"I have heard of LEDE (live end dead end), and some variances between how a control booth in a studio should be designed vs a listening room. This makes no sense to me. These are both music reproduction scenarios. Why should there be any differences in the design of the rooms, whether it's for pleasure or for the purpose of mastering an album/CD? It seems in a perfect world the two should be identical. Let's face it, in both cases we want to hear the instruments and we want to hear the concert hall. We do not want to hear the speakers as a source and we do not want to hear our listening rooms." Analog Scott, Audio Asylum
"There is no right or wrong when it comes to enjoying music. That's the bottom line. In this ongoing argument/discussion over just what constitutes the perfect listening environment, there are many shades of gray, not merely broad strokes of black and white. I say ongoing because as both a producer and recording engineer, I have taken part in many discussions between fellow professionals on this very subject. As a designer, I have had to validate the good and bad points of one concept over the other on occasions too numerous to mention. LEDE or Live End/Dead End was a concept developed and championed by Don and Carolyn Davis. The first LEDE control room that I did a mixing session in was Wally Heider's Studio 4 in Hollywood in the early half of the '70s. It was a strange experience. The acoustic energy in the room seemed out of whack to me, quite unlike anything that I'd experienced before. After nearly unanimous negative responses from the recording engineers who regularly used Heider's studios, the almost new Studio 4 control room was torn out and acoustically redesigned.
But let's back up and take a different approach. To paraphrase: "In a perfect world the control room and the listening room would be identical."
Well, not really. The control room environment is objective, the listening environment subjective. Let me start by saying that it would be just wonderful with me if everything that was mixed in a studio sounded exactly the same in everybody's living room as when it was carefully mixed in the refined environment of a control room. That is subjective. Unless everyone had the same room and used the same equipment, that clearly is not going to happen.
There really are two very different and opposing standards at work here: Professional and consumer, or as far as this discussion goes, audiophile. Let's begin with speakers. It might be of interest to know that large speakers are rarely ever used in mixing anymore. That trend died out more than 10 years ago with the advent of high quality "near field monitors" and, more tellingly, with a much overdue and increased awareness of the need for hearing conservation in the recording industry. In a nutshell, 90% of the music that audiophiles and the public in general play back over anything from large exotic full-range loudspeakers and playback systems costing tens of thousands of dollars to "ghetto blasters" was more than likely mixed on a pair of lowly Yamaha NS10Ms costing around $360 (which were just about the industry standard for 20 years although everybody professed to hate them!); a pair of KRK Rokit Powered Monitors; or one of several other popular professional nearfield monitors more or less within the same size and price range. These speaker systems use 6.5" to 8" drivers combined with small but highly efficient high-end devices. How can these speakers be expected to sound as good as a pair of, say Talon Audio Hawks? Yet is this the comparison implied in today's question?
The large and mostly soffit-mounted speakers which remain in many control rooms are used mainly for hype (read "loud") playback for the client's enjoyment (read "ego") and to use objectively in conjunction with the nearfields when mixing and to check program material for unwanted audio artifacts such as extraneous noise and extended low frequencies etc that cannot be heard on the smaller speakers or at lower listening levels. The explanation for all this lies with the mixing methodology. The initial reason for small nearfield monitor use in recording studios was to, as closely as possible, replicate the average home system and radio broadcast simulation. It was reasoned that if we mixed for both mediums, then we had covered the broadest segment of the music business. There is far more that could be said about the art of mixing, but it best be done another time.
Back to listening rooms and their design in relationship to control rooms: When listening to a particularly well-recorded piece of music, it is not difficult to imagine that a listener might want to place him or herself at the site of the original recording. This is one point made by the questioner and it is not an unreasonable one.
"We want to hear the instruments and we want to hear the concert hall. We do not want to hear the speakers as a source and we do not want to hear our listening rooms."
I could not agree more. But for the sake of argument, this might mean that with a given recording, one room might need to be livened up while another might need to be damped because, as we as all know, all rooms are created differently just as all speakers and components are different. Conversely, a good mixing engineer, in order to present a natural acoustic dimension for the performance, might have added some subtle reverberation to more precisely replicate what he heard in the concert hall; or to complement the natural acoustic spacing between the sections of the orchestra which the microphones failed to articulate or misrepresented in some way. Now we have the possibility of a conflict. Certain playback environments might be set up for an extended soundstage with an element of controlled reverberation, and the recording itself has also been mixed to be as close to the original performance as the recording engineer could account for. In this instance, these two elements of soundstage/aural spaciousness could acoustically compound to cause problems or, at least, a compromise in the level of enjoyment.
Now we are back to the premise that there is no right or wrong way to enjoy music. In designing listening rooms, we must consider many things: Existing conditions such as available space; boundary and environmental sound control requirements and limitations; choice and placement of speakers and other equipment; and our clients' personal preferences and dislikes as well as their budgetary considerations. Many people do not realize that when you put a pair of speakers in a room and turn on the system, both room and speakers become a tuned circuit. They interact with and upon each other. Unfortunately, many audiophiles choose their equipment on values other than the suitability of a speaker to a room, instead choosing speakers entirely unsuitable for their needs though highly touted in the marketplace to be sure to elicit a huge Whoa response from their audiophile friends.
What is the perfect room? Simply put, it's one in which you enjoy listening to music. A well-designed room is a complex mixture of acoustic control, a feeling of relaxed comfort and a most of all, musicality. In most instances, it is possible to achieve all three of these criteria. As to which is most important, who is to say? In a well-designed room, they will all interact to produce a unique listening environment that is greater than the sum of its parts."
Chris Huston, Rives Audio
Tune in to our July column where we will discuss the acoustical differences of control rooms, home theaters and two-channel listening rooms.
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