Dave's enthusiasm for the Neve and analog recording in general really opened my eyes.
Euphony and accuracy are quite different. Euphony derives from nonlinearity.
These are not cherished for their accuracy. They're built to sound good, For this reason most of the best sounding records still make very heavy use of analog signal path.
I've been recording since the earliest days of DAWs. Yes you can do amazingly good things with a computer, but it is still not possible to build digital devices that "sound as good" IMO. After 15 years of living "in the box" as a mix engineer, waiting for modeling to catch up to hardware, I finally broke down when I realized that the best mix engines still don't compete with the best analog devices. Since that time I've become a convert.
For editing, accuracy, durability, price/performance, and maximum dynamic range through the mix bus, digital is king. If I were recording a symphonic orchestra I would absolutely use an all-digital signal path.
But if I want to make an expressive album like Dark Side of the Moon, I want to stick as much analog in the path as I can fit.
Why try to model chaos, when there's an old box stuffed with tubes and a zillion other nonlinear components?
Nobody - almost - builds devices like these anymore. It comes from the Golden Age, when engineers had different priorities, and the difference is palpable.
One of the relevant quotes:
Q: Is everything recorded live?
D: Yeah, everything is live. It is pretty much all from takes one, two or three. Very few mixes. This is the first record we've done that Stephen Marcussen [our mastering engineer] listened to and said, "Okay, Let's transfer it." We didn't compress or EQ anything. Just transferred it from a machine of his that we really like, through the nice converters and a clean signal chain.
In my more limited experience having a minimalist workflow can have benefits that stray way beyond sonic purity: it encourages discipline and allows you to concentrate on the task at hand . The minutiae of your workflow are less important than simply having one.
All that I can say is that Water Lily records sound amazing if you never listened I recommend then highly.
"If it sounds good, it is good."
There is no one right way to make a record.
The big reason working with hardware like this produces unique results is more about the layout and workflow than the tech inside the machine. The workflow makes the sound. The lack of automation forces you to make choices. Forces your hand, literally. The sound is in the physical design.
Another example is the MPC sampler, which has a workflow that can be heard in hip hop music. Of course software samplers can do everything the MPC can do, and more, but you can hear the signature sound of someone working on an MPC.
You raise an excellent point here. A full-blown DAW is practically without limits: hundreds of tracks, unlimited effects on every track, any signal chain is possible.
But making art is about working within constraints. Most of the best art derives from the constraints as much - or more - as the capabilities of the devices or instruments used.
However there is a technical reason why these devices do sound different, and that is that they all impart euphonic distortion. Bass sounds "bigger." Treble sounds "clearer." Mixed tracks "glue together." Vocals "pop out." A sense of "depth of field" may be imparted. Technically speaking this is all "distortion" of the original signal.
Digital advocates are quick to point out that all of those phenomena can be perfectly modelled in the box. We have convolution reverbs and tube amp models and emulation that can be scientifically proven to match the analog gear.
By point is, you _can_ do all that, but will you? You have a world of possibilities, and so the likelihood when working with a digital / software workflow is that you'll stick to the relative strengths of that setup.
Another thing to note about the hardware console interface is the nature of a classic design. Consoles like the Neve or SSL are familiar to engineers, they are instruments with a hand feel. A recording or mixing engineer can go into a studio and get similar results from similar gear. The listeners ear can pick up a je ne cest pas familiarity from it, what you call "good sound" in another comment, without quote knowing what they're hearing. The same way the Telecaster just "sounds good". It's not better, it's just familiar. Digital workstations are all different and don't achieve the same familiar sound.
How you gonna model the interaction between a microphone and the preamp load it's driving, and the compressor that's driving, and the EQ it's driving, and the nonlinear summing bus that's feeding, when all of these are interacting in a live signal chain, and all entering various forms of nonlinear behavior based on the age of components, their tolerances which vary from box to box, heat, etc? It might be theoretically possible, but past a certain point, to model these devices requires modeling physics at the materials level. In point of fact most digital "simulations" of these sorts of devices are not simulations at all, but approximations that impart similar EQ, dynamics, and harmonic distortion.
I'm a dev by trade, been doing audio for decades too. I used to believe this was all modellable too. I think there's a tendency for people who are strong in digital signal processing but naive to what these devices are really doing to the signal to be overconfident in our ability to simulate them in realtime.
You can definitely achieve a reasonable facsimile! But if you want the sound of this console then you're going to have to make one or buy one.
I've probably been doing this stuff as long as you have, and I'm not actually sure where that point is any more.
I actually hate the sound of most of the Beatles albums. I think they sound crap by modern standards - tinny, rattly, clogged-up, mid-heavy mixes with no deep bass.
Put them up against a modern trance single mixed ITB and the latter sounds huge, dynamic, cinematic, and infinitely more polished.
Which is better? It depends...
The Pink Floyd albums hit a sweet spot by being musically ground breaking while also being the first examples of hifi multitrack recording in its modern form.
Now I tend to think ITB is fine for electronica and dance, because sometimes you want polish and a slightly unreal shine. But for rock, country and maybe even hiphop the older hardware is going to give you more character, bite, and depth.
Ultimately they're just colours you can use. If you have talent, it doesn't matter if you mix ITB or not.
If you don't, it doesn't matter either.
Of course the whole point of bands like the Beatles was that they stood "engineering" on its head, as it was understood at the time (actual scientists wearing actual lab coats attempting to capture sound as accurately as possible).
EMI engineers making classical records were trying to create photographic style recordings. The early Beatles records sound, mostly, like you're standing at the Cavern club in front of a late-1950s sound reinforcement system. Photographic.
The Beatles helped to change the idea of making "photographic" records into making records like painting on canvas. Together with the other influential artists of the time (Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, Mike Oldfield, etc) they transformed modern music.
>Put them up against a modern trance single mixed ITB and the latter sounds huge, dynamic, cinematic, and infinitely more polished.
>Which is better? It depends...
I think you make my point here.
If I were making a Crystal Method record, of course I would use a different signal chain that if I were making a Dawes record.
That's the whole point.
I agree, and I found the 2009 re-releases to be incredibly disappointing given that they didn't even do the most basic repair work on the most obvious glitches and errors. They were marketed as some major improvement, but in reality were a new remastering only. Removing half of a dog turd from my cup of coffee doesn't improve the coffee.
What did you think of the 2015 stereo mixes? (Only on the 2015 re-re-release of "1", unfortunately. If they released a complete box set of new mixes redone in the same fashion, I'd be first in line. And I'm not even a big Beatles fan.)
Technically speaking this is all "distortion" of the original signal.
You can see it - very clearly - using a lab-quality audio signal analyser from a company like Audio Precision.
And a popular way to model it is with a DSP technique called a Volterra series.
You may want to consider that impolite words are also used about people who consider themselves very knowledgeable about domains where they show no evidence of understanding the fundamentals.
However, the reason some of the classic records sound amazing today is because they cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to make, in a time when hundreds of thousands of dollars was a lot of money. This is reflected in the rooms where they recorded. The quality of the studio itself is every bit as important, maybe even more important, than the equipment within it.
When recording live musicians, a bad room literally cannot be overcome with good equipment. And, thus, simulating a great room with equipment is harder than simulating a great console, or a great EQ, or a great compressor. Digitally removing the room "badness" and putting in "goodness" isn't something that people have even really tried.
Records made at Abbey Road studios sounded great because the room sounded great, the microphones sounded great, the board sounded great, the EQs and compressors sounded great, and, the musicians sounded great playing through their great sounding instruments. They had everything working in their favor, and that moment of everything coming together nicely was captured by excellent engineers.
So...the reason most records don't sound as good as Dark Side of the Moon is not merely that there aren't a lot of consoles comparable to this one. You could probably find something that would be a sufficient substitute (and maybe even a laptop with a very good AD/DA could substitute for much of the equipment in a studio). But, any mediocre piece in the chain, starting with the musicians and the room they're playing in, will make a mediocre recording.
Pink Floyd, a very talented bunch of musicians and songwriters, had a massive budget, a truly inspired bunch of songs, and a lucky bunch of connections in the industry to get them the best people and the best gear all in the best studio in the world, and the result is a classic that sounds better (by some definition of "better") than 95+% of big budget records even made today. There have been similarly high quality recordings made, but it's rare...and I don't think a specific set of equipment can do it (after all, lots of other records were recorded in the very same studio and didn't sound that amazing). A lot of stuff has to come together for it to work out that way.
Jim Morrison’s Bathroom Vocals On “LA Woman” At The Doors Workshop
There have been some great records made in weird places, including some of my favorites. The Band recorded Songs From Big Pink in a big old pink house in Woodstock, NY. Springsteen's Nebraska was a super cheap home recording; effectively a demo. The Rolling Stones Exile on Main Street was recorded in a mansion in France. Radiohead recorded OK Computer in an old house (and that's a great sounding record, though not as good as The Bends that preceded it).
Many of my very favorite records are 80s punk rock records, and nearly all were recorded in extremely suboptimal conditions (nearly all engineered by a guy named "Spot").
All that said, it's clear when a recording is of the caliber of Dark Side of the Moon and it's extremely rare. It doesn't mean we can't love less amazing recordings. Just that there is an artistry and science to audio recording, on top of the artistry of the music being recorded. And, it's usually a major undertaking to achieve something like DSOTM. The pantheon of god tier records, where literally everything came together in a near-perfect work, is pretty small. I'd probably include some of the following (for reference): Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, The Beatles' Abbey Road, Peter Gabriel's So, Bjork Post, Michael Jackson's Thriller, The Flaming Lips' The Soft Bulletin, Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, Steely Dan's Aja, Outkast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. There's more, of course, and it's debatable what qualifies...the more live instruments and musicians on the record, the harder it is to make it perfect, but all of those are worth a listen for their production qualities alone, IMHO.
Most impressive may be artists that make amazing sounding records with very limited resources. Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago is perhaps the archetypal example of this. Recorded in a cabin by one dude with very limited equipment, but it sounds incredible and holds up very well to repeated listens.
I could ramble for days about production quality and my favorite records...
Well, yeah. I went to college for audio recording, and worked professionally in the field, in television and in recording studios, for several years. It's been a hobby of mine for most of my life, and I've always had a pretty competent home studio and I pay attention to the industry even today.
Isn't the EQ, preamps and compression I get a product of the design of that unit? How is that not a technical reason?
Why are there Neve plugins based on the classic 1073 EQs and Preamps if there is nothing technical about why a Neve sounds like a Neve?
If this was the case I could I just artificially constrain my workflow and get the same recording as I would from a Neve.
I made concessions about the technical details you're asking about in my post, you chose not to quote that part.
>"The big reason working with hardware like this produces unique results is more about the layout and workflow than the tech inside the machine."
That seems like a clear statement that you believe the technical details have very little to do with the sound.
If you really want to try those famous consoles, i'd recommend Sound Toys' "decapitator" plugin.
Artists use the most advanced measurement devices in the world: a binaural listening device connected to the world's most advanced neural net. The neural net is the best part.
Sorry. There is much more to sound than frequency response, dynamic range, phase shift, and total harmonic distortion -- and moreover, the "optimum" amount of each of these is not fixed, but depends entirely on the material and the taste of the engineer & producer.
You can get great sound "in the box," don't get me wrong, but ultimately there is, as yet, no substitute for the real thing. A saturation plugin is nowhere close.
To accurately simulate this device, you would have to practically simulate at the molecular level.
No, you are wrong on all accounts. A laptop can not produce a pure analog recording, an AAA LP. Also vintage analog consoles are actually quite coveted by recording engineers either for use as whole desks or for parts like the pots, EQs, side cars, etc. The people that designed this gear were highly skilled craftsmen.
Here's a guide to some of the more coveted and collectible analog desks:
Additionally there has been a resurgence in analog recording and studios for some time now:
What gets overlooked, though, is that analog gear often sounds more pleasing because some kinds of distortion sound subjectively "good" to our ears.
The easiest example is electric guitars. They are full of (intentionally introduced) distortion and (when everything is set up and played well) they sound freaking awesome. We all know this, right?
We also know that most distortion sounds bad -- when your mp3 is corrupted, or when you're using the headphone output of a crappy laptop with a bunch of random noise.
So that tells us what? Some distortion sounds good, some sounds bad.
Clipping and random noise are forms of distortion that sound bad, generally, unless you're intentionally going for some kind of glitches-out sound like some artists do.
Some distortion sounds pleasing through, just like our electric guitar example. Second-order harmonic distortion (and other even-order distortion) often sounds good to us. Second order distortion introduces distortion that is exactly one octave higher and one octave lower than the fundamental frequency of the note being played. It's basically a "chorus" effect and it can be very pleasing and musical.
This is why tube amplification can be very enjoyable. Objectively, it's shit. Subjectively, it can sound nice, because most of the distortion is second-order harmonic distortion.
I don't know what kind of technology exists inside this console, but just know that accuracy is not always the highest goal of art. It's why we have paintings instead of photographs, and why movies have dramatic lighting inside of just clinically lighting everything like it was the inside of an operating room.
Or, just use your ears. Because Dark Side of the Moon sounds as good as any album you've heard in your life, and significantly better than most.
One can argue offcourse if it's over the top, but let's be honest, most producers only use 5% off any vst in their lifetime and some don't even venture away from stock presets. For most producers that one sound out off thousand redundant ones is enough.
I think engineer-types like us (meaning all of Hacker News) have a completely understandable knee-jerk reaction against anything "audiophile" that involves anything less than cold, hard numbers.
And actually, most of the time, that knee-jerk reaction is correct. Snake-oil audio cables, "high-def audio" for end users, etc etc etc... there is so much that should be repeatedly and forcefully rejected.
It's not on anything like this scale, but I recently acquired (sort of by accident) a Revox A700 reel-to-reel tape deck from the mid-1970s. Even though it works, it could be the most useless object I've ever possessed. It only does one thing (I guess two if you count recording and playback separately) and that thing can be done with higher fidelity by a free smartphone app. It weighs 25kg, draws a lot of power, is fiddly to use, and is probably one of the most complex pieces of consumer electronics ever made in terms of the number of distinct components it contains that can fail. What is the purpose of it, today?
A console like this? It's probably going to end up as the centerpiece of someone's collection, much like Nathan Myhrvold's Difference Engine. It'll be well loved, admired, but rarely if ever actually used. I'd love to be proven wrong though, and have it end up being used as a console for a boutique studio for its unique sound. There's a ton of studio equipment that's kept around "just in case" because sometimes what you're working on calls for something out of the ordinary.
I can see someone like Wayne Coyne buying it and getting plenty of use out of it, but I'm not sure if he's got quite "fuck you money" enough to pay the inevitable selling price.
Besides, this thing was used with tapes. Editing when you use tape is an entirely different thing than doing it digitally. It involves cutting, taping, scraping and edits are destructive. Not to mention that you didn't have unlimited tracks on a tape.
"If it sounds good, it is good." - Joe Meek
The problem is thinking that this is either/or. I use a 48 channel ProTools HD system married to gear that's largely 40-70 years old. Best of both worlds.
At the end of the day, you always need a mic pre. And they're often a big part of what people love about these old consoles.
On the recording side, I'd argue that a DAW is more akin to the tape machine than the console. Preamps are important, and computers don't have 'em.