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First generation CD players - how good?

Difficult?

Difficult?

The only way I can see to resolve this is very expensive!

Hire some musicians and a studio and conduct a triple blind test in the control room. The 3 sources would be.

1. Live
2. Recorded digitally at 44.1kHz 16bit
3. Recorded analog using the best machine available, correctly lined up etc.

This wouldn't be an easy task switching seamlessly between sources, but it may come up with some interesting results.
 

A.S.

Administrator
Staff member
A simple way to prove this

A simple way to prove this

The only way I can see to resolve this is very expensive!

Hire some musicians and a studio and conduct a triple blind test in the control room. The 3 sources would be.

1. Live
2. Recorded digitally at 44.1kHz 16bit
3. Recorded analog using the best machine available, correctly lined up etc.

This wouldn't be an easy task switching seamlessly between sources, but it may come up with some interesting results.
No, I don't think that's necessary, although it would be quite a lot of fun. Surely we can approach this from an intellectual, logical angle and get to a rock-solid result in a fraction of the time.

Let's look at the position we are at. The Original Poster believes, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that analogue tape recording somehow captures or preserves more of the original sound. I'm not quite sure what that magical element can be, but let's run with that idea for a moment.

As I made abundantly clear in my video talk-through, the No.1 killer problem with analogue anything - be it tape, FM radio, vinyl or even the circuits in the studio mixing console or the microphones themselves - is the self-generated background hiss level, which is horribly high on analogue. As I showed, once a signal in the music, or a tone, is of a level that it is quieter than the background hiss, it's smothered and lost forever. Random noise - hiss - can't yield-up music again; once music is buried under hiss it's gone forever. I hope we don't have to prove that.

We know, from the spectral plots and from a basic understanding of analogue and digital audio, that the signal-to-noise ratio of analogue tape is about 60dB or so at best. We know that the background noise level of typical digital is 100dB or so. That 40dB difference in self-noise represents 100 times (40dB = 100 times). In other words, the self generated background noise in a typical digital system is one hundred times lower than a very good analogue one. Within that 100 times, there are microtones in the music which will be lost as hiss in the analogue system but cleanly and clearly reproduced in the digital system. They may or may not be important to our enjoyment of the music.

We also know that in the analogue tape era, before digital and digital multi-track recorders started to appear, that pop musicians routinely layered or bounced-down tracks so that they could listen to themselves on headphones, and play along, building up an entire orchestra if they wished, instrument by instrument. Todd Rundgren is an example of a musician who used the layered-audio technique, as did the Beatles along with everyone else. The consequence of bouncing-down tracks on the analogue tape recorder is that in effect, the audio is being repeatedly re-recorded, played off-tape track 1, 2 and 3 and re-recorded onto track 4, mixed together. This gave an artistic advantage because it freed-up tracks 1, 2 and 3 for recording new instruments but resulted in a furry, softened, lifeless sound due to the inter-generational degradation of re-re-re-recording. The remastering industry was born to revert to the original multi-track tapes, where available, and to capture those onto digital and perform the mix-down to stereo in the digital domain. It works perfectly and has opened up the sound - the recent Supertramp Crime of the Century is a great example in most of the tracks.

So, knowing this is how the 60's and 70s record industry worked, we can use this knowledge to grade the sonic merits of analogue tape or digital recording.

This is what we do. We can do this with two analogue tape recorders A and B or we can use a digital recorder in lieu of B, call that C

1. We pick a recording, digital preferably, and we record it to analogue tape A as Pass 1
2. We rewind Pass 1 and play it
3. We record Pass 1 onto analogue machine B (or C) as Pass 2
4. We rewind Pass 2 and play it
5. We record Pass 2 onto analogue machine A as Pass 3

and we repeat a few more times until we have, say, Pass 5, the fifth generation of the analogue original.

We splice together analogue Pass 1 and Pass 5 and listen. We weep. The 5th generation is a travesty.

Or we perform the same process entirely in the digital domain using uncompressed WAV audio. We repeat the process 50 times and we compare the source with the 50th generation. I'd be very surprised if we can hear any difference at all.

If we hear any difference at all between analogue Pass 1 and Pass 5, and we hear no difference between digital Pass 1 and Pass 50, we simply cannot say that the analogue system is transparent. We could reasonably conclude that the digital system is sufficiently neutral that for all practical purposes it can faithfully capture, hold and replay the entire music performance and that of a performance already captured and stored by analogue means. In other words, it has a huge safety margin over the best analogue system.
 
Now way

Now way

For interest, I came across a website today, written by a recording engineer, who covers many of the ideas, issues and controversies about the audio world in a similarly robust and logical manner.

The topic of analogue and digital recording and playback, as well as furthering the arguments around "hi-def" audio are given a very thorough look through.

More than a few "debunking" articles surrounding recent marketing for higher resolution streaming included. Interestingly, the most cogent arguments are for audio fans to concentrate on getting the studios to produce better recorded music first and foremost. The various issues around recording artifacts and playback problems are diligently covered.

I'd be pleased to hear what people on this forum think of the articles posted there.

Here is the link : http://www.realhd-audio.com/?cat=45

Most relevant, is an article entitled, "Analogue Tape as High-Resolution? No Way." http://www.realhd-audio.com/?p=1598
 

willem

Well-known member
Prove it

Prove it

DP 100 has a methodological point. However, if analogue is superior, he should be able to demonstrate that successive generations of digital copies deteriorate from one generation to the next, whereas his analogue copies do not.

Doing the experiment in this way allows each type of recording to remain true to type as long as the original recording was done in parallel.
 

IMF+TDL

Active member
Is the objective evaluation of a recording device not sufficient?

Is the objective evaluation of a recording device not sufficient?

I am not writing off the CD-system as an intellectual effort, like you insinuate, rather I criticise it for what it promises (perfect sound forever) but fails to deliver. Nothing is ever perfect in this world, but that's okay. We live with the compromises we have to make - which in itself is a challenge. I think that CD as a mass-market medium, with its convenience and storage space, is excellently positioned to cater to anybody who wants convenient access to music. It is from a quality standpoint just not the best medium available to us. And I am not alone in this point of view. See the comments/articles by a few distinguished industry professionals I have included below.

http://www.stereophile.com/interviews/james_boyk_all-tube_analog/index.html
http://www.searsound.com/pdf/recordedsoundsucks.pdf
The Boyk interview is nearly 30 years old. Certainly there has been some technical progress in converter design during the intervening time period.
Also, Boyk asks which sounds "better" - it's the "pleasant" versus "accurate" debate all over again.
Same for Sear - he asks which do you like, not which is more accurate.

For a somewhat different view: http://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/peter-mcgrath-recording-engineer/
Note the comment: "...if the engineer used good microphones and minimum processing even standard CDs can sound very much like music. What sounds horrible are bad microphones, bad processing, too much compression, too much manipulation of the data."

In 2013 I conducted a test to investigate the quality of digital vs analog recording.

At a friends home, who owns a magnificent Bechstein baby grand, we set up for recording in his living room. The analog rig was comprised of my Studer A810 master recorder, equipped with "butterfly" heads and aligned to Ampex 456 tape. We used a matched pair of Schoeps condenser microphones with MK4 cardioid capsules and Schoeps CMC5 amplifier modules, ...

The digital recording chain comprised of exactly the same equipment, except of course for the Studer. For digital a Tascam DA-40 DAT-recorder was used. A well-respected unit found in plenty of recording studios, with onboard A/D and D/A converters operating at 44.1 kHz and 16 Bit resolution, thus complying to Red Book standards.

[snip]

The conclusions of the panel were unanimous, regardless which speaker/amp combination was in use during playback. It was found that analog tape had so much more substance to the sound; the panel referring to it in terms like "the piano has incredible body", "the sound is more of a whole (compared to digital)", "more bloom", "realistic ambiance", "clear overtones" and "trueness of timbre".
Digital tape by comparison was found sounding "flat", "steely", "lacking depth", "lifeless", "harsh" and "fatiguing".
Look at the published specifications for the Studer A810. Are any of them superior to those of the DAT recorder?

Why conduct a subjective comparison test?
You could have used test tones from a signal generator and then objectively measured and compared the flatness of frequency response and the quantity of distortion, noise and pitch instability that was introduced by either recording medium.

Incidentally, how would you go about measuring such parameters as "bloom," "ambiance," "timbre," "steely," "lifeless," "harsh," "fatiguing," etc.?
 
H

hendrik

Guest
A reinterpretation of the truth

A reinterpretation of the truth

Propose a thesis like this to your science professor in university and you will be laughed right out of college!
I think most of the comparison clips here are meant to make something clear in everyone's perception. An eyeopener for me was the clip with the a little amount of hiss added, the result was the illusion of more space ( you can also call it "bloom" :)) in the music but is was nothing more than a manipulated trick and had nothing to do with the original recording. In my perception analogue can sound more natural for different reasons but one thing is absolutely clear... it is your individual taste and has nothing to do with the original facts.

The problem starts when emotions are involved.
 

A.S.

Administrator
Staff member
Another way of proving digital transparency

Another way of proving digital transparency

For making the multi-generational digital audio comparison, my thinking was to burn generation after generation to physical CDs, rip them and repeat: record, burn, rip, record, burn, rip..... That's going to take days, little by little.

Digital Audio Tape (DAT) has already been mentioned, and uses a very similar linear, uncompressed recording system to RedBook CD itself. I have two DAT recorders and plenty of DAT tape and it would be possible to make, say, 10 generations of copy in a hour or so, passing the audio as playout from one to record on the other and back again, and make 50 genrations after a solid day's effort. DAT was extensively used in recording before direct to disc digital became available, and has excellent technical credentials. It's only real weakness as a format was the limited recording span onto digital tape (practically about 120 mins/stereo), and the relative fragility of the thin tape, and of course, the fact tht is a mechanism based medium, like analogue. But sonically, it was and is a perfectly good format, as we know CD to be.

The only practical difference between CD and DAT is that it has a default 48k sampling/16 bit; CD is 44.1k/16 bit, but that difference is really irrelevant for normal audio. I'll check if these two DAT machines still work and what sampling options they have.

I also have dusted down my own Studer 810 (same as original poster's) and own Studer 807 analogue reel to reel machines, and I'm sure that I have a couple of reels of Ampex too. It seems a pity that I have to again make the personal effort, in my free time, to debunk this issue which was never invited or encouraged here when it had been covered before. This is just a rediscussion of alchemy with the same tragically predictable outcome. There is not one professional classical recording engineer in ten thousand who has confidence in analogue recording. If anyone laughed, it is them. Are they all paid fools and deaf? Apparently they all are, to a man.

Photos of my machines to follow over the w/end.

As for the DAT format "If a digital source is copied then the DAT will produce an exact clone" read more here. The issues with analogue tape have been very well understood and appreciated since the 1950s. Jay McKnight is a world authority on tape, manufacturer of the MRL alignments tapes. Copy of one of his overviews attached.

>
 
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anonymous

New member
Total waste of time.

Total waste of time.

It seems a pity that I have to again make the personal effort, in my free time, to debunk this issue which was never invited or encouraged here when it had been covered before. This is just a redicussion of alchemy with the same tragically predictable outcome. There is not one professional classical recording engineer in ten thousand who has confidence in analogue recording. If anyone laughed, it is them. Are they all paid fools and deaf? Apparently they all are, to a man.
You really shouldn't bother wasting your time on it. Those who are already convinced about the transparency of digital (i.e. the mass of humanity) don't need any further convincing, and those who are still resistant to this idea won't be convinced, regardless of what you or anyone else says or does.

I hadn't seen that Boyk article trotted out in a long time. This part of the interview holds true:

The received wisdom is laid down by the people with loudest the voices.
That's certainly true in the world of high end audio.

As an aside, can anyone provide a link to the BBC report that Boyk references?

The BBC recently came out with a report intended to answer the question "How many bits do you really need to handle music as it comes straight from the microphone without any compression, limiting, or dynamic processing?" They came up with 22 bits per sample—the current standard is 16. This is inconceivably higher resolution than anything we have available now, or anything that companies are even dreaming of.
 

A.S.

Administrator
Staff member
Rational debate

Rational debate

You really shouldn't bother wasting your time on it. Those who are already convinced about the transparency of digital (i.e. the mass of humanity) don't need any further convincing, and those who are still resistant to this idea won't be convinced, regardless of what you or anyone else says or does...
Thanks, well I won't then. But be in no doubt that I could, and I would prove beyond a shadow of doubt that analogue recording only just about works not because of the superiority of the human ear but the very opposite: the paucity of the ear's resolution acuity.

In the Harbeth stores found 2 new 10" NAB reels of Ampex 456, data sheets for same, and page 1 from an interesting article from technical expert Prof. John Watkinson about the DAT (or R-DAT) format. The opening paragraph neatly summaries the entire analogue/digital record/replay situation. I don't see him laughing. Far from it.

>
 
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Ned Mast

Member
Waste of your time

Waste of your time

I agree with anonymous. Use your valuable time for something more productive than dealing with an issue that has already been settled.
 

anonymous

New member
Sound interaction with analogue medium

Sound interaction with analogue medium

This was interesting, and the same point surfaces, following from Watkinson's comment.

Recorded in both formats, people can choose for themselves, but this professional recording engineer makes it clear that what he likes about tape is that it affects the signal from the mic and mic preamps.

http://recordinghacks.com/2013/01/26/analog-tape-vs-digital/

All-in-all it was a good experiment and well worth the extra mile. For the drums and bass, the [analogue] tape certainly added a punchiness that would otherwise take a bit of [signal] processing to achieve. The electric guitars benefited from the rounding off that the [analogue] tape provided on certain tracks and on others I like the clarity of digital signal.

Acoustic guitar didn’t really work for me on [analogue] tape, and piano was a mixed bag.

For day-to-day recording I don’t have the luxury of [analogue] tape, but for the important projects or the special case where a certain [sound-]color is desired, [analogue] tape can certainly add its sonic signature. As for printing my stereo mixes to tape vs digital… don’t get me started…
 

EricW

Active member
Vintage art sound

Vintage art sound

I thought this was interesting (extracted from comment #6 to the article, emphasis added):

In the 90’s I used to print my final mixes from an analog [mixing] console to half-inch [analogue] tape and also digitally to DAT at 16bit, 48khz (the best at the time). During mastering, I always liked the sound of the DAT, but sometimes the tape compression from the analog tape helped glue the mix together. The mastering engineer had to find the best repro settings for his [anaolgue] tape machine (which was sometimes a different brand or model than the one I used to print the mixes) and there was a lot of room for error as far as noise, azimuth, repro equalization, etc… The DAT recording, on the other hand, sounded exactly the same as the console output (with the limitations of the A-D converter). These days, I don’t like the noise floor or low frequency response of half-inch tape, or the formulations of the tape that currently available and I would much rather use stereo bus [electronic EQ] processing to achieve the compression, eq and limiting for my masters.

If your goal is to create the vintage sonics of the 70s and 80s, then [analogue] tape may be a fun way to go. I just find the deficiencies of tape, along with the difficulties of sourcing [analogue] tape and getting a proper [analogue] machine setup lower the audio quality too much these days.
 

A.S.

Administrator
Staff member
Inescapable realities, no matter how you cut the cake

Inescapable realities, no matter how you cut the cake

I see a certain tired inevitability running through all observations concerning recording to analogue media. This issue has surely been flogged to death a hundred times and the conculsion is always the same. In the same way that a fine oil painting creates a pleasing rendition of the original scene, the digital format captures the light rays that actually enetered the artist's eye, obeserving the scene. And so it is with sound.

The critical point is not to make the intellectual mistake of confusing pleasure with accuracy. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the pleasure gained from a rendition, but it is not accurate in a forensic sense.
 

chartz

New member
Oldies and goodies

Oldies and goodies

This one year-old thread has been a thoroughly fascinating read!

I have first generation CD players - including the good old CDP-101 - and shame on me I love them all and find nothing missing in their sound, in spite of everything that the nay-sayers tell about them.

Statements like "treble that could skin a cat" amuse me at best. Nothing like that I find. Perhaps the dull LP12 systems of yore did that, I don't know.

Thanks Alan for your unbiased views on digital versus analogue.
 

acroyear

Active member
Precisely the same?

Precisely the same?

This one year-old thread has been a thoroughly fascinating read!

I have first generation CD players - including the good old CDP-101 - and shame on me I love it and find nothing missing in its sound, in spite of everything that the nay-sayers tell about them.

Statements like "treble that could skin a cat" amuse me at best. Nothing like that I find.

Thanks Alan for your unbiased views on digital versus analogue.
If the treble was so bad on those old models that would surely have been an obvious and problematic flaw if the higher frequencies were elevated artificially and even then easily remedied by the engineering at the time? even with some type of tone control or other internal device.

It is nice to know that we can pick up pretty much any CDP and have it function precisely like any other....that surely saves us a lot of $ for important purchases.
 
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