Sunday, 14 December 2014

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

Hello to everybody at the christmas holidays,

I will try now to finalize my series of articles about different recording and storage methods of audio information. So far I have tried to describe the holy religious believe into the audible improved qualities of analog mediums like vinyl records or reel tape. As well I did start to describe my experiences with digital stored information and tried as well to difference out a variety of different sampling and word length formats. I did try to describe arguments of availability for different stored formats, the massive influence of hardware to the performance and their comfort of use. Today I want to find final arguments about these topics, since some sort of serious discussion will not start throughout this blog, even when I did try find provocative thesis's and arguments for one or another strategy.

As I did describe before, I have a huge collection of vintage vinyl. I did concentrate my collecting to first releases of recordings in the fields of Jazz, Blues and some classical chamber music. I did collect with a general interest into a diverse range of interprets in different fields of practice. Just to give some examples, I did collect saxophone performed music and did try to complete the original recordings (only EP and LP) from the most well known musicians of this genre. So I got a range from Coleman Hawkins to Archie Shepp, from 1948 to today with 30 and more records of lets say the 20 best saxophone players of all time each. Next to a whole lot of dedicated jazz music as well with female voices, I did collect music with Cello as main instrumentation. (No wonder cello, sax and human voices cover the same tonal range) So I got the Pablo Casals work complete and continued to collect over lots of other interprets like Jaqueline du Pré to Sol Garbetta today. Just this three genres might explain how I do collect music. So it came that I got a still quite small collection of vintage vinyl, maybe 1500 records, but with the most of them of exceptional rareness. As stated in the earlier articles, I was driven from the believe, that only the first pressing will contain the "richest" and most complete transcript of the original recording. And sometimes when I had some later pressing before I found the first release, I could confirm my believe.

Variety of first releases of "Miles Davis - Kind of Blue" in mono and stereo, a exceptional example where the first pressing is a incredible lot better comparing any later reissue, even the the 50th anniversary edition from 2009 of the most important jazz album of the 20th century.

The captured quality between first and later releases hardly depend on the handling of recording companies with their masterings for later planned reissues. Some of them did store the original master away as some sort of untouched back up and others made copies for their further use. This practice will degrade every later release with a typical increase of dynamic attitudes normal with every reproduction step. Others seem have handled this question different, Verve for example seemed to be a company where even later releases are able to store the same quality known from their first pressings. Some companies had better or sometimes even lower quality levels within vinyl production, several companies have been sold during a quite short time. So the production parameters changed a lot permanently. Another aspect is the distribution aspect of the first released records worldwide. So the most recordings have distributed foreign cousins of the same time. RCA for example did held for the German market a joint venture with Teldec, a german vinyl production brand from Telefunken and Decca, another european joint venture. As we see there was a lot of money in these days markets and like always, when profit attracts analysts, quality is not anymore the foremost argument. Was it ever?

Vinyl is rich. ...and tasty!

Today the most of a younger generation have audio playback reduced to smartphones for storage and don't see arguments for specialized audio hardware anymore. The basis to such handling are compressed audio files, a development made possible by the invention of the Fraunhofer algorithm for MP3 compression. In 1982 this compression standard was invented there, right two years before Phillips/Sony introduced the Compact Disc as a second digital format (after crash with the laser disc). With the invention of compression the digital distribution of audio technology started its crusade through all media components.
In the former separated audio world the first arguments for the compression have been found in the necessary reduction for the increased bandwidth of 5.1 surround sound audio – do you remember? Creativity in capitalism is never forced to find better qualities for the same amount of money, rule is to find almost the same quality for half the production price as only effective argument. Staircase to hell...
So it made possible that you might be able to carry my whole vinyl library of 1500 vinyl recordings and the additional 500 CDs at my smartphone, just compressed to MP3 standard? – Progress. Yes for the markets …

When operated within high quality audio components it is clearly audible that a and in particular a higher compression of MP3 shrinks out almost any fine and micro dynamic content and reduces the remnant to a rough torso of soulless blunt music images. The compression rate defines how much micro detail will be captured in order to find space for storage. Within high resoluting audio components the later invented algorithm of "lossless"-compression is the only acceptable audio format to capture the audible content of the original "red book"-standard known from CD.
Since the turn of the century "higher resolution" digital formats (96kHz/24bit) have become standard within any sort of audio distribution. So all recordings have been made nowadays with this new industry standard. But as well all mixing, shaping and mastering happens completely in digital form. This has a tremendous impact to the finalized and kept quality, since almost all interventions happen without trace. All the former well noticeable "fingerprints" in analog productions left from each step of and each component is rejected for a general highly refined audible result. For a lot of people this progression into refinement, better phase correction and a truly better balanced and wider sound stage, will be called "analytical"or "artificial" and are connoted to them as "digital sound".
As already stated in my last article, I do appreciate the extra apparent nivelling attitudes of modern digital recordings made within the last decade. Here the general difference between a poor and a well made digital recording hardly can be assumed as a 10% tolerance, where analog vinyl can be proud to capture 50% tolerances at its best. Some people call it "rich and colorful". For me and my vintage record collection it is getting harder and harder to accept both features as positive arguments when comparing vinyl with modern digital records. The most vintage records are not really easy to listen to, they create a high degree of attention with sometimes sparkling energies and superficial dynamics, mostly a bundle of overwhelming attracting attributes. The modern digital recordings at the other side give me more chance to get into the music flow and let me forget about the electronics equipment involved.


End of November I went to a life concert of Cassandra Wilson. When I booked the tickets I had several values with different price tag. I needed three tickets and wondered that very close to the stage at the right side three related seat were bookable. At the performance I realized that just in 90° angle to the stage the view was very close and fantastic with 8 meters distance, but the sound was really terrible poor. All speaker columns where installed high above the stage with direction to the main hall, in my position only the stage monitors have been audible and the reflecting sound from the opposite walls, ending in a really vague, queasy and inaccurate sound. My friend and I agreed about the perfect view of the event, but the sound was amazingly better known from home with a good audio set up. So finally I was happy to capture a colorful live image of her to be assembled with better sound at home. Apart from that I did find curious that a world class singer performs today almost a complete set of songs from an album released 22 years before in 1992, "Blue light 'til dawn" her first album with Blue Note. This album did exist for almost twenty years only as CD release, the vinyl version is quite actual. As I said earlier I did buy vinyl albums believing that the vinyl is richer and better in every respect, since I did own the CD for almost twenty years. Everybody who knows this album, knows it is a really well made recording, with perfect dynamics and well resulted harmonics and perfect micro detailing, in a way exceptional for its time.
Writing at these articles and infected from the poor life event sound, I did pull out my vinyl record and my digital version of that album in order to make some comparison. I did take perfect care about both loudness levels to be perfectly identical. Before I was absolutely sure that vinyl will be more dynamic and the digital version might show up with better resolution of mids? I did try the test for a whole side of the vinyl record, perfectly pitched into the same groove/track.
I did switch from one source than to the other, I did switch back, –  again and again. I could not believe what I did hear. It was absolutely the same. Not even a small difference, after five times switching I did loose the source, what is actually playing? Platine Verdier with SME 3012 and SPU or the streamed digital file using WiFi into my preamp? Nothing no difference at all. Exactly the same. I was completely irritated. AAD, analog recording, analog mixing and digital release vs. AAA with analog release as a vinyl record. Believing and blindtest, – religion and reality…

Remarkable test, if I would not have made it myself, I would not believe the results. For somebody like me, some would name me a hardcore quality enthusiast and refusal of the common "self-healing power of the market"- believe, it was a dry lesson. My understanding of audible perfection is grounded to experiences where older means mostly means better in general, deeper involved, longer lasting in terms of functionality and superior sounding in any audible aspect. When clearly today the first generation of speakers, horns and drivers made by Western Electric Co. in the 1930ties are able to outperform any following product in history in almost any term, such is a basic experience. If almost any audio product designed and engineered for professional use in the broadcast industry, betters any commercial made mass product for audio, it shows another side of the same coin. If product history of original superior products show a permanent decline in quality terms into mediocracy with every released product generation, i.e. like with products from Altec or Tannoy, it shows another problem of the tensile forces with common markets as third argument. Than it is difficult to accept that a solely commercial made product like the digital audio file will be on par or even superior to its analog predecessor, the analog master with the vinyl record. But was a vinyl record ever something different than a commercial placed product for consumers?

I would be happy to learn about other peoples experiences with that topic,