Woad Nellie

Yesterday’s post got quite a few of you riled up when I suggested a guitar pickup is just as sensitive to transients and subtle details and produces the same “simple” electrical signals we need to record as even a “complex” microphone and exonerated the recording chain from blame in our loss of live sound.

I was going to jump into a few posts about the outer edge input/output devices but perhaps let’s throw a little more gasoline on the fire first. I think this is an important thought puzzle.

Our first thought puzzle involved an electric guitar fed into a digital recording device and a bypass switch – setup so we could feed the guitar amp/speaker with either the output of the recorder or the live feed from the guitar. None of us blinked an eye when I suggested the sound we would hear through the speaker would be identical with either choice – thus exonerating the recording process as the culprit in the loss of live sound from our systems.

Why not then replace the guitar in our experiment with a microphone? Let’s now imagine two rooms: one a listening room the other a performing room.

In our performing room we have a stereo microphone setup placed in front of a small musical group playing live in the room. The feed of the microphones go both to our simple digital recorder and the bypass switch. You are sitting in the listening room with the high-end system of your choice and the switch that allows you to select either the output of our digital recorder or the live feed from our microphone. It’s the same experiment we made with the guitar only this time we are using microphones and high-end loudspeakers. Think you’d hear a difference between the two? I’ll bet you would and I would still hold to the notion that you wouldn’t in the guitar example.

If the recording chain is modifying both feeds the same and if both feeds are equal in their signal complexity then why would we hear the differences in one example and not the other? Is it as many of you suspect that microphones pickup so much more than the guitar pickup?

The answer is no – in fact, the guitar pickup probably has a better chance of reproducing subtleties than does the microphone.

Have a ponder and we’ll discuss tomorrow.

Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

The Outer Edges

We’ve taken a simplistic look at recordings and shown what’s probably obvious to most – that recording and reproducing simple electrical signals like those out of a guitar is rather easy and something we need not question about preserving. Quite a number of you pointed out that seems like a rather trivial task – recording those small electrical signals that seem so simple. Indeed.

But let me point out that everything we record is nothing more than “simple electrical signals” no different than those straight out of our electric guitar (which actually aren’t that simple). The only differences we hear, and this is the point of this series, comes from the outer edges of the art – the input and output devices of our recording chain or, as I like to say, the “goes into” and the “goes out of” devices – microphones and loudspeakers and their necessary support kit.

Obvious you suggest? I am not sure about that. As Audiophiles we stress over sample rates, bit depth and any number of criteria involved in the recording process – yet that same recording process when applied to simple electrical signals directly injected from an acoustic instrument (our guitar) via an electrical pickup – are indistinguishable for any type of reasonable recording process.

Before you jump off the chair and point out that an electrical guitar is a bad example because it hasn’t any transients, hasn’t any tonal qualities to mask, hasn’t any subtle details like those reproduced by a microphone, let me point out this isn’t exactly true. A magnetic pickup on a guitar can have over 100dB of dynamic range, is extremely sensitive to the quick transient nature of a guitar string and even though it works on a principal similar to a phono cartridge (without the mechanical interface) it is much more sensitive. But I digress.

I want to spend a moment on the outer edge pieces – pieces of kit we believe contain much more information and are more problematic to record and reproduce properly than those of a “simple” electrical pickup from a guitar.

We’ll jump in tomorrow.

Paul McGowan -PS Audio, Intl.

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