On 11/17/2014 7:30 PM, Tom Fine wrote:
> I've often wondered about applying the Mercury technique, including
> using the real-deal Schoeps M201 microphones (they need restoration, but
> they're still alive), with a modern high-resolution digital recording
> rig. Will people like it without the "thickening" of magnetic tape? Was
> that part of the secret with Mercury and RCA (both used the same kind of
> Ampex tape machines for most of the best-liked recordings, and RCA used
> somewhat similar but usually more microphones). Decca also used Ampex
> tape machines for their early stereo recordings. How much of the beloved
> sound is tape-related? I don't know the answer. I tend to think the love
> is more mic-technique related but a modern all-digital version might
> require some mastering EQ nip and tuck to thicken it out a tiny bit.
Tom, I hear what you're saying, and more-or-less agree, but I'm not sure
all of the "thickening" came from tape. The following is a digression
from the main topic, but perhaps an interesting one.
I say that based on some experiments I've done, back in the 1970s and
about 10 years ago. The more recent first: I was reviewing a pair of
Microtech Gefell M930 microphones for Recording magazine. (I gave them a
rave, and subsequently bought the review pair. I was apparently the
fifth reciewer in a row to do that. They've become my "money"
microphones, the most pried in my collection.
Well, I was at a local studio trying them out on drums. They're
sufficiently high-output that I wondered what would happen if I ran them
from a stand-alone phantom supply straight into the recorder (a ProTools
rig). Now, via every mic preamp I tried these were thoroughly modern
transformerless microphones, with incredibly clean and present sound
(the're particularly good on drums, I've found). I plugged them into a
transformer-coupled phantom supply I'd borrowed from George Vazquez
Wolin, and suddenly it was 1966 and I was listening to drums from a Stax
or Motown classic -- think "midnight Train to Georgia", say. I heard all
the thick sound of a classic analog setup -- from a ProTools rig, no
less. It all came, as far as I could tell, from the transformer I'd
added to each channel (the phantom supply dated from the 1960s,
probably, so the transformers in it weren't modern).
The experiments I did in the 1970s involved listening to Ampex (A440C)
and Studer (B67) tape decks. I heard what I think of as classic Studer
sound from it: warmish, slightly compressed-sounding, and "thick", what
I'ver seen referred to as the "gluing-together" of the mix. I heard this
sonic signature, to a lesser extent, from the Ampex too.
So big deal, right? That's the stereotypical sound of tape. Yeah, but
there was no tape; I was listening to the Studer with its switch set in
the "Source" position. Ditto the Ampex, again to a lesser extent.
I think I was hearing transformers again when I looped signal through
these tape machines. Also perhaps electrolytic capacitors; rhe Studer
used lots of them, mostly of the tantalum variety, and mostly without
polarizing voltage. The Ampex used nearly as many, but they were
aluminum, and motsly had polarizing voltages across them.
But when Tom and others talk about the "thickrning" sound of tape, they
*may* be hearing the sound of the electronics, particularly the
transformers in the circuit. If thhat's true, by the way, it suggezts
that Tom's experiment of recording in the classic Mercury fashion
through a high-res digital setup might profit, not necessarily from
running the signal through tape, but incorporating a few old-style (UTC,
Triad) transformers into the chain.
Now back to the topic, which is already in progress:
> Unfortunately, we discuss this in a time where there is very little
> budget to make proper classical recordings and we don't live in an age
> of giants as far as conductors and orchestras go. Part of what you might
> dislike about modern classical releases is that fact that most of them
> are really nothing more than forever-playable broadcasts, recordings of
> live performances (something totally different from a recording
> session). In the best cases today, a major orchestra records a live
> performance and then the union rates allow for a short after-concert
> "patchup" session. Rarely have there been carefully heard playbacks, so
> the patchup decisions are made on the fly by an overworked producer or
> producer/engineer. Keep in mind that Mercury, RCA and Decca session
> books will clearly show that a major symphonic piece could have taken
> 2-3 full days to get on tape. Sessions went even longer in the 70s
> (perhaps not to better ends). That's unheard of today. Also today, the
> market is flooded with junk, b- and c-list orchestras recording on the
> cheap for the likes of Naxos. None of it appeals at all when compared to
> the great recordings from the "golden age." It's the Wal-Marting of
> classical music, if you will. Just like journalism, just like book
> authoring, music-making and recording are crafts. When there is not
> money and time to allow for craftsmanship, record companies and
> consumers (and what used to be called newspaper readers, and book
> buyers) get what they are willing to pay for.
Again I agree; most of the modern conductors I've heard are pallid
compared to the Reiners and Munches of my youth. I invite you to hear
one exception, though: David Robertson. I heard him conduct Beethoven 9
in 2013, and it gave me the same tingle the Reiner recording always has.
And he kicks serious butt on Stravinsky -- he plays it with passion,
while most moderns aeem afraid to get their hair mussed up.