Recordings: Recording Approaches

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The main hindrances to good sound are not poor recordings but poor equipment and, just as important, improper use of equipment.

A good, natural recording played back well on even a modest system will provide enough sonic information to re-create much of the visual information of a live performance. Built up from subtle sonic detail, an almost holographic image identifies where each player is positioned, whether seated or standing, the kind of acoustic space the performance occurs in, the details of a page being turned, a creaky chair, a tapping foot.

There’s a tactile quality to good recordings—violins sound like violins, not steel strings; the saxophone has the breathy, sometimes gurgly sound of a live sax; you can hear the snap of the drum skin, distinguish between a ridged or smooth surface on the cymbals, or when a pillow has been used to muffle the bass. You can hear the breath in a singer’s throat, and almost “see” lips and tongue shaping a sound.

Ideally, you would just hold the recording to your ear to hear the music and dispense with the complications of audio components. It is a central and fundamental verity of audio that the recording is the heart and soul of the HFS system. For even though you must contend with putting together and maintaining a good system, it must not get in the way of the recording—the equipment is meant to be seen but not heard. What you want to hear is the music, not the system’s interpretation of that music. Far too often stereo systems instead block the sound!

Your playback system is only as valuable to you as your recordings, for its function is to reveal them. Boasting about great equipment is like praising a pianist’s instrument—it tells you nothing about the piano player. The piano and your system are equally useless without the input of musical information.

Largely unaware of the experience recordings can bring, we tend to mistreat them as disposable items, readily replaced when damaged. It is only recently that the recording, long viewed as an inferior substitute for the live performance, is coming to be acknowledged for what it is—not a toy or novelty item or even a mass medium, but an art form.

Recordings are a living museum of our musical heritage, the universal storage medium for the human musical experience. And while many of us have great museums—anyone with even a small record collection almost certainly owns a few special moments in recorded history—few of us realize it because we have never heard the full depth of detail locked within the records in our collections.

A performance, normally fleeting, is by recording frozen in space and time. The recording provides an extraordinary link between the two worlds of past performance and present audience, with the playback equipment serving as a kind of time machine. Like a window onto the once-live moment of the music, a recording lets you hear and see into reality. (Like a window too, the recording can never be as transparent as an unobstructed view, but it can come remarkably close.)

What printing did for the written word, recordings have done for music. Even if you could devote your entire life to traveling the world to hear live performances, it would be impossible to hear as many per formers, conductors, nationalities, and varieties of music as you can hear on recordings at home, whenever and as often as desired. Just as printing brought about a proliferation of books, since hi-fi was developed there have been far more orchestras and more performances of live music. Recordings created a large enough audience with the desire to experience the original that many more towns are now able to support an orchestra and other musical events.

RECORDING AND TECHNOLOGY

While the recording industry during the past 100 years has been continually seeking to develop equipment that would more faithfully capture the live event, somewhere along the way the emphasis came increasingly to be put on the process and technique of recording rather than on the results. Recording is above all an artistic pursuit, but it is being stifled by an overemphasis on and overconfidence in technology. Science provides the tools and materials for a painter or sculptor, just as it also provides the materials and means of recording and playback. An artist who confuses material and technique with talent and communication achieves work of only a short-lived reputation at best.

Whereas poor playback equipment for many years obscured the subtle sonic detail captured on many recordings, their musical detail is today readily revealed by good equipment. But poor recording techniques permanently obscure subtle musical details that no playback equipment will ever be able to reveal because they were lost to the recording.

It’s a pervasive misperception that technology continuously advances, making all preceding developments obsolete. It leads us to the bankrupt conclusion that stereo is inherently superior to mono, transistors to tubes, digital to analog, none of which is necessarily true. “Newer,” in recording and playback alike, is not automatically synonymous with “improved.” The recording of music is fundamentally an artistic matter, so the most advanced technology is not ipso facto the best choice for reproducing music, just as advanced technologies for processing and preserving food don’t always assure your eating plea sure.

Some of the most highly regarded recordings date from the 1950s and early 1960s, not a period usually thought of as the golden age of high fidelity. These magnificent recordings may have noisy surfaces, tape hiss, some cutting-lathe noise, and occasional frequency-range compression, but they are indisputably real, dynamic, startlingly natural, musical, despite minor blemishes. It’s a complete myth that one has to listen to “audiophile” pressings and the latest state-of-the-art equipment in order to enjoy good sound. Music is precisely what one is trying to capture on a disc—black velvet backgrounds, earth-rumbling lows, and Day-Glo highs may impress but aren’t music.

Regardless of the millions spent on advertisements proclaiming great leaps of advancement in recording techniques, the major labels’ current releases are not significantly better than those in the early 1960s, and a great number of them are significantly inferior.

These major companies have dominated the public perception of recording, along with their counterparts among the audio equipment manufacturers. (In the earlier days of audio, companies made both recordings and equipment.) Between poor recordings and poor playback equipment, it is easy to understand why so many people have become inured to bad sound.

One of the problems is that few recording companies have any awareness of what constitutes good playback equipment; they cannot even hear what is on a recording because they play it back on poor equipment. An anecdote from Raymond Cooke, head of the KEF speaker company, illustrates the widespread use of inferior monitor equipment. *

* As reported in Stereophile, vol. 8, no. 3.

EMI executives put on a public demonstration of some of their recordings, borrowing a pair of KEF’s audiophile home speakers for the event. One disc played was Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, famous among audio connoisseurs as one of the technically finest of rock recordings. But never having heard Dark Side on anything better than typical studio monitors or mass-market junk, the EMI suits were unaware that there was some pretty raunchy language on the recording, a fact readily revealed by any good playback system. Much to EMI’s embarrassment, some of the audience got up and walked out.

Studio monitor equipment is selected for durability and ease of use—period. The question of sonic excellence is not at issue. Recording companies all over the country were baffled by being asked about what kind of reference equipment they were listening on. It seems most recording engineers and producers listen to mass-fl equipment, undoubtedly poorly set up, and decide the final EQ according to how the mix sounds on the lowest common denominator of such equipment. This approach seems to be based on the mistaken notion that a recording has to be specifically made to sound good on poor equipment, which is what they believe most of their audience listens on. Many say they fee! (as far as they think about it at all) that by listening on better equipment themselves, they would lose touch with their market.

What they don’t seem to recognize is that a good recording played on any equipment will sound better than a poor recording on any equipment. Nonetheless, with the exception of the premier audiophile labels (such as Opus 3, Reference Recordings, Jim Boyk’s Performance Recordings, Sheffield Lab), it’s a rare company that knows that (or probably cares) anything about audiophile playback equipment. So the overwhelming likelihood is that most companies are in the same position as EMI in the anecdote above—they have no idea how their recordings actually sound.

Now this would be fine if they left well enough alone instead of doctoring the sound. The Mercury Living Presence, Decca/London, and DG recordings so highly prized today were at the time of their release not fully recognized for their excellence because the quality of playback equipment was generally less good than it is now. Just how much subtle detail was actually captured on those recordings finally came to be revealed as playback equipment improved. Nowadays, though, with the “advances” in technology, those same recordings would have been EQed to make them sound “more alive” on poor playback equipment and so, when listened to on a good system, they would have their subtle musical detail buried beneath EQ’s electronic smog.

You can clearly hear the negative effects of misapplied technology by following a performer’s recording career. The best recordings of a performer are frequently the earlier ones, before he or she became famous—because the recording company wants to minimize its risk on an unknown artist, the simplest recording techniques are used. With less electronic gadgetry and geewhizardry involved, there is also less electronic smog and distortion. As the artist becomes more successful, recording company and studio engineers alike want to impress and so pull out all the stops on the latest techno-wonders. And the sound quality goes down the drain. This is not a case of misapplied artistry; it’s a case of the almighty buck and perhaps mistaken artistry. Many times we have to accept mediocrity, but must we really believe in it as well?

A number of famous rock recording artists and producers boast about using a portable radio or car stereo to test the final mix-down. The Rolling Stones in particular have always taken a perverse pride in bragging about how little attention they give to good sound—an attitude we’ve always interpreted as being inverse snobbery.

Good sound is not a form of elitism. The intent behind achieving sonic excellence is simply to permit better access to the music—imagine having to view a great work of art through a dirty window. The transparency of medium and equipment is what allows the music to come through and really grab the listener’s heart. Bad sound short-changes not only the music and the listener but also the musicians, who may play their hearts out during a performance only to get considerably less than the best recorded sound possible.

Nonetheless, a poor recording of great music is always better than the reverse. In painting, Magritte’s technique was very sloppy—this doesn’t show when looking at reproductions of his work, but just take a look at the originals. Vermeer, in contrast, was excellent at both con tent and technique. But few would be prepared to miss out on Magritte just because he wasn’t painterly.

THE TWO BASIC SCHOOLS

Recording and playback are mirror images, with the recording itself representing the plane of the mirror. Many of the principles of good playback hold true also for good recording. The importance of minimalism, for example, is just as critical in recording as in playback. Circuitry—any circuitry—unavoidably adds distortion. The smaller the amount of electronics, including wire and cable, between the live performance and the final recording, the more musical and natural the sound will be.

Just as in playback, the problems that develop during a recording’s production tend to be cumulative. Problems, once existing, can never be entirely eradicated except by doing the recording over again. At tempts made to correct the initial recording error may only compound the problem. You can’t just pull a bottle of sonic bleach or audio spot remover off the shelf and try to remove the stain. The best you can hope for is to doctor the recording electronically in an attempt to camouflage the mistake. But this very process, even assuming it works, will degrade the recording’s overall sound, Somewhat the way cleaning fluid leaches out a little of the fabric color along with the stain, leaving a larger, slightly faded area. The frightening part is that a large number of recording engineers would flatly disagree with this. They rely on the availability of audio spot removers and believe negligible degradation results.

As a general rule, the minimum number of mikes, used in the most straightforward manner possible, with the least manipulation of the recording both during and after the performance, will yield the most natural sound and the most transparent recording. Of course, when the final musical experience is fashioned in the studio by the engineers, as in much rock and pop music, this maxim of minimalism may seem not to apply. However, with only slight rephrasing, it remains pertinent: Use the least equipment and least processing necessary to get the desired results.

As we said at the opening of this section, the purpose of a recording is to transport the musical performance faithfully from one location to another, through time and space. If, in the course of transportation (either in the studio or your living room), you also scour off subtle sonic detail through excessive use of circuitry and effects—then you’ve scoured off some of the aesthetic content of the music. You are left with a mere documentation of the experience rather than with its resurrection.

From the earliest recordings in the 1920s until the early 1960s, when multitrack was introduced, the recording technique was very simple, employing a minimum of microphones and electronic circuitry. Simple recordings made by skilled engineers are sonically among the best. However, with the advent of multitracking, engineers started miking each individual instrument and vocal to take full advantage of the separate control made possible by the many tracks. This made an entirely new form of “studio-created” music possible, started by Les Paul, brought to a high art by the Beatles in Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and burnished on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. But at the same time it also allowed sloppy recording habits to develop, be cause now so much “correction” could be accomplished after the fact in the mix.

This new method and the older one have fundamentally different philosophies. Adopting terms from painting, call them the representational approach (representing reality) and the interpretive approach (an interpretation of reality). The interpretive approach has a further subdivision we have labeled the expressive approach, because it expresses a new reality.

Representational Recording

This produces a recorded document of the live acoustic event. While taking full advantage of improved equipment, this approach essentially carries on the recording tradition of minimalism. Its adherents maintain that any electronic processing must degrade sound quality to some degree and so should be kept to a minimum. Representational producers and engineers therefore take great pains before recording to ensure that mike placement and room acoustics are just right so that little or no additional studio work is required—just as a carefully selected and properly set-up playback system requires no equalization or balance controls.

The amount of cable and circuitry the signal must travel through, both during recording and throughout processing, is kept to an absolute minimum. The performance is captured precisely as it happens live, and then transferred with minimal alteration direct to disc or master tape. The LPs, cassettes, or CDs are then duplicated from this disc or master tape. Records that epitomize this purist approach include many of the excellent Opus 3, Reference Recordings, Sheffield Lab, and now out of-print Mercury Living Presence recordings.

Generally, two mikes are used, representatives of the listener’s not yet present ears and also providing the two channels of a stereo recording. A third mike is sometimes added to prevent any risk of “hole-in the-middle” effects, with the output of this third mike being fed equally into the other two channels. (Bob Fine of Mercury first used this three-mike array back in the 1950s in the anticipation of three-channel sound.) Occasionally, additional spot mikes reinforce weak instruments or correct for serious acoustic problems.

Mikes are positioned to capture the sound as it would be heard by a live audience. Because of the variation in the relative amounts of direct and reflected sound, this is quite different from the sound heard by the performers—while closely miked performances can be exciting, natural they are not. The objective is not to inflate the players into ten- foot giants or to project them out of the soundstage into your living room, as if swinging on a trapeze. Rather, one wants to be sonically transported to the place where the music was originally performed, so as to experience the performer and performance in the original acoustic space.

Recording an entire performance all at the same time using mini mal-mike/minimal-tape-track techniques captures much of the immediacy and impact of the musical event, that all-important sense of aliveness. You can “feel” the presence of players behind their instruments, their human warmth and connectedness. One can hear the “voice” in the playing—the energy, the spirit, the mistakes. This is what makes one want to go up and shake Louis Armstrong’s hand after his rendition of “St. James Infirmary.”*

Really the essence of representational recording lies in absence, the absence of excess electronics, the engineer’s imprint, and anything else not part of the original performance that would obscure the music. This art of absence requires self-confidence, musical scholarship, and a real mastery of the medium in order to be carried off successfully. Representational recording demands a Tonmeister (as they are called in Europe)—a person with expertise, vision, and heightened perceptions of the music and the goal of recording. In this sense, it is far more demanding than the interpretive approach, which, in its worst cases, can be reduced to a simple formula, which is often executed by equally simple souls.

* On The Best of Louis Armstrong, Audio Fidelity AFSD 6132.

Interpretive Recording

Representational recording requires that most of the music and sound decisions be made before the performance. Once it is recorded, these decisions are usually irreversible. In contrast, the whole idea behind the interpretive method is to manipulate the musical signal in any manner desired AFTER the performance is recorded, by employing multimike and multitrack techniques.

With each instrument and vocalist miked separately and fed through a multichannel console onto a separate tape track, individual performers can be individually manipulated on tape to create the desired effect for the final master. The control is taken out of the hands of the performers creating the performance and put squarely into the hands of the engineers, who can and do manipulate and “re-create” the music in any way they deem “appropriate.” The audio mixing console can be the equivalent of Frankenstein’s laboratory, with the original performance lying on the table.

The major labels largely use “interpretive” recording, and since these conglomerates control 90 percent of the American record market, interpretive recording is what you most often hear.

In multi-miking, instead of using a simple stereo mike with possibly a few spot mikes to capture the entire performance, just about every performer or group of instruments is miked separately and recorded on an independent tape track. The individual instruments are all miked, but not the sound of the acoustic space they’re performing in. So this is really a multichannel mono recording more than a true stereo recording. True stereophonic recording aims not just to capture the sounds of the instruments, but to capture those sounds in their original performing space.

Multimiking and overmiking tend to make the instruments and players sound like the “cameo” inserts added for the hearing impaired on certain TV shows—not really a part of the overall performance. In some cases, really close spot miking will make it seem as if the player steps right up to the mike, tootles a little tune in your lap, and then goes away again.

Multitrack recording, instead of using a tape that has just 2 tracks for stereo (a.k.a. half track, because each track uses half the tape width), uses one with 12, 24, even 46 tracks. Because each track accepts one mike’s feed, each can be individually manipulated. Every instrument is separated within its own sonic envelope. The more tracks are crowded side by side onto the tape, the more compressed the signal has to be. Signal-to-noise ratio is poorer and there is far more likelihood of cross talk with the tracks jammed together. There is much less dynamic range and contrast possible, compared to simpler recording techniques.

In addition to convenience, the original intention of multimike and multitrack techniques was to “improve” sound quality as heard on mediocre playback systems. By spotlighting the quieter instruments and making them louder, they could be heard even on opaque playback equipment. This made the recording more vivid for the majority but at the same time spoiled the natural dynamic range and contrast, hall perspectives, and tonal balance for playback on accurate systems. So this technique started as an attempt to “popularize” the sound for mid-fl equipment.

One prime reason now for the widespread use of multimike and multitrack techniques is simply economics. The cost of paying performers and renting a hall or studio is substantial. So in most of the recording industry, the prevailing attitude is to have the performance taped and “in the can” as quickly as possible so the expensive musicians and the expensive recording location can be released.

Often the players don’t even perform together, instead playing alone to a previously taped recording of other performers. This means the musicians engage in a one-way reaction, rather than a two-way or multiple interaction. With its players isolated in this way, whether in space by separate acoustic boxes within the studio, or in time by performing solo to a tape recording heard through earphones, a performance is no longer that of an ensemble and loses the character and creative vigor derived from the group’s communication as they play. With each per former individually miked and taped, each is recorded in a separate sonic envelope; these multiple envelopes cannot be perfectly matched into a whole and so leave noticeable and distracting “seams.”

On top of this loss of spiritual aliveness, the extensive electronic processing and reprocessing inevitably adds electronic smog and sonic congestion. The thousands of feet of mike cable needed to run all the mikes back to the console in the control booth literally acts as a filter. The more that’s used, the worse the sound. Especially when recording large groups like orchestras, the engineers often locate the sound control booth 500 feet away from the stage. They don’t listen to the live music. Instead, they sit tucked away in their control bunkers, listening on a set of monitors or headphones. Then they try to improve this degraded sound with signal processing, rather than directly capturing the live sound as exactly as possible. This adds to the punishment of studio reworking, as the signal is fed over and over through the console to be corrected, mixed, and remixed. The end product is Gerber’s strained music.

When amplified instruments, which already have built-in haze and distortion from their own electronic circuitry, are multimiked and multitracked, the sonic problems are compounded. This is one reason why so much rock sounds as if it were recorded in a radioactive phone booth. Amplified music has two layers of electronic glaze—one from the instrument itself and one from the recording/playback process. Acoustic music has only one layer, imposed by recording/playback electronics.

Some speculate that the heavy electronic glaze of rock music is harmonic distortion. Listening to live loud amplified music, you can clearly hear the spurious overtone (harmonic distortion) over the music because it is LOUD and separate from the music—it’s like a steady shriek, or whistle, or warble. Club musicians (who sometimes deserve to be called club heads) commonly seem to turn up their equipment until it reaches this shriek and then, satisfied, leave it there.

A multi-mike, multi-track recording means one can patch everything together at leisure, often over weeks, even months—set all the levels to obtain the right balance with all the mikes, use pan pots to distribute the instruments across the stage. Equalize to change the timbre of the instruments “to suit”—adding a little zap to a violin here, punching up the poor mike placement there. Then “sweeten” with artificial reverberation to “restore” some of the acoustic so intentionally multimiked out in the first place. The fact that what’s added by the engineer to replace the original in terms of fake acoustic, reverb, and other sound effects is neither realistic nor musical, at least in terms of acoustic mu sic, does not seem to be of much concern.

The recording is finally “assembled” by dubbing and overdubbing snippets of one tape track onto another tape track, and then mixed down to a two-track master. Each dubbing takes the tape a generation further away from the original master; with each generation the sound quality is irrevocably degraded. Distortions build at each stage.

The final tape ready for producing the recording is easily a fourth or fifth generation, already sonically degraded just from being a copy of a copy of a copy and so on, even though it’s still called the master. All this adds up to electronic erosion, where the tracks have been so worked over so many times that the sound is really just plain messed up.

By the way, the term “original master tape” should not be con fused with “first-generation tape”; an original master may be the seventh or eighth generation and therefore sonically quite degraded. A good first-generation original master tape is better than any pressing you can make from it. But if you ruin the master by putting it through umpteen mix-downs, then you end up with terrible-sounding recordings.

Electronics pervade a recording. It’s like flavoring food—if you use too much oregano in a dish, you’ve destroyed it. However many tricks you try to camouflage it, the flavor of oregano pervades the dish— all you’ll achieve is an overlay of the mush of additional flavors you’re adding in an attempt to correct the initial flaw.

Listen for example to the Mobile Fidelity reissue of Cream’s Wheels of Fire, a two-record set* (or try to get an English pressing). The first record is all studio work; the second is live at the Fillmore. Admittedly, the sound quality on both is not as good as it could be, but this is standard for pop recordings. And the second album, on a high-resolution system, has a realism and sonic vitality that’s completely absent from the studio recording. The first record is certainly great music, but there’s a sterility to it. You can hear that the engineers ran the music back and forth excessively through a lot of electronics and scoured some of the life right out of it.

Some engineers feel they need to give a recording that “little something extra,” to make it “better than real.” Ken Kesey describes the kind of atmosphere this occurs in: “. . . a huge recording studio … that looked like Disney had designed it for Captain Nemo and hired Hugh Hefner to decorate it.”

However, interpretive recording, used as a tool of art rather than a substitute for craft, and in its proper milieu of pop music or avant-garde classical and jazz, can allow tremendous artistic and engineering freedom. This variation on interpretive recording is what we call the expressive approach. The original recording is seen simply as pliable material to be used to create an entirely new work. Done expertly and with the appropriate music, this represents an art form of a high order.

Expressive Recording

Expressive recording has no pretensions to recall a live experience exactly, but instead creates an entirely new auditory experience that would be impossible or exceedingly difficult to produce in real life. Perfectly suited to rock recordings, which are largely synthesized out of the musicians’ performances with the help of engineers, it makes possible a conceptual result where the recording itself becomes an integral part of the musical expression. This use of the live performance as only one ingredient in a recorded Work was brought into artistic flower by the Beatles, who stopped performing live as they became more interested in the music they could create in the studio. The undisputed musical classic Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is, as a recording, the technical equivalent of D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation.

The expressive recording is a very tricky technique to get really right. Any studio cowboy can throw a bit of everything in the pot and come up with a sonic Mulligan stew In the hands of a recording artist engineer, like the synth pop composer Vangelis, this recording process itself becomes a musical instrument, making possible the creation of music that otherwise would never exist. The recording becomes a stage to be filled in with invented sound.

The problem is that this technique is often applied as a matter of expediency or, worse yet, as a substitute for artistic skill. It is often used with inappropriate music, such as acoustic folk, which it can rob of its intrinsic character and aesthetic. Expressive recording can blur the distinctions between an expression of personal reality by an engineer’s genuine artistry and mere sloppy technique.

Each recording approach has its arguable advantages. The minimalist or representational approach, done -well, benefits the listener be cause it results in the most musical, natural, “alive” recordings. But it cannot create music that couldn’t be performed live. The interpretive and expressive approaches are more economical, flexible, and convenient for the manufacturer and perhaps the performers. When the interpretive/expressive method is used to create new forms of expression, then it’s an art in its own right. But when the method is superimposed on natural, acoustic music, the results for discerning listeners are disappointing—less musical, natural, and alive.

Interpretive recording techniques, unfortunately, readily lend themselves to a lowest-common-denominator approach. A purist record producer recently reported that the mastering lab to which he sent his master tape to have a record made decided first to re-equalize and other wise “improve” his tape before making the mother. They just assumed that was what he’d want. Unfortunately, it was a favor he was devastated to receive. It is real technological arrogance for engineers to believe they “know best.”

With the sole exception of expressive recordings, the art of the recording engineer is NOT to enhance the art of the musicians. On the contrary, good recording engineers are marked by their apparent absence—they should perhaps be seen but definitely not be heard. (True also about playback—a good system should be seen but not heard.)

This is like a story about Stravinsky in Rehearsal on the French Columbia pressing. There he is, conducting away perfectly happily, when the producer cuts in over the mike and asks him to speed it up a little. Stravinsky says that he likes it just the way he’s doing it. The engineer replies that it’ll match better with the other sections already recorded if he picks it up a bit. Because it’s technologically possible to do things piecemeal, the engineer, not the artist, is often given license (or takes it) to direct artistic matters as well.

The purpose of a recording is to reveal what the artist is doing, whether that artistry is in acoustic music or in “studio-created” music. The sound of a recording should therefore be consistent with the character of the sound of the music performed live. This is the same purpose as that of the home playback system, the mirror image of the recording process—to reveal what the recording has to offer without superimposing its own sound on the music.

Clearly, how well the playback system succeeds is as much the responsibility of the listener as of the equipment producer, because it must be set up correctly. Equally, the quality of the recording is really as much the responsibility of the artist as of the engineer and producer. Though artists are obviously not directly responsible for creating the recorded sound quality, nonetheless they can demand a certain mini mum quality standard. Unfortunately, many, if not most, are themselves unaware of good recorded sound, having never heard, let alone owned, a good playback system. They also seem to believe the engineers’ line that everything can be “fixed” in the remix. Taking this attitude, they relinquish not only their responsibility, but also their control, and even their artistry to a “techie.” It’s all very well to say, “I’m not an engineer, what do I know about all this?’ ‘—but the fact is that if you take that attitude, you are forced to accept the record producer’s artistic judgment. Does the producer know more about the artist’s work than the artist?

Recording quality is permanent. Once done, nothing can alter it— neither home equalizers nor digital remastering nor any other trick. Recordings should be recognized for what they are—a living museum of our musical heritage—and not dismissed by producers or listeners as mere fleeting entertainment.

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Updated: Friday, 2016-05-13 19:18 PST