Hi all, as I said in the other IRENE thread today, I was the IRENE operator
at NEDCC from the projectís start in fall 2013 until August of this year.
I'm realizing my time to speak as an IRENE 'expert' is limited and passing,
so I want to take this opportunity to share my perspective about the system
and answer any questions any of you might have.
The point I really want to make is that at this point in its development
IRENE is great for the work only it can do (broken, fragile, obsolete) but
not ready to be considered as an alternative for materials that can be done
on a turntable or Archeophone (etc.)
It seems to me the decision of whether to use IRENE or stylus hinges on
three factors - audio quality, throughput/cost and risk of damage/wear.
LBNL, IU Bloomington and NEDCC are currently planning to compare the audio
quality of IRENEís 3D capability for cylinders against the Archeophone. I
know theyíve worked hard to design a thorough and objective test, so Iíll
defer talking about this side of the system until their tests are concluded.
I would like to talk about the quality of IRENEís disc audio, though. I
wasnít permitted to arrange comparative testing in my time at NEDCC, but in
the few examples I could access where clients had separately arranged both
IRENE and stylus transfers, the stylus-based audio was unequivocally better.
This was partially due to the difficulty of imaging lacquer discs (different
surface and groove profile characteristics than the shellac the system was
designed around) and partially due to imperfect image to sound algorithms. I
can only speak to my own experience, and donít want anyone to take my word
for it, but I think this needs to be formally tested, and any needed
improvements made, before anyone considers using IRENE for intact lacquer discs.
Stylus methods also have the advantage in terms of throughput and cost. In
the best case, IRENE takes 40-60 minutes to transfer a cylinder, depending
on size, and 40-60 minutes per disc side. Stylus transfer, of course, is
usually more or less real-time for intact materials.
With quality and cost favoring traditional methods, the argument for IRENE
really depends on the risk to carriers of traditional playback. IRENEís
non-contact approach seems to give it a clear advantage in this respect, but
I want to consider this too. David and Rebeccaís presentation at this yearís
ARSC conference made a compelling case that modern stylus-based playback of
cylinders doesnít cause appreciable wear. I donít think anyone would make
this case for lacquer discs, but I donít know how much stylus wear affects
audio quality. Is there research on this? Or would anyone like to share
their experience? Finally, I think itís worth considering that in IRENEís
current form, carriers must be transported to Berkeley CA, Washington DC or
Andover MA, presenting a risk that should be weighed against the risk of
wear, especially if turntable/Archeophone transfers can be done locally.
I've heard people say that the current audio quality isn't important because
the same images can be used in the future as the analysis software improves,
and I don't think this is true for 2D (discs) or 3D (cylinders). The 2D
imaging doesn't capture information from the groove walls, which any
engineer can tell you is the part of the groove with the best sound
information (the bottom collects dust, the top becomes scratched). The
current 3D imaging sensor can't capture high enough resolution in the
vertical domain to derive audio to current archival standards (the vertical
resolution of the image translates into the bit depth of the audio). David
Giovannoni wrote up the most complete analysis of this issue that I've seen
yet, and I encourage him to share it.
Iím sorry if this seems insensitive or unnecessary, but I know people want
to know where the system stands, and right now the information is
privileged. I think IRENE deserves all the good publicity its gotten for the
materials only it could do, and that it has a lot of potential for a
continuing and expanded role in audio preservation, but I also think that it
needs to be held to a higher standard if it's going to be considered as an
alternative to existing methods, and it's simply not ready yet.
Thanks all for putting up with my rant. Please let me know if you have any
questions, and I'll do my best to answer them on/off list as appropriate.
Mason Vander Lugt