I know and count as friends a large number of professional recording engineers. Among them are Grammy nominees/winners and engineers that have worked with some of the biggest music acts on the planet (including the Stones, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder etc). The recent AES Convention presented an opportunity to meet some new friends and catch up with s few old ones. And as you might have guessed, I brought up the subject of high-resolution audio to a number of them. Strolling the aisles of the show, I also stopped random individuals and asked them about high-resolution audio as well…a sort of “man in the aisles” impromptu poll.
Here’s a brief report on my some of those conversations and the results of my questioning:
Outside of our little world…almost no one knows what high-resolution is or has even heard about it. This was quite surprising to me. Wouldn’t you expect the engineers recording the next big hit or album would want to be current with the latest engineering trends? Well, perhaps they are…and high-resolution audio isn’t one of them. Of roughly 20 people that I polled, only about 30% had any clue what high-resolution audio was. About half had heard the term but couldn’t really provide any more information than, “it’s when you use run Pro Tools at 96 kHz or higher, right”. A couple of analog traditionalists brought up the resurgence of analog tape and vinyl LP in referring to high-resolution audio. When challenged I got the usual responses…”analog is infinite resolution”, “I just like the sound of analog better”, and “no one can tell the difference between a CD and high-res audio…so why bother?”
The reality is that engineers don’t really have the facts and they don’t really care. Their goal is to produce recordings that the labels and producers are willing to release…not ones that actually sound good.
Another interesting discussion that I had with more than one engineer is the lunacy of audiophiles. When I said that I owned and operated an audiophile record label, the responses ran the gamut from comments with a decidedly “Twilight Zone” cast or to ones that actually tried to understand the motivations of audiophiles. I think the best conversation I had was with a very successful engineer and studio owner (multiple facilities, in fact). When I mentioned some of the “accessories”, “tweaks”, and cable costs that are pitched to audiophiles, he rolled his eyes and said, “don’t audiophiles know that we don’t use any of that stuff while we’re making records?” I responded that I think many are aware of the basics of audio production but they feel that they can get more out of the tracks with exotic cables, special treatments, and hocus pocus accessories.
This is a touchy area with professionals. They regard what they do as alchemy…a blend of technology, artisanship, and inspiration. What they hear from their monitor speakers (JBL, DynAudio, Tannoy, ATC etc…not Wilson or Magico) is what they approve. And the artists usually approve the final mixes and mastered tracks on their own home systems. I’ve seen artists approve final masters on the built in speakers on their tour busses.
Finally, there are occasions when you learn something from a veteran that you didn’t know. I bumped into Allen Sides outside of the paper sessions area of the show and got chatting briefly. He told me that the Studer machines that The Beatles used form many of their early records had the low end restricted by an Abbey Road tech. I hadn’t heard that before. He told me that he had heard that the machines wouldn’t handle anything lower than 40-60 Hz and that’s why the low end is so thin on those albums. Interesting.
Audio magazines would do a big favor to the audiophile community if they would concentrate on less pricey equipment and explore the studios where the music is actually produced.