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  1. #1
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    What do you for in a recording?

    I got to wondering what others listen for or what makes a recording sound good to them. On another post the discussion of lack of dynamic range in current recordings prompted this. Especially when Norah Jones Come Away With Me was stated as one of those recordings lacking dynamic range and extreme high recording levels.

    I found the Norah Jones recording to sound good to me. And I questioned myself as to how important is dynamic range. Dynamic range to my understanding is the difference between the quietest sound and loudest sound on a recording. I intend to listen to Norah again with dynamics in mind. What struck me as good about this recording and what I listen for is space between the instruments, good use of the soundstage. I don't like it when everything is crammed into the center of the soundstage. I also listen for good frequency response and do the instruments and vocals sound natural. I want realism.

    For me there aren't very many recordings that fit my impression of how a soundstage should be. On one hand I don't want everything layered in the center of the sweet spot but on the other hand if the drums sweep across the whole soundstage or a piano goes from one speaker to the other, I mean no piano or drum is that large, it blows the impression of realism for me. On Stevie Ray Vaughn's Couldn't Stand the Weather, have you noticed that on Tin Pan Alley Stevie's guitar is above his voice on the soundstage? That really makes my imagination run wild when trying to picture this in my mind.

    I think dynamic range is most noticeable on classical recordings. I will occasionally tap the volume up or down. I don't do this much on jazz or rock, unless, of course, one of my favorites would come on, then I might do more than just tap the volume. Several acoustic jazz recordings I like because they fit my bill.

    So let me know:
    1. What makes a good recording to you?
    2. Your thoughts on importance of dynamic range?
    3. Can you think of any abnormalities in a recording that struck you as odd, like my Stevie Ray Vaughn example? And would this even matter to you?

    This is about what you personally enjoy or listen for, no right or wrong, like do you want strawberry or vanilla, so I'm hoping for no sparring amongst those who participate.

  2. #2
    Forum Regular N. Abstentia's Avatar
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    I was looking so forward to that Norah Jones CD, only to find it full of distortion and clipping because there is no dynamic range. If you start out at maximum volume, where do you go from there? Clipville, that's where. Rush's Vapor Trails is the same way. I don't understand why they would let these go, surely somebody at the record company has a good ear? Well maybe not.

    One of my favorite recordings has always been K.D. Lang's Inguine. Full of spaciousness, air, and dynamic range. Sometimes she whispers, and when she belts it out, man it brings chills. Amazing.

    Also anything by Jennifer Warnes is good, but I haven't heard her new one. Also check out some Telarc Blues releases. They are killer!

  3. #3
    Audiophile Wireworm5's Avatar
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    I listen for detail, presence, dynamic range, tone and a halographic image. Most or all of these elements should be present at no louder than my max volume, which is loud. It shouldn't be obvious its a recording or you can hear the reverberations of the venue (Shania Twain Live, comes to mind. The recording is good but I can hear the echo of the large arena this concert dvd was recorded in.) If its a bad recording I still enjoy the song, but when its good I'm in nirvana.
    My brother an I both have a copy of The Blue Man Complex concert dvd, this is one of my best recordings. I was listening to it on his mini-stereo, it just didn't do it justice. On my rig it rocks and is truely impressive!.
    Some say a stereo can't compare to the real thing. With a bad recording that's true, with a good recording on good system it can be pretty damn close.

    If interested my favorite most dynamic new age music cd is Cirque Ingenieux by Kitaro.
    Last edited by Wireworm5; 06-12-2004 at 06:36 AM.

  4. #4
    Forum Regular N. Abstentia's Avatar
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    I'll tell you what else is good...the Alison Krauss & Union Station Live CD. Killer prescence & dynamics. I liked it so much I got the SACD, but the SACD is a pile of junk if you ask me. All the prescence is somehow removed, and some instruments are no longer audible. How can they mess that up? Sometimes I think I should be in the SACD/DVD-Audio mixing business because I could do better than most of those idiots.

  5. #5
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    I recently bought an Alison Krauss CD and was also impressed with the sound quality. The presence was great and instruments spaced out across the soundstage. I thought they may record live in the studio to achieve this rather than your typical each musician laying down a track separately.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Peabody
    I recently bought an Alison Krauss CD and was also impressed with the sound quality. The presence was great and instruments spaced out across the soundstage. I thought they may record live in the studio to achieve this rather than your typical each musician laying down a track separately.
    If you are interested in what kinds of differences are found in non compressed music, I recommend purchasing some titles from www.mapleshaderecords.com they use no compression. They use two or three mics, far field, in almost every recording. No effects. They sometimes may slightly saturate the tape as an alternative. If you can get over the slight tape hiss(they will not use any noise reduction according to their mission statements, etc.) and sublt harmonic distortion inherant of tape recording(not obvious unless you are familiar with the effect of low level even order harmonics), I think you will find this very interesting.

    -Chris

  7. #7
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    Thanks for the tip, I will take a look at their titles. I have James Newton Howard & Friends on the Sheffield label which is very low recording levels. Still one of my favorite demo CD's. It has dynamics, the kickdrum on a couple songs can stop your heart on the right system.

  8. #8
    RGA
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    You want some good recordings: http://www.uhfmag.com/AudiophileStore.html

    Most publications offer them. Naxos has a guide as well which has been pretty good for their recordings.

    What to look for - easy not being distracted by the weaknesses to the point you can't enjoy the music. The new Dian Krall disc is very good, Leahy "Lakefield" I often use and most of the time speakers butcher it.

  9. #9
    Forum Regular gonefishin's Avatar
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    Hi Mr.Peabody


    So let me know:
    1. What makes a good recording to you?


    Tone, clarity, balance, naturalness and dynamics (meaning range...micro and macro)


    2. Your thoughts on importance of dynamic range?

    My thoughts are that preserving the dynamic range in instruments is as important as any other quality I like to hear in my music. While I do feel dynamic range is important to preserve in orchestra music, I feel it's just as important in other types of music as well.

    Jazz (for me) has huge dynamics in the instruments. I've listened to live trumpet, cornets, flugal, strings, drums, sax, piano...on and on. The dynamics in these instruments are startling! I mean make your eyeballs jump outta your head startling.

    But they simply don't play at loud levels alone. What makes this interesting (I think) is the ability to play at both extremes and all points between. The decision of how loud (or soft) to play each part is up to the individual artist (or musician). This is where I think most of the music is at. This is where one musician separates him/herself from others...in the interpretation and expression of any certain piece.

    Without dynamic expression (dang..the word seems to be evolving ) a song sung (or played) by ten different people would end up sounding pretty much the same...ok, maybe not the same...but pretty much similar. Like they weren't making music..more like they were singing/playing a song they were told to sing. Singing or playing a instruement...in monotone. It just seems less involving. (wish I could find the right words for what I'm trying to say )




    3. Can you think of any abnormalities in a recording that struck you as odd, like my Stevie Ray Vaughn example? And would this even matter to you?


    Sure...but while many things are in the recording...certain systems will have different effects in (re)producing the sound on the disk (large or small). Some systems(rooms) may produce a wider soundstage than others...some perhaps taller...and others yet...deeper. But this is one aspect of audio reproduction...and one aspect which we can tailor to suit or tastes. Some ways we can do this are speaker placement, room treatments (or lack of), speaker selection/amp selection/player selection...I suppose some may call this part of system synergy...not really sure.

    But ultimitly...you aren't going to get something out of a recording that's not there. But there are still other influences that will say how the recording gets delivered to your ears...as mentioned...I think placement, room and speakers will play a large roll in this (among other parts of our system)


    I think we may have different ideas of...just what makes a good recording. To me...something simply needs to sound (not like) but similar to real music. Which...by picking similarities in one aspect...it may not sound as good (or as polished) as some other recordings. I still do like the nice and polished recordings...but I like them for different reasons. Some recordings seem to have a nice studio sound to them...and others seem to be a nice live recording.


    If you don't have MAPLESHADE'S MUSICAL FESTIVAL it's worth the money. Even if you don't like th music or recording...it will give you an idea of what thei recording style sounds like. However...I think you'll like not only the music...but the recording too

    another one I like from them (among others) is A LA CARTE BRASS & PERCUSSION. But this may not be your tastes in music.

    Another nice recording which shows some nice dynamics on it is One More Trip to Birdland [LIVE]...for Rock...I've thought that the Dave Matthews Band has put out some good rock/pop recordings with decent dynamics.

    Oh...while some parts of her live recordings may not be the best...you can still find a decent recording capturing the female voice in Live at Blues Alley [LIVE] - Eva Cassidy . Not the best recording...but she can sure sing (if you like jazz, easy listening with a touch of the blues)...but it shows some dynamics in the female voice. If you want more dynamics in the female voice...try some gospel music such as THE ANGELS - Live and Joyful in Charleston, specifically track 3.


    these are certainly just a couple among tons of decent recordings. The above examples are also examples which I like the music too. There are certainly recording which may be great...but these are good examples of music I like.

    take care>>>>>>>
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  10. #10
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    [QUOTE=N. Abstentia]I was looking so forward to that Norah Jones CD, only to find it full of distortion and clipping because there is no dynamic range.

    I went back and listened to my copy of Norah's Come Away With Me. I listened through my headphones and tried to concentrate on the instruments. I only heard one distortion and I'm not sure if it was or just a sound I couldn't identify. What I heard was in the song Turn Me On where she starts to sing about ice cubes in a glass, I heard something that sounded like the distortion that comes from a dirty potentiometer. I don't think this was due to recording levels because it wasn't one of the loudest parts of the song. I did pick up in a couple songs deliberate scraping sounds made with the strings of one of the instruments, this could have possibly been mistaken as distortion. If you have anything I can specifically listen for let me know. I noticed from the first listen of this album that the cymbals were either turned down in the mix or maybe this is where the lack of dynamic range comes in. Anytime we critique a recording, we can only speculate as to how it was originally played and recorded. But I enjoy comparing notes.

  11. #11
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    Gonefishin

    I'm on the same page as you in regard to what makes a good recording. I don't necessarily like a "polished" recording. I do shy away from live recordings. I have a couple of Crusaders CD's that have a presence I like, they have their faults and Joe's electric piano sometimes distorts, but there's something about the recordings that are enjoyable. One is live but I'm not sure about the other.

    Under #3 you make an excellent point that I overlooked when posting. I used to use Lionel Ritchie's Can't Slow Down as a demo CD and I noticed on Penny Lover, for instance, that on different CD players the background singers would be in a slightly different place. The equipment used for playback does make a big difference in the presentation.

    By the way, you have a nice system.

  12. #12
    Forum Regular N. Abstentia's Avatar
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    [QUOTE=Mr Peabody]
    Quote Originally Posted by N. Abstentia
    I was looking so forward to that Norah Jones CD, only to find it full of distortion and clipping because there is no dynamic range.

    I went back and listened to my copy of Norah's Come Away With Me. I listened through my headphones and tried to concentrate on the instruments. I only heard one distortion and I'm not sure if it was or just a sound I couldn't identify..

    I'll have to try it again, maybe even rip the audio and see what the audio really looks like. I did this with Rush's Vapor Trails only to see one big square wave! I'll have to see if Norah actually does have any clipping.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by N. Abstentia
    I'll have to try it again, maybe even rip the audio and see what the audio really looks like. I did this with Rush's Vapor Trails only to see one big square wave! I'll have to see if Norah actually does have any clipping.

    Man, you're so right about Vapor Trails. The mastering and/or production really kill what I feel to be some of Rush's best songs in years.

    BTW, I'm guessing your a Porcupine Tree fan? In Absentia absolutely rocks!!

  14. #14
    Forum Regular N. Abstentia's Avatar
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    Yeah In Absentia is one of the best CD's I've heard in years. It's rare you get a CD where every song on it is incredibile, although it's taking me a while to warm up to 'Creator Has A Mastertape'. I'm slowly 'backing into' their older stuff because I know it's totally different. I recently got the new version of Sky Moves Sideways, but I've been too busy with Spock's Beard's Snow to really get into it yet. But I will soon!

  15. #15
    Loving This kexodusc's Avatar
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    Got to agree, Vapour Trails was a recording let down. That's what happens when bands get too much "creative control" and start picking and choosing to many people. Worst recording ever has to be Metallica's "...And Justice For All", despite it having some of the most awesome Metallica tunes ever.
    Dream Theater seems to have it right as far as recordings go...
    N. Abstentia, how is Spock's Beard - Snow?

  16. #16
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    What really matters?...

    1. What makes a good recording to you?

    Three things, the performance, the performance, the performance! Everything else is secondary IMO.

    2. Your thoughts on importance of dynamic range?

    There are historical recordings which do not have ANY dynamic range to speak of. See answer #1.

    3. Can you think of any abnormalities in a recording that struck you as odd, like my Stevie Ray Vaughn example? And would this even matter to you?

    If I recall correctly there was a real old Dave Mason album on which one track had some of the information recorded out of phase, causing the sound to appear well beyond the speaker's dispersion pattern...interesting if gimmicky...couldn't be played in mono...

    While I have and have heard some material that seems to transcend the medium in various aspects, clicks, pops, mono, whatever...it's the music that matters...if there are some nice aspects to the engineering and ultimate playback, it's just icing on the cake.

    jimHJJ(...as I finish typing this, I'm listening to "Good Bait" on Coltrane's performance with Red Garland's trio on the 1958 "Soultrane" collection CD reissue, in glorious mono on a Sharp boom-box while at work...Paul Chambers' upright is righteous!...)

  17. #17
    Forum Regular gonefishin's Avatar
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    Rl, Unless I didn't understand the original post correctly. I thought he was referring specifically to the "icing on the cake".


    Of course...I'm guessing you knew exactly what he meant the first time around...


    if there are some nice aspects to the engineering and ultimate playback, it's just icing on the cake.
    It seems really obvious for a person to state that good music makes good music. What else would make it?


    Do you care to share your thoughts on the "icing on the cake"?
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  18. #18
    Forum Regular Woochifer's Avatar
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    To me a good recording is one that makes me stand up and take notice, and look around if something's in the same room with me. But, it all varies depending on what the recording's original purpose is. Some recordings are not intended to sound like a live performance at all (i.e. a lot of electronica and hip-hop recordings), and that makes them hard to evaluate. Some older jazz recordings really sound like the musicians are in the same room with you, but the mixing was done in such a way that the imaging is more like a bunch of point sources coming out of two speakers.

    I think dynamic range adds to how impactful a recording sounds, but not all sounds out there have a huge dynamic range to begin with. No way for any of us to tell what kind of difference it makes because most of us don't have access to professional recorders and original source material. All we got for comparison is CDs, LPs, SACDs, and DVD-As, and those are flawed sources at best because we don't know what processing or other changes got applied during the mastering process.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Peabody
    Thanks for the tip, I will take a look at their titles. I have James
    Newton Howard & Friends on the Sheffield label which is very low recording levels. Still one of my favorite demo CD's. It has dynamics, the kickdrum on a couple songs can stop your heart on the right system.
    Believe it or not, the CD version of that recording was intentionally made to sound inferior to the original direct-to-disc LP version. I own the direct LP version of that recording, and it sounds amazing. One of the few recordings where the drum sounds like it would if it were in the same room with you (and I had seen Jeff Porcaro play club gigs before, so I knew what his drum kit actually sounded like -- startlingly similar to what Sheffield recorded). But, all-in-all Sheffield's recordings sound as good as they do because everything they recorded was live to two-track with no overdubs. The LP versions were mastered directly off the board feed in real time, but unfortunatly their CDs got transferred later on using analog backup tapes. No telling how good it could have sounded if the CD transfer was done direct to digital in real time. As it is, I don't know if they've remastered it since then, but in the A/B comparisons I've done, the vinyl version is actually quieter than the CD.

  19. #19
    Forum Regular Woochifer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kexodusc
    Worst recording ever has to be Metallica's "...And Justice For All", despite it having some of the most awesome Metallica tunes ever.
    Dream Theater seems to have it right as far as recordings go...
    N. Abstentia, how is Spock's Beard - Snow?
    Interesting how often "...And Justice For All" gets slammed for how the recording was done. It sounds very dry, but I don't think it's any worse than some of Motorhead's recordings or a lot of other multitracked rock recordings from the mid-60s thru mid-70s. One thing I will say about that Metallica recording, it has a LOT of kick in the bass drums and there seems to be a lot of dynamic range in that recording despite the generally dry sound and lack of highs. Agreed though, that album has some of the best Metallica songs ever. Would be interesting to see if they ever clean up that recording (like if they ever remix the original multitrack masters while creating a 5.1 surround version).

    On the subject of Rush, I thought that most of their "Hold Your Fire" album was their worst recording. One of those wall of mud productions where all the sounds got collapsed together (all the more surprising because their previous album sounded great and used the same production team). It seemed to use a lot of dynamic range since it heated up my receiver the way that a lot of demanding classical recordings did, but still sounded muddy despite this. And some other friends of mind who follow Rush closely would love to see if something could be done about "Grace Under Pressure" which has a thin and tinny sound with minimal bass extension.

  20. #20
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    Well Fish, that may be the case...

    ...way back when, I had a dialog with MiKe re: my GE portable with the 2in. speaker...my new work digs are in a concrete block and rebar labyrinth, which excludes any possibility of radio reception and radio via the web sounds like it's processed through a ring modulator..I still listen from time to time but, a hand-me-down Sharp boom-box w/CDP and CDs from my local public library now satisfies my musical needs for the most part...I'm listening to stuff free and compiling a wish-list of purchases...old and mono and jazz seems to be my current parameters...imaging and all the rest, no biggie...never really was. Even at home my collection is based on content...I have single-sided 78s, mono LPs and re-issues...Eddie Lang, Charlie Christian, Django Reinhardt, Radio transcriptions of Les Paul & Mary Ford, Dizzie Gillespie and Der Bingle...Glen Miller, Hank Williams...I also have mono Dylan, Stones, Beatles, Byrds and others...my newer stuff is mostly classical and a big chunk is solo guitar. Segovia, Williams, etc. I have quite a few versions of Beethoven piano concertos all interesting on one level or another...

    Looking for "presentation" is meaningless to me...acoustic recordings have no "dynamic range"...you needed to project, pure and simple...Toscanini and the NBC boys don't seem to have much but the performance going for them...music from my childhood is just that...mono and first heard on a record-player gotten with S&H Green Stamps, as powerful today as then...evokes vivid memories...any newer pop stuff, Pink Floyd, Steely Dan et al sounds good...some of it can be gimmicky or contrived...Allison Kraus and Union Station's "New Favorite" strikes me as nicely recorded and the istruments sound quite vivid and there...but then again, I also like the version of "Big Rock Candy Mountain" on the "Oh Brother Where Art Thou" soundtrack and it was recorded in 1930 something...just gussied-up a little...certainly not with the audiophile in mind.

    I came across a CD by Bill Frizell(spelling?)...quirky but interesting...quite "present" if you will, particularly the drums. Not certain if it's because Jim Keltner is the drummer or if it's just nicely engineered in general...one of those icing on the cake deals...

    I have some half-speed DTD disks, convincing to a certain degree...the presentation is nice, but the program is lacking for the most part...but if I'm gonna' buy stuff that only provides a sonic picture, I might as well see if I can score some of those stereo demo discs of steam trains or ping-pong games...

    I can still listen to Pavarotti on a two inch speaker and it moves me to tears...it's all in the performance...

    jimHJJ(...sorry for the delay in my response...)

  21. #21
    Forum Regular gonefishin's Avatar
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    Thanks for the thoughts...I got a better understanding of what you were saying now.

    I do agree tho...to actually enjoy a recording...you don't need a good recording or a good system. All you need is good music...and a minimum of one working speaker. Unless of course you know the recording well...then you don't need any working speakers

    Would you be able to get me the name of the Bill Frizell CD?



    anyhow, thanks for sharing.
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    "Gone Like A Train"...

    ...that's the name...it's also my state of brain as I meant to include the title in my reference to it... it's been around a while, but I don't get out much...

    Really does have an oddly nice quality to it...little bits of sonic "things" seem to zip by and the overall feel is very "there"...

    jimHJJ(...the first cut is definitely odd, but even my wife found it ingratiating...)

  23. #23
    Forum Regular gonefishin's Avatar
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    Is it good tho?


    you know...in your meaning of the word.
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    Sorta' grows on you...

    ...and my apology it's "Gone, Just Like A Train"...

    Check out Wal-mart...you can get 30sec. snippets of almost all the cuts...I hesitate to rec stuff the last time I did it was Zappa's "Overnight Sensation"...told a friend about it, he bought it and, well...some of the lyrics...his wife nearly gave him the boot...no sense of humor that woman...at least this one's an instrumental...

    jimHJJ(...I might buy it, definitely want ot check out more of his stuff that is in the library...)

  25. #25
    Forum Regular gonefishin's Avatar
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    I'll give it a try...tanks!
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