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Author Topic: Townshend on CD  (Read 4087 times)

wwittman

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Townshend on CD
« on: December 04, 2006, 11:06:36 pm »

http://www.petetownshend.co.uk/diary/display.cfm?id=454& zone=diary

I think the comment about CD audio 'quality' is right on.

and the link to IBC Studios info is pretty cool as well.

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William Wittman
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Dave Davis

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Re: Townshend on CD
« Reply #1 on: December 12, 2006, 09:35:07 am »

It's difficult to translate Mr. Townshend's off-hand remarks and impressions because his hearing was largely gone by the time the CD was invented, and he says as much in the sentence you reference.

The relevance of his statements to those with undamaged hearing, listening to modern converters (e.g. since the 1980s when players were poorly clocked, and could barely maintain the data-rate of the format) is questionable.  I wouldn't question his observations or perceptions, but rather I note they have little to do with me, or others with average hearing and good monitoring.

Personally I'm not crazy about the sound of vinyl, and never was (I was cursed to grow up with that bad-old medium).  While early CDs and players sounded dreadful, consumer turntables of the time sounded as bad or worse to me.  For instance, people with perfect pitch found them as unlistenable and grating as Mr. Townshend finds 44.1 CDs.  Different media have different features and failures.  It's not surprising that some music will sound better or worse on different mediums, because of those variations - tape hiss, rumble, and codecs can each mask different sonic sins and make problems more euphonic!

-d-
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wwittman

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Re: Townshend on CD
« Reply #2 on: December 12, 2006, 03:38:34 pm »

well there's nothing wrong with my hearing and I think he's 100% right.


it also endlessly amuses me that, most often, the people who say things like "well obviously the EARLY CD's and players (or SSL's, or ProTools, or samplers, or whatever bit of digital they are apologising about) sounded bad, but NOW..."  are the same people who AT THE TIME thought and said they sounded just GREAT.


It doesn't really much interest me WHY vinyl sounds more musical.
it does.

that's the fault of digital and CD. No matter what the "reason" (as if I believe they KNOW, which I don't), it's up to the designers to MAKE them sound as musical.

So far, they can't.

you can introduce all the rumble and tape hiss you want.. you still can't make CD's sound as musical as even vinyl; let alone their analogue tape masters.

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William Wittman
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Dave Davis

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Re: Townshend on CD
« Reply #3 on: December 13, 2006, 09:25:12 am »

I respectfully disagree with many of your points, but in terms of the subjective argument (in objective terms, few measurements are on your side) I'll agree to disagree.  Your point about vinyl is right on though - it sounds different, and that difference is musical and good sounding.  As a mastering engineer, I spend most of my time working toward that very goal, so it's difficult to abandon a technology that made life easier by default.  It's MUCH harder to achieve euphony with CD, and harder still with mp3/aac/wmf.  But then its lately become easier to get basic fidelity, input=output, when that's the goal.  Unfortunately pros generally aren't paid to make things sound like a board mix, but rather for what we add.  So, point taken there.

Regardless of our personal tilts, the market has already decided the matter for the most part.  We probably agree the market's not always right, and that quality often gets the short end of that stick.  Maybe we can agree on these broad observations long term:

- the longer historic trend is towards greater, not less, fidelity to source
- current fashions are more related to developments in computers than sound, which skews the economics of our industry to the detriment of quality
- fashions are cyclical and ingenuity fairly constant, so it's likely we'll see some course "correction" that address real issues, including euphonic colorations.

-d-

PS: I'm 46 and recall hearing my first CD and first DAT pretty clearly (my first pro recordings were done in 1980, after years of home 4 tracking and sound-on-sound bouncing!); it wasn't hard to hear the flaws to anyone with ears, and many pros I know preferred cassette to CD for years.  In my case, I didn't buy a home CD player until 1990 (we had one in the studio, but a growing pile of shiny discs forced me to get one at home)!  Today we know why it sounded bad, but we've come up with many novel ways to ruin music in the interim.
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wwittman

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Re: Townshend on CD
« Reply #4 on: December 13, 2006, 08:28:03 pm »

well I'm not a mastering engineer (and for the record I have 10 yrs on you)


but I told the story elsewhere about going in with George Marino and trying to remaster an old record we'd done in 1983

We were comparing the vinyl pressing to the sound up now (which was analogue master played through the desk and EQ and then through the D-A-D chain) and it was clearly not only not matching, but 'better' on the vinyl.

George was prepared to say that it was just the "different" sound of vinyl itself...

UNTIL we deciced to bypass the A-D and actually compare desk out (after the EQ but before the A-D, and by the way the Sontec was the same one we'd used in 1983) to the vinyl.. and THERE was a near perfect match.

the point being - the vinyl sounded MUCH more like the original tape.
the CD couldn't come close.

not just more "euphonic" (the word digital apologists throw around, dismissively) - more ACCURATELY like the original.

not what vinyl "added"; what CD digital LOST.


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William Wittman
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rnicklaus

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Re: Townshend on CD
« Reply #5 on: December 13, 2006, 08:37:40 pm »

Everybody has their opinions, likes and dislikes, but to want something to sound like the vinyl?

The master 2 track mix tape, yes - vinyl, for me, no.

Your mileage will vary.
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R.N.

wwittman

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Re: Townshend on CD
« Reply #6 on: December 13, 2006, 11:30:32 pm »

I mostly agree, Randy.

in that, what i really WANT is the sound on the master tape.

but the point for me, for George after that experience, and apparently for Townshend, is that the vinyl comes a lot CLOSER to the sound on the master.

it LOSES less of that original quality.

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William Wittman
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Dave Davis

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Re: Townshend on CD
« Reply #7 on: December 14, 2006, 08:48:32 am »

Thats quite a claim, but entirely anecdotal.  Can you support that objectively?  I've never measured nor heard vinyl that sounded like the source, if only due to variations in playback. In a very real sense, cartridge/needle/groove offer a couple orders of magnitude MORE variation than any DACs I use, and the sound of a disc varies from table to table, much like the voice of a singer varies with different mics.  On the other hand, I've witnessed people mistake high res playbacks for performance.

It's a good story, and I don't doubt your experience.  Exceptional reproduction is possible, and many of the distortions introduced by the process are inaudible in real-world settings.  Still we can measure DACs against cartridges, and the variation from linearity from best-to-worst consumer DAC is much less than the variation in cartridges in the heydey of vinyl (ironically for many of the same reasons).

Doug Sax, in a panel, once posited that vinyl sounds better because like speakers it's a mechanical medium, where a real object moves back and forth, just like cones of speakers.  His term is that vinyl "predigests" music for contemporary speakers.  This is a reasonable hypothesis, and certainly explains what you describe: Like a needle in a groove, the mics on the far side of the console, move sympathetically with sound, and both mechanisms roughly mimic the motion the speaker must make to create sound, on a different scale.  

Low resolution digital, like CD, doesn't "stairstep" as audiophiles often claim, but the waveform isn't constrained by physics and the laws of motion, but rather the laws of information.  This problem is exacerbated by dsp: we generate increasingly "abstract" waveforms, further disconnected from reality.  Higher resolution digital can perform much better at the microphone, accurately tracking real motion, but again, mixing and dsp are a step removed from physical reality.  This isn't inherently "bad" or "wrong", but it's not hard to see how this abstraction could negatively impact translation, getting worse with each successive process, even at high resolutions.

In practical terms, it suggests digital can be much better sounding, wrt sound coming out of speakers, if DACs contained some dsp to model the physical world: limiting slew rates, tolerating offsets, and rolling off high and low response in a more natural (non-linear and bumpy) way, which implies high resolution, possibly as much as 192K.  Until we have speakers that better mimic the real world, the music might benefit from some "predigestion" (the real issue suggested is addressed in the speakers, not a digital vs vinyl matter) in the digital domain.  Still there are really a couple problems here, and over the next century both must be addressed.

In the meantime, this is one of the best explanations I've read for the differences between what you've heard/observed and I've measured.  I trust my ears and measurements, you trust yours.  Niether of us appears to be insane, and our conversation suggests mutual concern over a real issue.  Rather than beat on each other, we might advance our field by looking at this objectively, and consider this a problem to be worked out.  I seriously doubt there will ever be a return to vinyl or analog, so if we care about the music we're making we need to get this digital thing "right".

take care,

-d-
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wwittman

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Re: Townshend on CD
« Reply #8 on: December 15, 2006, 03:42:27 am »

Dave Davis wrote on Thu, 14 December 2006 08:48

Thats quite a claim, but entirely anecdotal.  Can you support that objectively? ...-d-


no, and I don't care.


When everyone in the room says "hey that sounds better" that's what matters to me.

If it only happened once, as an anomaly, that would be one thing.
But when I've experienced it repeatedly, I just draw the conclusion that vinyl sounds "better" AND more faithful, than CD.

I leave it to others to say "why".... although if their conclusion is "it shouldn't" or "it doesn't" then I know they're just not listening.
As I've said before, if I thought they really DID know "why" then they'd be making much better sounding digital audio than we yet have.

I agree that the problem with vinyl is the ability to reproduce it properly, especially in the "field".
We've all seen the quarter taped to the tonearm too many times...

but that doesn't change the fact that CD is basically an unsatisfying medium..
Which was Townshend's point.

and with which i still agree.

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William Wittman
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Dave Davis

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Re: Townshend on CD
« Reply #9 on: December 15, 2006, 11:14:10 am »

I suppose that as a mastering engineer, I must sweat those details, but I understand why others choose not to! Wink  I asked for support because that's my thing... When I hear those comments I generally try to establish the nature of the "difference", then proceed to measuring and correcting or addressing it.  Frankly I don't know how you'd establish this: Setting aside the technical difficulty of creating a blinded comparison at all, I'm fairly certain most trained listeners could pick out a vinyl playback from the source tape with nearly 100% accuracy, simply based on the different characteristics of the respective mediums.  OTOH, I've participated in well-blinded tests comparing analog playback to high-res digital media (DSD and 192K), and can tell you that no matter the training, no matter how relaxed the setting, a LARGE number of subjects will be unable to distinguish between an analog source and a converted real-time stream of that source.  This has been done in many settings and scenarios, with similar results as long as variables are controlled.  

Not surprisingly DSD often fares very well in these tests, often outperforming PCM.  I suspect that since it's characteristic distortions are very similar to the signature of all analog stages (HF devolves to noise vs. frequency), while PCM's linearity is more "different", thus more noticable.

But what do I know? Wink

Seriously... in response to your comment about "if we know why, we'd fix it", I'll point at Doug Sax' explanation once more, then to his catalog.  Do you find Doug's CDs more or less "unsatisfying" than CDs done by other engineers?  If they seem less offensive to you than other releases, I'd say Mr. Sax is taking your advice to heart, and the sound of those CDs is anecdotal evidence supporting his hypothesis.  To me his stuff does generally sound great (although Bob Ludwig remains my favorite mastering engineer).

At any rate, as long as you keep hearing the problems, we'll keep looking for the cause.  Sooner or later, even a blind pig finds an ear of corn!  We might never get there with CD (for economic, not technical reasons), but there's reason to look forward to DVD-based high-res PCM restoring the musicality we took for granted on vinyl, for all it's flaws.  I don't think the problem is resolution or inherent to PCM, but more related to approach and technique, so it's fixable.

Keep your standards high, and make us work!

-d-
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wwittman

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Re: Townshend on CD
« Reply #10 on: December 15, 2006, 09:54:09 pm »

well, George Marino remains MY favourite mastering engineer... by a lot.

second for me might be either Chris Blair (when he was doing it) or Bernie Grundman.

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William Wittman
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ruffrecords

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Re: Townshend on CD
« Reply #11 on: January 05, 2007, 04:01:13 pm »

wwittman wrote on Thu, 14 December 2006 04:30

what i really WANT is the sound on the master tape.

but the point for me, for George after that experience, and apparently for Townshend, is that the vinyl comes a lot CLOSER to the sound on the master.

I worked at Neve in the 70s and visted many UK studios and heard many master tapes of popular artists - and I can tell you for absolute certain the vinyl sounds no where near the master tapes.

Ian
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masterhse

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Re: Townshend on CD
« Reply #12 on: January 05, 2007, 07:04:43 pm »

Tape trumps all of the above. CDs, vinyl, cassettes, Ipods, etc. are just a matter of convenience.
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Tom Volpicelli
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wwittman

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Re: Townshend on CD
« Reply #13 on: January 06, 2007, 05:50:58 pm »

ruffrecords wrote on Fri, 05 January 2007 16:01


I worked at Neve in the 70s and visted many UK studios and heard many master tapes of popular artists - and I can tell you for absolute certain the vinyl sounds no where near the master tapes.

Ian



nearER than CD

being the point
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William Wittman
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ruffrecords

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Re: Townshend on CD
« Reply #14 on: January 07, 2007, 01:59:53 pm »

wwittman wrote on Sat, 06 January 2007 22:50

ruffrecords wrote on Fri, 05 January 2007 16:01


I worked at Neve in the 70s and visted many UK studios and heard many master tapes of popular artists - and I can tell you for absolute certain the vinyl sounds no where near the master tapes.

Ian



nearER than CD

being the point

No, the point is both the vinyl and the CD went through the so called 'mastering process' In the case of vinyl this included additional EQ and often compression to overcome the limitations of the medium. In the case of CD who knows what the so called 'mastering engineer' thought he needed to do to make it sound 'better'.

The point is nether sounds anywhere near as good as the master tape. Vinyl hasn't a hope in hell of matching the dynamics and transparency of the original and a regular CD just ain't got the frequency response. Now if someone transfered the original masters, untouched, direct to SACD it might jsut start to get there.

Ian
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wwittman

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Re: Townshend on CD
« Reply #15 on: January 08, 2007, 01:22:04 pm »

NO, that's not the point.

In my example whatever the mastering engineer was doing was already up on the desk.
Then we got to hear the digital version versus the vinyl, and the vinyl sounds MUCH MORE like the original desk output.


you're right neither sounds JUST like it.

Vinyl sounds MORE like it.

CD sounds LESS like it.

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William Wittman
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maxdimario

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Re: Townshend on CD
« Reply #16 on: January 09, 2007, 07:49:20 pm »

I remember at the dawn of the CD era reading an interview of ..doug sax I think.. mentioning something along the lines of: nothing superior to a freshly cut master on a lathe..compared to cd.

I do a little test between the same recording on vinyl and on cd where the listener (who is usually someone with untrained ears) listens to one and the other on my stereo.

100% of the time when the LP is on their eyes open up and as they comment on the difference they make a physical gesture of 'size' with their hands (I am in Europe where talking with your hands is more widespread).

the comments always include adjectives such as small, squashed, thinner etc. for CD and 'bigger', 'like you are watching them play in front of you', I can understand the meaning of the words better etc..

none of these people really care about distortion content... nobody who casually listens to pop really does..

pop records ARE distorted to begin with: saturated, compressed, filtered, mixed, eq'ed.. there's probably 20% distortion on the average pop record compared to the naked tracks..

vinyl may have a higher amout of measureable distortion and noise, but the SOUND is more like the source..

I stick to the old 50's notion that 1% thd in a piece of gear is fine and anything below that is not likely to matter.

this is especially true with pop.
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