A real candidate for a "Write A Caption" competition. Bob Crewe is clearly unhappy with the playback....Frankie Valli is trying to re-assure him and George Schowerer is staying out of this argument! Photo courtesy of George 1966
When Bob Crewe and the Four Seasons where in the studio in the sixties their only aim was to get a good single that would be a hit record. Mono ruled! Recording technology was based on generally 4 track tape machines (up to 1964) and stereo sound was a luxury and usually an afterthought for the record company to focus on with the sound engineer. In the forty plus years since we’ve seen the rise of the audiophile and the emergence of Dolby and Surround Sound. The sound quality of movies has been revolutionized with multiple channels..
Descriptions of stereophonic sound tend to stress the ability to localize the position of each instrument in space, but in reality many people listen on playback systems that do a poor job of re-creating a stereo "image". Many listeners assume that "stereo" sound is "richer" or "fuller-sounding" than monophonic sound. This is inaccurate — stereo and mono can have equally detailed abilities to play recorded notes. The spatial illusion is what sets stereo recordings apart from mono recordings.
So what is wrong with simulated stereo?
Audiophiles and music purists often deride this method of playback because the audio doesn’t sound how the composer or producer intended. Or they maintain the result sounds artificial. But even sound engineers have been fooled by this technique….and these arguments just don’t hold up.
network of world-wide contacts we found a sound engineer who is actively
experimenting with the Four Seasons catalogue and the latest technology to
manipulate sound in this way. We asked Enrique from Valencia
‘That can be a problem” , said Enrique when we asked him. “Some processing of mono to "duophonic or artificial stereo" is so close to "real stereo" it is not detectable on electronic equipment or meters. For me, stereo is: clear separation of different instruments/voices on the left/right/middle. What is on one channel should be only occurring again as an echo (room hall) on the other side or not at all. When something from the middle is on both sides, too, it's mixed (or probably meant) that way.
What you get with the comb filter channeling is "ambience" on the channels and a better (wider) stereo picture with clearer location of the separate instruments at the front. There's no way to re-produce "depth" with a pseudo stereo recording unless you use complicated mathematical models.
Some people say that several Four Seasons tracks
which appear on vinyl in stereo no longer exist in
the Partnership’s archive of ‘stereo masters’.
But only Bob, Frankie or perhaps Bill Inglot would
be able to confirm that.”
“What about the rest of the Four Seasons catalogue” I asked him?
“It is important to continually examine the catalogues of important artists like the Four Seasons within our constantly evolving technological era. It is possible to give ‘volume’ and ‘shape’ to a monophonic record using pseudo-stereo techniques.
One vinyl album that contains stereo and alternative ‘takes’ that really needs to be salvaged from vinyl and restored on CD as a set of masters is ‘Edizione D’Oro’
The original Edizione D'Oro LP in 1968 contained some first time stereo remixes: "Rag Doll", "Girl Come Running" , "Dawn" (without intro), "Let's Hang On" (without intro, ACE coupled it with the mono intro) and an alternate mix of "Save It For Me". "Ronnie" was the only mono song not remixed to stereo, maybe there was too much overdubbing involved. Obviously the multi-tracks still existed in 1968. Actually, in the case of "Girl Come Running" the stereo version has the background vocals on the intro, whereas the mono 45 version does not. It is not clear how many of these are genuine stereo tracks or ‘electronically enhanced mono.
And on many tracks in the Four Seasons catalogue the stereo imaging is awful. The Philips albums in 1965 and 1966 are an example. I found this when transferring tracks to an archive for future mixing to DSD.
With a sampling frequency of CD, 44,100 times per second it’s very difficult to reproduce a good ‘sound stage’ which is why you may find that the sound of a CD often ‘sticks to the speakers’: you’ll hear it coming from the left speaker and from the right speaker but there’s nothing in between – the proverbial ‘hole in the middle’. This is an area in which DSD excels.” This article indicates it may be the future for sound recording.
But ‘how do fans make their own assessment of what is a good stereo mix?’, we asked him.
“Stereo images are best assessed on headphones. You have to listen. Wide is 120 to 180 degrees, anything between 60 and 30 degrees is small, 60 to 120 is normal (90 degrees as usual). I haven't found any meter / display that can show this.
With my fellow sound engineers we have done a set of mixes to show what can be brought out of these recordings and this demonstrates just a little of what may be possible in the future. What would Bob Crewe have produced for our ears if he had been using the tools available today we have asked ourselves. Maybe ‘Edizione D’Oro’ is an indicator.
We used a plug-in tool in ‘Wavelab’ software to create stereo versions of the ‘mono only’ mixes. A comb filter created the left and right channels from the sound spectrum and a delay between these channels created the stereo effect. ( a tutorial on this technique can be found here). It was simply a case of setting a width that represented the preferred sound stage and we chose to visualize the group performing live with a tight centre.
But the remixing of the ‘mono only’
mixes in the Seasons catalogue in to stereo is only a first step. The wide
stereo mixes that don’t do their performances justice also need to be ‘fixed’. The
Four Seasons Partnership probably won’t invest the time of a sound engineer in
re-mastering the catalogue with the help of the creators of the production for
several reasons. Cost compared to Return, the age of the participants (Frankie’s
lifelong hearing problems may prevent him from appreciating the new mixes
fully) and their commitment to other things.(e.g. touring and Jersey
Mixing engineers should mix tracks with a live sound stage/concert stage perspective in mind . We found a blogspot that defines this.
always in the center because the band lead singer is the star of the show. At
the back of the vocals is the bass player. Typically at the back of the bass
player is the drummer. The band's two guitarists are on the left and the right.
Although, different panning arrangement are possible for additional instruments
(such a band with piano or others), this concept illustrates the basic things
on how to do panning in audio mixing to create a very realistic stereo image.
Live sound monitors for vocals and bass are placed up front facing the audience, so that fans can get a great feel of the vocals and the bass groove. On the left and right loud sound monitors are the guitars.
In the best commercial audio production and using software, panning can be controlled between -100 to +100. Where mostly -100 is the leftmost part of the stage and +100 is the rightmost part of the stage.”
Enrique agreed…..”In the case of the Four Seasons recordings that we have……….. listen to any track on headphones and see how much these principles are adhered to. Many of the early stereo recordings fall short of this standard (with instruments and vocals panned far left and far right with acres of space between occupied by ‘nothing’).
With the ‘Mono only’ versions of songs it is not possible with present technology to create the sort of mix that multi-track recordings can provide. But it is possible to give them ambience and a degree of separation that gives them a soundstage not apparent in Mono. It is a compromise. But it is perhaps not as good as listening to DSD Mono which unfortunately is not really commercially available yet. There is a ‘feel’ to the DSD mono transfers that makes mono listening a really new experience. For most fans this is still a few years away. The technology is coming.”
It is clear Enrique really loves the Four Seasons music…..”. The fun is when you are re-mastering and you are trying different settings. Sometimes you suddenly find the groups sound just works better. That is such a ‘buzz’. ..a real adrenalin rush. With our ‘Digital Stereo’ mixes we have tried to put some of the ‘feeling’ back into the mixes that Bob Crewe and the group aimed for at the time of recording. We think we’ve done this. They are certainly interesting to listen to and a worthy item for collectors and fans”
Well it may be a compromise but we think they really bring the songs back to life and allow the listener to get into their arrangements like never before. This CD is not available commercially but Lynn Boleyn has a copy in our Four Seasons Archive library so contact her if you are interested.