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Voicing a System: To colour or not to colour?

post #1 of 262
Thread Starter 
Perhaps this should be moved to the music section since it in some ways pertains directly to the recording engineers' abilities but we'll see how the thread progresses.

Most recordings are voiced to be played back on really crappy gear, consumer grade gear that often has some really off-kilter frequency response curves. There are very very few people who seem to enjoy flat as in dead neutral systems. In my opinion, an HP-1000 with a Gilmore discrete amp using all silver wire cables is about as linear as one can get. Few strive for this, in fact, those that own the HP-1000's often migrate towards a Melos (hybrid) or a tube amp. Comments such as: "they are boring" or "that combo has no life" prevail at many meets. When the HP-1000's are paired with an amp with some tubes, there is some warmth added to the mix and the hp-1000's gain some of that emotion they seemed to be missing. In contrast, those that use Gilmore discreet amps seem to use phones that are quite a bit more coloured (practically every other phone, but for arguments sake let's say other Grados, HD6x0's etc). I suspect this is because the phones which already present an apparent colouration don't need the extra colour provided by an amp, so these combos work very well for people. My point? Colour seems to be a good thing a great thing even! Colour seems to be high on the list of priorities of everyone, whether they know it or not (perhaps this is an overly exaggerated statement, but let's just run with it for now).

If recordings are produced to be played on craptacular gear, then perhaps having the most linear and transparent rigs are not the ideal in most instances. Heck even many jazz and classical recordings are subpar! Must we then only search out those prized audiophile recordings? Steve Hoffman specials? Some folks actually do this! I'd rather listen to a ton of music myself.

So then, given most recordings are off, making it impossible to ever get remotely close to the what the musicians truly sounded like, are we able to admit that some people like one colour vs. another? Some enjoy a really warm and thick sound, others mildly so, others prefer cool, or down right frigid. However, could it be that by adding the proper colouration we can correct the colourations or alterations the engineers implemented? Can we make the music sound more natural?

Though this stems from recent musings on RS-1's and my interview with John Grado, it does seem that most folks aren't interested in studio monitors but would much prefer some fine speakers (or headphones) that are resolving, extended, fast, transparent and have that level of colour that suits one's tastes.

So what say you all?
post #2 of 262
For the sake of argument/clarifying my position here I would define a "Good" recording as one that is recorded well enough to emote strongly as opposed to being technically excellent but a boring record
As far as engineering on a recording goes, the bigger the budget the longer the producer/engineer will spend trying to cover as many angles as possible. and the product might not be completely craptastic.
Interestingly though, some modern albums that were recorded quickly/cheaply sound fantastic on a better rig - The Libertines eponymous springs to mind. This sounds like a rough Camden Art-Punk thrash with casual listening on a cheapo but really bursts into life big-style on a good rig.

Personally I reckon that linearity, transparency and lack of colouration will bring the listener closer to the music, and flaws in the recording process are just part of the sound of the record and not to be obsessed over.

So yeah, maybe we are looking for gear that is synergistic with our own expectations!

Good thread this.
post #3 of 262
Thread Starter 
I agree, a good recording is one that relays the emotion of the artist (conceiving of course that the artist was proficient enough to exhibit at least a bit of heart), of course an excellent recording will be one with emotion and the technical merits sound officianados have come to love.

I don't know if I necessarily agree with bugdet + time spent = better. I think it depends on the skill/ear of the engineers at least for the most part, thn the $ + time may play a prominent role. But you are right, many recordings of indie bands it seems these days are very well recorded and in record time too! Notice though that many of these guys are using all tube equipement and completely AAA or at worse...AAD? Very very interesting indeed, that could be a whole other thread, tubes vs. ss in recording studios. Should DDD recordings always be played back with tube gear because the DDD process strips the music of life? And with AAA and AAD (including only tubes) recordings, should ss gear be used because it can be more transparent and linear (most times, but transistor sheen is hard to eliminate save for big boy amps).

I am still unsure about the linearity, transparency and lack of colouration bit, specifically in the event of mixing/mastering for odd frequency gear, liked bumped bass and highs, think valley effect. If this were the case, a very very linear system would just represent this sad recording. Ruminating here of course, I have no idea how often this happens. Perhaps bigshot will venture into this thread and give some indication of how poopy recordings are today (mainstream or not) and/or how deaf or simply incompetent the sound engineers are.
post #4 of 262
I think that there is no getting away from "colour", and you have to pick your poison, which is why many of us have may different headphones (and other components).

There are many instances where I hear something that sounds great on the car radio, and when I get the disc, it sounds awful when I play it on my home system. You can chalk this up to the use of maximizing and overcompression prevalent on todays pop/rock recordings. The worse your system, the better they sound. They're mixed to the lowest common denominator (a boombox). Unfortunate but true.

This is likely why some choose a "sound" with a headphone, a sound they like, where everything that passes through has a nice sound, since they cannot control the variance in sound of the recordings. So, for example, if you have an RS-1 with flat pads, it will romanticise the sound and make it palatable with most recordings. You can play Patricia Barber or Green Day and stay happy and on an even sonic keel. Others will want something that passes everything through intact, regardless of how good or bad the recording is. I like both options.
post #5 of 262
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Beagle
I think that there is no getting away from "colour", and you have to pick your poison, which is why many of us have may different headphones (and other components).

There are many instances where I hear something that sounds great on the car radio, and when I get the disc, it sounds awful when I play it on my home system. You can chalk this up to the use of maximizing and overcompression prevalent on todays pop/rock recordings. The worse your system, the better they sound. They're mixed to the lowest common denominator (a boombox). Unfortunate but true.

This is likely why some choose a "sound" with a headphone, a sound they like, where everything that passes through has a nice sound, since they cannot control the variance in sound of the recordings. So, for example, if you have an RS-1 with flat pads, it will romanticise the sound and make it palatable with most recordings. You can play Patricia Barber or Green Day and stay happy and on an even sonic keel. Others will want something that passes everything through intact, regardless of how good or bad the recording is. I like both options.


I agree with this, and the benefits with headphones like Sennheisers with removable cables and Grado with their different pads, even slight change-ups can result in a variance in the sound is more suitable for a given track/album/genre given one's preferences.
post #6 of 262
Does anybody feel the need to equalize or otherwise color a live concert because it sounds boring the way it sounds? I doubt it. So why should this apply to headphones (or speakers)? In first instance I think this is because something else is lacking in the reproduction: be it visceral impact, spatial information or time-domain flaws such as poor transient response and inner reflections. I haven't heard an HP-1000 so far, but knowing the current Grado sound, every time I read about the «accuracy» and «neutrality» attributed to it, I doubt that I would perceive the same, even though the sonic balance may be free of severe (FR-related) colorations. Especially extrapolating from the PS-1, I think the HP-1000s may suffer from the same time-smearing, transient-smoothing effect. The PS-1 at least compensates for this with its spectacular bass emphasis, but from what I've read the HP-1000s do nothing similar, they just sound plain boring flat. «Boring» just attributed to the smoothed edges, which take life, spirit and immediacy away.

Now I may be completely wrong with my HP-1000 characterization (who knows...), but I guess something similar is the culprit when it comes to the «need» for colorations: a compensation for other, less definable flaws to bring the life back.

post #7 of 262
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by JaZZ
Does anybody feel the need to equalize or otherwise color a live concert because it sounds boring the way it sounds? I doubt it. So why should this apply to headphones (or speakers)? In first instance I think this is because something else is lacking in the reproduction: be it visceral impact, spatial information or time-domain flaws such as poor transient response and inner reflections. I haven't heard an HP-1000 so far, but knowing the current Grado sound, every time I read about the «accuracy» and «neutrality» attributed to it, I doubt that I would perceive the same, even though the sonic balance may be free of severe (FR-related) colorations. Especially extrapolating from the PS-1, I think the HP-1000s may suffer from the same time-smearing, transient-smoothing effect. The PS-1 at least compensates for this with its spectacular bass emphasis, but from what I've read the HP-1000s do nothing similar, they just sound plain boring flat. «Boring» just attributed to the smoothed edges, which take life, spirit and immediacy away.

Now I may be completely wrong with my HP-1000 characterization (who knows...), but I guess something similar is the culprit when it comes to the «need» for colorations: a compensation for other, less definable flaws to bring the life back.


Hmm, I think you missed my point. The fact that one doesn't need to equalize a live concert is expressly the problem. If the engineers are voicing albums for subpar equipement then having excellent equipement can be problematic. This seems to be the reason that many people don't buy studio monitoring speakers, but look to other brands. Why would this be?

As for your hypothesis about the HP-1000's, you'd have to hear it to solve it I suppose, but the HP-1000's are quite different from the current line of headphones and don't smooth the edges. They are perceived as boring for some (or many depending) because they lack colour. I don't find them boring, nor do others who own them. Would you describe the HD650's as sounding remarkably close to the HD595's? If not, the differences between the HP-1000's and the current line are much much greater.
post #8 of 262
Quote:
Originally Posted by Zanth
Hmm, I think you missed my point. The fact that one doesn't need to equalize a live concert is expressly the problem. If the engineers are voicing albums for subpar equipement then having excellent equipement can be problematic.
In this sence I was missing the point. But that's also because I don't agree on the «voicing for subpar equipment»: it doesn't apply to 99% of my music collection.


Quote:
This seems to be the reason that many people don't buy studio monitoring speakers, but look to other brands. Why would this be?
I have to confess that I haven't heard studio monitors so far, although I'd like to, just to have an idea. On the other hand, being a hobbyist speaker designer myself, I have some reservations against their design philosophies and even more so the audio-philosophical credo of their main advocates. I think a flat frequency response, low measurable distortion and a decent radiation pattern is all that counts for most manufacturers, thus the measurement approach.


Quote:
As for your hypothesis about the HP-1000's, you'd have to hear it to solve it I suppose, but the HP-1000's are quite different from the current line of headphones and don't smooth the edges. They are perceived as boring for some (or many depending) because they lack colour. I don't find them boring, nor do others who own them. Would you describe the HD650's as sounding remarkably close to the HD595's? If not, the differences between the HP-1000's and the current line are much much greater.
Maybe. But the design looks very similar (in contrast to the Sennheiser example, which besides doesn't fit the smoothing of the edges scenario), so supposedly has the same negative consequences in terms of transients, despite different voicing. I still could be wrong though, especially if you agree on my PS-1 characterization.

But the question remains: Why doesn't anybody have the wish to color a live concert?

post #9 of 262
Thread Starter 
I'm not claiming recordings are necessarily voiced for subpar gear, I am saying that there are many many horrible recordings so I am trying to flesh out a conclusion as to why that is? Lack of skill? Intent for playback on valley-effected gear? I do have excellent recordings as well.

As for not wanting to colour a live performance, I suppose that in a perfect venue (outdoors for starters) the music sounds as it should sound given the instrument quality, the musicians' ability and the conducting. Perhaps some venues are purposely designed to accentuate certain frequencies? I would need to see the designs of the halls and see the measurements of course to draw any conclusions.
post #10 of 262
While I understand adding a euphonic colouration may be pleasing to the ear & make for fun listening, striving for a neutral, transparent system will allow the widest variety of recordings to show the individual qualities (or flaws) that set them apart from anything else, to come through. The danger of an intentionally coloured system is the homogenising of all music, which is probably a bad thing.
post #11 of 262
I am definetly in the category of thos that "prefer some fine <headphones> that are resolving, extended, fast, transparent and have that level of colour that suits one's tastes.

Comparing ps-1's to rs-1's, I found that the rs-1's polarized recordings more so. Some sound fantastic when the vocals are within the range of the sweet spot and with stringed instruments, while other recordings sounded like their was a filter applied over them. The ps-1's have less of that sweet spot magic, but sound closer to reality on a wider variety of voices and instruments, imparting a startleing clarity on the music (partially due to the recabling on mine hehe). Basically I agree with Jeff's post, but you can bet that if they ever release rs-1's with more destressed drivers, I will own them once more.

Biggie.
post #12 of 262
Stick one of these in the mix. Best done in the digital domain. All the colour you could want, and IMHO a much better prospect than hit or miss amps. Pick the base favoured flavour of your headphone, the most neutral, accurate amp (i.e. one that measures well) and tweak away. Takes time to use effectively, but no more than evaluating multiple amps, tuberolling, etc.


http://www.tcelectronic.com/Finalizer96K
post #13 of 262
I think the best recipe is to get the most transparent and resolving system you can and add an outboard digital processor (so cheap and flexible these days) to re-equalize per recording. You'd be amazed at what this can do.
post #14 of 262
Quote:
Originally Posted by Zanth
I am still unsure about the linearity, transparency and lack of colouration bit, specifically in the event of mixing/mastering for odd frequency gear, liked bumped bass and highs, think valley effect. If this were the case, a very very linear system would just represent this sad recording.
The human brain is the world's most powerful DSP. Adding additional coloration on top of a bad recording obscures information and makes it harder for the brain to do its work. This is why I never use EQ when I'm doing any serious listening. Jeff Wong speaks the word.
post #15 of 262
Quote:
Originally Posted by JaZZ
Does anybody feel the need to equalize or otherwise color a live concert because it sounds boring the way it sounds? I doubt it.
Actually I do. My favourite concert hall is Massey Hall in Toronto. By modern standards it's quite coloured, bass tends to get loose & boomy and overloads rather easily and the midrange has the stereotypical rich tube sound. I've heard the same musicians perform there and at other concert halls, and I've yet to find a place where the music comes across as well as it does there. There's something special about the sound there which no other place I've been to has, call it magic, mojo, soul, whatever, but it's the only place I've been to that has it.

And that's the sound I'm aiming for with my system, on the warm side, not the last word in resolution or detail, but with that special something. My system's coloured but I'm liking it a lot more than my "neutral" Senn 580 setup.
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