Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s PC vs Mac all over again. This has been a bugbear of mine for years. I’ll come on to that, but for now, here’s a link to an LA Times article by Chris Kornelis that I think does a really good job at talking about this issue, including some lesser-known history:
Go and read the article. It’s actually pretty good.
I’ve talked about this previously elsewhere, most recently on Quora. For the can’t-bother-to-click-challenged, here’s a cut & paste of the text of my reply:
You are actually asking the wrong question. You should really be asking which of vinyl or digital formats have the best mastering engineers. From experience, that would be the vinyl. They have to be, mostly because vinyl is actually pretty awful by default. It has relatively poor dynamic range, poor stereo separation, difficulties representing low frequencies accurately, the list goes on. If the engineer gets it wrong when cutting the master, the stylus on a record player can distort or even completely jump out of a groove. They have to match the track spacing to the amount of bass signal, or adjacent tracks bleed into each other. Signal to noise ratio isn’t particularly good either — it’s a little better than consumer/prosumer tape, but nowhere near as good as half inch 30ips, and nowhere even vaguely close to 24 bit digital. Contrary to what another poster said, phase response is weird going on awful because of the precompensation filtering that is necessary to get any bass response at all. On the other hand, most digital formats have pretty good phase response, an essentially completely flat frequency response and if you are using decent equipment, very little coloration of any kind. Technically, any way you compare the formats, digital wins by a huge margin. So why does vinyl often sound better, with better stereo imaging, warmer livelier sound? Quite simply because mastering for digital does not require anything like the skill of mastering for vinyl. A really good mastering engineer can turn a good mix into something that sounds truly amazing — there are mastering engineers who can do digital really well, but they are rare. Vinyl mastering engineers, in many cases, are true masters of their art, no pun intended.
It was interesting seeing the reference to Bob Clearmountain complaining of the awfulness of vinyl, back in the day. My own experience was pretty similar to his — I remember having to tweak and tweak and tweak on mixes to keep bass under control. I’d start with something earthshaking in the studio’s control room, but end up sending out a master that was at best describable as polite. It’s fascinating, now, seeing that CD is essentially in its death throes as a format with vinyl doing better and better numbers year on year. I wouldn’t rule out doing vinyl again, but, do I have to? Really? Such a pain in the ass!
One modifier on this: I’m really talking about uncompressed digital formats here. Though higher bit rate MP3 and MP3-like formats sound fine to me, lower bit rate MP3 encodings can sound really, really bad on some material. The acid test is something with sharp clicks — low bit rate MP3 renders them as really brief farts. Pff! Pff! Or sometimes ffP! ffP! ffP!, which can be a little more distracting.
In other news, I just picked up (very cheaply via eBay) an Akai MPC 1000 drum machine. I knew it had some issues, but it looks like I’ll need to do a pretty extensive refurb on it to get it going. It’s missing a fader knob, has a damaged switch (which still works, but is wonky), another that is sticky like someone spilled something into it, and seemingly most of the pads are either dead or so worn that I just about have to karate-punch them to get them to respond. Thanks to mpcstuff.com, I have a replacement pad sensor board, a set of replacement pads (modified to be more sensitive than standard), a replacement switch assembly for the broken one, and a couple of replacement fader knobs on the way. I also have (from elsewhere) a RAM upgrade on the way, and will probably put JJOS on it. The other thing that just showed up is a JL Cooper SMPTE linear timecode sync box, so I’ll most likely be trying that out over the weekend. My quest for timing that doesn’t suck continues!
PS: Yes, it’s my birthday today. And International Talk Like a Pirate day. Y’arr, maties!
Please note: this was cross-posted from my main blog at http://www.mageofmachines.com/main/
#Electronics, #Mastering, #MoMBlog, #Recording