Phase 4 – Stereo Concert Series: Recording and Mixing Demonstration

Hello my name is Phillip Siney, I joined
Decca in 1989 What made Phase 4 so unique in its
philosophy was the idea to zoom into various areas
the orchestra and spotlight them and highlight them
and bring them out in the stereo panorama mix, where
normal classical record companies at the time, their idea was to capture the
overall picture almost as if you’re in the best seat of
the concert house. But Phase 4, they wanted to really get
in there and highlight and bring out the various sections where a solo was
happening, they really wanted to zoom in on there, and
make you aware that that solo was happening and get a nice vibrant bright sound as
well. Classical recordings always have a lot of the hall ambience around, which is what you
get when you sat in the concert hall, but Phase 4
wanted to get that real vibrant tonal quality so the
microphones are placed in such a way to get this exciting, and it was very much a
unique, sound at the time. I can demonstrate to you now how
engineers were able to zoom in on to certain areas at the orchestra. I’ve got a Puccini recording here where twenty four microphones were
recorded on separate tracks and this mixing desk each fader here is able to control each microphone
separately. So I’ve got the main microphone that goes over the orchestra and then have spot microphones on the first violins, on
the woodwind section, and the Brass. So I’ll play a section here and the clarinets and the woodwinds need to be
highlighted. So I’ll play you without highlighting them and then I’ll play the
same section and zoom in and show you what can be
done. ♫ Music ♫ So underneath the clarinet has got a little
solo section going on there, underneath the voices. It should be like a
duet, so I need to bring the clarinet up. So I’ll play the same section again: ♫ Music ♫ there we are… that’s the clarinet on it’s own. Now I’ll blend it into the mix; ♫ Music ♫ So now we have the voice and the
clarinets equal, So that’s a better balance now. This is a Neumann M 50. This is
designed to pick up signal from all around. So on a normal classical recording, this would be placed; You would have three over the conductor’s head, one two desks to the left of the first violins, and another one
two desks out over if the ‘cellos are on the
right hand side. And those five microphones will get the
general pick up. Now with Phase 4, a they have a very similar microphone, except that they have a very lovely jewel at the front. This is an M 49, and this is designed just to pick up
what’s in front so anything behind doesn’t get them
transfered at all. So each section of the orchestra will be
highlighted with a microphone and the engineer on
his mixing desk would be able to control the level of those microphones and be able to zoom in if they had a solo. But to get is more vibrant pick up they would place the microphones much closer to the instruments. Normally on a classical session these M 50s are placed about 3 meters high, 2 meters 20 cm is the magic measurement. But with Phase 4, they would often have them at eye height. Arthur Lilley, this infamous Decca engineer
who very much had green fingers – he was
self-taught as again, they didn’t have recording schools in those
days, there were no university courses around. But Arthur had the gift and he would walk around an orchestra and
listen; if it sounded great to him he would say ‘right lets put the microphone
where my ears were’. And he would have the microphone about the height of his ears. And from that he placed all the microphones in the orchestra, sometimes there would be 20, and he would go back to the studio and work out a mix. Well although these microphones were a
staple diet for recording engineers in the fifties and sixties, it was decided that engineers wanted
something smaller, more discreet and that’s what the
microphone manufactures came up with. And they stopped the production these. But then engineers found that the sound of these, it just couldn’t
be bettered, and they went to the cupboard and got these out, but of course they started to go wrong and breakdown and fewer and fewer of them with surviving and as a result today these sell for terrific sums of money; this microphone
now would be worth $10,000. When you think
on a Decca classical recording you need five of them, on Phase 4 they would have a number of them as well.
So you’re talking about serious money to replicate what they were able to do back then. Fortunately, Decca still possess 22 Neumann 50s, and Abbey Road have a similar figure.

11 Replies to “Phase 4 – Stereo Concert Series: Recording and Mixing Demonstration”

  1. Francisco Viper Díaz says:


  2. Walter Brewster says:

    Fascinating insights!

  3. AlainHubert says:

    This has to be the worst demonstration ever of how to record something. Especially when it's being played back through speakers with tons of artificial reverb added on an opera singer recorded much too loudly compared to the rest of the orchestra… Also, very poor camera work with many out of focus and overexposed shots. Crappy all around.

  4. nicksapsford says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed watching this, very informative and knowledgeable. It was great to hear how the normal capturing and mixing process was altered for the Phase 4 recordings.

  5. redriverhautbois says:

    While I appreciate the Phase 4 records I have, mostly because of the suburb playing and conductors like Stokowski, I can't help but think this was a bad way to record classical music.  Classical musicians know how to balance and provide dynamics on their own, a studio engineer shouldn't be adding that artificially

  6. dfinedigital says:

    what console por mixer is this?

  7. MICHGO1 says:


  8. Bavo Dekker says:

    This is a Neumann M50 microphone, with color-less jewel, a M49 has a red jewel.

  9. Rob F says:

    The funny thing is, initially promoted as something special, becomes it usual. The same was with the Polyfar process, using more than one microphone and catching the room's ambience.

  10. Ms Roper says:

    What is missing is the admission that the highs were hugely boosted and then "stressed" by extremely high-ratio, fast release audio limiters, resulting in a ghastly, colored, artificial, tinny sound quality: odd, since Decca had for many previous years espoused a sort of rich, sweet, full tonal quality! Their vaunted "microphone tree" had produced a cohesive, point source, realistic soundstage: the absolute opposite of the ugly, distorted (overmodulated, overcut) dessicated, unnatural, contrived, artificial Phase4 Lp sound. Ugh! – 8H Haggis, retired pro audio engineer

  11. Ms Roper says:

    "Some of the most sonically-spectacular albums ever made, from a period when Decca enjoyed a clear technological lead over its competitors." GHASTLY rot! No; what they did was to unleash the most vulgar techniques from engineers basically trained in film mixing. At the exact same time, Decca's real engineering geniuses were producing FFSS classical Lps of almost unparalleled realism and quality: not under the Phase4 rubric. – 8H Haggis

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