Over the years we’ve been lucky enough to record in some incredible acoustic spaces, such as the historic Holywell Music Room, Wadham College, Oxford. It is the “oldest custom-built concert hall in Europe [and] opened its doors to the public for the first time in 1748” (University of Oxford, 2012). During the past 260 years many esteemed performers have given recitals in the building including both Haydn and Handel. It really is an incredible place and the acoustics are superb. You can hear a binaural recording from the venue below (to really experience the sound use headphones):
In pre-digital days you could only capture the reverberation of unique rooms such as this by actually recording in them. Of course these days it’s essentially possible to place any artist in any venue thanks to Impulse Responses. By recording an impulse source (like a full frequency sine wave) with sufficient energy to reach the edges of the room and one which covers the full range of frequencies humans can hear (i.e. 20Hz to 20,000Hz) an Impulse Response can be created. This is essentially an audio file which replicates the reverberant ‘sound’ of the room. By importing this setting into a convolution-based reverb effect such as Space Designer in Logic the captured reverberant sound of the room can be applied to any recording. Impulse Responses for some of the most famous buildings in the world are now available online… want your solo classical guitarist to sound as if they’re playing at the Sydney Opera House? No problem!
So do Impulse Responses remove the need to record in special or historical spaces? Well, if time and budget are tight, they could do. However, “Impulse response-based processing is, in essence, digital. What’s more, it’s strictly deterministic. If you play a given sound inside a convolution plug-in, you will always get exactly the same result. This would not be true in the case of acoustic situations such as reverberation from real rooms, in which you never get the exact same response twice, no matter what” (Deruty E. 2010). What this means is that even amongst several recordings captured in the same venue at the same time, by using different microphone configurations the reverberation will always be slightly different. Also, never under-estimate the effect acoustically special places can have on a performance. For us, to record in new and interesting places is always pleasure!