Quality of digital recordings
I know that we all thrive for the best quality of our music. I have music in CD, GDCD, DVD-A, SACD formats - the albums that I like I always tryed to buy in the best resolution.
Recently I started to use the foobar2000 with the spectrum visualizer on bottom. I realized why some recordings always sounded good to me and others dull. Some hi-res formats sounded dull too, so I did plug in the analog outs of the DVD-A/SACD player into my new E-MU1820m and capture snippets. Played in foobar. Well... Beside some albums that are looking and sounding great, I was no so surprised to find that the albumes that sounded bad... have reduced bandwidth or reduced content of high-frequency sounds, even in "hi-res" formats that I do own. This is just a frequency observation, dynamics usually mirror the bandwidth performance.
Samples below. First some "good" ones.
1. Police - The Classics (SACD).
Nice looking, nice sounding. Constant high bandwidth.
2. Pink Floyd - TOSOTM (SACD). Below is a clip from the beginning of "Time":
It's rather an exception for Pink Floyd music, their cymbals don't pass 18kHz:
I would say that is marginally hi-res. Not so much difference from the CD.
3. Metallica - The Black Album DVD-A
This track is nice sounding, nice looking. But other tracks barely hit 17kHz. I am confused.
4. Genesis - Genesis (SACD)
Marginally hi-res. Content of hi-freq sounds is present but limited in level.
5. Tom Petty - Damn the Torpedos (CD). Love the album, but...
That's all you get.
6. Eagles (CD) Love the music. Not the quality.
7. Rush - Moving Pictures (CD)
That's all the master tapes had?
8. Yes - 90125 (CD)
Nice sounding, maybe a little "relaxed". Spectrum shows a slight taper-off after 17kHz.
9. Something "modern". Lady GaGa - Born This Way(CD)
I can not only hear, but see, the dynamic range compression. Content of hig-frequency is mostly... white noise.
10. Lady Antebellum - Own The Night (CD)
This is a rare capture, most of the time you will see signals below 15kHz. Sounds good, not compressed, relaxed, but in the end dull...
I have seen in a couple instances in the multiway forum where people have commented that adding a super tweeter brought the music"alive" , but I'm sure they wouldn't make much of a difference if there's no musical info present. Maybe the engineers are just bandwidth limiting for the I-pod generation?
Bandwidth is indeed an issue, but compromised dynamic range is even more pernicious. Play around with Keith Howard's DynamicsAnalysis freeware. You'll soon see that gross compression and limiting is the rule rather than the exception. And that many recordings praised in the audiophile press as "detailed and dynamic" are the worst offenders.
Some older recordings sound a little dull (indeed like The Eagles) but that's probably the result of the limited bandwidth of the recording equipment of those days.
But it's the heavily compressed "loudness war" CDs of today (actually it already got bad back in the 1990s, e.g. Oasis albums) that I try to steer clear of as much as I can nowadays. They just hurt my ears and can give me tinitus.
The first image is the tell tale look of a waveform of a loudness war track. The signal almost completely fills the available headroom indicating almost no more dynamics present and normalizing nearly up to 0 dB.
The spectrum analysis shows the bandwidth has been sharply cut off at around 17 kHz. Originally it was an MP3 of 192 kbps, this may have something to do with the bandwidth limitation.
The other track doesn't sound compressed and it shows. It looks much more "ragged" because the dynamics are still there. Even after normalizing to 100% (i.e. largest peak at 0 dB) the waveform doesn't look different. The original recordings must have been made on analogue tape (late 70s early 80s) hence the slow roll off of the frequency. Luckily the dynamics were left intact when the recordings were remastered for CD in 1996.
Loudness war music all start well recorded but at some point in time during production the decision is made to compress all living soul from the dynamics, IMHO destroying the music. I agree with Bob Dylan that loudness war music is much like static. I can only hope music companies stop this asap.
Oh yes, the waveform in the first image is Amy Winehouse "You know I'm no Good". The second image is from The Blues Brothers Complete "Expressway to your heart".
You folks know/remember that CDs are brickwalled at 22K, right?
I'm also not convinced that "dull" sounding older recordings are due recording limitations but rather deliberate choices by the mastering engineers. I suspect it more likely that current recordings highs are boosted along with the compression.
Brickwall or not, you can easily pick out 70s pop recordings, IMO they have the most recognisable sound "signature" of all recordings out there. But I'm talking about recordings that were remastered in the earlier years of digital. Nowadays it's likely remasters are "treated" with all the gadgetry that's available.
Example: get some old AC/DC-CDs (e.g. "Higway to hell") and compare the sound to the ca. 2003-remasters.
Your findings confirm what I've suspected, even some of your examples are songs I use as references. The Police had absolutely brilliant production- the peak of the vinyl era and analog studio recording. Pink Floyd's The Wall is also brilliantly mastered. And of course, my fave genre is late 70's prog rock- I suspect in part because that was the high point of analog recording.
I built a set of Short Thor speakers a couple years ago and was absolutely astounded at what I heard. Several tracks on Yes (the album) have very faint "snicking" sounds, which I figured out are from the engineer punching tracks in and out. In fact, and again this is what I love about that era, mastering was all hands on deck, everyone turning the right knobs at the right time- band members, roadies, engineers, everyone.
I absolutely despise the high compression trend.
I think the biggest influence here on quality is the mixing and mastering job. Every engineer has their own style and techniques and their own personal preferences.
What happened to the pics in the first post? This is the first time I've seen this thread, and they're all a - sign inside a circle for me.
I'm doubtful that frequency response is a major problem. It annoys me at an intellectual level that mp3's are usually cut off below 15k, but I can't hear past 12k on a good day anyway. A look at the response of any 15IPS reel-to-reel recorder or mixer from the -60-s or '70's is probably pretty flat to 20k and only down a little bit at 30k. I'd think of LP's as more limited, on the other hand there were was discrete quad LP's in the '70's using supersonic carriers and sidebands for the back channels, much like stereo multiplex FM.
There are people who claim "LP's sound better" who can't say exactly why they feel that way, but I'm pretty much convinced it's because they they're hearing the dynamics on older LP's that don't exist in recently produced or recently remastered recordings.
I remember as early as the late '70's, the tenor from little I read of the hifi magazines was "wait till we have digital as a consumer format - the dynamics are gonna BLOW YOUR SOCKS OFF!" We got digital with the capabilities, but the dynamics sure went to hell in a handbasket. Now we have "all the bits flipping all the time" except when it's at one rail or the other.
Woops, sorry. I just wanted to add my voice to the chorus saying how terrible everything is nowadays.
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