Dr. AIX's POSTS — 12 July 2015

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When I was approached by Christian Jacob to produce his solo piano “Beautiful Jazz” recording, he told me that he wanted to produce a limited run of vinyl LPs in addition to a standard-resolution CD. I suggested that in order to keep the analog community happy, we should record the project on analog tape and keep all of the post production in the analog world. I own a very fine analog recorder (my Nagra IV-S and QGB large reel adaptor) and it seemed important to keep the project in the analog domain through the entire production process. I couldn’t imagine analog advocates like Michael Fremer and David Pogue accepting anything that was touched by “digits”. In fact, David Pogue wrote me and told me in no uncertain terms that analog tape transfers of my 96 kHz/24-bit analog recordings wouldn’t be interesting to reel-to-reel fans.

But I was wrong. Michael Fremer gave the vinyl LP, limited edition run of Jerome Sabbagh’s “The Turn”, which was created from a mastered high-resolution (88.2 kHz/24-bit PCM) file, the highest possible praise in his online review. The dials on both the music and sound ratings registered 10 out of 10! He wrote:

“I was not prepared for what Sax (Doug Sax – the mastering engineer) and the vinyl playback process had produced: a far more palpable ‘you are there’ sensation, superior transparency and believability (the first rim shot over on the right channel never before set me back in my chair) and especially the sensation of Sabbagh’s sax floating in three-dimensional space between the speakers. It might not to as good as it might have been had no digits gotten in the way, but for whatever reason or reasons, the LP version produced in abundance the colors, textures, natural decay and musical flow the files only hinted at.”

I guess the pure analog signal path of Christian’s “Beautiful Jazz” recording wasn’t a requirement for achieving the best sound. We sure could have saved a lot of money and simply transferred the edited 96 kHz/24-bit PCM files to analog tape after assembling the master on my Sonic’s SoundBlade DAW. The “Beautiful Jazz” project completely avoided “digits” and didn’t go through a couple of unnecessary conversions. And I didn’t master it with EQ and compression. We worked really hard to keep the integrity of the signal path from mic to speaker.

For my next vinyl LP recording and in order to get “superior transparency and believability”, I suppose should record to analog tape (which means being limited to about 60-72 dB of dynamic range…watch out for those rims shots because you’ll need to compress them to avoid clipping on analog tape) and then transfer to a high-resolution PCM file (that if used during the original session could have achieved 120+ of dynamic range and wider frequency response, less speed variations, less distortion etc. than analog tape) prior to going back to analog for the vinyl mastering.

Michael wrote “…the LP version produced in abundance the colors, textures, natural decay and musical flow the files only hinted at.” OK, I get it…he’s a major fan of analog and vinyl LPs. But does anyone really think that producing a music recording using this convoluted signal path, multiple conversions, compression, spatial collapsing of low frequencies, the RIAA curve, and all the rest improves the fidelity of the final product?

I see Michael at the trade shows and he’s always been amicable (unlike many of the other writers that cling to analog) and I’m sure he heard what he wants to hear from this project. But there has to be something else going on. I know he listened to the Christian Jacob “Beautiful Jazz” vinyl release. I’m not sure whether he heard the 96 kHz/24-bit PCM version. But if an accurate reproduction of Christian Jacob playing the Steinway Model D at Zipper Auditorium is what we want, the 96 kHz/24-bit PCM “digits” version will reproduce more colors, more dynamics, more low level “details” than an analog tape rendered out to a vinyl LP. Hands down…no competition.

I have the edited 96 kHz/24-bit PCM unmastered files of “Beautiful Jazz”. No one has ever heard them because Christian was only interested in a CD and vinyl release. I think I’ll contact him and see if he’s be open to making them available on my iTrax.com site. Then Michael and anyone else that believes that analog tape to vinyl can outperform pure high-res PCM will be able to compare the vinyl to the ultimate fidelity of the “digits” version.

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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.

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