Dr. AIX's POSTS MA Recordings — 04 November 2014


During my recent conversation with Todd Garfinkle of MA Recordings, we chatted about his production methods and delivery formats. He’s been encouraging me to take some of my most popular recordings and convert them to vinyl LPs. I know what you must be thinking…because I’m right there with you. Why would anyone want to take a wonderfully accurate stereo PCM recording done using high-resolution sampling rates and word lengths and release it on vinyl? Well, it seems to be working for Todd. He recently struggled through the production process for “Sera una Noche”, which is a 45 rpm vinyl LP that retails for $33. Here’s how Todd describes it on his website:

“This beautiful, Extended Play 45rpm 180m disc, presenting three of the best tracks from the first 96 kHz recording of “Sera una Noche”, was cut to lacquer by Len Horowitz on his legendary 1950 Scully cutting lathe with Westrex cutting head. Entitled simply, “Sera una Noche 45rpm” the disc contains (on side A) two versions of Gardel’s “Malena”, the first with Pedro Aznar on vocals (7’ 38”), and the second, a haunting, original instrumental track of the same (5’ 06”). Side B presents the profoundly mesmerizing, “Nublado” (11’ 22”), arguably the killer track of the whole session, which was recorded in the little Gandara Monasterio church in the Argentine countryside, approximately two hours outside of the capital of Buenos Aires.”

The total length of both sides of the LP is around 23 minutes.

The right business decision is to maximize the amount of money that can be derived from any individual investment…or production. If a source recording is worth $10-15 dollars as a 96/24 PCM stereo track, does it really double in value when cut to lacquer and then duplicated on vinyl (a format that is definitely capable of less fidelity)? The same fundamental question resonates when someone records at DXD and then downconverts to a variety of other formats…each with their own price formula. The perception that vinyl LPs or DSD files are somehow worth more because of their “analogness” runs contrary to my own belief that great fidelity and accurate reproduction is the most important aspect of a recording…after a great performance.

I experienced a similar situation when I thought about making analog tapes of some of my productions. Transferring older analog tape masters to new analog tapes has worked out really well for The Tape Project…they charge around $300 per album for their releases. I’m confident that a 96 kHz/24-bit stereo PCM master transferred directly to my Nagra IV-S as a first generation tape would eclipse the sound quality of any of any commercially available analog tape on the planet. But David Pogue (ex-tech reporter of the New York Times) wrote me and said that the reel-to-reel community would reject any analog recording that was sourced from a digital master. Somehow the “digititis” that they believe pollutes anything made using digital methods compromises the ultimate product…even if it’s a first generation analog master tape. Of course, this is pure nonsense. In fact, high-resolution digital recordings are capable of much great dynamic range and frequency response (and every other specification measure you care to name) than the best analog tape machines ever made.

That’s why I was so surprised that Todd is able to sell his digital recordings as analog vinyl LPs…and do so at elevated prices.

I might even be tempted to try a vinyl LP version of Laurence Juber’s “Guitar Noir” if it weren’t for the incredible technical and quality assurance problems that you have to solve when pressing vinyl. I’m content with DVD-Audio, DVD-Video, and Blu-ray discs delivering superior fidelity, easily, and at an affordable price.

It’s seems like a game to me.

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About Author


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.

(20) Readers Comments

  1. Absolutely! Let the buyer decide. (your iTrax site sells MP3 quite happily). And let the buyer set the price. If you underprice it, they will just buy all your stock and re-sell it to each other at elevated ‘shortage’ prices anyway.

    If the buyer goes into a glowing trance the minute he slides your LP production out of its sleeve, and said trance enhances his impression of the playback, and same buyer gets grumpy every time he loads a music file and hits Play on his PC and said grumpy mood spoils his impression of the playback, then let him have his fun. 🙂

  2. Consider consumer’s history of experience with digital. I was playing my records a lot before I got my Oppo a couple of years ago. Digital hurt because of flaws in my playback. Until Oppo I didn’t know whether the cause was in the upstream process, my player, or an inherent part of digital. I believe consumers toy with the idea of finding more listening pleasure in other formats until they can procure a proper digital playback unit. Because the poor playback situation can persist for a long time before it is remedied, habits and prejudices can settle in and take a long time to uproot. I think this is about 50% of the pushback you get from consumers. Businesses are continuing to exploit the situation, but they are hiding the facts from consumers. They will have to hope there isn’t too much of a negative backlash when consumers discover the truth. Thank you, Mark, for continuing to tell the truth.

  3. There’s a sucker born every minute. Kudos to you for not taking their money and running.

    • Take it. Run. I’d rather they throw their money at you Mark, where it will be spend on better digital production, than at some vinyl sleaze telling him it’s the best pressing ever, cryogenically frozen, and trying to upsell it with some exotic sleeve. 🙂

  4. Hi,

    I was reading somewhere that when you say some form of grace before a meal, the meal tastes better. It doesn’t have to be any type of religious prayer – it can be mythical, spiritual or scientific (“Thank you Universe for providing us with animals and plants…”). And the “tasty” factor is not just subjective either – they have measured the pleasure centres of the brain and they are more busy. The food is the same – the ritual is the difference.

    Ritual. Such as taking an albumn down from the shelf, opening it. Removing the disc. Placing it gently on the platter. Moving the needle. Pop, hiss…etc..

    Now…you are listening. And enjoying.

    LPs may not have the fidelity of digital but they have a ritual that focuses your attention. That may be worth the extra few dollars. It may also be why some say that vinyl has better sound than digital – it is because it forces you to listen. Its the ritual.

    • Interesting…I certainly get the ritual part of vinyl LPs.

  5. Or perhaps you could sample some pops and crackles and mix them into a high resolution digital file?!!

    Seriously though, I touched on this issue in reply to another post. Even without known “hi-res” credentials, major labels have been releasing digitally recorded albums on vinyl, at premium prices. It may have started with DJs wanting to mix on twin decks etc.—and then companies recognized it as an extra means of making sales amid the declining popularity of CDs.

    I’m quite happy to buy old LPs (if in good condition), when they come up cheaply, and especially for somewhat obscure classical recordings that may not readily be available on CD or download.
    However, buying a “quasi-analog” product for the sake of it is not my thing. It can be briefly satisfying to drop a nice clean stylus and watch the disc go round, but beyond that… really?!

    • I’m surprised that this digital to analog vinyl LP thing actually works for the vinyl folks. But then again, it may be that they don’t realize that the source was a PCM digital recording.

  6. The only problem is whenever I play a hi-rez file vs a CD vs vinyl to my friends they all prefer the vinyl!!
    This is audiophiles and non-audiophiles.
    There is something that does not relate to resolution or frequency responses. Although I have only heard “Guitar Noir” in 2 channel I would love to hear it on vinyl!

    • I suppose I could process the Guitar Noir record like it was a piece of vinyl. That would mean folding the low end to mono, hyping the high-frequencies and adding a fair amount of surface noise and distortion…and don’t forget the subtle wow and flutter. I do believe that it’s possible for these things to elicit a positive response based on a person’s expectations. It might be worth the experiment but I can’t put in the time. The Christian Jacob recording exists as a piece of vinyl, analog tape, CD and high-resolution file. I’ll see what I can do about preparing a comparison of that project.

      • The public’s love affair with vinyl has a few sub-aspects, but the reaction to the sound is easily explained. After years of harsh, highly compressed digital music files which exhibit as a group a particularly nasty group of distortions, vinyl playback simply lacks these distortion mechanisms and replaces them w/ far more tolerable errors. It’s not complicated; yes, there is the tactile relationship and all that, but I’ve already expressed what is at the core of the positive re-reaction to LP sound.

        • Then why did educated, interested listeners pick the MP3 files over the 96/24 files more than half of the time?

          • Mark,
            I think the “highly compressed” aspect is not the data compression…I’m just guessing that maybe Craig was referring to compression of dynamic range that has taken over in the modern digital era, which can be heard (very loudly) on CD (and of course on MP3 this issue is compounded with lossy compression). In contrast, I feel this dynamic range compression isn’t being done with the mastering performed for the vinyl release. I have seen this so many times, when I compare the CD version versus a modern vinyl version of the album (released at the same time). One of the most striking was Adele’s 19 album. I couldn’t stand the CD release, it sounds flat and dull. This shouldn’t be the case, because she is an incredible vocalist. Yet the vinyl edition was much more pleasant and I thought had more dimensionality to the sound. Maybe it was just the tonal character of vinyl suited the recording, but I don’t think this is the whole story. I’ve listened to your PCM recordings and they are devoid of harshness and have great dimensionality (even in stereo!), so it is possible to have a digital recording that has both detail, low noise and lacks harshness. Anyway, to your comment, I think if you start out with a great recording as yours and don’t mess around with, then the MP3 will sound very good to the average ear on most playback systems.

          • Thanks Todd…very good points. I haven’t heard the Adele vinyl LP but I know the sound of the CD and it’s horrible.

  7. Mark wrote: “I thought about making analog tapes of some of my productions. Transferring older analog tape masters to new analog tapes has worked out really well for The Tape Project…they charge around $300 per album for their releases. I’m confident that a 96 kHz/24-bit stereo PCM master transferred directly to my Nagra IV-S as a first generation tape would eclipse the sound quality of any of any commercially available analog tape on the planet.”

    Why would you do that, you would simply be adding analogue tape noise to the digital recording. The sound of the original 24/96 master (which given that you don’t compress your recordings would be near identical to your blu-ray and DVD-A releases) through a good DAC should be superior.

    • You’re right but if the reel-to-reel crowd is willing to spring for analog tapes to the tune of $300 per album AND I could create them one at a time…I could service them without much hassle. There is a little business man in me.

      • WRS they just wouldn’t fall for it. The (their) argument would be that the original waveform is recorded on analogue (an analogue of it 🙂 and digital would be a (digitized, discrete) compromise of that. And, unless you understand the mathematics behind digital audio it will always get confused with digital video – did that myself, ’till I dug deeper.

        They’d dismiss the digital to open reel transfers, albeit for the wrong reasons.

        • Well, seems there is more than a little bias on both ends of the recording spectrum, e.g. Analog vs Digital. I’ll admit I’m an analog junkie, love tape and love vinyl but also love the idea of streaming HD. Just recently I decided to run a little experiment for myself to compare formats so I downloaded some 96/24 bit stuff and compared it to my 44.1/16 CD of the same song. Clearly the 96/24 was much better. I then decided to put them both on 1/4″ four track tape at 7.5ips at one point feeding the same channel simultaneously from each source to two tracks to compare the sound by pulling my headphones off and on R/L ear. Once again, the sound of the 96/24 was much better. In summary, you can call me a dreamer, but the analog tape made the 96/24 a little smoother and warmer sounding. Digital is nice and clear but it is also sometimes a little sterile. As mentioned by another poster, there are obviously other factors which affect sound and human listening preference besides the number of bits and the sampling rate.

          Now, getting back to the bottom line. No one is producing 7″ quarter track pre-record tapes anymore and the 10.5″ $300 tape project half track tapes are too steep for most people. Used 7″ pre-record tapes are selling for anywhere from an average of $20 to $30 on eBay. And highly desirable picks such as Allman Brothers, Beatles, etc. are selling for $100 or more. Just lay down some HD Tracks on 7″ quarter track tape at 7.5ips and you’ve got the best pre-record tape ever made and no one is making them anymore. Hint, Hint. Just look at the number of these that sell on eBay on a daily basis. Anyway, just a thought. Don’t know if it is a money making proposition or not. All I know is I will definitely buy some more HD Tracks and lay them down on tape. Take Care.

          • I really don’t know how to respond. I love analog too…and I recognize that it has a specific type of distortion and color. The attributes that you prefer are imperfections in the accurate delivery of sound…but can be part of deliberate production goal. Doing a comparison between CD and 96 kHz recordings is a challenge that has not produced any solid results. If you say you can hear…without fail (like Neil Young’s rock start friends)…the difference between an analog master tape transferred to CD res vs. 96 kHz, you’re a better listener than anyone I know. This is what Meyer and Moran showed was a random chance.

  8. Lots of people like the relaxing effect of watching the vynil or reel to reel spin slowly while music plays. This Calls their attention more than a nerdy shiny computer monitor which subconsciously relates to work and stress.

    Also I do believe that some pre-amp implementations may be better (more dynamics for example) in a phono preamp or reel to reel discrete opamp than say in a simple integrated opamp chip of a cheap DAC. The medium is only part of the playback stream, there are also the electronics that differ.

    (for the record I use computer audio exclusively)

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