In a recent edition of my newsletter, I mentioned that I am something of a fanatic about sound recording, from the instruments used to the recording equipment itself to mixing and mastering. The loudness war in recording has brought me a great deal of misery, and I am always looking for beautifully recorded music that maintains dynamic range and has a feel of spaciousness and openness.
I read somewhere that Paul McCartney’s new home-made album is really good, so I gave it a listen, and it’s … okay, I guess. None of the songs especially stood out to me — but what did stand out is the quality of the recording. It’s fantastic — something evident from the opening song, the mostly-instrumental “Long-Tailed Winter Bird.” So I was especially pleased to discover this interview with Paul’s sound engineers describing the recording process. Fascinating stuff, though rather geeky at times.
By contrast, while I love the songs on new Fleet Foxes record, Shore, I absolutely despise its sound — an opinion shared by other Fleet Foxes fans, though in that thread Robin Pecknold himself says that they did two different masters and released the less compressed, more dynamic one. If so, I do not want to hear the one they rejected.
All this makes me think that we are overdue for a music service — probably an expensive one — that has a built-in mixing desk. I would love to be able to take a song that I like and reshape the sound — maybe even, ideally, strip out unwanted instrumentation. Call it ReMIXD. Or UMaster. Whatever. (Yes, I know those names are used for other things.) I want it. Technically it would be extremely difficult, of course — the size of the necessary audio files alone would make it a daunting prospect. Nevertheless: I want it. I want to be like George Martin sitting down with Brian Wilson and remixing “God Only Knows” right on the spot.
By the way, I do not have an audiophile-grade sound system. You can get exceptional sound quality these days at reasonable prices, especially if you look for deals. My system:
- Denon PMA–60 integrated amp
- NAD C 538 CD player
- Polk Audio S20 Speakers
- Bang & Olufson Beoplay Hi9 headphones, played not using Bluetooth — because Bluetooth is a terrible technology — but plugged in to my Denon amp or into my computer via my Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS Portable USB DAC Amp
I got all those items for well below retail (the headphones at half price). Nothing too fancy, and a true audiophile would sneer in contempt, but it’s a great setup for me.