Clarity is not all. Wait, what?

I have the Harnoncourt Mozart Requiem. It’s sublime.

(Was my first show-off of the new surround system to my wife; after it ended, I put on a well-regarded Telarc stereo Mahler and went out in the kitchen for some wine; after a while my wife came and told me, “your horns aren’t working”. That was her reaction to stereo after the multi-channel experience: “broken”.)

But never mind multi-channel, I abandoned that. The Harnoncourt is wonderful in stereo. A thoroughly modern, high precision recording, with knife edge clarity. Which I value highly.

But when I grew up in Sweden, in the 60s and 70s, there was a school of recording with simple miking, ideally just two in a well-designed room. No near-field instrument miking, no gigantic mix boards. Very clean and realistic. Too expensive to set up the venue and the instruments and the personnel and the rehearsals for today’s world. But lovely. Some still do it. I had a Mozart Requiem on vinyl, and loved it.

That recording appeared on HDTracks in 24/192 format. It is wonderful.

Now, many may think it silly to preserve a 70s recording that way: needs neither 24 nor 192. It is certainly softer and less precise than the modern Harnoncourt. Can’t pinpoint instruments or voices.

But by comparison, it sounds like a musical experience, where my beloved Harnoncourt sounds like surgery.

This has been a strange experience for me. Undermines my most cherished beliefs.

Close up multi miking is a highly artificial construct. Your ears cannot be in multiple spatial locations at once. It is akin to blocking versus editing in filmmaking. In close up multi miking, like in editing, the performance is created in post production.


I’m listening to the Harnoncourt now. I appreciate the surgery.

I perceive most recording problems as distractions at some level. Simply mic’d recordings are a local maximum. Maybe not my favorite overall, but they very rarely pull me out of the listening experience to pay attention to a defect.

I find modern, “surgical” recordings welcoming too. Their main sin is limited dynamic range, which can be fatiguing (this isn’t a problem with classical recordings).

Some of the worst for me are middle-aged studio recordings–60s to 80s studio rock. It seems like the better the playback system, the more distracting the mix becomes. At least on a boom box or car stereo, there isn’t much of an image to destroy.

This is pretty much how Jared Sacks and the gang at Channel Classics do it today. I just listen to stereo, but their recordings of Ivan Fischer conducting the Budapest Festival Orchestra sound pretty darned good — theirs are my favorite Mahlers.

Sure, modern surgical recordings can be wonderful - vide the Harnoncourt Requiem, I loved it and still do. But this was an interesting and blunt comparison. Do listen to the two-mike recording, linked in my post.

And yes, @orgel, I know natural recordings still exist. We should celebrate them.

There is plenty of good stuff available, new recordings too. I can ignore the bad stuff. What bad stuff? These are great times.

For a minimal vs multi miking comparison, listen to the renowned Carlos Kleiber recording of Beethoven 5/7 on DG. Both are rightly celebrated performances from just a few years apart in the same Musikvereinssaal acoustic, but one recorded symphony sounds more homogeneous and coherent, the other more variegated and clear.


I came across this discussion from 2017.
Still interesting, still relevant.
Tension between positive attributes in a recording.
And in gear too.

I’m replying to it here just to pop it to the top of the forum, for anybody who didn’t see it—we do have new members in the intervening three+ years.