Having just listened to a batch of recent CDs, including thelatest from Emmylou Harris, Red Dirt Girl (reviewed in “CoolSpins” in November Recording Notes), I can't help wonderingif we're heading into a lo-fi world.
The paradox of all the effort and desire to increase samplingrates and bit lengths is that the trend is to finish up with a CDthat has less dynamic range than a good LP did. It may stand out onradio, but these highly compressed and limited CDs outlive theirwelcome pretty fast; they're fatiguing to listen to, and any senseof depth or space is squashed for the sake of being a loud CD.
I can't help feeling that the Golden Age for analog was themid-'70s to mid-'80s, when some terrific recordings were made thathad space and depth, without the sometimes bizarre compression thatoccurs now.
I just wish for a happy compromise: creative use of the mediumto let the music speak for itself.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
REVIEWING OUR FILES
Eddie Ciletti has laudably undertaken the difficult task ofexplaining analog tape recording technology in a few pages(“The Tech's Files”). But I want to make some pointsregarding his August 2000 article.
First, the Otari MX-5050B never was a consumer machine. It wasequipped with balanced inputs and outputs. Maybe he refers to someearlier version, but the venerable 5050B was and is a workhorse inthe studio. By contrast, the Technics RS-1500 was intended as aconsumer item, but, being an iso-loop design with great specs, itcame to be used in pro applications in broadcast and recording.
Second, any household product used for capstan cleaning must beused with care. But sometimes it is necessary to use moreaggressive cleaners because a common problem is baked-on debris onthe capstan. This is one reason that “heat-free” andnonferrous ceramic capstans were introduced. With steel capstans,heat from the capstan motor is carried up into the capstan shaftand the debris binds to the shaft. Water-based cleaners may notremove this.
About rubber cleaning solutions: You have to use the typedesigned to clean and rejuvenate the rubber. Usually wet-honing thepinch roller carefully with 400-grit sandpaper and such a cleanerwill take off the glazing that may occur on old machines.
Regarding head cleaning: Ninety-one percent isopropyl alcohol isokay, and pure ethyl alcohol is perhaps better. Cleaning is atwo-step process—one wet, one dry—to get the remainingmoisture off the head, and I recommend synthetic swabs, becausecotton swabs can leave a thread on a critical location. On ATR-100ferrous-ceramic heads, highly volatile solvents may cause the headsto fracture. So be gentle with those ceramic heads!
Also, in Fig. 2b, the ¼-track stereo format is described asbeing the same as 4-track ¼-inch. This is not so! The¼-track stereo format has a wider unrecorded guard bandbetween Side A and Side B of the tape. The two formats are notcompatible.
Further, with respect to LF repro response, Eddie says that onlya calibration tape made with compensation for multitrackreproduction can be used to check this. I think he should reviewhis ATR-100 manual. Most “standard” tapes are recordedover their full width to be usable with all formats. The result isthat LF fringing occurs, making the LF response appear to rise.Practically, it's not a big deal; a dB on the LF range may be lessthan the head-bumps, anyway.
I am totally with Eddie on the issue of NR and proper alignmentand adjustment. If the machine is not up to snuff, then using NRwill make things much worse. But rent a calibration tape? Please!Every studio should have a reference (cal) tape for every formatthey use and should have a service manual on hand for everythingthey use.
Robert C. Defenderfer
ALPHABET SOUP ASIDE…
In “The Fast Lane” (September 2000 issue), StephenSt.Croix writes, “FFT (Fast Fourier Transform)DSP…makes possible a perfect phase correct…real-timeEQ…FFT (DFT) FIR DSP is phase-shift free.”
This seems to imply that phase shift is bad, and, therefore, nophase shift is good. I'm not sure about that. Phase shift is anatural part of all physical processes that change frequencyresponse. For example, if a long cable rolls off highs, then therewill be an associated phase shift. If the roll-off is equalizedwith an analog equalizer, then both the phase shift and thefrequency response will be corrected. Therefore, in at least thatone case, equalizer phase shift is good. I suspect that isn't theonly case.
It's great that the frequency response and phase shiftcharacteristics of equalizers can be separated with DSP processes.What we have to learn now is, when do we want phase shift and whendo we not want it.
Dan Dugan Sound Design
Thank you, Paul Lehrman, for your thoroughly useful andinspiring articles on RSIs (September and October issues). Theyprompted me to bring up the subject of chronic hand pain to myphysician. He referred me to an orthopedist who, in turn, diagnosedme with carpal tunnel syndrome.
I am production guy/board-op at a local radio station, and Iwould go home at night with stiff, sore hands and wrists. There aretwo reasons why I'm thanking you: We caught it early, so there maybe things that can be done before surgery is necessary; and ifthose articles hadn't run when they did, I may still be silentlywondering why my hands hurt. I read Mix every chance I get, andthese last two issues have really paid off.
FOR THE RECORD
The November 2000 issue of Mix contained a review of the new TCElectronic System 6000 effects processing system. Toward the end ofthe review, the author implies that one of the reasons the TCsystem is enticing is that, unlike Digidesign's Pro Tools MIXsystems, you can create more complex algorithms: “BecauseDigi's DSP structure does not include a high-speed, interchipcommunication bus, a single algorithm can't run across multiple DSPchips.”
This statement is incorrect, so I'd like to set the recordstraight. Digidesign's TDM systems all have a high-speed, built-ininterchip communication bus (that is one of its key features). OurTDM bus supplies a 256 time slot, 24-bit data bus, and interchipcommunication can be supported. Currently, the system does notsupport inter-DSP communication for large-scale, single algorithm,plug-in processing, but there is no hardware limitation thatprevents this. (It is currently a software limitation.) In fact,this capability may well be added in the not-too-distantfuture.
The article on Bob Irwin in the December 2000 issue of Mix[“Producer's Desk”] hammered home a fact many overlook:Excellent quality remastered CDs don't just happen by accident. Toproduce a new (digital) master that faithfully captures the spiritand feeling of the original analog release (record) is an arduouslabor of love. Many producers miss their mark, ending up with afat, overproduced product that barely resembles the original. NotBob Irwin.
I recently bought a group of nine Sundazed CDs, which are 100%faithful reissues of Buck Owens' first nine albums, plus two bonustracks per CD. I was blown away by every one of the 126 tracks. Iam a musician with a digital home studio and am extremely familiarwith Buck's original recordings. It was immediately apparent to methat Irwin had created the perfect mix—definitive classicBuck—and I also realize how difficult it must have been to doso. I have hundreds of remastered CDs of music originally recordedas far back as 1917 through the '60s. Few faithfully represent theoriginal material to the high level Sundazed does.
I am continually amazed at how much a good producer can squeezeout of the old original masters. We are lucky to have producers ofBob Irwin's talents and drive who are willing to devote their timeand effort to saving and bringing back music from bygone eras sothat it might be enjoyed forever.
D. Larry Patterson
Your article in the December 2000 issue on“Top-of-the-Line Analog-to-Digital Converters” wasinformative and well-presented. I appreciate all of the work thatwent into it, and I think the timing was right. Many of us, whoperhaps don't work for a big studio on the coast but still make aportion of our living doing recording work, are discovering thevast improvement in sound quality we can attain when we move up tohigher quality converters than those in our MDMs and other portabledigital recorders. Though I still know several engineers that runtheir $1,500-per-channel preamp outputs right into their ADAT'sbuilt-in converters, I chalk this up to the fact that they justhaven't had the opportunity to hear what better conversion can dofor their sound.
I was disappointed to see that one high-quality, and I wouldassume fairly popular, converter was left out of your article. Thisconverter, the Swissonic AD96 has been in my live choral-recordingrig for the last few months. This 4-channel converter not onlysounds great but offers a lot in the bang-for-the-buck category. Itallows me the flexibility to record to my ADAT-XT in a variety ofsample rates and bit depths, and performs flawlessly everytime.
I did a lot of research and listening before purchasing theAD96, and I have not regretted my decision, even as new gear hascome on the market.
While our digital converter article focused on top-of-the-linemodels, such as Swissonic's 8-channel AD8 unit, most of thecompanies in the story also make 2- or 4-channel units that offersimilar performance in a less pricey package, such as the AD96 youare using.
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