the itjerk

my adventures with technology

Tag Archives: cd

cd audio

Now that I’m in the midst of library building from my CD collection, it’s a good time to reflect on the merits of CD audio. Decades later, it is a funny thing, this compact disc. Just like various pressings of a vinyl record, some sound great, some sound less than great; but all of them avoid the surface noise that will always plague vinyl. Let’s remember, CDs were innovative and neoteric, and incredibly convenient: no flipping sides, no fast-forward or reverse. Just a small, shiny disc that contained an entire album’s worth of music (but not liner notes) that one could manipulate with a remote control from the comfort of, well, on one’s backside.

My time with CDs goes back to the mid 80s, when a VEAP check afforded me my first CD player – it was a Yamaha, and while I don’t remember the model, it had a feature called FTS: favorite track selection. Some of the earliest discs I still have are Roxy Music’s Avalon, Peter Gabriel’s Security and The Sugarcubes debut album. BTW, I’d also like to debunk the myth of “they don’t last forever.” All of my discs have ripped. The only two that I haven’t been able to read are because they were physically damaged. I will admit that some read slower than others, but I have yet to find this so-called “disc rot”. Touch wood?

As a collector, I find myself gravitating back toward the earliest CD pressings, the so-called “target” era, when discs were made in West Germany and Japan, and were essentially “flat-transfers” of the original recordings. A lot went into making a CD sound good. Initially, it was finding a suitable source – an original 1/4″ stereo master, as opposed to some later generation – and let’s not pretend that those pioneer engineers weren’t good at what they did; but I also imagine the lack of computer tools to manipulate those source files owes to the “purity” of the early discs. That said, some don’t sound so good: Who’s Next on MCA comes to mind right away. I’ve scanned the bargain bins for the 80s and very early 90s pressings of Van Der Graaf Generator discs (on the Caroline Blue Plate label) which avoid the harsh sound of later remasters, and cherish the fact that I did keep the original Line pressings of Gentle Giant’s first four albums.

Why is this? The so-called loudness wars. CD “remasters” are a tricky thing. Ostensibly reissued to provide better sound, they don’t always sound better than earlier pressings. Why is this? In an effort to make things sound better in earphones and compete with “modern” recordings, mastering engineers have made vintage recordings “louder” by compressing the music’s dynamic range, the difference between the loud and soft in a recording. Does this mean they all sound worse? Well, that’s matter of preference, but categorically I can say this: The beauty of the flat, non-compressed music is the ability to crank up the volume on a good system and enjoy the dynamics of the original recording. Take a look:

DRloudness

With the DR14.T Meter program (and help installing it from here), you can even check this with your own files:

dr14_tmeter
------------------------------------------------------------
> Scan Dir: /mnt/data/music/ripped_archive/Gentle_Giant/1972_Three_Friends_[Line]
01_Prologue.flac:        DR 13
02_Schooldays.flac:      DR 13
03_Working_All_Day.flac:         DR 12
04_Peel_the_Paint.flac:          DR 12
05_Mister_Class_and_Quality?.flac:       DR 13
06_Three_Friends.flac:   DR 11
DR = 12

- The full result has been written in the files:  dr14.txt
- located in the directory:
/mnt/data/music/ripped_archive/Gentle_Giant/1972_Three_Friends_[Line]
Success!
Elapsed time: 3.71 sec

As a format, CDs are just about done, now eclipsed by streaming. Long live CDs.

On the web:
Album list – Dynamic Range Database
DR14 T.Meter

the beatles, remastered


Tuesday brought news that had been rumored for years: The Beatles catalog has been remastered and is set for release this fall. As one who believes that all good music starts with the Beatles, this is big news. Reportedly, the engineers at Abbey Road have been working on it for about four years, and all 12 studio albums plus the compilation Past Masters will be boxed up for sale on on 9/9/9, the date a tribute to the late John Lennon. Also available at that time will be another box set, The Beatles In Mono, a 10 disc set compiling all the original mono releases.

There's a few things that lend the Beatles catalog to remastering. It was well-recorded for the time, and has been well-preserved since then. Add to that the substantial leaps digital technology has taken since then, and it's no wonder the results will be so eagerly awaited. If you do own any Beatles on CD, it's the original reissues that came out in 1987/8. Since then, the only retooling of their catalog apart from the Anthology series in 1996 has been the new stereo mixes of Yellow Submarine Soundtrack in 1999 and the 5.1 audio of the musical Love, in 2006. Oh yeah, and Let It Be Naked in 2003 (not hard to forget about that one). And according to the press release, the new remasters will not be available in digital form. Thankfully.

On the web:
The Beatles

oppo dv-980h

Okay, after years of denying it, I'm now interested in multi-channel audio. It was the recent Genesis archival box set that put me over the edge – what does the Lamb Lies Down On Broadway sound like in 5.1 audio? Now where to start. Obviously there are three things you need for multi-channel audio: 1) six speakers, 2) a receiver to process the audio signal, and 3) a disc player that can play all those formats. Well, I've got 2.1 setup with my PSB speakers, so I just need to purchase a couple of surrounds (Alpha LR1's for $85 each) and a center channel speaker. I honestly have no idea on a receiver, as this seems like the most daunting purchase (and a later post).

But the player ended up being quite an easy choice. I'm not sure how I stumbled on to it, but the Oppo DV-980H is one amazing universal disc player. Nuforce, who brought us the wonderful Icon amplifier, even offered a 20% discount on the player for their customers. A trip to Amazon.com and $134 dollars later, I've got a universal disc player that can play DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, SACD, CD, HDCD, VCD; in fact, every format except BlueRay and the now deprecated HDDVD. It handles up to 7.1 audio, sports 24-bit, 192kHz high resolution audio D/A converters, and has Dolby Digital Surround EX decoding. Stylish, easy to setup, and above all, one great sounding disc player, it's no wonder that the Mountain View based Oppo Digital has won too numerous accolades to mention. As a DVD player, it also upconverts, which may be of interest to those looking for HD video.

I almost forgot to mention – it also plays discs with Divx and Xvid files, and it's easy to hack into an all-region player too. Check out the Videohelp website.

On the web:
Oppo Digital DV-980H