Originally Posted by jononku
Yeah, I know it's a loaded question, but I am not looking to debate whether one's ear perceives something to be better than someone else. Rather, I am just curious as to how an album, particularly by a band with lots of money, can still be poorly recorded in this era of technical miracles. Perhaps it is that the majority of the general public will listen to music on their 3 dollar ear buds or 10 dollar plastic speakers, in which case you can't really tell a good recording from a bad one.
It depends. I think it's mixture of many things.
1) The Recording
It used to be that when engineers recorded something in the golden age, they carefully mic'd each instrument and carefully chose a particular microphone for the job at hand, used tube preamps, tubed tape machines and the mixing was very natural but most of this mixing was done for mono. The stereo versions were mic'd in a minimalist fashion. Some of the best stereo recordings I have ever heard used no more than 4 microphones. Today, most engineers use more than 4 mics to record just the drum kit! This ties into #2 directly...
2) The Mixing
What we have today is what I like to call multi mono mixing. The stereo image is created by virtually placing all the mono recorded instruments in the soundfield. This can result in a convincing stereo image but it will never match a natural stereo recording in terms of naturalness, depth, soundstage and overall presentation. Why do they do multi-mono? Control! I guess it makes the engineers feel important and more involved. Problem is, this has been going on for the better part of 30 years or more. People have grown accustomed to this fake stereo sound and natural stereo recording is almost non-existent today. I have played natural stereo recordings for some people and they are often shocked at how realistic they sound.
3) The Mastering
I don't think I need to say much here! Modern mastering is a shame...a true shame. Look up "The Loudness Wars".
4) Overall Goals
Back in the day, the aim was to truly produce Hi-Fi albums. Although not all of them achieved this, that was the aim of many. Now, the aim is to produce albums that will sound good in cars, ipod earbuds and cheap stereo shelf systems.
5) Other factors
a) Musicians getting more control over sound: This can sometimes be good but for the most part, the last person you want fiddling with the sound is the actual artist. Why? Well, the artists hear the music from a very limited area. They really have no idea what they sound like to an audience. Most always insist they want the sound to be like what they hear on stage. Moreover, most musicians aren't very good at hearing subtle nuances in music due to many years of being blasted by PA systems. Sad but true.
b) Studio big wigs getting more control: This is never a good thing. Most engineers out there actually know how to get a good sound from their respective studios and gear. However, sometimes the head honchos insist that the music be loud or have some fat bass and lots of high end. Bad idea!
c) Society doesn't care as much: There is SACD available, DVD-Audio, HDADS, etc and yet the majority of music consumption is lossy mp3. People don't spend much on music anymore and in general, go for what is easier and cheaper to obtain. The album mentality has switched over to a singles mentality. Moreover, the vast majority of people simply don't own good equipment to reproduce music to properly.
d) Boys and their toys: Instead of finding the most simple solution to a problem, most engineers will try to find the most complex in order to use more gear. Sometimes using a simple solution, like moving a choir back a few feet or using simple mic placement is seen as amateurish by some. The more involved the better! This is wrong in my opinion as the job of the engineer should be as passive and non-intrusive as possible. This circles back to #1 above.
I'm sure there are more factors but these are the ones that stand out to me and this is just for modern recordings. There are other issues with re-issues!
Edited by LFF - 3/5/11 at 4:16pm