Paul McGowan writes: As Audiophiles we constantly search for what we consider the holy grail; reproducing the sound of live music in our homes.
Yet is it even possible given that most recordings don’t actually contain enough live information that helps us identify the recording space? We can have the very best equipment in our system but if we don’t have recordings that capture the essence of the room and environment where the music was recorded it’s hard to imagine how we can ever make-believe what we’re hearing is live.
Consider that it is the sound of the room and its reflections that give us the clues we need to believe it’s live. As Mark Fisher, a frequent contributor to these posts suggests, just think about where the microphones are generally placed when recording a live event; on the stage itself or even worse, close to each of the instruments. When the engineer does this you lose most of the room reflections; that which helps our ear/brain combinations relate to the space we are making believe we are in.
One of my favorite recordings that demonstrates exactly what I am talking about was one suggest by my friend Harry Pearson, better known as HP. He suggested I pickup a copy of Harry Belafonte live at Carnegie Hall and the very last song on that release, Matilda, says it all. Belafonte is working with the audience off-mike and when he does this, you hear the entire hall, the space, the audience, the ambience of the room. It’s absolutely remarkable to hear this space recreated on a properly imaging sound system.
Just take a look at the CD cover I’ve included here. Note where the microphones for the trio behind Belafonte are – back that far you get plenty of room acoustics. Belafonte himself is shown holding the microphone, but he only does that for perhaps half the track, and the contrast between the near and the far is what really helps you understand the space.
Another example can be found in many of the great recordings of Peter McGrath; in particular his Mahler First recorded in Florida. What Peter does to get great recordings is fairly simple; he moves the microphone far enough back in the room to capture the acoustics of the space.
Stereophile editor John Atkinson is also quite good at blending the right amount of room space and musician space to get great recordings as well.
It’s a shame my favorite live recording comes from the 1950′s and that there aren’t more of these recordings made today that really offer us a fighting chance to have the music sound like it’s in the room, but I do see the trend getting better, not worse.
That’s a good thing.