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Are those old recordings really that good...

Discussion in 'Studio Lounge' started by took-the-red-pill, Feb 12, 2016.

  1. took-the-red-pill

    took-the-red-pill Active Member

    Or are we just remembering them the way we want to remember them?

    I hear a lot of talk glorifying the old recordings of the 60's and 70's to tape, and how they had "depth," or similar terms to describe how glorious they sounded, usually followed by a lament on how modern music sounds like crap by comparison. Yet if one listens to them objectively, a lot of those recordings were usually paper thin in the low end, and the drums sounded kind of weak.

    This was sparked by my listening to Second Hand News and Go Your Own Way. To my ears, the low end is severely lacking, and the drums sound weak and thin. If a mix engineer were to send that over now I'm guessing they'd be fired on the spot.

    Even the Mighty Zep sounds lacking on the low end of the kick and I hardly hear any highs to the cymbals or hat in my (admittedly fading) ears. Bass guitar seems pretty quiet, yet awfully hot in the mids, as opposed to having real bottom end.

    Thoughts? Am I talking out my ass here or what?
  2. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Are you referring to vinyl when you listen to these older songs, or to the CD versions? It also depends on what you are listening through as well...
    I recently dug out an old vinyl copy of Rubber Soul - and it sounds way better than the CD remastered version that was released in the late 80's, and I was using a very cheap TT, too. It's a cheap USB TT designed to transfer vinyl to computer, and neither the stylus or the TT is anywhere near the quality of the Alpine I had in college, and I still thought it sounded way better than the CD I have of the same album.

    My point is... it depends on the CD, and when it was mastered for CD. You have to look for the date; as those classic albums that were initially remastered for digital were done in the 80's when digital conversation wasn't as good as it became later throughout the years; and some of those are still used as the digital masters for reprint even today.
  3. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Many of those older CD transfers were done from the vinyl cutting masters, so they had all the LF restriction and centering needed for a disc cutter. I was always given to understand it was because the original masters were no longer available, but since that time many of the multitrack tapes have surfaced and so re-mixing to produce full-frequency masters for CD has become possible. The sad thing is that they go to all the bother of a re-mix but then in many cases squash the dynamics out of them. It's no wonder that the vinyls sound better.
    audiokid, DonnyThompson and pcrecord like this.
  4. Sean G

    Sean G Well-Known Member

    I would depend on the recording in question. Some were brilliant recordings that went to vinyl, some were ordinary.

    The way we listened to those vinyl recordings back then would have also come into play compared to what we listen to our music on today.

    Its also my understanding that if some of the recordings back then had the compression and low end many of todays' recordings had, the needle would have jumped right off the record.

    I always thought that Led Zeppelin had a lot of bottom end for the time, considering Bozos' sound and the way it was captured.
    An example would be When The Levee Breaks...the drums, in particular the kick, drive that song.
  5. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Except that if you listen to any version of Levee, it's not really so much the low end that is the "essence" of that sound they got with Bonzo, as it was the space they got with his his drums. They recorded his Ludwig kit at the bottom of a stairwell in an abandoned asylum ( Headley Grange) in the U.K., and were using the Rolling Stone's mobile unit for tracking. The miking array was very simple. They used a couple Beyer dynamics, and that was pretty much it.
    Over the years, any time I saw a younger engineer, fresh out of recording school, miking a 5pc drum kit with ten mics, I tell them to listen to that particular song, and to think about that. ;)

    The 80's release of Rubber Soul I was referring to sounds nowhere near as good as the re- release CD of the late 90's/ early 00's, when EMI/Apple were re-releasing the Beatles catalog... again.

    If memory serves correct, I'm pretty sure that the second time around, George Martin and his son Giles were involved; they oversaw the later releases, both with remixing and remastering.... and were pretty picky about the amount of limiting - meaning the lack thereof - on those later CD's to preserve more of the original dynamic range.

    So, the final fidelity greatly depends on who is doing the remixing and the mastering.
  6. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    They released some Buddy Holly recordings when CD was first becoming popular and the recording quality was stunning - the record versions were remastered from them to sound good in a groove. In any modern way of decsribing music recordings they were really, really good. lack of noise, dynamic range and frequency response. I'm wondering if the damage was done at the mastering stage - taking perfectly good qual;ity material and shrinking and squashing to make the stylus track properly. Maybe applying the RIAA curve? Same with the latest Elvis project, adding his voice to a modern orchestra - if you listen his archive recording sounds perfectly contemporary in quality - not 'old'.
  7. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    That's the thing I've noticed too Paul, is that there were some of those initial early CD's that I thought sounded great, others not so much, and still others were harsh and brittle.

    I'm not sure what standard there was at that time for digital mastering of older music; or if there even was any standard at all ( like Redbook but for mastering levels and EQ curves) that early on ( I'm talking '85 or so) ... and I think it comes back to whom is doing the work. Was it because there were veterans involved with some projects, using their ears - and on others, more inexperienced guys looking at a wave form on a screen? That would make a pretty big difference, I think we'd all agree to that, right?

    One would hope that the team working on the Buddy Holly recordings you spoke of, transferring to digital, would have been very familiar with Holly's sound.... as opposed to getting some 20 year old kid at the time who really didn't have a clue and was just running it by the "numbers".

    I dunno. Just kinda thinking out loud.
  8. took-the-red-pill

    took-the-red-pill Active Member

    I would buy that in that time span between the 60's and 80's they figured out a lot of the processes, got better and more advanced gear. But the fact remains the older, more coveted recordings seem to me to pale in comparison if one just listens to the timbres and range of the instruments-the actual SOUND of the song.

    It has nothing to do with the medium. I put on my vinyl version of SGT Pepper, and listen to the song of the same name. Even though what they were able to achieve was a miracle of innovation with what they had, the drums have little bottom end, and are weak. George Harrison's guitar sounds like if he hits that cat one more time he can get it to finally die. Then I put on Back In Black, on CD or MP3 is fine. The guitars are thick and meaty and creamy and gorgeous. The drums shake the windows, and even at low volumes you FEEL like they're shaking the windows. Yes, vinyl sounds better, but it's a minor difference, and you're not going to shake your house apart with Pepper or Muddy Waters.

    It's not that whole "in the 80's their converters were no good" story either. I listen to Second Hand News, which would have been put to CD in the 80's, and the drums are as thin as paper. But if I put the CD of Brothers In Arms, the drums, bass, and overall clarity give me an embarrassing pup tent. There is no comparison in the sounds of the instruments, even though they were both put to CD in the 80's.

    And we can't blame the remastering process. If they are remastering stuff from the 60's and 70's for the modern market, if anything, they're going to BOOST the bass and kick so it sounds great through our subs in our cars. But no such boost is occurring. They are still anemic below 120Hz.

    Levee is an exception. They made those drums sound like they are the size of the moon, and that was five years before Rumors. It wold be interesting to play that through an analyzer to see how much bottom end there really is. And I've heard some jazz recordings in the 50's that were stunning, but I'm talking more the mainstream stuff.

    My two bits.
  9. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    I wonder if Donny's comment about people being familiar with the sound is perhaps the biggest potential snag. My band is a Beach Boys tribute, and we hate playing small size festivals where the PA and the person operating it are either deaf rockers, or worst, 18 year olds with no musical history. They choices they make when we HAVE to let them mix, as it's in the contracts, are often bizarre. In the original Beach Boys music the bass is very low in the mix, and is sort of dull and a low 'dung' played with the thumb usually. Sounds checks are rarely comprehensive, more of a line check and quick gain set, and the first number sort of 'develops', EQ wise. I suddenly discover my quiet 'dung' suddenly becomes Lemmy from Moorhead in terms of cutting and volume. Maybe these people, got let loose on CD releases? Maybe even on the original vinyl pressings too?
  10. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Well of course... you're talking the difference of nearly a 15 year span between those two albums. In the recording world, and its technology, that's damn near a millennium... That's like the difference between a horse and buggy, and a Lamborghini. LOL

    Sgt Pepper was recorded using a couple of Studer four track decks synced together, with many track comps along the way, too. And, at that time, the low end was trimmed back to make the then-current play back mediums and cutting/playback styluses not "jump" on the vinyl.

    McCartney came back from a visit to Motown in late '66 and told the EMI guys he wanted "to get the same low end that American pop records were getting". He raised holy-hell trying to get the top brass at EMI to capitulate. If it hadn't been Paul, I doubt EMI would have paid any attention to the request. It just so happened that The Beatles had become EMI's number one cash cow. Success does have its benefits when it comes to requesting certain things from your record label. ;)

    The end result was Rain and Paperback Writer, two songs that had more bass and low end on them than any previous release from the band up to that point.

    Previous to that, it was actually forbidden by EMI studio corporate jag-offs to even place a mic directly on a kick drum. The Beatles recorded largely at night, after the execs had gone home, but there were occasions when, recording during the days, that a "lookout guy" had to perch outside the door to the studio, so that he could give quick warning to those inside the studio that one of the top execs was popping into a session... so that they could hide the things they were doing that were technically forbidden.

    You have to remember, Abbey Road ( EMI) started out as a classical/orchestral label, and their gear was tailored to that initially, as were the engineering methods of the time. There were rules to be adhered to, or you could lose your job.
    For example, in many studios in those days, ( and not just in the UK either) peaking a signal past 0db on a tape machine was considered to be a terminable offense at more than just a few studios, on the mythological premise that "it could damage the tape machine, or the tape". We know now that this was complete BS, and contrary to that notion, it was discovered that the sonics could actually benefit greatly by "+3 recording", ( also referred to as "OTTL" tracking - ( "Over The Top Levels" ) where that beautiful and often elusive "sweet spot" of saturation could occur... that magical distortion that acted like a beautiful glue. It was the classic analog " smear", that made many instruments sound smoother, better, warmer.

    By the time Back In Black was recorded, we were into 24 track territory, with huge, 20', 48 channel discreet input large-format consoles; and low end could be mixed and processed discreetly without having to "guess" at where it would end up after several generational bounces ( also called "comps", short for "compilations"), and that multi generational comping was common on those older pre '69 Beatle records. The newer consoles of the 70's and 80's had incredibly detailed EQ filters that those older EMI desks never had, because back in the days of Pepper, that type of EQ filtering simply wasn't determined as being important or even needed. The original REDD EMI desk didn't even have discreet bass, mids and high's in even a simple 3 band/fixed EQ filter pattern - it had a simple single tone control pot per track. So if you take all that into account, and put it in that perspective, Sgt Pepper is not only a musical gem, but is also an engineering masterpiece. Younger engineers today simply don't know what workarounds were used in those past years to try and push beyond the limits of the gear. Those who did it, did it very well. Some might even consider these to be moments of "engineering genius". I know I do.

    And, by the time AC/DC was recording albums, things had switched to higher fidelity in broadcasting, too.
    Up until '70 or so, with the exception of a handful of "underground" FM stations, or a scattering of off-shore pirate radio boats (like Radio Caroline), most broadcasting was still mostly AM, with it's limited fidelity and frequency reproduction.
    FM changed the game, and fidelity became far more important, because the broadcast format itself could accommodate a greater frequency response and wider bandwidth.


    Sean G likes this.
  11. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I can't conceive of an FOH engineer mixing a Beach Boys tribute who's past experience was limited to mixing metal and hard rock. That would drive me crazy, unless they were the exception to the rule.

    When I was in Goodfoot, a Cleveland area funk/R&B dance band that I played drums for and sang in from around '89-'95 or so, we mixed ourselves from stage.
    Our bass player knew exactly what we were supposed to sound like... he was a stickler at sound checks, and he could drive us all crazy, but we always sounded great out front.

    Of course, that could change pretty quickly if and when we played a venue with a house system and "FOH guy".
  12. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    my take on the topic has more to do with recording rather than listening. my experience is it is much easier to make a recording that sounds good to me with an analog console vs. digital itb. i don't have a problem with digital recording, even 16 bit like ADATs. so call me naive' but something in that makes me think analog mixing is better than digital.

    those Buddy Holly CDs Paul mentioned .... i actually have that collection and Paul is right. it sounds very good
  13. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I couldn't argue this. But I also know that it's not all that hard to destroy those recordings, either. Put into the hands of someone who's experience is hard rock, or metal, or who hasn't a clue about what the original recordings were supposed to sound like, could be disastrous. We've all heard the results of that from time to time.

    So what do you think made the difference with the digital releases, Kurt? (I'm not being sarcastic here ... I'm sincere).

    Or do you think that it was more about what the re-mastering team didn't do to the original Holly recordings?
  14. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    it's probably what they didn't do. with all things audio, i think less is more. no argument to it, processing never improves a signal, it only modifies it and that is always at the cost of some degradation. that's why it's best to capture it correctly in the first place. with DAWs. it's too easy to defer decisions. it seems to me the downhill slide began with "Sound Tools".

    with the Beatles stuff, i know the vinyl released by Capitol in America, was from masters that were generations down from the masters used by Parlaphone in Europe during the 60's/70's. as far as the digital releases, George Martin has guarded the body of work pretty closely to preserve the legacy. if you are comparing the Capitol releases to the digital re issues, it's really apples and oranges. you need to hear the European Parlaphone pressings before making judgement. I also have a Polydor Euro version of Creams Disraeli Gears and Jimi Hendrix Smash Hits! on Track Records. BOTH are killer!

    The Buddy Holly CDs it's my guess they were done straight from the original masters sans the compression or eq they used to get it to vinyl. Norman Petty was a killer engineer. at the time Holly and Petty were making some of the best records in the business. i'm gonna have to get out to my shop in back where all my CD'S are and dig it out and look to see if there's and info about the transfers on it. speaking of Norman Petty, I also have a CD of Roy Orbison's hits that sounds excellent.

    but i think the issue that the OP raises, is really just a matter of taste. i think how modern music is mixed sounds like hell. cars with sub woofers and 808 kicks really changed the landscape. now people want to hear lots of crap below 40Hz .... is that really necessary? not to mention, there are few playback systems placed in proper listening environments to accurately hear all that deep bass info. a 40Hz wave is over 27 feet long!

    so i prefer those older mix's heard on records or the reissue CDs. the louder bass, more bass on the kick, drums more up front, fatter guitars Took the Red Pill mentions, just isn't my cup of tea.
  15. Sean G

    Sean G Well-Known Member

    IMO the engineer comes into play as well, how they were trained, what they "feel" is right for the mix judged on their own beliefs and perceptions of "whats right and wrong" due to recording techniques at the time. Personal taste comes into play as well.

    Then theres' the equipment thats' used in the recording process...no two consoles were the same, let alone different brand / manufacturers consoles that were were used for each recording depending on what the studio used had at that particular time. Thats' not taking into account the different outboard gear that particular studio had and what was or was not used in the process.

    Then theres' the signature sound of the band themselves. That comes into account, depending on the genre...you can't compare Led Zeppelins' sound to say, Fleetwood Macs.
    Even two bands in the same genre will each have their own signature sound.

    This was a time also when alot of bands would sit in during the mixing stage and give their input on what sounded good and what didn't...I could not imagine say Page & Plant not sitting in during the mixing process of a Zeppelin album and not having a say in the final sound...or at least a say in some revision post mixing.

    The same can be said with Fleetwood Mac...even in the Sound City documentary the band can be seen in the control room...so its probably fair to say that they had a say in the overall sound, what they liked and what they didn't with the mix. Again, personal taste comes into play.

    There are many variables just there alone, let alone comparing music captured in the 60s' to that captured in the 70s', to the sound of the 80s', 90s' and up until present day.

    Much would also come down to conditioning. We are somewhat accustomed to how something should "sound" by todays' modern standards...

    - hypothetically, imagine if you could play something recorded today to someone say in the 60s', who was accustomed to the style and technique of recordings at that time...it would sound alien in many ways to them compared to what they would be accustomed to at that point in time.
  16. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    you are correct sir! Page (with various engineers) did mix Zeps stuff .... Fleetwood Mac was Lindsay Buckingham’s baby. he was responsible for all the production, recording and mix's.
    Sean G likes this.
  17. Sean G

    Sean G Well-Known Member

    Audio, like all things, has evolved over time.

    You can't take a point in the evolutionary timeline of audio and fairly compare it to the end point, i.e.- where we are now, if things follow the law of evolution and improve over time.

    That is...unless we reach a plateau then start devolving (I know Kurt will probably say we are past that point in audio !!!...but thats another thread altogether) ;)

    Of course this is just from a purely scientific perspective, IMHO
  18. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Not long ago, I heard True Love Ways, and it absolutely knocked me out how fantastic it sounded. Did Holly produce that one on his own, or was Petty still involved with his recording by that time? I know Holly was becoming quite the creative and budding engineer himself, shortly before his death. It saddens me to think about what else he could have done if he hadn't been killed in 1959.

    I think the sound of this recording is stellar - for any time period. I think it holds up in fidelity with anything that's been recorded since, and even with current trends.
    The vocal track is so warm, so rich, and so silky. I'd kill to get that vocal tone. There's one section ( @ :27, on the word "bye" and again @ :35 on the word "some-times") where it sounds like he's just slightly overdriving the mic or input channel with his voice ( maybe tube, maybe transformer... I don't know what mic they used on him for this track, the era could make it a Neumann, or an AKG, or even a Telefunken ) but it doesn't bother me in the least.

    Well, most certainly he was involved in that conception of FM, although many tend to forget ( not you, Kurt) that there was a FM long before Buckingham and Nicks came into the band. Past members included Peter Green and Bob Welch ( Ebony Eyes, Sentimental Lady)... but I think credit also needs to be given to Keith Olsen, who was a great engineer, and he knew that Sound City gear, and the rooms, very well.
    I'd personally wager that Olsen likely had as much to do with that era of FM's sound as much as Buckingham did.

    There's a scene in Sound City that made me laugh... They were interviewing Tom Petty, and the topic revolved around Keith Olsen leaving SC and opening up his own studio; he was one of the first guys to leap into the early digital recording age, and he had one master fader in a small box used to control each track. Petty's response was ( and I'm paraphrasing for language) "One fader? That's no fun! I want a big console, lots of faders...I wanna be able to play with stuff..."
  19. Sean G

    Sean G Well-Known Member

    Some things a hot-tub and a computer can't replace....
  20. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I don't think it's purely scientific or technical.

    With the advances in technology, often comes advances in creativity - the more you are able to do, the more creative you can get. Of course, that works the other way too.... and you can get into an area of diminishing returns, where you're so focused on the technical and all the toys available, that you get bogged down in it, and forget that it's really all about the music at the foundation of it all.

    There are times that I miss limitations. I might take some heat for that, but having limitations forced us into making decisions about certain things... and it also had a tendency to prohibit over-producing a song as well, because you only had a finite number of tracks to work with. Just because we have DAW's today that can record up to 999 tracks, doesn't mean we need to use all of them. Some of the best work I've ever done in my life was on 8 and 16 track formats.

    Having a limited number of tracks made me focus on the parts that were truly important, the meat and potatoes of a song, instead of looking at adding track # 65, where a synth bell happens one time for one quarter note.

    IMHO of course. ;)

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