Wednesday, 3 December 2014

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

Hello to everybody,

interested to follow on. In my last article I did end describing that my believe into the superiority of analog audio reproduction has had almost religious qualities, based on a deep believe, breaded by several "audio mullahs" of the orthodox conservative brotherhood of vinyl junkies.
I did believe for almost my whole life within audio components, that analog play back is superior to any digital technology. I spend 25 years of faithfulness, energy, money to find that believe confirmed by complex evaluations. To be honest, even with substantial input into my system (I did ignore for 15 years any digital source) I never reached a stage of perfection, where I would subscribe with real empiric experience this sort of "religious confirmation". I did always buy the vinyl record if there was any, even when I already had the CD. My long term experience from the early 1990 years with digital music had shown me a poor source, when evaluated with higher degrees of audio program. The mistake once I did made with this score can be cleared up today. The digital program material was mainly based to analog recorded, mixed and mastered material transcribed to CD. Music which had already all the fingerprints typically imprinted from loads of analog components within their production, but with a additional stage of influence, the remastering for digital, cannot sound any better than its original. Every step of reproduction leaves a clear finger print, but in these days digital stored music was the "jack of all trades", able to solve unknown problems – in theory.

It took a long time that my music taste changed to more contemporary performed music of younger generation musicians. Together with my interest to manage my small digital self recorded music library  from my computer, I started in 2005 to play music from there using an audio interface. It didn't take long, that I worked out that my "old school dac" (Meridian 263) did a good job to convert the digital stream into analog audio signals, a lot better than my interface was able to. And in detail after several evaluations with modern "high resolution" dacs, it showed up with the old truth that mainly the analog output stage converters make a audible difference, in particular with following tube preamplifiers and the their input impedance preferences. But as well a solid designed audio output stage made with single coupled transistors, or even better with tubes, bring the dramatic dynamic changes into view, it is not the dac topology in general. The always as standard implemented op-amps here for the analog amplification stage is the foremost achilles' heel and dramatically reduce the finalized output quality.

The album was Archie Shepp's On Green Dolphin Street, became the first digitally-recorded album in the history of jazz music  was made by Denon.

During experiences with my own digital recordings and first results with audio software for a computer based audio workflow from 2005 on, brought out several findings about digital influences to the final result. Different resolution options and compression settings showed me their inherent limiting issues, together with the effects of variated word length rates, the influence of general sampling rates higher than 44,1 kHz up into actual regions of 192 kHz have been tested for superiority.
To me the so called "high resolution"-audio formats (96, 192, 384 or more kHz with 16, 32, 64 and more bits word length), mainly introduced as argument to find new selling options within a shrinking market of downloaded or streamed music formats, are in a high resolution audio chain of completely negligible importance for the quality of audio performance (believing trust). While any sort of digitally introduced compression algorithm is clearly accompanied with a precisely defined loss of micro information, phasing, spacing and dynamic ability. I do not know one audio system where such values are able to determine audible qualities of any importance!
In the age of component less music consumption, relying to the smartphones as universal remote control for any question of todays life and here more or less as converting unit into the analog music signal, another belief takes ground, the religion of zero and one always to be the same figures...

When I started to transcribe my own vinyl collection into digital, it was supported from the believe to preserve the better i.e. "richer" sound of analog vinyl on to digital. I tried with different methods and recording hardware (in "old school"-terms hardware has had always a tremendous influence to audible sound quality, believing again) to find the best possible sound quality for my recordings. So I did use the first Philips/Marantz professional CD-recorder (Marantz CDR600 with the built in legendary first laser burning mechanism with a unsurpassed burning depths for long term archival storage at golden CD-Rs Philips made). I did try with professional DAT tape recorders as well, as I did do HD- recording with stand alone machines and finally I did use my computer with audio interfaces and software to optimize my recordings. I spend a lot of time into that research with the result, that I could not rate any recording principle as to be superior in terms of audible qualities. Only the comfort of use, the spend input of energy and time, as the ease of storage, did finally determine my decision. I even pulled out my old Meridian CD-player to try another step to use hardware for playing digital stored music, but I stayed more or less with the computer and sold all specialized hardware, a step I did explain myself to set for future demands …

I still did believe into my analog system with a Platine Verdier turntable, SME 3012 tonearm, Ortofon SPU pick up and extremely complex tube amplified phono amplifier with inductive equalization to be state of the art. Vinyl is clearly listenable to be the "richer" format, specially when it comes to typical vintage vinyl and so it stated these arguments to be highly superior. The black box of digital data generation can always be seen in contrast as some sort of "diabolic mystic conviction" and with its inherent mathematical system as a true unnatural operating generator, it can be seen as a complete opposite of the musical instrumental origin.
Further religions: US Americans need firearms for better safety, earth warming is not affected by humans, German cars are best in the world and several other ideas withstanding any serious intelligent approvable investigation are of similar significance.

Using the computer for audio storage brings several other questions into account. As photographer and graphic designer I have learned my whole life to work with Macintosh hard- and operating software to optimize analog products. A obvious decision in the first move was to use iTunes for the organization and storage of my still not really seriously taken digital music library. And there is the question of the finalized format included, several compression formats are existing, as well the newer Fraunhofer variant of Mp3, the Lossless format can be a serious option, apple supports the most of them, others don't. And what are the formats in the coming future? The hall of fame of rejected data formats and carrying hardware has grown to a football field size hall of confuse within the digital age, if you just recall 5,25'' floppy disks or optical disks of different manufacture. Today we use clouds (not me) and hard disks for storage, what will be the technology in five years time? Do we need to own our music or will it change completely to cloud streaming with flat rates? It will depend as well on our relationship to our music. Since I don't need any shuffle playing option from my library, others prefer such a undirected support of all-time background music. On the other hand, when I have stopped once playing some of my albums, I hardly find back to them, so I might not need to own them for a lifetime period.
But what when it will happen like in 1995 again, when almost all new produced music sold as vinyl format disappeared for the CD, and today the CD as medium will disappear together without any option to get the same audio standard in other form, it might be getting difficult. My digital preference for my library requires "red book standard" as minimal resolution option, any lower option is not acceptable in audible terms!

Today all recordings are made with solely digital production parameters, where almost all steps of mixing, refinement, manipulation and mastering are introduced in the digital stage. Here now the typical fingerprint of each component and part known from former analog productions is almost invisible for a all around neutrality. This effect creates a much much better general audio quality as average result, comparing it with the early 1990ties. Modern digital recordings can be compared in quality terms within a range of deviation with maximum of 10% divergence, they differ mainly in terms of captured overall dynamics and lost of micro detail, values absolutely unknown from analog vinyl productions, where the captured quality differs to my estimation for more than 50%.

Read on soon, 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.

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