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Audiophile Neuroscience

Can Bad Recordings sound Good?

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57 minutes ago, Allan F said:

"the sound of actual acoustic instruments playing in a real space"

But the critical question is whether it presents the sound of the actual acoustic instruments playing in the actual space in which they were recorded.  If my regular gigging archtop acoustic guitar sounds in a recording like a fine old DeAngelico with a carved solid spruce top, it’s a bad recording because that guitar is a garden variety Ibanez with a laminated top.  

 

Many recordings are juiced to make things sound bigger than they are, just as many performers process or augment their sound live.  Listen to Martin Taylor’s early recordings. He used to play a big archtop (a Yamaha as I recall) with both a standard magnetic pickup and piezo sensors in the bridge. He played this live through a stereo rig with sound reinforcement in large venues, and I think he recorded it both miked and direct.  It sure sounds great, and he’s one of my favorite players.  But when playing the recordings, it sounds somehow artificial as though the guitar were 15 feet across.  Yet these are technically excellent recordings because that’s how he sounded in concert.

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5 hours ago, Allan F said:

it may be difficult or impossible to distinguish a bad recording from a good one absent knowledge of both the recording venue and particular instrument played

If you know what a given artist sounds like on multiple recordings and systems, and you encounter a recording on which the artist clearly sounds different from what you’ve heard before, the odds are great that the different one is somehow flawed whether or not it sounds more pleasing to you.  If you also know the live sound of the performers, you’re even more likely to be correct.

 

I agree that we’re not communicating. Let’s leave it at that. Stay safe!

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10 hours ago, MetalNuts said:

Once upon a time, here in my place, some magazine reviewed an album and commented that the electric guitar sounds good and based on his comment, I bought the album and the recording is not bad BUT it is not an electric guitar but simply a classical guitar.  OMG!🤣

One of my classic disagreements with Harry Pearson was over the Absolute Sound review of Dave Grusin’s Sheffield D2D vinyl “Discovered Again”.  It praises the sound of Ron Carter’s “Fender bender bass” and the wonderful capture of its sound “we’ll below 40 Hz” in the track of the theme from Baretta.  I could be mistaken, but I’m 99.99% certain that Ron Carter is playing an acoustic upright bass on it.  He did play an electric on some fusion gigs and albums, but it didn’t sound like this.
 

It sounds like Ron Carter always sounds on acoustic bass, except that the bottom shows a bit less of the chime and bloom for which he was so well known.  It was EQ’d and processed in real time during recording, as is confirmed in the Dave Grusin archive notes about that album.  Grusin thought the engineers were trying to make Carter sound more like Ray Brown, and he didn’t like it.  Fortunately, they failed.  It was an interesting paradox because Sheffield was praised for purity - and their SQ was very fine overall.  In fact, it was so good that Ron Carter was still easily recognizable despite their efforts.


The low E on a standard bass is 41.2 Hz at concert pitch (A=440).  There is no bass note on that track “well below 40”.  There is no bass note on that track at 40.  This is objective fact - you can’t have an opinion about it - it’s easily verifiable.

 

I wrote to HP about these clear errors.  His response was that he didn’t write the review, so he wasn’t responsible.

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11 hours ago, Audiophile Neuroscience said:

 

This is where you loose me ( I get lost easily :(). Nothing in that example surprises me. The difference was heard and whether it was a change in the recording or the playback, I respectfully ask what is the point exactly?

The criticism to which I was responding is that being a musician keeps me from knowing or understanding how non-musicians hear music, specifically:

 

 You are expressing the point of view of a practicing musician with a ‘tuned ear’. While many aspire to that level, whether they can achieve it is an open question.

 

I was directly refuting that assertion, which I believe is simply incorrect.  The guitar string example is simple proof.  You don’t need to be musicians to hear differences in performance, even those that originate in the instruments or how they’re played. Listeners may not know why they hear a difference, but they hear and respond to it. They hear differences in saxophone reeds, drum heads, trumpet bores and metals, etc.  Another comparison demo I made for Dan was the same passage played on my silver trumpet and on my brass cornet.  
 

Listen to Warren Vache’s early recordings and you’ll know there’s something odd about the sound of his trumpet.  That’s because it’s a cornet, which most people wouldn’t know - but they hear it.  Hearing differences in both instruments and how different artists play the exact same instrument is a large part of our ability to know whether we’re hearing Art Pepper or Paul Desmond playing Here’s That Rainy Day on a Selmer Mk 6 alto sax coming from the ceiling speakers at Morton’s.

 

The sonic differences between sets of otherwise identical guitar strings differing only in that one set averages a few hundredths of an inch thinner is very real, but it’s not very dramatic.  These are the kinds of differences that are apparent in a “good” recording and are reproduced well by a “good” system.  There are many many such tiny cues, and most audiophiles have heard enough of the music of their favorite artists enough times to have internalized the unique soundprints that define their sound.  So when you find yourself saying “That sounds a lot like James Taylor’s guitar playing, but I’m just not sure that’s who it is” you’re either identifying a bad recording (or a terrible sound system) or you’re listening to someone else whose soundprint is a partial match for JT’s.

 

This thread started with the premise that good recordings are pleasing and sound like real instruments in real space. I responded that for me, a truly good recording brings the sound of the actual instruments and artists to you, sounding as they did when recorded.  Responses to that were based on the belief that most audiophiles have no idea how the performance sounded, so it only matters that the sound is convincingly real.  
 

I’ve proved many times with tests like the guitar string and trumpet/cornet switch that many audiophiles do indeed hear these differences and can correctly say “A sounds more like Miles than B” even though they couldn’t tell a Harmon mute from Mark Harmon.  They can hear the difference between a 5’8 grand piano in a club and a 9’6” grand on a concert stage, in person and on even a halfway decent recording.  

 

We’re all happy when our music at home sounds real and live and pleasing. But the question was  whether bad recordings can sound good. The answer is yes.  For me, a recording that makes Ron Carter sound even a little like Ray Brown is a bit of a bad recording.  But I love Dave Grusin’s Sheffield album “Discovered Again” anyway because the playing is excellent, the band is tight, and the music (although a bit too smooth-jazzy for me today) is fun to hear when I’m in the mood. It sounds good to me.

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28 minutes ago, Summit said:

High fidelity is not about hearing and identifying those basic key characteristics. It’s about listing at records at home and not only identify who is singing or playing, it’s about getting the feeling that you hear those musicians live on a stage – that it sounds real and lifelike.

Agreed!  And what I'm suggesting is that the best recordings do both.  A recording that presents a lifelike performance but does not capture the key characteristics (what I'm calling the soundprint) may not be as "bad" as one rife with artifact, processing, manipulation etc - but for me it's less good than one that brings us both.  Loss of any perceptible piece of the basic character of a performance is worse (at least to a point) than sonic manipulation.

 

There's a lot of praise for Kind of Blue as a "great recording".  Technically, it's a truly bad recording.  If you have access to an original, listen carefully to it.  The bass is recessed and thin, the "placement" of the musicians is artificially constricted (because it was recorded on 3 mono tracks with suboptimal mic use and later mixed into a fake stereo space), there's crude reverb on Miles' horn and Chambers' bass (because they stuck a monitor speaker and a mic in the basement of the church building to make a crude acoustic echo chamber), the pitch on the A side is a bit higher than life (because the tape machine needed maintenance and was slow for the first of its two recording sessions), etc etc.  But it's a great musical experience because it delivers the soundprint of Miles and his band.  Yes, a bad recording can sound good.

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50 minutes ago, Summit said:

Am a Miles fan and I like Kind of Blue, both the sound and the music. I do not consider Kind of Blue to be a bad recording.

Many besides me disagree with this.  Although the music is pure genius and it makes me smile every time I listen to it (I have at least 5 different vinyl versions including the early original 6 eye 1AD pressing I bought for $3.98 new, plus 3 or 4 CDs), it's neither great mono nor great stereo.  It's the product of a bunch of world class engineers and producers who were learning to use techniques new to everyone at the time. They had some very new equipment and some well used stuff (like that tape deck that was running slowly), and they were experimenting with ways to integrate the two. 

 

The engineer (Fred Plaut) was not experienced with jazz - he was a well known classical recording engineer.  The use of multiple mics and tape machines was unorthodox, and the crude echo on just the trumpet and bass was way out of place.  You probably haven't heard the original pressings if you don't know what this is - the echo on Miles and Paul Chambers is tamed on subsequent versions, probably because all that's left of it in the later mixes of the 2 "outer" channels is whatever bled into them.

 

The original recording captured the magic perfectly, but it didn't fare as well with the real sounds of the players.  Much was missing from the  original, and remastering has benefited the sound immensely.  This excerpt from Michael Fremer's review of the 2013 180 gm mono remastered reissue says it well:  

 

"[C]ompared to my later "6-eye" 1AJ pressing, the reissue sounds far less "milky-cloudy" and far more transparent to the source, without veering off into the analytical. You can 'see' further into the mix and hear a clear delineation of direct and echo chamber sound as well as what sounds like 30th street studio room sound. Instrumental timbers are natural and textures rich. But most importantly, the music experience is complete and organically "whole," making a strong case for the superiority of the mono mix."

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1 hour ago, Bill Brown said:

I don't want to be argumentative, but in several aspects I would disagree.  When I listen the bass is nicely placed back and to the right in the soundstage.  From the introduction being played solo, I hear appropriate finger on neck sounds, depth from the body, and an appropriate "woody tone."

Feel free to disagree - it's not a problem for me. 

 

Do you have an original pressing or rip of one?  If not, you're hearing the benefits of remastering and new technology because that's not what the original vinyl sounds like.  As I recall, the bass was not back and to the right in the studio - it was placed there electronically.  I have a few photos from that session in an old review, but I can't find them right now.  I'll keep looking.

 

The original recordings are well known to have been made at too low a level, and the bass is anemic.  All stereo versions from the original to today's reissues have been remixed and remastered from the outer two tracks of the original 3 track masters.  The "sound stage" was entirely a post-processing creation - there was none in the recording because of the way it was made. It's amazing what good re-engineering and remastering can do.  You might find this review to be an interesting read.

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2 minutes ago, Bill Brown said:

Seems like we agree in several ways.  I first heard the original CD in the 80s, wasn't yet much of an audiophile.  Then the next release that I can't remember the name for (? "super bit-mapping"), then the 50th anniversary set, then the stereo version of the LP that Fremer is referring to, then the high-res download.  I got into record collecting too late to get an original "6-eye" pressing so my comments are not (unfortunately for comparison's sake) based on that.

 

My vinyl rip and the 24/192 download sound wonderful to me, with the characteristics I described.  Some of the Fremer quotes apply to what I hear (I acknowledge that he was listening in mono):

 

"You can 'see' further into the mix and hear a clear delineation of direct and echo chamber sound as well as what sounds like 30th street studio room sound. Instrumental timbers are natural and textures rich."

 

First CD sounded terrible, BTW- not that I cared at the time :)

 

Bill

So now that you know how heavily it's been leaned on to make it sound good (and apropos of this thread), I'd love to know if you think Kind of Blue is a good recording, and why or why not?

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31 minutes ago, jabbr said:

Miles Davis "Kind of Blue" is a great example for me, people might complain about the technical details of the recording while other people absolutely love the recording for the performance.

Maybe we love the performance despite the recording.

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2 hours ago, Allan F said:

I believe that you may be conflating the quality of the musicianship or performance with the quality of the recording.

It’s actually quite the opposite.  A recording that does not capture and convey both musicianship and performance is not a good recording to me.  Technical quality also matters, in equal measure.  This is exactly why I said that the original Kind of Blue is not an excellent recording. It captured the magic of some of the coolest jazz performances in history very well - but it took 50 years and several generations of technical advancement to overcome its sonic limitations.
 

I’ve made many excellent recordings (on a high speed Crown SX that I dragged around in a rack case) of amateur performances that were spirited and enjoyable, despite no more than talented amateur skill sets among the performers.  These recordings convey every aspect of the performance well, including both the high enthusiasm and the less than stellar skills and interpretive efforts on stage.  

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2 hours ago, Allan F said:

I don't see it as a question of the recording capturing and conveying the musicianship and performance, but rather one of the quality of the musicianship and performance that the recording is attempting to capture.

Wow - I have no response because I have absolutely no idea what that means!  So I think I'll go sip some wine with my wife and have a leisurely dinner.  Cheers!

smiley_drinking_red_wine.gif.fce52e11881f9abddcb1a491ebb9bc58.gif

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13 hours ago, gmgraves said:

By the way, do you like the sound of bagpipes? Do you see where I’m going here?

It's funny you should mention that.  Personally, I find the sound of most bagpipe music to be annoying in the extreme.  But let me introduce you to Rufus Harley, sadly gone now but a fascinating fellow Philadelphian with whom I had the pleasure of playing a few gigs over the years.  He was a very fine sax player who told me that he suddenly realized he'd have to do something to differentiate himself from other players because there were a lot of very fine sax players.  So he became the world's first jazz bagpiper (at least, according to him).....and a constant challenge to recording engineers.

 

Here's Rufus with the Sun Ra Arkestra playing Coltrane's Love Supreme -

 

 

And here he is blowin' the blues on a 1965 Atlantic release -

 

 

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2 hours ago, Bill Brown said:

With Charlie Parker, though, what I realized eventually is that he is actually playing an intoxicating array of amazing, very melodic elements.  There is a recording where he references Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. Dude was a genius.

This is true for many of the greats of bop and jazz in general.  Despite being known for honking horns and dissonance, Roland Kirk had an encyclopedic knowledge of music and was a master of his instruments (even when playing three at once).  Clifford Brown, Fats Navarro, Dizzy Gillespie and many many others were true masters of their instruments.  Their improvisations were (as you describe it so well) intoxicating, melodic, and truly amazing.  Paul Desmond had an astounding knowledge of music and loved to work brief quotes into his solos.  Interestingly, he too was fond of quoting Stravinsky's music in his playing.

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