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October 2, 2015

Legendary Sounding Records - Pink Floyd and more

Ahhhhh, legendary sounding records.

Lean On CD CoverThose records that everybody knows are the ultimate reference to ‘good sound’. Those discussed at pro audio conventions by distinguished gentlemen with even more distinguished pony tails. It is - for example - well understood that any Beatles record is the best sounding record ever. Period. Any one of them. Pick one. We are compelled to spend untold amounts of money buying the equipment that was reportedly used that make that magic happen (because it has to be the gear, right?). Have you listened to a Beatles album with ‘audio quality’ in mind recently? Ever? What do you remember?

Take Let It Be, for example. Does it sound great? Please go listen now. (The Beatles were smart enough to not put their music on Spotify so you may be have to buy the track if you don't already own it. Darn, just when we thought music was free).

Listen here:

Did it sound different from what you expected? Remembered? A bit brighter maybe? Maybe the drums were not placed quite as you would think? Another much discussed artist is Steely Dan. Especially the AJA album. Endless discussions about the mastery of the engineering, the weeks spent getting tones, the relentless attention to details, etc, etc.... That one is on Spotify. Check it out.

Listen here:

What did you think? Heard anything below 50 Hz? Not much right? Would that fly on one of your records? How about the drum sounds on Peg? How about you compare Black Cow and Peg?

Interesting no?

Maybe it’s important we should, in the spirit of getting better at what we do, practice dissociating a great song from the way it sounds. It’s very important to not forget to put the legends in perspective and consider when the records were made, in which conditions, how they affected the culture of their time and other things like that. Also, and primarily, we should learn to shape our own personal opinion about what what we think ‘sounds good’ and what does not. As an example, I personally think that the gentleman who designed the Beats by Dre headphones and myself would not be able to have a peaceful conversation about the subject matter. Just an example.

An album that is perennial number one on the charts of ‘it’s the best sounding record ever’ is ‘Dark Side Of the Moon’ by Pink Floyd which came out in 1973. Let’s take a look at it and see what is going on here.

Listen here:
*note: these are 'remastered' versions, which would be a separate ponytail chit-chat in itself.

Pink Floyd recording Dark Side of the Moon

At the time pop bands actually took their time musically, they afforded themselves long intros and 7 min long songs and wild interludes. In kind, Dark Side starts with Speak to me which is not a song, features spoken word, a pre-show of the ‘Money’ machine sounds (shows the band’s understanding of a symphony’s overture concept, neat), some synth bass and an enormously fat heartbeat like bass drum that probably rattled everybody’s sound system at the time. There were no 808s in 1973. Speak To Me also feature a pretty healthy amount of hiss, right from the start of the song and a nice 60Hz buzz on the right side there for good measure. How does that buzz fit in your personal ‘good sounding’ book? Would you let that amount of noise slide on one of your projects? How about the buzz?

Pink Floyd

What if, at the time, hiss on records was part of life and people thought nothing of it, but such a fat bass drum like sound was startling and made people want to listen to it over and over again? On Breathe (which by the way features a 1-minute-and-thirty-second intro for a 2 minute-and-30-second song) there is nicely thick-sounding relationship between bass drum and bass guitar. There is a certain presence and aesthetic in those drums that I believe was pretty ahead of its time for 1973. If you have ever listened to Pink Floyd’s previous album you won’t hear that kind of placement. You can listen to a few bars of Obscured by Clouds or When You’re In from the 1972 album (made just one year before Dark Side) and you’ll hear something that is closer to what was going on across the board in those days. One has drums panned hard left the other has the drums pretty far back. Burning Bridges has the quintessential early '70s bass drum. Lots of pock and not a lot of boom. Just one year passed. Someone, maybe Alan Parsons, decided during the Dark Side mix to push those drums up and manage to beat the system limitations of the time and make it fatter than usual. Whenever they could.

Pink Floyd

Let’s go back to Dark Side. Most songs after Breathe go back to a thinner, more faraway style of drums except Any Colour You Like. Check it out. Do you like how the drums sound on Eclipse or Us And Them? Are those the best sound drums EVER? What do we tell the guy with the ponytail at the next NAMM or AES show? How do you feel about the difference in tone between Breathe or Any Colour You Like and the much brighter Time for example. (It’s ok to not listen to the whole song when the artist is not in the room, so unless David Gilmour is sitting with you, feel free to needle drop from song to song).

Ok, I’ll write it: there are many, many flaws in the sound of Dark Side of The Moon. So why the legendary status as to being ‘the best sounding record EVER, dude’ ? Good question. I think above all that at the time, this was incredible music. Check out what everyone else was doing at the time musically and sonically, sometimes in the same studio: the site has it for us

Pink Floyd

Pretty wild when listened back to back, isn’t it? With Dark Side, Pink Floyd invented 808-style boom before hip-hop, gave real presence to the drums whenever they could, featured arpeggiated modular synths before Jean Michel Jarre and sassy, smooth-jazz like saxophone solos over back beat music decades before smooth jazz. They used reverb and delays as a creative tool as opposed to recreating a missing space (check out the vocals or sax on Money), invented found-sound on pop records (cash machine on ‘Money’ again), used pans pots fly stuff around the stereo image without automation and many many more innovations that were very hard to achieve with the equipment of the times (try and setup and exact delay to tempo when it’s generated by a looped tape machine and send me a postcard). It was trippy stuff, man. And new. And it sounded amazing for the times. But like everything new, it ages after a while. And other people catch up. And rip the ideas. And make them better. And the public consciousness evolves. And taste evolves. And equipment gets better..

..but sometimes distinguished gentlemen with distinguished ponytails get a little stuck in the past. We are all guilty of that with some stuff. I bet you that my moma’s apple pie that she made when I was a kid sounds better than yours, for example. Pretty sure. So there, in the end, it’s easy: whenever someone tells you something sounds good, better, best, or best-ever-dude, make a note to check it out for yourself before you add that to your knowledge base. What we do is based on taste. 100%. That’s how you form it.

Fab Dupont


Pianist and Resident Engineer of Fuseroom Recording Studio in Berlin, Hollywood's Musicians Institute Scholarship winner and Outstanding Student Award 2005, ee's worked in productions for Italian pop stars like Anna Oxa, Marco Masini and RAF, Stefano 'Cocco' Cantini and Riccardo Galardini, side by side with world-class musicians and mentors like Roger Burn and since 2013 is part of the team at Alberto has worked with David White, Niels Kurvin, Jenny Wu, Apple and Apple Music, Microsoft, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways, Virgin Airlines, Cane, Morgan Heritage, Riot Games, Dangerous Music, Focal, Universal Audio and more.