Stereo Recording Techniques – Post 3

3        Recording in Stereo

When recording with stereo techniques, the panning decisions are being made before the editing and mixing process begins. This automatic panning is caused by the interaural differences being recorded by the microphones, which will then be replayed to listeners over speakers.

There are different types of stereo recording technique, which are outlined in this post along with examples of particular techniques following later. It is worth nothing that different technique types will make use of interaural differences in different ways, so the sound can differ, dramatically.

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Stereo Recording Techniques – Post 2

2        Stereo Image Considerations

A number of criteria need to be considered in order to ensure the stereo image sounds the best that it can. These considerations will influence what recording array you use and how you will manipulate the array before you commit to a recording take.

Audio production is a very subjective business. Entire research studies have been dedicated to see if it is possible to establish a set of words which can be objectively used to describe recorded sound. For example, one person’s ‘harsh’ could be another person’s ‘bright’, so having agreement on what is which can be helpful. With this in mind, this section has been written as an attempt to do the same but please keep in mind that the only rule to follow is to experiment.

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Stereo Recording Techniques – Post 1


Hello everyone. This is the first post in a three post series about basic stereo recording techniques. The series is made of a few chapters, which have been split across three posts. Some will be longer than others, but it should be a nice way to present the topic as you can bookmark specific chapters, if you like.

This post describes how the stereo image is created and how it relates to our hearing systems. Post 2 highlights a number of sonic aspects of the stereo image which should be considered when recording and also when mixing. In terms of recording, Post 3 outlines the different categories of stereo recording arrays and some examples.

Overall, this guide aims to take readers through the creation, manipulation and recording of the stereo image across a variety of musical genres. It should be treated as a primer. Recommended reading will be suggested throughout the series. If you have any questions or you spot any errors, do not hesitate to get in touch with me at

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My Project Description Take 2 – With a Meme!

Hi all,

I was chatting with a friend recently and the meme below came up. A few minutes ago, it hit me that the meme could be a good way to structure a post or set of posts about my MSc project, that and it means that I don’t have to do this through the medium of interpretive dance!

It has been pointed out to me that my blogs are usually quite long. I agree, I do love the look of my text! Anyway, anyone who could have a passing interest may get pushed away by my blabbing so like a meme, this post is going to describe the project I am doing in a short and sweet way. It is important that I use the blog to keep track of the project in all its technicalities, but I also want to keep an informality to posts at the same time. What better way to do that then through a meme!




The Soundfield system allows an engineer to replace the 5 microphones normally used for surround sound recording of classical music with a single microphone. The Soundfield microphone allows an engineer to adjust what has been recorded after the recording takes place to create the best sounding production that is possible from the microphone being placed where it is. It is quite easy to setup and use. This is a huge selling point. Imagine taking a photo and wishing you could change the lighting days, months or years after the photo is taken!

A “traditional” surround recording system uses 5 separate microphones, also known as a multi-microphone array. Each microphone has its own stand with each having a specific angle and distance relationship with each other. The rear microphones are generally spaced a fair bit away, sometimes meters away. They can be difficult to set up and if a mistake is made, it can not be fixed after recording, a bit of a hassle and you can’t adjust things after the recording like you can with the Soundfield.



Well, there are significant physical differences between the Soundfield and traditional arrays. Does the Soundfield sound better or worse to a set of listeners in a specific recording session? Can they both achieve excellent results? If one does and the other doesn’t, why is that? Would the Soundfield rate with listeners given the significant differences between it and traditional arrays? Is the ease of use and after recording touch ups worth any quality issues that the Soundfield may have?


Well, this is a tough one. A lot of those questions can be answered by saying each recording method has its own characteristics. Certainly, there wouldn’t be one better or one worse across music recording as a whole. But, if you record a musical ensemble and play the results to some listeners and ask them what they prefer, maybe one method would stand out. At this early stage of the project, I would wonder what people think. I think that the two methods are both as good as each other and are viable methods of recording music, but when recording a musical ensemble I would question how listeners would react to how differently the Soundfield deals with the rear microphones.



Well, I am not too sure about this one yet. Since my last post, I have been doing a lot of reading and my literature review so far do not show much research directly comparing the traditional arrays vs. the Soundfield for the type of music I want to use (small classical group). So I am on the fence. As an engineer, it would be great to know that the easier to use Soundfield is as preferred if not more preferred than traditional arrays. So, lets find out.



Through research of the various Audio Engineering Society papers, I have found that the Decca Tree and its derivative called the Fukada tree surround arrays are two of the most preferred traditional arrays. So, to ensure that the Soundifeld is getting a fair fight as such, I want to record a small classical ensemble with the arrays. To make sure everything is equal, the arrays will be setup simultaneously and recorded at the same time too. Then I want to play extracts to listeners to find out which is the most preferred.


I ruddy hope so!

My next project post will be about what I have found during my literature reviews!

Thanks for reading!

Music Production – Back to Basics

I am left a bit inspired and overjoyed after watching the Sound City documentary which was written and directed by Dave Grohl.

The documentary follows the Los Angeles based Sound City studios from its birth in the late 60s through to the present day and recent closure. It talks about the various musicians, producers, engineers who have worked and been touched by the studios. The list of albums coming from this studio is amazing. The Kyuss album “Welcome to Sky Valley” and The Queen’s of the Stone Age album “Rated R” take special places in my heart and since I found out that their sound comes from the Sound City attitude and ethic of doing things, I am left motivated in my own decisions regarding music production workflow. I do not want to give too much away but there is one point which I want to talk about in this blog. This point is the attitude and ethic I mentioned.

24 Tracks

The most thought provoking point it raises for me is the development and modern use of digital audio equipment compared to the Sound City days. The studio itself revolved around a very special Neve mixing console.

Having no real knowledge of the Sound City story before this documentary, I sighed and rolled my eyes when Pro Tools was mentioned. Happily, it went on to criticising the DAW. I am not going to start slagging Pro Tools off because that is not what I mean. This line was one of the first indications to the theme of the documentary. This theme was that live, emotional and powerful music is what the aim of production should be and the digital revolution can and had some very negative impacts on this due to misuse. It outlined what digital audio workstations as a whole have allowed anyone to do and allowed cheaply. This could be a factor to production issues that we have had to deal with over the years, such as the loudness wars and overly produces, polished and edited music.

This is something I have believed for quite a while. It has never been easier to do some tracking and then edit or generally manipulate the material until it is deemed perfect. In essence what we are doing is opening the floodgates for the pushing of this concept to an extreme.

Newbies, through no fault of their own, can be sucked into The “fix it in the mix” mindset. Word processing and laptops do this too; I can now say to people that I am a writer. I am a blogger; I write important opinion pieces and post them on a fantastic server. Well, I am not that great. I don’t have perfect grammar and I am sure the spell check has made some confusing corrections in this regard for me. That and I am not for one moment going to tell anyone I am an authority on anything! Where I think my blog is decent, on the other extreme you can have utterly horrendous blogs which are just a means for someone to massage their ego or simply write about things badly. With fancy themes, they can be seen to be great.

To take what I am saying and bring it into an audio context let’s look at this in a digital context. Essentially, it has never been easier for people to write what they feel and post it to an audience which could possibly be millions of people. Digital has also revolutionised the audio industry which allows anyone to become a music producer. This dilutes the first principles which many people have worked extremely hard to work along and with. This dilution is in some ways something which every single one of us do. We all have phases of not knowing what we are doing so we will always produce something which is simply not done in the way it should have been.

In the audio world, vocals can be auto tuned heavily. Bass and drum takes can be edited to the point of technical perfection but all these examples result in musically deficient music. What this Sound City documentary told me was not to let the possibilities of digital to pull me into a place where I mix and produce this music without the music in mind. Record live, overdub what you really need to and keep the energy intact.

A lot of people say click tracks kill the musicality of a piece. I would argue that recording music track by track does this and as it happens, clicks are used a lot in that and get the blame. Something which I have done a lot is use the least number of tracks I can. What I would love to do in the ideal recording setup is live, live and live with minimal and only necessary overdubs. Id keep the editing to reasonable amount and learn when enough is enough and tell the musician we need to get it recorded better. Okay, maybe that is just so my job is easier but I cant help but think that a song which could sound amazing spread across 24 tracks would sound much better than a 40 track traffic jam.

Does it have to be Analogue?

The documentary talks about how the Neve mixing board contributes to the music. Where I felt that sometimes I was being told that the mixer was the reason I ended up appreciating that it is the analogue way of recording that stitches musicians together. This is not because it was recorded on tape, it is not because that particular mixing board was being used as such. For me I was being told that it was because of the limitations of a fully analogue system where we ended up recording bands live, overdubbing only when we really needed to and all I can say is that the music which we could hear being recorded in this way in the documentary is just fantastic. It may not float everyone’s boat but as an engineer I can feel the feel. I can sense the energy, the spontaneity, the music. What needs to be realised is that this production is not about DAW bashing and is not an anti technology group of people whining about the digital domain. What it is about is an attempt to get the audience appreciate the methodologies that the tape medium allowed or probably forced upon us. Even though it has been made extremely easy thanks to digital we should not to let these methodologies go.

So, for anyone reading please don’t get too caught up in the possibilities of digital. It is only going to offer us a consistently increasing number of possible track counts and plug in instances. This documentary shows us all how it used to be done and I think what we have to face is that maybe we reached the peak and musically best way to record and mix just as the digital revolution began. Maybe all the digital revolution has done is allow us build on and streamline aspects of the old way of doing things but at the expense of allowing more misuse and technique abuse in.

The title of this blog post is back to basics which, I hope you can appreciate actually are not basics at all. They are extremely complex recording and mixing techniques driven by experience and genius. They are techniques developed over years of work which demanded certain technological improvements which digital as delivered on.

Who are we to ask for unlimited track counts and millions of plugin instances with surgical editing capabilities when we are clueless about recording and mixing in a fashion which has produced some of the best sounding music ever? Who knows, maybe fighting the noise floor was a much more significant and positive development than any increase in track count or auto tuner could ever imagine to be.

Where does this change our development focus? Well, readers, where do you think?

Thanks for reading!


Why Listening Matters

I am not a heavy YouTube user. At the most, I will look at chunks of concerts by my favourite musicians or possibly a long interview. That said, I have been glued to YouTube for about two and a half hours listening to round table discussion with Steve Berkowitz (Senior Vice President of Sony Legacy), Greg Calbi (Mastering Engineer), Evan Cornog (Audiophile), Michael Fremer (Editor of Stereophile Magazine), Kevin Killen (Record and Mix Engineer), and Craig Street (Record Producer). The panel span the music production process from inception to playback.

Music as a Rewarding Experience

First, they talked about how people need to set aside time to listen to things. In our modern listening world, everything is done in a rush; probably more so since this video was recorded. Services like Spotify and TuneIn are amazing for allowing us to listen to what we like, when we like. However, the chances are that we will mostly listen to them while we do something else. Music is not seen as an enriching experience as much as it should.

Technology and Music

Interestingly, the question of technology advancing and whether the standard of low quality MP3 would move on and be replaced by something better was raised. The panel were mainly positive that it would; however, one person felt that there is no demand for anything better as no one knows that there is better; which, is a fascinating thing to think about. The term “sonic junkfood” was extremely apt. I would be confident in saying that the breakthrough in the ability of storing more music than you would ever want in your pocket greatly outweighed any sonic disadvantages which were inherent. One good sign is that since this was recorded, the emergence of Spotify and its premium 320mbps streaming service has taken quite a hold; which is definitely a great place to start. Hopefully, this will become the norm for free subscriptions.

The panel asked could the digital recording process recreate old analogue recordings? For me, this is one of the audio myths. If a single performance is simultaneously recorded with analogue and digital (properly), I am of the belief that both performances will be captured adequately. In fact, I would go as far to say that the democratisation of audio production to the masses is what gives digital systems a more negative reputation that deserved as productions can be more often than not, low quality. This democratisation is also the most positive development in terms of promoting music which may not have otherwise gotten out into the world.

An interesting point touched on in the video is how DAWs nowadays give users almost limitless possibilities with huge track counts and processing that would have been considered magic in the olden days! Perhaps we have reached a point where we need to combine the working methodologies of analogue and digital, which is what I do everyday as a sound engineer. If a song can’t be put down in 24 tracks, then chances are, there needs to be a rethink!

The Video

The video has been muted by YouTube due to it having real life songs played as musical examples. I have re-uploaded the video without these musical pieces in the hope that YouTube does not mute it again, so apologies if you are disappointed by the back of musical examples.