Dr. AIX's POSTS — 12 July 2015

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When I was approached by Christian Jacob to produce his solo piano “Beautiful Jazz” recording, he told me that he wanted to produce a limited run of vinyl LPs in addition to a standard-resolution CD. I suggested that in order to keep the analog community happy, we should record the project on analog tape and keep all of the post production in the analog world. I own a very fine analog recorder (my Nagra IV-S and QGB large reel adaptor) and it seemed important to keep the project in the analog domain through the entire production process. I couldn’t imagine analog advocates like Michael Fremer and David Pogue accepting anything that was touched by “digits”. In fact, David Pogue wrote me and told me in no uncertain terms that analog tape transfers of my 96 kHz/24-bit analog recordings wouldn’t be interesting to reel-to-reel fans.

But I was wrong. Michael Fremer gave the vinyl LP, limited edition run of Jerome Sabbagh’s “The Turn”, which was created from a mastered high-resolution (88.2 kHz/24-bit PCM) file, the highest possible praise in his online review. The dials on both the music and sound ratings registered 10 out of 10! He wrote:

“I was not prepared for what Sax (Doug Sax – the mastering engineer) and the vinyl playback process had produced: a far more palpable ‘you are there’ sensation, superior transparency and believability (the first rim shot over on the right channel never before set me back in my chair) and especially the sensation of Sabbagh’s sax floating in three-dimensional space between the speakers. It might not to as good as it might have been had no digits gotten in the way, but for whatever reason or reasons, the LP version produced in abundance the colors, textures, natural decay and musical flow the files only hinted at.”

I guess the pure analog signal path of Christian’s “Beautiful Jazz” recording wasn’t a requirement for achieving the best sound. We sure could have saved a lot of money and simply transferred the edited 96 kHz/24-bit PCM files to analog tape after assembling the master on my Sonic’s SoundBlade DAW. The “Beautiful Jazz” project completely avoided “digits” and didn’t go through a couple of unnecessary conversions. And I didn’t master it with EQ and compression. We worked really hard to keep the integrity of the signal path from mic to speaker.

For my next vinyl LP recording and in order to get “superior transparency and believability”, I suppose should record to analog tape (which means being limited to about 60-72 dB of dynamic range…watch out for those rims shots because you’ll need to compress them to avoid clipping on analog tape) and then transfer to a high-resolution PCM file (that if used during the original session could have achieved 120+ of dynamic range and wider frequency response, less speed variations, less distortion etc. than analog tape) prior to going back to analog for the vinyl mastering.

Michael wrote “…the LP version produced in abundance the colors, textures, natural decay and musical flow the files only hinted at.” OK, I get it…he’s a major fan of analog and vinyl LPs. But does anyone really think that producing a music recording using this convoluted signal path, multiple conversions, compression, spatial collapsing of low frequencies, the RIAA curve, and all the rest improves the fidelity of the final product?

I see Michael at the trade shows and he’s always been amicable (unlike many of the other writers that cling to analog) and I’m sure he heard what he wants to hear from this project. But there has to be something else going on. I know he listened to the Christian Jacob “Beautiful Jazz” vinyl release. I’m not sure whether he heard the 96 kHz/24-bit PCM version. But if an accurate reproduction of Christian Jacob playing the Steinway Model D at Zipper Auditorium is what we want, the 96 kHz/24-bit PCM “digits” version will reproduce more colors, more dynamics, more low level “details” than an analog tape rendered out to a vinyl LP. Hands down…no competition.

I have the edited 96 kHz/24-bit PCM unmastered files of “Beautiful Jazz”. No one has ever heard them because Christian was only interested in a CD and vinyl release. I think I’ll contact him and see if he’s be open to making them available on my iTrax.com site. Then Michael and anyone else that believes that analog tape to vinyl can outperform pure high-res PCM will be able to compare the vinyl to the ultimate fidelity of the “digits” version.

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About Author

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

(16) Readers Comments

  1. Mark,

    If you ever saw the short video clip of an exchange between Michael and Chris Connaker, you would know that Michael is not advocating for signal purity (at least as best as I could understand his argument) but rather for the sound what pleases him the most.

    He said in the panel discussion I just referenced that the recording and playback of live audio events is essentially nonsense anyway, given all of the technical contortions and decisions which must be made to deliver the final product to the consumer. He’s essentially said to me in person that he simply prefers the sound conveyed by vinyl over that which is delivered in digital . . . even if that sound is less “accurate”. And that preference might include layering a vinyl conversion over a recording which was originally digital.

    I think if we could reduce the argument to this point, we could at least agree about the point to which we (Michael and those who share his preferences) disagree.

    Joel

    • Thanks Joel…I did see the exchange of how “huge” the market for vinyl LP is. People can like what they like, but don’t tell everyone to go out an buy the vinyl…the HDtracks version would sound better.

    • But would Michael or any other true hard-core analogophile possess a DAC capable of doing justice to the high-res PCM, to obtain a valid comparison?

      • I’m very confident that Mr. Fremer owns or has access to a high-end DAC. His preference is for the sound vinyl and analog. He’s not alone in hold ‘analog’ as the highest possible audio delivery format.

  2. ” OK, I get it…he’s a major fan of analog and vinyl LPs.

    That may be true, but believe it or not there are fans of certain recording engineers who worship everything they touch. One of them said, and I can’t remember who, “Making records is like making sausages, the end result is palatable but you don’t want to see how it’s done.” My favorite was by Jim Dickinson I believe… “I turn the good parts up and the bad parts down”. Sort of says it all, eh? LOL

    • There certainly is a lot of personal style and technique in recording music. I guess the sausage parallel is a little greasy for my taste…I would accept organic.

  3. Interesting. Yes MF and friends may be more interested in the “sounds good” approach to audio than whats more accurate, but if he honestly understands that he should somehow be made to understand that this approach by them and the editorial positions of the big audio magazines is cheating the next generation out of the advances that could be being made with a unified approach to advancing the state of the art.
    In this day and age should anyone really be praising the sound of 3 watt SET amps that have measurable distortion numbers in the double digits because it “sounds good”. If you combine them with the most efficient horn speakers you can find at least you minimize the distortion levels but is this a SOTA approach.
    It’s sad to say but I believe these are all excuses for a large group of “reviewers” that went on the take back around the time TAS and Stereophile first started accepting ad’s It was an unavoidable corruption that J G Holt know would happen voiced openly at the startup of Stereophile. I think HP also stated the same view early on in TAS. But for a number of reasons the $ were just too enticing.
    Now we have a technology that is the laughing stock of all other serious techs.

    Mark, the customer is always right, give them what they want and are paying for.
    Then for future uses make your best pure digital master of the sessions, some day people may wake up.

    • The thinking is absolute…that’s what troubles me. I certainly could be accused of the same thing. I believe that high-resolution PCM audio provides the best capture and reproduction of audio. But as I wrote last week, that doesn’t matter to the likes of Dave Grohl and Michael Fremer. They was music that meets their personal level of fidelity. And that’s OK. Some artists paint realistically and some are less representational and let the viewer react as they will.

  4. Some very good insight into the state of recording music today. A great read…

    http://tapeop.com/articles/100/100-issues-100-quotes/

    • The comments are precious. Thanks

  5. Hey, if the coloration of sound turns on MF, maybe a cleaner, higher fidelity feed from an originally digital recording is responsible for the great result. Rather than assuming it would have been better if not touched by “digits” the message should have been maybe digits transfer to vinyl better.

    If you believe 96/24 is better fidelity, why not use that regardless of the distribution medium. Conversion from digital to analog once seems less damaging than analog recording and analog post processing to go onto vinyl or anything?

  6. I would love the 24/96 version of Christian’s solo recording! The CD is superb.

    • I’ve written an email to Christin and asked him whether he would allow me to distribute the high-res version, maybe 5.1 version, and copies of the analog tape master. I’ll keep you posted.

      • I am a bit confused by what was written in the first paragraph of your blog and this post along with some other things written here. Is there a pure digital master of Christin’s performance or will any digital releases come from a analog to digital conversion?

        • There is a CD version of Christian’s “Beautiful Jazz” project…and I have a 96 khZ/24-bit high-resolution version that has not been made available. I’ve asked him whether he would consider allowing me to offer it through iTrax.com. Stay tuned.

  7. Please let us know your opinion on the following Stereoplay article: http://www.wireworldaudio.com/reviews/CableSurvey_2014.pdf, regarding cables affecting the sound.

    Thanks.

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