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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A Steadily Collapsing Medium

As my summer project of creating a spreadsheet listing all of the equipment reviews in my various audio magazines continues apace, (entered 1987 Stereo Review today, including such gems as the NAD 6300 cassette deck, Nakamichi OMS-2A cd player and Polk Audio SDA-1c loudspeaker), I came across an interesting article in the November 1986 of Stereo Review issue entitled: "Analog to Digital: It's the Music That Counts When You're Choosing Compact Discs," by Gerald Seligman. The article addresses a matter that was being hotly debated in the early years after compact discs were released; are all digital "DDD" discs the only ones worth buying?  For the MP3 crowd, DDD, ADD, AAD were/are labels applied to cd packaging (not universally, mind you) to describe the recording technology used to create a particular cd.  From the inside of my 1991 London cd of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra performing Copland's El salon Mexico, Appalachian Spring, Rodeo, Dance Symphony and Fanfare for the Common Man; Dorati conducting:

DDD-Digital tape recorder used during session recording, mixing and/or editing, and mastering (transcription)

ADD- Analogue (sic) tape recorder used during session recording, digital tape recorder used during subsequent mixing and/or editing and during mastering (transcription)

AAD- Analogue (sic) tape recorder used during session recording and subsequent mixing and/or editing, digital tape recorder used during mastering (transcription)

This particular disc is part of London's "DDD Jubilee" series, which is emblazoned prominently on the disc cover, and that should be indicative of how valuable the "all digital" moniker could be for certain buyers and record execs as a marketing tool.  Not for me necessarily, as I believe I got this disc at deeeeep discount at Tower Records during their last days, probably the Huntington, Long Island store.

Seligman makes a convincing argument that you should pick a disc for its' musical content, not for the recording method.  He even includes a list of recommended analog remasters on CD with the article.  This seems obvious to me.  Something bad recorded completely in the digital realm is still bad (enter your least favorite type of music here.  I pretty much stick with rap as noise I will not buy regardless of how fantastic the recording, feel free to disagree although arguing with me about it is a waste of your valuable time).  I do understand why there was confusion that filled the letters columns at Stereo Review regarding cd recording technology.  it was new, and magical and kinda scary.  Would I get blinded if I looked in when the disc loading drawer opened?  I felt the same befuddlement without the fear of personal injury when MP3 came out, and I still do.  I have embraced the technology for use in the car however, although it still sounds pretty weak in my two channel rig and I have no desire to pursue it there.  Both technologies however, whether cd or MP3 might as well be magic as far as I am concerned, and I think many people felt the same way about cd when it first came out.

Moving on though, perhaps the REALLY interesting part of Seligman's article (IMHO), is the section with the heading: "The LP: A Steadily Collapsing Medium."  Although the reference could relate to LP sales at the time of the article's writing, the author cleverly meant something quite different, and here I shall quote:

"Even with great advances in LP cutting techniques such as Direct Metal Mastering, there are still excursions a cutter can't make and a stylus can't follow.  As a record progresses from its first bands toward its last, the speed may remain a constant 33 1/3 rpm but the stylus is covering significantly less ground . . .  the grove undulations for those extreme frequencies become so small that the very diameter of the stylus becomes too thick to follow them.  Accordingly, a cutting engineer will eliminate some of the highs simply to make the groove inscribable . . . low frequencies can be equally troublesome . . . Computerized cutting vastly improved upon this situation . . .  and although an LP can theoretically offer a greater frequency response than a cd, 10 to 25,000 Hz compared with 20 to 20,000 Hz, again, the question is at what level?"

Seligman provides information from MCA's Steve Hoffman later in the piece, and I for one would like to have a chat with someone at MCA regarding the hideous quality of the first Who cd releases.  That being said, I found the article very interesting in light of the current vinyl renaissance.  I am more than reasonably certain that most of the resurgence is due to image and less to a genuine appreciation of difference in sound, but I don't begrudge anyone the tactile pleasure of using a record player.  Watching the glass platter go around on my Rega is fun, especially in a darkened room with a light shining through it.  But I was always skeptical of the "vinyl sounds better" crowd, especially when they had to rely on the "your rig isn't good enough to appreciate the difference" argument.  Interesting reading, please feel free to let me know if you need more specifics.  In other (very good) news, I may actually get some listening time this weekend, as rain is predicted and yard work will be postponed.  Long overdue are words about the XA-5400ES vs. the CD-S2000, and the TC-K700ES.  We shall see!        


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