I noticed it in the promotional video on the Linn website and I noticed it again this morning when I watched the first few minutes of Paul McGowan of PS Audio introducing his new DirectStream DAC (a piece that I will be discussing in greater detail very soon!). These companies don’t seem to know what is going on in the recording studios of the world because they’re developing equipment that is targeting the sound of a production process that has been virtually abandoned by the audio studios. Here’s a news flash…new albums are not recorded on analog tape anymore!
And there are important reasons why artists, producers and engineers aren’t recording on analog tape anymore. Producing commercial records is a completely different process than it was 30-50 years ago. Times changes and the tools and techniques associated with making things changes too. Can you imagine trying to design and build the Boeing 787 airliner using just T-squares, a slide rule and basic manufacturing processes operated by skilled machinists? After watching a lot of “How Its Made” shows, one learns that manufacturing and materials have dramatically altered the way things are produced. You simply can’t do the things required to work with Carbon Fiber structures with a Skilsaw and ball peen hammer.
Figure 1 – A still taken from the promotional video by PS Audio showing the Pro Tools PCM Digital Audio Workstation…no analog tape machine in sight. In fact, the console is digital too!
I chucked (more than once) during the opening minutes of Paul’s video when he asked, “have you ever really thought about how close this (compact disc) is to a master tape?” And the next shot in the video is a cutaway to a recording studio showing a Pro Tool PCM based multitrack computer workstation. There’s no analog tape machine to be found! He continues, “When we go to a recording studio, the master tapes must sound amazing!” I’m going to have to invite Paul on a field trip to a dozen of the busiest recording studios in Los Angeles. The big rooms in Los Angeles aren’t recording on 24-track analog tape machines and mixing down to 2-channel stereo tapes anymore. Modern records sound amazing because they’re not recorded on analog tape…they’re PCM digital.
The Linn people make the same assumption. Look at the block diagram that they used to illustrate the “direct” path between the artist and you. There whole marketing push for the Exakt system is to remove as many of the analog components between the artist and the listener. But looking at the diagram, they left the weakest link in…the analog tape machine! I realize it is a simplified graphic but the analog reel doesn’t have a place in current production studios.
Figure 2 – The block flow diagram from Linn Audio’s Exakt video showing the reel to reel as the recording medium.
So what are audiophiles to think when the equipment manufacturers are advocating a reality that hasn’t existed for decades AND one that doesn’t deliver the promised “low level details” that they hunger for? The fact is they built complex, expensive new pieces of hardware because the have to…new models replace the old models. But if the new models come with a message that the ultimate musical listening experience is the “amazing” sound of an analog tape playing in a studio, they’re just blowing smoke somewhere.