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Is Dr. Doherty saying that the now common advice to not worry about low recording levels is not good?

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Is Dr. Doherty saying that the now common advice to not worry about low recording levels is not good?

Postby alexis » Fri Jun 22, 2012 1:13 am

Dr. Douglas Doherty, "Is Lack of Warmth an Inevitable Trait of Digital Recording?"
http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/jul12/a ... f-0712.htm

As an explanation for ONE of the factors for what he believes is inferior sound quality with today's recordings he states:

In the old days, we always kept levels as far above the magnetic tape’s noise floor as possible, but below its overload point. With the digital revolution and the eradication of magnetic tape, noise floors apparently became a thing of the past. So no more worries: just give yourself plenty of headroom and then normalise. But — and it’s a very big but — lower digital levels mean lower bit counts, and lower bit counts mean less detailed recordings ...

I grew up in this "new" generation of 24-bit sound cards, where "peak at -12dBFS or lower" seems to be the generally recommended way to record (as opposed to having everything up closer to 0dBFS). Is Dr. Doherty suggesting something closer to the latter?

Thanks for the thoughts of all you guys who really know what they're doing!
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Re: Is Dr. Doherty saying that the now common advice to not worry about low recording levels is not good?

Postby narcoman » Fri Jun 22, 2012 1:24 am

There a fair bit of bollox in that " sounding off". Cold digital recording s do NOT develop from " lower bit counts giving less detailed recording " ( the biggest pat of the bollox). it's from less harmonic distortion.

Less " phatness" if you will.

it's also from a lot of recording by a lot of people who only know some of the Information to get " good" recordings.
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Re: Is Dr. Doherty saying that the now common advice to not worry about low recording levels is not good?

Postby The Elf » Fri Jun 22, 2012 6:08 am

But -12dBFS peak is not 'low'. We're dealing with comparable levels as we did to tape. The only people who think levels are low are those who misunderstand what the meters are telling them and get stressed about seeing 'unused' headroom!

And I still don't get this obsession about 'warmth' - a digital recording is as 'warm' (and I've yet to see a definition that allocates a consistent meaning to this word) as the source you record.

It seems that many people want to record a source and have it magically improved. I suspect that people purportedly looking for 'warmth' are really looking for recordings that are 'better', but don't have the tools or skills to do it themselves - hence the search for a 'magic' box, plug-in, or DAW.

And 'normalise'?! Where's a face-palm when you need it?...
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Re: Is Dr. Doherty saying that the now common advice to not worry about low recording levels is not good?

Postby Richie Royale » Fri Jun 22, 2012 7:32 am

The Elf wrote:
And 'normalise'?! Where's a face-palm when you need it?...

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Re: Is Dr. Doherty saying that the now common advice to not worry about low recording levels is not good?

Postby Mike Stranks » Fri Jun 22, 2012 7:34 am

The Elf wrote:And 'normalise'?! Where's a face-palm when you need it?...

Anything to oblige a friend....

Image

I've only glanced at the article m'self thus far... but what I've read was enough to raise an eyebrow and utter a sigh.

Leaving aside the physics and maths, I'm with the Elf. You make the recording sound as you want it to... You have to learn to use the tools at your disposal to get the sound you're seeking.
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Re: Is Dr. Doherty saying that the now common advice to not worry about low recording levels is not good?

Postby narcoman » Fri Jun 22, 2012 9:07 am

Agreed. I'm surprised that someone who owns such a company is spreading such misinformation. SOS, I know these pieces are rant pieces, but you really should not be letting false facts in.... It's supposed to be an opinion piece.
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Re: Is Dr. Doherty saying that the now common advice to not worry about low recording levels is not good?

Postby Billum » Fri Jun 22, 2012 9:12 am

IIRC -12dB is only using 2 bits less than the full 24bit recording (6dB is a doubling in level - voltage - and so equates to one bit of the data word, so 12dB equates to two bits), so you'd still be getting a 22bit recording resolution. Since the noise floor of the AD is probably down in the -100dB or so area, you could happily record at -24dB and still get a 20bit recording with a -70dB noise floor (as long as you don't have other analogue electronics contributing noise and bumping the noise floor up massively along the way).

Remember the best CD remasters were transferred from tape at only 20bits until quite recently, with a noise floor on tape that was at least 10dB higher than this, so for individual tracks we're still in the realm of untold luxury of quality!
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Re: Is Dr. Doherty saying that the now common advice to not worry about low recording levels is not good?

Postby desmond » Fri Jun 22, 2012 9:16 am

The Elf wrote:But -12dBFS peak is not 'low'. We're dealing with comparable levels as we did to tape. The only people who think levels are low are those who misunderstand what the meters are telling them and get stressed about seeing 'unused' headroom!

And I still don't get this obsession about 'warmth' - a digital recording is as 'warm' (and I've yet to see a definition that allocates a consistent meaning to this word) as the source you record.

It seems that many people want to record a source and have it magically improved. I suspect that people purportedly looking for 'warmth' are really looking for recordings that are 'better', but don't have the tools or skills to do it themselves - hence the search for a 'magic' box, plug-in, or DAW.

And 'normalise'?! Where's a face-palm when you need it?...


+1 to all that.

Weird article.

Anyone who uses normalise like this really should know better, in this day and age...
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Re: Is Dr. Doherty saying that the now common advice to not worry about low recording levels is not good?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Fri Jun 22, 2012 9:48 am

alexis wrote:As an explanation for ONE of the factors for what he believes is inferior sound quality with today's recordings he states:


I was astonished to see that he had written that. Dr D is a very intelligent and knowledgable chap, but that is just misguided IMHO.

Narcoman and Elf have made all the sensible, relevant and pertinent points, but just to labour the point...

lower digital levels mean lower bit counts, and lower bit counts mean less detailed recordings ...


The first part of that statement is clearly true. For every 6dB below 0dBFS the audio will exercise one fewer bit in the 24-bit word that describes the amplitude.

However, to suggest that results in a less detailed recording is utter nonsense. It results in a noisier recording, certainly. The signal-to-noise ratio is degraded -- just as it is with any analogue system used in the same way. But the audio has no less 'resolution'.

I explained all this in an article called Digital Problems, Practical Solutions four years ago.

The erroneus idea of reduced 'resolution' with lower wordlength usually comes from demos like this 8-bit (undithered) piano recording in which you can clearly here distortions and artefacts and all manner of nasty things. Some would say that is proof of 'less resolution'...

However, that example is not representative of the complete digital process because it only demonstrates crude amplitude quantisation, which is inherently grossly non-linear. All digital audio systems worthy of the pro-audio industry use dithering to perfectly linearise the quantisation process. This results in no distortions, no artefacts, and only a smooth benign noise floor -- exactly like any analogue recording chain or device.

Here is the same piano recording but properly dithered. You can hear a perfectly clean and detailed piano recording there, with no loss of resolution whatsoever. However, there is a constant noise floor...

Taking it to an extreme, here is a 3-bit recording of the same thing, but with 'noise-shaping' dither which makes the noise floor slightly less objectionable through a spectral shaping process.

That's really just a three-bit recording. So if you set your recording levels to peak around -100dB that's pretty much what you'd be left with. Does that really sound like it's lacking resolution or detail? I can hear all the subtleties of the performance and the room acoustics buried in the noise.

I have seen and heard Prism Sound demonstrations where they have shown it perfectly possible to hear a clean, undistorted signal 15dB below the theoretical limit of a 16 bit system if proper dithering is employed with good quality converters.

So sorry... it's a common argument against digital audio, but it simply ain't true.

I grew up in this "new" generation of 24-bit sound cards, where "peak at -12dBFS or lower" seems to be the generally recommended way to record


It is the recommended way because it is the technically correct way, the same way as we evolved the use of analogue systems, and for exactly the same reasons.

The issue, as the Elf has said, is that people get scared when they seen unused space at the top of their meters, becaues they simply aren't used to seeing the headroom margin revealed in that way. Analogue meters just don't show the headroom margin -- but it's still there and for very important reasons.

And the 'warmth' thing is as Narco said -- a lack of masking harmonic distortions that make things sound cuddly and make mixing rather easier because the details aren't as exposed. It's not hard to introduce similar effects to a digital system if that's what you want, via plug-ins or external analogue hardware. But as far as I'm concerned having a clean and faithful recording chain is a good thing.... and I happily record with peaks under -10dBFS and average levels around -20dBFS without any concerns whatsoever.

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Re: Is Dr. Doherty saying that the now common advice to not worry about low recording levels is not good?

Postby Jack Ruston » Fri Jun 22, 2012 2:03 pm

Yeah, the implication is that this loss of 'resolution' and detail makes things sound bad in relation to analogue. But since all the reduction in word length means is that the signal is closer to the noise floor, then by that logic digital should sound better than tape.

Strange article.

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Re: Is Dr. Doherty saying that the now common advice to not worry about low recording levels is not good?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Fri Jun 22, 2012 4:02 pm

Strange indeed.

He does make a lot of very good points though and I agree completely with his suggestion that:

...digital signal processing that repeatedly loses bits ...(bonkers bit deleted)... and you have a recipe that can result in sounds lacking any sense of reality. Couple this with a plethora of low-cost microphones, single‑chip mic preamps, A‑D/D‑A conversion based around a single chip alongside rudimentary analogue interface circuitry, and we begin to approach an explanation for what’s going on

There's a lot of truth in that.

But...

Digital coldness is actually a lack of fidelity


Doesn't tally with my experience. Record an orchestra, or even just a voice to digits and it comes back sounding just like it did leaving the console. Do that with tape and you get something back that sounds obviously different. Often it's 'nice' different, but different all the same -- which to my understanding of English implies a lack of fidelity. Conversely, it also that means that the digital system must have better fidelity, surely!

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Re: Is Dr. Doherty saying that the now common advice to not worry about low recording levels is not good?

Postby Guest » Fri Jun 22, 2012 4:52 pm

Doesn't this all boil down to what we like to hear. It doesn't really matter what the graph says. I think that what happened was that people of a cetain vintage (me included) "got used to" hearing that analogue warmth (whatever that is, distortion etc) and that anything else sounds sort of wrong.

You can tell them until you're blue in teh face that digital has better fidelity (true copy of the original) but they will just never ever buy the argument because when they listen, it doesn't sound "right" to them.

It's not just anal boffins arguig about this stuff though. It's all types of people and people with access to the best gear and the best rooms and the best reproduction equipment. Kate Bush (and she's listened to a playback or two i'd wager) was on the radio talking about her "Director's Cur" record and she said that she was going to work to tape because it sounded warmer, that she missed that sound.

Perhaps there's a confusion about "fidelty", perhaps because people used to use "HiFi" and it has "HiFi" written on album covers, they associate that sound with "fidelity".

Or perhaps because there isn't a signal chain in the world that can make a violin sound exactly as it does if you're sitting in the room while it's being played, the analogue reproduction is a better approximation to the ear.

It's all about what we hear.

So, less fidelity, but maybe less is more.
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Re: Is Dr. Doherty saying that the now common advice to not worry about low recording levels is not good?

Postby Guest » Fri Jun 22, 2012 4:54 pm

... by the time it ges into our head :beamup:
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Re: Is Dr. Doherty saying that the now common advice to not worry about low recording levels is not good?

Postby Jack Ruston » Fri Jun 22, 2012 5:03 pm

Sure...Nobody is arguing that tape doesn't sound different. And of course it may well sound subjectively better, to some or even most people. The point that we're arguing is that warmth and 'beauty' that tape has is nothing to do with higher fidelity. Quite the opposite. The probem with digital, if you approach from the 'digital is a problem' standpoint, is that its fidelity is too great. In that respect the article is arse about face. The point is not that digital is 'just as good'...That's up to the individual, and of course Dr Doherty is quite within his rights to state that, for him at least, tape is better. The point is why it's different.

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Re: Is Dr. Doherty saying that the now common advice to not worry about low recording levels is not good?

Postby Guest » Fri Jun 22, 2012 5:07 pm

I was trying to moot that perhaps it's an issue of semantics.

It's probably impossible ot say why. I would say that analogue sounds more "real". But there's every chance, and probably almost a certainty that it's not as real while it's floating through the air, just more real by the time our brain has interpreted this moving air.
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Re: Is Dr. Doherty saying that the now common advice to not worry about low recording levels is not good?

Postby Ariosto » Fri Jun 22, 2012 5:54 pm

My own take on this (as a musician - Jesus - don't ever listen to musicians) is that digital is the truth, analogue is not the truth. Why do we need all the extra "warmth"? Because the musicians are inadaquate and need it. That's why. Digital at 24 bits is the real thing, you hear every nuance, you also hear everything that is crap. So only the really great musicians survive.

So long live digital. All else is bullshit.
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Re: Is Dr. Doherty saying that the now common advice to not worry about low recording levels is not good?

Postby Guest » Fri Jun 22, 2012 6:43 pm

That was the great thing about working to tape, it got rid of all the bum notes and timing errors :headbang:
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Re: Is Dr. Doherty saying that the now common advice to not worry about low recording levels is not good?

Postby Jack Ruston » Fri Jun 22, 2012 7:12 pm

Of course you're right in that maybe nobody completely understands why things sound the way they do, but in my experience it's all about distortion. The computer is bad at it, and analogue is good at it. That's why the attack of compression in the computer doesn't sound right...Because in analogue there are subtle distortions around that attack that give the compression a sound. We might be able to measure that, but the computer can't replicate it any more than it can sound like a console, a valve, a tape machine or a guitar amp. Yeah of course it's WAAAY better than it was five years ago, and in five years time it'll be way better again. But it's still weak. Take all these plug ins, Waves analog buttons, the Slate Digital stuff etc, yes they sound quite good when you first listen to them, but I think most of us have had that moment of disappointment when you take it all off and the mix sounds better without. Analogue has this way of distorting without going mushy that we still don't have in digital. When that nut is properly cracked, and of course it may never be, then the perfection of digital will be tamed. IMO.

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Re: Is Dr. Doherty saying that the now common advice to not worry about low recording levels is not good?

Postby Guest » Fri Jun 22, 2012 7:24 pm

Just to say that i'm not an analogue evangelist, i like using the digital recorder. It's taken a while and had to learn again and not let it boss me about (which was the big hurdle), but i'm a fan.
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Re: Is Dr. Doherty saying that the now common advice to not worry about low recording levels is not good?

Postby Gone To Lunch » Sat Jun 23, 2012 2:13 am

The sound of 'analog' is simply what people have become used to; what they heard first in their formative years will colour their perceptual interpretation later on....
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Re: Is Dr. Doherty saying that the now common advice to not worry about low recording levels is not good?

Postby Ariosto » Sat Jun 23, 2012 12:46 pm

Gone To Lunch wrote:The sound of 'analog' is simply what people have become used to; what they heard first in their formative years will colour their perceptual interpretation later on....

That is very true. However, I'm one of those who grew up on analogue - but I can see and hear that digital sound is an incredible improvement on that awful wow and flutter (I have a keen sense of pitch) and all that mud that anologue gives us. However, the musicians are rarely as good these days.
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Re: Is Dr. Doherty saying that the now common advice to not worry about low recording levels is not good?

Postby Guest » Sat Jun 23, 2012 2:20 pm

Yes people believe in the experts so much and are afraid to question them.
SOS will prove it to you and they aren't arrogant, just a bit tetchy sometimes eh! :ooo:

Hugh proved that an audio signal can still be deciphered by the ear by using one bit, but noise will be a factor.
There's a compromise between Bit depth and sample rate but we have a good standard today.

I agree with Ariosto that digital is king.
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Re: Is Dr. Doherty saying that the now common advice to not worry about low recording levels is not good?

Postby MonkeySpank » Sat Jun 23, 2012 3:17 pm

Gone To Lunch wrote:The sound of 'analog' is simply what people have become used to; what they heard first in their formative years will colour their perceptual interpretation later on....
100% agree. I'm 46 years old. I grew up on analogue, gradually moved to digital, recently brought analogue tape and desk back into my set-up.

I'm going off-topic a bit here, but analogue recording sounds different but not better. How can it sound better? It is more fun maybe, because of nostalgia and having to work with its limitations (fewer tracks, bouncing, running out of tape, cleaning the heads) and limitations tend to bring out the best in artistic endeavour. But "sounding better" just because you are recording to tape? Nah.


Ariosto wrote:However, the musicians are rarely as good these days.
100% agree again, but I don't think it has much to do with analogue vs. digital recording. Kids seem less willing or able to devote the time to practicing an instrument than they did when I was their age. There are too may other ways to occupy their time: the internet and video games being the two biggest time sinks. Also, the age of superstardom for musicians is coming to an end, so maybe they aren't drawn to by the awe and glory like we might have been, or are more attracted by the DJ route. Less live venues doesn't help for those kids who do make it as far as performing. But that's a different discussion. :smirk:
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Re: Is Dr. Doherty saying that the now common advice to not worry about low recording levels is not good?

Postby TimJN » Fri Jun 29, 2012 4:35 am

I was floored to actually read the column--by now, it's clear to me that there's a certain cohort of older fellows who simply hate digital, and are always pining for the good old days of analog tape. Nothing is going to dissuade them from believing that the good old days were the best, and that analog is being unfairly (though inevitably) thrown into the trash. Fine. But to utter falsehoods is not fine. It's simply embarassing. Thanks to Hugh Robjohns for clearing up (!) the strange technical notions of another aging ranter.

P.S.: I think another thing that might be bothering the Doctor is the democratization of music production. Fair enough. I'd agree that there's a lot of hackers out there (I'm one of them) using cheap stuff to try to put their stuff out there, or just trying to do really good with what they've got. But I'd never represent myself as a pro--I thoroughly believe in professionalism myself, and I readily condemn the folks who present themselves as pros in the audio profession. But the worm has turned, and we are never going back to "the good old days," and that's that. I say full speed ahead.
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Re: Is Dr. Doherty saying that the now common advice to not worry about low recording levels is not good?

Postby The Elf » Fri Jun 29, 2012 6:25 am

TimJN wrote:I was floored to actually read the column--by now, it's clear to me that there's a certain cohort of older fellows who simply hate digital, and are always pining for the good old days of analog tape.
I find the opposite to be more often the case - older dudes are usually glad to see the back of tape, but young guns mistakenly believe in its mystical mojo without appreciating how big a PITA it was! :headbang:
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