Quality Perspectives

Nov 1, 2012 9:00 AM, Mix, By Blair Jackson



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Quality. You know it when you hear it or see it. You know when it’s not there. But defining it is slippery at best. Recently we spoke with eight industry pros, representing numerous segments of the audio world—from studio and mobile recording to design to hi-def and hi-res delivery formats—about issues of quality.

Al Schmitt

Al Schmitt

Al Schmitt

Schmitt is a multi-Grammy-winning engineer and producer who has worked in six decades with such acts as Sam Cooke, Jefferson Airplane, Steely Dan, George Benson, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles and Diana Krall.

“Quality is still the most important thing as far as I’m concerned. Like most people, I now use Pro Tools all the time. But I still use an analog board—the new board at Capitol is a Neve 88R and it’s gorgeous. It’s so quiet and the preamps are great. I record everything I do at either 96k or 192, and when I mix down, I mix at 192, even if it’s going to end up at 44.1.

“I guess I’m one of the few guys who doesn’t use plug-ins. They were pretty bad at the beginning, but now I’m getting reports back from a lot of people I know and respect who are using them and really like what they’re hearing. They’re getting much closer to the actual analog equipment. I still prefer using a Fairchild compressor and Pultecs—all the real things. I’m fortunate enough to have them at hand—either I own them or Capitol does, or if I’m at Avatar in New York, they do. I’m one of the lucky ones that way.

“Unfortunately, we’ve dumbed down the sound so much for the buying public it’s a shame. Someone told me about a study involving kids where they played MP3s and then they played the hi-def stuff, and the kids preferred the MP3s, because that’s what they’re used to I guess—that’s what we’ve fed them. A lot of people don’t get to hear what we hear in the studio and that’s too bad. But I’m not going to change what I do because of that. There will always be people who care about quality, too.”

Ed Cherney

Ed Cherney

Ed Cherney

Ed Cherney’s brilliant engineering, mixing and production career has found him working with the likes of the Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt, Little Feat, Eric Clapton, Madonna and many more.

“I’m still committed to quality. As we’re getting greater bandwidth and higher resolution, higher quality is in the pipeline and available to people. When you get to 96k and then 192, it’s astonishing.

“But portability has trumped quality in a lot of ways, and I absolutely understand that. There’s a time and a place for it. We have a generation—maybe two generations—of consumers that just don’t know about quality, and I don’t know if they care. I think they need to be educated, perhaps. I approach it this way: I want my stuff to sound good playing off of iPhones and some $8 transducers, but there’s a big difference between that truncated digital mess and listening to high-resolution through a good stereo.

“It’s such a greater experience, and the music is so much more emotional when you listen to it the way guys like me intended for it to sound. My idea of quality is to get the consumer as close as we can to what we’re hearing in the studio. We’re taking very specific steps in the studio to make it sound great and to be emotionally rewarding. And I don’t think you get the emotional payoff when you’re listening to compressed audio through shitty transducers. That said, I love the idea that you can have the entire library of music in the world in your pocket. I think that’s spectacular.

“I do see people looking for quality more and more with the headphones they’re listening to. They’re not satisfied with earbuds. So that’s at least one step forward.”

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