Interview with Elliot Scheiner

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by LtPepper, Jul 27, 2004.

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  1. LtPepper

    LtPepper Forum Resident Thread Starter

    New Jersey
    Interesting interview with Elliot Scheiner about surround sound on the Crutchfield website.


    July 6, 2004
    5.1 Surround Sound From the Engineer's Perspective
    An interview with legendary recording engineer Elliot Scheiner
    by Leslie Shapiro

    Elliot Scheiner has been making records, in his words, "for longer than I care to remember." He got his start when he was quite young, under the direct guidance of the legendary Phil Ramone at A&R Recording. Within just a few months, he graduated from assistant to engineer.

    Since then, Scheiner has recorded many albums that have become gold standards in the industry. He's responsible for the pristine sound of Steely Dan and Donald Fagen, and his list of credits reads like a Who's Who in the music business, from Aerosmith to Grover Washington, Jr. More importantly, he's become the "go-to" guy for producing and mixing surround music. He's breathed 5.1 life into such great recordings as The Eagles' Hell Freezes Over and Sting's Brand New Day.

    Elliot has put his stamp of approval on the Panasonic DVD-Audio system that now comes standard on the Acura TL, personally tuning the sound system in the vehicle. When I called, he was driving into Manhattan in his Acura TL, of course. First thing that I wanted to know is what music did he have loaded up in the car.

    Elliot Scheiner: I have Steely Dan, Donald Fagen, R.E.M., Faith Hill, The Flaming Lips, and the demo DVD-Audio disc that came with the car.

    Leslie Shapiro: What do you listen to at home when you're not working?

    Scheiner: Well, I'm working most of the time, but if I'm not, I'll usually listen to some jazz, like Diana Krall.

    LS: These days, people are listening to your music on a variety of systems. How do you feel about home-theater-in-a-box, 'satellite/sub' systems? Are they the demise of music as we know it?

    Scheiner: I gotta say that I'm in favor of them, only because it gets them out there to the masses. It's important for the music industry that we can make this changeover [to surround sound] sooner rather than later. So the more people that have home theaters that are capable of playing DVD-Audio, I'm happy about it, regardless of what it sounds like. [DVD-Audio discs can be played on a DVD-Video player, which will play the DTS or Dolby Digital 5.1 mix].

    LS: Why do you think that DVD-Audio and surround music hasn't taken off? What's holding it back?

    Scheiner: It's a combination of things. People are unfamiliar with it, and it's not easy to get a hold of. I've told Acura and Honda to tell people to go to or where you can get a good selection of DVD-Audio. If you walk into your local record store, they send you to the video department because they don't know what DVD-Audio is, or they just have a small amount. Even the dealers aren't aware of it. It hasn't been easy, and people need systems to play it on. They can play DVD-Audio on their DVD-Video players either in DTS or Dolby Digital, [it will play the Dolby Digital or DTS tracks found on most DVD-Audio discs, but it will not play the high-resolution DVD-Audio tracks].

    What the major labels are working on right now are the flipdiscs — the new DualDisc formats, with PCM CD audio on one side, and DVD-Audio or DVD-Video on the other. That could have a big impact; people might be buying it for the CD layer, but they might get curious about what's on the other side. I also believe that the biggest impact is going to be the automobile. Any time the industry has made a change, it was never successful until it was in the car. So I'm convinced it's going to take a lot of cars to make surround music successful.

    LS: What do you tell someone who thinks that two-channel stereo is good enough?

    Scheiner: That they haven't experienced surround sound. Every person that I've taken into the studio or the car that is hearing it for the first time is completely blown away. They go, 'Wow, I've never heard anything like this before, it's incredible!' And, then it's hard to go back to stereo, and I agree! Once you've heard 5.1, it's difficult to go back.

    LS: What was the first 5.1 recording you ever heard, and what was your first impression?

    Scheiner: The first one I heard was a Boyz2Men CD on DTS. They [DTS Entertainment] gave it to me as a demo because I was getting ready to mix The Eagles Hell Freezes Over, so I wanted some kind of idea of what people were doing, what was going on. They had one voice in every speaker, and it was kind of cool! People are being adventurous, and there's no sense of 'mono' or 'stereo', and that's just great. It gave me the lead-in to how to approach 5.1, especially for The Eagles.

    LS: On Hell Freezes Over, you've put many things besides the vocals in the center channel. Some car systems use a tiny speaker for the center channel. Are you worried about that?

    Scheiner: No, I'm not. In fact, I'm actually going to start putting more information in the center because of the car. That center speaker really does 'center' the information. If you're using primarily phantom stereo, you get the impression that maybe the center is off to the left a little bit, whereas if you're using the center more aggressively, you actually feel the center. I was always worried about where people would put their center speaker, in the car and in the home — is it going to be over the TV, in the ceiling, is it going to be on the floor, is it going to be there at all?!? So, I was worried about putting critical information in the center speaker only. I used a Linda Ronstadt disc, mixed by George Massenburg, that primarily used her voice in the center speaker and the reverbs all around in the surrounds to help tune the Acura system.

    LS: How much input did you have on the Acura design?

    Scheiner: Really nothing — Mark Ziemba, the lead engineer from Panasonic Automotive Systems, designed it. I tried to talk Panasonic into a system based on the concept that I make music for a living, I know what music should sound like, especially in the car. But, they didn't really buy into it at first. They had already acquired the Acura account and they had been talking about surround sound, and Acura thought it was a great idea to have someone involved in the music industry involved with them. It was the first time that someone who recorded music was also responsible for the playback. The design had been predetermined before I got there, so my job was to see what it was going to sound like: the tuning and levels — the overall playback of the system. Since that time, because we've got systems coming out in other cars soon, I've gotten a little more involved with where we should have speakers, and more overall 'stuff.'

    LS: How should driver position be compensated for in the car?

    Scheiner: Sometimes delay, sometimes just level and EQ — it really depends on each situation. It all plays a factor in tuning for the car.

    LS: For aftermarket systems, do you feel that center and subwoofer channels are necessities?

    Scheiner: Absolutely! Right now, everything's been predetermined for 5.1, basically by the film and video worlds. We've got to have a center channel. The center channel is needed for dialogue, and we (the music industry) have made concessions to accommodate for that. When I started, I didn't think the center was needed, but I was told that people wanted to hear things from all of their speakers, or else they would think the disc was bad and return it. Now it's become more important. The center channel has become part of the whole scheme, and I find myself putting elements in the center speaker to create an image from the rear, or just dedicate something only to the center speaker.

    In the home or the car, the subwoofer's importance isn't even questionable. The subwoofer is equally important, especially when you consider how much it is used in movies for dramatic impact. People love low-end in their cars. I'm not a huge fan of that, but there's a subwoofer in the Acura, and it's important.

    LS: Is 5.1 enough, or are you looking at 7.1, or even 10.2?

    Scheiner: I'm completely satisfied with 5.1, and I think that 10.2 is just ridiculous. 5.1 is just fine, and when I hear talk about 6.1 or 7.1, I think it must be coming from speaker manufacturers. We've been struggling for so long to get people to switch to 5.1; now are you going to ask them to buy a new amplifier, more speakers? And where are they going to put them? Stereo was fine for 47 years — 5.1 is all we can handle right now.

    LS: As an engineer, I have a stack of discs that I use as a reference — they're discs that I know and have listened to in many different situations, so I can load one of these up and know how the speakers are coloring the sound. What discs, if any, do you rely on?

    Scheiner: I really don't have any. If I'm working in a new studio, I trust that the monitor speakers are going to be flat. And honestly, I rarely work in a studio with a sound that I'm unfamiliar with. You do your work and you feel confident in certain places. The fear factor is that you'll go to a new place and screw things up. I'm actually going to mix a 5.1 album in the UK (for Porcupine Tree). It's in a new studio for me, which I haven't done in a long time. I've really only done 5.1 mixes in about 3 or 4 studios. But, I'm going to insist that they have my speakers — I still use Yamaha NS-10's for stereo.

    LS: Those are my home speakers!

    Scheiner: Yeah, mine too! I still find that they're the most reliable and accurate speakers ever built!

    LS: What can we see from surround sound in the future?

    Scheiner: The DualDisc might be the next 'big deal', and I think you're going to see exponential growth of surround in automobiles over the next five years. There's a huge aftermarket for that, but I know there are a couple of more vehicles coming out this year — not with my system in it — but competitive systems with discrete surround sound. I'm hoping that more and more systems get out there and become available to consumers. It's important that we make this format change — we're not going to survive on CD anymore. It's been proliferated to the max, and people just can't make a living from it anymore.

    LS: How do you feel about downloading music and piracy?

    Scheiner: Obviously, I don't feel good about it. If it were controlled, then it would be okay. But, it was 'free' for so long that the kids don't feel that they should pay for it. There are ways — WindowsMedia9 is capable of downloading 5.1 at a very high resolution. I've heard this, and it's amazing. And, it's controlled — they can determine what you get and whether you can make a copy of it or not. That's the way to go.

    It's nice that iTunes is doing that, and people are actually using it! My kids buy stuff from iTunes. My son doesn't download without paying; he's a musician and he's appreciative of all of these issues. I would say that ninety percent of the people working at record companies have minimal jobs — it affects the economy pretty severely when people pirate like that.

    LS: On a brighter note, what can we expect to see from Elliot Scheiner in the future?

    Scheiner: I'm hoping to continue working on cars. I really enjoy that. Doing something that you've never been involved in and had no knowledge of, and learning a whole new thing has been outstanding for me. Being able to take part in the development of the system and take that vehicle out on the test track and drive it at 100 mph - now that stuff is thrilling to me! I spend how many hours a day in studios?

    So to get out of the studio and do stuff like that is really incredible — awesome. So, I'm looking to do a lot more cars, but I'm not looking to stop doing what I do as far as making music. I truly love recording and mixing music. I'm going to make a solo record with Donald Fagen later this year, so that should be fun. My son is actually working with him right now on that project.

    LS: Are there any classic recordings that you want the opportunity to mix in surround?

    Scheiner: Well, I'm doing the whole Steely Dan catalog — that'll be fun - and the Cars' first record…

    LS: So basically you can do whatever you want.

    Scheiner: No, no, I can't, but I've developed a pretty decent reputation, so guys do call me to do some of their stuff. You know, I don't get all the calls, mainly just from Warner Brothers and Universal. I haven't done any for BMG, and only one or two for Sony, and one piece for EMI. I don't know who's doing it for them. I know that BMG is getting ready to release a lot of stuff, and I'm not doing any of it.

    LS: Besides your own recordings, and the Linda Ronstadt album you mentioned, what other surround recordings do you enjoy?

    Scheiner: You should check out Insane Clown Posse — ah, it's outstanding! Nathaniel Kunkel did it — it's absolutely amazing.

    LS: What would you do if you weren't an engineer and producer?

    Scheiner: [Without a moment hesitation] A baseball player.

    LS: What position?

    Scheiner: Third base.

    LS: What team?

    Scheiner: Mets.

    LS: XM or SIRIUS?

    Scheiner: I've got XM in my car, and I really love the programming. It sounds great in my car! It's such a great way to listen to music. I'm so disappointed that they're using a matrix for surround sound. I just wish they would carry a true 5.1 signal. If anyone has any pull with them…

    LS: What's your favorite sound?

    Scheiner: It's got to be the sound of Ray Charles' voice.

    LS: Any final thoughts?

    Scheiner: Go out and buy surround music. At least listen to it, and not just in a movie theater. I saw a woman at the supermarket driving the Acura with my sound system in it, and when I asked if she enjoyed the surround system and had listened to DVD-Audio, she didn't even know what I was talking about. Listen to surround music. Once you hear it, you'll be hooked.
  2. JonUrban

    JonUrban SHF Member #497

    Nice interview! Since I have the car, and I am a surround "guy", I can't say too much more. Nice to hear him mention the Steely Dan stuff, though!
  3. Joel1963

    Joel1963 Senior Member

    He said the "whole" Steely Dan catalog. Wonder what's happening with Aja...
  4. Michael St. Clair

    Michael St. Clair Forum Resident

    Get that Cars disc out!
  5. Metoo

    Metoo Forum Hall Of Fame

    Spain (EU)
    Nice to know what Scheiner is up to now. I am glad to learn that he was/is involved in the rest of the Steely Dan mixes. His "Gaucho" one is great.
  6. -=Rudy=-

    -=Rudy=- ♪♫♪♫♫♪♪♫♪♪ Staff

    Question: does Acura include a 5.1 demo disc with their vehicles?
  7. dcooper

    dcooper New Member

    Washington, DC
    From the interview:

  8. Dob

    Dob New Member

    I have to admit that I'm very skeptical about the whole idea of surround sound in the car. I don't think even stereo works well...seems like it's impossible to get the "sweet spot" in the driver's seat. Maybe I just need a better system in my car.
  9. -=Rudy=-

    -=Rudy=- ♪♫♪♫♫♪♪♫♪♪ Staff

    I just hope the discs are remaining with the car. I know a couple of local dealers I wouldn't trust... ;)
  10. dcooper

    dcooper New Member

    Washington, DC
    Only a couple dealers you don't trust, Rudy?!
  11. -=Rudy=-

    -=Rudy=- ♪♫♪♫♫♪♪♫♪♪ Staff

    Many years ago, I had a car system where I put a pair of those Realistic Minimus 7 minispeakers mounted on the floorboard, under the dash, pointing up at the listeners. (It was an old Pontiac, so I had a ton of room for 'em.) The imaging was unreal in the car! I remember how neat Joe Jackson's Body and Soul sounded. I don't even worry about it much today--music is a good background to help pass the time while driving. But, there are component car speaker systems where you can mount separate drivers in optimal locations to get some decent imaging.
  12. -=Rudy=-

    -=Rudy=- ♪♫♪♫♫♪♪♫♪♪ Staff

    :laugh: Yeah, actually there are some decent dealers here in the Motor City. My dealings with a Honda dealer very close to my house would be a heck of a topic in Off Topic one of these days. Another dealer employed a salesperson who quit the dealer near me...the state attorney general's office already has complaints against the dealership.
  13. Jeff H.

    Jeff H. Senior Member

    Northern, OR

    There hasn't been a multi-channel mix of the Aja album so far because the 2" multi-track reels for "Aja" and "Black Cow" are missing.
  14. Rich Malloy

    Rich Malloy Forum Resident

    Geez. I'm a little shocked to read how eager he is to contribute to the "dumbing down" of the format. These sound like many of the same sorts of concessions to the low-end and car/boombox crowd that arguably have led to the pisspoor CD mastering we've endured for the last decade. Just a few choice quotes demonstrating how his mixing choices are primarily concessions to the home theater crowd, the "surround-in-a-box" el cheapo setups, and now... the car:

    OK, there's no accounting for taste, so those last two quotes are totally unfair (but don't think I'm not remembering them). But what can I say? Yes, I have strong feelings about mixing/mastering for the best sound possible, not the the best sound possible in a car or on a boombox or for someone who wants to hear every speaker in his home theater setup used. Frankly, I'm dismayed by his comments.

    (But since the only time I recall ever making a completely negative post was with regard to Limp Bizkit, let me add that Scheiner's affinity for Ray's voice must mean he's a helluva good guy!)
  15. hoover537

    hoover537 Forum Resident

    He did a fantastic job on The Eagles "Hotel California"
  16. Michael St. Clair

    Michael St. Clair Forum Resident

    It makes sense that the center would be extra-important in the car, as you are always sitting way off-axis and it's going to be hard (if not impossible) to build a somewhat strong front soundstage without at least one extra speaker (the center).

    But do I think the car should factor into mixing decisions? Not if it compromises the at-home listening in any way.
  17. romanotrax

    romanotrax Forum Resident

    Aurora IL
    Go take a test drive of the Acura TL and listen to the system. All I can say is SWEEEEEET!!!!!
  18. JohnG

    JohnG PROG Nation!

    New York, NY
    I can't wait till these 04 Acura TL's start to show up pre-owned.
  19. LeeS

    LeeS Blue Note Fan

    I am very happy to hear about the Cars and Steely Dan being done. That should be great!
  20. Metoo

    Metoo Forum Hall Of Fame

    Spain (EU)
    I second this.
  21. JonUrban

    JonUrban SHF Member #497

    Here is the track listing for the $33,000 DVD-A that comes with a free Acura TL! :D

    1. Introducing the ACURA/ELS Surround Sound System
    3. THE DOOBIE BROTHERS ('Long Train Runnin') CD Quality
    5. THE DOOBIE BROTHERS ('Long Train Runnin') DVD-Audio Quality
    8. I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World), Donald Fagen
    9. VENTURA HIGHWAY, America
    10. WINELIGHT, Grover Washington Jr.
    11. YOUR PRECIOUS LOVE, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
    13. WHAT'S NEW, Linda Ronstadt
    14. PATIO DEL MORO, Ziroq
    15. WHEN I'M GONE, 3 Doors Down
    16. GREY SKIES, Josh One
    17. TIME TO START, Blue Man Group
    18. MORNING MOOD, London Philharmonic (Grieg)
    19. FLAMENCO.A.GO.GO, Steve Stevens
    20. DRAGON ATTACK, Queen
    21. GET UR FREAK ON, Missy Elliot
    23. BUILDING A SURROUND MIX (using Winelight)

    PS - I had the DVD-A in my hands, put it down on a table after signing all of the paper, got home, and it was gone! Called the dealer, and it appeared that I "left" it there!? :(

    I was sure I did not. Good thing I called right away, as the salesman said "Let me check", left me on hold, then said "Oh yes, here it is!" :sigh:
  22. kwadguy

    kwadguy Senior Member

    Cambridge, MA
    I think--and I have thought since the first quadraphonic era--that the car is the logical place for surround sound, since you know where the listener is going to be sitting, and you have a lot of control over the entire system.

    That said, for whatever reason quad didn't take off for car systems in the '70s, despite the availability of quad car systems and quad 8-track tapes. Surround sound discs are surely more convenient and better sounding than 8-tracks, but...I dunno. In the '70s people were happy to have 8-track systems in their cars, but just didn't bite on quad. Today, people are happy to have CD systems in their cars, but...????

  23. Taurus

    Taurus Forum Resident

    Houston, Texas
    Oh jeez it's very disappointing for me to hear his views about the center channel. :shake:

    How does he expect people with older cars, i.e. pretty much EVERY car except the Acura, to install a center channel??? And will car owners want to install one, even if it's just a small 4" two-way coaxial? Can you imagine a big ugly non-matching plastic wart plunked in the middle of a Cadillac's, BMW's or Infinity's carefully sculpted dash? I certainly can't. Even the owner of a Camaro or Nissan Sentra most probably isn't going to feel any affection for such a thing growing out of his dash..

    Subs are easier to deal with--relatively speaking--as far as placement is concerned but they can be messy to deal with too: some type of box is going to have to be placed somewhere in the cabin; or a hole cut for a bare bass driver or the port for a bandpass enclosure. I guarantee this will be cause for lots of arguing between couples (I used to sell mobile audio equipment & saw this happen quite often) or simply valid consternation about a vehicle's resale value if holes have to be cut.

    A bad scene folks if you ask me.

    Heck I don't even like centers being used in a home system. I prefer the phantom center imaging that most decent speakers can provide (starting w/JBL, Boston, Klipsch, etc). And I'll echo Rich's comments on how dismaying Scheiner's views are concerning the motivation behind using the center channel, especially the one about people expecting all their speakers to be used--yuck.

    IMO those automotive surround sound people had better start working on a hi-res downmixing system for the center channel and subwoofer because if they expect most people to just merrily whip out saber saws, drills and their $$$ to buy/install a sub and a center channel I think they are in for a rude awakening.

    >>> Though if a mobile dvd-audio player can be programmed to play only the DTS/Dolby Digital track then the already-existing downmixing systems for those formats can be used (I think these lossy formats would sound perfectly acceptable in the typically noisy automotive environment). AND the DD/DTS distance compensation capabilities can be used to help create a decently positioned sound field. Just about every car sold now for the past twenty years or more has four speaker capability & a quad DD/DTS system would be a much, much easier sell to a potential mobile surround customer.
  24. JonUrban

    JonUrban SHF Member #497

    Hey [T]! I think you answer your own question. Older cars without 5.1 systems can't play the 5.1 tracks anyway, so what's the big deal? If you install a unit that does DTS or DD, you'll get the 4.0 output.

    However, new cars could already have the center built in. Already Cadillac and Infinity are joining the 5.1 scene with Acura. Hopefullymore, less costly makes will too.
  25. Rich Malloy

    Rich Malloy Forum Resident

    But my concern isn't about old cars; it's about mixing/mastering for the best possible sound in the best possible system, not making concessions due to the obvious limitations of the automobile-listening environment. As I understand his comments, Scheiner intends to mix MLP (and presumably DSD/SACD) tracks with an ear towards correcting the problems of car-based listening, and, more than that, his secondary priority seems to be to appeal to the home-theater-in-a-box crowd that simply wants to hear sound from every speaker.

    The more I think about this interview, the more dismayed I become. This guy is considered a leader in surround mixing, and while I've enjoyed the majority of his mixes, I don't think I much care for the direction he's leading us...
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