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Sound Recording by John Eargle, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1976, 327 pages, $22.50.
The Recording Studio Handbook by John M. Woram, Sagamore Publishing Co., 1976, 496 pages, $35.00.
Sound Recording Practice edited by John Borwick, Oxford University Press, London, 1976, 440 pages, Approx. $28.00.
Because of the phenomenal growth of the audio and recording industries in the past decade and the intensive coverage of their activities in various media, recording engineers and record producers have become glamour symbols in today's society. A glance in any issue of the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society will verify the large influx of student memberships from young people who have aspirations of becoming recording engineers. For the most part, these young people are students enrolled in audio courses in the Institute of Audio Research and the Recording Institute of America; the British equivalent is the recording course offered by the University of Surrey. One has to admire the diligence of those who put together these school curriculums.
Anyone familiar with the literature of Audio can appreciate how difficult it must have been to extract suitable subject matter from the vast body of audio information. To my knowledge, up to now there have been no comprehensive textbooks on the art and science of sound recording. This lack has undoubtedly imposed certain strictures on the faculties and, more importantly, severely limited the student's supplemental reading. By sheer coincidence, the three books listed above were all published within a few months of each other during 1976, and I am sure they will quickly be incorporated into the curriculums of these and similar institutions.
While these three books will no doubt bring aid and comfort to the beleaguered students, the tutorial aspects of the books are more byproducts than the main works of the authors. These volumes are intended as source books, as comprehensive references covering the complete spectrum of sound recording and engineering, and, as such, they are directed to the practicing recording engineer and to the more enlightened, inquisitive, and intelligent record producer. I want to particularly emphasize that these books are not all that technically formidable and can be read to great advantage by the growing numbers of amateur recordists and, of course, by that ubiquitous group, the "advanced audiophiles." I hasten to add that these books are not "cookbooks." Be you a student, graduate, or audiophile...there are no "pat" formulae here, and no matter how assiduously you study these books, they won't turn you into a recording engineer. Those who aspire to this estate must still go through the time-honored ritual of serving an apprenticeship in a recording studio. If you are lucky enough to make such a connection, you'll start out as a "floor sweeper" and "go-for" (the British call them "tea-boys"). Then if you're bright enough and have a kind and indulgent mentor, you'll make progress.
Okay, this has been enough of a preamble. Because of format and orientation, I will review the Eargle and Woram books together, and then get on to the British volume.
First off, a look at the credentials of the authors. John Eargle holds several degrees in engineering and music, was with the quality control department of RCA Records, and then went on to become Chief Engineer for Mercury Records. For his activities in the audio and recording industries, he was elected a Fellow of the Audio Engineering Society and is a past president of the AES. He is presently Vice President of Product Development for JBL. John Woram is also an alumnus of the quality control department of RCA Records, held several other posts with that company before joining the recording department where he made albums with such artists as John Denver, The Guess Who, and Neil Sedaka. After a period as Chief Engineer for Vanguard Records, Mr. Woram formed his own company, Woram Audio Associates specializing in recording and studio systems design.
Mr. Woram is also a Fellow of the Audio Engineering Society and a former regional vice-president of that group.
He is Associate Editor of db magazine and lectures extensively on audio subjects in such universities as Brigham Young, Syracuse, and Miami. Quite obviously, both Mr. Eargle and Mr. Woram are eminently qualified experts in their field.
Both authors write in a clear, concise, easy-to-read style, and their books are especially well organized.
Illustrations are plentiful and well chosen. John Eargle begins his book with a discussion of the physical aspects of sound, and then goes on to the best exposition of psychoacoustics I have ever read. In his extensive survey of stereophonic sound, the theoretical and operational aspects of this subject are so well done, it should be required reading for every recording engineer and will be a real eye-opener for the audiophile. His dissertation on quadraphonic sound is equally rigorous, with especially lucid descriptions of all the matrix systems, as well as discrete CD-4. John Woram also starts out with the basic aspects of sound, with a particularly well done in-depth study on the mysteries of the decibel and its applications in recording with VU and peak reading meters.
Both authors explain the various type of microphones, aspects of their design, especially their coverage as shown by excellent polar pattern diagrams. It could be said that John Eargle takes a more theoretical approach to this subject, while John Woram gives more on applications and recording set-ups. John Woram's review of microphone placements for recording various groups and instruments is especially valuable. It should be noted that Mr. Woram describes the microphone types that should be used in a particular recording situation, but he avoids any hard and fast "cookbook" ideas. He has a decided aversion to such notions as "take one Neumann, mix in some AKG, and season lightly with Sennheiser." Both books give extensive coverage to the various types of loudspeakers and their suitability as recording room monitors. John Eargle goes into the importance of monitor room equalization. The authors' sections on recording consoles are very explicit, with good block diagrams showing signal flow from input, through the myriad processing techniques, to output. All control functions are explained, with John Woram's perhaps the more detailed, while on the other hand, John Eargle guides us through the complexities of automated mix-down techniques using the Allison and Quad-8 Compu-mix systems.
At this point, someone is sure to say that since both of these books cover the same subjects, won't one book suffice? It goes without saying that making such a choice is up to the individual. Most certainly there are inevitable areas of overlapping information and redundancy. But there are not as many as you might suppose, and essentially these books are complementary. It is also very valuable to have two such expert opinions and the differing treatments of various subjects. There is also the matter of emphasis which each author gives to a certain subject. Eargle goes deeply into stereo theory and quadraphonic sound, Woram touches lightly on stereo theory and not at all on quadraphonic sound. Woram is very strong on microphone set-ups, Eargle is less so. Eargle has a section on disc cutting which reveals the complexities of this subject, and this portion should be read by every audiophile who wants a clear exposition of this process. John Woram does not cover disc subjects.
On the other hand, Woram furnishes a superb glossary, which is very detailed and an education in itself.
Eargle does not furnish a glossary.
And so it goes .... Both books provide in-depth coverage, according to each author's viewpoint, on virtually every aspect of recording science. Signal processing, through the use of compressors, limiters, expanders, equalizers, digital delay, Dolby, and dbx noise reduction systems, and the use of echo and reverberation, are all clearly presented.
Magnetic tape as a medium and the inner workings of tape recorders are also explored. In this respect, John Eargle covers such esoterica as automatic indexing and address codes for electronic editing, while John Woram gives an invaluable detailed procedure for tape recorder alignment. Actual recording session set-up and practices are given a most thorough treatment by both writers. The techniques of ove-dubbing and the use of "sel-sync" are made clear.
The complexities of multi-channel recording, switching and bouncing of tracks, and track alignment are explained. John Woram concludes his book with how to handle the mix-down session. John Eargle ends his book with a detailed run-through of record processing. Eargle's book has appendices of useful equations and mathematical relationships, and tables of absorption coefficients. Woram's appendices include the aforementioned glossary, the complete NAB magnetic recording standards, tables of conversion factors (i.e. Maxwells to Webers), and tables of logarithms. In summation, both authors have written fine books, each a much needed addition to audio literature and invaluable source books which can be read with profit by anyone interested in the field of sound recording.
The British book, Sound Recording Practice, edited by John Borwick, the esteemed audio writer for the Gramophone, is quite different in format from the Eargle and Woram books. It is actually a collection of essays on the various aspects of recording practice by experts in a particular audio discipline. It was compiled by the British organization, the Association of Professional Recording Studios. As you might expect, there is a certain amount of British orientation that might seem strange to us Yanks, but it is not any particular detriment to the overall usefulness of the book. The book covers much of the same ground as the Eargle and Woram books, but in greater or lesser degree of detail or emphasis. It is perhaps inevitable that with the multiplicity of authors, some subjects fare better than others. However, there is some formidable talent here ... certainly no one can dispute the expertise of the redoubtable Angus McKenzie in matters of magnetic tape and tape recording. There are things in this book not covered by the American volumes, for example the use of mobile recording trucks, on -location recording, tape duplication, and electronic and synthesized music recording. There is good coverage on disc cutting and more especially disc processing from the British viewpoint. The allied mediums of broadcasting, TV, and film recording are also covered. There is a good section on acoustics and studio sound treatment. There is also a most interesting section on classical recording, and a discussion on the use of the Blumlein technique of co-incident pair microphones for stereo versus the spaced -array technique. All in all, this is a book with many virtues, but without the personal approaches of the Eargle and Woram books.
With such a general paucity of books on sound recording, all three volumes will probably grace the shelves of most recording engineers; and for the audiophile who really wants to be "in the know," the Eargle and Woram books are indispensible.
(Source: Audio magazine, June 1977; Bert Whyte)
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