What Makes a Good Recording? Page 2

4. Perspective.
If the musicians were placed onstage in rows, one behind another, rear rows should sound farther away than closer rows. The effect should not however be exaggerated: The front rows should not sound "right in the room" while the rear ones sound 20' away (unless for some reason that was the intent of the performance).

5. Ambience.
(Sometimes affectedly, or ignorantly, spelled "ambiance," which is French. The English word is just as good.) This is the sound of the acoustics of the performing environment, which gives a recording the aural flavor of a live performance in its natural habitat.

The "right" amount of environmental ambience is a matter of personal taste, but there are limits in both directions which clearly spell "bad taste." A small ensemble, closely miked so as to sound as if the players are right in the listening room (which is a physical possibility), should have as little as possible of the ambience of the ambience of the original performing location. An orchestra could not possibly fit into your room, and would sound horrible there anyway because of the lack of ambience; it should be recorded with enough ambience to sound neither dead (the telephone booth sound) nor like Westminster Abbey.

Excessive ambience intrudes on the music; inadequate ambience makes instruments sound raw. The "right" amount is conspicuous neither by its deficiency nor its prominence. Most so-called audiophile recordings have far too much of it.

6. Frequency Range.
The audiophile's first love, extreme frequency range on a recording, is not always an asset. High, of course, should give no impression of an artificially-imposed limit. Bass range should include should include the fundamental notes of the deepest instruments playing, but little more. The inclusion of subsonic hall noises, when the lowest instrument playing is a 'cello (lowest frequency: 62Hz) is a form of pointless ostentation equating roughly to the use of a quatre-horsepower electric shaver.

One exception: Large choral and orchestral groups and huge pipe organs. do benefit from low-end response into the subsonic, for such groups in performance produce subsonic energy—drum-head impacts, difference tones—which we can feel over the surface of our body even though our ears don't respond to it. Most mikes don't have adjustable low-end response; our point is that, if yours do, take advantage of it.

7. Smoothness.
Every performing hall has a multiplicity of possible microphone locations which will cause certain musical notes to be exaggerated and others to recede into the background. Some halls have many trouble spots, others have few. A good resording engineer chooseshis recording hall accordingly if he has a choice and places his mikes carefully whether he has or hasn't. The closer the microphones are to the performers, the less the hall acoustics affect the sound. Smoothness is related also to the frequency response of the recording microphones.

Inexpensive mikes color the entire sound more than do most auditoriums, and many costly professional microphones have small but audible high-frequency peaks which tend to add steeliness to violin and cymbal sounds. Microphone peaks often reveal themselves through the presence of exaggerated vocal sibilants or the tendency for all high-pitched sounds to take on the same characteristic pitch.