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.
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.
I 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.