Saturday, 13 August 2011

How The Beatles Didn't Sound Like Crap, Tips on Pre and Post EQ

Today a tip from the old school days! When tape machines were the only recording medium in studios, there were some sonic compromises to go along with the nice saturation and warmth, namely tape hiss. When recording was limited to 4 or 8 tracks, things would have to be recorded, mixed, and then all recorded down to a single track to free up the rest of the tracks. This process is known as bouncing, and it exists in the modern world of computer recording as well. Except now instead of bouncing down to a single tape track, you're bouncing to a single wave file. Now with tape, the issue was that as you re-recorded things, the hiss would get recorded as well and the more times you bounced something, the more hiss that would build up.

To fight this, engineers developed an ingenious technique. Before hitting tape they'd eq the signal so it had more treble than they'd ever want. Then after the recording they'd eq again to cut out all that treble they added but also taking the tape hiss with it! If they were to just cut the highs to try to remove the hiss, the sound would end up very dull and lacking crisp definition. But by compensating before recording to tape, the recorded sound sounded pretty much the same, just minus the tape hiss! As you can imagine, this helped to keep all that hiss from building up when recording and really helped them get around the limitations of the tape machines back then.

This technique isn't just useful when recording to tape. There are a lot of processes that add unwanted noise, mainly distortion. This requires you to think two steps ahead. If you know you will be distorting your sound and you'll want to cut out the extra top end noise, add in an eq before the distortion to boost treble and keep everything balanced.

This is useful for compression as well. Eq your sound beforehand to emphasize the frequencies you want the compressor to act upon. Then throw in another EQ post compression doing the opposite to level things back out again.

Just one of the (many) ways The Beatles and artists of their era managed to pull out spectacular sounding recordings despite limited technology.
Enjoy, and tell me your experiences in the comments!

26 comments:

  1. The tape EQing story is interesting. Any chance of an EQing 101 for us complete amateurs?

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  2. Clever tricks like this seem to be lost over time, thanks for sharing!

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  3. Fascinating! Awesome post.

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  4. I don't know if it was the Beatles who did that, more likely their engineers? hahaha.

    Dood, love this post.

    I eq the way you recommend, well at least pre compression, but I keep the chain live to push whatever freqs I need to into the compressor.

    I've just realized though, that I haven't been compressing enough. Compression is such a taboo, I've spent years hardly compressing at all. Not good to the modern ear. But beyond dynamic range issues, character compressors, and a few passes through various channels and busses sounds do take on a more interesting character.

    I've finally started using URS's saturation on just about every channel of my... how to say, pop tracks, tracks with recordings of real people, real instruments. I've been pleased with the results. The compression is undeniable. And the sounds do take on a slightly homoginzed character, that I'm enjoying.

    newayz...

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  5. George Martin counts as a Beatle.

    Definitely gonna be doing some stuff on Compression and EQ in the future. I'll probably do some more basic tutorials too to get everyone up to speed.

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  6. Those guys were geniuses back in the day, recording with analog is a (fun) nightmare.

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  7. lol at sub-radar's "fun/nightmare" comment.

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  8. I like the effects they did from the Hendrix "Bold as love" record

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  9. You very informed on this! Thanks for the knowledge!

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  10. Beatles were pretty good, and they had music knowledge. Nowadays, people just spend money on the best equipment but don't know shit about it. :D

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  11. Pretty interesting read. its Funny how people have forgotten about that.

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  12. Wow, I totally did not know about this, its funny how things like this get lost in the digital age.

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  13. 4-8 tracks is unimaginable in these times

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  14. Dude - that's some golden information, but if I understand right, it's not just useful for tape recordings? I typically record DI (yes, I know, terrible - but my apartment won't allow my amp ;_;) and I get some hiss (I'm guessing) from my pre-amp (little ART tube preamp). Do you think this might help with that?

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  15. Yeah it would help in the same way, throw an EQ before the DI and then reduce the treble in the box. Speaker simulations would also reduce top end so give that a try. Noise gate too, they're quite useful.

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  16. I really liked the title of this post. As well as everything else.

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  17. Great post. I'm always fascinated by the old-school methods (and the results) of studio artistry.

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  18. Thanks for the comment on my blog.
    xxx
    alittlebitofroza.blogspot.com

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  19. Pre EQin' is one of those things what is pretty much forgotten, I believe in it a lot; I feel like a lot of the workflow techniques of this era are just 'easy way outs' opposed to making quality sounding music...

    It just boils down to having to bang out tracks so fast to keep in the market.. Sad, really.

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  20. Depends what i'm doing but yeah i usually prefer pre-eq when compressing. Sometimes though the compressor can raise floor noise and boost frequencies requiring some post-eq, so that last tip will be quite useful to try out.

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  21. Didn't know about bouncing, I learned something new today!

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  22. This is interesting - definately new to me! Thanks for leaving such a nice comment, I appreciated it! :-)

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  23. It was pretty interesting, moreso considering i have 0 knowledge about this.

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  24. Interesting, I love The Beatles. They are surely one of a kind.

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  25. Thank you so much for stopping by my blog. I look forward to reading yours too!

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