Should recordings be natural?

August 31, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

31 comments on “Should recordings be natural?”

  1. I imagine a natural recording of a live concert as capturing the sound one would hear at a good seat in the concert venue. I’m sure that’s what Harry Pearson meant by The Absolute Sound.

    1. I agree and would extend that idea to apply to various settings where sounds are generated, the idea being to recreate what you would experience if you where present when and where the sounds were generated.

      1. cymbalclash: exactly. Nailed it.

        We have many excellent venues in Seattle, WA, USA. And many more within a short drive. They all have their character, and some have yielded different experiences with different shows.

        We can only extrapolate what is perceived as a good home listening experience.

        I want presence, punch, soundstage, and deep, natural bass. I want to see the cymbals sizzling.

        PS I have only left one show early – they had the sound system set improperly and the distortion/overdrive was intolerable. (As was the crowd, stirred to silly behavior.)

    1. Good afternoon FR!
      Both you and Hahax have the correct idea.

      I once had a vary tall pare of RCA Victer line aray speakers with a 120 by 150 foot screen.
      The speakers were powered by a vintage BOGEN DS-265 tube amp.
      The preamp, was built in to my projector.
      Whenever I yoost to watch movies ball games of any kind, and even live concerts, they all both looked and sounded like, they all were right there in front of me!
      And so I guess, it all depends on the recording, electronics, and speakers.
      If I’m wrongg, then feel free to correct me.

      1. We would never correct you, but we might comment on your speech to text accuracy – it’s not a perfect science quiet yet.

        I had a client whose son was functionally blind that had a hardware-based system that I had to work around when I did service on the computer. ‍

        1. Good afternoon John!
          I think you’re right about that!
          Sometimes, I have to pull a technical trick on JAWS just to get it to pronounce the words that it mispronounces correctly.
          So ya, I get where you’re coming from.

  2. What is “natural”? Most of today’s recordings are just concepts in the musicians and producers minds. They use the studio to “invent” and create the sounds they want. They use autotuners to produce different sounds, not for the original intent. They use plug ins, effects, etc.
    Even with “acoustic” instruments, they use microphones in the studio to generate special types of effect. This is not new, even the Beatles were doing this a long time ago.
    The Apple + show “Watch the sound” is terrific in showing examples of this.

      1. It is a strange show. My son told me about that producer. He says he is a strange guy. Maybe somewhat in the spectrum. Notice he never looks at the other person’s eyes when speaking. Try to watch all episodes. The synthesizer one and the distortion are terrific.
        Some of the other contributors are very interesting.
        You should also check the Aussie musician Tash Sultana. Not so much for the music, which is an acquired taste, but by the abilities to make music alone. There’s a Tiny Desk Concert and some other live concerts of Tash. Fascinating.
        I learn about new music and musicians when my son comes home and takes over the system.

    1. Watching it now…

      The first natural effect I witnessed was in a small studio recording an album for a group I played bass in… the effect was reverb/echo, and it was none in a large box with transducers at each end… 1972-ish. It was natural, and definitely not digital. 24-track Ampex as I remember. I still have the final 2-track analog master somewhere.

      Today’s pop is ghastly with the use/overuse of processing.

  3. If an acoustic program uses electronic enhancement, I’ll pass. When the opera uses sound enhancement for the singers, their volume all sounds the same. Since singing is an athletic event, then voices will have different volumes and core sound. At concerts that use speakers and amplifiers, by its very nature, it is distorted.

  4. This is a fascinating topic and I think that what music reproduction experience you enjoy also varies depending on your stage of life. Indeed, for me at least, it can change from day to day, depending on my mood.

    These days I greatly enjoy the sound from solo or small-ensemble performances that are well-recorded in smaller, more intimate settings. The enjoyment is enhanced by a highly resolving hi-fi system that can credibly create the illusion that I’m at the session or, alternatively, that the performers are in my room, depending on what the recording technicians are trying to achieve.

    On occasion I still also enjoy the lush orchestral sound, well-recorded in larger venues or studios. However, despite my system’s capability and my best setup efforts, I can’t map the virtual soundscape into my current (rental) lstening space with the same satisfying credibility as with the less complex source material.

    It all encourages my determination to persevere with my new house (listening space) plans. 😉

  5. Interesting motivation to an end: I quit smoking, cold-turkey, in 1977, shortly after putting together my first modest audiophile system, when I heard a report which said there was a correlation between smoking and hearing loss in men: I stopped smoking immediately! I subsequently took up running and completed my only marathon in 1984 in 3hr 18min 37sec.

    1. I loved running marathons! I used to run the NYC and have a good enough time to qualify for Boston. Alas, I only ran Boston once as it was too difficult to train in the NJ winter.
      My most memorable experience was not the fastest one, but in 2001 as it was just a few weeks after 9/11. There were no foreigners and the whole attitude was so somber. The start was very mournful.

      1. I was 38, attempting to qualify for Boston (under 3hrs 05min 00sec) and intended to run 6min 40sec miles which would put me at about 2hrs 55min finish. I had trained doing 18 miles at 7min/mile pace with a 6min/mile final mile kick. But when I got to the 10-mile mark of the marathon and checked my time, I realized I was in trouble because I ran that 10 miles at 6min 20sec per mile pace. I got to the 20-mile mark in 2hr 15 min (6min 45sec per mile pace) and died: the last 6.2 miles (10k) took 1hr 3min 37sec. I was ticked because I had run a 10k about a month earlier averaging 6min 08sec per mile (36min 54sec). I finished 27th in my age group and 116th overall. I think there were close to 600 participants. It was the final British American Marathon run in 1984 from Tampa to St. Petersburg Florida.

        1. Still an amazing accomplishment. I have run 10 42.2K marathons and never really properly trained. Just to finish was my goal. My best time was 3Hr and 42min in 2016. The last 7 K of marathons are murder for me lol.
          It is a terrific challenge.
          I enjoy the runners high. 🙂

        2. That is amazing speed!
          My goal was less challenging. I just wanted to be1 second under 3 hours. But I traveled a lot internationally, so training was hard. I knew most of the hotels in the big cities that made it easy to run, but flying so much doesn’t help with recovery.

          Like you, my first 20 miles were on target. My last 6.2 not so much. They say that in the marathon, mile 20 is half the distance.

          My best time is 3:17. I’m still proud of it. Also, my Boston was a negative split!

          Even though that was a long time ago, I can still run 5 miles in around 7 min/mile.

          1. At 75 with a ball/socket hip replacement, I’m lucky to walk 3 miles in an hour, but it’s infinitely better than the alternative! At my best, I was training 55 miles/week and had a resting heart rate of 36 beats/minute. Even today, my resting heart rate is usually in 60s beats/minute, I’ll take it!

            1. Ah! We have something in common. I have a total hip relacement, courtesy of years of high-impact aerobics and state-grade squash. I miss the activities but I can at least still walk and play golf these days.

            2. I can still run at relatively good speed. My muscle recovery is till quite good, but my joints recovery, not so much.
              This is why I cycle much more than run. I can ride almost everyday without joint pain. Too many years of rough team sports and running leave sequelae. But, I still do some weights to maintain bone strength. I can still benchpress my weight and squat 1.5 times my weight.
              Over time, recovery becomes more important than the exercise itself.

      2. Sorry my math was wrong on the 10k: my time was 38:02, not 36:54, my bad. Also my marathon time was 3hr 18min 31.07sec, not 37sec as recorded on the certificate of completion I received, a copy of which I have retained on my computer.

  6. I wouldn’t want the San Francisco 49ers in my living room either, only my Buffalo Bills on the large screen eating Buffalo wings and drinking Coors or Labatts light beer. 🙂 Be nice if they can make 3D TV without the need for the glasses. The great thing about 3D audio is we don’t need to wear anything on our ears to hear it. They say a great recording on a great system won’t being the musicians into your room but rather transport you to the event. I agree.

  7. I think the question should be how natural is natural? A lot of people have their own idea of what a natural (to them) recording sounds like. Too many variables and too many questions to be asked and answered to justify a true natural sound.

    On another note. What I find natural I wouldn’t want it all the time cause audio processing effects and so forth can be really tastefully done with the right engineer.
    Take for example sound engineer Andy Wallace. This guy is a wiz at recording drums in a rock/metal setting. He liberally uses different compression and delay effects to get that wicked pocket snare drum sound. It is awesome but it isn’t natural. I like the variety. 🙂

    1. I’ll agree to your other note: I enjoy well-crafted sound alterations which result in the explosive, dramatic, evocative, etc. experiences when that is the intention. But when it comes to classical music with the serious intention of presenting it as the work of musical art it is intended to be, I want the experience of “be there when and where it was recorded”.

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