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Artificial reverberation


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I wonder if others find some modern recordings tend to be far too dry (devoid of 'presence' and room ambience)?  On the whole, older ones seem not to suffer from the problem as much if my CD collection (built up since the 1980s) is anything to go by.  I realise such opinions are purely subjective, but it might be relevant that in the past some recordings made in the studio or wherever were then replayed into large buildings, with the final master then being made from the sound picked up by microphones.  This isn't done today because high quality artificial (electronic) ambience can be added so easily, thus it would inflate the cost (and reduce the profit margins) overmuch.  But is ambience augmentation actually done at all today for 'classical' recordings, electronics notwithstanding, or is the current ethos not to meddle with the sound as recorded, thus leading to the question posed above?

Anyway, I have an artificial reverberation box (i.e. hardware not software) incorporated in one of my hi-fi systems on which knobs can be twiddled to add any amount of ambience representing a wide range of 'rooms' to anything I happen to be listening to.  It can add a wonderful spaciousness to piano or harpsichord recordings for example, and bring out an expansive warmth to string quartets which simply isn't there on the original recording.  For organ music similar remarks apply, especially when the recording was done using close-miking.  However I find that one has to be careful not to overdo it with the organ, because excessive emphasis of particular frequencies can arise with the sustained tones of the instrument which is (subjectively) less of a problem with the transient sounds of the other sources mentioned. - although you can usually get round this by simply choosing another 'room' on the reverb unit to suit the particular recording.

I'm writing this listening to Ashkenazy playing Chopin with added ambience and, as always, it's mind-blowing.  But I find returning to the original recording on this CD is most disappointing, almost as though one is listening to a microphone dangled just above the strings with the piano in an anechoic chamber! 

If you want to try it without spending too much, older digital reverb units can readily be obtained but, even so, they are far from cheap considering they can be over 30 years old!  The Alesis Microverb models I, II or III hail from that era but sellers on ebay nevertheless seem to want a good price in the three figures for them - excessive to my mind.  But I mention these because I have many of them knocking around and have used them a lot, and they will certainly give a feel for what a more modern system could do before you decide to shell out even more.

I know some forum members have experience of professional recording, so I wonder what their opinions might be?

 

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reverb added, whether the best (imho) in that Briscati or the many cheaper ones, is just one of those "modern" things that is expected. I know all the 100's of "very amateur" organ solo recordings I have done, have purely relied on finding the "sweet spot" and putting a stereo pair in that spot, and making sure they are omni directional if using multi pattern mics(AKG 414) and hit the record button

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Engineers and critics alike have for many decades preferred "clarity" over "naturalness" or realism.  This is why I generally prefer my own recordings (some of which have been commercial) to those of others.

I use a single-point surround microphone (key word: ambisonics).  Because realism in playback is limited if a full 3D playback system is not available (I don't have one, but do have horizontal surround in a symmetrical format - not cinema layout), I often make binaural files using my own HRTF to play back over headphones.  But in this case the best realism requires head tracking to keep the reproduced sound stable in position as the listener's head moves, and again I don't have adequate hardware for that.

The trouble is that without full surround, the choice is between having recorded reverberation included from the same direction as the musicians (which muddles the image) or simply reducing it (which makes the acoustic unrealistic).  Adding reverberation in playback is no more realistic, but may be a useful compromise in some situations; again, it works best if not limited to a stereo pair of speakers in front.

Paul

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Hi

The reverb questions is really do you want to reproduce the actual sound of the organ in the room?  Or produce a generally pleasing result without worrying over-much how the organ is recorded.  Stereo recordings (rather than surround that pwhodges mentions has the additional issue that reverb comes from the same speakers (and hence the same direction) as the direct sound, which isn't what happens in the real venue.  I have this issue with the Harmonium recording I made in my small music room for a virtual on-line concert just before Christmas.  I decided to add some reverb (just using the default options in my audio editing programme) and although I found the result better than the dry original, it didn't sound as realistic as I'd hoped.

There is no "one size fits all" answer to recording pipe organs.

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Thanks for these responses.  In the last analysis, what we find the best solution is personal and subjective, as was said above.  But it seems to me that the broadcasting and recording industry somehow got off on the wrong foot from the start by making recordings in rooms of a type never encountered previously.  Those early photos from a century ago of tiny BBC studios draped with heavy sound-deadening material say it all.  It's a paradigm the industry has never really detached itself from.  And then they add insult to injury by pushing microphones close up to the instruments, singers or studio announcers to produce sounds which are never actually encountered in reality.  It's laughable that we are subjected to the audio minutiae of the vocal tracts of DJs between records.  You can hear their respiratory and articulatory mechanisms operating in a way that you never would in everyday life - we would seldom think of pushing our ears to within a few centimetres of people's lips, and similarly for musical instruments.  It's also the reason why speech seldom sounds natural on recordings or radio broadcasts because propagation distance from source to ear is important in forming perceptions, both for speech and music.  Our brains evolved the means to estimate range of a sound as a survival tool, and it's therefore important not to throw the distance cues away if recordings are to sound natural.  And yet the gold standard subjective test for a hifi system for many audiophiles is still to listen to it emitting studio speech according to some pundits! 

Hence my liking for listening to at least some recorded music using ambience modification, to expand perceived room sizes and increase perceived propagation distances to those we encounter in real life.  But it's a purely personal thing.

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38 minutes ago, Colin Pykett said:

[…] pushing microphones close up to the instruments, singers or studio announcers to produce sounds which are never actually encountered in reality.  It's laughable that we are subjected to the audio minutiae of the vocal tracts of DJs between records.  You can hear their respiratory and articulatory mechanisms operating in a way that you never would in everyday life - we would seldom think of pushing our ears to within a few centimetres of people's lips, and similarly for musical instruments.  It's also the reason why speech seldom sounds natural on recordings or radio broadcasts because propagation distance from source to ear is important in forming perceptions, both for speech and music.  Our brains evolved the means to estimate range of a sound as a survival tool, and it's therefore important not to throw the distance cues away if recordings are to sound natural. 

Very valid points.

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3 hours ago, Colin Pykett said:

But it seems to me that the broadcasting and recording industry somehow got off on the wrong foot from the start by making recordings in rooms of a type never encountered previously.  Those early photos from a century ago of tiny BBC studios draped with heavy sound-deadening material say it all.

Recording sound in mono or even stereo with normal reverberation confuses the listener by forcing all the ambience which is part of the natural sound into the same direction as the "target" sound.  Means to reduce the confusion this unnatural sound balance creates were an inevitable part of the development of recording techniques.  Remember also that listening rooms in the past were likely more reverberant than our modern carpeted rooms, and the reduction of the double ambience effect was also an issue.  But it may also be true that as the worst effects of this in mono were lessened by the move to stereo, and somewhat to a minimal form of surround, these techniques have not been stepped back from by a suitable readjustment of recording techniques.  But only full Ambisonic recording (or some equivalent) combined with full 3D reproduction can claim to render tweaking of the original recording unnecessary.

Remember also that there are two fundamentally different approaches to recording: one attempts to reproduce the original as heard by a listener in the original venue, and the other attempts to capture the original sound with as little of the surrounding ambience as possible so that it can be replayed as if performed in the listener's own venue.  For the second, the idea of an orchestra playing in your sitting room is clearly absurd, but maybe a solo piano, not so much?  The possibility of the two methods is highlighted by Hauptwerk, where the availability of ambient recordings for listening pleasure is set alongside dry recordings to be used as the sound sources for an installation in a church or other suitable venue which will provide the acoustic.

Paul

Background: I was trained by the BBC primarily in mono recording, have made commercial CDs in stereo, also demonstration recordings in full Ambisonics, and use a dry sample set in a portable Hauptwerk organ I take around for continuo work.

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