Editorial for April 2013
Published on April 1, 2013
Wagner aficionados will want to have this month’s drawing/giveaway. It is for all four Wagner music dramas making up The Ring, on 14 CDs from Opera d’Oro. Clemens Krauss conducts the leading soloists and the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Chorus in 1953, and the set features four newly-translated complete librettos in English, plus a fifth book of essays. The set will go to three AUDIOPHILE AUDITION readers who register this month on our simple form and fill out all the fields. The winners will be announced here in May.
The two winners of the 50-CD Brilliant set of all 200 Bach Sacred Cantatas—our March drawing—are: Karl Stefan Grenz, Niedersachsen Germany & Marshall Taylor, Radnor PA. Congratulations to both!
by Mark Waldrip, Ph.D., AIX Records
[Reprinted with permission from the AIX newsletter]
Just What Is The Sound Of Analog or Digital?
Compliment or Criticism?
I’m a digital guy when it comes to producing, engineering and releasing recordings these days but I’ve spent most of my career working with analog recording equipment. So it continues to confuse me when a reviewer or other commentator refers to a piece of music as “analog” or “digital”. I’ve heard this pronouncement many times. The most recent was an email conversation with David Pogue, a well know tech writer for the New York Times and apparently a major fan of reel to reel tape, about a line of analog tape products that I’m considering producing from my HD masters. I signed up with a Yahoo group that has over 2000 members worldwide and asked what they thought about the idea. David was initially quite intrigued by the idea but ultimately decided that copying an HD-Audio master recording (one that has the potential to far exceed the specifications of his finest analog deck) wouldn’t be truely analog. He mentioned that he had, in fact, already done what I am proposing. He recorded the output of his SACD player to his reel to reel deck and that the playback “still sounded digital”.
On another occasion here in the studio, I hosted a very prominent high-end cable manufacturer. I played a variety of my best HD-Audio recordings in my 5.1 surround room and then inquired what he thought. He paused for a moment and then answered, “the sound is just too digital, too clear and detailed. I prefer a more analog sound.”
So there you have it. For this gentleman, the lack of noise and that certain distortion that comes with analog reproduction as well as the increased high frequency components present in my 96 kHz/24-bit track were negatives. He was used to his vinyl, tubes and recordings that have a more comforting and “euphonious” sound. However, I took his comments as encouraging and complimentary. He heard exactly what I wanted him to hear. That got me thinking about the use of the words “analog” and “digital”. Do they actually mean something or are they useless terms that simply don’t mean anything anymore. As an engineer that has worked extensively in both world and who has a veritable museum of of vintage equiment tucked away on the second story of my studio, I would agree that the terms actually meant something years ago but I’m not so sure today. I own a Nagra IV-S 2.0 channel stereo portable tape machine, started my first studio with a 2-inch 3M 56 16-track, have one of the original PCM 601 processors from SONY AND the PCM 1610 mastering machine that was used on countless CD masters from Motown. They all have their own sonic signatures.
My own understanding of “analog” or “digital” reflects more about the personal preferences of the listener than any flaws present in a particular track. In this day and age, both can deliver absolutely glorious renditions of recorded music. What I prefer in my high-end audio experience might not be the same as someone else. I guess I’ve started to think about descriptions of different audio formats more like preferences for a particular beer. Some people will will themselves with Bud Light and others will seek out a specialty beer from their local microbrew.
Q. What’s the difference between high-end audio and HD-Audio?
High-end audio is about uncompromised music capture and reproduction. In its highest realization, high-end audio can deliver sonic realism, emotional intensity, and intellectual stimulation equal to that of a live music experience, elaborate studio production or anything in between. In fact, with the right sensibility and production techniques, todays technology can actually eclipse the fidelity of a live music event if thats the producers intent.
High-End Audio can be delivered regardless of the recording and distribution formats involved. You can achieve spectacular playback with analog tape, vinyl, compact disc, DVD-Audio, SACD, Blu-ray and soundfiles. As you would expect all of these formats will reproduce high-end music but each has their own plusses and negatives. On the other hand, I do not consider all of these format to be capable of reproducing HD-Audio. That specific measure of fidelity is reserved for recording and reproduction systems that can capture and deliver an experience that is equal or exceeds the capabilities of our human auditory system our ears. Analog tape and vinyl, as wonderful as they are, are unable to reproduce the entire dynamic range of a symphony orchestra, which can exceed 125 dB SPL. Engineers have become very skilled at containing the musical essence of a piece like the finale of Resighi’s “The Pines of Rome” using compressors and other tools. The RIAA equalization curve twists the signal delivered to a cutting head to allow for the limitations of vinyl and then untwists it back at the playback stage. Does this match the dynamics of the actual live event? Of course not. Can it engage us emotionally and intellectually in a way that equals our reactions at the live event. Yes, but there is a difference between high-end audio and HD-Audio just as there is a difference between a 4K Ultra HD video and a 35mm photographic transparency.
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