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Vito Corleone

Asking opinions of the engineers here: why are older recordings so often so much better?

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I don’t want to make this a digital vs analog debate—although maybe that’s part of it—and I definitely don’t want to discuss modern “brickwalled” recordings and masterings—

but I’m so often amazed by how much better recorded older stuff seems to be. 

Right now I’m listening to this 1959 recording of Violin Concertos by Jascha Heifetz recorded and released by RCA’s “Living Stereo” series.   These were recorded on 3 track tape with just 3 mics placed in the studio.  The liner notes say it was probably done using Neumann U47 and M49/50 microphones.    

This particular release is 3-track with the original 3 tracks spread across the 3 front speakers.   

It sounds just amazing.  Like I’m in the studio.  So much warmth and depth and presence.  How did they do it so much better back then with older gear?   

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Sometimes less is more, but in general better material, better arrangements, better performances = better recordings. 

Sounds to me like you’re hearing a Decca tree recording... nice, huh? Practically puts you right there in the middle of the orchestra...

 

 

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2 minutes ago, Phil O'Keefe said:

Sometimes less is more, but in general better material, better arrangements, better performances = better recordings. 

Sounds to me like you’re hearing a Decca tree recording... nice, huh? Practically puts you right there in the middle of the orchestra...

 

 

It doesn’t mention if they used one or not, but it sounds great.   Yes.   Sounds like I’m right in the middle of it.  

Yes.  The performances and arrangements for sure.  I do like orchestral performances from this period.  More “pastoral”? Can’t think of a better word.   I hate using words to try and describe music. 

But the recording is superb.  The room, too, will have a lot to do with it of course. But the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium?   Who knew! Lol. 

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Posted (edited)

Modern recordings have been processed so they fill all the frequencies and compressed so they are at nearly maximum volume at all times.  Further, they have been quantized or played against a click so a lot of the feel has been eliminated.  Older recordings had holes, fluid tempos, and dynamics that draw you into the musical space.  Just MHO.

Edited by lerber3
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1 minute ago, lerber3 said:

Modern recordings have been processed so they fill all the frequencies and compressed so they are at nearly maximum volume at all times.  Further, they have been quantized or played against a click so a lot of the feel has been eliminated.  Older recordings had holes, fluid tempos, and dynamics that draw you into the musical space.  Just MHO.

Yeah, I’m not really talking about modern compression techniques.   That’s kind of obvious why recordings done that way sound bad.  

I’m just blown away by how they got such a great sound out of a full orchestra with only 3 mics. 

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I do think it must be a “less is more” thing.  I think that even by the 70s, a lot of these recordings were starting to lose that “magic”.  Too much processing gear to play with?    Too many tracks and various micing techniques?  

Three Mics and the Truth.  :lol:

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12 minutes ago, Vito Corleone said:

Yeah, I’m not really talking about modern compression techniques.   That’s kind of obvious why recordings done that way sound bad.  

I’m just blown away by how they got such a great sound out of a full orchestra with only 3 mics. 

Well, we get that great sound with only two ears.

Yeah, back then, they had to put their effort into the basics - performance, mic placement, gain structure, etc.  In order to have access to the best talent and equipment, you had to have proven your abilities.

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Posted (edited)

You don't want it to be about digital vs analog but unfortunately, I think that is a lot of it. Human feeling isn't digital for one thing. And as Phil said, better material, musicianship, performance, etc. 

One debate I've been having lately on this topic with musicians has settled on the issue of familiarity. This debate had more to do with drum loops and preprogrammed beats vs real drummers, but I think the issue might be the same. For people who came up listening to X, X sounds better. It's not a rational response - IOW, there's no way to persuade anyone that it sounds better but it just does. For a lot of (younger) people, electronic beats do just sound better than "sloppy" human drummers. :idk:

PS I love those JHeifetz recordings! :thu:

Edited by Zig al-din
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12 minutes ago, Vito Corleone said:

Yeah, I’m not really talking about modern compression techniques.   That’s kind of obvious why recordings done that way sound bad.  

I’m just blown away by how they got such a great sound out of a full orchestra with only 3 mics. 

Maybe because they had a full orchestra with actual musicians playing together at the same time in an actual acoustic space... ditto for the early rock recordings... now music is laid down a track at a time with very little interplay.  IMO, the music was just better.

In the day, we took it for granted... now we look back in awe.

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7 minutes ago, SteinbergerHack said:

Well, we get that great sound with only two ears.

Yeah, back then, they had to put their effort into the basics - performance, mic placement, gain structure, etc.  In order to have access to the best talent and equipment, you had to have proven your abilities.

Yeah, but our ears have our brain to process what we hear.  A phenomenal listening apparatus we are born with!   

 

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10 minutes ago, Zig al-din said:

You don't want it to be about digital vs analog but unfortunately, I think that is a lot of it. Human feeling isn't digital for one thing. And as Phil said, better material, musicianship, performance, etc. 

One debate I've been having lately on this topic with musicians has settled on the issue of familiarity. This debate had more to do with drum loops and preprogrammed beats vs real drummers, but I think the issue might be the same. For people who came up listening to X, X sounds better. It's not a rational response - IOW, there's no way to persuade anyone that it sounds better but it just does. For a lot of (younger) people, electronic beats do just sound better than "sloppy" human drummers. :idk:

PS I love those JHeifetz recordings! :thu:

Oh that’s true.  We like what we are conditioned (grew up with) to like.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  That’s just human nature.  

 

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2 minutes ago, Vito Corleone said:

I’ll need to pour another glass of wine if I’m going to read THAT tonight!  :lol:

Haha I think Pythagoras might have been on to something...

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Posted (edited)
6 minutes ago, Vito Corleone said:

Oh that’s true.  We like what we are conditioned (grew up with) to like.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  That’s just human nature.  

 

Yes and the curious thing now is that people are being conditioned to like music that is essentially "robotic" for lack of a better word. I wonder if it's part of this evolutionary step towards cyborg or hybrid life forms. 

Edited by Zig al-din

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1 hour ago, Zig al-din said:

Yes and the curious thing now is that people are being conditioned to like music that is essentially "robotic" for lack of a better word. I wonder if it's part of this evolutionary step towards cyborg or hybrid life forms. 

My "music sensei" (guitar/theory teacher, mentor, close friend) insists that everything changed - and not for the better - with the introduction of the click track.  The musicians may still be human, but they're locked into a temporal straightjacket, if you will... it robs the music of its breath, which is essential for imparting human feeling. Im not 100% sold on his theory, but it does make a great deal of sense. 

Having made hundreds if not thousands of recordings, both with click and without, i can certainly attest that the results are different, and not just in how tight the performance is. 

Its always easier for an engineer if the musicians use a click, but whenever I record musicians who have "good time" I will usually lobby for them to forgo the click and play "free". And I never use a click on any of my own group recordings.

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2 hours ago, Vito Corleone said:

It doesn’t mention if they used one or not, but it sounds great.   Yes.   Sounds like I’m right in the middle of it.  

Yes.  The performances and arrangements for sure.  I do like orchestral performances from this period.  More “pastoral”? Can’t think of a better word.   I hate using words to try and describe music. 

But the recording is superb.  The room, too, will have a lot to do with it of course. But the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium?   Who knew! Lol. 

 

Three mics, three tracks, and the types of mics mentioned lead me to believe it was almost certainly a Decca tree. Same with your description of the positioning and sound field. 

1959 would have been right after the Santa Monica Civic opened. And it's really not a bad sounding venue at all IMO. Lots of live albums have been recorded there. 

 

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4 hours ago, Phil O'Keefe said:

 

Three mics, three tracks, and the types of mics mentioned lead me to believe it was almost certainly a Decca tree. Same with your description of the positioning and sound field. 

1959 would have been right after the Santa Monica Civic opened. And it's really not a bad sounding venue at all IMO. Lots of live albums have been recorded there. 

 

 

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Digital is little packages, I think that sometimes the packages miss tiny pieces. Analog is linear, it recorded everything warts and all.

Sometimes the tiny pieces tie everything together. 

That's why live music is better than recorded music nowadays.

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10 hours ago, SteinbergerHack said:

Well, we get that great sound with only two ears.

Yeah, back then, they had to put their effort into the basics - performance, mic placement, gain structure, etc.  In order to have access to the best talent and equipment, you had to have proven your abilities.

Gotta bring up the other part of the equation. Modern convenience leaves craftsmanship wide open for option hacks to proliferate.

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10 hours ago, Vito Corleone said:

I do think it must be a “less is more” thing.  I think that even by the 70s, a lot of these recordings were starting to lose that “magic”.  Too much processing gear to play with?    Too many tracks and various micing techniques?  

Three Mics and the Truth.  :lol:

Engineers have so many choices in post theses days that they spend less time on the input side and employ the fix it in the mix method.  Thinking you can make a silk purse out of a sows ear leads to more sows ears and less silk purses 

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4 minutes ago, 1001gear said:

Gotta bring up the other part of the equation. Modern convenience leaves craftsmanship wide open for option hacks to proliferate.

Absolutely true.  Today, some bedroom hacker can buy $500 worth of gear, cut 300 takes of his one and only song, then blast it out to the world.  That would have cost an immense amount back in the 70s or 80s, and simply wasn't possible prior, due to the very limited availability of equipment and tape.

Personal anecdote - when I was playing full-time and decided that I wanted to do some studio work, I took a simple.direct approach.  I chose the local studio where I wanted to work, called them up and booked an hour to record a personal demo.  About 15 minutes into the session, the engineer "took a 5 minute break", and went to get the studio owner to come listen.  That hour of purchased studio time (and tape) ended up getting me a LOT of work over the next couple of years, because it showed the studio owner one simple thing - I cut every track in one take.  You can't make that point with a basement recording on the internet...and maybe it doesn't really matter anymore anyway......

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2 hours ago, SteinbergerHack said:

Absolutely true.  Today, some bedroom hacker can buy $500 worth of gear, cut 300 takes of his one and only song, then blast it out to the world.  That would have cost an immense amount back in the 70s or 80s, and simply wasn't possible prior, due to the very limited availability of equipment and tape.

Personal anecdote - when I was playing full-time and decided that I wanted to do some studio work, I took a simple.direct approach.  I chose the local studio where I wanted to work, called them up and booked an hour to record a personal demo.  About 15 minutes into the session, the engineer "took a 5 minute break", and went to get the studio owner to come listen.  That hour of purchased studio time (and tape) ended up getting me a LOT of work over the next couple of years, because it showed the studio owner one simple thing - I cut every track in one take.  You can't make that point with a basement recording on the internet...and maybe it doesn't really matter anymore anyway......

 

One of the reasons for that (and this connects with your first point), is the sheer amount of music that's being released these days.

There used to be so-called gate-keepers, producers, executives, etc, who limited quantity, influenced taste, and decided what got out there and what didn't. The downside of the current situation, as has been mentioned many times, is that if there were a Stevie Wonder equivalent now, no one would hear him because he'd just be a drop in the grey of the massive musical "content" that's out there. However, as some have also pointed out, it's much easier now for a niche artist or a someone working in an obscure/weird genre to find their audience (and easier for the audience to find them.)

What this says about quality, I can't say for sure; it's probably the case that the same % of what's out there is still garbage (Sturgeon's Law), it's just that there's a lot more of it. :idk:

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12 hours ago, Red Ant said:

My "music sensei" (guitar/theory teacher, mentor, close friend) insists that everything changed - and not for the better - with the introduction of the click track.  The musicians may still be human, but they're locked into a temporal straightjacket, if you will... it robs the music of its breath, which is essential for imparting human feeling. Im not 100% sold on his theory, but it does make a great deal of sense. 

Having made hundreds if not thousands of recordings, both with click and without, i can certainly attest that the results are different, and not just in how tight the performance is. 

Its always easier for an engineer if the musicians use a click, but whenever I record musicians who have "good time" I will usually lobby for them to forgo the click and play "free". And I never use a click on any of my own group recordings.

Yes I just started practicing without a metronome 16th notes at 150bpm. It's much easier to feel the pattern of notes without the click. Just two bars with one beat of 16th notes.

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35 minutes ago, ohmygod said:

Yes I just started practicing without a metronome 16th notes at 150bpm. It's much easier to feel the pattern of notes without the click. Just two bars with one beat of 16th notes.

I think its absolutely essential - vital, even - to practice with a click. So that you don't need one to record :lol:

And in my experience, if you want to "learn time" its equally essential to keep the click on 2 and 4, only.

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