Analog is “Dripping With Cool”
There are five studios housed in the AIX Media Group building. Each has variety of analog and digital equipment that is used to produce audio projects. Interestingly, it the AIX Records studio that has the only analog decks but the Astound Studio has racks and racks of analog signal processors. I walked into their room today delivering the mail and got chatting with Greg, a very talented musician and engineer. He’s done a bunch of very high profile work with “Playing for Change” among others. He’s just been hired to engineer a new record for Young the Giant. That’s a big deal…but they won’t be doing the work here.
The production will start in July and occupy three months of so at a studio across town…equipped with a 1″ 8-track Ampex analog tape machine and a vintage analog UA recording console. He sold them on the idea of a completely analog record rather than using the ubiquitous Pro Tools DAW. He told me the band loves the idea of that “fat, warm, distorted analog sound”. The old Ampex machine was originally owned by Les Paul, the father of multitrack recording and inventor of the solid body guitar (not really…there were others that predated the Gibson “Les Paul” model but he gets the credit. The deck has eight channels of tube electronics stacked on top of each other above the transport. And according to Greg, it sound amazing.
There is a whole specialty world of engineers, studio owners, equipment rental houses that cater to musicians and producers seeking a “vintage” sound. T Bone Burnett, the very successful producer and guitar player, is also a major fan of analog tape. What’s old is new again.
Greg was competing for the Young the Giant gig with some other engineers some that have bigger names and more celebrity credits. How did he get the gig? Because he uses a combination of technologies…both analog and digital…and is very open to experimenting with new sounds and techniques. He certainly knows what I’m about and has heard my tracks in my room. I asked him if anyone in his world is aware of high-resolution audio and whether the norm is to record higher than 44.1|48 kHz. The answer is no. Artists and bands that are making hit records couldn’t care less about things that interest audiophiles. They want whatever the hippest, coolest thing of the moment is.
And according to Greg, analog is “dripping with cool” these days. I should take a survey among my engineer friends and ask how they record. I think the trend is to use analog tape or CLASP or some other system that leaves the “sonic dirt and grunge” on the tracks. You don’t really need 192 kHz/24-bits to capture the fidelity of most pop/rock records. Just saying.
28 thoughts on “Analog is “Dripping With Cool””
Could someone (Mark Waldrep?) write an app that would transform a digital master into an analog “master,” or a digital mix indistinguishable from an analog master?
David, it’s already been done. There are more than a few plug ins that “make digital sound analog”. Not sure about app on your phone.
This is why I preach the middle ground.
Production of analog masters with vintage equipment is information that we need when identifying the provenance of a track. The original vintage tracks that Neil Young, Jame Taylor and everyone else made back when vintage equipment was current are incorrectly being elevated to “state-of-the-art” high-res digital by marketers…this is what’s missing in the current environment.
I can relate to the artists’ desires. Come to Nashville Mark, and trip along thru the bars of the unwanted and unknown very talented “nonames” vying for a break. They unzip the wretchedly old 6l6 powered amps and seasoned guitars and let fly with a bouquet of melodious analog. Amazing, the “street talent” one city beholds. Live is live and those that live it, want it in their homes. It may be tape or LP but it sounds like the place
of their favorite drink, and it doesn’t come from a DAC. Cruel and honest as it seems, it fits the bill, dirty air and all. I must admit, sometimes organic grunge, if you will, makes people tap their toes. LES PAUL …boy, would I pay big to hear him anyway I could get it ! For many it’s just emotional attachment, the 0’s and 1’s need not matter…. my expectations are not high when I walk in, but when the tunes make you smile, the content does not matter. I think this is the 99 %, no politics intended.
Now, for the discrete, yes, presentation matters. This is as much about the venue acoustics as the recordings. Rather to have a good sounding room then all the best sounding components in the world. Just saying there’s so much consideration by the multitudes, before provenance and analysis can take their respective place. All this goes to say, there’s no place like live, all chirping aside. Live excuses the room, the equipment , and makes the world seem imperfect as life itself. Though I enjoy cutting edge recordings, my expectations are equally fulfilled when I go out on the town. Hi Rez is what the evening offers.
The sound that musicians produce is their thing…no matter whether is comes out of an aging Fender tweed amplifier or through an expensive guitar cables. What a lot of consumers don’t realize is that the same thing is true about producers and engineers.
It’s not just the pop/rock guys, with the exception of a very few high end labels like yours, the whole recording industry is stuck in this “analog is kool” fad. As you have told us even the guys going digital don’t do better then 24/48. Sad, the ones that aren’t fighting the analog crase don’t care about pushing the SOTA, they just don’t seem to care.
And it’s not just the mastering/mixing crew, no one seems to care about offering the best product possible anywhere in the chain. I don’t know how we got here, this used to be an industry were the developers were excited about their work and bringing real progress to the art of music reproduction. HIGH FIDELITY was a path exciting to walk for everyone involved. Now it’s just a cash cow and the inventive energy is mainly aimed at thinking up the latest snake oil scam.
I will give kudos to the guys at Emotiva. I just got their Stealth DC-1 DAC-Headphone Amp-Preamp a few days back.and for $449 it’s amazing. Great sound, build like a tank, someone there in the Pro division is working hard to deliver a lot of bang for the bunch.
Yes, it’s the one genre where distortion actually improves the signal to noise ratio.
“You don’t really need 192 kHz/24-bits to capture the fidelity of most pop/rock records.”
But afterwards they’ll sell it as 24/96 (or more) for ‘a bit more money’ ;-(
True, 96 kHz/24-bits is more than enough. I would choose 192/24 if the original masters were cut on analog tape.
Was playing around with Google trends and thought this was interesting:
But to see what’s really trending, add spotify as a fourth term.
Interesting, I wasn’t aware of the Google trending thing.
Vive la différence…
I am interested in your comment that PRO tools is ubiquitous having just completed an excellent beginners course on DAWS over at coursera – does that mean no other DAWS are used in pro recording and what are your thoughts on this?
There are devotees of other DAWs. The most popular are Logic, Nuendo, Digital Performer…but Pro Tools is the most dominant.
I’ve learned a lot reading your daily posts. As a 60yr old audiophile, with the exception of recordings made by engineers, like yourself or Bob Atkinson, I still prefer to see AAD on the CD box. Or DSD from start to finish. We all have Cds in our collection that were early adoption of the digital recording DDD, that sound terrible.
What I have learned from you, that really disappoints me is that studios normally record at 44 or 48.
I have jazz remasters that brag on the box 20/96 and later ones that show 24/192. Yes I know I end up with a 16/44, but those CDs do sound better than the earlier transfers. And, yes, I realize that the original source of those transfers may be making the most of original masters, while the original releases could be generations. down.
I’m a Deadhead, and I used to have connections for tapes made at the shows. I’d usually get a second generation cassette. None of those tapers would use Dolby, and I never understood that. It may have just been what the old timers did, so the younger tapers, followed suit. All the mix tapes I made off of vinyl, I used Dolby B. But I could not convince my taper friend to even consider it.
For me, a well recorded event is often more important than how it was laid down, before mixing. It is a shame that compression has just kept getting turned up. One of the writers at Stereophile used to say, the better the recording/audiophile recordings usually had the worst music. I’d like to believe we can have both, but it doesn’t happen often enough.And with master tapes deteriorating as we discuss this, it would be nice if the studios did transfer those over at a minimum of 24/88, better would be 24/176 or 24/192.
I have to clarify for my non-audiophile friends, that I am a music lover first, and audiophile second. I can enjoy music on a transistor radio, but if I have the choice, I’d rather listen on my, by today’s standard, modest audiophile system. And I say modest in that if all bought new and retail, would be worth about $30k.
Mark, keep spreading the word, if the right people hear you, things could change for the better. We need to make hi-rez cool. Neil’s working on it, but he speaks to my generation, not the young people the studios are selling millions of crappy downloads to.
To flesh out my still-moderating sentence above, I simply feel that as with virtually all aspects of life, the major requirement is balance. When you have top professionals achieving success with methods that you find inadequate, it’s kind of like wondering why a top mechanic uses an old, worn wrench. Why? Because they have THE FEEL of this particular tool and can get the results they want with it. Just as with a mastering engineer, it doesn’t matter what tools you use, it’s the results that count. In high-end stereos today, one will frequently encounter systems with both tube and solid state gear being used to achieve the BALANCE of sonic qualities that a given listener desires. Sometimes we all forget what business we’re in; we are in the business of making people happy with our work, no more, no less, at any level. If end users are HAPPY, we have BUSINESS. If they are not happy, no business. I don’t mean to reduce matters to a simplistic analysis, but my 4 decades of intense involvement as a high-end system designer, vendor, installer, rabid, long-term consumer, performing and recording artist have boiled down to “the HAPPY business,”, meaning whatever it takes to keep critical, sensitive clients completely happy with what they hear at home. As for which tools are “best”, I would simply say that there are many roads to Rome.
Craig, you continue to attribute beliefs or concepts to my statements that I’ve never said. I have never said that analog tools and vintage equipment are inadequate to delivering compelling music experiences. Quite the contrary, I support everyone having the option to produce or consume whatever format they enjoy. What I rail against is the mislabeling or lower fidelity methods as high-resolution. We’ve been through this many times before…high-resolution download sites should avoid high-res and stick with master source fidelity…or even Pono’s “best resolution available”. Making people HAPPY shouldn’t include lying to them.
Actually Mark, we agree on most ideas and audio realities. I do definitely feel that all your criticisms are based on a mistake that is obviously not benefitting you OR Neil Young. This whole mess would have been avoided if the term was simply “First Gen Sound.” It is the use of the moniker Hi-Res and the somewhat pointless technical standards behind it that are the excess fuel for these dialogues which obviously extend well beyond either of our viewpoints. All anybody wants is the very best available iteration of music they love. Best, Craig
There marketers at the various organizations and labels took over the term “high-resolution audio” to maximize profits on older catalog. You’re right, the better choice would have been “first generation sound” or as I prefer “master source” quality. There is real high-resolution audio but it’s not the stuff that Neil sells or any of the other sites.
Hi Mark, we now see things much more eye to eye, thanks so much for the ongoing dialogue. Yes, both your ‘true’ hi-res work and all the fine-sounding but only quasi-hi-res releases are being treated poorly by the hi-res moniker simultaneously, not enough benefit, too much harangue that I’m sure you would have been happy to avoid just as would have I. You’ve been campaigning for an accurate iteration of hi-res, I’ve been campaigning for folks simple desire to hear their beloved music in the very best sonic iteration possible regardless of (artificial) classification and with the least off-putting confusion possible. The way matters are being handled at all ends has served neither your goals or mine, and it’s very gratifying that we share more common ground than different. Best, Craig.
Signs of progress Craig. Getting the different “potential” levels of fidelity corrected identified is my goal. So there’s no such thing as “quasi High-Res”. And my stuff and the stuff of 2L is not “true” HD in quotes…it is the real deal…and the only level deserving of that name. The chart I’ve been working on is going to a lot of press, retailers, manufacturers, magazine editors, bloggers, and consumers…it makes things pretty clear. The High-Res terminology should be avoided for almost everything available.
When I bought audio equipment in the 80’s my preference was ” Rock & Roll “. The owner of the store, an old hat at the game, used to tease me that my music was “Boom Chink”. This style is dramatic in it’s basic appeal, but probably does not need your level of fidelity. Hopefully mature guys, who appreciate your craft retain their hearing.
Never mind the coolness thing, Mark. The band will also probably want their album to be released on ultra kool vinyl, with cover art shot in artsy black and white (using film of course). Let them. Like any fad, it will pass.
There’s also good news. Three journalists and an editor of a leading Dutch national newspaper decided to settle once and for all whether the difference between MP3, CD and hi-res was audible or not. The proceedings were led by the mastering engineer of a famous sound studio. None of them ‘audiophiles’, they concluded that the difference between 320k MP3 and CD was audible, but not very big. Only in direct A/B comparisons they could clearly tell.
However, here it comes, they were all blown away by hi-res quality! In fact, they found the difference between CD and hi-res a lot bigger than between MP3 and CD.
The article didn’t state exactly what they have been listening to, but I thought that was good news.
I’d love to see the test that you mentioned. It’s important to know what they played, on what equipment and most importantly that everything was sourced appropriately. I have my doubts but am always open to discovering new research.
The test was done in the mastering room of the famous Wisseloord studios in Holland, by the mastering engineer, equipped with 5 Egglestonworks Savoys, each powered by a Krell Evolution 400e monoblock.
First the engineer demonstrates the effects of the loudness war on music, and especially the disastrous effect of clipping on MP3’s. They listen and judge streaming services. Through phase reversal he demonstrates that only Tidal and Qobuz offer true cd quality. Of the rest, only Deezer and Spotify offer acceptable quality, according to all.
For highresaudio (as it’s called in the article) the engineer plays a recording of a piano piece, first in cd quality than in high resolution. No further details are given, but the newspaper men report to be unanimously stunned by the difference. Then the engineer plays Marcus Miller, again no details given, but again the company hears the difference.
Sorry, no provenance, nor whether they listened to stereo or surround. I could expand but this is the main story of a well written the article. It didn’t contain the usual myths and clichés about (digital) audio, high end and HD. These guys were just skeptical and wanted to know. Now they do.
Thanks very much Leo…this sound very interesting and should garner some attention.
Great message. Anyone who has spent decades listening to typical consumer formats and is then exposed to master tape grade sound will hear it unless the demo is screwed up. Much more music and notably less distortion is obvious, easily, to anyone with working ears.