Dr. AIX's POSTS HD-AUDIO NEWS TECH TALK — 25 August 2019

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A New Semester — and An Old Problem!

A new semester begins on Monday at CSU Dominguez Hills tomorrow. I’ve taught audio recording, digital media, and production for over 25 years at this institution and have enjoyed working with students all of those years. But this fall I’m on sabbatical. I’m off and charged with completely my research project. And I have to acknowledge that it feels a little bit strange not to be gearing up for a new term, not to be introducing myself to 40-50 new students, and reengage with those returning for their second — and final — year.

Never mind that I’ve been fighting with my university for almost 2 years over my promotion to full professor in 1999 by the president and the unfortunate fact that they never advanced my rank from associate professor or paid me the additional salary afforded full professors. While you might think — and certainly hope — that the university would “rectify the mistake” and make me whole after underpaying me for almost 20 years, you would be wrong! From the discovery that they made a mistake and a formal grievance submitted by the faculty union, the university administration, personnel office, and representatives from the chancellor’s office have denied obvious facts, delayed the resolution process at every turn, and asserted that the signed letter I received from the university president congratulating me on my promotion in May of 1999 was not valid because he wasn’t allowed to promote me according to the collective bargaining agreement at the time — something I was supposed to know. It’s unbelievable that seemingly intelligent and decent people steadfastly refuse to do what’s right and fair. I wonder how anyone one of them would feel if the shoe were on the other foot. What would they do if they were promoted only to learn that the information never got to the personnel office after so many years? Would they feel cheated and treated poorly? So I’m forced to continue fighting. And with each passing day and week and year, any goodwill I once had for the institution and department that I have given so much to has been squandered. It’s really sad but seems typical in today’s abusive climate.

President Carter’s signed letter confirming promotion to full professor in May 1999.

Making Vinyl LP Sausage

I noticed the diagram below on one of the FB groups I follow last week and posted a comment pointing out several errors that make the ultimate fidelity of a vinyl LP worse than the diagram indicates. So I decided I would start a series of blog posts on “The Audio Chain” associated with a few of the major delivery formats currently used in music distribution. Today, it’s vinyl LPs. It’s important that music lovers and audiophiles understand the production process of a particular format before playing it on your own system. Fidelity is either maximized and maintained OR diminished in each production step prior to distribution. I created a large chart some years ago but due to a failed power supply on my other Mac, I can’t share that with you this morning. I’ve ordered a new PS and will get that illustration asap.

First, here’s the diagram that was presented on the FB page.

From microphone to speaker — the production of a vinyl LP in 1967.

The chain presented above maintains the audio signal in the analog domain from the initial acoustic to electrical energy conversion at the microphone to the conversion back to acoustic energy at the speakers. It’s a marvel of science and technology that the fidelity of the final vinyl LP playback closely — or not so closely — approximates the initial musical performance. My own comments on the FB page added two additional analog transfer stages which I’ve inserted into the diagram below:

The updated — and corrected chain with additional analog transfer stages.

Each time you make an analog tape copy, the fidelity of the copy is reduced at least 3 dB. The noise floor comes up and additional distortion is introduced. It’s just the nature of the analog process. And there are a whole bunch of other problems that loom large in the analog tape world (which many advocates in the reel-to-reel market are unaware of or choose to conveniently ignore). Careful alignments must be regularly performed — both physical and electrical — on every component. The head stack, the tape path, the repro EQ, and reel tension are critical to getting the best performance out of every tape deck. Sadly, virtually all analog reel to reel tape machines — even studio machines — are woefully inadequate when it comes to making these transfers. And don’t even think that you’re home deck is up to the task! Yet, analog reel to reel decks and prerecorded tapes are selling for huge prices! Go figure. And remember vinyl LP compound the problems through additional production steps!

The diagram above should cause vinyl LP lovers to pause and wonder if there might not be a better way to capture and reproduce music. And of course, it turns out there is. One that has much greater potential fidelity, costs less, and is way more convenient — PCM digital. But admittedly audiophiles continue to favor and spend money on turntables and LPs. Even crazy money, in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, is being spent on exotic machinery. Are rich audiophiles really that stupid? Look at all of the compromising steps that happen before you drop the needle into the lead-in groove. The press, audiophile societies, artists, and equipment manufacturers perpetuate the myth of vinyl because its cool and makes them lots of money. Wouldn’t it be nice if accuracy and fidelity really mattered?

The fidelity of reproduced music is “locked” in at the time of the final mastering. In the classic vinyl LP days, the master was a 1/4″ stereo analog tape. If you could sit in the mastering studio and hear that first generation master, you’d actually be hearing what the “artist intended” — or at least approved. Any subsequent processing, copying, lacquer cutting, metalizing, stamping, or electroplating decreases the fidelity of the master. Any vinyl LP pressing must accept the limitations of the format and is a faint reminder of the original master delivered by the mastering engineer. Advocates for vinyl confuse fidelity with subjective preference. They are not the same thing.

AIX Records Back to School Sale – Get 35% OFF

The AIX Records website has launched and is accepting orders for both physical discs AND the option to add-on downloadable high-resolution files. I’ve activated a COUPON (BTS2019) for 35% OFF all AIX Records products through the end of September for those looking to add to their collection of AIX titles.

You can click on the image above or visit AIX Records to take advantage of this special offer.

Fun Fact In AIX Music Streaming

Some months ago, I made a deal with a close friend to make the AIX Records catalog available to the streaming world. He’s taking care of the ingestion, metadata tagging, etc. I didn’t hold out much hope for a real financial upside. Revenue from streaming is notoriously low. So when I asked for a report on the first few months, I was blown away by the spreadsheet showing a $5000 payment from Pandora! Wow! I had to wonder which recording would be so popular? Was it one of our best selling albums like Laurence Juber’s Guitar Noir or Nitty Gritty Surround with John McEuen and Jennifer Warnes? Maybe The Latin Jazz Trio? Nope. The album that generated 95% of the payment from Pandora is Mark Chesnutt’s Your Room believe it or not.

It’s surprising because anytime I demoed a track by country legend (and multiplatinum artist) Mark Chesnutt at the AXPONA show, virtually all audience members would head for the door. Apparently, country music and audiophile sensibilities don’t mix. But listeners on Pandora made Mark Chesnutt’s album pay off big time for AIX Records.

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