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.