Dr. AIX's POSTS — 05 November 2015

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If you’ve read any marketing materials, attend audiophile trade shows, read forums, or listen to HiFi “experts”, you’ve undoubtedly encountered the assertion that “analog sound” is something audio engineers and producers should strive for and listeners should cherish. “Analog sound” is…in the minds of its supporters…the pinnacle of reproduced sound. However, audio production has moved irreversibly away from analog to digital methods and equipment for capturing and reproducing music.

Those who think that the best sounding recordings are derived from “analog” production paths are just plain wrong. In fact, digital wins in all categories hands down. There’s potentially more frequency response, more dynamic range, less distortion, less speed variation, less noise, less crosstalk, and more. Just name a specification and do the comparison between a bona fide high-resolution digital recording and an analog track (even first generation esoteric analog tape) and high-resolution PCM digital comes out ahead.

So why do so many audio enthusiasts insist on claiming ” analog sound” is a deserving goal? Because they want to perpetuate the familiar and trusted instead of accepting that technology and techniques have moved on. Why else would they cling to technologies that are only rarely used to produce new recordings? And all of the older albums that music lovers of my generation love and enjoy are almost exclusively consumed in their digital incarnations rather than the analog originals…this is certainly true for the mass market and I would venture is also true among audiophiles.

The industry needs to adjust their marketing and advertising to mesh with the new reality. PCM digital recording is the format of choice. Notice I didn’t attach the prefix “high-resolution” to the previous sentence although I personally believe that moving up from CD spec to 96 kHz/24-bits is the sweet spot for the ultimate enjoyment of recorded music. Of course, I would love to see production methods widened to include more dynamics, surround mixes, and more lifelike sounding instruments and voices. But that’s another topic for another time.

If the pundits, equipment makers, and marketing heads want to insist on continuing the myth that analog is the pinnacle of the record art, then they need to establish an objective set of metrics by which analog recordings can be measured…and then line PCM digital recordings up against those same metrics. Some of us know that the results would deal a serious blow to the analog side of the music business.

Don’t take my position as being anti analog audio…I’m not. However, the description of “more analog sounding” gets under my skin. It’s meaningless without specifics and the subjectivists want desperately to avoid specifics because it gives them running room whenever they pronounce a new device or process as “making the sound more analog sounding”. Everyone is allowed to enjoy whatever they personally prefer…and that may be analog for some and digital for others.

The highest expression of the audio recording art is to create or preserve a musical or sonic event with the highest fidelity possible. If a particular project benefits from compression, heavy uses of equalization, distortion, or other processes that can diminish the fidelity of the recording, that’s fine with me. Not everyone can or should produce according to the same aesthetic. But don’t tell me that making all recordings sound “more analog” should be the goal of all music tracks. I don’t accept those compromises.

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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.

(55) Readers Comments

  1. Mark, that was one of your silliest editorials or whatever you want to call it. We live in an analog world. Sound waves reach our ears in an “analog manner” (what happens beyond the ear drum is another story). When writers (me for instance) talk about “analog sound” that is shorthand for sounding unprocessed and “analog-like”.

    Whatever specs you wish to spew out to “prove” that digital processing is superior takes a back seat to the listening experience. Sorry, but I listen to music. I don’t measure it, which is not to say measurements don’t matter.

    There are clearly aspects of digital recording that have yet to be measured. When they are, perhaps the problems that make my brain want, no need to stop listening to CDs especially after a short period of time, will be discovered and problems fixed. I know the problems with recorded analog sound and with vinyl.

    I KNOW those problems. No one has to tell them to me. Nonetheless, records still sound closer to live music to my ears and make me want to sit down and for hours listen to record after record. That’s all that counts! Not numbers.

    Judging by what readers tell me, they are also experiencing it. So rather than fight that, why not figure out why that is? And I’m talking about a demographic as young as 15 and centered around 25-30 so it’s not because I’m old and “used to” the distortions.

    In the end, my ears prefer analog recordings and analog playback. That’s all I care about. Well that’s not true. I also care that tens of thousand of vinyl and analog tape enthusiasts world wide agree! They help me earn a living.

    But as anyone who follow me knows, I got into this not to make money but to proclaim what I know to be true. What happened next and what’s happening now in the vinyl world is something I never predicted.

    • Michael, The problem seems to be that you’ve never learned to listen properly. If you had you undoubtedly would be able to hear the clearly audible superior detail and smoothness of a good digital recording. Get some good digital equipment and recordings, then spend some time really listening and learning.

      • He listens for and appreciates a different quality of sound…one that is delivered successfully using vinyl LPs.

    • Michael – Whether this is an “analog world”, a digital world or partially both is still being debated by physicists. However, since sound “waves” travel by means of discrete particle movements, sound is at least partially digital. When you define analog sound as shorthand for analog-like, you do know you are presenting a rhetorical tautology as a definition. Saying analog is analog provides no information.
      The remainder of your comment is about bad digital sounding CDs and good analog sounding “records”, and you make it clear that in spite of what you said in the first paragraph, you do consider analog sound to mean “records”.

    • Thanks for coming by Michael and adding to the discussion. Of course, we live in an analog world…and digital capture and reproduction exists in this analog world. Thus there is no segregation in saying that sound waves reach our ear via analog means. Of course, they do…and from digital system as well. So “analog-sound” for you means unprocessed and “analog-like”…I’m still failing to grasp the distinction. Every step of an album production processes the sound…equalizers, reverberation units (which are almost exclusively PCM digital devices), limiters, etc. There is no difference between analog and digital in this regard.

      Specifications matter to me. If an analog recording system is incapable of capturing the full frequency range or dynamic profile of a performance accurately, then specifications do matter. You may prefer the sound of analog but that doesn’t mean it does a better job of matching the input to the output. We all listen to music and we all like what we like…but elevating a format or entire scheme of recording reproducing music to the top comes with some responsibility…and those are measurements not merely subjective preferences.

      I would never argue that you can’t prefer the sound of analog, vinyl LPs. If you believe the compromised dynamic range and other problems of analog techniques and formats deliver a “live” sound, then fine. I prefer listening to high-resolution PCM digital…as analog output, not numbers.

      The resurgence of vinyl LPs is happening…but so is the advance of audio recording and reproduction using digital means. The purpose of my article was to inform my readers that measuring everything against the “analog” yardstick is a mistake. As you rightly state, the only that counts is the ultimate listening experience..an accurate reproduction of sound with all of the dynamics, frequency ranges, detail, and accuracy that great music deliver. And objectively and subjectively, high-resolution PCM does that better than any format. So love your vinyl LPs and analog tape…but next year in Chicago come by our demo room and I promise you won’t “need” to stop listening because of some undefined problem with digital.

    • If only MF had a clue about the psychology of the listening process, we might be able to help him to realise what he has done, and what a ‘misattribution trap’ he has built for himself.

    • Michael, as someone who has often admired your advocacy of analog sound in such an entertaining manner, at various London hifi shows of yore and online in more recent times, I have nothing but the greatest respect and admiration for you. I’m a fan.

      However, as a keen YouTube viewer of your appearances on various audio show panels and the like, I am finding that your attitude to digital is beginning to border on the aggressive.

      I refer in particular to your very public spat with Chris Connaker at this year’s T.H.E Show, where Chris made a quite valid point about the actual size of the vinyl resurgence and you proceeded to get quite animated, much as you appear to be doing in the written word with Mark’s blog here. “Mark, that was one of your silliest editorials or whatever you want to call it.” Not classy at all in my view.

      You seem to give the impression that you feel you are the ringmaster in some kind of war between vinyl and digital. I’m sorry I just don’t get why the distinction needs to be made so clearly between the two. Many records are now made using digital recordings, so the confluence between the two “sides” is actually rather blurred. Sure there’s magic in old pur analog recordings, but that is an unsustainable medium that’s going to simply wear out. Digital files, whether you like them or not, will sound the same a thousand years from now. It’s the future of the business you are in and, if you listened to good digital more often, I’m sure you’d agree that it has reached a very impressive stage indeed.

      The old mantra of CD being the equivalent of “polishing a turd”, as you put it in your Christmas/New Year YouTube message, is simply not relevant any more. Even the term “CD” that you use in a disparaging manner all the time is losing relevance, as most audiophiles either have or are in the process of ripping their CD collections to files that play through increasingly sophisticated DAC’s that have none of the sonic characteristics you clearly despise.

      Ultimately of course, you and everyone else has the right to their own opinions. All I would ask is that you treat people like Mark with the utmost respect. Instead of constantly trying to knock what he says, how about recognizing that he is an extremely highly qualified and experienced recording professional who knows a thing or two about what he is talking about and can quantify his opinions a bit better than your simple premise that “I just prefer it”.

      You have absolutely every right to prefer analog and, in many situations, I would agree that it can have subjective superiority to the worst that digital has to offer. But the same is also true the other way round too.

    • Not surprised to see you here Michael. I agree with you for the most part. Mark, this was a well written piece I must say. For some reason I was under the impression you were anti-analog, so it’s good to see where you stand. Also a lot of your fanboys responses are killing me! Fremer seems to have that effect on people for some reason. Hope you enjoyed your trip to Europe.

      • Thanks. Michael is a friend but his passion…like my own…is undeniable.

    • I won’t say its silly. I think the conflict here is more of what we define as analogue sound. In this article, from what i understand is that “analogue sound” refers to the sound signature and quality of how music sound when recorded through an analogue path. However, your definition of “analogue sound” refers to the analogue world. The realism of sound that we hear in the real world. So all in all its kinda like a different argument. So both are right.

      And as much as you do not measure music, what you listen is indirectly a result of scientific measurements. Sound reproduction is an art as much as it is science. Its a combination of science and art. And science in itself in not sufficient as we have yet to truly understand on how to measure certain qualities.

      Just my personal opinion. So do feel free to feedback. 🙂 Cheers

      • The real world sound of a music performance is a goal for some. The warm sound of analog tape and analog processors is a goal for others. And others want hyper realistic recording and reproduction. The technologies and procedures they use vary as do the results. The are all valid. Take your pick.

  2. I agree with Mark Waldrep that digital recording promises more faithful audio reproduction. . But perhaps our audio front ends at home have not caught up with the possibilities digital recording offers? For decades now I have brought out analog vinyl records to play to demonstrate the virtues of my system (VPI Scoutmaster, Benz Micro cartridge, VTL 5.5 preamp, VTL M450 basic amps, Fathom 10-inch subwoofer, Alon Contender speakers, Kimber Kable wiring throughout). My dedicated audio PC with JRiver Media Center linked to my Halide DAC via USB cable does pretty well, but there is always that lack of immediacy that the analog source provides (this is Michael Fremer’s theme in Stereophile). I would say that my system is optimized for vinyl reproduction. The Halide DAC, good as it is, depends on my dedicated computer’s power supply and USB capabilities which are not “high-quality” items. In short, my digital front end ($2700, that is, a PC for $2200 and a Hialide DAC for $500) is simply is no match for the dedicated phono preamp in the VTL 5.5. While that remains the case, the vinyl versus digital comparison (favorable for vinyl for immediacy) will continue.

    Let me say that vinyl LPs are an execrable choice for full-scale orchestral recordings. As the symphony ends in a crescendo, a phono cartridge must navigate the inner grooves of an LP here the audio info packed in so tightly is most difficult to reproduce. My expensive vinyl front end just craps out every time. So do the super costly luxury vinyl front ends I hear at shows. Sigh.

    • Jud the Prof, you won’t get decent digital sound using a budget DAC! You will need to spend about 5 times as much for a professional one that will do justice to your digital files and your speakers. (And any old computer or iPad will produce identical results to your “audio PC”.)

  3. I think the reason for the preference and analog bias is due to the nature of mastering most often used for analog mediums vs digital mediums like CDs and mp3. the latter does not appeal to audiophiles.

    • Good points…however, all things being equal, high-res PCM comes out on top.

  4. IF the “analog” sound is desirable or even “better,” where is the new gadget which will input a digital recorded signal, say even a lowly CD, and modify it (negatively: reduced freq response, add compression, add background noise and tape hiss, add some channel cross modulation and whatever else) — The box would have perhaps a dozen knobs to tweak and make even an AIX recording have that sought after “analog” sound. Anybody ready for a Kickstarter campaign?

    • Robert, all of these tools do exist for engineers as plug-ins for Pro Tools and other digital systems. It is possible to model the distortions of analog tape and vinyl. But why would I want to reduce the fidelity and sonic enjoyment of my recordings to make the minority of individuals that prefer “analog sound”. Once you’ve heard real high-res music, there’s a whole new world to listen to…albeit a small catalog.

      • Sorry my sarcasm was not more obvious.

        Of course you wouldn’t want to “analogify” any of your recordings. But for the “analogiphiles” what does it mean that no one has come forth with a consumer level box with a dozen knobs which could do such modifications of late digital recordings? Perhaps it means that the sound attributes such advocates claim may not actually be there.

  5. If PCM is the choice for best recording and 24/96 is the sweet spot, then where does one obtain current popular music in this format?

    • You don’t…because the major labels, engineers, and producers don’t produce current popular music in high-resolution.

  6. Thank you Mark for being a voice of reason. This “Analog is the Yardstick” position does nothing but hold back the advancement of audios SOTA. A quality 24/48 recording is the minimum that should be accepted in today’s studios with 24/192 being used when ever a SOTA project is desired. The results of which when released as either Red Book CD’s/flac downloads or higher resolution HDA will offer the standard by which the future of High Fidelity should be based for generations to come.
    Keep fighting the good fight.

  7. Analog advocates like Michael Fremer will often say that measurements are meaningless and they trust their ears more. Whereas I would agree that we don’t know everything about what makes one sound reproduction medium more appealing to some than others, as I’ve said in comments here a few times now, 16/44 has come in for what I would consider to be a totally unfair pasting and in my opinion regularly eats LP sound for breakfast, which isn’t to say that I don’t own a decent turntable and still enjoy vinyl immensely within its limits.

    I enjoyed a musical evening on Monday listening to a locally based pair of Klipschorns, fed entirely with 16/44 material. At the end of the evening, mine host and I both agreed that the very wide of music we’d listened was without fault and at no stage did we feel that what we’d hugely enjoyed listening to was less than totally engaging and beguiling. The feeling of the artists being “in the room” was palpable. What more could an audiophile ask for!

    And yet there up is this big return to vinyl that seems to show no sign of slowing down and a simultaneous devaluing of the CD medium, with all sorts of claims by the analog brigade that they simply can’t listen to it.

    At the end of the day, not being into digital is the listener’s prerogative and personal decision. I just can’t see why there shouldn’t be room for everything.

    • Exactly. The myth that CDs can’t sound great or that they produce some sort of “uncomfortable feeling” needs to be dispelled.

  8. Hello Mark
    When people say, “analog sound”, are they referring to odd an even harmonics?.

    • No, every instrument has both even and odd harmonics. However, the accuracy with which any particular system…both recording and reproduction…handles those harmonics does affect the timbre of the sound. Analog methods are less accurate than digital and thus may be more attractive to certain listeners.

  9. As painful as it is to write this, I still have to say that Jay provided the most objective measurable definition for analog sound. When Jay said “more analog sounding” means that the recording does not mix the sounds between which are up to 1 microsecond time periods, he is mostly rephrasing (hashing?) a statement by Milind Kunchur, Ph.D. University of South Carolina. In research he conducted over I believe about a 5 year period, Dr. Kunchur established that the upper bound for human hearing temporal resolution is 5 microseconds. In a mostly non-technical paper in which Dr. Kunchur answers questions about his research, he explains that a CD (44.1kHz) can not provide 5 microsecond temporal resolution. Here is the quote from the paper that Jay frequently rephrases in his comments here.

    “For CD, the sampling period is 1/44100 ~ 23 microseconds and the Nyquist frequency f(N) for this is 22.05 kHz. Frequencies above f(N) must be removed by anti-alias/low-pass filtering to avoid aliasing. While oversampling and other techniques may be used at one stage or another, the final 44.1 kHz sampled digital data should have no content above f(N). If there are two sharp peaks in sound pressure separated by 5 microseconds (which was the threshold upper bound determined in our experiments), they will merge together and the essential feature (the presence of two distinct peaks rather than one blurry blob) is destroyed. There is no ambiguity about this and no number of vertical bits or DSP can fix this. Hence the temporal resolution of the CD is inadequate for delivering the essence of the acoustic signal (2 distinct peaks).”

    Dr Kunchur goes on to say

    “Now the CD’s lack of temporal resolution for complete fidelity is not systemic of the digital format in general: the problem is relaxed as one goes to higher sampling rates and by the time one gets to 192 kHz, the bandwidth and the ability to reproduce fine temporal details is likely to be adequate. I use the word “likely” rather state definitely for two reasons. In our research we found human temporal resolution to be ~5 microseconds. This is an upper bound: i.e., with even better equipment, younger subjects, more sensitive psychophysical testing protocols, etc., one might find a lower value.”

    Jay’s definition of analog sound is based on an assumed requirement for temporal resolution of 1 microsecond. This is roughly equivalent to PCM at 960 kHz. I think Dr. Kunchur’s 5 microseconds and 192 kHz is adequate at this time.

    • I’ll have to research Dr. Kunchur’s work but it seems to me that PCM at 96 kHz covers the entire frequency range and 24-bits the dynamic range. Time in PCM is a clocking issue. If two “sharp peaks” of amplitude occur in less then 11 microseconds (96 kHz) then they would be higher frequencies than Nyquist and be removed.

      • Here’ a link to Dr Kunchur’s papers. I forgot to include the link in my comment.

        http://boson.physics.sc.edu/~kunchur/Acoustics-papers.htm

        • Thanks Mark, I”ll take a look.

      • Regarding the Kunchur stuff, I looked into this only a month back (“Meditations on the Limitations of Hearing & Listening”). I believe you are correct Mark, we should not fall into a trap of equating significance in these microsecond numbers with the need for higher frequency samplerates. Intersample signal changes that happen say between the 22 usec (CD) or even lower 11usec (96kHz) duration are just not going to be audible unless science proves otherwise *within the audible frequency range*.

        After discussion with a number of people, remember that time-domain accuracy below the Nyquist frequency in PCM is determined by the BIT-DEPTH, *not* samplerate.

        Even at CD samplerate of 44kHz and 16-bits, the time domain resolution is already a miniscule 60 picoseconds or so below 22kHz! Anyhow, I think this is all a non-issue theoretically. In practice likewise, I’d love to see a blind hearing test showing significant differences (ideally with real music!).

        We should all keep this in mind if we hear this Kunchur stuff brought up and folks equate this with the importance for very high samplerates (like the MHz DSD folks)…

        • Thanks…

    • There’s an interesting article on this subject here: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/8835547/cdda-temporal-resolution.html

      • Thanks Bob…interesting.

  10. Excellent post! I have been making the same general point for years — even on your blog! (http://www.realhd-audio.com/?p=1524)

  11. Latest from Paul M. Of PS Audio…. And the myth continues

    “In our opinion DSD continues to sound more like the sound of live unamplified music than PCM and it’s easy to see why. DSD streams are close to analog in nature and require minimal filtering to convert to analog.”

    So it would seem the “compromised” product of even the earliest “HiFi” is now a marketing benchmark !

    • Paul, and plenty of others, believe the myth…and benefit from it. It’s important to note in your quote the words “in my opinion”…that makes it ok. It’s when it’s presented as fact where it becomes a problem. The study that was done a couple of years ago established that people couldn’t tell the difference.

  12. It would seem Gilead of Linn is on track…some do “get it” !

    “All three formats have merit as ‘packaging’ for high res audio, but it is debatable whether we need more than one. DXD is really just PCM at a very high sample rate and offers no benefit in terms of capturing audio bandwidth signals. DSD is a 1-bit format that claims to be the direct output of the ADC used to make the recording, but very rarely is. Our products support PCM, up to 192kHz/24-bit, as this is by far the most common format for studio master recordings.”

    • Thanks for sharing.

      • Hmm, if Kunchur had to qualify his earlier statements by adding “Errors that might be acceptable for consumer audio are not necessarily acceptable for research” then it seems that all he is stating is the obvious: using lower tolerances (higher accuracies) in research vs. product is common across many fields of science/engineering.

  13. Despite Dr. Kunchur’s findings about temporal resolution of human hearing are or may be correct, there is a lack of understanding of the music recording and reproduction process and the related technical and physical facts. In order to understand the topic of temporal resolution of 5 microseconds in the right context, we need to layout some evident technical principles:

    a) Frequency and time aspect of a music signal are inseparable twins. A period of 5 microseconds would represent a frequency of 200 kHz. There is no musical content above 40kHz at all. And an analog recording system is far away to be capable to record and reproduce such a frequency. And a digital system should have, according to Nyquist theorem, a sample frequency of at least 400kHz. But even this isn’t necessary, as there is nothing to record in such frequency regions.

    b) But if “nature” isn’t providing content in the higher ultrasonics region and we can’t hear it either, what about Dr. Kunchur’s findings? He isn’t wrong, but it relates to phase shift of a signal not to it’s frequency. Thus any discussion about sampling frequency needs to point on another element: Do we lose the information between the samples? Answer: NO. This important point is lost in most discussion about digital recording and leads to all sort of misconceptions. Any signal with content not exceeding half of the sampling frequency can be accurately reproduced, also the information between the samples. Period. This is also true for a phase shift of 5 microseconds.

    c) Phase shift or delay of a signal occurs when an acoustic signal coming from the right reaches the right ear earlier than the left one, as signal has to travel further around the head. That’s Dr. Kuchner’s point. Humans’ ability to detect sound directivity, which is important for our daily live.

    d) Digital systems are more or less at least affected by phase shift problems. They start right at the beginning of a recording session with microphone array and placement (ORTF, XY, AB, Bluemlein) and at the very other end the speakers. Microphone and speakers are a hyper crucial elements in the reproduction chain. With speakers, we may have phase shift within the crossover and also with physical array of the drivers. And what every audiophile knows or should know, any inch of moving one speaker in relation to the other one will have impact on signal phase (time at which the signal hits the human ear). The proper microphone and speaker placement affects sound reproduction at home much more than any sample rate changes from 44.1 to 96kHz and beyond.

    e) Accepting the 5 microseconds of human temporal resolution and the importance of maintain the signal phase precise during all stages of a recording and reproduction process compels us even more to have a very accurate reproduction system, with high phase integrity at all stages. Sad to say, but this would render vinyl to the least desirable element in the chain. Having said that, we are at Michael Fremer’s statement: he loves what he hears, vinyl inaccuracy renders to sound in a pleasing manner, but it’s far away from precise music reproduction. It’s everybody’s non disputable right to listen to what music he likes on the preferred reproduction chain, but facts should be conveyed correctly and not turned into absurd conclusions, only to defend the own subjective point.

    • Very nicely described…thanks.

    • Dr. Kunchur’s reseach shows that human hearing exceeds 5 microseconds for temporal resolution. He does not claim that this is necessarily relevant to consumer level music recording and reproduction. Here are some other statements in the Q&A paper.

      “Errors that might be acceptable for consumer audio are not necessarily acceptable for research.”

      “For a product that is to be commercially marketed, the engineering requirements are such that the customers are sufficiently satisfied so as to buy the product. In a research experiment the standard is higher and the goal is to try to maintain mathematical purity to the extent possible and presuppose as little as possible regarding which errors won’t be heard.”

    • Hi Fritz,

      Thank you for laying out these points. I’ve always been curious about this relationship between phase timing and sampling frequency. The followup question that this raises for me is, What aspects/specifications of the recording system are responsible for maintaining the timing relationship that presumably is established at the time of recording? If I’m thinking about this correctly, when the number of microphones are > 2 and these tracks are mixed to stereo, then the timing information has multiple components that must be reduced to 2 channels. How is this timing difference information proplerly encoded? And if this is done well, does this translate into improved spatial distinction between instruments during reproduction? Mark, have you posted on this topic previously?

      Todd

    • Fortunately for us, the timing accuracy of any old DAC is more like 0.001 µs. It has nothing to do with sampling rate, completely independent in fact. We can take a 96 kHz or a 8 kHz sampling rate, both will have timing accuracy of the order of 0.001 µs with a conventional, unexceptional DAC.

      So, the experiment has zero ramifications for digital audio and sampling rates. Commentators who gleefully raise it are either mischievous or ignorant, let them take their pick. Even Kunchur seems to be ignorant of the ramifications of his own finding — a bit sad.

      And thank goodness, I way. What a red herring.

      • There seems to be a fair amount of focus lately on timing in digital audio these days. My experience is that we’re capable of pretty much nailing great fidelity with the equipment that we have. What’s lacking is the desire to produce great sounding recordings.

  14. My two cents worth. Analog medium require a lot of compromise in the production chain. Compression, equalization, and channel encoding being among the more significant ones. The final outcome therefore is not as faithful to the live performance as a digital production. It does boil down to personal preference however.

  15. Here is a quote concerning “The Nightfly” by Donald Fagen, even in the early days digital sounded more “live like” than analog:

    3M Digital Mastering System

    We booked the Village Recorder in 1981 to cut tracks for Nightfly and decided to try the 3M digital machine. We ran a Studer A-80 24-track analog machine in parallel with the 3M for the test. After the band laid down a take we performed an a-b-c listening test. The analog and digital machines were played back in sync while the band played along live. We could compare the analog machine, the digital machine, and the live band. The closest sound to the live band was the 3M digital machine. We re-aligned the Studer and gave it one more chance. The 3M was the clear winner. We rolled the Studer out into the street, (just kidding) and did the rest of the recording on the 3M 32-track machine. When it came time to mix, we mixed to the 3M 4-track machine.

    • This is very interesting but not surprising to me even considering the 3M machines were not high-resolution. PCM digital just captures a more accurate sound of the mic feeds than any other format.

  16. I watched a video of you speaking Doc and found you both interesting and compelling. After visiting this site however, now I’m left wondering if you’re not just another “someone” trying to sell me something.

    If not, I apologize.

  17. I’m late to the party, but I nevertheless thought I would add my comments:
    I was vinyl only for 15 years, and I paid a lot of money for original issues (I was more a collector than an audiophile), but despite the joys it was also a painful hobby in many ways.
    After comparing most of my record collection to CDs I sold many of my records, although I also kept several hundred.
    Through all my comparisons I’ve seen that if there’s one “group” of CDs that are the easiest to generalize about it’s CDs from the 80s, and that’s important. So far I’ve only heard one amazing sounding CD from the 80s, and then two others that I would choose over the slightly poor vinyl editions. Other than that I would choose the vinyl edition over the CD in every case – and I think there would be consesus about my choice.
    Why? Because the CDs sound just like the anti-digital people say: Cold, thin, clinical and shrill.
    And we have to remember that most audiophiles nowadays have the age where they were around when CDs came out in the 80s. If they heard back then what I still hear today, then obviously they didn’t like CDs. And I understand that. I would have been anti-digital as well.
    But luckily CDs started sounding a lot better in the early 90s and finally surpassing vinyl in most cases from around 1993-1994 onwards (although there are many exceptions).
    I think the reason for this is the poor A/D converters of the 80s (even certain pro-digital people like Stanley Lipshitz and mastering engineer Bob Ludwig say the same) as well as the mastering techniques in the 80s.
    Fremer seems to be stuck in the 80s. It’s a bit sad that he’s so vehemently anti-CD (although he might claim otherwise), yet he seems to be somewhat in favour of hi-res and SACD. But after almost 20 years no reliable study has shown that people can distinguish the hi-res and CD – and Fremer has certainly never participated in a properly conducted blind-test and he probably never will when you look at how much he speaks out as blind-tests being the work of the devil.
    It seems to me that analogue lovers/digital haters are simply trying to find ways of EXPLAINING why they like something (Fremer seems to do this constantly), and when they can’t convince people with “but it sounds better – just listen”, they turn to all kind of outrageous arguments.
    “Aaarh! So that’s why CDs sounds so bad! It’s the low sample rate!”, “Oh, that’s why! It’s ringing!”, “Oh, so that’s why! It’s the low temporal resolution of 5 microseconds!”, etc.
    It seems that every two years there’s a new explanation the analogue lovers are clinging on to in an attempt to explain why they have a preference for something.
    I would have a lot more respect for these people if they just said “I know that vinyl and analogue tape is less accurate and it’s a coloured sound, but I just prefer the sound of it” instead of making fallacious claims that can be disproven, or by saying/screaming “I can hear the difference, ’cause it’s so goddamn obvious!” when they then fail a blind test and then AFTERWARDS change their statement to “the difference was very subtle – too subtle for any blind test to reveal it, but I can still hear the difference, just like with my $5000 power cord”.

    Then there’s the physical product. If we leave out very poor record covers (mostly rap records from the late 90s), then I have only come across a few CDs that were actually nicer to look at than the equivalent vinyl disc. If I was to choose only for the visual pleasure I would choose a vinyl disc and cover every time. And that’s important to many – more important to many people than the sound.
    Add to this the “coolness factor” of vinyl. If you have records, you’re cool. If you have CDs you’re a loser (according to some people). Everybody wants to be cool. Nobody wants to be a loser.
    Even audiophiles, no wait, especially audiophiles are caught up in this too. I know of no other hobby than vinyl and audiophilea (okay, maybe cars or fashion clothes or paintings) where what you own is such an integrated part of your identity and your status. Tennis players don’t seem to care that much about what rackets they own, nor do football/soccer players care that much about what shoes and shirts they use. Vinyl shows your identity.

    As for analogue sound being “less fatiguing”, I think this is a case of analogue medias not being able to reproduce everything on the master, so analogue medias shave off/reduce certain frequencies in the treble, which makes the sound “easier on the ear”, but to claim that vinyl is closer to the source than CDs, which Fremer has done on several occassions, is simply wrong. There are certainly albums that I prefer on vinyl, because they shave off some of the treble, but that doesn’t mean that vinyl is better – quite the opposite. But we don’t like perfection if perfect means ugly, and certain albums surely do sound ugly on CD.

    As for “analogue is what nature does”, then to me it would make perfect sense to avoid the conversion to digital, as fewer steps means less chance of corruption – if we were actually able to store the information as accurately as we can with digital. But analogue tape has more distortion, wow and flutter and noise and less dynamic range than CDs. So as nothing will ever be perfect, then digital storage of our music seems to be the best option available.

    • Very well thought out. I agree completely. Thanks.

      • Thanks! After re-reading my comment I actually found it to be a bit of a disorganised rant, ha ha ha!
        Anyway, maybe I should also be a bit more diplomatic and say that regarding the CDs of the 80s, my preference is of course a subjective matter. I know that some find those old CDs to be stunning. I just don’t. I won’t claim the vinyl editions from the 80s are closer to the source either, as I haven’t heard any of the master tapes. Lastly, I haven’t heard an enormous amount of CDs from the 80s either, as I generally don’t like music from the 80s, but the ones I have heard have not pleased me.
        But although I do find that the mastering practices and A/D converters (as well as D/A converters) improved over time, then clearly the technology in the 80s was still good, as the Steely Dan example above illustrates, and so does the famous example with Ivor Tiefenbrun from Linn (a digital hater at the time), who couldn’t tell his turntable apart from the same setup with an A/D/A chain inserted. That also goes to illustrate that a bigger part of the problem with early CDs must have been mastering rather than conversion.
        Lastly, it’s also worth remembering that when we listen to old music that was produced on less revealing equipment than what we have available today, it would sound different now than it did back then.

  18. On a slightly different topic, Mark, have you yourself done blind tests of analogue master tapes vs. the digitized copy?
    Do you know of any studies like that that you can link to?
    I know of Bruce Botnick doing it along with other people (he used a 192 kHz sampling rate), and then I know of three tests where audiophiles recorded a vinyl LP to digital and couldn’t tell them apart.

    • Anders, I have done this test on a limited basis. I recorded Christian Jacob using high-resolution audio gear and analog tape, which was used to create a vinyl LP. I understand now that there is a DSD transfer of the project available. And I have copied the analog tape back to 96 kHz/24 bit PCM. I listened to them all and can report that the 96 kHz/24-bit PCM master of the session was the best sounding. To my ears in my mastering room, there was absolutely no difference in sound between the analog master (not a copy or the vinyl LP) and a copy at 96 kHz/24-bits. I was very careful to match the volume of all versions. I’m considering purchasing ($28) the DSD version to add to the test.

      • Thanks for your response :-).
        I actually assumed you would say that you couldn’t hear a difference. If you come across any proper studies done like that, you’re welcome to let me know (I think you, as the admin, can see my e-mail address).
        If I come across any, I will of course also let you know. I was under the impression that such studies had been done, but I have yet to find them.
        As for DSD, as far as I know, people can’t tell that and PCM apart, but I might be wrong. You might have heard about the paper by Stanley Lipshitz and John Vanderkooy that concluded that DSD is “broken”, as 1 bit means the converter is always in overload. And if nobody can hear a difference that says something about how forgiving our ears are, despite what many an audiophile has claimed :-).

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