Criteria to eval SQ of high res masters
by, 04-11-2012 at 04:25 AM (2710 Views)
As an ex recording/mixing engineer/producer, http://www.thepikes.com/bio here are a few thoughts with respect to evaluating high resolution masters for sound quality.
Unfortunately, for most recordings, especially multi-track, there are many, many steps/paths from the mic to the final master we listen to. Most folks I think would be surprised to see the workflow. But that is another post.
The criteria I use to eval music sound quality is:
1) Musical performance 1st. Ultimately, if the performance is not the artists best, then the rest really does not matter.
2) Who recorded/engineered/produced the tracks. If you follow closely in the music genre you are most familiar with, (for me it is rock/pop), you start seeing a trend as to who has the touch and who doesn’t.
3) Who mastered the mix(es). Again, you will see a trend if you spend the time and effort. However, this is the most variable part of the equation as there are many, many pressing and re-masters being released. The biggest problem here is finding out which pressing/master was the source of the re-mastering. Sometimes re-mastering means a re-mix from the original multi-track sources, sometimes not. Sometimes the master is a tape generation copy as the studio/artisit does not want to touch the original (or the original has gone missing or...) Sometimes, it takes quite a bit of research to find out all the relevant info.
4) Finally, if the material has been re-mastered for “hi res”, then it becomes even more critical to find out where the source master came from, what processing, if any, was done to it. And that the new re-master has not become a victim of the loudness war.
The Loudeness War in Under 2 Minutes:
No question, if you are serious about the SQ of your music, then it does take effort to figure this out.
Some places to look:
Right here of course at CA!
Steve Hoffmans forums: http://www.stevehoffman.tv/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=2 is a primary source to look as the folks there go to great lengths and detail about performances and best pressings/masters (down to catalog numbers).
Another source is the Dynamic Range Database: http://dr.loudness-war.info/ At least you can do a quick check to see if the music/master you are looking for has a chance.
Here is an example walkthrough using the Police’s Synchronicity album that was recorded in 1983. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synchro..._Police_album)
But first aside. I happen to know the Studio Synchronicity was recorded in. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Studio And you know what, the actual gear does not matter so much as most professional studios have similar if not the same gear. If it was analog, Studer machines were king, but Sony (MCI) and Ampex were no slouches either. Everyone has the same compliment of mics, outboard processing gear etc.
Most importantly were the folks actually doing the recording, mixing, producing to get the performance out of the artist and capturing the sound. A trick I used to play on artists was to get them to run through the song a couple of times before we “rolled tape”. What the artist/band did now know what that I was rolling tape and more often than not, the first take was the artists best performance as they were excited, but relaxed as they knew the tape was not rolling ;-) In one instance, the bed tracks I recorded for a demo ended up being used on the album and both the engineer and producer could not recreate the feeling or the sound of the band at another time and place – neither could the artists. Remember, a recording is a snapshot of history that may never repeat itself.
Back to the Police and Synchronicity. Have a look at: http://dr.loudness-war.info/index.ph...=synchronicity There are at least 4 masters of the same “album”. If you click on the info button on each one, you can see the details. One is the original pressing/master on A&M from 1983, another reissue on A&M in 2003, a MSFL and SACD “audiophile” versions as well.
What is very interesting to note is that the original 1983 pressing has the most dynamic range, beating out the MSFL and SACD “audiophile” versions. That means when the MFSL and SACD versions were re-mastered, some compression was applied and who knows what else. Also note that DR is but one evaluation criteria, but a significant one.
Which brings me to my point. Just because it says “hi-res” or MSFL or SACD, does not automatically mean it sounds better than the original (or other) pressing/master. This was one example to illustrate my point. Btw, you can read all about Synchronicity on Steve Hoffman forums (and others) to assist in making up your own mind without (somehow) purchasing all 4 versions yourself: http://www.bing.com/search?q=steve+h...0-20&sp=-1&sk= Oh yeah, lots of discussion. Another point of eval is the recording/mixing engineer – Hugh Padgham – one of my favourites: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_Padgham
So before you plunk down dollars on a high resolution format of whatever music you happen to enjoy, and if sound quality is really important to you, then take a bit of time to do some research to ensure you are getting what you are expecting. Otherwise, you may be disappointed. Or in some cases appalled to find out that not only has your favourite artist/band, that has been re-mastered in a high resolution format, had the snot compressed out of it, but clipping as well.
Best of luck!