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SH Spotlight I was asked "Why do recordings need compression/limiting during recording, mastering?"

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Steve Hoffman, Dec 13, 2016.

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  1. audiomixer

    audiomixer As Bald As The Beatles

  2. jwb1231970

    jwb1231970 Ordinary Guy

    GarageBand seems to blend everything together really nicely upon the final mix down...always sounds fantastic and there isn't anything I have to do
  3. NearysEpiphany

    NearysEpiphany Forum Resident

    This is exactly the kind of response to this thread I dreaded. I knew it was gonna happen as soon as I read the op.

    Now we can all smugly justify crap mastering like blue & lonesome because hey "compression is necessary"

    Nevermind degrees and nuances and all that stuff.
  4. videoman

    videoman Forum Resident

    Lake Tahoe, NV
    Like the nuance and degrees contained in your response? Lol
    Beadle Bamford, tmtomh, Ash76 and 2 others like this.
  5. NearysEpiphany

    NearysEpiphany Forum Resident

    Hey Steve it might be cool to have another sticky thread about digital clipping in mastering. too many here don't have any idea about this.
  6. AnalogJ

    AnalogJ CMO (Chief Musical Officer)

    Salem, MA
    Related to this is making sure that the vinyl cutting engineer gets the music well above the sound of the vinyl itself.

    The guy who did the LP mastering for the recent 1-Step MoFi of Santana's Abraxas, Krieg Wunderlich, did the mastering a couple of years ago for the same company's 2-LP release of Patricia Barber's A Distortion Of Love. Unfortunately, it was cut too low for the quietest moments of the music. The sound of the vinyl, and I mean the basic whoosh, competes with the softest passages of the music. The result is that the start of the acoustic bass, the picking of the strings, gets lost (completely inaudible in the softest passages). And some delicate percussive shakers get sort of grayed out as their sound is barely above the sound of the vinyl, a sort of a white noise partially masks their sound. Barber's vocals at times are so soft, delicate, and deep in the soundstage that you can barely hear her over the sound of the vinyl.

    In contrast, on the more compressed CD, which has also has the benefit of no background noise, you can clearly hear every nuance of every note.

    On the other hand, the LP mastering is ultimately so much more musical than the CD. As long as the music rises well above the sound of the vinyl, which it does for 85% of the album, there is SO much more life to the album's music on vinyl vs. the music via the CD. On the CD, neither Barber's voice nor any of the other instruments are nearly as deep in the soundstage as they are on the vinyl. The expansiveness of the music on the LP is sort of breathtaking. The music goes from miniscule to absolutely huge at times as she and her group build and build and build. On the CD, the dynamics just don't go much anywhere. The music is more or less just there. It hits a wall and stays there.

    Given the more expansive soundstage and the music's ability to breathe, the LP version just sounds more real -- as long as I'm listening to the louder tracks (which are most of them, but there softer moments...).

    For curiosity's sake, I put on the AP 45rpm of Stevie Ray Vaughan's Texas Flood. The vinyl's background noise was the same as the Patricia Barber. But the music came through BLAM! It was so loud I had to greatly turn the volume down. Here was an LP that had clearly been cut louder, and playing through the album, I rarely even heard the vinyl once I turned down the volume of that record to a normal listening level.

    So the potential pros and cons of compression, in a way, exemplified via the 2 different media releases of the same album.
    sjaca and Rose River Bear like this.
  7. George P

    George P Love will lead us

    Thanks very much for taking the time to explain all of this, Steve. You said a lot about compression during recording and mixing, but can I ask for you to speak about about compression during mastering?
  8. telepicker97

    telepicker97 Got Any Gum?

    It's not necessarily compression itself that is the enemy - it's when too much digital compression is used with that hard digital limiting during the mastering process...that's when things start getting all ear-bleedy.
    tmtomh, Grant, McLover and 1 other person like this.
  9. videoman

    videoman Forum Resident

    Lake Tahoe, NV
    Absolutely. Was just thanking Steve for making it clear to people that it is about finding the proper use and middle ground. Not believing any use of it whatsoever is undesirable
    Sordel, telepicker97 and audiomixer like this.
  10. MLutthans

    MLutthans That's my spaghetti, Chewbacca! Staff

    Marysville, WA
    As I recall, it's an RCA optical compressor, but I don't recall the model, and no, that's not me in the photo. I don't look that awesome!
    SandAndGlass and CrazyCatz like this.
  11. great thread, I've learned a lot. Thanks contributors and our host!
    Front 242 Addict and Grant like this.
  12. So the Rolling Stones and Don Was forgot the concept of how to use compression for good and not evil ? I get it now. :tiphat:
    Grant likes this.
  13. You should listen yourself IMHO.
    Neonbeam likes this.
  14. misterjones

    misterjones Forum Resident

    New York City
  15. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    Mastering what, vinyl or digital?

    I don't use compression or limiting in mastering digital. In vinyl cutting there is usually a high freq. limiter going or else the cutter head would burn out on some stuff.. You cannot hear it working and in most cases it improves the sound of the vinyl.

    Kevin Gray and I cut THEME FROM "SHAFT" from the original stereo tape at 45 RPM and we did it both ways, with the high freq. limiter on and with it off. In a blind home test we both preferred the version with the high freq. limiter.

    That answer it?

    When CD players with revolving trays came in, the loudness wars began, sadly. Brickwalling with digital limiting everything in sight, even if it was already squashed.

    Thus, the audiophile labels were carving out a little territory using no limiting and good sounding tapes. A win for us, but we can't remaster everything. You're on your own for everything else.
    SandAndGlass, Chooke, tmtomh and 7 others like this.
  16. Rose River Bear

    Rose River Bear Senior Member

    I always thought too much dynamic range was bad due to the limitations of vinyl. Interesting. Thanks for the info Steve.
  17. AnalogJ

    AnalogJ CMO (Chief Musical Officer)

    Salem, MA
    By the way, I used to sort of dismiss this tune a bit. I had my own big band, and had a killer arrangement of it based on one by trumpeter/big band leader, Maynard Ferguson. But when this 45rpm Analogue Productions 12" of "Theme from Shaft" came out, I bought it (Steve, I corresponded with you back then about having side 2 be 19 minutes long). This 45rpm shows off the TFS cut to be not only killer unto itself, but also showcases Isaac Haye's brilliant arrangement.

    It's not only still available, but the price hasn't gone up since I bought it (unlike most of the other Analogue Productions products), retailing at $20.

    Isaac Hayes-Hits From Shaft-45 RPM Vinyl Record|Acoustic Sounds »

    This music is incredibly joyful, fun, intellectually stimulating (again, the arrangements are more sophisticated than meets in ears, initially); and the record is demo quality.
    googlymoogly likes this.
  18. telepicker97

    telepicker97 Got Any Gum?

    I'm sure the tape that Don handed over sounded fantastic. It's the mastering with a bunch of hard digital limiting, and maybe that's what they asked Mr. Marcussen to do...I don't know, I can't speak for him.
    Mazzy likes this.
  19. gd0

    gd0 Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies

    Golden Gate
    Can't... un-see.....

    Thanks for this Steve. The historical perspective plus the big-picture overview, especially coming from someone whose work I'm familiar with, go a long way for my outsider's understanding.
  20. George P

    George P Love will lead us

    Digital. Thanks for explaining.

    Sad but true. Thanks again!
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2016

    ALAN SICHERMAN Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx, NY

    Cleveland, OH
    I never understood what compression really was until now. I had heard that it necessary but
    I didn't know why. Glad to learn. Thanks!
    keyXVII and Grant like this.
  22. wwaldmanfan

    wwaldmanfan Born In The 50's

    Not to take this thread off-topic, but if you want to hear how good this album can sound, download the 24/192 hi-res 2014 Rhino remaster from HDTracks. $26 is kinda steep, but it's the best-sounding mastering to date.
    vonwegen likes this.
  23. videoman

    videoman Forum Resident

    Lake Tahoe, NV
    Does is really cost so much more to master an album well or to hi-Rez than it does to master it otherwise?
  24. Bigbudukks

    Bigbudukks Older, but no wiser.

    Gaithersburg, MD
    Whenever I read people making comments about compression I can't help but think of Genesis's Nursery Cryme. I love the album, but the extreme dynamic range drives me crazy. I live in an apartment and in order to hear the quietest passages I have to turn up the volume but most definitely have to turn it back down for rest of the record. The same goes for the Deutsche Grammophon record of Tchaikovsy's Nutcracker Suite as recorded by The Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Herbert von Karajan. Up and down, up and down.

    I can understand compression being used to too large a degree, but not being used when it really is needed is just as bad. I makes listening to music a pain in the posterior orifice (pelvic region).
    tmtomh and cartologist like this.
  25. varispeed

    varispeed what if?

    Los Angeles Ca
    A bathtub can be a useful item when you discuss the history of small-room reverb technique.
    goer and Steve Hoffman like this.
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