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Should sound quality determine reviews?

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SteveG View Drop Down
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    Posted: March 06 2020 at 05:37
In a current review of a Tool album, the reviewer goes to great lengths to emphasis the album's poor mix and muddy sound as well critiquing the music and has based his opinions and ratings on both issues. Sound quality is something I've struggled with in writing my own reviews. I've always based my opinions and rating strictly on the music but always mentioned the recording quality, mixes and mastering as an aside. Which approach do you feel is proper?

Edited by SteveG - March 06 2020 at 05:45
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Frenetic Zetetic Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 06 2020 at 05:43
Production quality is huge, but I only think it really matters if it actually impacts the music recorded. Is the mix too muddy to hear everything? That can impact a song IMHO. One of my biggest gripes about some of the earlier KC stuff is that it's too damn quiet. Easy Money vocal tracks sound like they were recorded through drywall at half volume. That type of stuff ruins it for me, lol.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote progaardvark Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 06 2020 at 06:11
In my opinion, yes, it matters. How much for the overall rating can vary depending on how much of a problem it is. It's a subjective thing, of course.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote LAM-SGC Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 06 2020 at 06:13
No.

Unless it is so bad that it makes it truly physically impossible to hear the music.

Otherwise no.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Chaser Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 06 2020 at 06:16
The music is obviously the most important thing to consider, but, where the sound quality is poor, I think that has to be commented on.
 
For example, the sound quality on Comus "First Utterance" is a bit ropey at times, with the bass barely audible, but that's not the band's fault in this case, I would still rate this album as 5 star in spite of this.
 
Equally there are tracks that really should not have been included on an album because the sound quality is so poor.
 
The bonus tracks on Godbluff ("Fosaken Garden's (Live)" and "A Louse Is Not A Home") spring to mind.
 
What possessed the record company to think that putting tracks with such poor sound quality on the album was a good idea is anyone's guess!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote ExittheLemming Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 06 2020 at 06:49
For me, some of the earlier Gabriel era Genesis albums suffer from muddy sounding mixes. It wasn't until the Lamb that they were afforded production values deserving of their material. That said, King Crimson's the Construkction of Light from 2000 is very wearying to listen to (too much compression robs the playing of whatever dynamics it may have possessed at source and everything just sounds so flat and sterile) The Nice's earlier studio material usually paled in comparison with the heights they reached in the live realm and they finally bowed to the inevitable on the 3rd album (a half live/half studio hybrid affair which finally addressed some of these issues) Although I'm not a big fan of the album, Trout Mask Replica sounds like it was captured on a Dictaphone and then bounced to cassette at least 3 generations after the fact. (Van Vliet eschewed using traditional headphones to record his vocals which are commensurately out of sync with a backing he could only hear via the latency of speaker bleed) Similarly, the Crim's first officially sanctioned bootleg (Earthbound from 1972) is a war-crime against fidelity. Patrick Moraz's the Story of I is blighted by an original '76 mix that buries much of the intricate textural detail provided by up to 16 Brazilian hand percussionists when in tandem with the electronic band.
I wouldn't say I'm much of an audiophile but will always mention in a review if I feel there could be perceived shortcomings in this area. As an aside, what do the members of PA think about the fairly recent phenomenon of bands repatriating the best sounding bootlegs from their history, cleaning them up with audio restoration software and making these available for purchase by fans (King Crimson Collectors Club and ELP Best of the Bootlegs, I'm looking at you)?


Edited by ExittheLemming - March 06 2020 at 06:59
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Junges Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 06 2020 at 07:02
I don't think one can say what should or shouldn't determine reviews as a rule, as each person has their own parameters and preferences. The production certainly has an effect on the enjoyment of the record. But if someone wants to 1 star a record merely because of the sound quality, I don't think somebody can say "hey, you can't do that". As ridiculous as it may be to most, it is still a matter of taste, and if someone wants to focus entirely on the sound quality and disregard everything else... well, it is their right.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Guldbamsen Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 06 2020 at 07:21
I don’t think we can make any sort of meaningfull rule or guideline with regards to fidelity. In the end it has to do with the individual and their sonic journey. If you most of your life have been listening to music over bright speakers/headphones it is quite understandable that you shy away from less than stellar recordings. Why? Because once you tune a speaker brightly you also get all the production mistakes hurdled into your ears compared to a more linear tuning.
I know a lot of folks who swear by AKGs like the K701, K702 and Q701 - also some that favour the HD800 from Sennheiser...and while these headphones sound downright brilliant with great productions, they also make most others sound terrible.
I think a lot of the folks out there that trash on certain albums’ production do so because they own bright gear. Sort of like watching television and then turning the definition waaay up...which doesn’t exactly give you more detail..but to the untrained eye does seem like it does. The same thing goes for speakers/headphones.

So yeah my advice to those that far too often run into less than stellar productions is to consider a pair of new sound purveyors instead of missing out on potentially wonderful music

Edith: then again no amount of ‘warmth’ will ever rescue an album like Earthbound from it’s production
There are albums out there which are almost impossible to listen to. Stuff that sounds like it was recorded inside a big plastic bucket or a skip of styrofoam. Nothing that can be done about that I’m afraid..and yes I think it is perfectly alright to downscore such an effort if it hinders one’s appreciation of the actual music...but again that is very much dependant on the individual.

Edited by Guldbamsen - March 06 2020 at 07:36
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote twosteves Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 06 2020 at 07:35
makes a difference for me---Nursery Crime and Foxtrot both suffer from mediocre production --
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote octopus-4 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 06 2020 at 07:39
Bad quality impacts on the listening experience, so yes: it impacts on reviews as well.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote dr wu23 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 06 2020 at 07:40
Only if it's truly awful where one has to turn up the volume to really hear it.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote ExittheLemming Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 06 2020 at 07:46
Originally posted by Guldbamsen Guldbamsen wrote:

I don’t think we can make any sort of meaningfull rule or guideline with regards to fidelity. In the end it has to do with the individual and their sonic journey. If you most of your life have been listening to music over bright speakers/headphones it is quite understandable that you shy away from less than stellar recordings. Why? Because once you tune a speaker brightly you also get all the production mistakes hurdled into your ears compared to a more linear tuning.
I know a lot of folks who swear by AKGs like the K701, K702 and Q701 - also some that favour the HD800 from Sennheiser...and while these headphones sound downright brilliant with great productions, they also make most others sound terrible.
I think a lot of the folks out there that trash on certain albums’ production do so because they own bright gear. Sort of like watching television and then turning the definition waaay up...which doesn’t exactly give you more detail..but to the untrained eye does seem like it does. The same thing goes for speakers/headphones.

So yeah my advice to those that far too often run into less than stellar productions is to consider a pair of new sound purveyors instead of missing out on potentially wonderful music


I'm the first to admit that the perceived underlying content trumps any considerations of fidelity but what you are basically saying is that the rest of us will not be able to experience the music as it was intended unless we invest in technology that you deem fit for the purpose of aesthetic evaluation. With arrogance like that you should be levitating in front of us.LOL


Edited by ExittheLemming - March 06 2020 at 07:47
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Guldbamsen Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 06 2020 at 07:51
Originally posted by ExittheLemming ExittheLemming wrote:

Originally posted by Guldbamsen Guldbamsen wrote:

I don’t think we can make any sort of meaningfull rule or guideline with regards to fidelity. In the end it has to do with the individual and their sonic journey. If you most of your life have been listening to music over bright speakers/headphones it is quite understandable that you shy away from less than stellar recordings. Why? Because once you tune a speaker brightly you also get all the production mistakes hurdled into your ears compared to a more linear tuning.
I know a lot of folks who swear by AKGs like the K701, K702 and Q701 - also some that favour the HD800 from Sennheiser...and while these headphones sound downright brilliant with great productions, they also make most others sound terrible.
I think a lot of the folks out there that trash on certain albums’ production do so because they own bright gear. Sort of like watching television and then turning the definition waaay up...which doesn’t exactly give you more detail..but to the untrained eye does seem like it does. The same thing goes for speakers/headphones.

So yeah my advice to those that far too often run into less than stellar productions is to consider a pair of new sound purveyors instead of missing out on potentially wonderful music


I'm the first to admit that the perceived underlying content trumps any considerations of fidelity but what you are basically saying is that the rest of us will not be able to experience the music as it was intended unless we invest in technology that you deem fit for the purpose of aesthetic evaluation. With arrogance like that you should be levitating in front of us.LOL



Yup I realised that about my post and edited accordingly. Some albums are just impossible to rescue from how they were baked. They probably needed an hour or two more in the oven
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote BaldJean Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 06 2020 at 08:28
I already made a remark about this topic in another thread. sound quality is in my opinion a typical male issue; I have yet to meet a woman who cares about it. this does not mean that all men care about it, but if somebody cares about it it is a safe bet the person in question is a man.

I am actually of the opinion that sound quality can be too good. this makes the music appear sterile.

music should in my opinion be recorded live (for studio albums live in the studio). the reason is that with live recordings overtones are being created that won't come up if each voice and instrument is recorded separately. this does in my opinion enrich the musical experience


Edited by BaldJean - March 06 2020 at 08:35


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Shadowyzard Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 06 2020 at 08:41
As far as my introspection is concerned, I've always liked or disliked the overall effect of a sound. Sometimes weak procuction and/or poor recording can sound very alluring to me; and sometimes a perfect production and flawless recording/performances can be bland and boring.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote moshkito Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 06 2020 at 08:53
Originally posted by BaldJean BaldJean wrote:

I already made a remark about this topic in another thread. sound quality is in my opinion a typical male issue; I have yet to meet a woman who cares about it. this does not mean that all men care about it, but if somebody cares about it it is a safe bet the person in question is a man.

I am actually of the opinion that sound quality can be too good. this makes the music appear sterile.
...

Hi,

I think we have had our ears blasted with the high quality of a lot of things, going as far back as the Beatles and Rolling Stones, who made enough money to get the very best to record them and put them on the album.

Roll it forward some 7 years, and you find that Pink Floyd set another standard for quality and beauty of the sound, but unlike the 2 previous bands, PF had the sense to allow individual instruments to have their sound stretched (for lack of a better word!), and when you hear the guitar, it sounds just beautiful.

Met a friend here in Vancouver around 1998 or so, that had been recording a band, and it sounded really nice, and the leader walked in and didn't like it ... why? He wanted it to sound like Nirvana, and he didn't care for all the fancy quality of the recording and the so many microphones all over the whole thing!

IF, the sound quality was a serious issue, bootlegs would have taken it in the shorts a long time ago ... but in fact, the quality of the music in many of them, specially PF, GD, TD, Dylan and another handful, was outstanding, and TD had a legitimate issue ... they could not tune things the same in each and every place, and get exactly the same result ... so in some cases the starting point for this or that, by Chris, was what he was able to bring up ... and remember that many times, what they worked with was stuff they found far out in the stage while playing ... you couldn't rehearse that because you could not redo it, and the synths then did not have the ability to reproduce it ... until a few years later, when TD said they traveled with 24 Mac's to carry some of the stuff they wanted, and they begun to sound more "familiar" to your ears and albums.

As for reviews ... I don't do "sound" ... but the real issue is that for many bands, TODAY, it is all about the "sound" and not about the music, and as both The Edge and Andy Summers showed in a couple of VH-1 specials, they unplugged the effects and ... you gotta be kidding me ... if you wrote that the Music Department would have thrown you out for not being competent.

Somewhere in the middle, I think, is the answer ... but for reviews? Reminds me of the issues 25 years ago, with Chinese Films all coming out with hand held cameras, which had one excellent side benefit ... it was way cheaper than the behemoths to film anything! And it was not very good in my estimation, and if you see Wong Kar-Wai's stuff, what he does today is basically the same, but it's clean, smooth and well done, compared to those "experiments", which were OK, but nothing great!

I don't think I ever gave a review on sound only, but half the metal stuff ... is all about sound ... even though some of it seems quite well done in terms of notes and instrumentation, I have a feeling that if it was unplugged, it probably was nothing much doggy do about nothing!


Edited by moshkito - March 06 2020 at 09:00
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote moshkito Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 06 2020 at 08:59
Originally posted by ExittheLemming ExittheLemming wrote:

...
I'm the first to admit that the perceived underlying content trumps any considerations of fidelity but what you are basically saying is that the rest of us will not be able to experience the music as it was intended unless we invest in technology that you deem fit for the purpose of aesthetic evaluation. .....LOL

Hi,

This is true. I bought a pair of ESS Heil AMT 1's in 1974 or 1975, and anything I played on it sounded way better than the average stereo, and it was massive for things like Pink Floyd ... mind you they both cost $750 then ... think about that!

There was, already, a massive push towards the higher and better fidelity of the music, and hearing Tangerine Dream on these speakers is a dream, and you can NOT GET THAT EXPERIENCE ON THE MP3 player you got, or iTunes, which has the worst quality of material ever found anywhere. The sonic experience just is not there, and a review of the music without realizing that PF actually went with the intent of working that atmosphere, to make music better. Sadly, there were too many "hit bands" that did not care about the quality of their music and if you want to hear some samples of a station in 1974 full of these crap recording bands compared to a PF or a couple of other bands ... you won't like the result!

There is something to be said for the "fidelity", but it should not be more important than the music, but ... when it comes to DSOTM ... that statement takes a big hit!


Edited by moshkito - March 06 2020 at 09:03
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Grumpyprogfan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 06 2020 at 09:06
Absolutely. Several albums have been ruined by "loudness wars", for example Polyphia, Animals as Leaders, the last DT. Radiohead "In Rainbows" is ruined by audible distortion, a result of overprocessing. Even some remastered albums are ruined, such as "A Trick of the Tail". Way too much treble boost for me. If there is no dynamic range in a mix/master then I can't listen to an album. It hurts my ears. Reviews should note if a mix sucks and explain why. I think it's fair to reduce your rating by one star, for a five star system.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Guldbamsen Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 06 2020 at 09:23
Personally I don’t mind ‘rough’ productions - some times they even add a certain charm to albums that otherwise would’ve come off far too sterile and polite. Here I am thinking of a fair few RPI albums in my collection as well as The Stooges, loads of Krautrock, psych and music of that ilk.
It is very rare I stumble across an album with a production so poor that it intervenes with my enjoyment of the music..but when I owned the K701 that was certainly not the case.
Nowadays it’s only really when faced with ‘bootleg-quality’ releases that my ears object.

Edited by Guldbamsen - March 06 2020 at 09:28
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote BrufordFreak Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 06 2020 at 09:25
Great topic, Steve!

Sound quality has been VERY important to me--from the beginning (and one of the reasons why it's so difficult for me to like/enjoy live albums). I can remember rejecting a lot of the albums my brother was introducing me to in the late 60s and early 70s based solely on sound quality. And then came Dark Side of the Moon with its amazing clarity--and Mobile Fidelity releases and then Japanese pressed 100% virgin vinyl albums, and then CDs. I always have loved the clean sound of these high-production releases. 

The conundrum herein lies in the fact that sound quality is so dependent on equipment which is then dependent on money. While I hate to believe that money is a key determiner of good music and good quality sound, it would be hard to argue against it. (It pains me to think that leisure--the thing that allows us to have time to explore our creativity--is so related to socioeconomic status and financial comfort/backing cuz I want the realization of human potential to be available to everyone.)
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