Dr. AIX's POSTS — 27 October 2015

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I’m on the ICE train to Frankfurt, Germany as I write this…and I’m on the train that left Basel, Switzerland an hour after the one that I was supposed to be on. I would love to blame the delay on bad information I received at the ticket counter but in fact, I misread the signs and got delayed. So with some frustration, I’m finally on my way to the Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz. The title of my presentation is “High-Resolution Music: Enhancing the Sound of Recorded Music”.

I’ve prepared a Powerpoint presentation that attacks this issue from both ends of the production pipeline. Enhancing the sound of recorded music depends on a number of critical components. Most audiophiles believe by tweaking their audio equipment or acquiring the latest audiophile accessory they’ll improve the fidelity of their playback systems. The truth is that if they experience a change at all, it’s a sonic change and not a fundamental change to the fidelity of the original recording.

So how can musicians and audio engineering students make sure that they’re making the very best recordings possible? They have to be sure that they have appropriate equipment available at all stages of the production and they have to maintain procedures that will maintain the high-resolution fidelity that they want.

Consider the following situation. A particular production is captured using very high-end microphones and a high-resolution recorder but the engineer is monitoring the incoming sound using amplifiers and speakers (or headphones) incapable of delivering the full fidelity of the source. In order to “fix” the, the engineer applies some equalization to compensate for what he or she perceives as too little high end. As a result the recording is no longer accurate or flat. It has been modified away from the actual sound because of a problem with a piece of equipment further down the signal path. This can happen during mixing and mastering, too.

Another approach is to capture the natural sound without altering either the dynamics or frequencies coming in from the microphones. It’s true that microphones, preamplifiers, and analog to digital converters all have “sonic” characteristics of their own, but it’s the job of the engineer to know which microphones to use in which circumstances. The same can be said or where to place the microphones, which techniques to use (mono or stereo), and how to arrange the musicians in the acoustic space. However, in order to maximize the potential fidelity of any given recording, the key is to maintain the fidelity being delivered to the recorder with an absolute minimum of processing.

Following the original session, the post production process can also reduce the fidelity of a new recording. The application of equalization or dynamics processing can compromise the fidelity of a track. And if the processing is improperly monitored (low performing speakers) or the aesthetic of the music genre demands modifications that reduce the fidelity (perhaps in a commercially desirable way), the necessary of higher sample rates and longer word lengths is moot. We only benefit if the goal is to meet or exceed the sonics of the real world.

I’ll be delivering this message to the gathered students. Later.

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About Author

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

(1) Reader Comment

  1. I’ve always wondered why many studios used some of the worst sounding speakers I’ve ever heard. It occurred to me that maybe they wanted to hear the material at a worst case scenario. The speakers were considered “reference” by many and for many years. I’ve yet to reconcile why, I’ve heard the RS’s in many environments, and they’ve always rubbed me the wrong way. So much so that I know it’s not a subjective opinion, but an issue of performance. I’ve further wondered how little dynamic range and how much garbage can be sold to our biggest roadblock, the folks that just don’t care. It almost makes me wish I was a sonic zombie myself. I always make an effort to listen through many different systems & formats to the amateur recordings I’ve made of my music while also listening to my reference recordings made by professionals. The microphone selection, placement and room acoustics are beyond critical There’s simply no replacement of experience, dedication, training & tools (equipment). Without those intrinsic tools and methods,there’s nothing to offer of any value to me. I don’t think people understand how difficult it really is, software doesn’t make the magic. Someone please have an MP3 player bite me !

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