[LAU] Pro Audio? OT rant.

Brent Busby brent at keycorner.org
Mon Dec 24 16:38:18 UTC 2012

On Mon, 24 Dec 2012, Thomas Vecchione wrote:

> Your McDonalds analogy would be a better analogy if applied to lossy 
> compression, and MP3 in particular, rather than Digital vs Analog.  A 
> more suitable analogy for digital vs analog is going to the fine 
> restaurant, having an amazing meal, and then being able to reproduce 
> the exact same meal every time(Digital), whereas a chef might make 
> small changes to the recipe(Analog).

Actually I think the thing with analog is that while it's not sonically 
accurate, the inaccuracies are often musical and pleasant (though that 
may be more true to older people who are used to the sound of tubes and 
tape than younger people who are used to MP3's and digital aliasing 
artifacts).  A lot of the warmth that people associate with an analog 
signal is harmonics that were not even in the original signal to begin 
with -- but few can argue that they sound good!  That's the whole point 
of tube compressors and preamps...not to sound accurate, but to sound 
even better than accurate.

After a lifetime of listening to tape saturation and harmonics from tube 
coloration, accuracy is so...boring.

> The Shannon-Nyquist theorem was absolutely the primary inspiration 
> behind the choice of sample rates of CD.  The theorem states that you 
> can reproduce exactly any frequency that you sample at over twice the 
> frequency.  So when 44.1 was chosen, it allows for any frequency up to 
> just above 22kHz to be reproduced exactly.  The limits of the average 
> undamaged human hearing is 20kHz, and the average limit for typical 
> adult hearing is probably closer to the 18k range if the ears were 
> well taken care of.  For most people that listened to loud music, etc. 
> that limit is probably much lower.

The really nice part about that (especially for people like me who 
actually have damaged their hearing in some frequency zones due to 
unwise loud playing of the ride cymbal bell and such things as that) is 
that fortunately, most of the frequencies that really make people groove 
aren't up in the >10kHz range anyway.  People really respond to bass and 
mids, even upper midrange, but if you give people too much high treble, 
unless it's really smooth, it can be described by so many fairly 
negative adjectives: metallic, harsh, cold, tinny, abrasive, clangy. 
Most people like warm recordings.  Those near ultrasonic frequencies 
usually just aren't that big a part of the music.

>> I also understand that vinyl is now increasingly (very slowly though) 
>> becoming the preferred medium for listening to music.
> Not according to any resource I can think of.  Apple certainly isn't 
> selling portable vinyl players.  100% of the systems I design and 
> install for commercial, house of worship, etc. applications have not 
> used vinyl.  I can't think of the last time I pulled out a vinyl 
> record player.  Not going to say that some people don't prefer it, and 
> I encourage them to if that is what floats their boat, but the VAST 
> majority of people are using digital for many reasons that were listed 
> by Monty Montgomery.

Actually, the original poster is correct -- vinyl is the connoisseur's 
prefered format...but for reasons that most of the people using it don't 
understand themselves.

One would be correct to point out that it's an inferior medium.  Its 
frequency response is poorer, it wears out every time you use it, the 
stereo channel separation is awful, it's plagued with background hiss 
and rumble, and it has limited dynamic range.  But...

* Recording and mastering from multitrack tape to vinyl is a process 
that is over eighty years old.  There has been time for masters to learn 
from masters, and for their masters to learn from other masters.  It's 
an art and a science in itself now.  By the time the zenith of the 
analog era came (late 70's to early 80's), there were recording 
engineers who were positively wizards at making that format sound good. 
Consequently, most of the LP's one might ever hear sound absolutely 
marvelous in every way that musically counts, regardless of whatever 
shortcomings the actual medium might have.

* Digital recording and mastering to CD on the other hand has been a 
comedy of errors since the day it came out, even if for no reason that's 
actually a fault of the actual media format.  In the 80's, people were 
using terrible analog/digital converters, often handled audio at 16-bit 
depth from start to finish with no headroom for errors, and were 
directed by the studio lords to hastily convert as much of the labels' 
back catalog of albums to digital as fast as possible (which they 
did...sloppily).  Consequently, to this day, half the best albums of the 
70's and 80's are best heard on vinyl, because the CD versions were done 
with no love (or brains).

* In the 90's, analog/digital converters continued to be horrible, and 
digital recording was still a learning experience even for the "pros." 
Another trend I remember from that era was the practice of putting lots 
of digital reverb on almost every track...probably a bad thing to do 
during an era when digital reverbs were...not exactly the best I've ever 
heard.  Though that part in particular had nothing to do with CD's 
themselves, that too probably contributed to making albums sound even 
more grainy and metallic than they were already bound to do.  Also, one 
word: ADAT.  Enough said there...

* Now, in the 2000's, we have the so-called "loudness wars," in which 
every commercial production house seems mentally driven to make dynamic 
range a thing of the past.  Since the albums of this era are seldom put 
out on vinyl, this guarantees that the follies of the 2000's will not 
taint vinyl's good reputation for excellent production (even if the 
reasons have nothing to do with vinyl).

What we have here is going on almost thirty years of a good format 
almost never done well, and an older poor format almost always done 
well.  The listener only cares that s/he gets an album that sounds good. 
Regardless of the fact that vinyl is an inferior format, are the 
listeners really wrong to choose the format that gets them their music 
in a way that sounds right?  The fact that they're wrong about the 
reasons doesn't take away from the fact that, in the end, a vinyl record 
is far less likely to be a butchered up product than a CD.

Wow...that ended up being longer than I thought.

(And let's not even get into why people like analog synthesizers better. 
That's a related but still different conversation...)

+ Brent A. Busby	 + "We've all heard that a million monkeys
+ Sr. UNIX Systems Admin +  banging on a million typewriters will
+ University of Chicago	 +  eventually reproduce the entire works of
+ James Franck Institute +  Shakespeare.  Now, thanks to the Internet,
+ Materials Research Ctr +  we know this is not true." -Robert Wilensky

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