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My Musings

This is my editorial page and all topics are discussed here, even digital. However Analog is the primary focus.

I only ask three things of the music I set down to listen to:
1) I must love the music
2) I must enjoy the performance
3) It must have realistic sound quality that lets me forget I'm listening to a recording and can melt into the music.

December 20, 2007

I discovered Classical music via Progressive and Art Rock mainly Emerson, Lake and Palmer's versions of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" and Prokofiev's Dance of the Evil God and Pagan Monsters from the "Scythian Suite".  When I purchased the original orchestral versions of those I was in musical heaven. 

I owe a huge debt to ELP for helping me discover Classical music which until then I thought was all academically boring music such as that composed by Mozart and other composers whose music makes me want to cringe.   But with no guidance or at the worst the wrong guidance from the Classical musical established recommending even more academically boring classical music.  Their excuse is I have to "learn to like" these boring classical works.  I have tried for decades to learn to like the symphonies of Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert,  Schumann, and other so-called greats.    I have learned if I don't love a piece on the first hearing I will never like it, never!  From the very first note I loved The Rite of Spring, Petrouchka, The Firebird, Pictures at an Exhibition, Night on Bald Mountain, Scythian Suite, and tons of others I discovered the hard way by buying blindly.  Now we have the Internet and streaming audio samples so no one longer needs to buy blindly.  I have always hated the music played on Classical radio stations and I still do!

After nearly thirty years of purchasing Classical music haphazard I now have a strategy I look for what I call "Power" Classical orchestral music and I listen to streaming audio samples before buying.  

I've put together a list "The Basic Power Orchestral Repertoire or Classical music for folks who don’t like Classical music"  This is the perfect tool for additional exploration.  I love all kinds of music from Jazz, Blues, Rock to World music but I dislike most traditional classical music with a purple passion however Power classical music is my absolute favorite music above all others.

December 8, 2007

Why I don't like MONO recordings, Part 2

More on Mono

To me trying to listen to Mono is extremely uncomfortable and produces nothing positive much less music.  With headphones Mono comes from center of my head instead of the way stereo does with it's miniature sound field spread through my head and several feet behind and in front of as well to the sides of my head.   With speakers it's hard to get a lock on the music, there is no soundfield to wrap my ears around, it's all midrange with no image or feeling of space, the bass sounds strange, the treble sounds hollow, and sometimes there is too much distortion. Two channel stereo just sounds more real to me.

On one of my recent trips to the thrifts I accidentally bought a Mono classical LP and it sounded Mono. No imaging to speak of, although it had good depth. It was boxy sounding with wooly upper bass and no deep bass and very little high frequencies at all. This is how most Mono LPs sound to me.   There was no Mono wording so this is where you have to be careful, before Stereo was invented Mono LPs didn't say they were Mono. So on my next trip back to the Thrift Store back I re-donated the damn Mono LP.

I find Mono a total waste of my time, and I will make sure to look for the word STEREO as older Mono are not marked Mono since Stereo hadn’t been invented yet!  If it doesn't say STEREO I will not buy it!

Because of most listener's thirst for new Stereo recordings one of the most fool-hearted attempts to please them was Electronically Reprocessed Stereo LPs.  These were poor attempts to monkey-up original Mono recordings to try to make them sound Stereo.  This process failed badly not only did the not sound like real Stereo they actually sounded worse than the original Mono LPs.  This proves you cannot fake Stereo!  I also avoid these like the plague.

The one Real Mono System I've heard

The only Mono I've heard that sounds correct was played on a real Mono system using one giant speaker in the center of the room.  This system had a single full range speaker system with a huge 18 inch woofer and unlike Mono through 2 separate speakers, it had a solid image and excellent depth. There was not the precise location of instruments you have with stereo but the sound was convincing and sounded very live.  If you've only heard Mono through a Stereo system you really haven't heard Mono.

Could getting decent Mono be equipment related and whither one has their speakers set up for Stereo Wide or Stereo Narrow?

My system is Stereo Wide, speakers 12 foot apart, 2 feet from the back wall and 1 1/2 feet from the sidewall, toed in slightly. I find this necessary to re-create an orchestral shell about 16 foot wide and about 12 foot deep. While I can re-create a quite convincing image of an orchestra in Stereo, in Mono it completely collapses and my minds eye I cannot lock on the musicians and the instruments they are playing in my room. In Mono there is still depth but the sound does not extend beyond the boundaries of the right and left speakers as they do in Stereo. In Mono it no longer sounds like music being played in my room but a synthetic version of music.

The Double bass and cellos in Mono sound weak and thin with an almost cardboard texture. On all systems I've owned since my first Rectilinear Speakers Mono has sounded very, very strange. But I didn't grow up on Mono so maybe my ears never got used to it.
In my system I have never found a Mono recording that had decent bass. Indeed the only Mono recording I've heard with any deep bass at all are from the mid-1950's to mid-1960's. The Mono recordings from the 1930's to 1940's have almost no bass whatsoever! I also do not find any Mono LP sounds as dynamic as the stereo version. In my system to my ears Mono sounds wrong in both tone and timbre, very wrong! Simple stereo mic'ing techniques get me closer to the tone and timbre I hear in live acoustic music in a good concert hall.
Mono in My Collection

I have sold or given away all of my full Mono LPs.  But I do have a few greatest hits collections which have a few Mono selections mixed in with the much better sounding Stereo ones.  On these greatest hits collections from performers that spanned both the Mono and Stereo era's the only cuts that sound poor and distorted are the Mono cuts and when a Stereo cut comes one the whole soundfield opens and the music comes alive, there's more ambiance and the sound is fuller.

My greatest hits collections that have mono songs on them include Elvis Presley's 30 #1 Hits; The Sons of the Pioneers' Legendary Songs of the Golden West; Songs of the Singing Cowboys; O Blues Where Art Thou and Country Guitar.

Some Mono No longer in My Collection

The 100 LP set Franklin Mint's "Greatest Recordings of all time" which was about 1/3 Mono.  A lot of the Stereo stuff was fabulous but I sold the set because there was way too much Mono and chamber music.  Toscannini's performance of Dvorak's New World Symphony from this set is the best Mono LP I ever heard, still it sounded like Mono.  

Some of the other Mono LPs I've owned include Paul Robson Sings; Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass: The Lonely Bull; HELTER SKELTER: A Concert in The Park by the Band of the Welsh Guards; GERSHWIN: Rhapsody In Blue & American In Paris / Leonard Pennario (Piano) Felix Slatkin, Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra.  As well as a few mint Mercury Olympian and RCA LM Classical LPs.  Plus a few Mono LPs picked up by accident at the thrifts and then re-donated.

Also on Mono SACD: Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong: Ella & Louis; Sonny Rollins: Saxophone Colossus and some of the early Rolling Stones titles.

Sonny Rollins' "Saxophone Colossus" is not Stereo!

I was really upset when I purchased Sonny Rollins' "Saxophone Colossus" SACD on Analogue Productions the sticker on the front proudly proclaimed "Hybrid Stereo  SACD" I put it in my SACD player with high expectations of this classic in glorious Stereo and instead I got low resolution one-dimensional Mono.  

I was heartbroken as I had heard how great the music was supposed to be on "Saxophone Colossus" and here was a chance to have it in real Stereo and that hope was dashed by an incorrectly labeled SACD.  This was a followup purchase to Sonny Rollins' superb sounding "Way Out West" Stereo SACD.  

I am totally shocked that "The Tape Project" chose this Mono recording for their extremely expensive 2 Track 15 IPS Reel to Reel tapes.  Why not the Stereo "Way Out West" instead?

Believe it or not Classic Records has been releasing 200 Gram versions of Mono LPs.  I don’t know what is this obsession of Audiophile labels of late reissuing Mono LPs especially ones available in stereo!


STEREO has been in use for over 50 years and I have millions of STEREO recordings in every format to pick from. So why should I listen to a Mono recording when I cannot tolerate how they sound? My leisure time is much more valuable than that!   No matter what anyone preaches Mono is a crippling of sound. I am quite happy now that I have traded in or given away most of my Mono recordings.

They had Stereo when I was a teenager, my first recordings were on Stereo 8 Track cartridges. If it was still the early 1950's I would have to listen to Mono as I would not know STEREO existed. I likely wouldn't enjoy music near as much.

We are very lucky indeed to live in the STEREO age.

December 7, 2007

Why I don't like MONO recordings, Part 1

I dislike the dismal sound of MONO, it's tinny midrange sound, it's high distortion level, it's one-dimentional indistinct soundfield, like an orchestra played through a tin can!  Yet some people defend MONO and I have not the faintest idea why.   Maybe they sound better if you have only one speaker?

Because I don't like MONO LPs I have been accused in the Vinyl Asylum of only caring about the sound quality of a recording.  Sound is but 1/3 of the musical equation.  I have sold many STEREO recordings because I didn't care for the music or the performance.   I do not listen to something I do not like no matter how good it sounds!

I want music I love, coupled with excellent performances and realistic enjoyable sound.  I'm not like some people who listen to music studiously, listen only to artists who are supposed to be mandatory.  I listen to music I enjoy, not to study.  If I don't enjoy the music it is a total waste of my time.

I ask three things of the music I set down to listen to:
1) I must love the music
2) I must enjoy the performance
3) It must have realistic sound quality that lets me forget I'm listening to a recording and can melt into the music.

No. 3 I cannot do with MONO, ELECTRONICALLY PROCESSED, or poorly recorded STEREO as the recording itself makes me grossly aware I am listening to a recording and not listening to the music being played.

In MONO the timbre of the instruments is wrong, one visit to a live acoustic orchestral concert is all one needs.

ALL aspects of music are important to concentrate on one at the exclusion of the others is an abomination to the composers and artists.  The space the music is played in is as important as the music played as is the silence  between the notes played.  Music making is a natural living event!  That is what some do not understand in defending the musically deficient MONO format.

On my system well made STEREO recordings are rendered in a near perfect rendition of the orchestral shell.  This is comfortable and allows me to forget I'm listening to a recording and I can enjoy the music making.

I also DO NOT like MONO TV or MONO MOVIES, I prefer to watch movies and televisions shows in STEREO as the sound is drastically better. 

I make for DAMN SURE any recording says STEREO before I buy it!

November 25, 2007

New thoughts on plastic outer sleeves

I no longer use LP outer sleeves and have not for almost a year with no ill effects to the LP covers.  I now believe as long as one keeps their LPs perfectly vertical with no lean right or left and not packed too tight one should not suffer ring wear. I threw all my re-sealable sleeves in the trash as on many the sticky was worn out and the hard plastic was showing scratches and bends. In other words they looked beautiful in plastic when the sleeves were new but started to look crappy as they were opened and closed a dozen or so times. I love my records even more in the nude, free of the plastic dressing!  Gatefold LPs are so beautiful without being trapped in sleeves. I love pulling out and flipping through my LPs, they are so much more "real" not being sealed in plastic.

The Tape Project and the real world

I am sure The Tape Project 2 Track 15 IPS Reel to Reels are the finest recordings ever released to the public but I can't justify the cost for myself as I make $8.54 per hour. But for the upper middle class and the rich why not have the best?   So even though they cost $329.00 each I am leaving them on my site as these are the closest we are likely ever to get to Master tape quality.

The fastest speed I can play is 7 1/2 IPS and my deck is 4 Track NAB. 2 Track 15 IPS machines even used are very expensive.

All of my 4 Track 7 1/2 IPS Reel to Reels have been purchased from eBay and the average price is $8.84 including shipping and handling. When you figure the ones I had to throw away due to squeaking, missing tape, bad splices, etc. my total outlay is just over $10 per tape and I have some fantastic sounding ones including some duplicated in real time on mastering tape.

I would love to have most of "The Tape Project's" Reel to Reels, maybe someday I will be rich?

What if Elcaset was re-introduced with Dolby S, Metal tape and tons of software?

Is there enough of us analog tape lovers to make it a go? I believe such a format would easily surpass SACD, DVD-Audio, LP and should be close to the fidelity of 7 1/2 IPS reel to reel if not superior!

It could be called "Super-Elcaset" . I can envision home, car and portable players.

Keeping playback azimuth set

After setting playback azimuth use something to set the screw to keep it from coming out of adjustment again such as Loctite.  I went cheap and used clear nail polish and my azimuth is holding well.

July 22, 2007

More on my journey to multiple formats

During the early to mid 1970's my single format was pre-recorded Reel to Reel. I had no TV, because I disliked the shrill buzz caused by mono TV's 19kHz-carrier frequency. It was just pre-recorded Reel to Reel, which I mostly had to mail order, as most stores didn't carry pre-recorded Reel to Reels although everyone carried blank ones. Muntz Stereo Tapes was the only store that had a decent supply of pre-recorded Reel to Reels of all types of music. They mostly sold 8 Track cartridges but also had 4 Track cartridges and Reel to Reel; no cassettes as they were still a dictation medium at the time.

Then in the mid 1970's Advent Process CR/70 cassettes showed up at my local stereo store, and they had demo tapes I listened and fell in love. I bought a Luxman Cassette deck and then came the In Sync Laboratories cassettes made on Nakamichi 681 Cassette Decks in real time on TDK SA tape. I kept reading about Nakamichi and I had to get a Nakamichi deck, I got a Nakamichi 481 and soon MFSL came out with their High Fidelity Cassettes and that is when I decided to sell my Reel to Reel deck and Pre-recorded Reel to Reel tapes.

So from about 1978 until CD came out my single format was Cassette, I still had no TV. I didn't get TV until Stereo TV came out which sounded good through my stereo speakers to my ears and which either no longer had the shrill buzz from mono TV's 19kHz carrier frequency or I lost sensitivity in that area.

I didn’t really seriously consider collecting LPs until after my disappointment with CDs. So you might say it was poor sound quality of CDs that introduced me to LPs. Previous to the invention of CDs I had rejected LPs because of the surface noise, pops and ticks.

Now I have LPs, Cassettes, Reel to Reels, CDs, SACDs, DVD-Audios and DVD-Videos and cannot imagine limited myself to a single format again. But if I have to limit myself to one single format it would be analog Cassette.

Why I enjoy pre-recorded Cassettes so much and how to get the best sound.

Pre-recorded cassettes, especially audiophile ones but often commercial ones as well sound extremely realistic on my current Nakamichi CR-1 cassette deck. Its midrange is warm and extremely life-like and produces the most goose bumps of any format I own. The best 7 IPS Reel to Reels and audiophile LPs offer a little more extension in the high frequencies but cassettes give a more consistent thrill ride and I find myself reaching for a cassette to play more often than LP, Reel to Reel, DVD-Audio or SACD.

Also unlike commercial LPs most commercial cassettes actually have the full deep bass of the master tape as they don’t have to be rolled off for longer playing times, easier pressing, etc. For LPs you have to turn to Audiophile LPs to restore this deep bass.

Pre-recorded cassettes, especially commercial ones get a bum-rap due to poorly made cassette decks in which playback azimuth is not optimized, Dolby tracking is off or poor quality components were used. On my first well made cassette deck, a mechanical controlled Luxman pre-recorded commercial cassettes sounded very poor with a strident upper midrange and rolled off highs. However audiophile pre-recorded cassettes (MFSL, In Sync Labs, Direct to Tape, Sound Ideas, Audible Images, etc.) sounded superb and produced some of the most realistic sound I had heard yet.

I didn't know commercial cassettes could sound good on a Nakamichi as commercial cassettes sounded dreadful with HF roll-off on the Luxman so they were never tried on the Nakamichi 480. At the time my cassette only system was the Nakamichi 480 cassette deck, Luxman Integrated Amp and Infinity Q-A's.

I sold the Nakamichi 480 and all of my pre-recorded cassettes in 1983 to raise the $900.00 needed to buy the first CD player, the Sony CDP-101. The biggest mistake of my life. Not only was the CD dreadful sounding to this day I still have only found a small of portion of my favorite audiophile cassettes. I didn't keep any cassettes as my car at the time only had an AM/FM radio. Later in the 1990’s I got a car with a cassette deck and started collecting cassettes again, many of them commercial releases. It was only two years ago I got a home cassette deck again, a Nakamichi CR-1 that sounds great with both audiophile and most commercial pre-recorded cassettes.

Some folks lose high frequencies on Dolby encoded pre-recorded cassettes due to inaccurate Dolby tracking. With a correctly working Dolby circuit the highs are boosted on recording only below a certain threshold and the cut by the same amount and replay. The end result the original frequency response restored and moving the noise floor down when the music is low in level.

Try this for an experiment record something with almost NO dynamic range thus the Dolby circuits should not come on. The effect should be exactly the same with or without Dolby. If Dolby version you made has less highs than the non-Dolby version you made, you need to have the Dolby tracking adjusted.

Currently I don’t have a source "azimuth" playback head adjustment tape. Mobile Fidelity made a great one called the "Geo-tape" which is now impossible to find. But there is a way to adjust azimuth manually. Get your decks service manual and look for the azimuth screw and while playing a tape with lots of high frequency content adjust the screw for the widest high frequency response. You have now dialed in the azimuth manually and are ready to enjoy the cassettes at their very best. Also follow the other helpful hints on my cassette page.

May 14, 2007

Analog Cassette is my favorite format.

Pre-recorded cassettes as played through a correctly aligned Nakamichi sound so real! I listen to recordings in most formats, Reel to Reel, Cassette, LP, CD, SACD and DVD-Audio I get the most Goosebumps from Cassettes.

Pre-recorded Cassettes have a midrange purity, especially through tubes that offers the most realistic portrayal of the human voice, musical instruments, soundstaging, and accurate deep, deep bass I have ever heard. And even in the high frequencies where Cassettes are traditionally challenged they usually not so on a Nakamichi. On my Nakamichi the high frequency response is superior to CD and even sometimes SACD and DVD-Audio and is only surpassed by 7 IPS Reel and Reel and audiophile LPs.

Finally CD without pain and how it sounds compared to other formats.

I have finally gotten "some" CD playback that is listenable without pain. The very best CDs (there are so few) are often quite enjoyable as well. As far as digital, the better SACDs can often get about 80% of the glory of the best analog.

In my system, the best sound (on average) is as follows:

1) Real Time duplicated 7 IPS pre-recorded Reel to Reel tape such as those by Sound Ideas, Ambisonic, Sonic and Direct To Tape Company. 15 IPS would be even better but I can't play 15 IPS, all four of the above companies also made 2 Track 15 IPS reels.

2) The better audiophile LPs from real audiophile companies such as Reference Recordings, Speakers Corner, Analogue Productions, Classic Records, etc.

3) Real Time duplicated audiophile Cassettes such as MFSL, Aesthetic Audio, Audible Images, Sound Ideas, In Sync Laboratories, etc.

4) Most slow speed duplicated pre-recorded Reel to Reels from the mid 50's to 1960's.

5) The better SACDs especially from DSD or Analog masters.

6) The better DVD-Audios from 24Bit 96kHz or 192kHz PCM masters or analog masters.

7) The better pre-recorded commercial cassettes.

8) The later 1970's pre-recorded Reel to Reels.

9) The better "decoded" HDCD CDs especially from Reference Recordings.

10) The better commercial LPs.

11) SACDs from low resolution 24 Bit 48kHz PCM or lower masters.

12) DVD-Audios from low resolution 24 Bit 48kHz PCM or lower masters.

13) The better CDs especially those from Telarc, Reference Recordings (non-HDCD), etc.

14) Poorly mastered recordings in any format. LP, Reel to Reel, Cassette, CD, HDCD, SACD or DVD-Audio. CD seems to have the most poorly mastered recordings but LP is close behind.

While I finally now have listenable and sometimes enjoyable CD playback with perhaps the top 0.01% of CDs made. The percentage of fantastic LPs is closer to 1%, and over the years I am getting better at picking the right ones. The best LPs sound so realistic and with a feeling of "being there" that even SACD cannot match. The best CDs by comparison sound like good recordings nothing more. Only the top LPs, Cassettes, Reel to Reels, SACDs, DVD-Audios and LPs could ever fool me into believing I am hearing real musicians in my listening room.

Until very recently I could not find any CD I could listen to on any of the previous 9 machines I had that played CD including a $1,700.00 Audio Alchemy DDSIII / Adcom GDA-700 HDCD decoder combo. My Yamaha S-1700 universal finally makes CDs acceptable and often very enjoyable. CD on any equipment I have every heard playing audiophile recordings cannot come close to equaling audiophile recordings on LP. Just compare Reference Recordings HDCDs to the LPs, or Classic Records LPs to the 192kHz DVD-Audios or Groove Note LPs compared to Groove Note SACDs. If an audiophile SACD and DVD-Audio can't equal an audiophile LP there is no way in hell a low resolution CD can. But that does not mean that CDs that have no Analog or High Resolution equivalent cannot be enjoyed without the usual pain.

I don’t like most highly compromised commercial recordings from most or the major and minor record labels and I truly believe these LPs can sound as bad as the worst CDs. I never use highly compromised major label recordings to judge equipment or formats.

Comparisons are NEVER made when actually enjoying the music. It is afterwards and over decades when mentally reliving the experiences. In most formats I got lost in the music and am unable to do it at that time except to make mental notes on what one format can or cannot do that another can. In a perfect world I would be able to buy all the music I love on real time duplicated 15 IPS Reel to Reels at a reasonable price and own a machine to play them. But since this is not possible every single format has its own set of compromises I find owning multiple formats my answer to this dilemma.

Historically for me CDs have been almost impossible to endure, it is only recently that by some miracle that CD playback took a giant leap forward into the area of listenability, something I thought was totally impossible mainly due to CD's brickwall filter and other issues of 44.1kHz. But CD is not high fidelity yet and may never be. On the other hand if Blu-Ray does double speed DSD as some are saying we may just get a digital format that can give get close to the realism of analog.

The point I am trying to make is the best CDs are poor in comparison to the best LPs. CD is almost a total and complete joke. At least on the new Yamaha players the PAIN is gone; this was not possible with even extremely expensive transports and separate DA converters of the past. 2006 may be know as the year this all changed if other companies use the techniques Yamaha has to kill "Digitalis" in CD. I can’t wait for this to make it to the high end. Imagine a high end CD player with all the resolution of a high end CD without the PAIN! We might even get CD playback up to the level of analog cassette. I’m not holding my breath but it may just happen. Only the future can revel this for us.

The reason I got the Yamaha universal is not for it’s "listenable" CD playback but for the SACD and DVD-Audio playback which get me about 80% of the realism of analog and offers music and musicians not available on any analog format. The fact that is CD playback was listenable was an unexpected bonus.

I own and listen to nearly every format except 8-Track and Elcasette which puts me in a unique position to make these comparisons.

There is no Digital system anywhere that can capture all the ambiance, resolution and "you are there" feeling of the best analog, not 24 Bit 96kHz PCM, not DSD and certainly not low resolution 44.1kHz CD. But for recordings not otherwise available, CD playback for me is now a possibility! This will add to the richness and diversity of my music library.

March 11, 2007

Analog lady ventures into the Digital terrain, once again!

Telarc’s PURE DSD Classical SACDs are the most realistic Digital I've ever heard.

I have never deleted any of my databases so I sometimes look at recordings I've owned in the past. The only SACDs I miss are the Telarc Classical both PURE DSD and the 50kHz Soundstream. It has to do with engineering and the spot on correct timbre accuracy as well as the realistic deep bass.

I missed the Telarc SACDs so much that I have purchased an SACD player for the third time. It’s a Yamaha Natural Sound DVD-Audio/Video SACD Player DVD-S1700. For now I only plan only to buy Telarc’s as I have LP, Cassette and Reel to Reel for all of my other music.

I wanted a player with the smoothness of tubes but not a tubed player again because of the heat generated inside the player may make other potential problems worse. The Yamaha DVD-S7100 is the first player I have owned that makes better regular CDs such as Telarcs sound smooth, comfortable and quite listenable. No it is not a cure-all as most CDs still sound awful and many quite painful.

I prefer Classic Records re-master LPs of the RCA Living Stereos and Speaker’s Corner and Classic Records re-master LPs of Mercury Living Presence to the more reasonably priced SACDs . And my two favorite Vanguard SACDs (Thomson: The River & Gould/ Gottschalk) I have on Analogue Productions LPs in even better sound.

So fellow Analog Lovers it is mainly Telarc I am missing from my stable of favorite recordings, and with tribulation and a little fright I have ventured again into the SACD waters. Were it not for Telarc, I could have avoided SACD the rest of my life.

PURE DSD is not a guarantee of excellent sound, as evident by the grossly bad sounding SACDs from LSO Live. Also just before I left SACD last time many small classical labels begin issuing SACDs, most sounded like they were from low-resolution PCM masters. This is another reason I am only buying Telarc SACDs. I have a wonderful collection of LPs and Reel to Reels and I don’t want to gamble on these other labels recordings.

I am hoping the third time is a charm. Also I would like to stress that my main focus is and will continue to be Analog.

December 31, 2006

Science is very good at measuring certain performance areas. For example linear frequency response, noise and some types of distortion. Science has also discovered "Damping Factor" effects "woofer" control, with a low damping factor producing loose and wooly bass and a high damping factor producing taunt and articulate bass.

Sadly most performance areas still cannot be measured and thus compared by science and that is where human hearing is paramount! Things that still cannot be measured but are not limited to include timbre accuracy, warmth, realism, soundstaging, presence, etc.

After jitter was discovered CD players with lower jitter values were more listenable with some of the upper mid-range shrillness removed. I believe there are still more Digital distortions to be discovered and lowered to their absolute minimum values before most or all of CDs upper mid-range shrillness is removed. This is science's biggest job right now is to discover all the distortions in Digital so they can be either lowered or removed.

Early solid state amplifiers with high levels of the "newly discovered TIM distortion do indeed sound poor. But I watched many reviewers and designers in the 1970's defend these designs because they measured perfect with the known measurements of the time. The lowering of TIM distortion brought solid state a little closer to the realism of tubed equipment.

The things that effect the sound of interconnects and speaker cables the most is induction, compliance, gauge, length, purity of the metals, how the wires are wrapped and the insulation materials used. Also type of metal used effects sound, silver being more accurate and copper being warmer with more impact in the bass. Even moving cables effects their sound. There is very little scientific study of cable parameters thus science cannot predict the sound of cables. The only way is to plug them in, let them break in and listen. This is why a 30-day trail or satisfaction guarantee for cables is the only way to buy them.

Sound, sound perception and audio equipment are fields that are pretty much wide open there is a lot left to be discovered and explained so it can be measured. I for one do not believe all parameters of sound will ever be explained by science.

December 3, 2006

What is missing when one records LPs to CD-Rs is the upper high frequencies including the attack of high frequency instruments the air around the instruments and the upper ambiance. Basically it’s like someone throwing a blanket over the speakers. The resulting sound is dull and lifeless and his no feeling.

On the other hand I find recording high resolution Digital to 4 Track 7 IPS Reel to Reel actually improves the sound. I Recorded three DVD-Audios on my Dokorder 7100 using Ampex 641 tape at 7 IPS and the copy actually sounds better than the original, it has more and deeper bass and a larger soundstage and center imaging is larger and more real. The increased bass warmth is because of tapes "head bump". I think the greater imaging of the copy over the original is because of Digital's greater channel separation. The channel separation of the RTR is 55dB versus over 100dB with Digital is I believe what gives the copy a wider, deeper soundstage is better center channel fill due to the lower (worse) channel separation.

The DVD-Audios were 24 Bit 96kHz and 24 Bit 192kHz and there were no loses at all. This is not so when I record LP as there is a slight dulling of the high frequencies when recorded at 7- IPS.

Thus my conclusion is LP is not only vastly superior to redbook CD but 192kHz PCM as well as there was no loss of high frequencies when recording from DVD-Audio and there was high frequency loses when recording from LP. Meaning the high frequency performance of my LP is superior to both my RTR and DVD-Audio player.

"The Tube" on Tacet the 180 Gram LP version is audibly superior to the excellent SACD version.

This can and has been verified by everyone who has heard both. If what the CD-R crowd is saying is true the CD-R copy of the LP that they claim would sound identical to the LP would also sound better than the SACD! That is just not logical. Also most audiophile LPs are sonically superior to their SACD versions.

What is missing from CD-R's is the same thing missing from digitally mastered LPs is the upper ambiance, the upper high frequencies and the attack of high frequency percussion instruments. Also CD-R's soften the transits and makes the sound dull and uninvolving. Not small differences but entire parts of the sonic landscape being removed as if someone threw a heavy blanket over the speakers.

CD-R's do not sound as bad as pre-recorded CD but they sound pretty bad.

In addition all the CD-R's I've tested, I have also tested LP recorded to 48kHz DAT. Digital cannot and I do not believe will ever be able to capture the resolution of a good LP, although 192kHz PCM can more close.

October 27, 2006

Lamenting the impending death of the Cassette.

MP3 and iPod have all but killed the cassette. Another casualty brought on by the Digital revolution. I am a fan of audiophile cassettes but what is little known is how good even commercial duplicated cassettes can sound on a good deck like Nakamichi. This is a level of sound MP3 and iPod can never hope to achieve. It is sad to see people dumping their cassettes the way they dumped their LPs never realizing what they are losing sonically and musically. These are sad days indeed.

There are several theories on why ultrasonics effect the audible frequencies.

First are the locational cues and ultrasonic frequencies above 20kHz are not turned into sound but processed by the brain. The tiny cilia (hairs) in the inner ear that vibrate and turn air motion into sound responds to frequencies up to 80kHz. Science still does not know how our brain processes these signals above 20kHz but take them away and there is an audible difference.

The second theory is these frequencies above 20kHz actually effect the frequencies below 20kHz and take them away and timbre, ambiance and locational cues change.

Both theories complement each other and are both likely correct.

The Analog Sound

There is an "Analog" sound warm, lively and realistic and a "Digital" sound cold & analytical.

I find that all analog has this very evolving "you are there" sound from any analog format I own LP, Reel to Reel and cassette.

And the coldness of Digital increases as you lower the sampling frequency and bit rate. I find 192kHz PCM to have almost as much resolution and warmth of the best LPs but it is still not there. Thanks to Classic Records new HDADs with CD and 200 Gram LP version it is now possible to compare the same release in 192kHz PCM, 96kHz PCM, 44.1kHz and 200 LP. The 200-Gram LP will always win in both resolution and realism every single time.

The Pleasures of well recorded analog

Seeing a real violinist "in the minds eye" drawing his bow across the strings and producing beautiful music, visualizing the space where he is standing the air around his violin and the shape and size of his violin, the ambiance in the hall where he is playing his violin and likewise all the musicians playing with this is quite a wonderful experience. Thank you analog!

Analog cassette and DVD-Audio comparisons

My Dokorder Reel to Reel is in the shop and I had a cantilever accident with my Music Hall MMF-5 turntable, so I have only two sources and have been playing lots of DVD-Audios and Cassettes:

DVD-Audio - Toshiba SD-5700 - $550.00 retail

Cassette - Nakamichi CR1-A cassette deck - $400.00 retail

I like the cassettes much better than the DVD-Audios; they just sound more real and alive! Audiophile cassettes from the 1970’s are the best but many regular commercial cassettes also sound excellent. Nakamichi seems to be able to drain an amazing amount of resolution out pre-recorded cassettes. There is something that is missing even from 192kHz 24 Bit DVD-Audios that even the lowly cassette format does right. It’s like some kind of undiscovered Distortion digital has, Digital does sound much better after they discovered Jitter and then were able to lower it. But there is still something else that separates the flavors of analog and digital. What separates Cassette from Reel to Reel is resolution, impact, lack of compression, etc. I’m working on language to describe what digital does wrong.

I think part of what is missing from digital is the human quality, emotion etc. and not resolution. So I think improvement in Digital is going in the wrong direction.

For music sources right now I have only had the Nakamichi cassette deck and the Toshiba DVD-Audio player as the Reel to Reel is still in the shop. And I am waiting for a new cartridge for my turntable as I accidentally destroyed my cantilever. I am shocked at how much more I enjoy pre-recorded cassettes over even the best DVD-Audios.

Some of the cassettes played in the past week include
MFSL High Fidelity Real Time duplicated on BASF chrome tape.
Cafe High Fidelity Real Time duplicated on BASF chrome tape.
Nakamichi Reference Recordings Real Time duplicated on TDK Metal tape from the Analog backup masters of Sheffield Lab Direct to Disc recordings.
Plus many excellent sounding regular commercial cassettes.

I also played the 2 channel mix of the DVD-Audio’s including AIX, Warner, etc. They do sound excellent but they do not satisfy the soul the way any analog format will.

The last week has been a revelation, as I knew LPs and Reel to Reels were superior to high-resolution digital but surely not cassettes! I was wrong, and digital still has a long ways to go.

October 10, 2006

My special thanks to low resolution CDs!

Ironically it was low resolution PCM Digital that helped me accept the physical limitations of the three main analog formats.

Before Digital I could not tolerate "surface noise" or "tape hiss" always-trying new ways to minimize them. Which is a worthy pursuit in and of itself however I was not fully appreciating how wonderful and alive the music sounded. That is until I lived with cold, dead, analytical low resolution PCM Digital via the CD format.

I was one of the fools who bought that dreadful sounding first Sony CD Player, the CDP-101 the day it came out in my quest to minimize or eliminate noise. At the time I listened only to audiophile cassettes, having switched from Reel to Reel to Cassette and I didn’t like LPs because of the surface noise. Three months before the CDP-101 came out I sold my Nakamichi Cassette Deck and all of my audiophile cassettes to finance the $900.00 for the CDP-101. Sony was promising "Perfect Sound Forever" and the ads looked so cool showing the concert hall. I thought I was finally going to get my wish realistic music with no noise, boy was I wrong! What I got was a CD player that within 6 months caused me to hate music completely. I sold the CDP-101 and it was over a year before I was able to listen to music again and that is when I bought my first post CD turntable the Ariston RD-40.

Since then I have tried many CD players each time there was a major leap promising more analog-like sound and every single time a bald-faced lie. I tried separate transports and A/D converters, tubes player, 24/96 up-sampling, CD rings, CD mats, Stoplight green pen for marking the outside edges and lastly Shine-Ola polish. I will never try CD again.

I do like SACDs and DVD-Audio if they are from Analog, DSD or 24 Bit PCM masters sampled at 96kHz or higher. However SACDs and DVD-Audios packaging usually do not tell me what type of master was used and if the recording was ever converted to low resolution PCM. So buying them is really a gamble as there is no way to tell if low resolution PCM was used until I listen to them. LPs and Reel to Reels musically and sonically easily beat the best sounding SACDs and DVD-Audios, so for me LPs and Reel to Reels are safer purchases.

With all the bad things Digital has done to the music world I wanted to give it credit in my finally accepting the limitations of the analog formats. Sort of like Ying and Yang, Good and Evil. It took living with low resolution CD Digital to show me how wonderful analog actually is.

October 8, 2006

LP Playback can be a Royal pain

Steps when I play an LP from my collection. New LPs require additional steps of deep cleaning and Gruv-Glide anti-static treatment.

  1. I take the LP cover out of it’s clear plastic resealable outer sleeve
  2. Take the LP out of the rice paper innersleeve
  3. Put the LP on the turntable
  4. Screw down the record clamp
  5. Clean the stylus with Zerodust
  6. Brush off loose dust with my carbon fiber brush
  7. Play Side One
  8. Then 15-20 minutes later unscrew the record clamp
  9. Turn the record over
  10. Screw down the record clamp
  11. Brush off loose dust picked up from the mat with my carbon fiber brush
  12. Clean stylus again
  13. Play side two
  14. Then 15-20 minutes later unscrew the record clamp
  15. Take the LP off the turntable
  16. Inspect LP for any loose dust and remove
  17. Put LP back in the rice paper innersleeve
  18. Put cover back in it’s clear resealable plastic outer sleeve.

This is the part of LP playback I don't like, but when the music starts it really is worth all the trouble.

My ears and low resolution PCM

I cannot enjoy music on most CDs or any low-resolution digital as it produces excessive pain in my head. In other words it is painful noise not music to me. I don't intentionally torture myself.

High-resolution digital sounds more comfortable and more like analog and with very rare exceptions does not produce pain. There is a list of DVD-Audio and SACD titles that are painful and I suspect that at some point in their production they went though low resolution PCM. Same thing with digitally mastered LPs, some of those are real ear rippers.

Oddly enough digitally remastered cassettes do not cause pain and I have theory that it is because at 0dB Cassettes high frequencies roll off at about 9kHz, below 16 Bit 44.1kHz’s problem area. Cassette frequency response is measured at a recording level of -20dB and my Nakamichi cassette decks response is 20-20kHz +/-3dB

Before anyone gets bent out of shape this is a problem area of CD for my hearing, you may hear differently and might not experience pain.

September 28, 2006

Imaging and PRaT

Imaging and Soundstaging lets you actually see the musicians and their instruments in the mind's eye and more importantly the space between. "Visual" spatial effects are NOT artifacts of the recording process as some claim. As the better the recording engineer and the reproducing system the more lifelike these spatial effects are. Reference Recordings LPs are an excellent example of realistic spatial imaging.

PRaT (Pace, Rhythm & Timing) actually allow you to get "into" the music. It gets your body moving and your feet stomping. If PRaT is in the original recording then it is the job of the reproducing system not to destroy it. Some very expensive systems do destroy PraT.

Both PRaT and Imaging are important for the total musical experience!

The best thing to do when listening to a new component is to close your eyes, listen to the music and not the sound. If it takes you away it has PRAT; if it doesn’t it does not have PRAT.

CHRIS ISAAK'S "Heart Shaped World"

Just played Chris Isaak's "Heart Shaped World" on Reprise Cassette. Dolby B encoded. Sounds fantastic for a non-audiophile cassette and way better than the CD version I used to own. Chris' voice sounds so real; there is plenty of extended high frequencies and deep, deep bass. Very realistic and way recommended by me. This will be part of my recommended non-audiophile cassettes to be added to my cassette page at a later day. I also will be adding recommended non-audiophile LPs to my LP page.

More on Reel to Reel Tape care

Some of the best recordings in my collection are Reel to Reel tapes from the mid 1950's to the 1960’s. These early Reel to Reels are recorded on Acetate tape which can be hard and brittle I do not fast-forward or rewind. I leave them in a played condition and I have been quite happy with them.

Polyester tape was used in the mid 1970’s to mid 1980’s as it didn’t break like Acetate tape however unknown at the time it can suffer from Sticky Shed Syndrome causing squealing which can sometimes be temporarily cured by "baking". I have a few pre-recorded polyesters as well and have only had two that squealed both purchased on eBay, one that was as-is and after baking three times and getting one to two plays before it squealed again dumped it in the trash. The other was guaranteed and I returned it for a refund.

Acetate – can be hard and brittle, do not fast forward or rewind and you will be fine.

Polyester especially Back-Coated Polyester has been a problem as the tapes often develop Sticky Shed Syndrome or Loss of Lubricant both can cause squealing which can sometimes be temporarily cured by "baking". There is no permanent cure, other than baking and re-recording to another tape.

Mylar – is now the formula of choice it is strong like Acetate will not break so easily or stretch like polyester.

Why MP3 and Digital Downloading threatens real music

If the powers that be were not so intent in treating the effect by turning musical waveforms into 1’s and 0’s instead of treating the cause of extraneous noise at the source, MP3’s, Internet downloads and all the other horrors inflicting music would not be possible.

Noise should have been eliminated at the source instead of using the digital cheat by turning our music into 1’s and 0’s to make it quieter. They took the shortcut and treated the effect rather than the cause!

Surface noise on LPs

Most well cared for Vinyl DOES NOT have pops or ticks, though there is some surface noise. You can learn to listen around slight surface noise just the same way you are able to listen around tape hiss.

Also slight surface noise also has a masking effect on tape hiss making tape hiss barely noticeable or non-existent. Overall music from the 1950's and 1960's is quieter on audiophile LPs than on SACDs because of this masking effect.


Question: What does "Analog is Music, Digital is Mathematics mean?

The mathematics referred to is the Base 2 "binary" system, which if you remember from school is 1's and 0's.

For example we use the Base 10 system: 0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 for most everything we do. Computers and Digital use the Base 2 system: 0,1.

The Base 10 "decimal" system compared to the Base 2 "binary" system:

  1. = 1
  2. = 10
  3. = 11
  4. = 100
  5. = 101
  6. = 110
  7. = 111
  8. = 1000
  9. = 1001
  10. = 1010

And on and on.

However in music captured digitally the numbers stand for musical values as opposed to music captured by analog methods which are a physical copy of the musical waveform.

Since digital samples the waveform before assigning a value, it could be called statistical as well, as the more samples the higher the resolution.

Question: Humans cannot hear above 20kHz so 44.1kHz CD is all we need?

Wrong here is all the proof you need! The coldness of Digital increases as you lower the sampling frequency and bit rate. I find 192kHz PCM to have almost as much resolution and warmth of the best LPs but it is still not there. Thanks to Classic Records new HDADs with CD and 200 Gram LP version it is now possible to compare the same release in 192kHz PCM, 96kHz PCM, 44.1kHz and 200 Gram-LP. The 200-Gram LP will always win in both resolution and realism every single time.

Supersonic frequencies are not heard as SOUND, but processed by our brains including overtones, location and ambient cues.

Everyone responds to music signals up to 80kHz. The cilia "the small hairs in your ears" each vibrate at different frequencies, hearing loss is due to damage to one or more of these hairs. However we have silica that vibrate up to 80kHz sending that information to our brains. So you can have damaged hearing and still process these supersonic musical signals.

This is why live music sounds more well "live" because our ears process this supersonic information.

This is the reason SACDs frequency response goes to 100kHz. Not everything in music is "Heard" as sound, subsonic frequencies cannot be "heard" either but felt in the bones.

Question: Do you not like CDs because you don’t like high frequencies?

Incorrect, CDs have rolled off high frequencies, it is the upper midrange that is shrill making violins and other bowed strings instruments sound strident and very painful. The high frequency percussion instruments such as cymbals and triangles are very subdued and sound muffled on CD. All you have to do is put on an excellent LP after listening to CD and you will hear the highs open up as if someone took a blanket off of your tweeters. That is because the LP format has not only cleaner sounding high frequencies but at the higher level and with more intensity. On LP when someone strikes a cymbal it’s impact is huge and you can even feel it in your bones, this is impossible for CD to do as it’s high frequency response is so poor. That is because on CD everything above 20kHz is sawed off and sharply sawed off at that.

Question: Are you just being picky because SACD and DVD-Audio spoiled you, surely CD doesn’t really make you ill?

It did until discovered the Yamaha Natural Sound DVD-Audio/Video SACD Player DVD-S1700, I can now enjoy the best CDs without pain, however most CDs are still very painful to endure even on this player which has taken CD to a sonic level I thought was totally impossible. Most CDs still have the aggressive biting sound of the violin and other bowed string instruments, which PCM was able to remove by going to higher resolution and bit rates.

Question: You haven’t tried enough equipment or spent enough money to pronounce LP as superior to CD.

Turntables owned:

1) AR-XB with Shure M91ED cartridge

2) Luxman PD-277 with Sonus Blue-Gold cartridge

3) Ariston RD-40 with the Linn Basik arm and the Blue Point Special Cartridge

4) SOTA Comet turntable with the LMTII arm and the Monster Cable Alpha Genesis 1000II moving coil cartridge.

5) Music Hall MMF-1 with LP Gear upgrade.

6) Music Hall MMF-5 turntable with Project arm and Goldring 1012GX cartridge

All players owned that can play CDs:

1) Sony CDP-101 – Before buying my first CD player I collected only Audiophile Cassettes and I sold my Nakamichi 480 and all 150 of my Audiophile Cassettes to afford the $900.00 for Sony’s perfect sound forever. I fell for Sony’s ad hook, line and sinker it had the picture of a beautiful concert hall and the caption "Perfect Sound Forever" and even though I didn’t like digitally mastered Cassettes. The magazines were saying the reason that digitally mastered LPs and Cassettes sounded so bad was because they were not pure digital and CD would fix that. Big, big lies from both Sony and the press. I sold the CDP-101 within 6 months as the sound was killing me; the only thing that didn’t sound absolutely terrible was Telarc CDs. But it was so bad I totally quit listening and collecting music for over a year!

2) Yamaha (don’t recall model number) – better than the CDP-101 but not by much.

3) Sony LD-210 LaserDisc/CD player– some LaserDiscs were fantastic especially using the Stereo Analog tracks. When CD came out LaserDiscs added Digital tracks as well. Older LaserDiscs were Stereo Analog Sound; newer LaserDiscs had a choice of Stereo Analog or Stereo Digital 44.1kHz Sound. The Stereo could also be Dolby Surround. Later Dolby Digital come out and they didn’t have a place to put the Dolby Digital tracks so the used the right channel of the Analog Stereo tracks. So any LaserDisc with Dolby Digital only had MONO for the Analog tracks. That is when I sold my LaserDisc player as Dolby Digital ruined the format! And as usual CDs sounded terrible on this player as well.

4) Audio Alchemy Digital Drive Engine transport connected with co-axial cable to the Adcom GDA-700 HDCD D/A converter. Reference Recordings SACDs sounded great on this combo but alas, as usual regular CD didn’t.

5) Sony DVP-S330 DVD Player replaced the Audio Alchemy when it died prematurely due I believe due to the CD Blacklight mat. This was my first DVD player I bought it so I could get the new Classic and Chesky 24 Bit 96kHz DADs. I still didn’t have a TV so I had to borrow a neighbors to set it up. For the DADs I had to use the internal 24/86 D/A as the HDCD decoder only decoded 44.1kHz and 48kHz, I continued to use the HDCD for the Reference Recordings HDCDs.

6) Sony DVP-S9000ES SACD/DVD player, I sold a bunch of LPs to raise the $1,500.00 to pay for it Christmas of 1999. This is the most I ever spent on a single component and I still feel guilty about it today. SACDs sounded excellent, CDs of course sounded bad.

7) Toshiba SD-9100 DVD-Audio / HDCD player. $2,000.00 retail I paid $599.95 on clearance when it was discontinued. This is always the best time to buy and they replace a model and there are still a lot of the old models floating around. DVD-Audios sounded excellent, HDCDs sounded very good but there was a loud audible click between tracks and this annoyed the hell out of me. I sold it, as it also didn’t sound as good as my Sony SACD player.

8) Xindak SCD-1 tubed SACD player which upsamples CD to 24/96 actually makes CDs almost acceptable with almost no pain but they are still boring. Also with this machine SACDs from Analog or DSD masters sound almost as good as LPs. It quit reading hybrid SACDs for the third time and was out of warranty so I sold it as a tubed CD player that could play CDs and single layer SACDs but not hybrids.

9) Toshiba SD-5700 – DVD-Audio / HDCD player. $550.00 retail I paid $109.00 used. DVD-Audios sounded even better than on the SD-9100 but they had slightly less bass but the highs were much smoother. Also HDCDs did not click between tracks. CDs still sounded terrible. I still have this deck for my few remaining DVD-Audios and HDCDs I play when I am lazy. I do have the ability to play CDs, I just do not wish to torture myself.

10) Yamaha Natural Sound DVD-Audio/Video SACD Player DVD-S1700. My current universal player the best CDs such are Telarc as quite listenable and very enjoyable, but even playing SACD still not up the Analogs high sonic standards.