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Author Topic: Instrument placement in stereo image  (Read 2880 times)

mkrzych

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Instrument placement in stereo image
« on: July 03, 2015, 02:32:12 am »

Hello,
I've decided to post here because time to time it bugs me a lot and I don't really know what is the reason why the recordings sound like that.

First of all, especially listening to the jazz trio's I and some other people as well found that they sound a bit off centre meaning that quite often different recordings seemed to pull slightly to one side, with a slight hole on the other. This is as said, quite often and it is not only listening by the speakers (then stereo imaging could be messed a bit thanks to the room acoustic), but also when using headphones - of course the latter one is more evident. Why is that, does it mean that mixing or mastering engineers does not listen over cans?

Second thing is placement of the instruments, again more evident when the recording is done in the studio. Looking at the video coverage of the live performances or at the liner notes from the CD mostly for jazz trio's the piano is placed in the left side, bass in the middle and drums at the right. This is totally vice versa when you listen to the CD and to top it off, piano sound of drums sound are extended over the whole right to left image, meaning that some part of the keyboard is heard on the right channel, but some on the left - total mess, since the keyboard is not so long to spread the whole stage right ;-) The same with drums - drummer does not have soooo long hands. Why is that again? This is I guess something wrong with mixing and mics placement not using real stereo pair of microphones etc.

Those two questions are for you guys, pros and hobbyists if you noticed the same and why we hear it like that? Not the case with old recordings usually or with product from guys like Barry Diament http://www.barrydiamentaudio.com or http://www.soundliaison.com engineers. More commercial studios all are doing the same.

Best regards,
Krzysztof Maj
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Jim Williams

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Re: Instrument placement in stereo image
« Reply #1 on: July 04, 2015, 11:58:12 am »

I'll bite. Pop mixes are basically 'dual mono' when stereo tracks are mixed. Compared to 1960's stereo recordings, you find those are mostly mono tracks panned, sometimes with drums or vocals on one side only.

Acoustic representations of jazz are all over the map, some are dual mono recordings, some very stereo. For an alternative approach, check out Todd Garfinkle's MA recordings catalog. Those are jazz recordings done with a single stereo pair of B+K 4006 mics in a spread configuration.
www.marecordings.com
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mkrzych

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Re: Instrument placement in stereo image
« Reply #2 on: July 07, 2015, 11:50:07 am »

I'll bite. Pop mixes are basically 'dual mono' when stereo tracks are mixed. Compared to 1960's stereo recordings, you find those are mostly mono tracks panned, sometimes with drums or vocals on one side only.

Acoustic representations of jazz are all over the map, some are dual mono recordings, some very stereo. For an alternative approach, check out Todd Garfinkle's MA recordings catalog. Those are jazz recordings done with a single stereo pair of B+K 4006 mics in a spread configuration.
www.marecordings.com

This does not explain why in general these technics I mentioned are so present on nowadays recording. Even big engineers like Doug Sax or Bernie Grundman are fan of overlooked close miking and piano or drum set spread across whole stereo image. So what the heck!? It is not natural how we hear and using lots of stereo mics and mixing into stereo/overlay layers is somehow weird and makes no sense - at least on my, not pro thinking.
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Fletcher

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Re: Instrument placement in stereo image
« Reply #3 on: July 07, 2015, 01:00:02 pm »

You're right, it makes no sense... but its been the "convention" since the late 1960's when the "pan pot" was introduced to recording consoles... sometime after the Beatles "Rubber Soul" record [which was the last Beatles record to employ the EMI "REDD 37" console, which had the "panning" options of "hard left" and "hard right"].

When stereo came to prominence there was a trend that was popular to have the cymbals spread way out, the piano spread way out, etc., etc., etc. -- the idea was that you were buying a record that was "greater" than a "live" experience.  When "quad" became popular in the early to mid-1970's the trend became to put things into places that would / could never occur in nature. 

If you've got the notion to drop a bunch of dollars, check out the Pink Floyd box set that has the original Alan Parsons "quad" mixes of the band's "Dark Side of the Moon" record -- there is a 96/24 version which is absolutely stunning if for nothing else how the "anger" in the audio supports the musical statement [in my mind / sense of aesthetic that mix is a world better than the subsequent 5.1 mix that was done for the current multi-channel listening experience -- the 5.1 version being far more "audiophile", but at least to my ears / sense of aesthetic far away from the artist's original intention -- though I could easily be wrong about that].

As far as jazz recordings go -- most, not all, but most take their panning cues from rock and roll records.  Again, the idea in those being "larger than life" vs. the "reality of a live performance".  Is it right?  Who knows.  Does it suit the artist's intention?  Probably, but you can never tell for sure.

FWIW, I usually prefer to mix records that have the instruments placed where they would be placed in a "live performance" environment -- so long as it suits the essence of the music and works with the artists' musical intentions... which it doesn't always do.  From my perspective the whole "engineering" thing is about supporting the artist's musical intention [which about 20 years ago was "support the artist's musical intention" so long as the record company (who was still paying the bills in those days) gave their approval of the final product].

Don't know if this helps with your question or not... but its about the best explanation I've got.

Peace
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CN Fletcher

mwagener wrote on Sat, 11 September 2004 14:33
We are selling emotions, there are no emotions in a grid


"Recording engineers are an arrogant bunch
If you've spent most of your life with a few thousand dollars worth of musicians in the studio, making a decision every second and a half... and you and  they are going to have to live with it for the rest of your lives, you'll get pretty arrogant too.  It takes a certain amount of balls to do that... something around three"
Malcolm Chisholm

DarinK

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Re: Instrument placement in stereo image
« Reply #4 on: July 07, 2015, 01:02:32 pm »

NOTE:  Fletcher posted his response while I was typing this.  His is better than mine, but I might as well post this anyhow:

Doug Sax and Bernie Grundman are primarily mastering engineers, not recording engineers or mixers.  Unless they actually recorded & mixed a project, they have no control over the sort of thing you're asking about.

The goal for some is to make something that is interesting & compelling without regard for how it relates to real life.  This has been common in music since Les Paul started experimenting with different recording techniques back in the 1940's.  Nowadays it is just a matter of taste - some prefer recordings that are as accurate and realistic as possible - as close to being there in person as can be achieved.  Others have no interest in that as a goal and are more influenced by pop music recording.  Many young musicians grew up with pop music and like the different recording options.  Also, close miking allows for more overdubbing or correcting of individual's mistakes, which can be a plus or a minus depending on your point of view.
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mkrzych

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Re: Instrument placement in stereo image
« Reply #5 on: July 08, 2015, 01:52:24 am »

I know that some things are related to the matter of one's taste, but in this case they're trying to cheat the reality. We are rather going to hear in our listening room equipped with all that fancy/expensi gear as close to the live performance as possible, aren't we?

So, trying to wrap up my first complain and observation we can say that this is happening, meaning stereo image presented by the recording is far from the truth done by overlapping stereo recorded instruments where for instance drum set or piano keyboard sound is extended throughout both of the speakers. It is totally not related to the original on stage instrument placement and to the photos of the session in the recording liner notes.

Another thing is off center presentation, don't know if you noticed that as well. Some duo or trio recordings are not balanced enough and sound louder on one channel than on the other one. This is not only my observation, but also couple of my friends also complains about it. Why is that?
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Fletcher

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Re: Instrument placement in stereo image
« Reply #6 on: July 08, 2015, 08:47:44 am »

Yep -- they're trying to "cheat the reality" -- good way to put it.  Some have a goal of getting as close to a "live performance" as possible, others do not.  As previously mentioned, it has to do with the goals of the artist and the collective aesthetic of the production team.  From my personal experience, there was a good 10-12 year period where "nature" was absolutely irrelevant -- they called it "the 80's", but it started a bit earlier than the 80's and ran into the beginning of the 90's.

As far as the two channels being out of balance, I can't speak to that as I've not shared your experience.  I'm quite sure it happens from time to time, I've just not experienced the phenomenon when playing things back on a well setup / tuned system.  I've experienced it from time to time with "ear buds" but have found that if I push the one that is lower in volume into my ear a bit more the problem usually finds correction.

Peace
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CN Fletcher

mwagener wrote on Sat, 11 September 2004 14:33
We are selling emotions, there are no emotions in a grid


"Recording engineers are an arrogant bunch
If you've spent most of your life with a few thousand dollars worth of musicians in the studio, making a decision every second and a half... and you and  they are going to have to live with it for the rest of your lives, you'll get pretty arrogant too.  It takes a certain amount of balls to do that... something around three"
Malcolm Chisholm

Mal

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Re: Instrument placement in stereo image
« Reply #7 on: July 08, 2015, 10:17:41 pm »

I do a lot of live and studio jazz recording...placement of instruments depends on different factors..if for example it's a live trio recording..piano/bass /drums then it may be best to mirror the on stage set up as you describe...but it also depends on the nature of the music...if it's very interactive then this may emphasise this..especially between drummer and pianist..but if it's more reflective etc then harder panning may work against this..so a more integrated panning might serve the music better with drums and piano more centred...
If there are extra instruments..guitar or horns etc then you really need to work out what works best for balance and clarity etc..for me if there was for example an added guitar or trumpet or sax I would pan that towards the other side from the piano right hand so you keep some clarity where the lines & frequencies may clash...
Again the style may dictate the panning..
As to studio...kind of anything goes really that works for the music..however hard panned drums can be a bit odd and distracting...
Older jazz recordings did have more hard panning of instruments.(often before pan-pots)..
Sometimes they were hard panned to give flexibility in mastering..esp direct to stereo recordings such as Rudy Van Gelder & others..I know when he remastered some of his recordings for Blue Note he narrowed the left and right on some..

Mal Stanley
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