Why do classical cds have so much hiss?

Discussion in 'Music' started by Jonathan T., May 31, 2005.

  1. Jonathan T.

    Jonathan T. Stunt Coordinator

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    I may be basing this on too small sample size, but I have noticed, since purchasing my new speakers, that classical music has a very high volume hiss in the background. At first I thought it was my equipment, but after a through testing of each component, I determined that it was in the source material.

    I noticed it most severley on the orchestral compositions on the Lion King soundtrack, and it was quite pronounced on my star wars trilogy soundtracks (the newest versions).
    It was also noticable on Alanis Morrisette unplugged, which obvously is not classical, but it is recorded live, so I wonder if that has something to do with it.
     
  2. Philip Hamm

    Philip Hamm Lead Actor

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    Those soundtracks aren't classical. I'd guess it's from the recording process, it's a lot tougher to keep things quiet when you're room micing acoustic instruments with many mics than close micing loud stuff like like guitar amps and drums.
     
  3. Garrett Lundy

    Garrett Lundy Producer

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    On many older "classical" releases there was tape hiss & other artifcats that came from mastering the original tape. Yes, this meant nothing was "tampered with" during production to bring you the truest-possible sound from the tape, but it also means you have tape hiss. I have one recording of Beethoven's 14th Sonata where the 'clicking' from the reel-to-reel is audible.

    Usually you have to either live with it, or wait for a new recording (or a remaster job) to come to market.
     
  4. Jonathan T.

    Jonathan T. Stunt Coordinator

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    Perhaps orchestral is a better term to use. But there is no denying the classical inspiration.
     
  5. Philip Hamm

    Philip Hamm Lead Actor

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    Right on! And the same technical concerns apply when recording orchestral works. However, the problem of hiss on older classical recordings is often because of old fashoned analog tapes. Very different thing.
     
  6. Brian L

    Brian L Cinematographer

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    If you frequent the Steve Hoffman forums, you may note that some members there actually consider a lack of tape hiss on older, recently remastered recording as evidence that a recording has been futzed with with "No Noise" or the like.

    It seems to me that when The Beatles "Let it Be, Naked" came out, there was lots of carping about the lack of hiss.

    Then again, I read a quote there from Paul McCartney (not sure in response to what) that said in effect "When John Lennon sang, hiss did not come out of his mouth".

    But back to SHF, its often argued that dialing out the tape hiss takes too much off of the top end, and robs the recording or the right amount of sparkle and air.

    Brian
     
  7. Jeff Ulmer

    Jeff Ulmer Producer

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    The question in my mind is what was intended when the recording was made? If there is enough hiss that it is distracting, and the artist didn't intend it to be there, then why should the audience feel it should be there? Hiss is a technical defect in the analogue recording medium, and in the electronics that captured and processed sound. As a producer and engineer, I do not find hiss any more acceptable than 60 cycle hum or unintended distortion. The McCartney quote says it all.

    There is no real reason why orchestral recordings should have any more hiss generated during tracking than a modern pop album. The use of multiple room mics is no excuse, hiss is not present in the air, it is induced by either the tape or electronics.
     
  8. Philip Hamm

    Philip Hamm Lead Actor

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    I'm sorry, but close micing a singer or an amp or a drumset or a sax player in a booth is a hell of a lot different than overheads on a whole string section in a huge room full of people. The technical challenges are considerable and completely different for orchestral recording and pop/rock/jazz small ensemble recording.

    If a better sounding mic also has some hiss, what do you do? Use a worse sounding mic? No engineer is going to do that, and many engineers favor tube mics made in the 40s, 50s, and 60s because they sound great.
     
  9. Brian L

    Brian L Cinematographer

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    Here is a link to a discussion at SHF regarding The Beatles "1" CD, but scroll through and there is also a discussion about "Let It Be, Naked".

    http://www.stevehoffman.tv/forums/sh...ad.php?t=53954

    FWIW, I like the sound of LIBN, which "Stereophile" deemed a Recording of the Month.

    But don't try to sell that over at SHF!

    Brian
     
  10. ManW_TheUncool

    ManW_TheUncool Producer

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    Interesting topic, especially since I do listen to classical music a lot [​IMG] and find the topic of noise reduction of interest after spending time delving into photography (and how digital NR can impact image quality there).

    I can't say I have any "golden ear" or anything like that, but I tend to agree that heavy doses of NR can kill the "sparkle and air" in the music. Certainly, it's very evident in the various consumer available NR methods. I guess it really depends on how good the NR method is *plus* how judicious the application is. This is true w/ photography (and home theater video playback also) and seems true also w/ audio.

    While it's true that too much noise is a bad thing, the thing is everyone has a different threshold for what's too much. Personally, I don't mind a little noise at all (both in my audio and my photographs -- and films as well). Sometimes, it's just unavoidable unless you're willing to rob the recording of some of its "musicality". And sometimes, a little noise might even add to the ambiance and mood of the music although I think that's probably much less true w/ music than w/ photographs (and films). I'm not suggesting one should actually add noise where there is none (for music anyway), but just that a little of it might not be as bad as one thinks. OTOH, for photographs, I (and many others) *do* sometimes intentionally add noise or shoot for grainier output among other things -- and many also find certain camera makers go a tad too far w/ in-camera NR too.

    I think probably what you really need in the music industry in this regard is to develop a good consumer product for applying NR during playback. Then, the purists can have the choice to avoid NR completely while everyone else can have his/her choice on what's the appropriate amount of NR for his/her own listening threshold. I mean if we can have a market for equalizers (whether as standalone or extra feature), why not noise reducers for those who want them? Certainly, there's gotta be less of an issue regarding artistic intent w/ audio NR than w/ equalizers, no?

    RE: the mic-ing issue, I wonder if part of the problem isn't the fact that you have to apply more juice(?) to the recording process in that scenario vs close mic-ing. Whenever you must apply additional amplification/power to the process, you're bound to increase noise, etc. no matter whether it's audio or video or still photography, etc. -- that's just a fact of life and physics.

    And BTW, if we're actually talking about classical music recordings, I'd think heavy breathing noise, audience noise, etc. can be far more annoying than a little tape hiss or other such relatively flat background noise sources that are easier to tune out. Heck, I recently bought an iPod, and now, I know why some here hate the "audio gap" so much. [​IMG] Instead of annoying noise that come suddenly, I get truly appalling, abrupt cuts in sound that feel like a violent assault on my senses whenever I listen to tracks that are meant to be played uninterrupted -- and there are plenty of those w/ classical music. [​IMG]

    _Man_
     
  11. Philip Hamm

    Philip Hamm Lead Actor

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    Exactly right.
     
  12. Jonathan T.

    Jonathan T. Stunt Coordinator

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    Could you clarify what you mean by audio gap?
     
  13. ManW_TheUncool

    ManW_TheUncool Producer

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    Jonathan,

    The "audio gap" in the iPod is a sub-second gap of complete silence introduced between tracks. On most CD players, there is no such gap between tracks that I'm aware of. But on music ripped for the iPod, I get this gap. I have seen one claim that the problem is w/ the MP3 ripping itself -- something about MP3 maybe requiring the track to finish in whole seconds (and just filling that last fraction w/ silence). But I've tried both MP3 and Apple Lossless, and both have that issue -- and most of my music collection that experiences the problem are ripped to Apple Lossless, not MP3.

    Really wish Apple would provide a smoother transition for this gap (whether in the iPod itself or in the ripping software). The current solution provided by Apple is not all that acceptable as it requires merging such tracks together as single tracks. FWIW, it seems that iTunes itself does not have the same problem in playback.

    One side note that throws it back on topic. If you go w/ MP3, you might inadvertantly get some unintentional NR applied to the music. [​IMG]

    _Man_
     
  14. Josh Simpson

    Josh Simpson Supporting Actor

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    Jonathan, I'm not an i-pod expert cause I've only had mine a few months, but I suppose if the gap bothers you so much, you could bracket the tracks together and import them as one track. Of course, you can't skip around as much then, but if you turn your ipod off and played it later, it would play from where you left off, like an audiobook. I'm PRETTY sure of this, but someone else correct me if I am wrong.
     
  15. ElevSkyMovie

    ElevSkyMovie Supporting Actor

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    analog tape has a noise floor, where the hiss is loud. If you are recording something that has quiet parts, there's a good chance it's going to get partially masked by the tape hiss. when the piece gets louder, it masks the tape hiss.
     

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