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ARSCLIST  October 2013

ARSCLIST October 2013

Subject:

Re: a prime case of why subjective reviews of audio gear are USELESS

From:

Tom Fine <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

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

Date:

Fri, 11 Oct 2013 20:27:22 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (112 lines)

Hi Fred:

I do agree that there are and have been phono preamp designs that hone very closely to the RIAA 
de-emphasis curve. However, I think you'll find many pre-emphasis inaccuracies, especially with 
beloved "golden era" LP mastering chains. So you have the same problems there that Richard 
described. That said, I do believe that an accurate playback curve is always best because you are 
then not compounding inaccuracies.

As for your point about playback on vintage tape machines, I've come to agree with you. The reason 
is, we now have the ability to have an essentially transparent and high-resolution digital copy of 
the tape. So, if one wants to add a vintage sound quality, it can now be done from that digital 
copy, without having to subject a fragile and/or unstable old tape to another playback. This was not 
possible as recently as 20 years ago, and the sound quality of a sterile modern tape machine 
combined with even the best digital chains of the day left many listeners (ie buyers, ie those who 
pay the bills and enable the transfers in the first place) unhappy.

It's also worth noting that FEW beloved LPs were ever mastered "flat", with no EQ, dynamics control 
or even added echo and other effects. Look at pictures of old mastering rooms. Racks of Pultec EQs, 
often a few classic compressors, usually Fairchild high-frequency limiters (to prevent blowing out 
expensive Westrex cutting heads), sometimes tape delays or echo plates or other effects. There was 
much "seasoning" going on from the day any "seasoning" devices were invented. It's part of the 
creative process. In more than one case, I've heard either a high resolution "purist" transfer from 
a master tape, or heard a second-generation tape copy of the master tape, and then gone back and 
listened to the originally-mastered LP record and much preferred the sound that the original 
mastering engineer got.

But I'm talking about RELEASE media, and there's a difference between that and ARCHIVAL media. The 
struggle going on right now is, with tape getting worn out and unstable, a transition in thinking 
needs to take place. The master tape is no longer the archival media, it's an artifact in the 
archive but not the go-to for the latest re-release. That playback you do today might be the last 
time that tape plays (ask Decca about the Solti Ring cycle masters). So I think the focus now needs 
to shift to a highly accurate and "clean" playback, into a high-resolution digital file. That file 
now becomes your canvas, to be (non-destructively) colored as a mastering engineer or producer 
wishes. It's a very different MO from tradition and from very recent times, so there will be some 
painful adjustments. The most painful, to record companies, is the idea of investing hefty sums now 
for many future releases (from the archival digital files). Getting around quarterly profit demands 
and short-sighted budgeting is very hard, and may not be possible as the business continues to 
shrink. Remember that many back-catalog reissues net only a few ten thousand dollars, in the best 
case. So the budget to remaster from old tapes is very small. This is the case with classical, most 
jazz, and anything but the big hits with pop and rock.

Maybe it's time for a "Output=Input Alliance." Advocate for super-accurate tape playbacks into 
high-resolution digital master files. Do not alienate record company finance guys by suggesting they 
are ignorant and cheap. Do not criticize the creative judgements of successful producers and 
mastering engineers, just show them a new, less risky and more future-proof way to be creative. And 
don't rail at consumers who take their music listening seriously wishing for a new release of a 
favorite album to sound something like the version they grew up loving. Those supposedly benighted 
tin-eared fanatics are who pay the bills, and their tastes and judgements are ignored at great risk.

-- Tom Fine

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Fred Thal" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Friday, October 11, 2013 7:08 PM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] a prime case of why subjective reviews of audio gear are USELESS


> Hello Tom, Jamie and Richard
>
>
> Tom, as I remember it, in the 1970s a debate simmered over the
> precision of the (purported) audiophile grade phono preamplifers. Did
> they track the RIAA de-emphasis curve accurately? How closely,
> exactly?
>
>
> I remember Mark Levinson at that time asserting that one-tenth of a dB
> mattered. He was then ridiculed in certain quarters and saw his
> products dismissed by subjectivists who complained that they sounded
> too cold and analytical.
>
>
> I think you are correct Richard to point out pre-emphasis inaccuracies
> found in old master tapes. Often, we have reason to suspect that they
> were huge. And I agree with Jamie about the advantages of performing
> de-emphasis in the digital domain. We advocated for this as the least
> destructive post process back in 2000. And we were certainly not the
> first to arrive at this conclusion.
>
>
> And Jamie, I am very happy to see you express the view that playing
> the tape right really matters. Again, this is what ATL (Audio Transfer
> Laboratory) has been saying since back in the 1990s.
>
>
> It could appear that we have lost much of the technological expertise
> that was once present in the record industry. The David Smiths, who
> knew better, are now gone, tragically, at the very time their
> knowledge is most needed. Interestingly today it is sometimes the
> library science majors, working in the AV preservation field, who seem
> more concerned about doing the analog to digital transfers in the most
> technically correct manor.
>
>
> Meanwhile, over in the music industry, artistic (well, hopefully)
> re-mastering during the domain transfer process remains widely
> prevalent. Witness the mis-guided but popular approach of adding a new
> layer of analog coloration (distortion) in the transfer process by
> selecting a classic tape machine for the transfer.
>
>
> Jamie, I note that Plangent has made alliances with other transfer
> studios, so I hope you will now consider an alliance with us at ATL
> and ATAE. Seems to me that we might share the same goal: Preserving
> the world's recorded music heritage to the best of our ability.
>
>
> Fred Thal
>
> 

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