Steve Wilson is an artist and audio engineers that has contributed to a growing catalog of 5.1 surround music. He’s considered one of the strongest advocates for high-resolution, surround music and that makes him a hero in my book. Steve has been working with 5.1 surround music almost as long as I have…since the days of DTS Entertainment and their 5.1 DTS encoded CDs. You can find surround music from Yes, Jethro Tull, Tears for Fears, XTC and his own solo productions. This is an artist/engineer that gets it.
And he’s a fan of using 96 kHz/24-bit PCM instead of 48 kHz or any lower standard. He admits that the difference is quite subtle but says, “Even if the difference is 0.1 percent better, why wouldn’t you do it? There is information in those tracks that’s missing when you listen to a CD.” I’m in complete agreement. It’s easy to move up to 96 kHz/24-bits…that’s the bottom line for Steve these days.
There’s a terrific interview with Steve Wilson at Digital Trends that is well worth the read. You can check out Mike Mettler’s piece by clicking here.
The most important position that he talks about is how mastering is damaging the quality of music being delivered by artists and labels at all levels. He said this in the interview, “I know we’ve talked about this before, but I think it’s worth saying again that all of this high-resolution stuff is pointless if the mastering sucks. Bad mastering is more of a problem than things being released at CD resolution, or even MP3s. What’s nice about this move to 96/24 is the amount of things that are coming out in flat transfers — no compression, and no mastering engineers fucking up the sound. That is a very, very good development in the history of music.”
I’m not sure I agree that moving to 96 kHz/24-bits has actually resulted in less heavy handed mastering…it’s certainly not true in the commercial world of music production. But I’m encouraged that he avoids mastering entirely for his projects. When he’s happy with the sound of the surround mixes, he considers himself done. There is no need to visit a mastering studio and have modifications done to the timbre and dynamics of his work. I couldn’t agree more despite having spent 13 years as a mastering engineer. If fidelity is what you’re interested in, then mastering should be avoided.
“The simple answer is I don’t have any of my work mastered. It goes straight from my mixes — flat transfers onto the disc. And that applies to the mixes I do for the Yes reissues, the XTC reissues, the Jethro Tull reissues, and of course my own work too. And it’s amazing how many of the musicians I speak to, when I say to them, “I don’t want this mastered” — they’re initially shocked. But then they understand. Why would you need this mastered? You’ve approved the masters and you think the mixes sound great, so why would you not just release them as they are?”
This approach isn’t going to work with every project. And there are obviously occasions when mastering is required. But it’s certainly refreshing when a serious artist acknowledges that mastering is a problem and not a solution in record production.