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Don't like the Decca Tree orchestra sound?
Old 27th November 2016
  #1
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Question Don't like the Decca Tree orchestra sound?

I'm starting to dive into virtual orchestral instruments (specifically, East/West's Hollywood Orchestra collection) for film scoring. I've also been listening to a lot of orchestral scores played by real orchestras.

While I understand why the Decca Tree micing technique was invented...is it wrong to say that I don't like the sound of it? I like hearing where the various instruments originate in the stereo field. From what I've been able to tell, the Decca Tree sound tends to be a big 'wash' where the location cues are more or less indistinct (minus the instrument sections that are brought up in the mix as needed). To me, this sort of stereo image doesn't really sound like a very good seat in front of an orchestra -- it sounds like a well-balanced yet confused glob of sound. When I listen carefully through headphones or in the sweet spot in between speakers, it sounds like someone screwed up the stereo image somehow.

What I'm getting at is, I'm very aware of the sonic limitations of virtual orchestral arrangements. I'm always picking out little things in other peoples' virtual orchestral arrangements that don't sound 'real' to me. However, the stereo image is something that usually doesn't sound 'real' to me when I'm listening to a recording of a real orchestra!

There are a number of pop/rock recordings where I can easily say that I love the mix or that I love the stereo image. However, I can't point to any particular real orchestral soundtrack recording that I've listened to yet where I really like the stereo image...although I know all the recordings that I've been listening to have been recorded by top notch engineers under top notch conditions. (I don't want to pick on anybody's work, but let's say that if the soundtrack was recorded anywhere between 1975 and 1990 and the film had a huge budget, I'm probably listening to it.)

I've never seen anyone else complain about the typical orchestral stereo image, which makes me think I'm just not appreciating the Decca Tree orchestral sound somehow. Enlighten me. What am I missing? How can I learn to like this sound, or at least know what I'm trying to aim for when emulating an orchestral stereo image with virtual instruments?
Old 27th November 2016
  #2
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film scoring is not real acoustic music, wonderful as it may be
listen to live ensembles in public halls ,not stages, playing music for audiences with a conductor and no screen.
Old 27th November 2016
  #3
If you're interested, give a listen to old Decca orchestra/operatic/chamber recordings (approx. 1960-1997) to hear the actual Decca tree technique in use. Most folks don't place or mix it correctly these days. When done right, it offers a euphoric but still precise, solid stereo image.

Quote:
Originally Posted by simplecarnival View Post
I'm starting to dive into virtual orchestral instruments (specifically, East/West's Hollywood Orchestra collection) for film scoring. I've also been listening to a lot of orchestral scores played by real orchestras.

While I understand why the Decca Tree micing technique was invented...is it wrong to say that I don't like the sound of it? I like hearing where the various instruments originate in the stereo field. From what I've been able to tell, the Decca Tree sound tends to be a big 'wash' where the location cues are more or less indistinct (minus the instrument sections that are brought up in the mix as needed). To me, this sort of stereo image doesn't really sound like a very good seat in front of an orchestra -- it sounds like a well-balanced yet confused glob of sound. When I listen carefully through headphones or in the sweet spot in between speakers, it sounds like someone screwed up the stereo image somehow.

What I'm getting at is, I'm very aware of the sonic limitations of virtual orchestral arrangements. I'm always picking out little things in other peoples' virtual orchestral arrangements that don't sound 'real' to me. However, the stereo image is something that usually doesn't sound 'real' to me when I'm listening to a recording of a real orchestra!

There are a number of pop/rock recordings where I can easily say that I love the mix or that I love the stereo image. However, I can't point to any particular real orchestral soundtrack recording that I've listened to yet where I really like the stereo image...although I know all the recordings that I've been listening to have been recorded by top notch engineers under top notch conditions. (I don't want to pick on anybody's work, but let's say that if the soundtrack was recorded anywhere between 1975 and 1990 and the film had a huge budget, I'm probably listening to it.)

I've never seen anyone else complain about the typical orchestral stereo image, which makes me think I'm just not appreciating the Decca Tree orchestral sound somehow. Enlighten me. What am I missing? How can I learn to like this sound, or at least know what I'm trying to aim for when emulating an orchestral stereo image with virtual instruments?
Old 28th November 2016
  #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rolo 46 View Post
film scoring is not real acoustic music, wonderful as it may be
listen to live ensembles in public halls ,not stages, playing music for audiences with a conductor and no screen.
Big +1 on this.

Soundtracks are enjoyable to listen to IMO but they don't come close to the experience of a true orchestra in front of you, or even a faithful recording of said orchestra. Soundtracks serve a different purpose entirely and are not a good place to learn about "true" orchestral sounds.

-Mike
Old 28th November 2016
  #5
Gear Maniac
Quote:
Originally Posted by king2070lplaya View Post
If you're interested, give a listen to old Decca orchestra/operatic/chamber recordings (approx. 1960-1997) to hear the actual Decca tree technique in use. Most folks don't place or mix it correctly these days. When done right, it offers a euphoric but still precise, solid stereo image.
Great big plus one on this!
Old 28th November 2016
  #6
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Earcatcher's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by simplecarnival View Post
While I understand why the Decca Tree micing technique was invented...is it wrong to say that I don't like the sound of it? I like hearing where the various instruments originate in the stereo field. From what I've been able to tell, the Decca Tree sound tends to be a big 'wash' where the location cues are more or less indistinct (minus the instrument sections that are brought up in the mix as needed). To me, this sort of stereo image doesn't really sound like a very good seat in front of an orchestra -- it sounds like a well-balanced yet confused glob of sound. When I listen carefully through headphones or in the sweet spot in between speakers, it sounds like someone screwed up the stereo image somehow.

What I'm getting at is, I'm very aware of the sonic limitations of virtual orchestral arrangements. I'm always picking out little things in other peoples' virtual orchestral arrangements that don't sound 'real' to me. However, the stereo image is something that usually doesn't sound 'real' to me when I'm listening to a recording of a real orchestra!
Movie soundtracks are supposed to go over the entire mix as a form of gravy. Details about where the instruments are and room information will only distract from the visual storytelling. For movie scores very large trees are typically being used in order to create that sound soup.

I'm in the camp of recordists who prefer a realistic orchestra image in both width and depth, with precise information about instrument placement and room sound. (Speaking about music recording for music listening only now.) Even the real Decca tree with much smaller dimensions is usually not to my liking and I have put a lot of effort into finding better ways of recording natural, yet musical, spatiality. With particular thanks to Alan Blumlein, of course. Since microphones never "listen" like the human brain does, this is a life long quest that many recordists are on. It may be helpful to decide what your ideal sound is, that you have in mind, and then work to get close to that.
Old 28th November 2016
  #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by simplecarnival View Post
There are a number of pop/rock recordings where I can easily say that I love the mix or that I love the stereo image. However, I can't point to any particular real orchestral soundtrack recording that I've listened to yet where I really like the stereo image...although I know all the recordings that I've been listening to have been recorded by top notch engineers under top notch conditions.
We tend to base our esthetics on a weak premise of what we like or don't like.

In comparing pop mixes to orchestral mixes, there is a general difference in approach. Orchestral music is based more in the natural acoustics of a space and the tradition of the composer, musicians and conductor balancing the music as precisely as possible acoustically, and recreating the acoustic stereo image.

Pop music is based more in creating an artificial space and mix for instruments which are often amplified and not balanced
precisely by the musicians. The more an instrument is amplified, the less is resonates in a space like an acoustic instrument,
and the harder it is for the musician to gauge it's relative balance. If the pop instrument is recorded in mono, it is panned to one specific point in the stereo field, a radical departure and simplification from the way we hear sounds in nature.

In orchestral music generally each instrument has a more complex location in the recording since the main mic pair consists
of a stereo array. The sound of each instrument is localized but more spread out between right and left.
Old 28th November 2016
  #8
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Bruce Watson's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Earcatcher View Post
Movie soundtracks are supposed to go over the entire mix as a form of gravy. Details about where the instruments are and room information will only distract from the visual storytelling. For movie scores very large trees are typically being used in order to create that sound soup.
Exactly. The scoring stage version of Decca Tree is almost a perversion of Decca's famous technique. But used that way it gives a music track that does what a music track is supposed to do -- it's supposed to support the story telling without drawing attention to itself. If the stereo image was really good -- if you could identify individual instruments and placements -- then the scoring engineer failed.

The thing about Decca Tree is that it's really rather difficult to do well. Decca themselves were constantly experimenting with it, and the various Decca engineers apparently used it somewhat individually.

But when everything comes together, Decca Tree can be glorious. Which is why those great Decca classical recordings from the 60s and 70s are revered today.
Old 28th November 2016
  #9
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bruce Watson View Post
Exactly. The scoring stage version of Decca Tree is almost a perversion of Decca's famous technique. But used that way it gives a music track that does what a music track is supposed to do -- it's supposed to support the story telling without drawing attention to itself. If the stereo image was really good -- if you could identify individual instruments and placements -- then the scoring engineer failed.
That is the first time I have heard this, and I find that presumption almost offensive towards scoring engineers. Certainly, it is not a reflection of how I know many scoring engineers are working.

In your experience, what is the difference between a supposed "scoring stage version" of the Tree and a "normal one"...?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bruce Watson View Post
But when everything comes together, Decca Tree can be glorious. Which is why those great Decca classical recordings from the 60s and 70s are revered today.
I would disagree. Those great Decca recordings are mostly revered for their wonderful performance. Quality of sound never did it for me, to be honest.

All the best,
Dirk
Old 28th November 2016
  #10
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This argument is:

They are Here - which to me is a very detailed upfront image, with precise localization cues, coming out of my speakers
You are There - diffused concert venue sound coming out of my speakers, like a Decca Tree

I've always mixed to the 'They are Here' but am trying to change to 'You are There '

blumlein array
https://soundcloud.com/johnf-1/bird-sea-excerpt
Old 28th November 2016
  #11
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Brent Hahn's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Earcatcher View Post
Movie soundtracks are supposed to go over the entire mix as a form of gravy.
And they tell you how you're supposed to feel.

Quote:
Details about where the instruments are and room information will only distract from the visual storytelling.
Perfectly said.

Quote:
For movie scores very large trees are typically being used in order to create that sound soup.
Tree soup sounds terrible, but your metaphor-mixing is wonderful. I've never tried gravy in my soup, btw, but I think you may be onto something. :-)
Old 28th November 2016
  #12
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Bruce Watson's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by dtf View Post
In your experience, what is the difference between a supposed "scoring stage version" of the Tree and a "normal one"...?
From what I can tell, they tend to increase the spacings, often markedly. Since the vast majority of stereo field information with omnis in any array comes from time-of-arrival differences, increasing the spacings too much can make it difficult for human listeners to localize instruments. Which can be a good thing if that's what you want.
Old 28th November 2016
  #13
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bruce Watson View Post
From what I can tell, they tend to increase the spacings, often markedly. Since the vast majority of stereo field information with omnis in any array comes from time-of-arrival differences, increasing the spacings too much can make it difficult for human listeners to localize instruments. Which can be a good thing if that's what you want.
Thanks, that is interesting - I haven't been aware of wider spacings in film scoring, but will pay attention to it.

I disagree with your assessment on time differences - this certainly applies to 2-mic techniques, but not to wider spacings (amplitude differences become more apparent) and not to arrays using 3+ omnis (including, but not limited to, outriggers).

Actually, in my opinion and experience, it is the combination of amplitude and time differences that makes for the most stable and clear stereo image.

Best,
Dirk
Old 28th November 2016
  #14
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Yannick's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by emenelton View Post
This argument is:

They are Here - which to me is a very detailed upfront image, with precise localization cues, coming out of my speakers
You are There - diffused concert venue sound coming out of my speakers, like a Decca Tree

I've always mixed to the 'They are Here' but am trying to change to 'You are There '

blumlein array
https://soundcloud.com/johnf-1/bird-sea-excerpt
I understand what you are saying, but my experience with cd recordings is exactly the opposite.
Most of the they are here examples have VERY blurred stereo, often with one or two pinpointed soloists.

The good or best you are there should have exemplary stereo precision, much like attending a good performance in a great hall in a good seat.

It should also have completely natural sub bass, something I rarely experience.

I could also point out, some of my best audiophile experiences were in movie theatres. This must mean some orchestral scores are recorded very well indeed, almost to perfection.

It is also my understanding not all scoring decca arrangements are actually that. Some tend to use fig8 mics in a decca tree configuration. In some circumstances this works amazingly well.

It would be interesting to discover how many decca tree recordings actually use a correct decca tree. 1% maybe ? Is there even such a thing ?
Old 28th November 2016
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Yannick View Post

I understand what you are saying, but my experience with cd recordings is exactly the opposite.
Most of the they are here examples have VERY blurred stereo, often with one or two pinpointed soloists.

It would be interesting to discover how many decca tree recordings actually use a correct decca tree. 1% maybe ? Is there even such a thing ?
-Yannick-

A Decca Tree of Omni's:

the effect from which
the 'You are There' crowd is making their case for,
always seems diffuse.
When I switch my array to OMNI
and solo the left or the right,
they both individually sound similar,
but both together sound like a nice diffuse
'You are There' with no real good locational cues.
To me, that is
what it I think the OP is criticizing.

Chris

Blumlein

https://soundcloud.com/johnf-1/bird-sea-excerpt

Last edited by emenelton; 28th November 2016 at 09:27 PM..
Old 28th November 2016
  #16
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I am sorry, but the OP is wondering why his reference recordings sound diffuse and not precise.
IF I am correct, he too wants the -i am there- approach with a very precise image.
As I wrote, a good concert experience is not diffuse. Imaging should be about an order of magnitude better than the best reference recording you kow of.
Old 28th November 2016
  #17
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I did change my second line -
I don't think being at a classical concert has good location cues at all, which is why a DECCA Tree as the OP references but doesn't like works. I can tell you're very experience. To me though, when I put up a detailed stereo image with precise location cues, it doesn't seem to me to match sitting in a hall - while a blurry Omni recording does.

I think the opposite - 'They are Here', is distinct and 'You are There' is diffuse.

Chris

Blumlein

https://soundcloud.com/johnf-1/bird-sea-excerpt
Old 28th November 2016
  #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Yannick View Post
The good or best you are there should have exemplary stereo precision, much like attending a good performance in a great hall in a good seat.
But movies are not concerts. I think there is a different aesthetic required.

Quote:
It should also have completely natural sub bass, something I rarely experience.
Absolutely. But poor mastering setup and monitors make this rare. Also why I hate vinyl.

Quote:
I could also point out, some of my best audiophile experiences were in movie theatres. This must mean some orchestral scores are recorded very well indeed, almost to perfection.
Or that many speakers are better than two in initiating a strong emotional response. This is well known. Is surround taking off in the home? I prefer stereo at home.

I think this topic will never end. The most successful recordings engage and create a strong emotional response in the listener. There are many stimuli, the performance, the room, the silences, the reverberant decay, the sense of large space, the euphoric nature of the music, the volume and dynamic range, the collective atmosphere of an audience, stereo image is just one of the least noticeable by a home listener without pointing it out and explaining it in detail.

I used to be a stereo image fanatic, still am, but now adding much more atmosphere, envelopment, and other emotional cues to my attempts at recording.

One of the most arresting movie music experiences I have had was viewing Casino Royale in our IMAX cinema (great sound system) and hearing David Arnold's just superb arrangement of the Bond theme come on as the credits came up at the end. This recording sounds a bit small room, but its impact was stunning. I couldn't care less about stereo image.
Old 29th November 2016
  #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by emenelton View Post
when I put up a detailed stereo image with precise location cues, it doesn't seem to me to match sitting in a hall - while a blurry Omni recording does.
I agree that a well made coincident recording, especially Blumlien or Blumlien MS, localizes much more than listening to live music. It's logical since the recording is using only amplitude cues, which create an exaggerated perception of ultra-precise horizontal localization (not necessarily a negative attribute).

An omni recording with very small high quality (not dual cardioid) capsules, not spaced very far apart, and angled outward, sounds more like live music to me.

I think it's a mistake to generalize over which is better. It depends on the particular recording, and each recording can be evaluated individually. We're lucky to have both techniques available.
Old 29th November 2016
  #20
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I know from what I have read that the Decca Tree is a nosebleed. But when you can get it to work it is good. There are easier solutions, as Aracu has mentioned, like MS and Blumlein. Another array I have found to be very good in the right hands, Earcatcher, is his array. I have just recently gotten it work myself and am impressed with it, really impressed. Listening to Earcatcher's posted clips reveal a depth and precision without sacrifice of musicality. Granted, I am a bit biased but mostly because I have found it to work that little bit better than other arrays I have tried.

It makes my local chorale sound very good and they are pleased about that. When they have a good recording they can submit it for judging to get into festivals and competitions. They are going to Spain next year and I might get to go, too.

In a good studio with a good group of artists it would be very good. I have heard some quartets in a good venue and the sound is delicious. There is some other work, too. All stellar in sound.

I am going to try the ECA in some bad venues, like the bluegrass gig on Mondays just to see how it handles crap. I am guessing it will work pretty well.
Old 29th November 2016
  #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by boojum View Post
I have found it to work that little bit better than other arrays
Promoting a better secret array strikes me as even more absurd, pretentious, vague and utterly unconvincing than promoting a best traditional array.
Old 29th November 2016
  #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aracu View Post
Promoting a better secret array strikes me as even more absurd, pretentious, vague and utterly unconvincing than promoting a best traditional array.
Agreed. I did listen to some of the EC(secret)A, which I really liked. When I listen to the Milwauekee Symphony Orchestra recordings they sounded similar to the EC(secret)A ones. I was told the MSO's were ONNO.
Old 29th November 2016
  #23
DECCA tree fails to impress because it is unrelated to how our ears process sound.

It isn't a stereo technique - it's a LCR approach. Don't use it. It's a problem with a half-assed solution all-in-one.
Old 29th November 2016
  #24
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I have had good luck with the Onno array. However, in the case when there is a sound source on the hard right or hard left the source has a tendency to wander. A piano in recordings I did would appear in the center and sometimes left of center. This did not happen with ORTF or MS. It is just a failing in spaced omnis. Were the mics a meter or so further back they would have been fine but I could not put them there.
Old 29th November 2016
  #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aracu View Post
Promoting a better secret array strikes me as even more absurd, pretentious, vague and utterly unconvincing than promoting a best traditional array.
Not this again. Let EC develop his ideas in peace. If he wants to publish he will. Otherwise there are plenty of other arrays for others to try.
Old 29th November 2016
  #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by boojum View Post
I have had good luck with the Onno array. However, in the case when there is a sound source on the hard right or hard left the source has a tendency to wander. A piano in recordings I did would appear in the center and sometimes left of center. This did not happen with ORTF or MS. It is just a failing in spaced omnis. Were the mics a meter or so further back they would have been fine but I could not put them there.
Boojum,

Want to thank you for bringing that up. I've read your statement before regarding the wandering.

My array is always between the first row and the edge of the stage. Violin Soloist and sopranos in Omni cause steering issues. I have been rendering in Blumlein which seems more stable.

So, you've been using the 4 mic ONNO?

Chris

BLUMLEIN

https://soundcloud.com/johnf-1/bird-sea-excerpt
Old 29th November 2016
  #27
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boojum's Avatar
Chris - No, I was using the simple two-mic Onno. I used a pair of DPA 4061's which the director preferred to the DPA 4006 TL's. (?!) That made it easy for me as the 4061 are the size of match heads and ideally suited to a petite carbon fiber array. And they effectively disappear from sight. Using the Manfrotto's for the ECA presents a much larger sight disturbance but the group puts up with it as they get a good recording.

Attached is a clip from The Armed Man by Jenkins (ECA). I'll find the Elijah recording which was done with a two mic Onno at a better distance in a better venue and attach it to this.

The Elijah is pretty precise and believable. It was recorded at the Liberty Theater in Astoria. Liberty Theater Photo Manager | by: Michael Mathers The Onno was three rows back and about four meters up. It is behind the conductor in the photo, out of sight but there.
Attached Thumbnails
Don't like the Decca Tree orchestra sound?-p1000797.jpg  
Attached Files

Last edited by boojum; 30th November 2016 at 02:25 AM.. Reason: add photo of venue at performance
Old 29th November 2016
  #28
Tell me again, how a Decca Tree doesn't good?

https://open.spotify.com/track/53xrCLqM5S4ZgOPCiQn1KH

Even a Strad doesn't sound good when the player doesn't know how to use it ;-)
Old 30th November 2016
  #29
Old 30th November 2016
  #30
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boojum's Avatar
KP, there is not much argument about the Decca Tree sounding good. But it is not an easy, fail-safe like the ORTF or the oh-so-forgiving MS. This may be the reason for bad sound out there. Yeah, you'd better have your Sierra together to work with this array. And Decca/London sure did it well, especially in Montreal with Dutoit.
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