Adventures In Audio with Audio Masterclass
Are you a cutting-edge recording engineer? Or are you still hooked on the sounds of a long-gone age?

Are you a cutting-edge recording engineer? Or are you still hooked on the sounds of a long-gone age?

Perhaps retro has had its day. Now might be the time to adopt thoroughly modern and cutting-edge recording technology and put retro where it belongs – in the past!


It's odd how those sounds of recordings from the past are so desirable. We tend to think of music as forward-moving and cutting-edge. But in reality we find a 'comfort zone' in the sounds of earlier eras.

It's worth thinking about the equipment you would use if you wanted to make a totally modern recording.

Clearly, there would be no tube mics nor tube preamps. Probably no discrete transistor designs either as they are technically outclassed by modern integrated circuits.

So the choice of microphone would be something like a Schoeps or DPA, where they specialize in forward-looking technology, not retro designs. The mic would have a small diaphragm as technically they are superior in nearly all respects to large-diaphragm microphones.

And a transformerless output would be good, the transformer being another of those relics of the past.

The preamplifier would be an IC design, perhaps using the famous SSM2017 chip, now discontinued but replaced by the INA217, which some say isn't quite as good (now that would be a discussion!).

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Following the preamp, there is no need to remain in the analog domain, so immediate conversion to digital is the next thing. Oddly enough, everyone seems to want the latest and best converters; there is no market for 'vintage' converters. Not yet anyway.

Once in the digital domain, all you have to do now to be right up-to-date is to make sure not to use any retro plug-ins. Err.. that would be not to use any plug-ins practically, apart from the ones your DAW came with as standard.

Monitoring is a tricky point. You could use the latest Class D power amplifier design, but that isn't necessarily better than a Class AB or Class A – just smaller, lighter and cheaper. Class A might be an old way of doing things, but it is the best and therefore still cutting edge.

Make sure you get a damned big one.

Now the biggest problem – monitor loudspeakers. I don't believe there is such a thing as a cutting-edge moving coil loudspeaker. They are intrinsically retro.

But some high-end hifi loudspeakers, such as those from Wilson Audio, give stunning results on acoustic instruments, so that would probably be the best choice.

Or you could choose electrostatic monitors which are very much more accurate. Hardly anyone has electrostatics at home, but as a recording engineer at least you would know that you were ahead of the game.

It could be said that today's obsession with retro is holding technology back.

What do you think?

David Mellor

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David Mellor