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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.

You can look for any record ever made and it’s on YouTube for free - usually with crappy audio - and let’s not even mention the video content that’s out there to go with it. I sense there will be a huge copyright court case over the content on YouTube someday.

Do the high-resolution capabilities of formats such as DTS-HD Master Audio and two-channel digital audio like 24-bit/96kHz allow engineers more freedom to be creative on top of their ability to provide a more detailed audio experience?
Engineers will always go for the highest-quality format available. I don’t think consumer enjoyment values suffer much if we have to use slightly lower-quality delivery formats. TV, however, sounds dreadful - particularly in America.

Television [broadcast engineers] need to find a way to make their sound better. It’s compressed; it goes through several generations of degradation and it can even fall out of sync. I’m very sensitive to the synchronization of sound and video. On cable and satellite, half the channels are out of sync to some extent - sometimes way out. I would like to think the technology to fi x the problem would be readily available.

DTS has always strived to improve sound quality over other existing formats and they are responsible for the limited success surround has had [in music].

What is the biggest thing that both electronics dealers and enthusiast consumers should do when setting up home theater/sound systems?
You get what you pay for. But having said that, there are some decent budget surround systems you can buy at Costco or Walmart that really aren’t bad. Everybody has their budget; the hi-fi world will tell you if money is no object you can get better results out of every component - even the surface the amplifier sits on. Pro sound people have different expectations; they are only concerned that a piece of gear works and allows them to do their job. Hi-fi people spend huge amounts of money for tiny improvements, and pro sound guys will say, “I can spend half as much and get the results I need.”

I’m simply not very familiar with the latest domestic hi-fi equipment. I don’t go to hi-fi tradeshows and I don’t have sophisticated equipment in the family areas of my house for music, but there are things that make sense like good speakers and a decent amp. But I dare say there would only be a small improvement if I bought a $20,000 amp. I can live with what I have.

imageI do think in the domestic environment, the people that have sufficient equipment don’t pay enough attention to room acoustics. The pro audio guy will prioritize room acoustics and do the necessary treatments to make the room sound right. The hi-fi world attaches less importance to room acoustics, and prioritizes equipment; they are looking more at brand names and reputation.

You have a DVD box set called the Art & Science of Sound Recording. Why did you decide to make this box set, and does someone need to be an aspiring sound engineer to learn something from this set?
I think anybody who has had a curiosity about what goes on in a recording studio will enjoy it. Anyone that has a vague interest will enjoy it because it is entertaining. We made it more as an educational aid for people in training at colleges for recording technologies. We’ve had a lot of interest from those types of schools, and many are putting it into their curriculum. We can’t ask for more than that.

Some of my contemporaries have said they enjoyed it, and I learned from making it too. The program is based around interviews with other recording professionals and it provides a variety of perspectives.

What do you think is the most misunderstood part of the recording/mixing process that audiophiles don’t understand that you address with the box set?
I think what perhaps critics don’t appreciate is that there is a lot of luck in getting a good sound. It’s not all about the equipment, spectral response and compressing. It’s all about the quality of the musicianship, the songwriting and the sound reaching the microphone … that’s crucial. It’s often been said, “garbage in means garbage out,” so if that’s the case you won’t get a good sound.

Everybody strives to get perfect sound and we work hard to get the best sound we can. A certain artist or song or style of music will sound a certain way. It would be ridiculous for me to make a Jonas Brothers record using the techniques and procedures I normally use. The techniques used to make many modern pop records involve a lot of compression and that’s what those consumers want, according to the labels. A lot of the processing that audiophiles criticize is a style thing and part of the music itself.

What essential Alan Parsons recordings would you recommend to electronics dealers and enthusiasts to show off their music and home theater systems?
Dark Side is a benchmark in terms of audio quality and it’s not something I decreed - the industry said it. I’m proud of that. A couple of my records, Al Stewart’s Year of the Cat, and I think, possibly Pyramid [Alan Parsons Project] were some of my finer moments sonically.

Dave Grusin has made some incredible sounding recordings. When it comes to purely being entertained, I would not criticize anyone’s sound; it’s all about song writing, performance and talent on the production team. If you get all those, you have a winning formula.

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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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