“The argument has always fundamentally been about what a recording is supposed to be, whether it’s supposed to capture a performance -- a moment in time -- or whether it’s supposed to be an artifact in its own right,” he explains. “It seems like whenever new technologies come around, they provide ways for people to revive that age-old debate.”

Deftly balancing technical insights with a compelling anecdotal narrative, Milner touches on the key elements that draw listeners to the sounds coming from their stereos. Chief among them is the role and prominence of percussion. “Maybe because it’s a primordial thing -- drums were so important in our development, evolutionarily speaking -- that causes people to notice it and fixate on it,” Milner says. “But you can listen to almost any piece of music and figure out when it was recorded largely by the drum sounds. So, often, it’s the first and last thing that’s thought of.”

Milner also explores hot-button issues such as the “loudness wars,” a dominant trend over the past decade of albums being mastered at increasingly loud, almost distorted levels. “That’s a situation that really causes grief to [mastering] engineers,” he says. “They pride themselves on being these highly trained people with these golden ears, but in order to stay in business, they have to do stuff that they consider ridiculous hackery. They’re doing exactly the opposite of what they were trained to do.”

Perfecting Sound Forever
also provides a fascinating peek into the studio subculture, thanks to interviews with industry giants such as Power Station studio impresario Tony Bongiovi, British producer Hugh Padgham, superstar mixer Bob Clearmountain, and indie-rock controversialist Steve Albini.

“Those kinds of engineers and producers are an interesting bunch,” Milner says. “They tend to take a long view of music, beyond the purely technical, which is something I think would surprise most people.”