 25" TV set as opposed to watching a DVD on a hi-definition 50" plasma monitor.

Get it?

I hope so, because my parents still can't see the quality difference between videotape and DVD.

And it's not just the fault of bad headphones, bad stereos, or the detrimental effects of converting a song into the very bad mp3 format. No, the record companies are to blame as well - because fully THREE QUARTERS of commercial music released by the major labels (and independents too) is poorly recorded. I'm being too nice here. It's CRAP sound quality-wise. But unless you have an audiophile-grade stereo system to play your CDs back on, you will never hear the difference between the crappy sounding quality CDs and the amazing ones.

It's like watching a Blu Ray DVD on an old, small, TV with a fuzzy screen. Under those conditions you would not be able to tell if your source was a DVD or a videotape - because the quality on the disc is being masked by the TV.

This unfortunately is the way it is for 95% of people listening to music. If they had a good system to hear their CDs back on, they would hear that MOST of them are "VHS Videotape quality", and only very few of them are audiophile quality.

Why are most CDs of poor quality? Well that's a topic that I will address in another blog, but anyone who has visited my recording studio or my home has heard the difference - and usually for the first time in their life.