better gear, worse recordings

ever notice that the better the gear you own, the worse some recordings sound?

some recordings you grew up with that were eq'd for lp's now sound flat and lifeless or the musical background is revealed as less captivating than it appeared on mediocre equipment

a few other rare jems show even more detail and are recorded so well that the upgrade in equipment yields even more musicality

I have my opinions, would like to here what artists you think suffer from the former or benefit from the latter

Well put Kelly. I keep trying to "push" things sometimes and swap multiple components at a time. This is basically a BIG no-no from my experience, but i still do it. I have been hurt ( sometimes drastically ) by doing this too. At one point, i was extremely happy with one of my systems ( it sounded GREAT in terms of both musicality and detail ). I decided to "make it better" and move this cable here, that one there, take that amp out and put this one in, etc... As such, i lost the "synergy" that i had and was never able to get back to that point. While i can remember what preamp, amp, etc... i was using, i don't know what cables i had where. After learning that lesson, i'm now keeping a log book to keep track of what goes where, etc... This way i can experiment and still find my way back while trying to go forward : ) Sean
Hmmmmm... So we think a system should play back exactly what is on the recording. Tell me; how do we know when we have reached that point?? Unless we were present at the recording session, and we have a perfect memory of what we heard at that session, there is no way for us to tell what we are hearing now is exactly what was recorded then.

There have been cases where instruments were a little out of tune at recording sessions. If we choose one of these recordings as our reference, and we tweek our systems so it now sounds in tune, because we assume it was in tune then, we are in trouble.

Roxy Music's Avalon is the perfect example of this phenomenon for me. I have loved the music on this recording since I first heard it when originally released. As I began to improve my systems over the years however, it quickly became apparent that the recording quality on both my vinyl and CD versions sucked. Now the only time I can bear to listen to it, is when I'm driving with the top down in an older convertible that I have. With so much wind and road noise, I can crank it up and love the music all over again without obsessing over the awful sonic quality.
I am speaking here strictly only of big orchestral classical music and here you can safely say, that the art of recording has begun to decline with the introduction of multimiking , dynagroove and more and more electronic "soundshaping". In the glory days of RCA and Mercury the engineers were musicians in their own right and as a rule intimately familiar with the accoustics of the recording venue. They also collaborated much more closely with the artists they recorded on an artistic as well as technical level and both sides knew what they were talking about and what was going on. It was a much closer working together in comparison to what is happening today. So if you wanted good sound from your LPs, it was generally a safe bet to look for the name of the producer and chief engineer as well. Layton for RCA, Wilkinson for Decca and RCA, Bishop and Parker for EMI, Pontrefact for Harmonia Mundi come to mind as examples. I have improved my setup steadily for more than thirty years now and the sound of the early RCA and Merc stereos(until 1962)have improved with it. It is absolutely amazing, how much is on vinyl from the glory days between 1959 and 62. Later, into the seventies, the Brits with DECCA and EMI were a fairly safe bet and those recordings also hold their own until today. Red book CD just will not do for big orchestral music, especially if your ears have been spoilt by listening to the above mentioned gems and also SACD falls short as far as classical music is concerned. So yes, except for the old gems, which hold their own, because at that time the people concerend, knew also MUSICALLY what they were doing when recording, yes, recordings are getting worse as our systems are getting better.
I agree with many of the points posted, and certainlybalnce in a systemis very hard to acheive; however there are some strange ideas about the recording process I'd like to correct. First of all Sugarbrie's idea that one could retune and out of tune recording, unless it was intended metaphorically is impossible with stereo equipment (you can do a little of this in a studio on computers). You could speed up or slow down a recording on your turntable, but this would transpose everything, not change the relation of the notes to each other (this is what out of tune means, since the absolute frequency of the pitches varies a little from place to place and year to year anyway - not always fun for those of us with perfect pitch). The other this that is frequently mentioned in this thread is an idea that recordings have become more technical and less true, that multi-mike recordings are more common, etc. This generalization is not really true (at least in classical). I'm mostly a composer, but I also do Artistic Direction for classical CDs and if anything there has been a big push back towards direct stereo recording in the last 5 years or so. There has even been something of a push towards what we call tube mikes (they have tube mike pre-amps, in fact).

I think there are several issues with the recordings people complain about. One that has already been discussed is the tendancy (less present in classical) to mix for average systems. In the studio there are usually at least two sets of speakers a small close monitor speaker (like a KEF Reference or a GenElec) which is designed to be very analytical and not very pleasing for just listening, a good hifi type speaker (though these are often custom made) which is usually triamped with active crossovers, these are called the flatters because engineers think they make things sound too good. In may studios there will also be a low-fi pair of speakers for comparison. Most engineers like to mix on the analytical speakers and check on the flatters and the low-fi while I personally think that better results often come from mixing on the flatters and checking on the close monitors.

The real problem with many recent recording, though has nothing to do with this, it is purely economic. 25 or more years ago when an orchestra did a recording, they viewed it as a big deal. The conductor would come to the booth and listen, there was much more time to get things right, etc. Now orchestras run on insanely tight schedule (e.g. there are usuall three or four 3-hour rehearsals for an entire concert now as opposed to six in the past). Conductors fly all over and in any case do not view recordings as being all that important to their careers. You will almost always get a weaker result when the performers are absent from the process. Many record companies also don't want the added expense of a real artistic director plus an engineer, so they get a hybrid profile person (called a tonmeister) who does a bit of both, but these people are in an impossible position because if they say to the orchestra "we need to waste 15 more minutes of your precious time to move a mike" they will get in trouble because they put the mike there in the first place. They are also fully dependant on the record companies for their work and on-time on budget completions are viewed as the important benchmark. Many of these CDs hardly even get listened to by the execs and they certainly don't reward recording they think are particularly good. This time pressure can lead to aberant things happening (like the worng master making it onto a CD or reverbs changing in the middle of a piece).

However, even as all of these surrounding issues have deteriorated, there are many things that have gotten much better in recent years. Editing is far superior (and even in the old days many of the recordings were edited). One of the real problems today is the excess of dynamic range. Although SACDs can theoretically do more than 100dBs of dynamic range a typical house (which is a fairly noisy environment) will have real trouble with more than 60dBs and a typical car has trouble with more than 10 dBs. This is not to say that greater ranges can't be produced, they just won't be as satisfying. One reason many people prefer vinyl is that those records had their dynamic range reduce to about 30-35 dBs (in some case a little more). In general if you give listening tests most people prefer slightly compressed music to realistic music in a home environment which is much noisier than concert halls (where we shut of the ventilation systems during concerts, etc); in fact people's sense of PRaT oftenis related to the amount of compression. However, in an ideal listening environment the compression will reduce many wonderful aspect of the recorded sound. For a while Sony tried to sell car CDs with compressors (so that the recordings could be optimized for hifi listening and the player could do the adaptation to the noisier environment), but that never flew, people wanted the 'real' sound in their cars, which meant losing that sound at home instead. But in a good listening room with good equipment we can now reproduce the full live dynamic range which is amzing for me. This was one of the real lackings of recorded sound on vinyl.

All of this rambling post to say that amny things are better technologically than in the past the problems are with taste and mooney/time. Multi miking which was worse in the 70's is typical of an era when we all wore 3-ply polyester. Then as now great engineers can make great recordings when they have the time. It seems to me that if you are sometimes troubled with poorly done recordings the solution is not to reduce the accuracy of you equipment, but buy recordings done by good engineers. Another thing that can really help is to use studio-like post-processing at home to adjust recordings to your conditions. A good (studio quality) compressor/limiter is only a couple of thousand dollars (reverb and other processors can be really prohibative - over $40K).

I think it is absolutely false to blame the equipment, recordings and hifis are undisputably better than they were. However you still need skill, time and care to produce a good recording and it seems we have ever less of these. In the past recordings all felt new and so great care was taken. Now they are just filling market niches most of the time. After all there are already 3000 sets of Beethoven symphonies out there the 3001st won't change the world. Unfotunatel, you can't do anything great in music unless you do think you can change the world. Fortunately a few of us are still crazy and/or deluded and so do our best.