Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Natural vs. Analogue vs. Digital vs. Fraunhofer Algorithm processed Music I

Hello again,

after the waves of reaction in the aftermath of the Analoge Forum 2014 in Krefeld have weighed within the discussion about my last article, I took the chance to think a lot about the big differences in  individual perceptions of sound structures again. How can it be, that a certain sound evokes such different reaction by different individual people. Since many years I try to understand if a listening ability is natural born or in difference is a highly trained property, or can it be even either or?

I really do not understand that some people, even if they got used for 20 or 30 years to typical high quality audio equipment, do show such heavy differences with the evaluation of the audible profile? Even some long term compaignons with extremely similar audio components in use astonish me regulary with a completely different interpretation of the together auditioned experiences. Everybody of us might know that professional musicians with some deep and long term listening experience to real music and practice with natural instrumentations, do not share the same evaluation grading, which may be typical for the "audio aficionado". So what makes the difference?
I am not sure, but I think it is quite obvious that the musician "knows" what he hears and therefore is able to make some sort of abstraction as a short cut in his brain. The authentic real sensual impression is overridden by his educated knowledge, the most musicians I do know, can live with a tiny pocket radio as source for their favored music. They don't need any high quality audio equipment imitating wider responses of music to generate this process of abstraction of "understanding".

It might be a bit different with more or less technical orientated and experienced audio aficionados, but finally it comes to similar results. Everybody of us has clear expectations about what we do listen when we know what we are looking at? With other words, do we listen with our eyes and our brain/knowledge instead our ears? The all-time favorite blind listening test always bring out similar results, the most people are unable to resolve just by the pure listening experience, if they do not see what they know… do not know what they see…etc., it is getting difficult to evaluate.
Some other people need to close their eyes to interrupt this typical process of forming in order to improve their sensual audible receptivity.

Since I started to use tube audio equipment in the middle 1980ties the most statements of international audio "experts" seem unanimously to confirm that analog processed audio signals from vinyl record players, tape machines or tuners have a exceptional more natural audio response than the high tech sampled digital formats. Their arguments were chosen to match some of our logical understanding as being a creature of natural conditions and is to be seen in direct opposition to the implementation of digital music as a typical instrumentation of technical ideas as market mechanisms and commercial practices. It is very easy to follow such argumentation for some sort of theorem as our own understanding.
The 'experts' always did state a general unsurpassed quality of analogue formats as to deliver better separated tonalities, improved resolution, refined timing issues, better integration of harmonies, a improved coherence and by far better dynamics than digital stored music formats.  In these days of the advent of a new commercialmedia standard with the PhilipsSony-Audio CD, highly pushed into the market by heroic figures like Herbert von Karajan to create a second flush of income as a result of already existing music as vinyl format, made the whole process of digitization a quite dubious action happening in the "black box" of the new digital world.

I started in late 1980ties with my first Garrard 401/SME 3012/II and Denon DL103 with lead body together with my first tube preamp and Leak tube power amps my own audio experiences in order to explore these enrolled theoretical statements. As well I did spend a fortune in parallel for my first real CD-player, a highly praised Meridian 206 for 3500 German Marks, as to be a important investment for the coming future. To be honest, I never did like the sound of the digital player, it was always drawing a lot to much attention with its extremely detailed sound structure, but in return my analogue set didn't do any better but different… So I found myself trapped in the typical situation of the common audio aficionado, try and error was set up for the coming decades…

I took me 20 years from these early days to work hard at my deep believing into analogue processed music as a better principle with much more natural, deeper, wider, coherent and in every respect improved inner structure of music enabling it to sound in every respect superior to digital. This phrase should have been kept enough controversity to distrust such an idea as being a "egg-laying jack of all trades".
In 1998 I got finally a Platine Verdier turntable which brought me as close it can get into front of vinyl music representation (unfortunately I never had a chance to evaluate master tapes within Telefunken M10 studio tape machines). The magnet bearing player gave me a chance to support my deep conviction about the advantage of millions of more and better stored informations in the groove of the analogue vinyl disc comparing it to the industry standards of digital processed music. I never did question again the hardware again, the improvement to former decks showed me a perfect combination of the best attitudes of both worlds of record players design as a perfect synergetic example. The finesse, calm, resolution and micro dynamic harmonies only known from perfectly isolated sub chassis players on the one hand. On the other hand it merges these attitudes into the powerful, dynamic and expressive performance only known from heavy weight mass players. To my knowledge with this combination of positive effects (maybe not the right word here), it is still in its own class.

So did I send my Meridian CD player into retirement in the late 1990ties and concentrated completely into vinyl based music reproduction. I did collect when I was living in the US a good 2000 vintage first release jazz records from Riverside, Pacific, Contemporary, Verve, Pablo, Impulse, Blue Note, Atlantic, Columbia and a lot more companies released between 1955 to 1969, always believing that the first release is made from the master tape since late releases are made sometimes from transferred copies. Before I had bought lots of rereleased CDs (analogue recorded and mixed and mastered CDs) of the same genres jazz and blues, sometimes even the same records, together with a lot of classical music performed at almost the same time.

Over the 2000nd years I did spend a tremendous amount of time to improve the performance of the vinyl deemphasis within my system of tube preamplification. I did realize a whole bunch of different conceptions of preamps with completely different tube implementations (like triodes in diĆ­fferent modes, like cathode follower designs, SRPP, SE, choke and transformer coupled, as well with DHT, within active and passive standard RC or IC equalization), alway driven from the idea to find the perfect analogue music signal containing pure music.

During these trials I came across that RIAA deemphasis might not be the universal solution, since in history different record companies did implement their own deemphasis filters. I did try to improve the final reproduction stage with variable filters, in oder to compensate the always existing differences between different records and in particular between different brands. But I had to learn that the classic filter with its turning point at 1000Hz and its peaks at 500 Hz and 2120 Hz gives not enough freedom to compensate the wide spread differences pressed into records. The shaping of that filter is a very humble option to compensate these differences, there are a lot of other influences, which have a great effect to final pressed record.
Every analog component in the recording and mixing chain will leave a clear finger print in the final record. Phase shiftings in the whole bandwidth, every microphone, transformer, tube, capacitor, together with different technical principles will shape the sound of a record tremendously. Its mastering with all its components and processes, its stencil cutting and finally the pressing stamp will shape the final product of a vinyl record tremendously. And we are just talking about technology and components, which excludes the most important factor as any sort of processing, the individual influence of human individuals at any stage of the chain.

Read on soon for the next article following these issues, Volker

Reference to the shown miniature speakers was a japanese web page, I was unable to decipher a name of its author, I am sorry for that. I hope the shared attention will be welcome.