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Great music on disc without adjusting master tape?

Member for

21 years
People, hi! This is my really first posting here and to be honest, I have only known about this forum since yesterday. What made me get here? Well, in my ambition to find more precise grounds to my stand in another discussion about importance of recordings I "googled" and found and I am really glad I did. With lack of further knowledge, this forum appear to be very professional and since I am a deep fan of HiFi in general and great recordings in specific I bet I´ll hang around here more often.
Well, to my topic...

Is there really a purpose alone to adjust a (digital) recording from master tape, mixing and finally mastering? Isn´t it possible to put majority of efforts to find a suitable studio where the environment is a part of the sound...only?

To do a comparison to (digital) photograping. When taking a picture with a competent digital sensor (in the better digital cameras) there is a raw format picture recorded but it is also possible to make a tiff format IF there is a need of adjustments.
Now, the raw format capture the truth. No matter what setup the camera has for the moment, the raw find what is there for the moment. High light, dark shadows, color distortion etc etc and I mean that is a part of the composion and the charm of making history at that moment. If the conditions were right there is a great quality "master recording" from the very beginning and there might not be necessary to even make the smallest adjustment. The picture might be perfect if carefulness was considered by the photographer from the very beginning. I mean, what is captured on the raw format file "is the moment" and a part of the charm itself.

Now, is there a possibilty to apply this approach on music recordings? What impress me most is when I find music recorded in such way you can feel the room and really hear the instruments as they sound in reality. If a kick drum is somewhat laid back on a master tape, it may as well been laid back already in the studio. Is it relevant to adjust that? Couldn´t that be part of the charm in recordings as well as in (digital) photographing?

To put this question on extreme...isn´t a good recording engineer able to make such setup from the very first place and isn´t after adjustments just a way of correcting what was compromised at the studio time?

I don´t know if my questions are somewhat naive but as a newbe I am eager to learn. If there is an overview what happens in the different steps from recording to burning discs I´d love to take part of that. Thanks!


Member for

15 years 10 months

Kapt.Krunch Sat, 12/23/2006 - 05:43
I may even be able to answer some of that :o

If you are recording, say, live to two-track, and everything was set up properly, balanced out well, and recorded very well, then, yeah, there may well be little that needs do be done to the recording beyond perhaps a small amount of compression/limiting and maybe a tiny bit of sweetening, and that's an artistic call, with perhaps a bit of thought to commercialism as well. (The idea IS to have people like it and buy it). You're still making decisions in the mix, whether it be levels, effects..whatever.

Multi-tracking is another story. The general idea is to get a hot signal to each track to maximize signal-to-noise ratio (hiss with tape, or more useable bandwidth=fewer digital artifacts, better signal representation, etc. for digital).
So, because all those individual tracks are sitting in the computer (or on tape) at the highest level, what do you have to do?

You have to mix them down. You have to make the same basic decisions that you did in manipulating all the instrument levels to record as you did if you just recorded live to two-track. Only this time you're doing it after everything is recorded, not before. You can't just leave everything full-level and call it finished. Most of the time, a lot of the elements get brought down in a mix. That also has the advantage of lowering any noise on that track, because the noise goes down along with the signal. Also, you really can't just leave a lot of stuff cranked to the max, because the cumulative effect of mixing together a bunch of cranked tracks is overloading the mixdown bus, or signal.

They record symphonies live to two track. (Or I THINK they may still do that...perhaps they do surround now? The classical recording folks prefer a more minimal approach, and strive for a lot of dynamics, whereas the pop music people like to get everything loud and compressed in the belief that people actually respond more to something, and get more radio play, when it is that way).
Put up a few mics, mix them together, then record them. People who do this are very good at knowing how to do it, and they generally have very good "rooms" to do it in. They STILL have to make decisions on how to capture and alter the sound for recording.

Also, there is no such thing as a "true representation" of the room that something was was recorded in. Mics have their own characteristics, as do all the components in the signal path that ends up on tape or as bits.

And because there is no perfect playback system, and those imperfect playback systems are in rooms with different characteristics (living room, car, bar..whatever), it can never be reproduced perfectly.

All the instruments' sounds in a room are bouncing around the room. When you capture anything from one or more focal points, that's where the sound is concentrated most from a recording standpoint, and a lot of the rest of the room may be diminished somewhat. Of course the proper, good mics will help capture a lot of it, but not all. And, it's still going to be played back from two physical points (stereo speakers), or perhaps more in surround sound. Which is still an artistic judgement call to mix. So, instead of hearing things bouncing freely all around the room, you hear them from a limited number of directional points. Until technology allows us to create kind of a "holographic" (holosonic?) capture and playback system that surrounds us completely from the particle level, and reproduces even the "air" in the high harmonics that can be perceived even though not necessarily heard, we'll never hear "the room" exactly like it is.

So, all you can do is make tasteful decisions about how you capture and mix a source, whether it is mixing to two-track or mixing a multi-track down. Those decisions will be based on artistic, and possibly commercial,

Of course recording in a really good space helps things. But, all rooms have their own characteristics, and certain instruments may hit a frequency where they pop out of the mix, and they have to be dealt with. That means manipulating the signal. The bottom line is you will still have to manipulate the signals, even if it's in a small way, and you will never capture anything absolutely perfectly so that the masses will hear what you do in the room. NOTHING is just have to do the best with what you have. And, it ain't easy. I struggle to get anything sounding good (or at least to my ears), whereas some of the folks in this forum would instinctively know what mic to use, where to place it, what to run it through, etc. That's their experience, and my inexperience, showing. I understand a lot of this stuff. Understanding a lot of the principles, and utilizing them, are two different stories.

I think I may have answered part of that. Of course, as always, there may be something I misstated or misunderstand myself :shock: , so feel free to call me on it, and educate me.