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Sounding Off: Is New Gear Better? (Ethan's article on SOS) Condenser Microphones
Old 14th November 2009
  #1
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Sounding Off: Is New Gear Better? (Ethan's article on SOS)

Ethan , bravo for your SOS article .





You can read it @
Sounding Off: Is New Gear Better?

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Old 14th November 2009
  #2
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Oh yeah, right on the mark. You have to be old enough to remember what an eight track demo studio was like in say, the late seventies/early eighties, and to have worked with a cassette 4 track to really appreciate what we have now.
Old 14th November 2009
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;-)
Old 14th November 2009
  #4
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If "fidelity" is goal of recording, then Ethan is right. However, anyone who has turned up a guitar amp until is starts of distort will know that in pop music of every kind, creativty is the ultimate goal, not necessarily fidelity.
Old 14th November 2009
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Let's wait Ethan chime in and have a nice discussion ;-) .
Old 14th November 2009
  #6
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Good article!
Old 14th November 2009
  #7
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I can't remember how many times I've witnessed placebo effects when mixing with some clients . They basically seem to like seeing VUs moving or to know that I'm using valve or tape . I mean , it's much more about being trendy than the actual sound per se .
A common practice I still do , is telling the client I'm using certain "old analog" device and
they say the sound is better , where actually I didn't even move my mouse and left everything inside my DAW , totally digital !


Yet , the point is not lead this in a discussion old vs new , or analog vs digital and so on .
Actually , the point is about goals and being able to make great music for people pleasure .

Great acoustics , great musicians and better , great music is still what lead us in better recordings that people will enjoy !
My 2 cents
;-)
Old 14th November 2009
  #8
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God Bless You Saint Ethan.

You appear to be the only person in the world who agrees with me!

Instead of jumping for joy at the amazing possibilities we have before us, everybody is going in the opposite direction, saying everything was better in the old days. Well I REMEMBER the old days, with my Tascam 4 track and dynamic mic, using a Boss Delay pedal as a reverb send, and sure it was fun, but the audio quality sucked.

Nowadays, as far as the electronic side of things is concerned, things are ****ing great. My room still sounds like ****, and Im still only a passable engineer, but I think its great that I have the same tools available to me for a few hundred quid, that would have cost millions of dollars when I was a teenager.

And we really need to stop this nonsense about pres (Im big time with Ethan on this) - If its clean, has a flat frequency response and low distortion, it is a good pre. We can add mojo later if neccessary. Its not worth paying thousands for subtle flavours of distortion.

Yay for nowadays! Woo-hoo!
Old 14th November 2009
  #9
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Nice article, Ethan. I agreed!
Old 14th November 2009
  #10
Yah... I've long thought that some of the tape vs digital debating missed an important point about affordability... Younger tape partisans will compare a Studer they picked up for less than a dime on the dollar with today's digital as though you could pick up a 24 track Studer deck for 5G's back then. Well, you couldn't, not even in dollars adjusted for inflation. 5G's back in, say, the 80s, might, if you were lucky, set you up with a used and likely abused TASCAM 16 track 1" deck that required dbx NR just to get a decent S/N ratio.

That said, there are always trade-offs when jumping from one production paradigm to the next.

While I take a different approach in this era, back then I was, indeed, someone who would count on tape's peculiar saturation characteristics to deliver 'hot' sounds on some channels, even turning off NR on those channels to make that possible.
Old 14th November 2009
  #11
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Hey, that's pretty cool that they used his cat in the artwork.
Old 14th November 2009
  #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Soulbrother View Post
Its not worth paying thousands for subtle flavours of distortion.
Not worth it to you. Many would disagree.

I spent this last week recording a reggae album and using lots of different gain settings on my BAE1073. Every click on the gain knob is an ever-so-slightly different level of saturation. It was the most fun I've had tracking in a long time. Linearity is overrated.
Old 14th November 2009
  #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DontLetMeDrown View Post
Not worth it to you. Many would disagree.

Linearity is overrated.
Linearity = boredeom, IMO.

Long live analog (and digital).
Old 14th November 2009
  #14
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Ethan Winer's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by fossaree View Post
Ethan , bravo for your SOS article.
Thanks for staring this thread Andrei. It appears the article is open to the public.

The argument between both camps may go on forever. One group wants pristine high fidelity, the other side wants "color" in the form of distortion. In the old days some people revere, the goal was as clean as possible. Tape distortion was a byproduct we tried to minimize. As Fletcher once said, back then engineers tried to avoid the tube sound.

I'm not opposed to distortion as an effect! My previous article for SOS Gaining an Edge addresses that. But distortion is a commodity item and does not have to cost thousands of dollars. If you don't like the tone of your fuzz du jour, change it. Some people seem to forget that's what EQ is for. heh

--Ethan
Old 14th November 2009
  #15
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Analog is perfectly capable of pristine high fidelity. And you don't have to mess with awful sounding plugins to add "mojo" to it afterwards, either! thumbsup
Old 14th November 2009
  #16
Gear Guru
Beg to disagree

Hi Ethan, I have to disagree, hopefully to add a dimension to the discussion.
I have done shootouts.
I will start with a paradoxical one. On a critical, very hi fi album I mixed to several 2 track recorders simultaneously.
AMS Audifile, Otari 1/4 inch, with and without Dolby SR, Several DATS, and a Sony F1.
There were four involved listeners, a blind test with a second engineer switching.
All preferred the AMS, i.e. a very very early DAW with a green screen. The Otari was a little soft, probably because the Multitrack recording was also analogue. So in Digi world, oldest was best, without doubt.

When money is no object, it has long been widely accepted that the best sounding and only proven archivable medium for two track mixing is 1/2 inch analogue.

Mics-
Neumann KM84 vs 184. No contest. Oldest wins by far. I have recordings, everyone who hears them, blind AB, agrees.
AKG 414. I recorded four different versions together on a decent acoustic guitar, From the latest one with logic switches, to the early silver one complete with crackling analogue switches.
Latest was worst and so on. Unbelievable! But absolutely no doubt. I may still have the files for this one.
No A/B's, but the 67 is vastly superior to the 87 and the latest 87A1 is inferior to earlier versions. Check out the 87 modification available at *****h&e**** Studiotechnik********** They have tests which illustrate what and why. There is a 10dB disimprovement in headroom on the new 87 vs the older.

Preamps-
Millennia, Neve, Chandler, Siemens V78. Massenberg.
Again, no doubt, blind test, all listeners chose the Siemens, originally a talkback preamp! Massenberg came second, a decades older design than the Neve or Millennia.

I often look under the bonnet, sometimes build circuits, and have a reasonable understanding of electronics. Many of the recent versions of classic mics and such are vastly superior to the early ones in terms of construction, reliability, noise, and distortion. However, this is often achieved by relatively massive amounts of electronics. An old KM84 has just one FET transistor and one transformer between the capsule and the outside world. The newer one has a city of transistors on Surface Mount chips. Ditto the 414 and so on.


There is no compressor plug in which can even begin to approach an analogue classic.
Sometimes the better control of the Digi wins out, but for sound quality and character, give me an LA2A, 1176 any day.

Exceptions prove the rule. The Massenberg Eq Plug in sounds better to me than the Analogue.
Downstream, sure a modern soundcard is better than a 4 track cassette multitracker, or even most of the domestic reel to reel machines.

In all these cases I am not talking about colouration/mojo versus cold clear fidelity. They are A/B choices, one is simply preferred over the other, blindly and without prejudice. It is very surprising how clear, hi fi and damn nigh perfect some of the oldies are even when compared with the latest transformerless piece of wire with gain. If there is any myth here I think it is this Mojo/Colour thing. A V76 or a Studer tape recorder are more on the side of pristine, invisible, perfect, than funky or coloured. These things are designs from the latter end of a century of analogue design. An apex IMHO. They also have remarkably good performance figures.

Sorry Ethan, but this wealth of clear A/B evidence plus personal experience over time forces me to side with the 'older is better' cult at the level of gear mentioned. I do however totally agree that there is an awful lot of nonsense and myth around. External Clocks, OTB summing and so on. I have read some of your myth busting rhetoric before and have totally concurred. Your best stuff is always backed up with comparative tests though. I think we both strongly feel that test and measurement trumps theory or hypothesis. I can send you some of those A/B files if you are curious, but I think there is little need, these were A/B and blind.
Best Regards, DD

Last edited by DanDan; 14th November 2009 at 08:02 PM.. Reason: Extra
Old 14th November 2009
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ethan Winer View Post
The argument between both camps may go on forever. One group wants pristine high fidelity, the other side wants "color" in the form of distortion. In the old days some people revere, the goal was as clean as possible. Tape distortion was a byproduct we tried to minimize. As Fletcher once said, back then engineers tried to avoid the tube sound.
Depends who you're talking about. No individual can speak for the objectives and practices of all engineers everywhere. Plenty of major analog recordings, even from the 90's were recorded with the objective of "as dirty as possible". Others, it was "as vibey as possible" or "as warm as possible". "As clean as possible" is only one aesthetic among many.

All this would indicate is everyone has their own preferences.

And if 90% of the plugins I've seen are built around modeling that "undesirable" analog distortion, it can't be so undesirable after all.
Old 14th November 2009
  #18
Quote:
Originally Posted by 4'33" View Post
Analog is perfectly capable of pristine high fidelity. And you don't have to mess with awful sounding plugins to add "mojo" to it afterwards, either! thumbsup
Erm... I'm a fan of both but, at least the way I understand the mojo you're talking about (the kind that folks use saturation and tape-sim plugs to try to capture), I would say that pristine high fidelity and that kind of mojo exist in a sort of zero sum equation. But I think there can be a happy compromise between some level of pristine fidelity and some level of mojo -- and that can certainly be delivered by good analog gear.

Unfortunately, the current, relative affordability of such gear is due in large part to factors surrounding its near-demise in the manufacturing sphere. If tape was still king, those beautiful, relatively high fidelity Studer decks would still be many, many tens of thousands of dollars and those of us who have to balance other economic considerations against our sonic ambitions would likely still be stuck with something like the far-from-hi fi TASCAMs (and even lesser brands).


I can't weigh in on the relative merits of disappeared early digital platforms I've never used but little that I've seen or heard in my personal experience suggests that, overall, we haven't made enormous progress at delivering pleasing, high fidelity digital audio technology in the last three decades. Certainly, there were landmark converters along the way that folks cherished for their particular qualities. And as many have acknowledged, we aren't always drawn to perfect fidelity... sometimes, to some ears, a particular set of characteristics that diverge from the 'ideal' may well be more to pleasing than something that is actually more accurate. But, overall, it's my thinking that the rising tide of advances in digital audio conversion technology has lifted most all the boats still floating in those waters.
Old 14th November 2009
  #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DanDan View Post
I can send you some of those A/B files if you are curious, but I think there is little need, these were A/B and blind.
But were they level matched to within 0.1 dB as is required for accurate comparison?

There's a common misunderstanding of the purpose of blind audio tests. The main reason to use blind tests is not to determine which of two or more things sounds "better" as you did with your multiple mixdowns. Rather, blind tests are more commonly used to see if a difference can be heard at all. For example, to compare whether people can reliably discern between two different power amps. When they can see the product labels, most people will pick the more expensive or better-known brand as sounding better. But when tested blind it's common for people not to be able to hear any difference (unless one amp is clipping etc).

--Ethan
Old 14th November 2009
  #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by theblue1 View Post
Erm... I'm a fan of both but, at least the way I understand the mojo you're talking about (the kind that folks use saturation and tape-sim plugs to try to capture), I would say that pristine high fidelity and that kind of mojo exist in a sort of zero sum equation. But I think there can be a happy compromise between some level of pristine fidelity and some level of mojo -- and that can certainly be delivered by good analog gear.
I just think a generation of engineers who have never sat in a control room and heard a real, great analog tape deck are passing off the medium's "mojo" as the kind of horrific characteristics generated by saturation and tape sims. To mistake those things as representative of tape is as silly as mistaking a starved-plate design as representative of "the sound of toobs".

There is nothing remotely related to "tape saturation" or "tape compression" on the Mercury Living Presence stuff, nor the Blue Note stuff, nor any of the jazz recordings done at Columbia's 30th street studios in the late 50s to mid 60s. But they are in no way "cold", "sterile", or in any need of additional "juicing" that is so hankered for after nowadays. And they are among the best hi-fidelity recordings we have in our history.

Quote:
Unfortunately, the current, relative affordability of such gear is due in large part to factors surrounding its near-demise in the manufacturing sphere. If tape was still king, those beautiful, relatively high fidelity Studer decks would still be many, many tens of thousands of dollars and those of us who have to balance other economic considerations against our sonic ambitions would likely still be stuck with something like the far-from-hi fi TASCAMs (and even lesser brands).
Yeah I agree but that's not really the point Ethan was making in his article...
Old 14th November 2009
  #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ethan Winer View Post
Thanks for staring this thread Andrei. It appears the article is open to the public.
If it's open , it's better so those that don't have a subscription may read and join us here !
Old 14th November 2009
  #22
Gear Guru
Tests

Hi Ethan, O.1dB! A bit extreme, the tiniest head movement would cause changes many orders of magnitude more than that. The first tests were done to determine the best sounding 2 track mix machine. They were indeed level matched EE or off Replay head very carefully. Tones , pink noise, and music were used.
We had the ability to simply push four switches to get ABCD, clickless.
This was at the end of a long and expensive recording project. The resulting CD was widely used internationally as Hi Fi test. It replaced Ricky Lee a the time.
The mix was not multiple but simultaneous to eliminate any possibility of variation.
The group involved, Producer, Artiste, Record company guy, Second Engineer could all repeatedly chose the same preferred machine, and amazingly the second preferred also (a Technics/Panasonic SV3600 DAT.) This was done very very carefully.
Regarding the other tests, they are recordings, again simultaneous. Obviously mics cannot be at exactly the same point in space, but they was as close as possible.
The preamp thing was multiple passes, very carefully level matched and with no position changes.
I can send you the files, you can adjust levels, and introduce any level of randomness or statistical blindness you wish. Many have tried these here. The results are always the same. I would not be going on an such a limb without this incontrovertible evidence.

Best, DD
Old 14th November 2009
  #23
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Not worth it to you. Many would disagree.

I spent this last week recording a reggae album and using lots of different gain settings on my BAE1073. Every click on the gain knob is an ever-so-slightly different level of saturation. It was the most fun I've had tracking in a long time. Linearity is overrated
I know many disagree, thats why I keep bangin on about it. I feel like an athiest in the Bible Belt sometimes!

While I dont disagree that non-linearity can be fun, and love the 60's/70s vibe more than any other, personally I think plugins have long since passed the point of being able to simulate different flavours of distortion/saturation perfectly well. I just record with a clean noise free preamp and dirty up later if required. Just finished a Black-Sabbath pastiche-type album that was all plugins and think I nailed the vibe quite well (For a fraction of the cost).

But sure, if I was a millionaire Id love to have lots of black boxes to play with, though would imagine the convenience would probably pull me back to plugins.

What I really wish people would stop doing , however, is telling non-pro engineers to spend their money on expensive pres. Absolutely clean , high-fidelity preamps which do almost nothing to the signal bar turn it up can now be had for under 200 dollars (actually 100 if we're being honest). As long as you stay away from hyped crap with a 'toob' in it.

We need to stop this myth that expensive preamps are higher-fidelity, than good cheap ones. They aren't, they are often Less high-fidelity, just in a pleasing way.

This is an esoteric part of audio engineering that has gotten out of hand, leading every basement recordist to think he needs to spend 1000 dollars on something less important to the sound than changing the strings on his guitar.

But for you big boys , of course, party on if it makes you happy!
Old 14th November 2009
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Soulbrother View Post
What I really wish people would stop doing , however, is telling non-pro engineers to spend their money on expensive pres. Absolutely clean , high-fidelity preamps which do almost nothing to the signal bar turn it up can now be had for under 200 dollars (actually 100 if we're being honest). As long as you stay away from hyped crap with a 'toob' in it.

We need to stop this myth that expensive preamps are higher-fidelity, than good cheap ones. They aren't, they are often Less high-fidelity, just in a pleasing way.

But for you big boys , of course, party on if it makes you happy!
Who ever says great preamps are high "fidelity"? People generally say great pres sound better, are more emotive, better complement their mics, and are far easier to mix from.

But even if "fidelity" (ie. cleanliness) is your only goal, in many cases, more expensive pre-amps ARE superior to cheap ones. For example, if you want a clean pre-amp sound, you can get it from a $1 IC (as companies like Mackie have been reliably doing for well over a decade) or you can get it from a discrete circuit. There will be clearly measurable differences in "fidelity". But which one wins in terms of which parameters and which is thus preferable will again still be subjective.
Old 14th November 2009
  #25
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Eathen,
You focus both on the room and the gear.
IMO one should be seperated from the other.
Sure bad recording suffer because of small and usualy crappy sounding rooms.
But saying that new technology beats old technology is not entirely true,
they are just different.
Lower noise figures and lower audioable distortion doesnt necessarily mean a nicer recording to a human's ear.
"Cutting corners" like you might say old gear VS new gear does is not a bad thing in this industry.


I do a grre that using a good spacious recording room would generate much more "pleasing difference" then buying another piece of gear.
Old 14th November 2009
  #26
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Old 14th November 2009
  #27
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Quote:
For example, if you want a clean pre-amp sound, you can get it from a $1 IC (as companies like Mackie have been reliably doing for well over a decade) or you can get it from a discrete circuit.
Exactly. But that is not the way people argue about it on here (and elsewhere) - they dont say "Mackie pres are just not the flavour I need, I prefer to use an API" , Its more along the lines of "How could anybody make music with that cheap spitty bitty crappy-sounding junk" , when, in reality plenty of cheap pres, are measurably, audibly, not junk at all. They are in fact just what you need if you want to record audio cleanly and at a high quality.

But the opposite is consietently being hammered home "You NEED a fancy boutique pre to make good music" , this is quite simply not true any more than a girl NEEDS pink lipstick to be attractive. Some look good with pink lipstick, some red, and some with none at all. And besides which, the girl needs to be gourgeous in the first place for the lipstick to be worth wearing at all! (Of course the difference between a cheap pre and an expensive one is a lot less easy to see than the difference between one listick shade and another, so the analogy isnt perfect)

In summation, they are just (very very very subtle) flavours, not quality. This fact oughta be screamed from the rooftops, and leaflets oughta be dropped by helicopter into every Guitar Centre in the land! Ok Ill go back to my hole now.
Old 14th November 2009
  #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Soulbrother View Post
They are in fact just what you need if you want to record audio cleanly and at a high quality.
I wouldn't call Mackie pres high quality. I've recorded with them, and I've found them to be exactly what people say about them - okay, blaa, nothing to write home about.

Admittedly, there are better IC-based designs that can be almost as cheap, but personally, I view ICs as utilitarian at best. You use them when you have to or they will have a minimal role to play. For example, if you want to balance or unbalance circuits without transformers, buffer an input, or have to fit a tonne of circuitry in a tiny space.

But for pushing 40 dB of gain on a preamp? I don't think even the best ICs usually sound ideal, and at the high end, they can cost as much as discrete.
Old 15th November 2009
  #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Soulbrother View Post
What I really wish people would stop doing , however, is telling non-pro engineers to spend their money on expensive pres. Absolutely clean , high-fidelity preamps which do almost nothing to the signal bar turn it up can now be had for under 200 dollars (actually 100 if we're being honest). As long as you stay away from hyped crap with a 'toob' in it.
Must agree !
Old 15th November 2009
  #30
Gear Maniac
 

Ethan, you've perfectly articulated something I've been trying to say for years. And I'll go you one better - whenever I hear someone argue the "vintage" analog vs. digital diatribe, I can't help but think 'which analog is he/she talking about? How many hours on those heads? Demagged? Azimuth? Dolby A? SR? Tape formulation? Alignment and bias? Tape shedding? nWb/m?? Studer? Ampex? Otari??? Drugged assistant?*' Please tell me which analog we are discussing prior to extolling the virtues of every single analog format over any digital recording. Wait... you mean you LIKE the way an MCI 24 track sounds??? Simply because its analog???. Feh.


*yeah, the one who put Dolby A on the first 32 tracks of my 48 track Sony digital recorder back in 1990... when I asked 'why the **** did you do that?', all he could answer was 'we didn't have the extra 16 cards...' Please don't ask the project or studio, I wouldn't want to unduly embarrass anyone here.
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