Naturalness of Sarah McLachlan Vocals - Analog Versus Digital

Which album has more natural-sounding vocals?


  • Total voters
    4

Ron Resnick

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Jan 25, 2015
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#1
I am a big fan of Sarah McLachlan’s vocal performances and lyrics. I like several of the songs on Fumbling Towards Ecstasy and I think they are pretty well-recorded.

I like several of the songs on Surfacing, but I think they sound like typically bad-sounding digital. I can never just listen to those songs and relax and enjoy them. (As Kedar famously observed, I appear not to relax when listening to digital recordings. And he is correct.)

Pierre Marchand, a musical collaborator with, and the recording engineer for, Sarah McLachlan, said in an interview that he recorded “Fumbling on a Studer 827, and Surfacing was all done on a RADAR.”

The Studer 827 is a multi-track analog tape recorder. The Otari RADAR is a multi-track digital recorder.

I think the vocals on Surfacing (1997) sound dry, menthol and typically digital. I think the vocals on Fumbling Towards Ecstasy (1993) sound better — less dry and more organic and natural.

I think the songs on Fumbling Towards Ecstasy may have digital sampling mixed into them, but they are not totally digital recordings like the songs on Surfacing.

What do you think?
 
Last edited:

c1ferrari

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May 15, 2010
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#2
Fumbling Towards Ecstasy is such a great album, but I've only heard it on CD! So, in this instance -- ADD?
 

Ron Resnick

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#3
Fumbling Towards Ecstasy is such a great album, but I've only heard it on CD! So, in this instance -- ADD?
That is tragic! I thought you have a turntable?

That doesn’t count. I should have specified in my opening post that I am referring to comparing an LP of Fumbling Towards Ecstasy to any version of Surfacing.

Wait, maybe that can count, because a little bit of what I think is the more natural analog recording of Fumbling may come through even on a CD to CD comparison.
 

c1ferrari

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May 15, 2010
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#4
Ron said, "That is tragic!" Haha -- classic!
Ya' got the tape? I know...I meant -- tapes of Sarah McLachlan ;-)
As to tt...it isn't set up.
 

Ron Resnick

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Jan 25, 2015
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#8
Ron said, "That is tragic!" Haha -- classic!
Ya' got the tape? I know...I meant -- tapes of Sarah McLachlan ;-)
As to tt...it isn't set up.
Woah, you have a tape of Fumbling Towards Ecstasy?
 

Ron Resnick

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Jan 25, 2015
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#9

Ron Resnick

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#12
Get on it! :)
 

c1ferrari

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May 15, 2010
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#13
Conflicted between belt or DD...though idlers can sound awfully good.
Yes, one of each is the solution! ;-)
 

Johnny Vinyl

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May 16, 2010
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#14
I'm a huge fan of Sarah McLachlan and with the exception of Afterglow have all of the Classic Records vinyl reissues. I stopped doing comparisons and also critical listening some years ago as I felt it was impeding on my enjoyment of music listening as a whole. So unless something is truly awful I tend not to take notice of any small deficiencies. You make a valid point about Surfacing and Fumbling Towards Ecstacy however. There's a tension on Surfacing that makes it sound less natural than Fumbling, but I wouldn't call it "bad sounding digital". Personally I think that's an exaggeration, but then it could be the limitations of my playback components. Or maybe it's just the love of the music that allows me to hear through the meanies.
 
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Ron Resnick

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Jan 25, 2015
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#15
I understand, Johnny. I am a huge fan too and I have played on the big system the LPs of Fumbling Towards Ecstasy and The Freedom Sessions dozens of times.

But I am more likely to listen to songs from Surfacing on Spotify than to bother to queue it up on the big stereo.

I have to concede that some new digital recordings like some classical from Deutsche Gramophone (?) sound very good, And while I have no interest in buying those digital recordings in general, if I did buy them, I would take the time to queue them up on the big stereo. But I don’t feel that way about (what is to me) digital sounding pop, unless somehow it was recorded as naturally as a new DG piano recording someone played for me recently.
 
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Ron Resnick

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#16
What are your favorite Sarah McLachlan songs?
 

Johnny Vinyl

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May 16, 2010
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#17
Wow...that's a tough assignment. There are many songs (obviously) but 3 standouts for me are:

Adia
In the Arms of an Angel
I will Remember you
 

cjfrbw

Well-Known Member
Apr 20, 2010
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#18
Fumbling Toward Ecstasy utilizes what sounds like a larger ambient recording space while Surfacing sounds somewhat drier, smaller with perhaps a spittier microphone (relatively, I find both albums pretty decent sounding in their digital form). An analog tape machine will capture ambience non-pareil.

The albums are mastered at different times, so who knows what the particulars are in terms of recording venue, microphones etc. Could be apples and oranges, but as the gorgeous recordings from analog tapes from the 50's and 60's demonstrate, vocals from analog sources seem to rule. Instrumentals and vocal have more apparent density, whether that is distortion or not. It's that combination of detail, tonality and density that makes tape so great sounding and some of it conveys through digital media.

There is always the promulgated observation that recording analog forces the mastering to be more careful, while digital invites laziness.

I don't have any problem with well mastered digital vinyl, many are fantastic. I think the relative clinkers are just less well mastered.
 

Ron Resnick

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Jan 25, 2015
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#19
Wow...that's a tough assignment. There are many songs (obviously) but 3 standouts for me are:

Adia
In the Arms of an Angel
I will Remember you
I don’t throw softballs! :)

I think my favorites are “Good Enough,” “Hold On,” “Witness,” “Angel” and “Mary.”

Wow — just switching among these songs on Spotify on the iPhone I hear on the vocals on the Surfacing songs that dry, electronic digititis which turns me off so much from an audiophile point of view.

Along with Stevie Nicks and Jennifer Warnes Sarah is one of my favorite female singer/songwriters.

Along with Stevie Nicks, Whitney Houston, Judy Collins, Karen Carpenter, Jennifer Warnes, Lori Lieberman (thanks to Philip O’Hanlon) and Hanna Reid (thanks to KeithR) Sarah is one of my favorite voices.
 
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MadFloyd

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May 31, 2010
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#20
My favorite SM album is Solace. Great on LP. Have no idea if it was recorded analog but since it was also with Pierre Marchand and prior to Fumbling, there's a good chance it is.

I'm guessing the Freedom Sessions are also recorded analog.
 

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