Hi-Res Reference Tracks

This subject has been discussed previously however, given the amount of hi-res recordings now available it is worthy of an update!

Reference tracks are really useful sources of information; for A/B comparisons to check balance, positioning, distance, reverb level and EQ. Large scale orchestral repertoire containing soft and loud dynamics, a variety of orchestration, solo/section phrases and full tutti are obviously the best source for this. Of course it is very subjective and down to personnel taste, however here is my selection of great performances/recordings, from purist/clean recordings to the most bombastic film recordings; all are available in hi-res formats (24 bit 48 kHz upwards). All excerpts adhere to the 10%/30 second Creative Commons fair use guidance for educational purposes.

SACD, HDCD and DVDA disks are more readily available at the moment from companies like Reference Recordings, Denon, Chandos, Pentatone, Telarc and Linn to name but a few. There are also Hi-Res downloads readily available from sites like HD Tracks, Presto Classical, Channel Classics and Native DSD Music; the latter having free downloads of Mahler 1 in 32 bit 352kHz (uncompressed, unedited, unprocessed) format!

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Star Wars: Hi-Res Recordings

The soundtrack for Star Wars: The Force Awakens has just been released in hi-res 24-bit/96kHz FLAC. An absolute must for those wanting to be able to reference that wonderful Shawn Murphy sound. While previous films in the saga were scored at Abbey Road with the celebrated London Symphony Orchestra, this will be the first time a Star Wars score was recorded in the United States

The entire LSO/Abbey Road Star Wars collection is also now available in 24-bit/192kHz download

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Star Wars: Game Soundtracks

For those interested in re-creating that classic John Williams/London Symphony Orchestra/Abbey Road Star Wars sound; award winning composer Gordy Haab has written the soundtrack for the new ‘Star Wars: Battlefront’ game. He has become the go-to composer for cleverly re-creating Williams’ style within his own compositions. Read more here

The soundtrack was expertly mixed and mastered by John Rodd to achieve that classic sound.

Gordy Haab and Kyle Newmaster scored the Star Wars Kinekt soundtrack; also with John Rodd’s expert skills!:

Also coming soon is STAR WARS: the Old Republic.

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Midi Mock Ups

Many of today’s film and tv composers use the vast array of sample libraries available to produce midi mock ups of their compositions. These are either for use as temp tracks to be replaced later or indeed to incorporate into live/studio recordings.

Here is an example of some fantastic midi mock ups as voted by VI Control (one of my tracks is #17):

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Audiophile Recordings

Elgar recording with the LSO in 1914.

Elgar recording with the LSO in 1914.

Before discussing audiophile recordings, it is useful to understand the history of orchestral recording. Whilst there is much debate about the first recordings, there is no doubt that early last century there were two leading figures in early orchestral recording. Edward Elgar, with the London Symphony Orchestra, who made the first recording at Abbey Road and Leopold Stokowski, with the Philadelphia Orchestra, who recorded the soundtrack for Disney’s Fantasia. Without these early pioneers orchestral recording would not be where it is today.

Mid 1900’s there were many attempts to produce the perfect audiophile recordings. From the Decca ‘phase4experience’, Mercury’s ‘Living Pleasure’ and RCA ‘Living Stereo’. These methods actually gained as much criticism as praise for their unnatural sound and were soon dropped; in many ways they are similar to the modern day Telarc ‘über reality’ film CDs with the Cincinnati Pops – great for the cinema but not very purist!

Towards the end of last century audiophile consumers were looking for a more natural and balanced sound but recorded at much higher resolutions (up to 24bit and 192Khz) and in multi-channel configurations. The three main contenders were HDCD, SACD and DVD Audio. Again these were fairly short lived and, since 2007, very few recordings are released in these formats. This is a shame as some of these are the best recordings I have ever heard (both performance and recording), although I do find the LSO Live recordings very dry and lacking acoustic character.

The DVD Audio recordings are generally 5.1 surround sound recordings, however my personal opinion is that they are not effective or realistic and tend to be a little over produced and unnatural (sound limited to stereo on examples):

A complete list of known 5.1 orchestral recordings can be found here.

The average consumer now wants music in downloadable formats for portable players. Fortunately there are still companies releasing hi-res audio files of orchestral repertoire, some in compressed (but lossless) FLAC, with free samples to try. Some of these files can be as ridiculously hi-res as raw audio (32bit, 352Khz)!

What will recorded music sound like in 50 years? John La Grou, founder and CEO at Millennia Music & Media Systems, forecast how recorded sound will evolve over the coming decades.

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Reference Tracks

Each sound engineer aims to achieve a specific sound for their recording. This can range from a natural perception of concert hall reality to the most bombastic film sound. Reference tracks from commercial recordings are a good resource to A/B reference against to match EQ, instrumental balance, pan, reverb, distance etc.

Here is a broad spectrum of orchestral film soundtracks to use as reference depending on the sound you are aiming for:

The last track, a compilation of the game music for Star Wars Kinect, was mixed and mastered by engineer John Rodd. He was directed to exactly match the first track (Star Wars) despite the orchestra and choir being much smaller than the original recordings; a very practical demonstration of using reference tracks to match a desired sound.

Here are some examples of good quality orchestral repertoire recordings. Each work has a wide variety of dynamic contrast and orchestration to enable a more accurate and complete overview. These range from close miked clarity to more distant reverby recordings, again depending on your preference/aim.

The Berlin Philharmonic’s digital concert hall is another great resource:

Another is this explanation of recording the San Francisco Symphony
at Davies Symphony Hall. These were done for the Keeping Score TV series:

At the opposite end of the spectrum there are orchestral recordings made in Anechoic (acoustically dry) chambers. These are to enable you to test various reverbs etc without the recordings already being coloured. The two test CDs that I am aware of are produced by Denon (full orchestra) and Bang & Olufsen (solo instruments and voice). The following track is from the Denon CD (Bruckner Symphony No4 1st mov.)

There are some anechoic recordings of symphonic music done by Helsinki University for download on the web.

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EQ Matching

Another technique which can be employed to achieve the correct placement in space is EQ matching. Take a reference track with the desired sound and match the EQ of the sample to the reference:

EQ Matching

EQ Matching in Ozone

Dry recorded trumpet = yellow EQ line

Reference track – Born on the 4th of July, Williams = purple EQ line

Resulting required EQ = red EQ line

A low-res example of the final mock-up, from which the above samples are taken, is here:

Another software solution is to use a plugin like Clone Boy to clone realtime EQ:

Clone Boy

Clone Boy

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