CD vs Vinyl

I integrate records into all of my classes – including electronics. One of my students brought in a recently pressed Vinyl LP by Dutch Artist, Arjen Lucassen, that included a companion CD.

http://www.arjenlucassen.com

While I don’t know whether Arjen’s mastering engineer attempted to reconcile or embrace the differences between the CD and vinyl, I know for sure that my students preferred the record.

The CD was obviously brighter than the LP – about 3dB brighter on the outside and about 4.5 dB brighter on the inside. (I calibrate my preamp and cartridge to a DIN test record.)

Unlike digital, the many varieties of analog have their challenges, in this case getting high frequencies to the disc as well the ability to play them back. Way back in the day, producers tended to place less aggressive songs at the end of each side. As recording and playback technology improved, inner diameter high frequency response and distortion became less of an issue, but it never went away.

I do know that Neumann monitored cutter head temperature, cooling the voice coils with Helium. A simple “S” could raise the temperature and a high-frequency limiter was integral to Neumann’s cutter amps to keep over-the-top high frequencies in check.

All during the quarter I played a wide range of music to give students a feel for what records sounded like back when I was a college student. From Gentle Giant to Johnny Guitar Watson, Herb Alpert to Weather Report, Frank Zappa to Frank Sinatra and Les Paul to Todd Rundgren – we covered alot of basses (and trebles).

I was surprised when one album in particular resonated with them – Johnny Guitar Watson’s REAL MOTHER FOR YA (circa 1976 or 1977) – apparently because it gets played at a bar where two of them work part time. Despite the impossibility of comparing vinyl in a controlled environment to a digital (mp3?) version played through a bar system, one student was insistent that the digital version did not hold a candle to the EMOTION he felt in our control room. If you don’t know this recording, it pushes the limits of bottom- and top-end on a record for that time.

To assist my students in their quest to emulate the sound of vinyl, I always take the opportunity to review frequency response curves of popular mics. I favor using less hyped dynamic and ribbon mics along with a more selective use of condenser mics as part of a ‘balanced approach’ to managing high frequency content.

Condenser mics typically have a 6dB lift somewhere between 5kHz and 12 kHz. Many dynamic vocal mics have a substantial presence peak between 5kHz and 8kHz. Lately I have been favoring the less obvious studio mics – like the EV-635A and the RE-50 – because they are OMNI (no proximity effect), have about about half the presence lift and a gradual 6dB per octave roll-off above 10kHz or so.

Ribbon mics have an either smoother upper mid-range response, and while I would love to be able to afford a Coles 4038, a Royer or any of Wes Dooley’s recreations, I have been very happy with what I can afford – the Cascade FATHEAD and VINJET are remarkably versatile.

Back when I was a college student, the difference between albums at home, versus the same song on the radio was substantial. But radio compression gradually became part of the mixing and mastering process until we got to the this century’s version of the Loudness Wars.

I imagine that the reverse is true for modern engineers in training. When they record real instruments, the resulting understated ‘organic’ sound must be a bit disconcerting – so far from how they imagine the final mix to sound.

I try to encourage student engineers to resist the temptation to over process for as long as possible, emphasizing live performance and arrangement during recording and balance via automation as a foundation to building a mix.

It’s a common and often repeated theme…

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