When evaluating the quality of a full-symphony-orchestra recording -- whether this is a pure classical piece, film soundtrack, or progressive rock -- or audio components, pretend you are the conductor. Close your eyes and imagine the orchestra in front of you. Can you "see" the instruments in their proper places? The diagrams below depict the standard layout of modern symphony orchestras. Your mental image should allow you visualize instruments in their shown positions. (Note: the diagrams below are standardized but individual recordings may vary/deviate from the norm -- in minor to significant ways.)
Below: (Figure 1): Diagram of modern symphony orchestra. Note the position of piano in this image: recordings vary in how they depict (mix in) keyboards. This film score depicts piano in the position shown in this figure. Click image or here for full-sized version.
Below: (Figure 2): Another diagram of a modern symphony orchestra. Note: piano not shown; reason: variability in positioning. Click image or here for full-sized version.
Below: (Figure 3): Piano (keyboards) may be mixed in with the orchestra with the keyboard stretching from left (left channel) to right (right channel). Hard left will be the lowest-frequency key: C-major (16.351 Hz); hard right will be the highest-frequency key C-major (8372.018 Hz). Recordings with fewer instruments -- chamber, concerto, sonata pieces, and popular music -- often use this type of recording arrangement.
Below: (Figure 4): How a piano may be recorded using modern techniques. Position B is hard left (left channel) while Position D is hard right (right channel) -- the way a piano player hears the instrument.
An ORCHESTRA is a group of musicians that plays music written for a specific combination of instruments. The number and type of instruments included in the orchestra depends on the style of music being played. The modern orchestra (also known as a symphony orchestra) is made up of four sections of instruments—stringed, woodwind, brass and percussion. The stringed section consists of violins, violas, cellos (violoncellos), double basses, and sometimes a harp. The main instruments of the woodwind section are flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons—the piccolo, cor anglais, bass clarinet, saxophone, and double bassoon (contrabassoon) can also be included if the music requires them. The brass section usually consists of horns, trumpets, trombones, and the tuba. The main instruments of the percussion section are the timpani. The snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, tambourine, triangle, tubular bells, xylophone, , vibraphone, gong (tam-tam), castanets, and maracas can also be included in the percussion section. The musicians are usually arranged in a semi circle—strings spread along the front, woodwind and brass in the center, and percussion at the back. A conductor stands in front of the musicians and controls the tempo (speed) of the music and the overall balance of the sound, ensuring that no instruments are too loud or too soft in relation to the others.
Bonus: CLICK HERE for Batman Begins highly-praised "End Credits" in MP3 format (320Kb/s 21.292MB; run time 9:04 -- this is a full-length fidelity-optimized extract, so enjoy)! This "track" is not found on the soundtrack album.
Hollow Man: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Piano is recorded as shown in figure 1.
Pure, complete and masterful Goldsmith: Varese Sarabande presents one of the best if not the best so far, soundtracks from icon Jerry Goldsmith - "HOLLOW MAN". Album composed & conducted by Goldsmith, with orchestration by Alexander Courage of televisions "Star Trek", is totally mesmerizing.
Goldsmith delivers everything you would expect from him and more, getting his start in early television, then in films in the early '50s. Who can forget such scores - "LONELY ARE THE BRAVE" (1962) - "LILLIES OF THE FIELD" (1963) - "THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY" (1965) - "THE BLUE MAX" (1966) - "OUR MAN FLINT" (1966) - "THE SAND PEBBLES" (1966) - "FLIM-FLAM MAN" (1967) - "THE HOUR OF THE GUN" (1967) - "PLANET OF THE APES" (1968), and that's just the '60s. Over five decades of music this composer has contributed, and still going strong.
The entire CD is masterfully done, some stand outs - "HOLLOW MAN THEME" - "ISABELLE COMES BACK" excellent tracks - "WHAT WENT WRONG" a hint of "CHINATOWN" (1974) also on Varese Sarabande release (VSD-5677) comes through on this track, very dream-like and haunting.
"Highly recommend this album to Sci-fi, horror and film score collectors, less we forget 'Jerry Goldsmith' fans. Pure suspense is written all over this score, Goldsmith has pulled out all the stops on this one - 'HOLLOW MAN' - keeps you on the edge of your seat!"
"Sci-fi, Suspense, Horror, and Action in one score: Jerry Goldsmith is responsible for more than 200 film scores. Some are classics, Planet of the Apes, for example. Some...aren't.(*cough The Haunting*.) 'The Hollow Man' serves as the main title cue in which we are introduced to what is to be the film's main theme. Played with a flute when the mouse was eaten by Isabelle, played with strings during the rest of the movie, it doesn't matter, it was great. "Linda and Sebastian" added a bit of light, semi-romantic music for the sub-plot that seemed pretty cheesy in the beginning but played more of a role in Sebastian's jealousy and insanity. 'This is Science'...played during Sebastian's transformation from Mr. Now You See Him...Now You Don't. It starts out kind of mellow then..THE CLIMAX! He begins to disappear. YES! The perfect spot for enormous horn blast. 'What Went Wrong?' begins with a light synth and leads into a quiet, almost surreal take on the film's theme. Plenty of time passes before 'The Big Climb', the big, cliche finale which my friends said was obviously taken from 'Deep Blue Sea'. But there was a difference. In "DBS", the climbers were trying to avoid fireballs from falling on them. In 'Hollow Man', they were trying to avoid fire from roasting their behinds. Anyway, my favorite part of 'The Big Climb' was when the elevator is falling back down and the string section just plays little squeaks that echo and seem like they're getting lower and lower. Jerry Goldsmith is a genius there is no doubting that and this score really shows that."
If you like this score -- or Jerry Goldsmith scores in general -- the DVD for this movie features an isolated score with composer commentary. Here is a sample from the Hollow Man DVD isolated score:
Alien (1979; 1999 DVD with two isolated scores)
Continuing with Jerry Goldsmith scores, Alien (1979) is (IMO) one of his finest. Unfortunately, the original LP, long-out-of-print, and Silva Screen's CD (from 1988) are both of below-average sound quality and contain a mere 35 minutes of music. The best way to get your dose of Alien is via the 1999 DVD (not the 2004 re-issue). The 1999 DVD contains two isolated scores and is very complete. Alas, we have to put up with DVD's lossy-compression sonics, and format issues (one can't play this on non-DVD systems, as is the case with most portable and car-audio players). You can extract the audio from the isolated tracks using third-party software (or use several free and open-source programs as described in this tutorial). Here is a sample extracted from this outstanding score:
APP Remasters: The Essentials / Dutch Collection | Eye in the Sky | I Robot
Parsons Project, Essential and The Dutch Collection
For the most part, piano is recorded as shown in figure 2 and figure 3. Listen for this in tracks like "Silence and I", which feature a full symphony orchestra.
From someone at Amazon.com: THIS IS THE BENCHMARK THAT YOU MUST OWN: 2007 Issued Digitally Remastered Triple CD Collection of the Best Tracks from the Band Assembled by the Famed Recording Engineer who Became an Artist in his Own Right, Creating a Discography of Multiplatinum Selling Albums that Are Beloved by Millions. The Tracks on Collection were Influenced by Literate Fans who Entered a Contest to Request their Favorites for this Set and Explain Why They Liked Those Particular Songs So Much. Thus, this Special Triple Disc Set Has Been Highly Influenced by Those who Truly Care About the Band. The Set Includes Tracks from their First Album "Tales of Mystery and Imagination" (Which was Originally Released on the 20th Century Label) and all the Arista Label Albums from "i Robot" to "Gaudi" as Well as the Previously Unreleased Gem, "no Answers, Only Questions".
Spawned from the original ten studio albums, and starting with "The
Best Of The Alan Parsons Project" disc in 1983, there have been over
twenty-five Alan Parsons Project compilation CD's issued!
review: Just received the disc-set yesterday
from an $$ eBay auction order "won" a
week ago (wish I had waited a day longer for the word from the new, official
APP site, and saved 1/2 the cost!). This disc-set is #3110/7500 and was
shipped from the Netherlands 2006-10-05.
Parsons Project, The: I Robot (30th
anniversary expanded re-issue from Sony Legacy; 2007 )
The bottom line for me is: does this new re-mastering sound better than the UHQR 200-gram original master LP (released in early 1980's by Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs) and/or Classic Records' DVD-Audio disc (24-bit/192kHz) from 2004? (Note: Classic Records also released I Robot on thier own 200-gram Quiex-SV-P vinyl. I have not heard this version; I assume it sounds very good.)
Evaluation caveat: it's very difficult to "equalize" component "quality" across different formats (see this note). So an LP-vs-CD or LP-vs-DVD-Audio disc evaluation is not very trustworthy. Digital-to-digital comparisons are a bit less subjective, especially if the same (multi-format) player is used. I own a Pioneer Elite DV-59AVi CD/SACD/DVD-Audio/Video player. I have further personally modified and tweaked the player -- somewhat similar to this Toshiba model -- to improve and enhance performance across all formats. [More on test/listening equipment here]
Bottom line: Yes, the new Sony Legacy CD re-issue is better than any other previous (re-)release, regardless of format. The new remastering is that good and may even be called "transcendental" in this respect***. But, had this new mastering been released on equally-carefully-mastered SACD, DVD-Audio, 24/96 DVD-Video, Blu-Ray, HD-DVD (or even new 200-gram vinyl for that matter (as Classic Records has recently done for some APP releases), I surmise all would sound superior to any older releases as well as the new CD (which is archaic Red Book, 16-bit/44.1kHz). We know that Alan's sonic engineering is future-proof, or there would not have been so many re-releases! Let's hope Sony exploits this as-yet untapped potential and releases I Robot on Blu-Ray disc (or SACD)!
Parsons Project, The: Eye in the Sky
Although Eye in the Sky was never released on LP from an "audiophile" company (e.g. Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab), it was released in Japan, in 1995, using JVC's 20-bit K2 'Super Coding'. That release was bright- and forward-sounding. Some didn't care for this sound (which had much more to do with the mastering engineer's preference than K2 (K2 is the technology behind JVC's highly-respected XRCD process; these are arguably the best Red Book CD treatments in existence)). But, IMO, it was better than anything else that had been released to that point, except certain Japanese and European vinyl pressings (see note 3 below).
In July 2005, Classic Records released Eye in the Sky on HDAD, a dual-sided DVD (one side featuring 24-bit/96-khz DVD-V (playable on any DVD player); the other side was 24-bit/192-khz DVD-Audio, the best-sounding version of the two). This release was definitely better than any other version including the now-second-place Japanese LP pressing from years back. The recording was not remixed in anyway I can detect. I wouldn't have minded a (Tales of Mystery and Imagination) ToMaI (1987)-type treatment, especially to add more ambience and dynamics, as Alan did for drums and other instruments in that now-classic remix. But I realize that the cost/scope of such a project may have been prohibitive, especially for smaller outfits like Classic Records (and the fact that CR has never historically engaged in such projects TTBOMK). Also, as Alan noted in the liner notes of ToMaI (1987 re-release) -- which was remixed then, only 11 years after the original release in 1976, from the original multi-track -- "analog tapes do wear out". So the magnetic multitrack tapes for any Project album recorded "in analog" may be too far degraded to be of any use.
Warning! Although Eye in the Sky, in 1981/1982, was originally recorded on analog (multi-track) equipment, it was mixed onto a 2-channel digital master (a poor-sounding Sony 1610; see notes on "early digital recordings" below). For both the 2005 DVD-Audio disc as well as the new Sony Legacy release, the "original" Sony 1610 digital master seems to have been used again. The "harshness" and loss-of-focus on higher-frequency sounds (high-hat, cymbals general, upper strings), audible in all previous formats/releases, is still evident. That said, it's not sure how much the original can be improved upon with modern technology other than remixing from original analog multi-tracks.
Bottom line: See my bottom-line notes on the new I Robot, above. Many of those conclusions apply to this album as well. In my opinion, this version (re-mastering) of Eye in the Sky is the best one to date. It will sound even better if it is released on one of the higher-rez ("HD") formats or carefully-mastered vinyl. But, the full potential of this album will not be realized unless (until, let's hope!) it is re-mixed, from its original (analog multi-track source tapes; if those are available and in good condition) onto a modern digital mastering system.
of Mystery and Imagination (aka ToMaI)
Some notes on the sound quality (SQ) of recent APP remastered releases...
Dutch Collection vs. The Essentials vs. 2007 album versions:
I can hear improvements between these recent editions in the order they were released. SQ of 2007 ToMaI/EitS/Vulture Culture (VC) tracks is better than on DC/Essential. I also noticed that some of the weird "phasing" on DC's Pipeline is pleasantly absent on Essentials. This track is still overly bright and harsh so, hopefully, the upcoming AA will fix these issues.
SQ of 2007 ToMaI/EitS/VC/IR tracks is better than on DC/Essential.
Audio equipment used to evaluate CDs noted above:
DIY (self-built) DAC using plain ol' 16-bit 2/4/8x oversampling, discrete I/V and output, w/clock-slaved DIY-modded Philips CDB-650 transport; DIY PPAv2 headphone amp; Shure E500 IEMs.
Coming soon...full reviews of:
(1) Because Sony is involved -- and that company
is (or was until recently) in the SACD camp (vs. DVD-Audio)
-- will the upcoming titles be in SACD, or better yet SACD/hybrid? Hopefully,
the latter because one can play back on portable/car equipment. The "problem" with
SACD is that its digital format -- DSD -- is fundamentally different
than PCM*, which was -- TTBOMK -- used in mastering/recording all AP/P
albums from EITS to present. DVD-Audio and DVD-Video, as used in the
Classic Records releases, are PCM.
(2) Below are excerpts from an APP forum discussion I engaged in (on or about 2005-08-09) with a notable online audiophile equipment/software reviewer:
> [Reviewer wrote:] There are a number of things about the LP format that gives it qualities that people can prefer, and while I don't agree with those people I hear what they like about it respect their preference for that type of sound.
There are probably several qualities we can hear/perceive that may not *yet* be associated with a quantifiable test.
Early digital sound left a lot to be desired despite the fact it spec'd out better than analog. Simply compare Classic Records' new EitS and IR HDADs to hear what I'm elucidating.
But the technology improved when previously-unknown, sound-affecting variables were "discovered". For example, data jitter (1) became a "new" and "worthy" parameter in digital audio, sometime in the early 1990s (IIRC), for affecting certain sonic qualities. In the future other parameters may be "discovered" that will help quantify audible differences we hear between these formats. It would indeed be great to have numerics (metrics) associated to audiophile buzzwords such as "warmth", "micro-dynamics", etc., instead of the purely subjective evaluations many "golden ears" are so fond of.
>> [I originally wrote:] As for the 24/192 HDAD, the UHQR is superior in some ways, inferior in others. Hard to tell because it's difficult to "equalize" component quality across different formats.
> [Reviewer wrote:] Now this is a totally fair and insightful comment. There are things you like better about each version. It's worse than a component quality issue. It's well documented that when comparing two nearly identical bits of playback, people usually prefer whichever is louder. Given that the dynamic range of the two media you're comparing are quite different, there is literally no way you can do a fair comparison of them. Whatever volume level you pick, the compression used to produce the LP is going to result in certain parts being louder than others relative to the DVD-A.
Yes. Also to clarify my original comment a bit further: it's difficult to "equalize" component quality across different formats *and across different price ranges.* If one of these arm-waving vinylphiles were to say, "I Robot UHQR sounds way better than the 24/192 HDAD", the evaluation equipment needs to be assessed. An evaluation based on a $500 combi DVD-A/V player and a $10K turntable/tonearm/cartridge/phono-preamp is hardly fair. In this case, the theoretically-superior specs of DVD-Audio format would not be able to "overcome" the limitations of the "budget" electronics used in the player when compared to the high-end record-playing system -- all else being equal. Realistically, it would be difficult to equalize quality engineering (using commercially-available components) even if prices were kept similar for both formats. There are simply too many design differences between component manufacturers -- among other things -- to come to any scientifically-valid conclusion. For that, we needs *lots* of empirical data; TTBOMK, we don't have that yet.
(3) It is not just digital technology -- both hardware and software; for producers/engineers and listeners -- that evolves and (usually) improves over time, it is (usually) other aspects of the process as well: analog electronics, power supplies, hands-on recording techniques, as well as feedback, reviews and criticisms from professionals and fans**. The end result is a complex multi-variable equation that often must be taken as whole. So if I say, "WOW, this K2 20-bit technology really improved the sound of this CD", you should have plenty (multi-variable ;-) of statistically-backed reasons to doubt me.
(4) Early digital recordings did not sound good (except a few by Telarc (using Soundstream) and Decca (using 18-bit/48kHz)). Makers of early digital equipment (Sony, Philips, Denon, and others) touted their gear by playing the numbers game: that is, boasting performance benefits based on a few, popular (and, in the context, overrated) engineering specifications, such as frequency response, dynamic range, total harmonic distortion, wow and flutter, etc. Further, the standardization and testing methodology used to acquire and establish the parameters, metrics, tested data and interpreted results were -- to say the least -- questionable*. And then they added legitimate stuff to their sales literature: lack of surface noise, non-contact/non-wear playing surface, and all on a small, convenient carrier unit. A lot of folks -- professionals (engineers) and consumers (buyers of CD players) -- got suckered in by this early, heavily-marketed hype ... by electronic giants who had a lot of advertising cash.
* Don't get me wrong: these are important parameters and there are units today that both sound good and measure/spec good. But early digital units used rough-sounding brick-wall filtration and pretty much ignored important parameters such as data jitter and linearity. The result was "unfocused", "grainy" sound. Digital recordings, in my opinion, did not come "into their own" until as late as the mid to late 1990s.
** Other often-overlooked factors that affect recording and listening sessions are purely based on human shortcomings:
Ask yourself: Which (or, better yet, how many) of the above conditions is any professional (engineer/reviewer/critic) or consumer (listener) affected by at any given time?
*** ...alternatively (and I don't mean to take anything away from the new mastering), one could also conclude that difference between Red Book CD, DVD-Audio, and UHQR vinyl are not that significant. Hence, the new mastering is not that transcendental.
Equipment used for audio-evaluation tests:
Home | My PC-based A/V System (circa March 2004) | My Home A/V System (circa 2001)