in: News & Features

October 2, 2011

Ins and Outs of BSO Recording

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In celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s first broadcast on October 6, 1951, the BSO will return to return to the WCRB airwaves this coming Thursday night for a special broadcast. In addition to interviews and recorded features, the program will present Sean Newhouse conducting Britten’s Four Sea Interludes, from Peter Grimes; Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet  and Sibelius’s  Symphony No. 2.

Sixty years ago, The Lowell Institute Broadcasting Council founded WGBH in part to provide broadcasting of classical music, and on October 6 of that year, WGBH FM signed on the air for its first broadcast, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Saturday night subscription concert.  Relations between WGBH and the BSO were so close that for the next two years, WGBH’s office and studios were actually located in Symphony Hall, and the symphony programs listed the station’s complete programming. Neither of these is true now, although the president of the Lowell Institute still sits on the board of WBGH.During the intermission of that first historic broadcast, composer Aaron Copland spoke emphatically “It is particularly heartening to be able to take part in the first broadcast of WGBH. I wish I had known about the plan to establish it when I was in Europe for the first six months of this year, because whenever the question [of American radio broadcasts of classical music] came up, I couldn’t help but feel a bit sheepish.It is particularly heartening that there is now a station of great interest to an adult mind. … Since each Friday afternoon [broadcast] program will be repeated on Saturday night, listeners will have the opportunity of hearing a new work twice. We contemporary composers like that idea: for the second hearing often tells more about a work than the first. When second impression of a new work may be more or less favorable, it is seldom is exactly the same.”

The Boston Symphony Transcription Trust was formed to record and archive BSO concerts beginning in October 1957. Its final tape distribution covered the Tanglewood concerts of August 1991. Brian Bell, producer with Ron Della Chiesa, announcer and Jim Donahue, engineer took charge of the BSO broadcasts on October 4th, 1991 and remain in those roles today.

BMInt was interested in learning the history of these broadcasts and the factors that influence their quality and usefulness. This interview on the subject of the BSO recording and WGBH broadcasting offers the thoughts of one of Boston’s preeminent recording engineers, Sound Mirror’s John Newton, and is a companion piece with BMInt’s interview of WGBH Director of Classical Services, Ben Roe here.

Newton: WGBH has a tremendous history with the BSO. WGBH was founded in part to broadcast the BSO, and I will say for the record, that it is ironic that they have drifted so far from those original days. If I could do what I wanted to, which of course I can’t, I would put the good music back on the strong WGBH signal and put the talk radio which competes with WBUR on the lower-powered WCRB, because I think the community would be better served. Unfortunately there are a lot of business people who say that is not the case.

We’re not responsible for the signal that goes out over the air on WCRB, though. That’s the responsibility of Jim Donahue the engineer and Ben Roe the station manager, et cetera. I’m sure they can give you a good idea of what they do. But I presume that Jim Donahue cannot monitor the actual WCRB signal at Symphony Hall because it’s a very weak signal coming which doesn’t reach very well anywhere in Boston.

BMInt: Anecdotally, reception at Symphony Hall has improved since the FCC eliminated a pirate station operating near WCRB’s frequency, though still not ideal for evaluating.

Newton: That’s led to some broadcasts apparently where technical problems such as reversed channels could be traced to the transmitter site rather than to the BSO booth. If no one who’s musically sophisticated can monitor the actual signal then that’s more evidence of the staffing problem. One person simply can’t do it all to a high level. Particularly with broadcasting, someone has to be listening.

Originally the WGBH broadcasts were recorded and saved in the WGBH Transcription Trust, and some important historical re-issues have been made from that material. In terms of commercial recordings, the BSO’s recordings are among the most famous in any repertoire going back the beginning of “recorded time.” And certainly that will continue into the future. Yet the record companies are releasing fewer and fewer orchestral recordings from the major orchestras because of the cost, and on the other hand, the orchestras were getting to a position to be able to create their own record labels or license their own materials. But the only way to have that happen is to archive it when it happens. You can’t go backward and say, ‘Wow that was a great concert. I want to record that.”

At the time that James Levine began as BSO Music Director in 2004, the broadcasting institutions [WGBH and WCRB] were not in a position to do the archiving that the Symphony needed, as that was technically quite different from what they broadcast stations needed, so they asked Sound Mirror to come in to record all of Levine’s concerts and several other concerts each year that management thought would be important for saving in archives that could be used, for instance for high-quality SACD recordings or commercial CD recordings or for the creation of files to be sold for download, but not yet to the best of my knowledge for internet streaming live.

Our archiving agreement with the BSO was that we would provide microphones, put them in correct positions, and make all of those microphone signals available to the broadcasters. Symphony Hall has three separate rooms for recording: one for archiving and two for broadcasting (formerly WGBH and WCRB had separate booths) that can access the same microphones, allowing totally independently production. The broadcasters can create from our microphones the mixes and the balances that they wish.

For the main microphones, whether they are up front for the orchestra or in the rear for the ambience channels, we always use pressure microphones, commonly known as an omni-directional microphones from the major manufacturers that have been making them for seventy years: Neumann, Schoeps, DPA (previously Brüel & Kjær) — are the main ones. We change microphones periodically because there are musical requirements for which we think certain microphones sound better than others.

The support microphones, usually cardioids or figure-of-eights which we change more often than main microphones, tend to be ones that we’ve found to work particularly well on a certain instrument or a section of musical instruments. We use the same brands as in the main mikes, but we use a wider variety in the support microphone area. We use ribbon mikes from Royer , Coles, and Beyer. We use cardioids from all the manufacturers named before as well as Sure. The major microphone manufactures are making better microphones every time they change their design.

We create from those microphones two types of multi-channel high-resolution archives. One is a Pulse Code Modulation (PCM) archive that the Boston Symphony has asked for. The other is a Direct Stream Digital (DSD) archive which is of an infinitely higher sonic quality, but much more difficult to use and not as popular because of that extra difficulty. But the BSO is unique and we have to do it the best possible way, regardless of how difficult it might be to post produce material.

The number of microphones we put out for a concert depends on the repertoire for a particular concert series. We work on the same week cycle that the BSO works on. If they’re working on a three-performance week, say Friday, Saturday, Tuesday, we put out the microphones for that week and we use the rehearsals to determine where to put them and so on. And if the repertoire is wide-ranging, for instance if there is a Mozart symphony at one point and a large oratorio at another point, we have to put microphones out for all of the repertoire. So for the Mozart symphony we need far fewer microphones than we would for a large oratorio with a chorus and soloists and so on. But they’re all out there at the same time because we can’t re-hang microphones during a concert.

When we archive concerts over the course of a season, the most complicated musical program will require perhaps as many as 45 microphones, but we don’t just send all the channels to be archived without post-production. The only way to be 100% sure that you have chosen the right microphone and put it in the right place is to listen to it. If we can’t produce a very good mix for two channels then we haven’t done our job right. So we do pretty sophisticated and effective stereo mixing as part of the process of archiving.

In the simplest setups, back when we were doing entire programs of Mozart symphonies, we perhaps had as few as a dozen microphones. We never restricted ourselves to say, three mikes as in the old RCA “Living Stereo” days, because with our archiving of up to 45 channels we could always select three if we wanted to create that sound.

But the work we do in archiving a performance should not be confused with the work we do releasing a commercial recording. We do make CDs of every performance we archive, and those CDs are distributed to the conductors, to the management, and the soloists for all of the purposes you can imagine. Many were unbelievably wonderful. That’s the reason we are there archiving. But the point is we are not there each night creating a recording for release — we are creating an archive that can be a source of products. And certainly, when the broadcast people are there, one of the products that gets created from the raw material that Sound Mirror creates is the broadcast.

We’ve produced four or five rather good sounding and rather well received commercial recordings from the Levine archives. And I approached them the way I would approach any commercial recording. I don’t think of a commercial recording as being a substitute for a concert; I think of it as being a completely different product. People who buy and enjoy recordings don’t do so because they can’t or don’t want to go to a concert. They buy them because listening to music presented that way gives them a different kind of experience than going to a concert. And if you listen to the recordings that we make that we are rather well known for — the BSO recordings, the Mariansky recordings, or any of our other orchestral recordings, you’ll find a completely different experience than what you would have found had you gone to those concerts. You’ll hear a balance that is not necessarily from the conductor’s perspective or from seat A 12 or B 21 or C 93. You’ll hear a balance that you can’t hear from anywhere in the hall. It will be much better and more musically appropriate because we have that ability. We don’t arbitrarily do it alone, but rather in conjunction with the composer and the conductor. But certainly you can hear much more orchestral detail than you can from any given seat in any hall. We try to create a sonic envelope that is at least as exciting as what you would hear in the hall, thinking that is the kind of product a commercial release needs to be.

Whatever the market wants we can create, using the appropriate technologies. We can even make recordings which sound stunning in your car — better in your car than they will sound anywhere else. There’s going to be a major breakthrough this fall in sound for classical music in cars. And of course people spend more time listening to music in cars than anywhere else.

There are a lot of other things we could do. For instance we could create a binaural recording using an artificial head. We have experience with that because the orchestra in Milwaukee for which we also create archives, has for quite some time hung an artificial head for binaural recording. It’s a product they expect to sell, but I would not say they’re having overwhelming sales success. There are a couple of downloads available in that format. It’s a tiny niche product. Most people don’t choose an iPod and headphones as their high-quality music listening experience. There may be a lot of twenty-somethings who listen that way, but they don’t care if the recordings are created in binaural or conventionally. The people who care tend to have higher quality headphones and a quiet environment to listen in. This may be an interesting scientific area as well, but not a big market as evidenced by the number of people who buy binaural files rather than loudspeaker/stereophonic recordings. Binaural recordings don’t even sound good for near field listening through computer speakers. Binaural recordings only sound good on headphones. And loudspeaker recordings sound good on loudspeakers. For a long time people have tried to build processors that convert one form to another, but with limited success.

I was just talking with someone the other day about creating the old “Living Stereo” sound. You absolutely can. The same microphones are still available today. But let’s talk about what you have to do to make that happen. First you have to have time, because the orchestra has to be moved around by the stage hands to balance things, because that’s how they did things in those days. Then you have to have a set of listening equipment that is historically appropriate, because those recordings were made to sound good on that equipment. And while those vintage recordings still sound very good today, modern recordings sound better. The photographs of those historic sessions show the BSO still on the stage rather than spread out into the auditorium as with other orchestras. But it requires a tremendous amount of time to set up and balance and you can’t do it at live concerts since the revised seating would not please audiences.

Bookkeepers might like this approach because it costs a lot less to buy and use three microphones than forty-five. But the question is whether that would be a good value. Are you getting what you need and desire. You have to be able to look at different technologies and decide where they work and where they don’t work. They cost of recording may seem small in the context of the overall costs of presenting an orchestral concert, but recording is still an additional cost, and it’s not miniscule. No organization today has excess money to spend on things that they can’t put a current or future value on. Nevertheless, having those 45 tracks gives us tremendous flexibility down the road for creating products we haven’t even heard of today.

It might look like fun, but it’s an awful lot of hard work and a tremendous number of man hours involved in this work. Neither Sound Mirror nor the broadcasters have staffs of any size anymore — certainly Jim Donahue for WCRB does everything himself at Symphony Hall, though he has some interns at Tanglewood. There’s an awful lot of time spent on catwalks — I’ve climbed them for 50 years.

We don’t yet know what were going to be doing for the BSO this season, though we expect to be there for several weeks.

John Newton founded Sound Mirror in 1972. He has worked with many of the world’s major orchestras in recordings and media strategies.

38 Comments

  1. John, I was glad to hear that you run microphones into two parallel feed: PCM and DSD. I was afraid that you record only to DSD and the recordings got permanently vandalized by that fraudulent format. Your comment about DSD being “infinitely higher sonic quality” I will leave with you.

    I am not sure about your proposal of binaural recordings. Binaural is wonderful thing but unfortunately it never was propelled out of freak-show demonstrations and therefore there was never any good framework developed to play binaural in open air, unless people agree to destroy the listening rooms with channels dividers.

    Regarding your work with BSO. Certainly you do it for a long time and you like no one else know Symphony Hall and how to record in there. Still, even with you experiences there are hits and misses. The misses are primary due you use too many microphones that crate very “contrived” Sound. BSO even without your help have difficulty to play “together” (BSO today is not the BSO in 40s-50s) but being compartmentalized by zillion microphones that you stick in each hole BSO sounds in way more ridicules then it has to be. The best example would be Mahler with Levine a few years back. When WGBH broadcasted it with their typical limited microphones it sounded organic, natural and “compiled”. Your version with zillion microphones dissected the BSO Sound on fractions that never made back together. I did factored-in into my judgment the multiple layers of compression that FM stations do. For sure there is no even contest between of Sound we are getting from FM and your 88/24 feed but with all disadvantages of FM I have to admit that FM version was more musical and (from certain perspective) is much more pleasurable to hear.

    I am sure that doing what you do you are familiar with recording companies that RELIGIOUSLY record Stereo using only 2 microphones. It is a pain in but to do and it requires a lot of time and experiments to get the location of the only 2 microphones right for the given music. Here is where your experience with Symphony Hall and BSO Sound might be fully utilized and I think you are very much in position to take BSO recorded sound to the ultimate high-end level: the 2 microphones techniques, the level where it shall be.

    Comment by Romy The Cat — October 3, 2011 at 8:29 am

  2. A very interesting article. I have about 30 1/4 track reel to reel tapes made during the 50’s directly from WGBH broadcasts. Although the sound is primitive the raw excitement of Munch’s performances is evident. Quite different in my opinion from the commercial versions. I am happy to give these tapes to any one who wants them. I can no longer play them but some I have transferred to CD’s. It is not clear if they still are playable. Please contact me at herbrak1@cox.net if interested.

    Comment by Herbert Rakatansky — October 3, 2011 at 11:03 am

  3. Why not try to persuade the BSO to publish on CD the stereo broadcast tapes or selections from the its archives. I can think of many concerts, especially those featuring guest conductors, that would be of interest to followers of the BSO. What good are those tapes just sitting on a shelf?

    Comment by Geoffrey H. Doughty — October 3, 2011 at 11:41 am

  4. Good Lord: “For the main microphones, whether they are up front for the orchestra or in the rear for the ambience channels, we always use pressure microphones, commonly known as an omni-directional microphones from the major manufacturers that have been making them for seventy years: Neumann, Schoeps, DPA (previously Brüel & Kjær) — are the main ones. We change microphones periodically because there are musical requirements for which we think certain microphones sound better than others.”

    I guess that actual, real-world science counts for nothing in classical orchestral engineering anymore.

    The human ear is NOT omnidirectional. Loudspeakers are NOT omnidirectional, except for a few Bose models.

    For truly correct reproduction of what goes on the stage, mics and speakers must be EXACT reciprocals of each other, and if you want additional “space” — not phase, but space — you use additional channels. That’s what five-speaker setups are all about. Omni lovers actually want extra phasiness in recordings, and then falsely claim that “phase” equals “space”. It doesn’t.

    Spaced omni recording on orchestras is the audio equivalent of high fructose corn syrup added to commercial food products.

    Comment by Don Drewecki — October 4, 2011 at 2:34 pm

  5. Re the comment by Don Drewecki — October 4, 2011 at 2:34 pm:
    >>>> Spaced omni recording on orchestras is the audio equivalent of high fructose corn syrup added to commercial food products. <<<<

    OTOH, A pair of omnis is what was done for years by Bill Busiek at WGBH and it sounds really good.

    Comment by Lucifur — October 4, 2011 at 10:33 pm

  6. Lucifur, certainly. A pair of omnis is the only way to record music; it is VERY complicated to do it properly however. Surely it is very frequent that orchestra is artificially mixed by electricians in headphones but there is even a bigger problem. Orchestras with >40 microphones have microphones positioned to up-close to musicians and this is very bad. From short distant the natural effects of phase randomization do not have room to be developed and Sound tent to be harmonically very poor. This parabola at which tones rolls to their pitches gets suppressed and sound became very primitive. I would not even go the cases when many Morons add artificial reverberation to Sound to make it more “natural”. Ironically that sharp and harmonically-deprived sound in audio industry is foolishly considered as a definition of their “quality”. The people in the industry give to each other medals for that Sound and the true result is that over 95% of recordings out there terminally vandalized.

    Those generally-horrible industry recording standard do more damage then you just buy another bad recording. In the contemporary world, the way how people design concert halls , make musical instruments, and even play music, make live orchestra to sound in a way imitate the bad sound of badly recorded and badly produced CDs. Everyone today want that loud, sharp, immediately and superficially gratifying Sound, the Sound of microphone placed too up-close. Most of the people unfortunately do get this sound, partially from recording media and partially from live events.

    Comment by Romy The Cat — October 4, 2011 at 11:57 pm

  7. Re: Don Drewecki’s comment, “For truly correct reproduction of what goes on the stage, mics and speakers must be EXACT reciprocals of each other,” no, not really. If your home isn’t an exact replica of the concert hall, and you don’t have as many channels as there were instruments (each channel having the same radiation pattern as the instrument to which it is assigned), and the channels aren’t arrayed the way the instruments were, then it’s impossible to get “truly correct reproduction of what goes on [on] the stage.”

    Stereo recording and playback, especially through loudspeakers, is an ILLUSION, and what’s more, it’s a LEARNED illusion. There are twice as many arrivals at your ears from a two-channel playback as there would have been live, unless you can isolate all the sound sources and ensure they each don’t mix into more than one microphone, and that has its own problems. Properly done binaural recordings, made with replicas of your own ears, played back through headphones, come closest –unless you move your head. Any attempt to reproduce the sound of the original space falls apart if there is any sound source actually within the listening environment: if you think you are hearing Symphony Hall and a person walks into your living room, your brain will tell you that you have two acoustic spaces superimposed and “Symphony Hall” will collapse because it is perceived as artificial.

    Spaced omnidirectional microphones (the original Bell Labs technique) have problems, notably that they don’t mix to a single channel well. Nonetheless they have been used quite commonly in the USA for many years. Coincident cardioids (Alan Blumlein’s technique) also have problems, notably that they provide amplitude cues only (for directionality) — rather like pan-potted mono, in fact. Nonetheless they have been used quite commonly in the UK for manyvyears. The ORTF technique (cardioids spaced about 10″ apart, pointing away from each other at an included angle of around 120 degrees, and sometimes with a 1-foot circular baffle midway between them) blend the benefits and defects of both other techniques PLUS they provide a reasonable approximation of a binaural recording, and thus represent a compromise between playback for headphones and playback for loudspeakers. They have been used quite commonly in Europe for many years.

    The point is that there is NO practical, generalizable, miking or playback ideology that provides “truly correct” reproduction in a home or for every listener. Many BSO broadcasts over the past 50 years have been exceptional in delivering a valid musical experience, perhaps unlike what you would have heard on stage or in any particular seat in the hall, but no less enjoyable. As John Culshaw has stated so well, an audio-only experience of a live event will not produce the same effect in the listener, but by doing something other than just reproducing the audio portion of that event you can come closer to the desired effect, even without the visuals or the sense of occasion.

    Comment by Mark P. Fishman — October 5, 2011 at 8:57 am

  8. Thanks, Romy and Mark, for your replies. My responses:

    The original Bell Labs design was indeed omnis — and designed for theater use in which listeners were NOT situated in their homes, listening to speakers in front of them and at 45 degree angles to the listener’s head. Simply using two omnis as Bill Busek did for years does not necessarily and inevitably mean you get an exact reproduction of the instruments on stage. Listen on headphones and you’ll hear sound that is hard-left and hard-right with nothing in the middle. That’s the reason why producers/engineers of the Church of the Sacred Spaced Omnis must use accent mics elsewhere in the orchestra in order to fill out the center hole in these recordings.

    All you have to do is listen in mono to spaced omnis and hear the bass disappear. And if information disappears as a result of comb-filtering, it disappears. That’s why, in mono, BSO broadcasts always sound bass-shy and heavy on the winds.

    Mark writes: “Properly done binaural recordings, made with replicas of your own ears, played back through headphones, come closest –- unless you move your head.” Correct, and you are right that ORTF represents an excellent compromise that covers both speaker and headset listening.

    The problem is, John Newton, his predecessors and his colleagues with other orchestras don’t use ORTF or the NOS system. They use spaced omnis because they are incapable of telling the difference between space and phase.

    Mark continues: “Spaced omnidirectional microphones (the original Bell Labs technique) have problems, notably that they don’t mix to a single channel well. Nonetheless they have been used quite commonly in the USA for many years.” So what? Bad engineers with terrible years will always use lousy mic pickups on orchestras because they enjoy phasiness in their recordings, and do so with the fervor of religious zealots.

    Mark and Romy (by extension) conclude: “The point is that there is NO practical, generalizable, miking or playback ideology that provides “truly correct” reproduction in a home or for every listener. Many BSO broadcasts over the past 50 years have been exceptional in delivering a valid musical experience, perhaps unlike what you would have heard on stage or in any particular seat in the hall, but no less enjoyable.”

    Having myself ventured from the Albany/Schenctady/Troy area on many occasions to hear the BSO at Symphony Hall as well as Tanglewood, I will testify that the sound in Symphony Hall is far superior to the drab reproducion I have heard on WGBH/WCRB, and I attribute that to the anti-scientific, quasi-religious bias of producers and engineers today who pine away for ever higher sampling rates on audio, but can’t hear that their spaced-omni recordings have holes in the middle and sum badly to mono.

    Mark wraps up: “As John Culshaw has stated so well, an audio-only experience of a live event will not produce the same effect in the listener, but by doing something other than just reproducing the audio portion of that event you can come closer to the desired effect, even without the visuals or the sense of occasion.”

    When I was 14 years old I fell for that line, too, and it wasn’t until I started using a friend’s loaned Calrec Soundfield Mark IV one-point stereo mic (serial #13) that I came to understand how Blumlein basically got it right, and the engineers of today get it wrong. Spaced omnis are a disaster.

    dd

    Comment by Don Drewecki — October 5, 2011 at 11:41 am

  9. Correction: I wrote: “Bad engineers with terrible years…”

    I mean, Bad engineers with terrible ears

    dd

    Comment by Don Drewecki — October 5, 2011 at 11:42 am

  10. Don, thanks for the reply. Personally, I haven’t been bothered by the hole-in-the-middle effect of two-channel playback, although Bell Labs originally used three channels to minimize this effect, and Klipsch recommended 3-channel playback even of two-channel recordings. (My friends have often heard me say that there are some things that don’t bother me even when I can hear them. Not a comment on the recording so much as a comment on my tendency to focus on the performance.)

    Neither I nor Culshaw was recommending the use of spaced omnis. I do think, though, that if you close your eyes at a live event and just listen, you will find that much of what audiophiles think is imaging in the forward hemisphere simply isn’t there. So whatever technique you use, just capturing the audio that you would have heard had you been there is likely to result in an over-reverberant, soft-focus, and not terribly involving experience for the home listener. It’s nice if you want a memento of a concert that you actually attended, but if you want something closer to the emotional and sensory involvement without having gone to the original event, then you have to mike in a different way from “just capturing the sound you would have heard.”

    I have enjoyed a great many broadcast relays from the BBC and Austria, as well as from Symphony Hall and other American concert venues. Busiek did some good work; so, in my opinion, does Jim Donohue, who currently mixes the broadcasts. There is a typical “American radio sound”, just as there is a typical “BBC radio sound”. In my opinion, neither phasiness nor lack of air is as high on my list of what’s important as preserving musical dynamics, and most radio stations (and modern recordings) don’t do that as well as I’d like.

    Good discussion — again, thanks.

    Comment by Mark P. Fishman — October 5, 2011 at 12:05 pm

  11. Thanks for the reply, Mark. You’re also right about Bell adding a center channel to fill in the center hole.

    I should point out, then, the irony which escapes spaced-omni devotees — that they claim to record for listeners in their homes with speakers set up as Blumlein intended, but they are using mic techniques developed by Bell for a different type of speaker setup.

    You also write: “So whatever technique you use, just capturing the audio that you would have heard had you been there is likely to result in an over-reverberant, soft-focus, and not terribly involving experience for the home listener.”

    As I used SF mic serial number 13 for thirteen years’ worth of concerts at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall and Union College Memorial Chapel — including Orpheus, the BBC Scottish Symphony and even Valery Gergiev and the Kirov Orchestra — I can testify that, when the original design criteria of the late Michael Gerzon and others was followed, you COULD get both spaciousness and pinpoint-accurate detail. And, with a multitrack recorder, you could get B-format material that could be fine-tuned for that extra sharpness and impact you and I both seek.

    But at Symphony Hall, Avery Fisher Hall, Verizon Hall (I’ve been to them all), it’s just a slavishly religious commitment to Schoeps or DPA spaced omnis, with accent mics faded in and out at will, winds louder than strings, strange phasiness around the overall sound, and a total lack of mono compatibility.

    My friend who owned that SF has commented to me that there’s no longer any money to fund further development of truly accurate mics that can reproduce a sense of true space, detail and spatial accuracy in the home. What a shame.

    Comment by Don Drewecki — October 5, 2011 at 12:41 pm

  12. I think debate about directivity of microphones is groundless. Directivity of microphones has absolutely nothing to do with directivity of playback or a distinction between phase and space, whatever it means. Directivity of microphones in most cases is a variable that wary with recording location, sitting arrangement of musicians, type of the music played and literally zillion other factors. With all know factors and even with large amount of experience it still takes very long time to set the only two microphones, regardless their directivity. It might easily take days and good lack with that recording schedule… So, it is no surprises that recording people use many microphones as a crutch of recording efforts. Still, the best results I ever heard from recording media were made with two omni microphones. I wish the 2-microphones-only approach to become more wide speeded. There is an additional benefit in 2-microphones-only approach: it will be less likely vandalized by unskillful microphones mixing. In the industry, where recording of individual instruments to separate channels in opposite absolute phase to each other is considering a “demonstration of quality”, the destruction of Sound by audio methods is unfortunately too frequent event. Fewer microphones and less microphones mixing give less option to electricians in headphone to impose their egos to the recorded music. This is one of many reasons why I like live FM broadcast. With all limitation of FM during live FM evens there is less intrusion into event by audio people.

    Comment by Romy The Cat — October 5, 2011 at 12:44 pm

  13. Romy writes: “I think debate about directivity of microphones is groundless.”

    Nonsense. The accuracy of microphones is at the very heart of what constitutes accurate surround sound. You could put up five omnis at five different locations and “point” them in different directions and come up with something called surround sound. But is it an accurate reproduction of the performance space? No.

    I thought the original goal of high fidelity was to reproduce the original performance space accurately. Maybe I’m wrong?

    Remy writes: “Fewer microphones and less microphones mixing give less option to electricians in headphone to impose their egos to the recorded music. This is one of many reasons why I like live FM broadcast. With all limitation of FM during live FM evens there is less intrusion into event by audio people.”

    FM inboard engineers can send out what they are given from their outboard engineers on location. And if the board op at WGBH gets a feed from Jim Donohue or John Newton that’s based on six or seven mics, that’s what goes out over the air. Then again, what goes through FM to FM Air is also modified by things like an Orban Optimod or the old CBS Volumaxes, etc.

    Remy also writes: “With all known factors, and even with large amount of experience, it still takes very long time to set only two microphones, regardless their directivity.” The old, original Soundfield mic of the early 1980s made it easier to setup and fine tune a pickup. With all those omnis, it takes weeks of tweaks. Then again, a lot of engineers like to show everyone they’re hard at work doing what they’re paid to do. They put on a show.

    I wish that, for once, engineers and producers would record with the ORTF and NOS techniques, so that people could hear these setups, in various performance spaces. That would educate the public enormously. But the members of The Church of the Sacred Spaced Omnis will never permit that, because their commitment to spaced omni technique borders on religious dogma.

    Comment by Don Drewecki — October 5, 2011 at 1:22 pm

  14. Here’s another analogy:

    Spaced omnis = soft focus photography
    ORTF/NOS/X-Y cardioids = clear focus photography

    I like recordings and acoustics that are clear, but that’s also physical reality: We WANT to see things with clearly focused eyes, just as we want to hear things with ears that are not veiled with earmuffs or stuffed with cotton and earwax. Just as we buy glasses to restore our vision, we go to the doctor to get our ears cleaned out.

    The Spaced Omni Sect feels you should have your vision and hearing impaired in the quest for some mystical beauty, and then they turn around and insist with a straight face that they need ever-higher amounts of digital resolution to sharpen their audio pictures even more.

    It’s ridiculous. And they get extremely defensive when an NOS/ORTF/X-Y partisan suggests that they adopt his way of doing things for a while, in the interests of science.

    Comment by Don Drewecki — October 5, 2011 at 1:44 pm

  15. *** Nonsense. The accuracy of microphones is at the very heart of what constitutes accurate surround sound. You could put up five omnis at five different locations and “point” them in different directions and come up with something called surround sound. But is it an accurate reproduction of the performance space? No.

    Don, single sentence the you quoted was nonsense but it was not a single sentence but the whole paragraph that claimed that debate about directivity of microphones is groundless of there is not specific knowledge about how the given microphone with given specific directivity used in the given situation.

    *** Then again, what goes through FM to FM Air is also modified by things like an Orban Optimod or the old CBS Volumaxes, etc.

    Don, you are missing the whole point. The signal from BSO mixing console until it reaches our loudspeakers goes across many conversions and transformations. However, all of those deformations (the proverbial message corruptions in Claude Shannon’s communication tunnel) are fixed-algorithm and real time corruptions. The Sound we have from FM live broadcast is NOT EDITED but after fact intentions – that is the key. It is not to mention that nowadays all recording is digital but digital by nature is non-editable medium. So, by having live FM broadcast we eliminate the most destructive force in today’s recording industry – the editing process.

    *** I thought the original goal of high fidelity was to reproduce the original performance space accurately. Maybe I’m wrong?

    Yes and no. It is much more complicated than that.

    *** It’s ridiculous. And they get extremely defensive when an NOS/ORTF/X-Y partisan suggests that they adopt his way of doing things for a while, in the interests of science.

    I do not know what is ridiculous. I do not have any dog in Omni fight. My interest is not debate Omni but voice a protest about the barbaric practice of insultingly-up-close positioning of microphones and consequentially use of many microphones to archive the read of entire orchestra.

    Comment by Romy The Cat — October 5, 2011 at 5:49 pm

  16. Romy writes: “My interest is not to debate omni [miking] but voice a protest about the barbaric practice of insultingly-up-close positioning of microphones and consequentially use of many microphones to archive the read of entire orchestra.”

    I actually agree with you, but the practitioners of lots of mics include those champions of spaced omnis, who claim they use omnis in order to capture “space”, but then they do not use loudspeakers which mimic the operation of those mics. Look at all those mics hanging over the stage at Symphony Hall and Tanglewood. Then, listen — on a radio (I have the Cambridge Soundworks Model 88) and listen in mono as well as stereo. You hear the winds are louder and closer than the entire string ensemble; you hear massive cancellations of bass in mono; and, you’re never really sure where the instruments are.

    Facts are facts, and science is science. When I look directly at someone with my eyes, that’s because I point my eyes in the direction of the subject I’m interested in. When I take a picture of someone I look at, I point the camera lens at my subject. I think of microphones as sound cameras. I want clear-focus sound pictures of orchestra concerts.

    Here’s a long link I’d like you, Mark and anyone else to look at:

    Go to Google Images and type in the following phrase:

    shostakovitch symphony source:life

    and

    http://images.google.com/hosted/life/l?imgurl=dd843bd7dd1253a5

    exactly as I have typed it. There, you will find a slew of unpublished “Life” photos taken in NBC’s Studio 8H at Toscanini’s broadcast and final rehearsal for the American premiere of the Shostakovich Leningrad Symphony, on July 18/19, 1942.

    Note the mic placement: Three RCA 77s placed about five feet above and four feet behind Toscanini. One mic was the principal mic, and another was a spare. The third mic was for the South American feed.

    Toscanini’s photographer Robert Hupka told me 30 years ago that this use of a single mic (in fig-8 pattern) represented most faithfully the sound of Toscanini and the NBC Symphony as could be achieved in mono at that time. That technique was developed by Robert Johnston, and was later used by David Hall at Mercury, and by Richard Mohr at AT’s sessions in July/August 1952.

    (Here’s a picture of David Hall in 8H, with an unidentified woman:

    http://images.google.com/hosted/life/l?imgurl=776ce1dc15058478

    In March 1950, RCA held a session in 8H which used an Altec Lansing mic loaned to them by NBC SO violinist David Sarser. According to Sarser, they “went through the session like a dream”. RCA was so happy that they went out and bought TWO mics for the next session a short time later. At that later session, Toscanini said, “Was not as good as last time.”

    So, yes, there ARE musicians, music lovers and technicians who can indeed tell good, honest, scientifically accurate recordings from ones made by the dreamers and fantasists of the Church of the Sacred Spaced Omnis.

    dd

    Comment by Don Drewecki — October 6, 2011 at 10:16 am

  17. Here’s 8H with the audience being “warmed up” just before the broadcast. As you see, a single-point arrangement, about five feet above and four feet behind Toscanini.

    http://images.google.com/hosted/life/f?imgurl=372466e52f3c68a4

    dd

    Comment by Don Drewecki — October 6, 2011 at 11:14 am

  18. Here’s a few other single-mic photos you may find interesting. “Life” also took numerous photos in Symphony Hall in May 1949, at SK’s final concerts as MD of the BSO, plus a testimonial dinner, and a backstage reception. Most of them also have not been published, but “Life” scanned all of them in, and you’ll see an RCA 77 mic (plus a 44 off to the left, possibly for just this event) near the center and back a few rows:

    http://images.google.com/hosted/life/f?imgurl=868c7952ab5a724b

    and

    http://images.google.com/hosted/life/f?imgurl=5afa1a67cc3d6041

    I don’t know which network carried this, perhaps ABC, the former Blue Network.

    dd

    Comment by Don Drewecki — October 6, 2011 at 4:10 pm

  19. Thank you for the great article and for bringing attention to the exceptional work of the WGBH team, which has been broadcasting BSO performances week after week for 20 years!
    Please note the correction: The name of the sound engineer is Mr. James Donahue– not Donohue.

    Comment by Dina Vainshtein — October 7, 2011 at 9:49 am

  20. May I ask which of the above commentators have
    1) actually made a recent professional recording in a real space ?
    and if so,
    2) have done so more than once in the last few years ?

    and just to throw some fuel on the flames…

    Why should we even care about mono anymore ? Broadcaster must pay lip service to this archaic concept, and there are some wonderful performances captured in the technology of the day, but enough already.

    Comment by Lucifur — October 7, 2011 at 9:58 pm

  21. Lucifur, it is not about the fuel on flames but rather about the agenda you have on the subject. If you interests are in defending of status quo then it is what it is: keep enumerating recordings made, the CDs pressed, type of the mics used, vintage of the input tubes in microphone preamps, the quality of processors. I do not think that this is the subject however. The subject is that there is a celebrated orchestra for instance that regularly records, let say London Symphony, the orchestra that has worthy interpretations that are being committed to recordings. Still, the actual recordings that we (the consumers) get are despicable garbage. It is not about questioning of “professionalism” but face it, if good orchestral attempts and the recording staff’s “better intentions” do not produce better outcome then something in not right.

    Comment by Romy The Cat — October 8, 2011 at 10:03 am

  22. To Lucifur’s comments:
    I am a freelance recording engineer in the Albany/Schenectady/Troy area of upstate New York.  I have recorded about 150 concerts in the last 14 seasons, in the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, and the Memorial Chapel of Schenectady’s Union College.  My concert recordings have appeared on NPR/APM’s “Performance Today” approximately 175 times since 1995.  Artists I have recorded and broadcast include:
    Valery Gergiev and the Kirov Orchestra; Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (3 times); the Russian National Orchestra (twice); Odense Symphony Orchestra of Denmark; the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Osmo Vanska; Emanuel Ax (3 times); the Boston Camerata (12 times); Emerson String Quartet (12 times); Arnaldo Cohen (5 times); Yefim Bronfman (4 times) and others to numerous to mention. 
    Mono compatibility is extremely important because in mono that you etect comb-filtering effects — namely, the cancellations of frequencies due to wide discrepancies in arrival time differences.  If a recording does not sum well to mono, then it is not a scientifically accurate STEREO recording.
    The microphone I used for 13 seasons was serial #13 of the Calrec Soundfield MkIV microphone ensemble, the last hand-made SF mic made under the supervision of the original SF design team, including the legendary Michael Gerzon.  That microphone is a one-point surround mic that can both sum to stereo or mono, and yield a B-format signal that can yield actual, scientifically accurate surround sound, while at the same time allow for post-recording adjustments in the image, tilt and positioning of the microphone.

    Comment by Don Drewecki — October 10, 2011 at 1:04 pm

  23. Sorry for my finger-slips:
     
    “Mono compatibility is extremely important because in mono that you etect comb-filtering effects…”
     
    I mean, “…it is in mono that you detect comb-filtering effects…”  If a stereo recording does not sum well to mono, then it is not a good stereo recording.  Period.  The late Alan Blumlein understood this when he developed his system of stereo for the home, in the 1930s.  Physical reality is physical reality, and science is science.  Spaced-omni devotees deny the existence of both.

    Comment by Don Drewecki — October 10, 2011 at 1:31 pm

  24. [This is a repost from another thread, as I see I have responded to elements from both.]
     
    Hey let’s have a party!
     

    Here’s the sort of thing we used to do, decades ago, at my late The Listening Studio: Comparisons of many different kinds and modes of recording and their reproduction. While I had (and still have) only a two-channel system, it was a very good system, but even then the various participants exhibited a spectrum of opinion regarding the results, not unlike the above and on associated threads here. It became my settled view that most people like what they like.
     

    Myself, I’m not fond of “surround sound” and can mount a fair argument against it, as I know Romy can too, but there’s no accounting for sonic taste. I’ll go even farther and say that mono pleases me well, although I see no reason to play a native stereo recording in mono. And how about *this*? I claim that 78s (properly played) can reproduce certain instruments (think, cello and voice) more realistically than those tinkly LPs and edgy CDs. But how far do you think I get when discussing these matters with today’s recording engineers?
     

    It has been my privilege to fall into ownership of a small sampling of on-site BSO broadcast recordings from over the last six decades. (I do not refer to the official BSO box set, although that too is revealing.) Granted these are CDs, but well-transferred — and they quite marvelously demonstrate the changes that occurred over the broad interim. But one must listen with blinders of a sort on, as the music-making was so far superior in the olden days — and as I have always asserted, music is a damn distraction from audio.
     

    PS to Mark: Are you the Mark Fishman I used to know?

    Comment by Clark Johnsen — October 12, 2011 at 1:08 pm

  25. As a member in good standing of the “Church of the Sacred Spaced Omnis”, I would like to ask why so many of the recordings venerated today from the “golden age” of stereo are, in fact, spaced omnis? I’m thinking the RCA Living Stereo, Mercury Living Presence, Command Classics, etc., etc. And this is despite the fact that there are moments of overload on some of these recordings, especially the Living Stereos. Even within the last ten years, spaced omnis have produced outstanding recordings not only in stereo, but also in multi-channel: check out, if you can, the DVD-Audios recorded by Tatsuo Nishimura on his own Nishimura label, where he used five spaced omnis (one for each channel of a multi-channel set-up).
    In general, I have heard no other stereo recordings, except possibly for the Leinsdorf/LAPO Sheffield recordings from the 70’s, which can match the realism and coherence of the best of the RCA and Mercury recordings. I WILL say however that massively multiple microphoning has improved tremendously just in the last few years – I don’t know what they’re doing now, but multi-microphoning sure sounds a lot better today (on the most recent classical recordings) than it used to.
    Don – I would also be very interested in your recommendations of commercially available recordings recorded with the techniques you espouse. I’ve heard some single-point stereo recordings that are not very realistic at all IMHO (I won’t mention any names), and I wonder if you would be willing to share a few recommendations of what you consider to be well recorded classical orchestral recordings. TIA!

    Comment by Chris from Lafayette — October 12, 2011 at 2:47 pm

  26. For Chris in Lafayette:
     
    ” I would like to ask why so many of the recordings venerated today from the ‘golden age’ of stereo are, in fact, spaced omnis?” 
     
    There are none that I know of, because commercial recording engineers and producers want not precise images but a wash of sound, because that’s what impresses people.  People want wash, not clarity.  And when they get recordings that are truly clear, they don’t like it — sorta like genuinely natural food without the additives, which is why I quipped that spaced omni technique is the counterpart to high-fructose corn syrup.
     
    A lot of those Golden-Age recordings are not so golden to my ears.  In RCAs and Mercurys I hear hard-left and hard-right images with very little in the middle, and I can never truly tell where anything is. But if you walk into Symphony Hall or TSBMH, you don’t hear hard-left and hard-right with holes in the middle.
     
    Here’s another group of pictures, from 10 years ago:
     
    http://www.drewecki.dreamhosters.com/concerts/rno/index.html
     
    and especially this:
     
    http://www.drewecki.dreamhosters.com/concerts/rno/full/index.html#s19
     
    As you’ll see, I used only one mic.  I used it about four rows behind the conductor and about four feet above conductor Andrey Boreyko.  The result (which aired several times on NPR’s “Performance Today”) has stunned everyone who has heard it.  I can’t copy this for you due to legal reasons, obviously.  But my point is, spaced omni devotees are so emotionally insecure in their adherence to their one technique that they not only force listeners to hear how THEY do it, but they won’t even consider alternatives, even for just a few weeks.  That’s why I call it The Church of the Sacred Spaced Omnis — it’s a religious dogma that doesn’t allow for even the slightest intrusion of science and common sense.

    Comment by Don Drewecki — October 12, 2011 at 5:31 pm

  27. Let me rephrase this statement:
     
    For Chris in Lafayette:
     
    ” I would like to ask why so many of the recordings venerated today from the ‘golden age’ of stereo are, in fact, spaced omnis?” 
     
    There are none that I know of,”
     
    What I mean is, I am not aware of recordings that specifically trumpet the fact that they were done with coincident techniques — none that I have seen, at any rate.  But that’s true of 99.9% of all the orchestral recordings in history.  Almost never do you find specifics.  We know about spaced omnis on RCA and Mercury because of all the literature.  But that still doesn’t change the fact that these recordings are usually hard-left and hard-right, and if you listen on headphones you not only get nothing in the middle, but also odd, phasey effects — phasiness that you never hear in the live situation.
     
    If I could publish the 14 years’ worth of stuff I did with the SF mic, legally, I’d do so, to educate the critical listener as to what a truly coincident recording sounds like, as originally envisioned by the late Mr. Blumlein.

    Comment by Don Drewecki — October 12, 2011 at 6:02 pm

  28. For Don Drewecki:
     
    “There are none that I know of, because commercial recording engineers and producers want not precise images but a wash of sound, because that’s what impresses people. People want wash, not clarity. And when they get recordings that are truly clear, they don’t like it — sorta like genuinely natural food without the additives, which is why I quipped that spaced omni technique is the counterpart to high-fructose corn syrup.”
     
    I don’t agree that that’s what they want. Otherwise, why would most of them be using spot microphones all over the place? Because they want a wash of sound? Just the opposite it seems to me. Multi-microphoned recording, the ones typical of most commercial productions, have a smothered, artificial clarity that I’ve never heard in real life. (But as I’ve said before, the most recent multi-microphoned recordings seem to have found a way around this problem IMHO.)
     
    “A lot of those Golden-Age recordings are not so golden to my ears. In RCAs and Mercurys I hear hard-left and hard-right images with very little in the middle, and I can never truly tell where anything is.”
     
    I guess you and I are hearing different things. One thing I do not hear in the old RCA’s and Mercuries is a wash of sound with little in the middle. I would even describe some of the Mercuries as close and dry. I like to think that I’m open minded about microphoning techniques, so I want to be clear: are you saying that there are NO commercial stereo recordings that you can recommend from a microphoning point of view?

    Comment by Chris from Lafayette — October 12, 2011 at 7:00 pm

  29. Chris writes:
     
    “I guess you and I are hearing different things. One thing I do not hear in the old RCA’s and Mercuries is a wash of sound with little in the middle. I would even describe some of the Mercuries as close and dry.”
     
    Correct, that’s what I hear also, and yes, I prefer this to, say, any number of Argo or DG recordings from the 1970s and ’80s when the image is so washed with phase that you really get what a friend of mine calls “phase soup”.  Yup, the Dorati/Minneapolis recordings are very dry, and I like it that way, but I am not going to deceive myself that it presents an accurate range of instruments from left to right, with the winds seamlessly integrated into that stage dead-center.
     
    The thing about one-point arrangements is that the winds and horns _really are_ integrated into the soundstage, without the need for accent mics.  And yes, if you want to pin me down, I’d say, no, there are no commercial records out there that represent clear textures and an accurate rendering of the soundstage from left to right.  Not at least anything that I have heard.  But, then again, would you name a big label taping a big orchestra that goes out of its way to do anything in a technique other than spaced/accents?
     
    Last year, I bought at the Tanglewood Glass House two of the Levine/BSO Classics releases (Ravel Daphnis and Mozart Symphonies), in the hope that I would hear something really special. I didn’t.  It was the same thing I always hear in spaced-omnis:  Hard-left, hard-right, and instruments close/spot-miked in the middle.  This really distressed me because, in November 2007 I heard JL twice at SH — the Berg/Mahler 9 concert, then two weeks later, the Smetana Ma Vlast program.  Last year, I traveled out to hear the Rafael Fruhbeck concert with Rossini’s Stabat Mater.  On all three occasions, I sat on the main floor — at the Smetana I sat right on the center aisle, eight rows back — the most expensive seats in the house.  So, with these sounds fresh in my memory I expected to hear something like that — not an exact copy, of course, and winds a little less forward than I would expect in a recording.  

    But when I listened to these CDs at home and at length, I was really disappointed by what I heard.  Even after JL divided his violins (which makes things great for recording) I was still bothered by phasey effects in my head, and on speakers the image was anchored between the speakers but not beyond them, which is the effect I would get when using the SF mic in “full Blumlein.” 
     
    dd

    Comment by Don Drewecki — October 12, 2011 at 7:19 pm

  30. I am sure that everybody who is commenting here knows what he is talking about, and the differences between the various techniques may well be audible. Ideally, I suppose, what one hears from a recording or a broadcast is as close as possible to what one would hear in the concert hall, but …

    when CD’s were new, I annoyed several proponents of the new technology by suggesting that they were listening to the sound, but I preferred to listen to the music.

    Granted,there can be recordings or broadcasts which are so inadequate sonically (many early acoustical recordings, static-filled AM broadcasts) that one can’t readily listen to the music, but I think an ear can be too refined, or perhaps a refined ear can be too demanding.

    So keep up the efforts, guys, to give us faithful reproductions of the concert hall sound. But I hope you’re enjoying the music, and I hope you don’t interfere with others’ enjoyment by convincing them that what they hear from their speakers is no good. 

    Comment by Joe Whipple — October 12, 2011 at 7:38 pm

  31. Let me put together one overarching viewpoint:
     
    In his piece here on recording the BSO, John Newton points out that he uses omnis on all mics to establish his soundstage, with cardioids on various sections added when he feels he needs to.  And I replied that this isn’t genuine stereo because loudspeakers in the home are not omnidirectionals, and individual ears are not omnidirectional.  That’s physical fact.  That’s reality.  And I argued that the most accurate reproduction is when you try to establish a reciprocal relationship between mics and speakers — if, that is, sitting in your living room, you sit between speakers and listen pretty much the way Alan Blumlein devised this system in the 1930s.   Moreover, accent mics cause solos to pop out in ways that don’t exist in real life.
     
    So, it all depends on whether you want accuracy, or do you want “wash”/hard-left hard-right extremes.  I want accuracy, and am willing endure the “limitations” of conventional stereo,   Yes, to create an even more realistic experience, you will need additional directional mics and speakers in order to envelop yourself in an accurate reconstruction of the original environment — say, an Eigenmike or something like that.  But for now, I am more than happy to accept the “limitations” of conventional stereo.
     
    Moreover, I accept those “limitations” in the same way that I accept the limitations of rectangular photographs or television images in front of my eyes.  I know that they don’t envelop my entire field of vision, but that’s because I know that I’m looking at a reproduction.  Most of the time, I like reproductions.  But in orchestral recordings and broadcasts, I really, truly want to hear images that are sharply defined across the left-right spectrum because I know that’s how the players are laid out in the original performance space, and it bothers me that we don’t get this in the home perhaps 99% of the time, because pro-omni engineers and producers will not relax their religious zeal, even for a few weeks, and take a chance on something that has some science and logic behind it.
     
    Actually, Chris, I DO know of several recordings that please me by meeting my requirements for specific images and few spot mics — the 1955 EMI Guido Cantelli/Philharmonia Orchestra stereo recording of Brahms’s Third Symphony (reissued years ago on an EMI Great Recordings of the Century CD); the 1957 Karajan/Philharmonia Strauss Rosenkavalier, also on EMI; and the c. 1965 Bruckner Fourth with Otto Klemperer, again with the Philharmonia, again on EMI.  In the last, I hear what sounds like fake reverb added to the original sound (I had the original LP and never heard this before), but otherwise, it is outstanding, and both Cantelli and Klemperer divide their violins across the stage, as Toscanini did before them, and Levine after them.  Those three recordings are my benchmarks.

    Comment by Don Drewecki — October 12, 2011 at 7:47 pm

  32. Thanks, Don – now we’re talking. I’ll attempt to get hold of that Cantelli/Philharmonia Brahms Third. Also, I think I used to have that Klemperer/Philharmonia Bruckner Fourth on LP, but it’s been so long since I’ve heard it that I’ll need to rustle up a copy of that too.

    Comment by Chris from Lafayette — October 12, 2011 at 8:44 pm

  33. Joe Whipple, the premise of that ” faithful reproductions of the concert hall sound” is not truly lucid.  Let face it – there is no recording techniques and no playback that is able faithfully imitate live Sound. Sure there are many people who make ambitions and self-serving claims but they are ridicules. The reality is that a faithful reproductions of Sound is very much not the objective of “better playback Sound” and there is nothing worst then to “compare” live Sound with Sound of audio. I know, many contemporary audio professionals would consider the sentence above as heresy but they are unfortunately uninformed and are ill-equipped to deal with reality of Sound reproduction. Live Sound is live Sound. Playback sound is very different animal with own language, own mechanism of impacting and affecting listeners and own mechanism of conceiving and delivering musical metaphors. Sure is a lot of relation between live Sound and playback Sound but this relativity is much more complex  and intricate then the contemporary audio industry can handle.

    Comment by Romy the Cat — October 12, 2011 at 9:42 pm

  34. Romy Wrote:

         The reality is that a faithful reproductions of Sound is very much not the objective of “better playback Sound” and there is nothing worst then to “compare” live Sound with Sound of audio.

         Truer words have not yet been spoken in this thread, and it makes the whole discussion academic, if not moot, or even fetishistic. There is the sacred church of the spaced omni, and there is the sacred church of the antiphasiness.

         And there are the working recording engineers, who don’t have the luxury of obsessing in a single beautiful space for over a decade, but rather need to produce a musical result wherever their clients may perform.

         I am one of those, and have been for ~40 years, with numerous broadcasts and commercial CDs to my credit. I have used the Soundfield. I have used Coles’ ribbons in Blumlein. I have used Sennheiser mkh800s in all their various patterns, and many other well known tools of our trade.

         I have recorded concerts scaling from 2 mics to typically 12 (for chorus & orchestra) and occasionally 48, in a dozen venues around Boston. One uses what one has learned, for each space and each ensemble.
         I have also run parallel Blumlein recordings when possible in suitable venues, and offered them to the client. For large ensemble, chorus, & soloists, they invariably prefer the multi-mic mix. 

         My clients are musicians; they vote with their checkbooks; and I am pleased to still be working.


     

    Comment by Lucifur — October 12, 2011 at 11:53 pm

  35. Lucifur writes: ” I have also run parallel Blumlein recordings when possible in suitable venues, and offered them to the client. For large ensemble, chorus, & soloists, they invariably prefer the multi-mic mix.”
     
    In my recordings at Union College and TSBMH, I had an incredible run of luck over the course of 13 or 14 years with the SF mic, which included over 150 airdates on “Performance Today”.  My bad luck has been with separate mics, and my successor engineer at those venues — who uses omnis much of the time — has had no approvals for the Union series and almost nothing for Troy Chromatic Concerts.  So, my experiences have been considerably different than yours and his.  In my own case, the chamber orchestra ECCO performed at Union several years ago for the first time, and I used the SF mic.  They were astounded by the sound.  A year or so later, after someone in my crew dropped the mic 12 feet and destroyed it, I wound up using a pair of AKG 414s, and I tried to approximate the position and height and angle as best I could.  Several weeks later, I got a phone call from the leader of the group, heartbroken that this second concert tape was nowhere as good as the first. 
     
    Perhaps I could chalk it up to the fact the SF I used for years was hand-made and -calibrated in England in the early 1980s by the original design team, and later SFs turned out to be crap, which friends in the know have assured is the result of the current SF manufacturer failing to understand the math involved, in things like the front-to-back ratio of the four capsules.
     
    Romy writes:  “there is nothing worst then to “compare” live Sound with Sound of audio.”  Huh?  Didn’t you deplore go all those extra mics used by the BSO’s current broadcast crew, and in commercial recoding studios?  Was I wrong in inferring that you despised all those mics because it made the BSO sound different and artificial?  Or am I misunderstanding something?
     
    What bothers me is that in Boston, Massachusetts — College-Town, Science Town, Radio Town, Arts Town and BSO Town — no attempt is ever made in actual, live radio relays of one of the Big Five American orchestras, to conduct some real science occasionally, through the use of different mic placements, and then explain those placements for critical listeners to evaluate.  No chance at all.  Throughout the U.S., it’s Omnis Now, Omnis Always, Omnis Forever.  It’s a crying shame that when you have a great orchestra and a great hall, no experiments are carried out by people who call themselves professionals, in the interests of science.  What a loss, for science, for music and for home audio reproduction.

    Comment by Don Drewecki — October 13, 2011 at 9:20 am

  36. *** Was I wrong in inferring that you despised all those mics because it made the BSO sound different and artificial?  Or am I misunderstanding something?
    Yes, I would propose that your “misunderstanding” derives from confusion between reasons and consequences.  I did pontificate that live sound and recorded sound are different species, with different mechanisms of interaction between sonic events and human consciousness. Let me to give you my association of your confusion and you do your own homework of thinking if you’re interested on the subject.

    Pretend that I cooked a soup.  You tasted my soup, you liked it and you would like to make the same soup yourself but you do not know how I made my soup. You might cook your own soup, using your own ingredients, your own cooking methods, your own cooking experience; trying to imitate the sensations you had while you tasted my soup. Alternatively you might recognize in my soup some pink vegetables and as result you will use any pink vegetables you know, presuming that the use the ingredients of the same color would assure the identical final taste.  

    Comment by Romy The Cat — October 13, 2011 at 11:41 am

  37. Romy writes: “Pretend that I cook a soup…”
     
    My immediate answer would be:  If it tastes the same, it probably is the same. 
     
    My long-term answer would be to go back and taste the original soup again, try to copy it, and see what the second result is.  Then I’d go back a third time to your original, and check that against my soup.  If the differences are strong, then I’d ask how you did it.  If the differences are minor, I probably wouldn’t.
     
    In audio, I care so much about these matters that I would A/B something five, six, seven times so as to attain greater clarity as to how my experiences are attained.  I would definitely try to understand, because that’s just the way my tastes work — I want to understand why something happens that I like, and another thing happens that I don’t like.  What do I hear, how do I hear it, and why.
     
    Relating this to spaced omni microphoning and to the live experience, I’d say that I want clarity in my recordings, accurate placement of instruments, and a sense of left-to-right continuity.  If I hear a little less of the hall, it probably won’t bother me.  In other words, my experience with the SF mic and others has trained me to notice things that others might not, and then to articulate my reactions as carefully as possible.  And I liken one-point technque to clear-focus photography, a camera on a steady tripod, and a well-lit setting, taking very sharp pictures.  I guess that’s what I want, and justify my analogy because we all want to see things in clear focus all the time.  if you shoot stuff in soft focus, it may be artistic, but it’s not real.  Moreover, as we see on TV today, there are so many dimly lit sets, soft focus cinematography, washed-out color and unsteady cameras on Steadicams that the concept becomes cliche.
     
    That’s one reason why I object to The Church of the Sacred Spaced Omnis — they have made one style of miking into a cliche.

    Comment by Don Drewecki — October 13, 2011 at 12:17 pm

  38. It’s time I suppose for me to say this: No recording or sound reproduction can be properly assessed without due attention paid to getting the acoustic polarity correct. Half the time when I’m present at a demonstration or evaluation (or at a studio playback) I discern that the music is opposite of what’s correct, which inevitably affects the decisions being made. (If someone doesn’t know what I’m talking about, then I’d be glad to explain — polarity is one of my main hobbyhorses.) Establishing correct polarity is the sine qua non of right practice in audio… and it’s free!

    Comment by Clark Johnsen — October 13, 2011 at 2:15 pm

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