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ARSCLIST  January 2008

ARSCLIST January 2008

Subject:

Re: Ampex ATR-102 opinion (was MD5 Hash Generators

From:

Bruce Kinch <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 22 Jan 2008 11:42:40 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (107 lines)

Tom FIne wrote:

> At 07:46 AM 1/22/2008 -0500, you wrote:
>> Ya know, this is probably blasphemy to whatever audiophile-types lurk 
>> on this list, but I think you get a lot more bang for the buck 
>> investing in a really good CD playback system. More "golden ears" 
>> I've met than I care to say rail on about how "digital sucks" or 
>> "CD's sound terrible." Then, when I ask them about their system, it 
>> turns out they are using either a first-generation CD player from the 
>> early 80's or they are using some dirt-cheap on-sale DVD/CD player 
>> from the local big-box. CD players are NOT all the same and 
>> furthermore external D-A boxes are NOT all the same. If you combine 
>> well-mastered CD's with a stable mechanism and an excellent D-A unit, 
>> you'll push your amp and speakers (and ears) as far as they can go.

Well, I'm more a Golden Age than Golden Ears guy at this point, as are 
a lot of audiophile type these days. I happen to be a fan of SACD, at 
least real DSD discs, not the ones done from 44 or 48 kHz masters, 
which are only marginally better than CDs. So if I can hear the 
difference, the Red Book CD would seem to have inherent limits by 
design. While better electronics help (my SACD/CD player has $1000 
worth of mods, so I'm trying), the only lipstick that seems to stick on 
this pig are rethinkings like the Memory Player, the Regas, and the 
various ways around the brick wall filter.
>>
>> Now, just as in the LP era, the majority of CD product on the market 
>> is not well-mastered, so the garden-variety CD has a bad rap for 
>> sounding awful through no fault of the technology. This was the same 
>> thing with a lot of rock and jazz LPs back in the day. Overuse of 
>> dynamics-compression, bad EQ choices, and bad mixing or mic-placement 
>> choices at the session are nothing new.

But engineering for MP3/iPod players is, if you need a bogeyman.

>> But, the difference with CD's and even more so with higher-resolution 
>> digital formats, is that there aren't the built-in distortions and 
>> limits of analog formats. No matter how superb your analog setup is, 
>> output is audibly different from input. If you like the output better 
>> -- ie the distortions are euphonic to your tastes -- that's one 
>> thing.

You are referring to trading half the analog bandwidth for 20 dB of 
digital S/N, I guess. Life is full of tough choices. Boston's Symphony 
Hall is definitely euphonic compared to New York's Avery Fisher, and so 
experience with both probably affects my "taste". Euphonic means 
"sounds pleasing", of course. And yes, the LP sounds different from the 
original tape, but so does the CD. That's why we have people to master 
and "balance engineer" recordings, in whose "taste" for what sounds 
"pleasing/good/awesome" we trust. It is not a question of simple 
accuracy. Seriously, any loudspeaker has far more audible distortion of 
the "input" than either format, especially when heard in a real room, 
not an anechoic chamber.

>>  But the truthful assessment is, a well-designed digital system can 
>> get as close to output = input as the vast, vast majority of ears can 
>> hear (and certainly the overwhelmingly vast majority of 
>> home-listening setups can reproduce).

One problem with the "bits iz bits" argument is that all sorts of 
tweaks (not just better players/DACS) change (often subjectively 
improving) the sound of CDs - de-gaussing, polishing, trimming, etc. 
One of the nice things a good DAC can do is demonstrate how a 
"bit-perfect" CD-R copy can sound better than the original CD, and that 
is truly weird.

Of course, the vast majority of listeners have never heard well 
implemented analog OR digital. No one ever went broke underestimating 
the taste (or sonic preference) of the American public. Check the EQ 
settings on your next rental car for what the vast majority thinks is 
good sound. And someone should do a FOIA request to determine which 
format they use to "enhance" things at 110 dB down at Gitmo. I'd cave 
to even a Barry Manilow LP on repeat, but I bet they subject the "hard 
core terrists" to digital.
>>
>> If I had the thousands it costs to buy and maintain an ATR Services 
>> machine, and this were simply for a listening hobby, I'd spend that 
>> money on a mechanically-superb mid-line DVD/CD player, a top-line DAC 
>> and then take the other 2/3 of the money and invest in great speakers 
>> and room treatments so I had a top-rate listening environment. If I 
>> already had that in place, I'd invest the 2/3 of the money I had left 
>> in a diverse collection of great listening software, paying attention 
>> first to my musical tastes and then to sound quality since great 
>> music should soar above a crappy recording (although it doesn't in 
>> all cases).
>>
>> This is probably not the answer some want to hear, but I submit that 
>> it's by far the most bang for the listening-pleasure dollar.
>>
>>
If you buy the electronics and especially the speakers on price-point 
or specs, without listening to them in concert at home, room treatment 
will just be an expensive band-aid. You might well get more boom and 
tizz than bang for your buck. Duane's point about CES is well taken. 
Few rooms (Herron's among them) had better sound than I have for much 
less money at home. But tellingly, a substantial percentage of the 
better-sounding high end rooms had an analog source for demo, and a 
wider variety of analog software. The all-digital rooms tended towards 
small combo seductive female vocals, which to the aging audiophile 
male, is as euphonic as it gets.

As to listening-pleasure dollars, I'm not doctrinaire either. If I 
don't pass any yard sales with clean $1 LPs on my way to Borders, I'll 
buy a CD or SACD. Have a 40% off coupon in my wallet at this very 
minute, in fact. But CD sales are way down, and in 10 years or less 
you'll be hitting the yard sales for them too. Should you see a decent 
turntable there, I suggest you snap it up.

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