I’ve posted a few times about dealing with the “phantom center channel” in my smallish but turning-out-to-be-great listening room. What happens is that I hear with a lot more detail things in the center than I used to. That’s a good thing. Sometimes it’s almost unnerving how different it sounds than before - which is taking some getting used to. But I’m also running into recordings where the vocals stand out too much for me, as though the singer has come out from the soundstage and is standing right in front of me. Several years ago I was a big fan of Michael Franks, so last night I decided to listen to his 2011 album Time Together. Everything started out great - nice recording, but then Michael came in and his voice was way too loud for my ears and a bit on the “tinny” side. I like the album, but I was mad at my stereo until I decided to listen to an album by Till Brönner, the German jazz trumpeter who plays nicely on the Franks record. Apparently the 2004 album That Summer made him the biggest selling German jazz artist. And it has his voice (and trumpet) at a great level and position - not squeezed in and amped up. So I think what I’m learning is that many, if not most, mixers/producers are not aiming for high-end audio listeners who experience this phantom channel, but want to make dead sure the vocalist is heard clearly on an average system. But I’m also finding that when they do seem to be focusing on quality audio, when they get it right, it is truly gorgeous.
In a nutshell, it’s in the mix.
“The Norman Granz Method”
@weedeewop is right, it’s the mix. You have a very revealing system and that’s a good thing. To check yourself., try some audiophile vocal stuff and see how it sounds. Diana Krall, Anne Bisson, Patricia Barber, Lyn Stanley, and Sinne Eeg all come to mind as some of my favorite jazz-ish vocal schmaltz.
Just out of curiosity, what speakers are these and how far from the front (speaker end) wall are they?
You are not alone in this: Vocals being too forward in the mix is something I notice quite often. Of course this is a subjective opinion.
Q: How many vocalists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Just one. They stand still and the world (and the light bulb) revolves around them.
I’m laughing because years ago I worked on jazz radio programs with a seasoned New York jazz aficionado who used to make jabs at Norman Granz whenever possible, to the point where he questioned whether Granz was doing more harm than good.
Well, I have a ton of respect for Granz and would probably have been at odds with that individual. But in recordings he loved to put the vocalist front center and louder than many others might. Leaders of the date as well often. I think that worked on the equipment of the time more than contemporary equipment.
Great suggestions, and over the weeks as I’ve turned to the more audiophile-reputation recordings, I’m noticing very few of what I’d consider “sore thumbs” as far as center imaging. Hadn’t hear of Ly Stanley or Sinne Eeg, so just added them to the list. Here’s something coincidental: I guess when I went back and thought about Michael Franks, another artist I liked around the same time was Leon Redbone. So I decided to listen to an album of his I hadn’t heard - Any Time (2001). On the first tune I was concerned that maybe the soundstage was a bit narrow, but as I listened, I realized the engineers kept it very consistent and the instruments that were at the far left and right came in were there when they played. In other words, it was really LIKE a Redbone concert (I did hear him live in the 80s). But when he sang on this record was when the magic really took place - wonderful vocal presence and incredible richness of his voice captured. One track - “All I Do is Dream of You” has him almost whispering the tune in your ear. I’ve always thought of Redbone more as a “novelty” act, but his true musicianship came out in this recording.
Then - DUH - it’s a Rounder release. Of course the soundstage would be realistic, of course he would blend in well with the rest of the ensemble.
I’m not saying I felt the same about Granz - I appreciate people who are dedicated to exposing an art - but my friend was a self-proclaimed snob, so the commercialism of Granz bothered him a lot. In his mind one obscure Sam Rivers recording would make up for 20 NG releases.
I know the type. I’ve tried so hard to not be a jazz snob. I probably have failed. But man I’ve tried!
Oh no, don’t get me started with musician jokes! But there’s such a grain of truth in every one. Having been a trumpet player in my younger years, I love the one:
Q: How do two trumpeters greet each other?
A: Hi, I’m better than you.
My favorite musician joke had a unique 'eighties Austin connotation:
What do you call a guitarist without a girlfriend?
My snobbishness was revealed, and as a result I’ve tried to squash it whenever possible, when I was griping to a musician friend of mine about the song “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band. “But listen,” he said excitedly something like, “How they go to that E-minor chord instead of the G chord on the 2nd chorus.” Truth is, there’s probably something great to find in almost any recording if you decide to listen for it.
I heard that as a drummer. How do you get a drummer out of your living room? Pay him for the pizza.
Just out of curiosity which speaker are you using?
In the 'eighties there were so many guitarists as wannabe stars in Austin they couldn’t all work and it had a lot of repercussions. As a then drummer I was working more, though I had a full-time day job.
Always too many guitarists, never enough drummers…
Oh, almost missed this one - I’m using Vandersteen 2s. Admittedly on the “entry-level” side of things, but boy do they sound fantastic in my smaller room.
Vandersteen speakers are very well thought out and designed…
even if in the “entry lineup” speakers…they are very good.
Thank for sharing…