Originally Posted by motrek
I'm not a sound engineer but I've read many times that sound engineers will try to optimize whatever they're working on for a wide range of speakers/environments.
I'm not sure if that's true or not though.
It strikes me as probably kinda dumb though. It doesn't seem possible that you could make a recording sound as-intended on one non-ideal speaker and have it still sound as-intended on good speakers or different non-ideal speakers. Especially since many sound systems are non-ideal in different and often opposite ways.
Theoretically, studio monitors are supposed to be accurate / neutral and set up correctly. How often that actually happens (particularly in pop/rock music) is anybody's guess. The primary goal of any good studio monitor is to provide a result that translates well to a wide variety of playback systems, of varying quality and sophistication. As everyone paying attention to this thread can understand, this is no small task. See "circle of confusion".
Depending on the genre of music being produced, "as intended" has many different definitions (for lack of a better word). Most classical and traditional jazz recordings (and other acoustic genres) are generally engineered to be "natural" sounding. That is, an accurate representation of what's taking place in the performance space. That said, some newer recordings of "traditional" acoustic jazz take more creative liberties (i. e. closer micing and panning elements of a drum kit across the stereo field) than in the 50's / 60's, but the sonics of the instruments remain basically natural. Check out The Brubeck Brothers Quartet / Lifetimes for an example of (in my opinion) an excellent newer (2012) jazz recording that uses more modern recording techniques. Compare that to an old Miles Davis or Coltrane recording for reference.
There are interesting things going on in Modern or avante garde classical recordings as well. Check out Alarm Will Sound / Acoustica. Released in 2005, the album recreates the electronica of Aphex Twin with an all acoustic ensemble. This modern music ensemble was in residence at Dickinson College here in my home town while I was still working at the college. They recorded most of the material at one of the college auditoriums and I had the pleasure of serving as the liaison between the college and the group during the process.
Heavyweight classical engineer Charles Harbutt did the recording and the set up was a combination of classical recording techniques (Decca tree with outrigger mics) and modern techniques (close micing - lots of overdubs, edits, etc). It was easily one of the most complex recording set ups I've seen. Interestingly, he cut everything at 16bit /44.1kHz. I asked him why he wasn't using higher res or DSD to cut, and he said that he preferred to cut at the same bit depth / sample rate that the finished CD would end up to avoid sample rate conversions.
Sorry about that little off topic tangent. I guess my point is that "as intended" is mostly someone's creative decision making at it's core, and thus hard to actually define. See "circle of confusion".
Even if every recording was made on speaker X, then played back on speaker X in the consumers home, you still wouldn't know if it's being reproduced exactly "as intended" because the room will have changed. It would almost certainly be closer but... See "circle of confusion".
The "loudness wars", genres of modern music that have exponentially more low frequency content and electronically generated music with no acoustic instruments or actual acoustic spaces have also made it damn near impossible to know what "as intended" actually is. See "circle of confusion".
Recording engineers /producers will almost certainly take their mixes to other systems (large, small, in cars, headphones, earbuds, mono, etc..) during production to see how well things are translating. There is a practical limit to how many other systems they can listen on, so at some point, someone has to determine that the mix is working well enough across a variety of systems to
call it done. Additional mixing / mastering can and often is employed for broadcast, iTunes, streaming, etc. See "circle of confusion".
Humans are involved in every aspect of production and playback. See "circle of confusion".