Enjoy the Music.com
The Absolute Sound
Issue 253   May / June 2015
When Recording Technology Distorts Musical Meaning


The Absolute Sound Issue 253 May / June 2015  You've got to read this," said Peter McGrath, his voice perceptibly shaking. It takes a lot to disturb the normally unflappable McGrath, but the independent recording engineer (and Wilson Audio National Sales Manager) was clearly disturbed. 

I was in Miami for a family wedding, and had met Peter for dinner in his hometown on a free evening. He handed me the February 2015 issue of Mix magazine, one of the most popular publications for recording professionals, and directed me to the cover story — a feature about a new multichannel recording of Beethoven's Ninth by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, led by its music director Andrew Litton in a live performance last November. By the time you are reading this, the CSO's recording of the Ninth Symphony, plus Beethoven's Choral Fantasy, will be available on a Blu-ray Audio-only disc.

The lead engineer for this project was Mike Pappas, who has recorded the CSO frequently in its problematic venue, Boettcher Hall in Denver. Engaged as producers were Leslie Ann Jones, director of music recording and scoring for Skywalker Sound, and Wolfgang Fraissinet, president of the venerable Neumann microphone company. Plans were, Pappas explained, to produce "both a conventional stereo mix and a 5.1 because, frankly, the future is in surround and when you start looking at the penetration of home theaters, a large swath of America has them."

Sounded good to me. Multichannel enthusiasts know that well-made surround sound recordings can vastly increase the realism and sense of occasion associated with large-scale music. When surround is done right, one gets a specific picture of the hall and the deployment of the players on stage, as well as that magical sense of musical presence in the air between the performers and the listener that one experiences at a concert. Unfortunately, however, that was not the goal of this recording.

Employing a German-made Stagetec Aurus digital mixing console, the production team settled on a total of sixty-six microphones, a formidable mixture of Neumann and Sennheiser digital mics and some Neumann analog devices. "Highlight" microphones were used liberally, one for each of the first three desks of first and second violins, one for the principal flute and oboe, several for the brasses, shotgun mics for each vocal soloist, and so on.

Sixty-six microphones. Why did Mike Pappas think this was a good idea? "Back when I started recording the Symphony in 2004," he explained for the Mix article, "I'd do this with eight or nine microphones... It was that big, diffuse London Decca recording sound — Zubin Mehta conducts the L.A. Philharmonic kind of thing. About five or six years ago, I woke up with the horrible realization that people don't listen to music that way anymore. Certainly with the widespread adoption of home theaters, your recording better sound as good as a film score, and if it doesn't, people are going to be like, ‘What is this?'" Pappas continued: "I want [my recording] to be like watching high-definition television. You watch golf on HDTV and you see every blade of grass; I want you to hear every string in the orchestra, hear every flute, every harp, every part of it. We have 80 musicians on stage; if you add up all the years they've been playing, it's centuries of experience. I don't want a single one of those people, who spent decades honing their craft, to get lost in my recording. I want every one of them to be presented to his or her fullest ability."

Mike Pappas, well-meaning as he is, is just plain wrong. The ideal recording of an orchestra, any orchestra, should sound like that orchestra fulfilling the function for which it exists — to present a unified and coherent musical statement. Andrew Litton and the members of the CSO are proud and dedicated artists, eager to have their collaborative efforts communicate a composer's meaning, both in the hall and on recordings. They aren't interested in a technologically distorted version of those efforts, brought into line with some irrelevant sonic comparator like a film score. They certainly don't require a recording of their ensemble that makes each player audible as an individual when that's contrary to the intended musical effect. Critical listeners will continue to receive the message of great music of all stripes only if engineers and producers remain true to the goal of rendering a musical event as it was experienced by a receptive audience in real life. That, of course, is "the absolute sound."

— Andrew Quinta.


Click here
to subscribe to The Abso!ute Sound.

















































Quick Links

Audiophile Review Magazine
High-End Audio Equipment Reviews


Equipment Review Archives
Turntables, Cartridges, Etc
Digital Source
Do It Yourself (DIY)
Cables, Wires, Etc
Loudspeakers/ Monitors
Headphones, IEMs, Tweaks, Etc
Ultra High-End Audio Reviews


Enjoy the Music.TV


Editorials By Tom Lyle
Viewpoint By Roger Skoff
Viewpoint By Steven R. Rochlin
Various Think Pieces
Manufacturer Articles

Show Reports
AXPONA 2020 Show Report
Florida Audio Expo 2020 Show Report
New York Audio Show 2019 Report
Capital Audiofest 2019 Show Report
Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF) 2019
High End Munich 2019 Show Report
AXPONA 2019 Show Report
Zagreb AV Show Report 2019
CanJam Singapore 2019 Show Report
Salon Audio Montreal Audio Fest 2019
Bristol Hi-Fi Show Report 2019
Florida Audio Expo 2019 Show Report
Click here for previous shows.


Audiophile Contests
Cool Free Stuff For You
Tweaks For Your System
Vinyl Logos For LP Lovers
Lust Pages Visual Beauty


Resources & Information
Music Definitions
Hi-Fi Definitions


Daily Industry News

High-End Audio News & Information


Partner Magazines
Australian Hi-Fi Magazine
hi-fi+ Magazine
HiFi Media
Hi-Fi World
STEREO Magazine
Sound Practices
VALVE Magazine


For The Press & Industry
About Us
Press Releases
Official Site Graphics


Contests & Our Mailing List

Our free newsletter for monthly updates & enter our contests!




Home   |   Industry News   |   Equipment Reviews   |   Press Releases   |   About Us   |   Contact Us


All contents copyright©  1995 - 2020  Enjoy the Music.com®
May not be copied or reproduced without permission.  All rights reserved.