Real World go on the record (uncompressed!)

We have received lots of feedback about Music Club. The question which has been raised most frequently is how the Little Axe album was recorded and mastered.

In response we thought it would be interesting to see what Real World Studios had to say about how they handled the process. They have kindly taken the time to give us an insight into how the finished album was accomplished, and even asked producer Adrian Sherwood to add his own take. I am sure you will agree it makes for fascinating, and at times controversial reading.

“B&W and Real World Studios take each album as an individual project, both at the mixing stage and, if we do it, the mastering. The artist is closely involved in all aspects of the production. The Little Axe album was delivered to the Music Club direct from the mixing console. There was no post-mixing treatment of the record. The artist, in this case Little Axe, chose for the compression to happen in the mix to produce the sound they and the producer wanted. All final versions sent from our studio to B&W are sent with the approval of the artist and producer.

Adrian Sherwood who mixed the record has asked us to add:

The way we recorded was live using a digital format. It was mixed digitally and the compression was minimal. Normally I would mix manually using analogue. On this project the whole thing was recorded live and the nature of the way it was recorded meant it had to be mixed digitally. This required slight compression rather than using unnecessary rides up and down. I’m not the biggest fan of compression but I’m prepared to use it when necessary.”

Adrian Sherwood


  • MichaelCPE says:

    The Little Axe recording has minimal compression compared to many recent CDs. And some compression is, and has always been, part of good mixing.

    The “controversial” part is whether or not Little Axe has too much compression to be considered “outstanding sound quality”.

    The question I ask B&W is whether or not the Little Axe CD would make a good demonstration disc for auditioning any of your top-end speakers?

    I have some CDs of world music recorded in the field that could be used to show the qualities of a good speaker. But, to me, Little Axe just sounds like a recording.

    That the music industry overall does not understand what I am saying is very sad. If no-one at a prestigious speaker company agrees with me then I think all hope is lost.

  • MichaelCPE says:

    I’m feeling rather lonely with the only comment so far.

    If you agree with me please post and say so – otherwise things will never improve.

    And if you don’t agree with me, please post as well.

    If you think Little Axe sounds great, do you think it would sound just as good if there was more dynamic range?

  • Bill says:

    Hello MichaelCPE,

    I do like the sound of Little Axe (in other words, the amount of compression applied doesn’t really bother me).

    I suppose that’s because it’s so much less than many current CDs.

    However, your question regarding increased dynamic range is a good one, and I’d probably have to say that yes, I think it probably would sound better with increased dynamic range.

    I assume that the compression was applied for good technical or creative reasons and I don’t find it as offensive as you do, but I respect and appreciate your dislike of this. We’ve had so much music ruined in the “loudness wars” and the Music Club should be a place where the finest quality recording and mastering can take place.

  • Carlos Villegas says:


    Once more, I’m 100% in agreement with MichaelCPE. After reading this article, I tried again the Little Axe recording and I do not believe that this material has an audiophile level. At the same time, I downloaded the HDtracks “Ultimate Download Experience” and in my opinion, the sound of HDtracks is better.

    As Micheal said, is too sad that a high end speaker manufacturer like B&W consider the Little Axe disc as an “outstanding sound quality”.

    But this is not new in the music industry. The last 10 CD’s I bought, only 2 or 3 are excellent recordings. To compare a good recording, please try Esa-Pekka Salonen “Bach Transcriptions” or Renee Fleming “Handel” and after, try to listen the Little Axe recording.



  • Brian Bucy says:

    Little Axe says this recording is a “mostly live” recording, or recorded as you would here it played on stage. That being said, if the speakers can sort out the true sonic honesty of what is being played back and not just the engineers sonic isolation and manipulation of the material, then yes, this latest Little Axe slice makes for a fine demo disc. Skip, Doug, Keith, Adrian and company are simply the very best at what they do.
    Truth be told, my finest audio equipment can’t make up for the lack of me not being there in person. I certainly feel as if I had been in the recording studio after listening to this material. There are few recordings that can deliver that kind of experience and even fewer that can deliver on the promise of sounding good and sounding live.
    A beautiful thing sound is, and how far we have to go before we truly understand the complexity and depth its role plays in our lives. Little Axe has brought us a step further.


  • MichaelCPE says:

    I’ll agree with Brian Bucy that the Little Axe CD has a great live feel and is great music.

    But what about the sound?

    It is a fact that this CD has had some compression applied.

    The opinion is whether or not this makes it sound better?

    Usually excess compression is applied to make a recording sound better on cheap equipment and radio. And it is on the better equipment that the lack of dynamics is most apparent.

    So I’ll disagree with Bruce and say that it is because I have very good speakers that I’m not happy.

    The big questions is how would Bruce feel if Little Axe was less compressed?

    And how does Bruce feel about the sound quality of Grindhouse? This is less compressed, and to me sounds much better.

    Cheers, Michael

  • Nonreality says:

    Just because not being there means a recording will never be the same is just a lame excuse for poor recordings. I not saying that Little Axe is a bad recording but it could have been much better. I’m trying out the EPs from here and really expected recordings that were free of the loudness wars mentality. This has a Album Gain of -7.41 dB. Listen how instruments have no life, they get lost, especially the drums and cymbals, in the volume compression. Too much is the same volume and nothing grabs your interest. It’s not a high Gain for the last ten years but high for a well recorded album. The reason I would subscribe would be to find recording that worry about dynamic range and not loudness. I already have a volume dial and know how to use it. Like I said it’s a good recording but we’ll never know if it could have been a great one. And no it’s not one to show off equipment, a bit too flat dynamically. I’ve got 2 more to try and hopefully they get better.

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