Thursday July 23, 2009
Last June the British section of the Audio Engineering Society invited George Massenburg to give a lecture on Critical listening / evaluation – a path to the future of quality music. Always encouraging and enlightening to hear his opinions and his audio demonstration of the ‘noise’ introduced into recordings by ‘lossy’ compression techniques (eg. Mp3) was particularly revealing. For a summary click here
Hopefully a transcript of the talk by Phillip Hobbs from Linn Records on How to make a high-resolution record label will be available soon.
Tuesday July 21, 2009
Problems do seem to like company. After years of getting away with trouble free tape transfers we seem to have hit all sorts of gremlins. First there were a couple of tracks on a unique Gary Numan demo that were damaged beyond repair (see the Numan post) though at least they were over 30 years old and now it’s the digital masters that are going awry. We were hoping to master The Cult‘s Love album from the digital masters as opposed to the analogue master made in 1985 when the conversion from A to D was much cruder. As it turned out the digital masters were the album multi-tracks and not a stereo mix. The bad news is that they are in terrible shape. From two sources about half the tracks have been saved intact but there’s selective instrumental distortion on the rest. All isn’t lost yet as there’s a further set of digital masters but they’re on a redundant format and there’s only 2 studios left in the world Paris and New York) to attempt the transfers. Here’s hoping the album can be saved. (She Sells Sanctuary was recorded earlier on an analog 2” multi-track and is fine.)
Yesterday we found that sonic glitches have developed on some Pixies digital video masters and today I found a note from 1992 saying that the This Mortal Coil masters for It’ll End In Tears were ‘shedding’ – Hopefully it shouldn’t be a problem but I do wonder, with the headlong rush into digital recording and masters on a variety of temporally untested formats – DAT / Hard drive / 1630 etc. – how durable they really are and how many will be beyond salvation in the next 20 years.
Saturday July 18, 2009
What a strange industry this ‘music business’ is.
Everyone declares a love of music but interest in the sound of music appears marginal.
Where do I start? I promise this won’t get too technical (I don’t know enough about that) but I believe my ears. If you want technical then I’ve added links.
When the old analogue masters were transferred to digital it was generally done at a sampling rate of 48 khz / 16 bit then, through an awkward mathematical equation (‘cos digital is all mathematics), ‘down rated’ to 44.1khz – the sampling standard of a compact disc
Back when CD’s were first launched (1982) the technology capable of doing this was in place but it had severe shortcomings – the music sounded thin and lacked depth. So why did it supplant vinyl within 8 years? Convenience. Vinyl at that time was re-cycled and shoddily manufactured (don’t give me that nostalgia for clicks ‘n’ pops shit) – cassettes had already primed listeners for a longer listening experience away from home and on the move – and CD’s gave instant track access with non deteriorating sound. The sonic shortcomings were overlooked in the marketing hype.
The irony is that, after 25+ years of development, CD’s can sound well acceptable these days for 90% of the general public’s sonic needs. Just as they are becoming unloved and dumped. Hey-ho.
This was the last ‘hurrah’ for the audio hardware industry. Audio had been at the frontline of home entertainment but by the 1990’s video, computers and gaming were more important to the consumer and manufacturer.
Audio still tried to stay in the game and probably the last sonic progression was Sony’s SACD. (though I’m not a fan – it sounds too polite and restrained for dirty music and the bass doesn’t growl and move enough air). A rival format was marketed at the same time, the offshoot-from-video, DVD-A, which succeeded in totally confusing the market (shades of Betamax and VHS for those who remember, or BluRay and HD DVD for younger readers). With unconvincing marketing and confusing specifications the result was public apathy and failure of both of the last of the audio high resolution digital formats.
So what did the public go for? The LCD, Maccie D of fine dining of course – the MP3. Even though it has massive sonic shortcomings it sounds good enough through computers, consoles and wee headphones that don’t move air to trompe le monde. And even better, there are players that hold hours of music – which was available for free off the internet and you can listen to anyplace. Now that’s what I call convenience.
The irony is that currently many recording studios are working in 96khz / 24bit higher resolution sound. Neil Young’s damn right – it does sound better and matters. There’s all the depth and dimension, warmth and growl of vinyl and a bit more besides. When our master tapes are transferred to digital they are done at this resolution and damn, they sound good. I wish you could hear them and be converted to quality sound. Sadly the audio hardware industry is struggling to establish a recognized, standard carrier in these times where other technologies make concepts redundant overnight.
It could be the BluRay disc (but please – (yes, you DVD-A) – don’t try to exploit the video capabilities just because you can. It was a pain-in-the-ass to have to turn on a TV to navigate to play the audio). Additionally most homes use speakers designed more for movie soundtracks than hi-fi and the audio component of BluRay players isn’t a major concern when you’re trying to get the price as low as possible.
It may be a hard drive (but memory capacity needs to be virtually unlimited for high resolution use).
It may be an online repository and we re-define the concept of ownership (but the need for fast streaming excludes a huge part of the market). Older buyers – the ones who still care and can afford to be interested – may need persuading. They’re an anal bunch, bless ‘em.
I’d love to find a solution soon because the re-masters we’re doing sound just too peachy not to share and I welcome any comments on this subject.
to be continued….
meantime here’s an ongoing sculpture entitled ‘Tower of Redundancy’