Natural sound, the way the musician intended it - How can we define such a thing?
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Naim.F.C

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I hear this quite often with impressions and in reviews. But my question is, how can we even judge that? Doesn't it depend on what equipment the musician/producer used when creating or recording the music? Unless I'm missing something and there's some universal musical signature that all musicians aspire to create towards.
 
I'd be interested to hear opinions. On a side note, is there commonly used equipment at top recording studio's, or does the equipment used, like with any industry or technology genre, wildly vary?
 
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flaming_june

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There's (sometimes) a huge difference between what the artist(s) hear/wants us to hear versus what the an intimate audience hears.  This applies to music heard live and recorded and mastered music.  Thus I don't think you should concern yourself with your original question too much.
 
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deadlylover

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Does an artist(paintings) tell you how you should interpret his/her works of art?
 
I don't think so.
 
For me, I'd just say "balls to it", and just do whatever makes you happy. I'm sure that's truly what the artist intended.
 
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Quote:
Does an artist(paintings) tell you how you should interpret his/her works of art?
 
I don't think so.
 
For me, I'd just say "balls to it", and just do whatever makes you happy. I'm sure that's truly what the artist intended.

That's pretty much all there is to it.  Its supposed to be enjoyed so enjoy how you wish and don't get caught up in the neverending spiral of chasing a non-existent ideal unless that's actually what you enjoy.
 
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Naim.F.C

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Interesting posts that re-affirm my initial assumptions. I do wonder what sort of headphones producers use during recording/sampling in professional studio's.
 
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maverickronin

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They use near-field monitors more often than not.
 
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catscratch

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I think realistic sound is less important than believable sound. You don't have to master a recording so that on a totally linear system it will sound exactly like it did in the studio, but you should master it so that it sounds like it could have sounded that way in a studio, or in a concert hall, living room, etc. That's essentially what suspension of disbelief is, and suspension of disbelief is what you're trying to achieve with natural sound.
 
In photography there's a similar principle - absolute realism doesn't necessarily mean suspension of disbelief or immersion or any kind of emotional content in a photograph. You perceive a photograph with one sense and you perceive the real scene it's based on with more. So you often have to exaggerate visually to fill in the missing sensory information; whereas with perfect visual realism you can't really capture the same emotion that the real scene can evoke.
 
The systems that have sounded the most lifelike, the most natural, the most captivating with a lot of recordings weren't always the most linear ones, at least for me. What they did right though was not having any obvious glaring flaws that take away from the sonic illusion while being transparent and engaging enough to let the music through.
 
At the same time, I still maintain that neutrality is not what it's described as on these forums - neutral systems aren't cold, analytical, or sterile. Live music has warmth, fluidity, tonal richness, dynamic range, it has everything that an analytical system usually lacks. And lacking is just means said system is inaccurate, and to me those inaccuracies are far more unforgivable than for instance some extra warmth in the mids.
 
A contradictory post, I suppose, so take it as you will.
 
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Well, there is some way to know. Many hiphop artists actually do use the BeatsPro, so if you like that music, then using Beats is "Hi-Fi" in the sense that you're using a similar product. Some heavy metal bands by contrast won't plaster their names all over a product that is sold in major retail outlets, but endorse equipment through other media. Easy to see that they're using Ibanes and Mesa Boogie on stage, but how do you see what's in their studio? The most subtle - and most likely unintentional - way is to check the background on their magazine photos or video of interviews inside a studio; those aren't fashion portraits so the photo's depth of field isn't shallow enough that the background is all blurred out. Others will have their testimonials on the manufacturer website, plus some videos. As an example of both, duringh te recording of ONCE, Nightwish released photos in Abbey Road and one of them was with a B&W 800-series floorstander, which the studio uses to evaluate the recording. They also endorse KRK studio monitors; but instead of resurrecting an old series with their band logo plastered on it and worth $150 over the current price, or worse, make it in hideous colours (hint: Quincy), they took clips of the recording sessions and then interspersed some interviews wher they outline what they like about KRK.
 
So far I haven't heard people hating on them for endorsing anything, so really it's the perception of what you want to achieve with your marketing and advertising strategy rather than product endorsement on its own. Also, the perception on profits: Dre makes money out of Beats, and we only assume Nightwish gets first dibs free on new stuff at most. I still maintain contempt for Lars Ulrich's business strategy, though: Skullcandy Metallica, really?!?! 
 
But of course in most cases it's really down to our preference. I have friends who are into hiphop and funk, and they thought Beats is the best until I convinced them to try the M50 (It also helped that one other guy (and his band, presumably) from our school is endorsing AT, but I know they've been using them since college.) By contrast I enjoy 1990's rap through Grados, but of course compared to current hiphop, these are about drug dealers and drive-bys, not about clubbing meant to shake up clubs with thunderous bass.
 
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Nearfield monitors are regularly used. As for headphones, you'll find the Sony MDR-V6 all over the place.

As for gear, I like stuff that doesn't leave its own fingerprint on music. Not really possible, but something like the ESL-63 comes close.
 
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Quote:
I think realistic sound is less important than believable sound

I think so too. The word I settled on is "convincing." Perhaps the question was asked in reverse in this  http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/547528 thread, but the posts are sniffing at the same thing as the OP here. It is the result, not the theory, that matters to the listener.
 
 
 
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We hear what's on the medium + what is added by our ears and brains.  We can't control what's on the medium.  The best equipment philosophy I've run into is to do as little to the recording as human possibly other than to make it listenable to by humans through speakers or headphones by the various pieces of equipment in the chain between the medium and our ears.  Some manufacturers have such a philosophy, many don't.  For digital users, much of the problem lies in DACs where many engineers try to reduce what they perceive to be "problems" with the signal they can generate from the magnetic disk, such as too low a sample rate and jitter. They measure the results with test equipment by audio engineering standards.  The others don't mess with the sample rate and/or jitter.  So it is all the way down the line in one form or another.  In the end, the brain + the ears is our judge,as to which we prefer.  But no equipment manufacturer sets out to add distorttion, or increase jitter, or compress the frequency range.  
 
Who knows what the engineer hears?  And we can't control it.
 
   
 
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Who knows what the artist or producer intended - and maybe you don't want what they were trying to give you. I think in 2011, the job of a mastering engineer is to ruin music. Get a mix, push all the levers up to maximum, go to lunch.
 
Another example is the Rudy Van Gelder remaster series from a few years ago. You'd think they would be fantastic because the guy was there in the '50s and '60s for the original recordings, so he would know how Miles or John wanted it to sound right? Unfortunately they stink, the same albums mastered by Mobile Fidelity, DCC, and Analog Productions sound way better.
 
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Mostly they intended to make money selling records.
 
Old Beach Boys were monitored with a monaural car speaker to be sure they woul sound good that way.  This doesn't give much of a guide for an audiophile though.
 
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Naim.F.C

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Here's a documentary about the making of Watch the Throne by Kanye West and Jay Z. Interestingly they use the Beyerdynamics DT770 Pro's during mixing and recording. They're actually not even that expensive or detailed as some of the higher end models. So apparently even Kanye and crew aren't hearing all those details or sound signature some of you guys do with your fancy higher end gear.
 
Want to hear Watch the Throne the way they producers intended it? Buy some DT770 Pro's and whatever system they are using to power them lol.
 
http://www.multiupload.com/BFK50FWLF1
 
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A very pertinent question and one without specific answers I'm afraid. There are no standards of music recording, production, mastering or of recording studios. A recording studio can be anything from a converted garage with a few thousand dollars of recording equipment all the way up to multi-million dollar facilities. The top facilities spend more on just their Analogue to Digital Converters (ADCs) than a lesser studio might spend on the entirety of their studio! A recording engineer could be anything from a kid in a bedroom who has just taken a six month audio engineering course to a 30 year professional in a top facility. Same is true of producers and mastering engineers. I've met people who call themselves mastering engineers, who think you just have to slam the level and don't even know what the job of the mastering engineer is, let alone know how to do it well. Cheap technology has made once highly exclusive and specialized jobs accessible to almost everyone and has lead to a huge variation of quality in available music. What's worse is that the younger generation doesn't seem to care to much about audio fidelity, so why bother spending money on expensive experienced engineers and recording facilities?
 
There are some genres of music (mainly classical and jazz) where fidelity is still highly prized but even so, all recording and production is a balance of compromises. For example, microphones do not record sound the way that we hear it, so we may have to add some EQ (and/or other processing), EQ is not a linear process, so it's a trade off. Pretty much everything in the recording chain and playback chain introduces non-linearities, not to mention that we are trying to make a performance of maybe 100 different sound sources (musicians in an orchestra) sound realistic when played back by only two sound sources (speakers). Another consideration is that many instruments do not sound anything like you expect them to. For example, when you listen to a french horn (in a live orchestra) you are not really listening to a french horn, you are actually listening to the reflections of a french horn off a number of different surfaces, very big difference. Same with a drum kit, a live (un-amplified) drum kit is usually nothing like what you expect on a recording. Ultimately, it all comes down to the skill and artistry of the producer and mastering engineer and the environments they have to work in.
 
Although there is nothing you can do about any of this as a consumer, the OP question is pertinent. In a forum where so much discussion is based on subjective opinion, what are you basing your subjective opinion on, what music are you listening to? Has it been recorded, produced and mastered by top professionals with a substantial budget and high quality in mind or are there mistakes (EG. frequency holes, imbalances, distortion, etc)? When people say they like the "warmth" of a tube, the "air" of a cable or the "width" of speaker x, what are you listening to and what are you doing to the sound? On the one hand you may be improving a poor recording on the other, would you want go and look at a Picasso or a Turner wearing pink tinted sunglasses? Personally I go for transparency but that's just my opinion and off topic :)
 
G
 
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