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Beatles, Pink Floyd Engineer Alan Parsons Rips Audiophiles

Alan Parsons, producer, musician and sound engineer of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, says audiophiles overpay for equipment while ignoring room acoustics.

In an exclusive interview with CE Pro, Alan Parsons, renowned sound engineer for Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and for the Beatles,
says hi-fi pros focus too much on equipment and brand names, when they should put more energy into room acoustics. He also says some surround-sound systems from Costco and Walmart “really aren’t that bad.”

All this from the audio wizard behind Dark Side of the Moon, and the name sake of the Alan Parson’s Project?

Parsons broke into the music industry in the late 1960s when he was hired by Abbey Road Studios to work as an assistant engineer. As an assistant engineer, Parsons’ career started at a point where most music lovers only dream of reaching - working on the last two Beatles’ albums.

As a full-fledged engineer, Parsons worked on projects with Paul McCartney and the Hollies, but it was his efforts on the benchmark album Dark Side of the Moon that launched his career.

Throughout the rest of the 1970s and 1980s, Parsons released several albums under the name of Alan Parsons Project (APP). The 1990s marked a shift in direction for Parsons that was highlighted by his dropping of “Project” from his band name.

As he entered the 2000s, Parsons continued to release new music, which includes his first foray into the electronica genre when he released 2004’s A Valid Path. Parsons’ latest project is an instructional DVD package entitled The Art and Science of Sound Recording. The multi-disc DVD set is designed to educate music engineering students and music enthusiasts about the technologies and techniques that are driving the recording industry.

Your career has spanned decades and it includes your work with The Beatles and Pink Floyd. Back when you worked with these artists, what did you learn from them that you still find useful today?
You couldn’t ask for anything better than those projects. I learned a lot from George Martin and I also learned the art of engineering from some of the best engineers at EMI/Abbey Road. Every session was an experience that I could say to an extent was an influence.

If you had the digital tools of today available to you when you were making Dark Side of the Moon would you have done anything differently?
I think it was a sonic statement of the available technology of the time. It’s a difficult question to answer. Had digital processing been available then, it may have been different; certainly some of the effects would have been easier to create. I think it was a well written and executed album and we all did a good job; we were a good team and made a good album.

imagePink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon
How do you separate music listening in terms of your profession and as a pastime of entertainment?
I don’t listen to much music recreationally - it’s almost always for professional applications. I do listen in the car, but that’s about it.

Do you have any advice for those that would like to develop their professional listening skills to hear things more like audio professionals such as yourself?
The art of listening is the key to any kind of career in this business. My training at EMI/Abbey Road was thorough in how to listen. I learned how to discern minute differences in pieces of equipment, and it helped me to appreciate what I was hearing. As you become experienced on a pro level you become fussier about how things sound and how certain pieces of equipment behave.

You’ve been on record as saying that surround sound offers listeners a much more immersive experience for music. Can you clarify/explain why you feel this way?
Yes, I think it’s surprising that it hasn’t taken off. Back in the 1970s, the science of producing four channels of music for vinyl was very inadequate. Now that we have the technology to do 5.1 surround, I wish there was more interest in using it for music as well as film. Not enough music people are interested in it. Surround is to stereo what stereo was to mono; it makes a huge difference.

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What do you think about the market evolution that has seen the CD format losing sales while the vinyl and digital download categories increasing their respective sales?
I’m not sure vinyl is selling beyond audiophile purists, and I’m not really one of them. I’m reasonably happy with the quality of CDs, but I’d really like to see high-resolution downloads become more widely available.

It is encouraging to see people listening to high-resolution audio. Eventually it’s going to be an all-download world … computers dominate our lives these days. We are just going to have to be tolerant of the longer download times. It’s just the way it is.

Do you think that sound quality is driving this trend? Are people tiring of low-resolution sound and compressed recordings that lack dynamic range?
That may well be. The majority [of consumers] are happy with MP3, but they don’t know what they are missing. Being fast and free are priorities, and that’s why MP3 is popular. There’s another damaging situation: You can complain about iTunes and subscription sites being damaging to copyright owners and having inferior audio quality, but one of the worst culprits is YouTube.

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Article Topics

News · Audio · Acoustics · All topics

About the Author

Robert Archer, Senior Editor, CE Pro
Bob is an audio enthusiast who has written about consumer electronics for various publications within Massachusetts before joining the staff of CE Pro in 2000. Bob is THX Level I certified, and he's also taken classes from the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) and Home Acoustics Alliance (HAA). In addition, he's studied guitar and music theory at Sarrin Music Studios in Wakefield, Mass.

14 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by paulcunningham  on  02/09  at  12:07 PM

I didn’t realize until I saw the front page photo that Alan Parsons looks like Zach Galifianakis

Posted by Jason Knott  on  02/09  at  12:24 PM

With all the focus from Hollywood on digital rights (i.e., Kaleidescape), Parsons’ point about why the music industry has not addressed YouTube artists’ rights violations is one I never thought of.

Posted by Audioplus - Dan C  on  02/09  at  01:24 PM

Have to admit, I remember Alan Parsons project and probably still have the vinyl. Dolby Digital & DTS engineers have never really figured out how to lay appropriate 5.1 music tracks down. DTS engineers (most) will admit that back in 2002 when they started playing with the technology, they didn’t really know what they were listening for or doing. A helicopter flying overhead is far different than rear room reflections of a piano in a given acoustic environment. If you take an old Fosgate Audionics processor with Pro*Plus (not Pro Logic) decoding and listen to an old vinyl track, you’ll hear ambience and acoustic reverberations inherent to the room and the instruments. I believe Jim Fosgate did the same with Pro Logic II circuitry, but sound engineers really don’t know how to layout 5.1 or 6.1 music tracks. Listen to ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ with Pro Plus decoding, you’ll be amazed with the footsteps walking around and doors slamming, and the actual placement of same. I have to agree with Alan’s comments on room acoustics, you can take a $500 system and make it sound like a $20,000 system with proper room treatment. And vice versa, take $20,000 of audio gear and make it sound like a $500 system with poor room acoustic treatment.

Posted by Grant Clauser  on  02/09  at  01:37 PM

I found this quote very interesting: “I don’t listen to much music recreationally - it’s almost always for professional applications. I do listen in the car, but that’s about it.” 

I wonder if that impacts his sense of where the buying public stands on audiophile recordings and gear.

Posted by Mark Waldrep  on  02/09  at  01:48 PM

Alan is a strong advocate for surround music and better fidelity. As a label owner [AIX Records and] involved in both areas, I believe the current renewed interest in 5.1 surround music AND better sound are welcome developments. It’s true that there are no models nor are there years of experience in mixing music in 5.1 to guide us, but distributing sound in an immersive mix [something I refer to as a “stage” mix] is an experience that everyone should have.

At the recent CES show, I spent three days demonstrating some of my tracks in standard stereo and then switched to “stage” perspective surround. The response I got was, “the surround is hands down better, why isn’t everyone doing this?”

It’s time more labels and musicians presented their music as HD downloads and in surround. The era of music servers is upon us and getting 5.1 surround files is relatively easy.

Posted by jhamill1  on  02/14  at  10:36 AM

The categories of people who would seem to be ideal audio purists, musicians and recording engineers, are often anything but. The need to get the job done and collect a paycheck has resulted in many popular albums with less than fantastic recording quality. It’s left demo dealers scouring the earth for the “eighth album from Flying Squirrel and the Grapefruit Jam” just to give a great first impression of a system. One might conclude that if you love something, don’t do it for a living. Make it a hobby.

Posted by Robert Archer  on  02/15  at  07:06 PM

When this story first posted I received an email from the audio journalist Michael Fremer who had this to say about Parson’s comments:

The “degradation” Parsons doesn’t think is “so bad” apparently has also affected his brain. His ongoing insistence on attacking people who appreciate good sound baffles me. He has repeatedly stated the false dichotomy about having good room acoustics INSTEAD of fixating on high quality gear. Well how about good gear AND good acoustics? That’s what most audiophiles strive for. John Lennon’s song “Women are the N-word of the World” should be re-written as “Audiophiles are the N-word of the World” especially when someone like Parsons chooses to pick the fight.

If you want to know why sound has gone down the crapper? And people are content with MP3 played back on plastic computer speakers and don’t care about it or even pay that much attention to what they listen to, preferring to make music listening a background entertainment experience while they do other stuff, you can thank cranks like Alan Parsons—I don’t care how many great sounding records he’s made—his current attitude is positively absurd. He gives the same interview every time. Frankly I’m tired of it. As for vinyl, he has no idea who is buying it… the resurgence is being fueled by kids not by “audiophiles.”  When people visit me and hear a really good audio system playing music they know they love it. They say “I had no idea this was even possible! How come I don’t know about this? Why doesn’t anyone talk about it or write about it?” Why because guys like Parsons are happier, for some reason, to rag on “audiophiles.” What’s lower today? An audiophile or a pedophile? I’m not sure. If you’re a wine connoisseur, or an auto connoisseur or a clothes horse, well you’re cool and sophisticated. God forbid you appreciate good sound…then you get attacked. And by whom? By recording engineers of all people. Sorry but if you don’t fight back, more studios will close and people will pay even less attention than they do now to what you try to achieve in the few great ones that are left.

Posted by paulcunningham  on  02/16  at  10:12 AM

“Audiophile vs pedophile” has a drama-queen ring to it, calm down. Is his stance really that hard to grasp? Leaving aside the nerds that comprise our industry and focusing on the typical unwashed masses that comprise most of our customers who want “good sound,” it’s mostly a nostalgia-laden pissing contest of who has the best gear, because now that he’s successful he can afford that stuff he used to see in the hifi store’s window. But don’t dare mention *gasp* acoustic treatment that might interfere with the placement of that Rembrandt copy on the wall!

This is just the voice of experience from a frustrated integrator. And yes, the term “audiophile” is very telling - someone who loves *AUDIO* not *MUSIC*. Music lovers use equipment to enjoy music; audiophiles use music to enjoy their equipment.

Posted by wiredisland  on  02/16  at  09:03 PM

Some odd comments by Parsons. I have to agree that both room acoustics and quality gear are essential to create the optimum listening environment. Just like the rest of society these days, quantity vs. quality almost always wins out… What a shame.  I’ll take a stereo dedicated listening experience over MP3 background music any day of the week.

Posted by Brian199511  on  02/21  at  08:38 PM

Mr. Parsons has an interesting viewpoint and his body of music is wonderful.  He, by his own admission, does not listen to music at home for pleasure.  A unique perspective when commenting on audiophile systems.  My first audiophile system was in the 70s; custom designed and built transmission line speakers for a quadraphonic system (Pioneer QX-8000, Thorens TT, Teac R to R, etc).  Many years and systems later I wish I still had that system and not swallowed the digital kool-aid.  Hearing Crosby, Still, Nash and Young harmonies, one from each speaker was spellbinding.  5.1, 9.1, 19.1?  Garbage sold to ignorant masses via clever marketing much like that Bose wave nonsense.  Invest in a quality stereo system, not from Costco, etc., at a budget you can afford, include analogue, and you will smile in audio heaven daily and pass something of value on to your children.

Posted by johndorsey  on  02/23  at  12:18 PM

The title saying Parsons “ripped audiophiles” is patently inaccurate and more like a National Inquirer headline. He pointed out some of the think of audiophiles that is questionable, perhaps in a manner to be instructive.
Skip the exaggerations in your headlines.

John Dorsey
Baltimore, MD

Posted by Ray Casey  on  02/24  at  11:11 AM

Thanks Alan Parsons for finally saying the “Emperor has no clothes”.  This fraud has gone on for years.  And glad that a revered name in the industry finally calls it out vs. a newbie as the trolls will now attack you but you are immune.  This industry is fraught with that kind of nonsense.  But ya can’t really blame these guys as the consumer pays.  And the folks in this industry are brilliant at putting lipstick on pig and selling it for a fortune…  So Caveat Emptor…

Posted by Ken Davis International Music Composer  on  03/14  at  05:48 PM

I have long been a fan of Alan Parsons, not only from the Dark Side Of the Moon album but his own creative music of which I play and listen to constantly as it comes from a very creative mind and the lyrics, vocals and music composition has class and style as does Alan. I had the privilege to see Alan and his session muso’s as the Alan Parsons Project at Humphrey’sOn The Water in San Diego in 2011. That was one of the highlights of my life to see and hear all those great tracks live and to leave feeling uplifted and inspired

I have now downloaded all of the Arts and Science Downloads for studio owners and musicians and Alan’s dialogue is descriptive and easy to listen to and although I own my own recording studio to listen to latest information from a master recording engineer willing to share his knowledge for a very small fee is fantastic
Highly Recommended
Ken Davis
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Proud Owner Of the Kawai Crystal Grand Piano CR40A
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Posted by ???????????  on  08/26  at  02:20 PM

Where exactly did he “rip audiophiles”? Everything he said was very tame and eloquent. He didn’t “rip” anyone but merely pointed out the common sense differences between studio engineers and boutique audio collectors.

This is like an MSNBC title about Mitt Romney or something. Crappy cartoon journalism here…

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