Steven Wilson Pushing the aural envelope with high-res audio evangelist Steven Wilson (Interview)

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http://www.digitaltrends.com/features/interview-steven-wilson-on-high-res-hand-cannot-erase/

Some interesting points from this interview that I think deserved its own thread:

Digital Trends: Let’s get right to it. Why do you consider high-resolution 96/24 as your baseline for recording these days?

Steven Wilson: Well, here’s the thing: I don’t think there’s a massive difference between 48/24 and 96/24, OK? I’m not one of those guys who’s going to pour scorn on anyone who listens to CDs. I like listening to CDs. I think they still sound great — when they’re mastered well. But 96/24 does sound a little bit better, and there’s no excuse not to record at 96/24. That’s the bottom line. There’s no excuse, because the computers that we record on now are so powerful. There’s no reason not to be recording everything at 96/24. We now have the media to be able to download at 96/24, and we can release things on Blu-ray and DVD and keep all that resolution.
I’ll say it again. It’s not a question to me of being a massive leap forward. It is a little bit better, and there’s no excuse not to release things in 96/24. That’s the way I feel about it. Why would anyone record at 48 now? Why? But people still do.

Is it because it’s what they’re used to, and they think that their music won’t “hold up” at 96?

Yeah. A lot of people don’t think they can hear the difference, and also they figure, “Well, most people are going to hear this music on MP3 anyway, or on CD at 44.1/16-bit, so what’s the point?” But I think those people are missing a trick here because, as you know, the audiophile market is growing. It’s the only part of the music industry that’s growing! And another part of the industry that’s growing is vinyl. In terms of physical media, vinyl and high-resolution audio formats like Blu-ray are the only things that are. I mean, they’re small, yes — but they are growing.
I figure it’s just a war of attrition and gradually, more and more people will get into this standard. And I’m happy to be the guy standing up and saying, “Look at what we’re doing over here! Look at what we’re doing!!”

I’ll stand up right there with you. One of the points you made is quite key — it’s not necessarily a massive difference, but there is a difference. Some people have gone to the other extreme to say, “Well, we couldn’t hear much of a difference in a blind listening audition on earbuds; therefore, it’s not valid.” I think that’s the wrong approach.

Yes, it is wrong. Listen, I’ve had DVDs with compressed audio that I’ve compared to my 96/24 sessions, and it’s been hard to tell the difference. It’s a very subtle thing, but I come back to my original point — there’s no reason not to record at 96/24. Even if the difference is 0.1 percent better, why wouldn’t you do it? That’s the bottom line for me.

Exactly! It’s not going to cost you anything to do it this way. If there’s even that one hint of something better, that little extra detail where you get to hear things like overtones and instrumental separation, why is that wrong? Why is that a bad thing? That’s what mystifies me about all the negativity.

Absolutely. Absolutely right. One thing that shouldn’t be understated is that there is a psychological aspect to this. If you know you are listening to high-resolution files, there’s something quite comforting about it, you know? That’s also important. There’s information in those tracks that’s missing when you listen to a CD. Whether you can hear it or not, it is quite comforting to know that it is there.
I know we’ve talked about this before, but I think it’s worth saying again that all of this high-resolution stuff is pointless if the mastering sucks. Bad mastering is more of a problem than things being released at CD resolution, or even MP3s. What’s nice about this move to 96/24 is the amount of things that are coming out in flat transfers — no compression, and no mastering engineers fucking up the sound. That is a very, very good development in the history of music.

I’ve spoken with many an artist who’s said, “I turned in my final approved master, and what I got back on the back end is not what I heard in studio at all.” You’ve taken control of the mastering stage yourself and you don’t have to give anyone instructions about what to do anymore, right?

The simple answer is I don’t have any of my work mastered. It goes straight from my mixes — flat transfers onto the disc. And that applies to the mixes I do for the Yes reissues, the XTC reissues, the Jethro Tull reissues, and of course my own work too. And it’s amazing how many of the musicians I speak to, when I say to them, “I don’t want this mastered” — they’re initially shocked. But then they understand. Why would you need this mastered? You’ve approved the masters and you think the mixes sound great, so why would you not just release them as they are?
Now, I’m not saying that’s right for everyone, because some people need or want that extra pair of ears to check what they’ve done. But I’m at the stage now where I’m 100 percent confident that what I produce out of my studio is exactly the way I want people to hear it. I actually bypass mastering completely now.

To borrow a song title from Hand. Cannot. Erase., some people think it is “Routine” to go to mastering, and that’s just the way they have to do it.

I think people have been brainwashed a lot over the years that mastering engineers do something magical, almost like a black hat, and I think, actually, mastering is not necessary.
A lot of albums are coming out with flat transfers, and the audiophiles seem to love the flat transfers. There’s no compression of the dynamics, there’s no sort of nastiness on the top end and bass. I think it’s beginning to become a little bit of a trend, which I think is a positive trend.
 
It's all good. I love what Steven Wilson does. But what he says about 96/24 is a bit ironic. Truth is he was a somewhat slow adopter of 96/24 compared to stuff that Elliot Scheiner was putting out. Most of the Porcupine Tree dvd-a's are 48/24. I can remember addressing posts to Neil Wilkes asking why SW's stuff wasn't 96/24. But that's all water under the bridge now. It's great to see that now he is backing 96/24 to the hilt.
 
Possibly one of the reasons Steven was a slow adapter of 96/24 is related to his point that there "is no reason not to be recording everything at 96/24" today. Ten or fifteen years ago when he was using 48/24, it was a bit more expensive to go the 96/24 route. It was probably just a matter of justifying the expense of retooling for 96/24. I can remember early 2000's you had to pay extra to get recording equipment capable of 96/24. Now it is hard to find equipment that doesn't do 96/24.
 
Possibly one of the reasons Steven was a slow adapter of 96/24 is related to his point that there "is no reason not to be recording everything at 96/24" today. Ten or fifteen years ago when he was using 48/24, it was a bit more expensive to go the 96/24 route. It was probably just a matter of justifying the expense of retooling for 96/24. I can remember early 2000's you had to pay extra to get recording equipment capable of 96/24. Now it is hard to find equipment that doesn't do 96/24.
Agree...Times Flies!
 
Steven Wilson: I don’t think there’s a massive difference between 48/24 and 96/24, OK? [..] I like listening to CDs. I think they still sound great — when they’re mastered well. But 96/24 does sound a little bit better, and there’s no excuse not to record at 96/24
He's quite good informed. Of course you should record at 96/24 (or 48/24), even if the output will be CD. That is best practice. Only at the last stage (last step of what's called mastering) resample to the desired format (with proper dither if you go from 24 to 16 bits), But heh, CD is stereo only. So the next formats with multi channel (after DTS) were capable of higher resolutions, why not use them?

BTW. going higher than 96/24 is nonsense. Experts is digital music have determined that above something like 60kHz and about 18 or 19 bits there is no gain. And 88.2 and 96 kHz are the next higher "standard rates".
 
It's all good. I love what Steven Wilson does. But what he says about 96/24 is a bit ironic. Truth is he was a somewhat slow adopter of 96/24 compared to stuff that Elliot Scheiner was putting out. Most of the Porcupine Tree dvd-a's are 48/24. I can remember addressing posts to Neil Wilkes asking why SW's stuff wasn't 96/24. But that's all water under the bridge now. It's great to see that now he is backing 96/24 to the hilt.
i do remember when SW just joined our community, the questions regarding recording 96 vs. 48 and his answers.
that's very true, comparing his first releases on DVD-A up to present BD-A, one can see constant growth of his skill. i'm very picky
to the sound but to his latest works (i mean his solo albums. not remixes for other artists, which were recorded decades ago) i have
no complaints at all, except at some moments to recording of vox parts.


b.t.w. ES doing only mixes. for what i know after mix stage, his work goes to the mastering room. not mixing technique,
which use SW, who is doing overall sounding tweaking in process of mixing.
 
b.t.w. ES doing only mixes. for what i know after mix stage, his work goes to the mastering room. not mixing technique,
which use SW, who is doing overall sounding tweaking in process of mixing.

Yes. I was very impressed by SW's comments regarding mastering and the fact that he says that if mixes are done properly then mastering is not required. The guy is in the zone; at the top of his game. Steven Wilson, the "Master", needs no mastering! We are so lucky, as surround fanatics, to have this guy.
 
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