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Engineering a record

Old 05-11-22, 04:41 PM
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TiHabanero
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Engineering a record

Been a music buff since a teen and have noticed small differences between recordings as far as the way the music presents itself (I have no other way to describe this). In my house I have 3 very different stereo systems, each one does well with certain types of music. The other day two new recordings of an artist I am not familiar with came in the mail and upon playing them on my favorite set up, the first CD sounds terrible, as if recorded by an rookie in a basement.
The second CD was much better, but still off as in not correctly balanced for tone and emphasis (again I don't know how else to describe what I am hearing). The good thing is that when played on another set up that is not nearly as elaborate as the first set up, but does really well with rock n roll or Frank Sinatra, both CD's hit the mark.
There is always a difference between recordings, even if done by the same music group, however I have never heard such a remarkable difference between recordings on my stereo systems. Is it possible that people record music to be played as compressed files and therefore push the volume levels of certain frequencies?
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Old 05-11-22, 04:49 PM
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Originally Posted by TiHabanero View Post
Been a music buff since a teen and have noticed small differences between recordings as far as the way the music presents itself (I have no other way to describe this). In my house I have 3 very different stereo systems, each one does well with certain types of music. The other day two new recordings of an artist I am not familiar with came in the mail and upon playing them on my favorite set up, the first CD sounds terrible, as if recorded by an rookie in a basement.
The second CD was much better, but still off as in not correctly balanced for tone and emphasis (again I don't know how else to describe what I am hearing). The good thing is that when played on another set up that is not nearly as elaborate as the first set up, but does really well with rock n roll or Frank Sinatra, both CD's hit the mark.
There is always a difference between recordings, even if done by the same music group, however I have never heard such a remarkable difference between recordings on my stereo systems. Is it possible that people record music to be played as compressed files and therefore push the volume levels of certain frequencies?
Yes. It is done like that for a variety of reasons... which hearken back to the vinyl record days... there was a pretty good explanation/discussion of this here: Interesting discussion about analog verses digital music...
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Old 05-12-22, 01:29 PM
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I have read that thread and it seems more about digital vs. analog, which is not what I am discussing here, and really don't care about. The thrust is that it seems the recording levels are excessively enhanced as if someone figured the CD is to be played on a computer or something and they purposely brought up the recording levels to enhance the sound on less than ideal playback equipment.
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Old 05-12-22, 01:35 PM
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Sometimes it is recorded too polished and it ruins the sound. I thing modern country music is over produced. I like the old Johnny Cash recordings sounds authentic.
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Old 05-12-22, 03:51 PM
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It's been so long since I had a situation where I could playback music at a sound level that would make use of a decent sound system. Too many neighbors...
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Old 05-12-22, 04:52 PM
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TiHabanero , I have been an audio recording engineer for almost 40 years now....a little music but mostly commercials and audio for video. I've noticed the same thing as you. I think it comes down to inexpensive equipment. Not that inexpensive equipment necessarily sounds bad, but that inexpensive equipment allows anybody to record and mix. Even with good recording equipment and good recording practices, a recording's balance may be off if it is mixed and monitored on speakers that don't have a flat response curve. Sometimes that can work in your favor though. Back in the 1950s '60s and '70s before studios really spec'ed out the rooms for flat response each studio had a signature sound because of their monitoring setup. specifically Motown where the original studio had home built speakers. However, Motown also had the practice of using a low power AM transmitter and listening to mixes on an AM radio in a car the parking lot of the car, so there's that also.

Worse yet is mixing with headphones exclusively.

A good and conscientious audio engineer will listen to the mix on various systems with various speakers in both stereo and mono and headphones and I suppose surround nowadays and try to find a common ground mix that sounds good on everything.

I also think that when music and movies are mixed in high spec studios with lots of dynamic capabilities the engineers and producers forget that often times the mix is listened to on more modest systems without a huge dynamic range or wide frequency response...and in that way the engineers at Motown got it right, By listening to their mixes on crummy AM radios which is where most of their audience at the beginning was listening to the songs. I've read plenty of interviews with engineers from Motown in those days And one of their tricks was to double the baseline an octave up, on the 250Hz range. On better systems it gave the mix a huge bass sound, and on smaller more modest systems you could actually hear some bass notes since the higher doubled parts could be reproduced on small portable am radios.

I know you didn't want to address the analog versus digital issue but I will just say that having worked in analog and digital, analog has some characteristics and limitations that keep recordings sounding good on a wider range of systems.

In Hollywood before Dolby in the '70s they would have an optical mix in mono that had bass and treble roll-offs so that things would sound good in theaters with modest systems, and the optical system had dynamic limitiations.

And in the end if the music is engaging then it really doesn't matter as much how the recording sound as there is a lot of magic in some crummy old recordings...There's also a lot of old crap that's just crap, but if the magic's there, it'll shine through nomatter how it is recorded and mixed.

Last edited by BobbyG; 05-12-22 at 04:56 PM.
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Old 05-12-22, 06:13 PM
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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loudness_war
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Old 05-13-22, 03:08 AM
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Apparently I am not crazy after all. Going to show this to my wife to prove it! Since she is becoming hard of hearing the recordings sound fine to her.

Getting off topic here, BobbyG, how does one get involved in record engineering?
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Old 05-13-22, 08:09 AM
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Originally Posted by TiHabanero View Post
Apparently I am not crazy after all. Going to show this to my wife to prove it! Since she is becoming hard of hearing the recordings sound fine to her.

Getting off topic here, BobbyG, how does one get involved in record engineering?
There are schools like Full Sail.

I came up through radio in the 1980s and later worked in studios.
Nowadays there are countless articles and Youtube videos..
There are also websites that offer up individual tracks you can remix...now sometimes called "stems".

https://behindthespeakers.com/300-free-multitracks/

Here's a photo of me in my studio in 1992 (after biking to work there which I did for 28 more years until 2020 until the studio closed). No computers, yet except for the sampling keyboard which used floppy disks. It's a 16-track 1-inch tape machine and a 44 into 16 into 2 board with a secondary 8-channel mixer strip for a 1/4-inch 8-track tape machine. In the next room there was a similar, but smaller mixer 36 into (dual) 8 into 2, and briefly later a third studio with a 24 track 1-inch tape deck feeding into a 48 into 24 into 2 board with
computerized fader assist courtesy of a hookup to an Atari computer.

In 1994 we bought our first ProTools digital system (v2.1) and phased out our analog and tape systems shortly after that except for archival purposes.

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Old 05-13-22, 04:15 PM
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Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away you were a young man...fit and trim and fairly good looking, too! Phase out meaning the big mixing boards are replaced by laptops? I bet it is easier to mix now than ever before.
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Old 05-13-22, 06:46 PM
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My video editing program now has a function where you v tell it what track is the voice, what's the music and what the sound effects are and adds eq, levels and ducking (lowering the volume of the mz and fx) and it's not bad... it's just not fun.

It's like cycling... how much motor assist do you want or need?
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Old 05-14-22, 03:39 PM
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Wow, that is nearly automated. I presume the engineer still has the ability to override the decision making of the software, which I assume allows one to create their "signature sound", which in turn helps explain why these recordings I received are the way they are. Never too old to learn stuff, huh?

In another lifetime my buddy Pete and I were well into 8mm film, the stuff where you counted frames and created a splice. Everything was mechanical and he got a new editiing machine that had a counter on it so we didn't need to physically count the frames when splicing. That stuff took tons of time to do, and we both got pretty good at clean edits. Good fun.
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Old 05-14-22, 10:20 PM
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I used to pretend to be an audiophile -- subscribed to Audiophile magazine, studied all the reviews for the best gear my meagre college bank account could afford: Adcom GFA-535 amp and GTP-400 tuner/preamp, Rotel RCC-945 CD player, Celestion 5 speakers which I upgraded to Spica TC-50 (because I loved my dad's Spica Angelus').

But then I had an epiphany: I realized that I could hear the difference the gear made if I tried hard -- but if I didn't try hard, I didn't have to shell out $$ for hi-fi equipment.

Eventually I applied this to other areas of life. Hi-fi is a scam, a form of slavery. Good enough is good enough. A $6000 TdF-level road bike would not provide me 4x as much joy as a $1500 CrossCheck; A $50000 new car not 5x as much satisfaction as a $10000 used car; a $20000 stereo system with separate DAC and tube amplifier and special cables not 2000x more enjoyment than listening to YouTube through $10 earbuds.

I'm free!
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Old 05-15-22, 03:49 AM
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Two words:

Auto Tune

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