More ramblings and incoherent musings from Stuart; this time he questions why we aren’t all listening to pro monitors and pro amplifiers and finishes off with a mixed case of reds for good measure.View_MFA_Spons

For the last few weeks my bedtime reading has been Howard Massey’s excellent book “The Great British Recording Studios” which goes into loads of detail about individual studios from the fifties onwards, detailing howthey were acoustically designed and treated, the kind of mixing desks they use, the monitors they use, the microphones and outboard they use… let’s just say it is very comprehensive. Reading the book and musing how the different gear used in studios would affect the final records we get to listen to, something struck me.704701_s

Pretty much exclusively the monitors used in all the studios discussed were either Tannoy Reds/Golds in Lockwood cabinets or JBLs fed with Crown or Amcron amps… in earlier studios and before the days of solid state circuitry amps were valve/tube Quads and Radfords. Everything went through the main desk to the multitrack tape recorder and then to two track tape (predominantly Studer A80s or similar) before being sent to the cutting room where a lathe would make a master disc. The engineers and producers know the sound they are looking for, much of which was accomplished with various mic’ing techniques, outboard gear, the recording room’s acoustic etc, but the common denominators in all of this were the amps and the chosen monitors. So here’s the question; if we as music lovers, and specifically as audiophiles (yes there is a difference), are looking to get to as near a sonic experience as the producer created in the studio, then why aren’t we all using pro-amps and Tannoy/JBLs being fed by huge tape machines playing direct from master copies? I’m obviously talking here of the pre-digital age!

The final bit of that question is pretty straightforward to answer; studio quality, professional tape machines are expensive to buy and tricky to keep in perfect playing order and, unless you know someone behind the scenes, copies direct from the master recording are rarer than the proverbial rocking horse crap. Yes there are a growing number of specialist reel 2 reel companies providing pre-recorded tapes direct from masters, but the vast majority of popular albums will remain unobtainable to the masses in this format.Views_Music_First

The first part of the question is a bit trickier to pin down. I’ve mulled this over a good deal and, if we look at this in logical terms, any person looking to get as close to the original recording as possible will want to have the aforementioned loudspeakers and amplifiers in their home…surely! But it’s not quite as simple as that is it? We all have different rooms with different acoustics and, more importantly I’d suggest, we all have different preferences in the way we like to have our music presented to us. I’ve spent enough time in studios over the years to know that the sound produced in there is not going to please the vast majority of people long term and in a domestic environment.

In short, and in my opinion, the vast majority of audiophiles are not trying to get as close to the original recording as possible, they are trying to get as close as possible to the kind of sound they prefer, in their own space. For example, I use the Avantgarde Duo XD loudspeakers, and whilst they sound absolutely stunning, dynamic and “clean” I know that what is coming out of them is not an absolutely true representation of what the producer heard in the studio. As a bit of an experiment, if you are able, play a few tunes on your current preferred speakers and then swap them out for a different pair. The sound will be completely different of course, but which version of reality is correct? The answer in short is neither is either totally correct, nor entirely wrong. The only thing that is “right” is what you the listener prefers, and what you favour will depend on a whole host of factors. Some will have a preference for a slightly rolled off sound at the top end, some will choose a more in your face presentation, other may favour a less detailed sound… you could go on and on.

I suppose what we’re getting to in the final analysis here is that what comes into play in the home listening environment is TASTE. Yes, it is pretty obvious to anyone with any experience of different gear that there are clearly good products and others that are, let’s be kind here, less good components, but take a series of what are widely regarded as “good” components and within that group you’ll have a host of different flavours to cater to a host of different tastes. We see it all the time at shows and on social media where one group of people will declare a love of all things valve/tube powered, whilst others will say that the only way to the “panacea” of “straight wire with gain” is solid state and that the tubeheads are actually reacting to (and preferring) the sound of odd-order harmonics. Some will prefer a BBC monitor style speaker, others horns, others open baffles…we could go on and on and on an on…

So Who Is Right?

No one is correct and everyone is right, which I suppose could be seen as a bit of a cop out, but if we look at an “everyday” analogy it soon becomes clear that this is the only conclusion one can make. *Take a dozen bottles of what are widely regarded as being good red wines and sit with friends and taste them over the period of an evening. I pretty much guarantee that everyone in the room will be able to appreciate that each of the fine beverages on offer has its merits, but different folks will prefer different grapes, different appellations, different terroir, each of which gives a unique nuance to the wine in our glass …and so it is with audio. We all prefer different things in life and the way we listen to music is no exception and all I can say is vive la difference!

*Drink in moderation of course!

Stuart SmithViews_Music_First




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