The Silverman Concert Page 3
Which setup should we use? There was no clear winner. We all liked the EARs, but they were noisy. We all liked the imaging palpability of the Manley, but Larry Archibald, in particular, was bothered by the midrange coloration. We all liked the tonal accuracy of the B&Ks, but both Bob Harley and Larry were concerned about the smeared soundstaging. Once we'd heard what the Manley could do in this department, it was hard to live with anything less.
We decided to wait until the morning of the concert to make the final decision—until we could hear Bob Silverman, a very physical performer, playing the Steinway. We did decide, however, to place an Oriental rug under the piano to help kill the bounce of its sound from the floor. It also made the rather bare stage look more inviting.
The microphone decision was made for us the day before the concert. After we'd pretty much decided that the EARs struck the best balance between "accuracy" and "musicality," one of them developed an intermittent noise. Actually, "bang" would be a better word, the recorder meters pegging every 10 seconds or so. So we decided to go with the Manley mike, positioned 14' back from the piano and level with the top of the open lid. The Manley's line-level stereo output fed the long AudioQuest Diamond cables, and then was split with a passive box to feed both the Ampex open-reel machine and the Manley A/D converter. The ADC's AES/EBU outputs fed two Panasonic DAT recorders so that any data dropouts would be covered. We would use the analog tapes for the LP master, and the digital tapes for the CD master.
As a backup, I set up the B&K omnis, feeding their signals to either the EAR or the Meitner mike preamps with short lengths of balanced AudioQuest Lapis. The amplified B&K outputs were sent via the long Beyerdynamic leads to the Revox open-reel recorder. The right-hand B&K was placed 90" high, a couple of feet to the inside of the end of the piano, about 3' back, and tilted slightly toward the instrument. The left-hand B&K was also placed 90" from the floor, but just to the left of the keyboard—again, about 3' back. This gave a piano image extending almost the entire width between the playback speakers, with an enveloping dome of ambient sound.
Crackling cellophane aside, the two concerts went superbly. Despite the sheer physical demands of the two-hour-long program, Bob Silverman held both audiences rapt with his playing—emotionally powerful as required by the music, yet, as in the two sets of Bach preludes and fugues, striking an icy clarity reminiscent of the night air outside the church. (The winter atmosphere in New Mexico is like nothing you've never seen. The lack of airborne dust or moisture seems to bring distant objects preternaturally close.)
And Bob's Bach! I'm not a big fan of baroque music played on the piano, but the way in which he emphasized the horizontal nature of the fugal writing, keeping the voices independent with an instrument which is fundamentally vertical—ie, chordal—was stunning. The Friday-night audience was particularly supportive, calling Bob back for so many curtain calls that he gave an impromptu encore: Chopin's perfect little Waltz in c#.
The atmosphere in the control room was jubilant: this wouldn't be no "audiophile" recording—all sound and no substance—but a musical keeper. We went home after the Sunday afternoon concert already reading the rave reviews of the record we'd be making by editing together the best performances from the two concerts.
Then I listened to the DATs made from the Manley microphone. Yes, there was that well-defined piano image hanging between the speakers...except that it was too well-defined. It was mono! I auditioned the Ampex tapes. Mono. I checked my system with our Test CD 2—"The Fender bass guitar you are about to hear should appear to come from the left channel only." It did. "The Fender bass guitar you are about to hear should appear to come from the right channel only." It did. Stereo playback. I played the DATs again. Mono. I ran the signals into an X-Y oscilloscope; the diagonal straight line on the screen said mono. Sodding mono.