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Thread: Early analogue recordings & an evaluation of analogue technology ...

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    Default Early analogue recordings & an evaluation of analogue technology ...

    I've mentioned before the miracle of the Benjamin Britten Peter Grimes Decca recording from 1958. See discussion here. As I've always been rather fond of older Decca recordings (but I've not heard a new Decca recording in the past 10+ years) if I'm mooching around in a charity shop and see the Decca name on a CD spine - I'm curious.

    I thought that the very first stereo recordings were released (on LP) in 1957-8. But to my astonishment the CD I found today lists the recording as stereo and (c) dated 1956. That would make it the earliest European stereo recording I know of. So I bought it, and it really is stereo. And the vocals are captured beautifully. Just think about how primitive the entire recording chain was in the mid 50s from the microphones through the valve mixer, valve tape recorder (I'm amazed that a stereo machine existed then in Europe) and above all, the extremely limited technical capabilities of the magnetic recording tape itself with gallons of tape hiss to contend with. Capturing high fidelity sound with such crude equipment was, in technology terms, the audio engineer's equivalent of putting a man on the moon, but fourteen years before even that.

    Recording details: (Double CD)

    Donizetti La Favourita; Conductor: Alberto Erede, Orchestra e coro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
    Decca 452 469-2
    Recording engineer: James Brown, Gil Went
    Location: Florence, Aug. 1955

    So how does it sound? Well, the venue is rather dry and that gives a slightly false, dry (anechoic) orchestral sound. The cymbals in the crescendos have a strange sonic quality, certainly due to dynamic range limitations, but overall, when the orchestra is accompanying the vocalists, the sound is really amazing. Not technically perfect - obviously - but glorious in its own way. I looked up the CD and found that the original record was reviewed in The Gramophone magazine in March 1956; this stereo recording was actually made in summer 1955. That's fifty two years ago!

    Looking at the waveform (the green streaks against the black background) shows that the audio is nicely placed in the available (black) dynamic range. The audio occasionally peaks at -1dB (the horizontal white line) and drops down to an average around -10dB. That gives an attractive contrast between loud and quiet, black and white in the music. It explains the natural, tonally interesting, easy on the ear sound. In this thread here we looked at what happens when the audio is "mastered" to be hot with little dynamic range. This is a very nice use of the available dynamic range of the audio record/replay system.

    Loading the player ...
    Act 4, Track 11 - Waveform picture attached shows track 11 as I present it here. Cymbal compression obvious in middle of the excerpt due to limitations of the master tape's ability to hold the strong magnetic field generated by the very loud sounds

    Loading the player ...
    Act 4, Track 14 - Nice acoustic space around the vocalist as his notes decay into silence;

    Loading the player ...
    Act 4, Track 17 - Lovely. Listen on headphones to the lush, warm, clear, wide sound: as good as it gets. A hint of tape speed/head contact instability on the organ sound

    Just to emphasise the point about the pioneering technological breakthroughs that made this early recording possible, there is a write-up here about the introduction of stereo LPs.
    To quote from the source:

    Stereophonic sound was first introduced in 1957, not long after it was figured out how to transfer a two-channel recording made on tape to an LP record–which, back then, was a very tricky thing. The first demonstration of a stereo test disc happened in New York City on December 13, 1957. Side one of the first stereo record was some Dixieland jazz while side two was devoted to sound effects of a train ........ Dealers everywhere got discs and began to demonstrate them to customers who went crazy for stereo. By March 1958, stereo recordings of regular records started appearing in stores ...
    This evidences the fact that recordings were being made at least two and a half years before the means of delivering those to the customers on stereophonic LP records was available. Can you imagine today's recording industry patiently exploring and funding new recording methods just in the anticipation that somebody would sooner or later invent a mass-market delivery medium? I think not!

    P.S. I had a look at the spectral content of the waveform. The vocalists have sound energy extending all the way to the edge of the audio band (22kHz). This implies that the analogue recording tape was running at at least 15ips, and assuming that in 1996 when Decca copied from analogue tape to CD they didn't spend time/money on audio restoration, it may well have been 30ips because the tape hiss is very low. Dolby A studio-grade tape noise reduction was not invented until ten years after this recording was made.

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    Alan A. Shaw
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    Default Even older stereo recordings?

    Here are two of the best opera recordings ever. very early decca stereo, record june 1955: nozze di figaro:

    http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/...?album_id=5952

    ... and from the same year the incredible don giovanni:
    http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/...?album_id=8886

    the vinyl version of the figaro is extremely rare and expensive (GBP 500 - 1000!); for example here:

    http://www.popsike.com/SXL-208790-Mo...210997604.html

    best,
    delgesu
    Harbeth M40.1-Naim NAC52-Supercap-NAP 135-CDS2-XPS

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    Post I have a stereo recording from a year earlier Alan - 1954! (and plenty more too!)

    For excellent early stereo rcordings the best sources are the RCA Living Stereo and Mercury Living Presence SACD reissues, released a few years ago.

    I have about 30 of them, but there are many more. The earliest of these stereo recordings in my collection are from 1954 - beating Alan by a year!

    The best of them is the Brahms Piano Concerto no.1 played by Arthur Rubinstein and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Fritz Reiner in 1954. See link below.
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Brahms-Piano...3561514&sr=1-2

    To comment on Alan's astonishment at the technical challenge of recording in stereo in the mid 1950s, I would add that many of the RCA Living Stereo recordings were actually 3-track recordings - not just 2-track, so even more amazing! These special SACD versions allow the listener to hear the music in genuine 3 channel sound or the standard 2 channel using the additional layers on an SACD. The original analogue tapes were carefully played back through custom-built valve tape recorders and input directly into dCS AD convertors working in the DSD format. The original 2 or 3 tracks were then put directly onto the SACD disc.

    Many of these Living Stereo SACDs are from 1955 and 1956 too, and sound wonderful.

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    Default Recordings from 1954

    ... i read somewhere that the very first "serious" RCA-stereophonic recording was made in february 1954 (some berlioz, if i remember correctly); but this recording was never issued.

    then in march 1954 the RCA recorded the incredible "zarathustra" (record # RCA LSC 1806) and another of richard strauss´ symphonic poems "ein heldenleben (a heroe´s life?). the second one was not issued on the LSC label but on RCA´s mid price label (later there was an LSC issue of it when the age of reissues occured).

    i also that read anywhere that Decca worked on so called "bi-naural" recording techniques in the 30s, some kind of stereo-predecessor, if you want.

    best,
    delgesu
    Harbeth M40.1-Naim NAC52-Supercap-NAP 135-CDS2-XPS

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    Default EMI - pioneers.

    We must not forget Decca's arch rivals, EMI and their pioneering work on stereo recording. It's probably true to say that EMI were the pioneers (in the UK) but for some reason, I never really warmed to their recordings. Perhaps warmed is really the word. Maybe it's all a romantic memory now.

    What is unarguably a fact is that what is recorded onto analogue magnetic tape - no matter how fine - is significantly corrupted by the tape from the very instant that the tape passes the record head. That's because recording tape stores audio as magnetism - in other words, we have transformed the electrical voltage that represents the audio into magnetic flux. And there is no such thing as a perfect electrical > magnetic > electrical transformer.

    Every Christmas holiday I promise myself that I'll service even one of my studio analogue tape recorders - my Telefunken M21A or Studers. But I never get around to it, despite the recollections they connote for an era long passed. The reason is that it's so easy to demonstrate that if you record an absolutely pure tone you will replay from the tape that reference tone plus other harmonically related tones that you never recorded. Perhaps worse, if you simultaneously record two pure tones, you will certainly replay those two tones plus numerous mathematically related tones that were never there at the input. That's the real problem with analogue: the process generates frequency components never there in the recording which, for most listeners most of the time, are masked. But when you know what to listen for, just reduce the resolution and overall fidelity. Those intermodulation products remove the crispness from the original source. I guess some folk prefer the less analytical, warm analogue sound because the 'spaces between the notes' (a very crude analogy) have been filled-in with the intermodulation products. Overall, analogue can sounds 'nicer' and less effort to listen to, just like those lovely old 50s recordings. But that's just another audio illusion.

    And then there is the ghastly business of tape (or groove) print-through. Have you ever noticed the 'pre-echo' of a loud passage in the silence just before the music starts? That's usually because the recording tape's magnetic field doesn't stop dead on the layer of tape .... it bleeds onto the next layer, the next layer, the layer beyond that with decreasing strength. Some record companies occasionally unwound and re-wound the stored tapes. All that did was to move the problem around on the tape, randomising the audibility of the print-through. In other words, adding a general magnetic print-through mush to the entire tape.

    Maybe I'll run one machine up over the break just to give it some exercise and demonstrate these limitations of analogue tape.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

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    Default Appreciation of analogue tape

    Hi Alan,

    I beg to differ slightly over the analogue tape thingy. At the recent hifi show here, i was treated to a magnificent demo on how good music sounds on the analogue master tape. That was actually the first time i had listened to an analogue master tape & i was very impressed by the sound quality of the master tape. In comparison to CD, the master tape sounded so much better. Perhaps even better than LPs too. Anyway, LPs are also pressed from analogue master tapes. It presented purity of tone, transparency, detail & insights into a recording in a way i had not heard from any medium (CD, LP or whatever) before.

    However, i was told that each master tape can only be played about 20 times or thereabouts & after which the sound will deteriorate gradually. I guess the only gripe that one probably may have is maintenance. The heads have to kept clean as the amount of residue (tape carbon) left behind with each playing can amount to quite a fair bit. I was telling my friend at the show (also a Harbeth user) that if they had used a pair of Harbeths for this demo, i reckon i would be even more impressed. Probably a Monitor 40.1 as the room was rather large.

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    Default Analogue tape - nice, but unstable

    Quote Originally Posted by Gan CK View Post
    ... At the recent hifi show here, i was treated to a magnificent demo on how good music sounds on the analogue master tape. That was actually the first time i had listened to an analogue master tape & i was very impressed by the sound quality of the master tape. In comparison to CD, the master tape sounded so much better. However, i was told that each master tape can only be played about 20 times or thereabouts & after which the sound will deteriorate gradually
    Ummm. Now, with respect, it's really worrying to have so much faith in something so transient!

    Surely the first and vital requirement of any 'recording' system, be it audio recording, photography or printing is permanence. If we are going to capture an event, we should be able to access, enjoy and learn from it without degradation for generations otherwise it fails to be a record, merely an impression. And that moves it from hard engineering into the art arena.

    As I mentioned in my previous post ...

    ... What is unarguably a fact is that what is recorded onto analogue magnetic tape - no matter how fine - is significantly corrupted by the tape from the very instant that the tape passes the record head. That's because recording tape stores audio as magnetism - in other words, we have transformed the electrical voltage that represents the audio into magnetic flux. And there is no such thing as a perfect electrical > magnetic > electrical transformer. ...
    and this is borne out by your exhibitors comments that after a few plays through the analogue tape deteriorates. But it's much worse than that. I'm wondering if you (collectively) really appreciate the destructive effect of tape print-through, which is occurring when the tape is sitting on the shelf not even being played. Print-through alone means that what you hear will, to a small degree, never be the same twice since the exact way the tape stretches and spools will vary by a few mm or more. So that means the same portions of music are not perfectly aligned against adjacent layers of the wound tape, hence the print-through will effect not only the originally adjacent music but other notes some way away from the original. Since the exact alignment of played tape layers is not predictable (varies from tape to tape, machine to machine depending upon motor torque, servo control etc.) this introduces magnetic randomness in the replay. And that's another fancy way of saying unwanted noise. And that's a way of saying reduced fidelity.

    As I said, analogue tape can sound lovely. But it is unstable and is not therefore incapable of yielding a truly fixed representation of what was laid down on that first pass over the record head. That means it sadly does not meet the basic criteria for high fidelity sound which is why it's time is over. The sooner the analogue tape is copied to digital, the sooner the inevitable analogue degradation ceases, because digital is surely permanent and unvarying.

    Can you visualise this print-through problem? Have you heard pre-echo on analogue recordings*? I'd really like to know! I'm considering what would make a good sonic example for you - ideas welcome as usual.

    *We haven't even touched on the flip side of this problem, the less noticeable but ever present with analogue tape post-echo. Pre and post echo are a function of which way the analogue tape is wound before being stored .... 'tail in' or 'tail out'.
    Alan A. Shaw
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    Default The grim reality of analogue

    Quote Originally Posted by A.S. View Post
    And then there is the ghastly business of tape (or groove) print-through. Have you ever noticed the 'pre-echo' of a loud passage in the silence just before the music starts?
    When I still played vinyl I noticed this effect one day. At the beginning of an LP side with the volume quite high, I could hear the music on the next groove of the record. What's imprinted in one groove affects, to varying degrees, what is heard in adjacent grooves. Don't even get me started on surface noise and rumble...

    It is distortion issues like this (and those described by Alan) that made me embrace digital music with open arms. For me "vinyl" (or "tape") and "high fidelity" don't belong in the same sentence.

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    Default Analogue is above all, art

    Quote Originally Posted by Audentity View Post
    When I still played vinyl I noticed this effect one day. At the beginning of an LP side with the volume quite high, I could hear the music on the next groove of the record. What's imprinted in one groove affects, to varying degrees, what is heard in adjacent grooves...
    Absolutely so. But I'm surprised that only you have commented on this. It says to me that there is an total misunderstanding of the insurmountable obstacles and serious technical challenges every analogue system faces.

    We all agree that in the right mood, on the right day, with the right music recorded at just the right loudness and with the right equipment analogue can sound very, very attractive. Analogue unquestionably can have the sit-up-and-be-captivated seduction of the Seven veils. But then as art rather than science it would, wouldn't it! How can you resist being wooed by the charms of analogue?! It's not easy to resist her charms, unless you take an objective, forensic stance.

    I have the greatest respect for those who dedicate their life to art, and analogue audio. They are seeking a certain representation of reality which is both comforting, fulfilling and satisfying to them. But when you actually get down to injecting pure tones into an analogue system and see what comes out, there is for me a significant disappointment. Even my £15,000 Studer mastering tape recorder cannot escape the limitations of analogue recording tape, beautiful though it is in form and function. Nor my Telefunken M21A (video of exquisite M20 here) - the very last generation of analogue tape recorders and stuffed full of digital tape control electronics.

    But print-through? Who would want that when they can have the pure original?
    Alan A. Shaw
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by A.S. View Post
    But print-through? Who would want that when they can have the pure original?
    I have to clamber up into the loft to check the insulation this evening but afterwards I plan to make a video demonstration of tape print through which is an inevitable and inescapable consequence of analogue tape recording. That means, in short, that every analogue recording ever made suffers from it (amongst a long list of other technical problems) which is why we have to separate our romantic attachment to analogue from the factual, objective reality. I am most surprised that only one in seventeen hundred members has made a comment about this matter.

    If we want to maximise high fidelity we have no choice but to fully embrace digital and work hard to perfect the digital signal chain. I'll show you why later.

    Update: It will be much easier for me to show you how the signal that replays from analogue tape is significantly different to the one that is recorded if I use a three-head tape machine, i.e. first head erases the tape as it passes, second head records and third head replays what was recorded without stopping and winding the tape back. That'll take a day or two to set up.
    Alan A. Shaw
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    Default A musician speaks

    I'll comment, but I'm sure I'll be smacked down by a moderator.

    Alan, you're a (brilliant) engineer, and there are certain hardwired behaviours regarding the absolute in all of you. I'm a musician, and don't give a hoot about the technical deficiencies of analogue. Sure, I know that they are there, but I find them unobtrusive and incredibly easy to ignore while listening.

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    Default The nostalgia of analogue - the conviction of a good demo

    Quote Originally Posted by A.S. View Post
    If we want to maximise high fidelity we have no choice but to fully embrace digital and work hard to perfect the digital signal chain. I'll show you why later.

    Imo, tape machines and turntables are akin to vintage cars. To get them running at peak is costly and unnecessary when they are technological superior and more efficient alternatives.

    I think a primary reason why a person still like “analogue” is for nostalgia (spinning wheels, VU meters, lots of knobs and buttons). There may actually also be a real and actual dislike for digital for many different reasons. Think many people are confronted with “good” analogue demos, and “good” recording samples and are convinced on the medium. I'm sure there are just as many poor analogue recordings as there are poor digital one and vice versa. We however seldom hear about people talking about the bad ones they’ve heard eg. the bloaty or poorly biased ones from ill maintained machines or poor engineer skills.

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    Default 100 year audio quest is over

    Quote Originally Posted by KT88 View Post
    ... the technical deficiencies of analogue. Sure, I know that they are there, but I find them unobtrusive and incredibly easy to ignore while listening.
    Well, you are in a class of the enlightened then and hardly need to hear what I have to say in my scrapbook section. Clearly, on an emotional level, your analogue system is giving you pleasure as a good audio system should. That's not really my point. I'm just sad that having written extensively about Britten's 1958 Peter Grimes recording here, now that everyone connected with it has passed away, we we are left with an analogue recording that limits our ability to 'really be there' through no fault of the composer/conductor, singers or technicians: simply due the the manifest limitations of analogue tape. If only digital technology had been available. Just think how much more enjoyable listening would be. How much closer to being in the hall half a century ago. We'd now be able to hear the shoe leather creak, the smallest detail of the string sound, all the microtones that are obliterated by the tape hiss, print-through and distortion. Analogue tape has no respect for talent! It drags fidelity down to low common denominator. And lest you think I have something against analogue tape I don't. I have four Studers, three Revox, one Telefunken studio grade analogue tape machines. But I can separate my emotional attachment to the wheels and cogs from the technical actuality of the beasts. And the fact is, analogue tape with at best a 65dB s/n ratio is nothing to be proud of.

    What it really comes down to in my opinion is this. The Harbeth brand is built on the RADIAL woofer technology. RADIAL is, as far as we know, the cleanest sounding cone material available because, as far as we know, it remains the only purpose-engineered plastic material specifically designed for use as a loudspeaker diaphragm with all the demanding requirements that makes.

    Since engineering led to that material, it seems logical to me that engineering overall is capable of revealing ever greater fidelity, and engineering alone. There is no other path to true high fidelity than science. Truly higher fidelity cannot be stumbled across by accident, by trial and error. Not in 2011. All the easy fixes have been tried ad nauseum and if they work, incorporated in the mainstream. And we know that each generation of engineers for over one hundred years notched-up the fidelity of the replay medium from the wax cylinder, 78, LP, CD, DAT and so on by the application of very fine engineering and cost management.

    A proportion of this generation of audio enthusiasts gave up the quest for audio progress and started to look back romantically at previous technology in a way that I suspect previous generations never have. I doubt that users of 78s hankered after the redundant wax cylinders, or LP users went all dreamy about 78s. That's because they appreciated, relished and celebrated what their generation of engineers had achieved and encouraged, and nurtured them to press ahead with even better technology at even lower prices. In short, the collective, unified, identifiable audio enthusiasts voice-as-one over a fifty year span gave the impetus (and the cash) for corporations like Sony/Philips to conceive and market blue-sky products like CD at give away prices. Now, they struggle to even identify an audio enthusiast, let alone a progressive forward looking (read: willing to spend cash) one that makes it worth while for them to market more advanced technology to. Who wins? Certainly not those like me interested in pushing the frontiers of fidelity.

    The all-pervasive MP3 technology represents the reversal of the 100 year trend upwards in better audio technology. It is clearly inferior to CD in every way (as you would expect when you discard audio data, although it may sound perfectly OK) and it was 'allowed to happen' because there was insufficient cohesion amongst those serious about audio to stand-up for better technology. Are we making the same mistakes again? By not standing together as a global community of forward-looking but highly quality-conscious audio users and recognising the truth about each generation of audio replay technology for what it is technically, not what it does for us emotionally, we will be the first generation to justifiably look backwards (to CD) and say with a sigh 'Verily, CD really was a miracle of audio quality .... why didn't we appreciate it for what it was ...?'

    It seems to be the case that this romantic view of technology-long-gone-by does nothing more than divide and confuse the market. And marketing people say 'a confused customer never buys'. If I fall under a bus tomorrow, this is the post I wish to be remembered by.
    Alan A. Shaw
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    Default Marketing and 'the seeds of insecurity'

    Quote Originally Posted by A.S. View Post
    ...marketing people say 'a confused customer never buys'.
    But I suspect it's mainly due to marketing people that the domestic audio industry is in the state it now finds itself.

    Audio equipment ("high fidelity") has had its role redefined, almost to the point of it becoming a musical instrument. Were the marketing mantra "choose the equipment that offers the closest facsimile of the original recording", we wouldn't be in half the mess we're in. No, much of the industry chooses to promote itself with the battle-cry "use your ears" which, in reality, means pick whatever you happen to prefer. Right away, rather than attempting to educate listeners about what really constitutes good sound (and attempting to offer equipment to supply that want), the industry is attempting to sell seventy year old technology that has been hyped-up to represent the ideal of "musical" and therefore more appropriate to the task than something demonstrably transparent.

    Everywhere you turn in domestic audio, marketing is attempting to convince buyers of two things -

    • that "transparent" is not good - "musical" is to be preferred.


    • any item that is, by any reasonable test, transparent, is in fact less good than it needs to be and you would therefore be better off buying something that isn't transparent i.e. "musical".

    My contention is that the conduit by which recordings are delivered to the domestic consumer (i.e the Red Book CD) has been pretty much as good as it needs to be for the past twenty-five years, give or take. The devices upon which to play CDs vary minutely - even from $200 to $10k the variation is tiny compared to the huge differences inherent within gramophones. Logically, this would make the $10k CD player difficult to sell compared to gramophones where the sky was the limit because of the cost of the necessary precision engineering.

    Marketing has to stir things up, and the way it chooses to achieve this is by planting the seed of insecurity in entire technologies. Valves, vinyl, anti-digital - fads originated and driven by marketing for the express purpose of preventing the "digital dividend" with its lower costs from impacting their clients.

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    Default In or out of the art gallery

    Quote Originally Posted by Pluto View Post
    ... Everywhere you turn in domestic audio, marketing is attempting to convince buyers of two things -

    • that "transparent" is not good - "musical" is to be preferred.


    • any item that is, by any reasonable test, transparent, is in fact less good than it needs to be and you would therefore be better off buying something that isn't transparent i.e. "musical".
    ...
    I'm not sure if Pluto appreciates just how profound a statement he has made. It's certainly made me thing about the interrelationship between the audio manufacturing industry and the marketing (industry) that it works with. Specifically, the throught process that's lead to the 'analogue/digital divide'.

    Nobody that's been to the National Portrait Gallery could be but amazed at the ability of painters to capture what seems to be the very essence of their peers and environment. Nobody in their right mind would wish to replace those beautiful oil paintings with contemporary photographs (if they had been available). The portraits are what they are: a beautiful, inviting, representation of an event as interpreted by the painter using the materials and techniques he had available. They cannot be 'accurate' but they are most appealing, and the prices they command confirms their value to society. But when we step outside into the street again, blinking in the sunlight, we see the sharp clean lines and bustle of our real environment with our own eyes - not interpreted, as is. Many of use would doubtless want to about turn and retreat into the dreamy world of the gallery and it's romantic impressionism and that's wholly understandable escapism. Who wouldn't want to retreat into the comfort of the past at the flick of a switch?

    But to be led by the hand around the National Portrait Gallery and told by our host that these old canvasses were, in fact reality and that the world outside - what i'll call the 'digital world' - is unfaithful, untrue and 'not as good as the real thing' is completely misguided. Delusional. Demonstrably a falsehood.

    The core of this is perhaps that we collectively have allowed marketing people of very small intellect to trot out the tired old cobblers about 'analogue being more musical' etc. etc. etc. because they just couldn't think of anything else to say. And we fell for it. In fact, they could have celebrated that the analogue sound is as valid an interpretation of life as the oil canvasses but it cannot be more true to life than a photograph. If you paint in oils your resolution cannot be finer than your thinnest brush. It you 'paint' with photographic film, your resolution is molecular.

    Lucky indeed are we at the beginning of the 21st century who can experience the sound of the cylinder or the CD. They can and should happily co-exist. Indeed they must so that we have the means of comparison. But I won't be kidded by any amount of marketing hyperbole that yesterday's technology is more true to life than today's.
    Alan A. Shaw
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    Harbeth Audio UK

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    Default I like paintings and photos too!

    Alan

    Excellent comparison! I utilize both mediums, records for nostaligia (and listening to recordings that are not yet available digitally), and the requirement to pay attention to what is playing, one does have to turn the record over...and digital for ease of use, usually through an internet radio station. However, I purchase much over the 'net and will sit and pay attention to it, as I purchased it specifically to hear and listen. Is there one medium prefered to the other...depends on the recording for starters, however, is one medium better than the other...nope.

    I like listening to music and if its on vinyl, and I want to listen to it, then the Oracle Delphi gets cranked up, digital, then the Wadia and the DAC. I like paintings and I take photographs too.

    cheers

    George

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    Default The last word in analogue tape technology

    Well, I couldn't resist dusting down the studer A807 which lives at the Old Barn. Delightfully, it's still working. Perhaps over the next few days I can show you what this carefully aligned (40kg?) beastie is technically capable of?

    Picture of my A807. Underneath on trolly shelf is Dolby 363 SR record/replay module - the final development on the Dolby A, B, C, S, SR noise reduction line that made analogue tape's hiss limitations bearable. As new this pair probably cost at least £20,000. It's probably technically outperfomed by a £50 MP3 recorder/player. Oh well, 'that's progress for you'.

    P.S Example of print-through found and will explain later.

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    Default Analogue anomalies - Part 1 ... a demonstration of the limitations of analogue media

    OK, to continue this exploration of the reality behind analogue and digital technology with one of my 'don't believe me, hear it for yourself' screencasts.

    The point I want to explore is one of the inescapable challenges for analogue tape, since it's very inception at the end of WW2. Namely, print-through. We should remember that recording tape is nothing more than one very, very long magnet. If we could store it without winding in onto a spool, tape print through wouldn't be a problem but keeping the tape crinkle free and not stretching it would be an insurmountable problem. So, tape has to be wound, and wound tightly so that one layer is intimately in contact with adjacent layers with nothing in between them to separate them. If it were possible to space the layers apart, even by the thickness of a sheet of paper the print through problem would greatly diminish. That's because the magnetic field on the tape is weak and by the time it had penetrated the paper spacer, it would be much diminished and have little impact on adjacent layers. But as it is, a 10.5" NAB reel - see the ones on my Studer A807 - using thick "low print through" standard-play tape can only hold about 32mins of audio, which means several reels and well judged reel swap-overs would be necessary to record a concert.

    So, even if we double the thickness of the already thin tape (to use the tape as it's own spacer as the magnetic oxide is on one side of the tape only) we'd reduce the recording time to around 15 minutes .... far too low to be of practical use recording a classical piece. So that's a non-starter. Or make the reels bigger? Then they're becoming difficult to handle and the inertia of the extra heavy reel spinning around during rewind needs a really big motor ... and that may have poor wow and flutter stability. So, as with so many audio issues, we are trapped between convenience, costs and performance.

    I'd like to present a cassette mastered for me at BBC World Service in 1989, with Brian Empringham reading the news and I bought-out the performance copyright from him. This was recorded live, directly off the U87, through the desk and to 1/4inch tape and cassette. The cassette machine was Studer, probably the finest ever made. The tape has not been played for at least 15 years, and was stored rewound at the beginning.

    First to set the scene play this short clip ....

    Loading the player ...


    Now for a technical analysis of that clip >>> here <<<.

    It is true that cassette tape is thinner than 1/4 SP recording tape and therefore the pre or post echo may be more apparent, but the magnetic flux is also smaller too. Do remember too, that every time the tape is played and then rewound due it stretch and slipping between layers the music content of adjacent layer will not ever be the same. So the print-through will add a degree of audio randomness which were the tape wound and rewound enough times would turn the pre and post echo into white noise. And as we know, noise is noise. Nothing useful can be retrieved below the noise floor.

    So I think we are safe to use this as a generic example of just one of the many limitations of analogue recording. As this shows, from the instant the tape passes over the record head, it degenerates. And therefore analogue tape fails the fundamental requirement for a high fidelity medium which is permanence.

    P.S. Remember the 70s and 80s when folks were laying out small fortunes for really sophisticated logic-controlled, all-singing all-dancing cassette decks and the marketing hype that accompanied them? Yes, the audio cassette and all its unique tape formulations was promoted as the serious-man's ultimate high-fidelity system, better than LP and without all those nasty clicks and plops. Scans of advertising material from the period to follow.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

  19. #19
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
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    Canada
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    Default Direct to disk recordings

    Really finding this discussion enlightening - thanks.

    A question: I recall that a small number of recordings available on vinyl were recorded "direct to disc" - i.e. straight to the cutting head, bypassing tape entirely. As an analog medium, does this potentially offer greater fidelity to the original than magnetic tape with all of its inherent issues, including print-through?

  20. #20
    Join Date
    May 2007
    Location
    Singapore
    Posts
    459

    Default Direct to disc

    Quote Originally Posted by EricW View Post
    Really finding this discussion enlightening - thanks.

    A question: I recall that a small number of recordings available on vinyl were recorded "direct to disc" - i.e. straight to the cutting head, bypassing tape entirely. As an analog medium, does this potentially offer greater fidelity to the original than magnetic tape with all of its inherent issues, including print-through?
    Logically it should Eric. I have a few direct to disc & direct cut LPs & they mostly sound more dynamic, transparent & detailed than ordinary LPs.

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