Dr. AIX's POSTS — 21 March 2016

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Maybe you’ve seen the article on DigitalMusicNews.com about a technology that promises better quality LPs. According to the article, Rebeat has applied to European patents to protect a method that, “improves upon traditional lacquer cutting by laser inscribing masters using data optimized in 3D modeling software. It would allow the creation of records that play longer, louder, and offer higher fidelity than is achievable with current vinyl record production techniques”.

Their process doesn’t create “HD Vinyl LPs”…there is no such thing. It’s the same false promotion that the CEA, DEG, NARAS, and labels have been pushing for years now with high-resolution audio and music. Think of the new disc cutting process as you would about “blueprinting” an automobile engine. I can’t say I’ve ever done it but among car loving friends, it was a popular thing to do. The idea is to make sure that your engine precisely meets those technical specifications of the design. Basically, compare the physical measurements and tolerances to those specified by the original “blueprints” for the engine and tweak things until they match.

The “design” document for a vinyl LP specifies the thickness of the vinyl (180, 200 gram), the groove pitch, the groove dimensions, the lead-in, and lead out grooves and the maximum depth of a cut. The job of the disc-cutting engineer is to maximize fidelity while working within the limits of the technology. And the technology is quite old…coming from the 60s. Most disc cutting facilities are using old Neumann cutting lathes and struggle to keep up with the demand. The machinery is old, experienced operators are old, and the results are often compromised.

There are two commonly used disc-cutting methods in use:

• Using a classic disc lathe to cut an “analog” of the audio waveform into the surface of a master lacquer disc. The engineer adjusts the parameters of the machine to avoid problems such as over cutting or groove deformation. The lacquer master is then plated with metal and additional “mothers” and “daughters” are generated to use in the stamping machines.

• Another method, called Direct Metal Mastering, cuts the grooves directly in a metal blank made of copper. This method is generally considered “higher fidelity”.

ReBeat Digital GmbH decided that they could develop a method that would refine the process, improve accuracy, and speed up the process. Instead of “cutting” a groove they “burn” them using, “pulsed high-energy Femto-laser” from a computer 3D topographic data file. According to company CEO Guenter Loibl, “we ‘master’ the topographical data”.

The results could be very impressive—better quality (because of less errors and highly optimized grooves), less expense, and faster turnaround.

But, the new vinyl LPs will not be High-Definition! And the name is very misleading. I wrote to Guenter Loibl about my concerns and the confusion that would undoubtedly result. He replied:

“Hi Mark

I totally agree, HD-vinyl is not the perfect term and so far it is the working title. HD-Vinyl has the advantage that everyone immediately understands what it is. But yes, we are looking for a different term for marketing.
Regarding audio-quality: We are considering allowing the logo only for real HD/HR recordings. I agree that most of the vintage recordings will hardly match the frequency-range, not even when ‘re-vitalizing’ the audio-signal with analogue ‘magic-gear’.

It would be great to stay in touch and any input from your side is very welcome, since we want to create a real improvement of a very trendy media.

Best Regards

Guenter Loibl”

A very fair and reasoned response. I think ReBeat is on to something. We’ll just have to wait and see how this technology progresses.

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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.

(14) Readers Comments

  1. Hello Mark
    His immediate response is accurate, and then he say’s. “HD vinyl has the advantage that everyone immediately understands what it is”. No, I don’t know what it is! Does a more efficient and accurate manufacturing process now equate to HD music reproduction?. Advertising 101: “New and Improved” may not really mean anything at all. But your results may vary.

    • Robert, I agree. He’s probably like so many other uniformed audio enthusiasts that believe the myth of HRA. He’s saying that a real HD file cut using his technology could be HD and get the logo.

  2. I wonder if the new HD-Vinyl releases with come with a 20-25% increase in cost?
    Taking any bets?

  3. I dunno, taken at face value without the baggage of preconceived notions that we have from the digital world or television, high definition simply mean “greater resolution”. It’s another way of saying high fidelity. But the hype of HD has ruined things.

    I personally think that High Resolution would be better and more attractive but I did not study marketing.

    • High Definition isn’t a relative term…it has specification requirement.

  4. Mark,
    Thank you for all your efforts to dispel the noise and static that seems to have distorted audio at this time and unfortunately more so than any other time, even being closer to more fidelity than ever before. lt’s going to be hard to attract new audiophiles when we are unable to prevent all the misinformation that is manipulated to serve as fact. Just wanted to inform you that DMM unfortunately has not lived up to its “higher fidelity” promise. There’s does not seem to be an alternative to the tried and true craftsmanship of the experienced engineer who is fast becoming an endangered species!

  5. LOL, so they found a way (or claim to, anyway) make LPs a little closer to the vastly superior fidelity of CDs. But LPs will never be as good as CDs, so why even bother? Further, do they think this will impress the people who enjoy vinyl? Obviously those people like the added noise and distortion! So if anything this would be a move in the wrong direction for that market. I’m so confused! :->)

  6. Reminds me a bit of those premium-priced, heavy, Nautilus “half-speed mastered” LPs that were popular for a while back in the 1980s. The selling proposition was that by mastering at half-speed the cutting head didn’t have to wiggle back and forth so quickly, and so a more accurate cut would be achieved.

    I must say their LPs did sound pretty good on first playing (due to confirmation bias, probably) but those tiresome scratches, clicks and pops soon emerged to remind you that you were stuck with the drawbacks of early 20th-century technology: in short there was no real improvement over ‘regular’ vinyl.

    • Roderick, I guess you forgot to clean those LPs before you played them. I must have a couple thousand spotless LPs, I’ve been collecting 35+ years and clean everything before I play it.

  7. Can phonograph cartridges track so called HD records to full advantage and without destroying them in just a few plays? The answer is that only a handful of cartridges can and they haven’t been manufactured for 40 years. I only know of four cartridges that can track to 40 kHz and beyond and they were designed for the RCA CD 4 system that recorded the two rear channels in a frequency shifted signal above 20 kHz. It was the only truly discrete 4 channel system on vinyl, the only other being on magnetic tape.

    What are the requirements? High contact area to minimize stress on the vinyl so as not to exceed its elastic limit especially at high frequencies where the vinyl walls will be thin. A Shibata polyhedral type stylus is required. Very high compliance and low dynamic mass are required. B &O manufactured one, Empire manufactured the other three. I own Empire’s TOTL model, 4000 D/III. It will track records at 1/2 gram and respond up to 45 kHz. It has a very large tracking envelope like Shure V I5 type V MR which I also own but that cartridge is not suitable for CD 4 records.

    To achieve high compliance of 30 x 10 E -6 cm/dyne or more and low mass inevitably means a moving magnet cartridge. Moving coil cartridges generally have much lower compliance, much higher dynamic mass, and require about 2 grams or more of force to be able to track records. Personally I would not own one. Because of the mass of the coil, it usually has relatively few turns and therefore very low output requiring an extra stage of preamplifier gain. This stage decreases S/N substantially unless it is very expensive.

    So even if HD records could be produced and stamped, they could not be played and remain HD for very long. Within a few plays all of the above 20 kHz signal would be wiped out. Empire tried a special test record recording a 20 kHz sine wave. With the 999VE elliptical stylus tracking at 1/4 gram, 1000 plays reduced output by only 1 db. Empire was bought out by Benz a long time ago. Everything changed since then.

    • It’s possible that vinyl LPs could reproduce frequencies higher than a CD but they won’t ever be able to improve on dynamic range. It’s simply an old technology that has some nostalgia associated with it…but it’s not going to achieve much better fidelity than it has now.

      • Admin, what with the Loudness War and the insane desire to make every new recording louder than the one preceding it, recordings are being robbed of any dynamics before it is even pressed on a cd. So the 65-70db range available on a well pressed record is plenty to hold Lady Gaga, Kanye West, Norah Jones or Adele.

  8. Excellent points made by all that make perfect sense to me. Add some more to the noise: regardless of the source audio, the laser mapping makes it a digital, not analog process; and, you MIGHT (if this thing works as designed) be able to make a high-quality, lower distortion stamper with this invention, but you still have stamper wear and vinyl noise/imperfections to deal with. So I repeat Ethan above: they’ll get an LP to sound a little closer to a CD, but why not just play the CD (etc) instead?

    On the other hand, the people buying $25 LPs and $80 Crossley record players at our local Barnes & Noble or (believe it or not ) Whole Foods Market surely couldn’t be concerned with things like “tracking force,” “elliptical,” or even dynamic range. Quirky fad except for the rabid audiophiles.

  9. Aquí en España se está dando publicidad a cierto repunte en la venta de vinilos. Decepcionados por la baja calidad del MP3 e incluso de ciertas grabaciones nuevas y otras remasterizaciones “fallidas”. También se publicitan los nuevos falso vinilos HD. Es una pena que otros formatos que ofrecen muchísima calidad como el Bluray se quede solo en las peliculas y no se de información de sus posibilidades como formato estéreo y multicanal. Hay mucho marketing de por medio y quieren volver a sacar los viejos “fondos de armario”. Ya sé , ya sé, el ritual de desprecintar, abrir y sacar el disco de la funda, pasarle la gamuza cariñosamente tiene su encanto. Pero yo ya he escuchado sus grabaciones, por ejemplo, querido Mark. Para mí, ya no hay vuelta atrás.Saludos.

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