It’s not the gear.
It’s the ear.
Another recording engineer friend said this years ago and it has stuck with me ever since. Far too often, audio production gurus (and studios seeking clients) tout this microphone over that one, these speakers over those, brand X software over brand Y, etcetera, etcetera.
Now if you hang around professional audio geeks, you may have heard similar comments. They do contain a modicum of truth. Emphasis on modicum. Because most of the truth is this: nearly anyone can now acquire hardware with professional capabilities. But not everyone can achieve professional results.
So what’s the difference?
[See blog title.]
What does an engineer know about room acoustics, reflections, and the effect those elements have on sound? Far more important than the brand name of a pro microphone is the mic placement, the room in which it will record, and where in the room the mic is placed. I have heard countless BBC news reports (they use high-end gear) in which I hear reflections from tables, walls, and windows – all of which color the sound. Those reflections can be eliminated – not by more equipment – but with simple microphone position changes. But you have to be able to hear a problem before you can eliminate it. Grammy Award winning engineer/artist Todd Rudgren once said he could make any microphone sound good. I believe him.
Other factors having nothing to do with equipment are far more important in a great recording. Is the talent comfortable? Are they well-rehearsed? Are the instruments in tune and can the musicians hear each other (if recording music)? Is the room ambiance conducive to the mood the recording should create?
Ok. Disclaimer time. Of course the equipment has to be good. But there is a point at which spending more money gives you only a tiny fraction of a percent better quality. A $50k studio (or less) can now turn out a product virtually indistinguishable – by 99.9% of listeners – from a $500k studio. It all depends on who is turning the knobs. (Oops. That dates me.) It all depends on who is moving the mouse.
So next time you want someone to record your band, or your radio commercial, or your broadway musical, just listen to some previous work. How does it sound? The answer to that question is far more important than whether the studio has just obtained the latest Acme Super Deluxe Sparkle Sound Gizmo.