Precision and Beyond

Dec 1, 2006 12:00 PM, George Petersen
Executive Editor


Education Guide

Mix is gearing up to present its longstanding annual Audio Education Guide in its November 2014 issue. Want to have your school listed in the directory, or do you need to update your current directory listing? Add an image, program description, or a logo to your listing! Get your school in the Mix Education Guide 2014.

Way back in high school science and math classes, we learned about precision and the concept of three significant figures (sig figs). For example, the U.S. Census Bureau's POPClock projection estimates our current population to be 300,199,513 as of today: November 14, 2006. We can round that off to three sig figs and come up with approximately 300 million and be pretty close. If you're one of those 199,513 people left off that estimate, you might not be too happy about it, but rounding it to four significant figures (300.2 million) sounds pretty silly.

It's the same with our old friend. If we cut a plywood circle for a tabletop, we can determine its area (R2) or circumference (2R) and probably get by just fine in defining as 3.14, rather than 3.14159265358979323846 (20 sig figs).

Precision applies to nearly every aspect of existence. Electronic components come in a variety of tolerances and can vary from ±0.05 percent to ±20 percent, depending on the part. So a 10-percent 100k-ohm resistor could fall anywhere between 90k-ohm and 110k-ohm. If you want a tighter tolerance, then be willing to pay more for the privilege. It's a case of picking your battles: A potentiometer inside a wah-wah pedal is a lot less critical than the main faders on a recording console. And as with tabletops or transducers, life is a series of trade-offs between precision and price.

Pro recording engineers must have the ability to hear with amazing precision, whether it's noting a subtle timing variation in an orchestral woodwind section or a slightly atonal pitch in a vocal or guitar fill. Yet mixes by even the most talented engineers require mastering to take the project to the next level. Just as in medicine, where doctors deal in specialization, mastering engineers can bring a fresh approach and that all-important second opinion to your project.

In mastering, precision is everything. Even with all of the available ultraprecise equalizers, compressors and specialized consoles designed for the mastering suite, none of it makes any difference without some human intervention, where a half-dB or two from the trained ears of a specialist can make all the difference in the world. The analogy here is like building a house. Working from a great architect's plans, skilled contractors handle the framing, drywall, electrical, roofing and plumbing, but the finishing touches (such as hardwood floors or granite countertops) can set a showplace apart from the ordinary.

This is what defines the mastering art: creativity and precision, all combined with a human touch from an artisan with years (and ears) of experience — something no technology can replace. And once your recording is 90-percent there, an investment in pro mastering can take your creation to the next step. Isn't your music worth it?

Note: About two years ago, we moved to an automated workflow that generates high-res PDF images for online pre-press checks. We thought the “Recording Shools Directory” typo on the cover of last month's subscriber issues had been fixed when we saw clean, corrected reference PDFs, but the printer picked up the wrong master file. We've since added procedures to avoid this glitch in the future, but there's a lesson here for us all.

Acceptable Use Policy
blog comments powered by Disqus

Mix Books

Modern Recording and Mixing

This 2-DVD set will show you how the best in the music industry set up a studio to make world-class records. Regardless of what gear you are using, the information you'll find here will allow you to take advantage of decades of expert knowledge. Order now $39.95

Mastering Cubase 4

Electronic Musician magazine and Thomson Course Technology PTR have joined forces again to create the second volume in their Personal Studio Series, Mastering Steinberg's Cubase(tm). Edited and produced by the staff of Electronic Musician, this special issue is not only a must-read for users of Cubase(tm) software, but it also delivers essential information for anyone recording/producing music in a personal-studio. Order now $12.95



Delivered straight to your inbox every other week, MixLine takes you straight into the studio, with new product announcements, industry news, upcoming events, recent recording/post projects and much more. Click here to read the latest edition; sign up here.

MixLine Live

Delivered straight to your inbox every other week, MixLine Live takes you on the road with today's hottest tours, new sound reinforcement professional products, recent installs, industry news and much more. Click here to read the latest edition; sign up here.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

The Wire, a virtual press conference offering postings of the latest gear and music news, direct from the source. Visit the The Wire for the latest press postings.