Perfecting Sound Forever

The Story Of Recorded Music

Greg Milner

Published: 1 February 2018
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 464 pages
ISBN: 9781783784561

Other Editions


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Published: 1 July 2010
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 464 pages
ISBN: 9781847081407

Ebook Available


From our CD collections to iPods bursting with MP3s to the hallowed vinyl of DJs, recordings are the most common way we experience music. Perfecting Sound Forever tells the story of recorded music, introducing us to the innovators, musicians and producers who have affected the way we hear our favourite songs, from Thomas Edison to Phil Spector. Exploring the balance that recordings strike between the real and the represented, Greg Milner asks the questions which have divided sound recorders for the past century: should a recording document reality as faithfully as possible, or should it improve upon or somehow transcend the music it records? What does the perfect record sound like? The answers he uncovers will change the way we think about music.

About the author

Image of Greg Milner

Greg Milner has written on music, film and technology for Spin, Salon, the Village Voice and Wired, among other publications. He is the co-author (with Joe Berlinger) of Metallica: This Monster Lives. More about the author


‘[A] breathless, surprisingly thrilling rollercoaster ride through the history of recorded music ... a tour-de-force of fascinating anecdotes, lucidly expounded science, witty asides, stylistic verve, and page after page of "gosh, I never knew that" facts’ James Delingpole



‘[A] superbly researched book ... an absorbing historical narrative, travelling from Thomas Edison's tours with the first phonograph, through the breakthrough of magnetic tape and on into the iPod age’ Tim Bowden

Perfecting Sound Forever portrays the history of recordings as a series of battles between quality and commercial expediency ... [Milner] has a relish for technical details ... He writes interestingly about high-tech tricks such as the loss of dynamic range in modern recordings in order emphasise loudness’ Ludovic Hunter-Tilney

‘A compelling and thoroughly rewarding read for any music freak fascinated by the recording and manipulation of sound ... [Milner] covers a phenomenal number of seismic shifts in our sonic landscape’ Sharon O’Connell

‘An amiably garrulous and discursive guide to the development of recorded sound from acoustic cylinders and discs, to analogue LPs and the digital era of CDs and MP3 players’

‘An epic study ... Having interviewed hundreds of people for his exhaustive history of recorded sound, Greg Milner has been nothing if not meticulous ... If a single question underpins Milner's historical excavations, it's probably this. Does music have a "soul" and, if so, how does an artefact best go about preserving it? "Presence" is a recurring theme in Milner's investigations’ Pete Paphides

‘An exceptional book ... a mix of passion and intelligence ... [and] brilliant read from start to finish’

‘Beginning in 1915 with Thomas Edison, Greg Milner's history of recording Perfecting Sound Forever shows that "authenticity" has never been a music industry goal, even before the 1940s when magnetic tape made an "alternate universe" possible’ Liz Thomson

‘Fascinating ... a rich blend of commerce, ideology, technology and creativity. There are excellent sketches of key figures’ Ian Irvine

‘Fascinating and brilliant... A cracking read’

‘Greg Milner tells the story of recorded music with novelistic verve, ferocious attention to detail, and a soulful ambivalence about our quest for sonic perfection. He shows how great recordings come about not through advances in technology, but through a love of the art, and that same love is the motor of his prose’ Alex Ross, author of THE REST IS NOISE

‘Greg Milner's detailed and engaging book examines the rich relationship between music and the eureka moments of invention ... it's a work of great stylistic charm, one that never loses its pleasing balance between facts and human interest ... [An] excellent book’ Tom Horan

‘Greg Milner's work dispels much of the mystique of recording, but its true worth lies in its articulate, thoughtful raising of questions concerning philosophy and aesthetics ... Perfecting Sound Forever is a marvellous story told with passion and genuine, original insight’

‘Lively and accessible ... Milner focuses on the fascinating characters behind the technology’ Peter Border

‘Lively, passionate and ever-questioning ... the book is pieced together with such energy and spirit that you often forget you're reading about sound waves. From Edison's tone test techniques to Spector's Wall of Sound, this is an accessible, well-informed and unique perspective’ Emmy Watts

‘Milner has done such a terrific job, riddling the book with absorbing characters and interviews and fossicking diligently for those illuminating nuggets ... Milner is laudably lucid on the technicalities of how music works ... of the many things that this fascinating book will make you ponder, most intriguingly is the question of whether - given that we treat it so disrespectfully - we really like music all that much’ Andrew Mueller

‘Milner proves an assured and erudite spirit guide through the sonic labyrinth ... Perfecting Sound Forever forms the last part of a holy trinity of books about the science, psychology and sheer magic of sound - the other two being Alex Ross's The Rest Is Noise and Oliver Sacks's Musicophilia - that manage to educate and entertain’ Peter Murphy

‘Milner's appreciation of music is wide and deep ... [his] passionate love of music resonates throughout, and he provides illuminating answers to questions that are poorly understood. The blurb claims that Perfecting Sound Forever "will change the way we think about music" and, when the din dies down, you find that it has’

‘Ornamented by a seemingly inexhaustible array of insights from eyewitnesses and practitioners ... Perfecting Sound Forever will send you back to your record collection with sharpened ears, and an enhanced appreciation of the sounds enshrined within it’ Chris Sharp

‘Sprawling and ambitious, covering the entire history of music recording from Edison cylinders to Pro Tools’ Mark Athitakis

‘The book is illuminating. Its main subtext concerns the notion of what Milner calls "presence" - the human element in recorded music ... Milner has interviewed the leading players in the fight against digital tyranny’ Sean O’Hagan

‘The book's strengths lie in dealing with phenomena such as mixing, dub and explorations of such behemoths as the Fairlight synthesiser and digital sampling. It also has a fascinating section on the flatness of digital sound’

‘This engrossing book is a history of recording technology and an examination of the high-fidelity fallacy ... The battle between analogue and digital recording methods is covered in admirable detail. This is when Milner's knack for explaining the technicalities in layman's terms without oversimplifying comes into its own ... This is an interesting, largely untold history of the medium, not the message, and simultaneously, a history of human credulity. Perfecting Sound Forever is an unashamedly anoraky book. As an unashamed anorak, that's high praise’ Louis Barfe

‘This is such a gorgeous book. I cannot recommend this book highly enough’ Rhod Sharp

‘This quirky narrative is a reminder what a great democratising force records have been and what unique conjuring tricks they are’ Richard Godwin

‘Very, very, very few books will change the way you listen to music. This is one such book. Read it’ Jarvis Cocker

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