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Lucid's Philosophy on Acoustic Musical Recordings

To put it in a nutshell, Lucid's passion is to make recordings that sound so real, so lifelike, that you almost don't realize you're listening to a recording.  However, these recordings must also be very musical, enjoyable, and involving.  We want listeners to be able to close their eyes while listening on a good sound system, and almost feel that they are 'palpably present' at the venue where the recording took place.   We want them to be pulled into the music; into the sound of the music as it floats around them.  In order to sound 'real' the recording must provide the listener not only with the clear sound of the performers, but with the ambience and 'sense of place' of the recording venue.

Musicality and accuracy/realism are the competing factors in our philosophy.  We utilize carefully selected equipment and recording methodologies to balance these two, often opposing, goals.  The results speak for themselves.

Achieving the Goal: Musical Virtual Reality

Musical Virtual Reality is the real goal.  We want to take a real, live acoustic musical event, and transport that musical event, or an 'idealized' version of it, to the ears of a listener.  The goal is for that 'virtual' reproduction of the live event to be as musical and realistic sounding as possible.   But how do you get there? 

Following the Chain

How do you take the sound in a performance hall, and transport that sound into a user's ears in a listening room (or with headphones)?  The path from the original 'performance' of a musical event to the 'virtual reality' of that event being played back to a listener goes through many steps.  There are many 'links' in that musical chain.  Every step along the way is another link in the chain that will effect both the musicality and the accuracy of what the listener will hear.   The original musical event must  pass from the original instrument/voice to the air and acoustics of the venue where its being performed, to the microphones, into the recording electronics, through all of the post-production processes, onto the CD, into the listener's stereo, into the listener's room via the speakers, and finally into the listener's ears.  Whew!  That's a lot of steps!  And each of those steps is often broken down into a lot more steps.  As you can see, there are many links in the chain.

The Chain - From the Performers to the Listener at Home

The level of 'realism' the listener hears is only as good as the weakest link from the instrument/voice all the way to the listener's ears.  At each link in the chain, the sound is modified in some way.  Each link can damage the sound and as a result, can damage the level of accuracy and/or musicality.  

How Does Lucid create 'Realistic' Sounding Recordings?

At Lucid, we do everything within our power to ensure the best possible 'musical virtual reality'.  We use excellent studio/audiophile quality equipment that has been selected for the right balance of accuracy and musicality.  We use our experience and knowledge to set up the equipment to capture the most realistic and musical version of the performance possible.  We carefully choose microphones and their positions to clearly capture the performance, but also to capture the ambience of the performance acoustic space.  And in post-production, we perform any necessary processing to ensure the musicality of the final master recording without sacrificing accuracy.

Without getting into a lot of detail as to 'why' these things make recordings sound realistic, here are many of the factors that Lucid employs to ensure that our master recordings will sound as real as possible, while still sounding very musical.  Of course, we don't always have control of all of these factors.  Sometimes, compromises are required.  But this is the list that we strive for.

  • Use a Purist Philosophy - The purist philosophy applies to many things; not just to sound.  Another common term for this philosophy is KISS: Keep it Simple, Stupid.  As mentioned above, the end sound that the listener hears is only as good as the weakest link.  So step number 1 is to keep the recording chain simple and pure, with as few 'links' in the chain as possible.  No filler or artificial coloring.  No gizmos, wingdings, potions, gimmicks, etc. to mess with the sound. Use only the best real ingredients.  Keep it simple and pure.  Ask any good chef, and they'll agree.
  • Record in acoustically excellent venues.  What a 'good venue' is varies depending upon the music and the performers, but for most acoustic music, the best venues do not require amplification of the performers (or perhaps only the soloists).  The venue should have a 'live' ambient character that is not too dark or too bright with a moderate amount of natural reverb.  It should allow the performers to easily hear each other.  And it should allow the audience (and the recording microphones) to hear an open and clear presentation of the performance while adding the venue's ambience and environment as a major contributor to the beauty of the sound.
  • Whenever possible (for stereo recordings), use a single matched pair of microphones as the main sound recording source to capture the sound of the performers.  Use ORTF, XY, MS, spaced omnis, and Jecklin disc microphone arrangements, so that the listener will be presented with a realistic 'spread' of sound from speaker to speaker that provides a virtual sonic soundstage 'image' of the live recording.   This is the Purist / KISS approach.
  • Consider adding additional microphones into the mix at reduced levels to improve the ambience and spread of the sound, to make it more lively and enveloping.  This typically involves use of 'outrigger' mic on the outer edges of the stage and 'ambience' mics further back in the hall.
  • If necessary, consider the use of additional microphones to pick up soloists, quiet instruments, etc.  This is getting away from KISS just a bit, but if it is used correctly and judiciously, it can result in enhanced recordings that adds to the perceived realism and musicality rather than detracting.  Mix these sources into the stereo mix using appropriate level and timing-based panning, and 'matching reverb' that lets these instruments sound natural in the mix, as if they weren't separately miked. 
  • Choose microphones that are clean and transparent and that match the character you are trying to achieve.  Small diaphragm omnis and ribbons are the most accurate and are typically preferred for natural acoustic music; however large diaphragm condensers are also used at times to provide extra sparkle and solo instrument/voice presence.   
  • When possible, arrange the performers the way you want the listener to hear them.  Set up the microphones to capture a good balance of the performers and the ambience of the hall.   Adjust positions of performers and/or microphones until a balance is achieved that provides a proper and natural 'sense of place' for the listener.
  • Use only the highest quality equipment known for musicality, clarity, transparency, and neutrality.  Each piece of equipment is a 'link' in the chain, and all of this equipment must achieve a high level of accuracy and musicality.  Ideally, each piece of equipment doesn't alter the sound, or if it does, the modification enhances the perception of reality and musicality.  Most equipment should also follow the KISS principle in its own design.
  • Use the best wire you can find, and keep it as short as possible.  We use WireWorld Atlantis Microphone cables, Canare StarQuad cable, and Mogami cables and snakes.  These cables are known for their clarity and transparency.  They let the music through.  
  • Use clean power.  Noise on the power line can add not only noise, but fuzziness and lack of clarity to the sound.  Lucid uses the excellent Furman IT-1220 to provide clean transformer-isolated balanced power to our equipment.
  • Once a signal is converted from Analog to Digital, do NOT convert it back to analog until you get to the listener's audio playback system.  Every Analog to Digital or Digital to Analog conversion adds noise, jitter, and distortion.  Lucid performs all post-production work entirely in the digital domain at 32 bit floating point resolution using very high quality post-production digital tools and plugins.
  • Use little to no compression.  Lucid uses no compression during the recordings, and most of our equipment doesn't even have compression circuitry in it (KISS).  However, high quality compression, limiting, or gain adjustments are sometimes needed on the loudest passages so that the quiet parts are not 'too quiet', or so that applause between songs doesn't 'tear the listener's head off' (depending upon microphone positions, clapping is often much louder than the performance).  In post-production, Lucid uses the smallest amount of compression possible while still using enough to achieve the desired results.  Often, we use no compression at all.  This maximizes the "Dynamic Range" of the recorded music so that it matches the dynamics that were present when the music was performed live.  One result of this is that often the 'average' sound levels are a little lower than on most CDs, so that there's room for the dynamic peaks to occur above the average level.  As a result of this lower average level, the listener simply needs to 'turn it up' to be able to enjoy the recording as it was meant to sound.
  • Avoid amplified instruments/voices whenever possible.  House PA systems are notoriously unmusical and artificial sounding.  If house sound must be used, try to record the instruments/voices up-close, so that the recording microphones capture the original 'live' acoustic sound or the performer/instrument - not the sound of the loudspeakers.  Then create an 'artificial' hall ambience without the sound of the PA system in post-production using quality digital reverbs.  This is definitely an 'idealized' version of the original event.  The recording will most likely sound significantly better than the live event.
  • Similarly to amplified performances, if a performance is taking place in a hall with poor acoustics, try to record the artists/musicians 'up close' to avoid picking up the sound of the hall.  Then, at post-production, add in artificial hall ambience to provide an idealized recording in a better 'artificial' hall than the original real hall.  The recording will sound better than it did live while still retaining the characteristic of sounding legitimately 'real'.  Use only the best digital modeling reverbs.  Lucid has many excellent digital reverbs that produce very realistic hall acoustics.

 

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Last modified: December 23, 2015