Getting closer to analog

July 23, 2017
 by Paul McGowan

What an odd goal. Building modern hifi equipment that matches the performance of vinyl or tape.

Is that what we really mean? sounding-vinyl-like?

I certainly don’t. What I mean when I use that term is achieving sound like what you would hear if the musician was in the room.

Vinyl and tape are analog processes, not reference standards.

Our reference is live unamplified sound.

The last thing I want to do is build high-end digital audio equipment that matches the performance of vinyl or tape.

What’s really important to me is the same with both mediums: capturing the essence of live, unamplified sound.

Wish there was a better term.

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73 comments on “Getting closer to analog”

  1. I fully agree!

    Problem with home Audio is, that with the equipment you produce, you don’t have the whole chain (starting from the recording and ending with the played back medium) under control, as well not the surrounding of one’s home, which you assume optimal (therefore equipment is made), which it isn’t.

    Many influences, synergy issues and possible “pollutions” that could be introduced on that way. I think that’s the reason why there’s no “one truth” and especially why 1:1 guiding through the pure mediums signal (which is affected by many “faults” in the process before) isn’t automatically the best and most satisfying solution.

    But I think for good reason no one’s working on compensating those faults in the process before the played back medium within his components. It’s just not possible. Therefore it’s not really possible to achieve live sound. Therefore some less ideal concepts can sound better than theoretically ideal concepts built on the untrue assumption, everything infront of its own performance was optimal.

    1. Maybe once more a comparison with photography helps a bit:

      In photography digital has a huge lot more convenience advantages to analog and a huge less difference in result compared to those between digital and analog audio. But anyway there are many, who prefer analog photography and very few who say digital photography brings better results (except for convenience reasons). The argument usually is, analog photography has better “flair/picture language”, don’t know how to explain properly (which has nothing to do with neutrality).

      Anyway it should never be the goal for a camera to perform “analog-like”, as it shouldn’t be the goal for hifi equipment to sound “analog or vinyl-like”. The goal in both cases should be to perform closest to the real thing.
      That’s easier for photography as all lies in the camera and lens, it’s independent of a recorded medium as audio is.

      Anyway in photography it is boring for most to just look to neutral pictures replicating nature 1:1. People mostly more or less optimize natural pictures with photoshop to get an even stronger illusion when looking at their pictures at home and avoid to let it look unnatural at the same time.

      My parallel ist:
      Maybe we also need a slightly pimped result from audio at home, too, to more easily get over the still existing differences to a live performance.

      I think if Paul takes his above mentioned goal really seriously, he would have to try to tweak out limitations that happened before his equipment. For sure that makes no sense. Means: his goal can’t be reached with the measures he has or uses, maybe the measures he takes (except listening and voicing) are partly even not suited to reach the goal. I think all these arguments are the reason why measurements and neutrality alone don’t help to reach it.

  2. Closer to real? The Absolute Sound? It sounds like music?

    With a few exceptions, I think every concert I have been to, music I listen to, and grew up on has been amplified in some way. And when you take that in to consideration, many of our systems actually sounds better.
    A week ago I was given two tickets to see Elvis Costello. He put on a good show, but the sound was terrible. I have been to that venue many times, some acts have been overly loud, but none as distorted as that. I would say that I would rather hear those same songs on my or my friend’s system, than what we heard.
    I gave up long ago on trying to get my system to sound like the live amplified music I listen to. Because it usually sounds better than live amplified music.

    The thing is to record music it has to go through electronics, they color the sound, so how do you fix that? There are only a few labels that actually have an audiophile grade recording system. I think you just keep making the best sounding equipment that is possible. Making digital sound more analog like has been done by adding tubes, recording in DSD probably has got us closest to the analog goal.
    I believe Bad Beef has experience in the studio, maybe he can answer this question. Have you ever heard the sound in the recording booth, sound identical to the sound in the studio? If not, then how can we ever expect our systems at home playing any medium to sound real.
    I think Keith Johnson knew that, and tried to create an AD that was better. But that was one link in a recording chain. Starting with the microphones, their preamps, the board that is full of pots, out to a tape recorder or a hard drive. And if it multi-tracked there are 4 to what 64[?] channels, all with multiple pots and AD converters. Even two mikes straight to a recorder doesn’t get you sound that is identical to the actual sound, as far as I know.
    I just want a system that sounds really good and is full range.
    It is a great goal, and you should never stop trying to achieve it, but is it possible?

    1. What you and Paulsqirrel say is another true aspect.

      For a lot of music, there’s no option of hearing it unamplified live. Even not an acoustic Jazz combo…only very rare chances in tiny Jazz clubs to ever hear that and then it depends on the instruments if one has to be amplified to be on level with a drum set or a trumpet etc.

      Maybe the proper goal should be “to create the illusion of listening to an unamplified live performance at home”. This description would then give a hint to the fact that for this “illusion” it probably doesn’t only help to be perfectly neutral “after” the media.

    2. I have been in some recording studios. The one thing that strikes me as an immediate issue is that the mikes are all over the place in the room, positioned right by each artist/instrument. If the goal is to reproduce what we hear in a natural setting, then it seems like you would need some type of multiple array microphone that records from a single position in the room, as if you were standing there. Everything after that is trying to put things back together. I don’t see how that will ever work, if creating what you hear in person is the goal. Sure, the engineer is try to recreate what he hears in the studio, but what he hears is already not what he hears if he was standing in the room from a single position.

      1. Recording engineers typically spend 99.5% of their time on the wrong side of the glass, so they don’t know what music really sounds like any better than audiophiles. The correct way to reproduce a multi-track is to have a speaker for every track. Further, each speaker has to match the spatial projection pattern of the instrument recorded on that track, which is a sonic signature of every acoustic and electric instrument.

        All audio chains need to be be one mic to one speaker. Combining two microphones into one speaker (MIXING) is SPATIAL DISTORTION. Likewise splitting one microphone into two speakers is distortion, like stereo and surround panning controls and stage monitor mixes.

        Conventional stereo, surround and PA speakers are evolved to be spatially vague. If you can hear where the speaker is, the stereo illusion collapses. This is especially true in performance, like the reverse of the “Wizard of Oz”: “Pay no attention to those speakers overhead, we are down here on the stage!”

        Real speakers represent the place of the sound source in the listening room by physically being there, and should have the same locational properties as the original. I built a collection of speakers that mimic orchestral strings, percussion, piano, acoustic guitar and lute, electric guitar and bass guitar respectively. I am working on human voice and horns. Tone hole instruments like clarinet, flute and saxophone are the most difficult because every note has a different shape.

    3. Jeff – to answer your question – no. The recording doesn’t sound like it sounds in the studio. I think that’s why Soundmind and acuvox constantly harp on this when we give the impression we think we’re hearing something like “the absolute sound” at home. My contention is that most of us get it, thank you very much, we realize what we’re dealing with. Until someone creates some other practical, workable, reproducable solution for home – it’s what we’ve got, and it’s lots of fun.

      A couple of years ago I was studio manager in a $2M Storyk-designed studio. I brought an artist friend of mine in, and Ken Christianson, who does the NAIM “True Stereo” recordings. In the traditional recording sense, this should have the best shot at “sounding like it sounds”. That is – a pair of vintage 70’s AKG 414’s recorded directly into a Nagra digital recorder. He sets up the pair about head-width apart, and places the performers in the room to create the stereo mix directly on to the recorder on two channels. About as True of a Stereo recording as you can do (an approach more often done in Classical recordings).

      Even that, when played back through speakers, does not sound like standing in the room at the mic position.

      BTW, Elvis’ singing in particular, and sound generally, sucked here in Chicago as well. It was first week of the tour, so I’ll cut some slack for that.

      1. Thanks Beef, I knew I would get a straight answer from you, without the pontification.
        We saw Elvis on the first night of the second leg of the tour. I had no way of telling how good or bad he was singing, as everything was being overloaded, causing major distortion. Without a doubt the worst sound I have ever heard at that venue, and maybe overall. I have seen a lot of punk bands in too small clubs that sounded much better. He had these PA speakers on each side of the stage, I think there were seven square boxes mounted vertically, in a gentle curve, so the top pointed towards the balcony, and the bottom toward the main floor.
        I have probably seen over 200 concerts, and in the last few years, Brandie Carlisle had the best sound, and performance, I may have ever seen, and heard.
        Years ago, I saw David Crosby right after he was released, his first tour, in the same venue as Elvis, I was also in the balcony, he sounded like an angel. So I know it is not the venue.

        1. That’s…annoying and surprising. Record company tour-funding issue? I mean, after all, the thing with this tour was that Imperial Bedroom had apparently not been performed on tour over the years, due to the complexity of the arrangements on the record compared with his prior material. It was recorded by the Beatles engineer, Geoff Emerick, at Abbey Road, as I recall.

          The staffing of this show was in no particular way an attempt to recreate the record – there were no strings, etc.

          ….And hey, me and the Pontiff are like THAT (holds fingers together) : )

          1. Bob, my friend thought the house may have been controlling the sound, but in my experience, Elvis would have had his own guy. Could be a combination of gear and operator.
            When he did “Almost Blue” with just him and Steve Nieve on the piano, it was ok, until he pushed the volume up. Then it distorted again. And during the show, he used at least three different mics, and they all distorted ,t some point. It’s 2017, there is no excuse for a pro like him, not to have decent sound, a reasonable volume.

            1. Saw EC last year on the “Detour” show at the terrible Revention Music Theater in Houston. It’s difficult for any band to get a good sound in that steel and concrete box. Halfway through the show he did a totally acoustic “Allison”. The people on the balcony and 20 rows back couldn’t hear a thing.

              1. An artist must always scale their performance to the venue and audience size. Too many contemporary musicians don’t know how to do this. It’s an issue of basic performance competency and I’d argue a lot of why today’s audiences have very low expectations.

    4. You and most people under 60! That’s why hi fi sales are in the toilet because there’s no longer any reference of comparison for most people.

      I was lucky in that I grew up at a time when there still was unamplified orchestral music, musical comedy, opera and big band jazz. Recordings only barely approached the emotional experience of non-amplified music. Today about all there is are acoustic guitars and voice or Indian classical music performed in living rooms. I was utterly frustrated trying to find live unamplified music for my daughter to experience anywhere in the San Francisco Bar Area during the ’90s.

      There’s a lot more to this than simply nostalgia, style, identity or fashion. I’ve spent my entire career recording and mastering popular music. I was part of a team that invented many of today’s production methods and have worked on over a hundred top 40 hits. I love the music of the people I work with however we never matched the experience of live unamplified music and the more manipulated and “produced” each recording became, the farther the results were from that emotional experience.

    5. I honestly feel that “live amplified music” is an oxymoron. I think what you are saying is that you agree. The last time I saw Fleetwood Mac it was unnecessarily, brutally loud. But it was undistorted. Still it detracted from the music.

      Sadly most of my favorite music requires an amplifier.

      1. I don’t understand why this is an oxymoron? Their is such a thing as live music played with no mics or any electricity involved. Granted it is rare, but you can still go to a few coffee shops and see someone with a guitar, singing without reinforcement.
        The thing is, the music I most love [also requires] is all played on amplified instruments. Even when they play an acoustic guitar it has pickups, and a cord going to an amplifier.
        Live music can be played at a volume higher than we would choose to listen to, but not so loud as to be intolerable. I loved the Grateful Dead, and all their spin off groups, Ratdog, Phil and Friends, Further,etc.
        When he was still with us I believe nobody interpreted Dylan like the Jerry Garcia Band. I never saw any of those bands where I needed ear protection. I saw Ratdog at the same venue as Elvis Costello and the sound was great.

        Finally, you may be right, but what do I agree with? I think this post was directed to me because of the “live amplified music”, if not I apologize for getting lost in all of the posts.

        1. I grew up listening to unamplified acoustic music. My brother is a skilled guitarist and a pretty good singer. He started performing while he was still in high school in the ’60s.

          Yes, today hearing unamplified sound is a rarity. But in truth, a guitar and voice sounds different without an amplifier and PA speakers.

          I am not attacking the phrase but what it has come to be. I saw Jerry Douglas in a small venue and the drums were so loud it was painful. I was so close I could hear the Dobro, not through the amplifier.

          So, to me, amplified music (if it can exist without the amplifier) is an oxymoron.

          1. Man you’ve lost me;-)
            If there is no amplifier, it is not amplified music. Yes rare, does sound different. In your example, a good drummer knows how to quiet down their drums, and play softly. Brushes, rather than sticks, stuffing the bass drum with blankets, or just not using it.
            I have seen way too many drummers who play like they are not part of the band, they are pounding away, with no connection to the song. Technically good, but not musical drummers.
            That was Jerry Douglas’s fault, or whoever was the band director. Maybe whoever was in charge of running the soundboard. They are the ones who have to communicate with the musicians.
            I love seeing a drummer who will adapt to the song. Either play a separate drum, or even play with no sticks at all. Playing without amplification is getting to be a lost skill. At a time when playing live is the main way for musicians to make a living, you would think they would learn to adapt to the venue. Or most of the bands we like are getting old, and may be close to deaf. I remember years ago, Pete Townsend had quit playing live, due to his hearing. Either advancements in stage monitoring, like in ear monitors, or Pete needed the money, and figured the band could just follow him, rather than taking cues from the others on stage, I don’t know.
            Not trying to debate, I’m just not clear on your line of thinking.

  3. “… as if the musician was in the room.” This goal could only be reached if the music is recorded in an anechoic room, Paul. Otherwise the recording contains the sonic pattern of the recording room. And these pattern are reproduced by your speakers and superpositioned by the reflection patterns of your room. How would you train your ears to filter the recorded room pattern? Impossible. And even a near-field microphone catches room reflections. As I stated earlier already: The concept of stereo has to be redesigned starting with the recording techniques. What do you think why in the early days of stereo three channel recordings including a center channel were popular?

      1. I really think a full 5.1 system had tremendous merit. The problem is that they would separate tracks into sounds that came from everywhere, which was stupid. If you could somehow record the normal ambient sounds & reflections you hear from back and sides, and reproduce those, it seems like you could get closer to a natural setting. It just never happened that way. It would have to start all the way back at the recording.

        1. Reed – this is what most classical surround recordings do – try to limit the back channels to the sound from the back of the room via mic choice, pattern and position, or various forms of array.

      2. Way back in the 70s I did a recording of my brother on guitar and his friend Dan on mandolin in my brother’s bedroom. We used Graham’s Nakamichi 700 with three Nakamichi microphones. I would turn up the center mike till i heard it on the headsets and back off till it wasn’t obvious.

        It is still a beautiful recording today.

    1. Two (or even 32 speakers) can’t possibly re-create the reflections of the capture room; and solving the superposition problem by anechoic recording is a false path, unfortunately followed by 99.9% of recording engineers. Ears can decode the directions of arrival of the reflections which come from every angle in reality, and are used to triangulate sound source position, orientation and movement in spaces like forests, canyons and caves.

      Modern multi-track methods dictate that studio rooms be dead, mics are so close it sounds like every instrument is an inch from your ears and everything is mixed with pan controls before adding “statistical” digital reverb. These artificial reflections are calculated to mimic one dimensional reductions of three dimensional room models in level and density over time, but the absolute timing does not represent any possible physical room geometry.

      To ears which hear physical music daily, digital reverb like this is unlistenably annoying. We prefer analog reverb springs and plates, because the one and two dimensional reverb is physically real and consistent so we have grown decoding loops in our brain. At Spectrum we have Vox AC-15’s used as reverb amplifiers to create this vintage sound in live concerts, and also a Furman RV-2 reverb spring unit.

      Digital reverb does not correlate sufficiently to stimulate neurogenisis, and neither does listening to recorded room reverb overlaid with listening room reverb. Speakers project recorded reflections from the same angle as the original direct sound, which produces a cartoon-like 1.1 dimensional image analogous to cell animation. Engineers always add too much reverb to overwhelm modern residential acoustics, which are also too live like synthetic caves, except with strictly orthogonal boundaries. Just as our kids are trained to “cartoon physics” by watching TV on Saturday morning, audiophiles learn to interpret recordings with exaggerated reverb played in bare walled and flat ceilinged rooms as a semblance of reality.

      As for listening room interaction, speakers only have a limited range of “three cushion shots” to reach your ears. Loudspeakers typically have terrible off-axis response which garble these reflections in phase so your ears can make no real sense at all. Scientists are trying to solve this using thousands of speakers so the sound can come from as many angles, but this is even more stringent about sweet spot. Imagine a a room of 1,000m2 with one seat!

      Whenever you see pictures of audiophile’s rooms with bare walls, you know they are fooling themselves like the Emperor’s New Clothes. I achieve an accurate “window” into the recording space by application of diffusion and absorbtion at all first reflection points, diffraction edges and parallel surfaces, and similar scrupulous methods of bass control. This achieves optimum results with recordings made live in real spaces with near-coincident microphones but does not match contemporary interior design nor produce envelopment like the Soundminded system.

      The tricky part was devising moderately live acoustics for the capture room that make sense to both human ears and a pair of microphones, which have radically different responses to spatial content. I can find microphone positions with good spectral balance by ear, but I have to use headphones to get the room ambiance to reproduce.

      1. Actually I believe nine channels are required to match a sound field but nobody records anything that way because it requires there be nothing distracting in or about the room because there is still no visual information to perceive.

        A somewhat reverberant room actually enhances perception of details in a listening space. You just want it well diffused with minimal coloration in the reflected sound. Bell Labs and RCA figured this out during the 1930s and the recording industry forgot all about it in the 1970s.

      2. Nice to learn, acuvox, that there are some philichosers (serious audiophiles) out there having already rethought stereo. My crucial moment helping me to detect that there was something terrible wrong with common stereo systems and recording techniques came when I could listen to a pair of single driver crossoverless widebander loudspeakers in nearfield arrangement. The resolution and revealing of fine details came rather near to the quality of my old AKG K 1000 headphones. No sound chaos as created by full-range multi-driver four or five way speaker systems. Thus I started asking how the sound wave is composed that reaches my ears. And the discussion with sound engineers soon made clear that they are not keen producing high fidelity but only a good artificial “sound” for unknown stereo systems and listening rooms. Maybe effect-sound engineer would be a better characterization. And speaker designers seem to be in search of just creating speakers for life-like sound pressure levels with minimized distortions. What a nonsense: life-like in a tiny listening room. Tiny compared to the concert hall dimensions. Finally my rethink stereo systems started with most compact speakers – just the opposite approach of Paul McGowan restarting his system in music room one with giant IRS speaker towers probable being able to produce the highest sound pressures. I wonder why the idea behind quadrophonics never was realized – meaning to get a high-fidelity holographic sound. One answer might be that the loudspeaker designs had developed into the wrong direction?

      3. “Modern multi-track methods dictate that studio rooms be dead”

        You are on to something there. I prefer Jazz recorded in the 50’s or 60’s. It might be the technique they used then.

        1. I noticed the transition in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Tape made it possible to splice, and multi-track made it possible to adjust balance after the performance and overdub like Les Paul and Mary Ford. This went from creative use to corrective “fixing” of mistakes but this required “clean” separation of the individual sounds and artificial reverb, so by 1959 recording studios were already putting separators between players and moving people into separate rooms. This interrupted the flow of the narrative and disconnected the players from each other. Headphones are another level or artificiality because microphones lose a lot of the music.

          My favorite albums were live recordings, so I could hear the INTENTION to splice and overdub and the affects of studio artificialities on the performance. This was my initial reason for building recording studios starting in 1975, because Human Is Better Than Perfect.

          By 1978 I built a state of the art mobile studio, but could not get the sound I wanted because of PA system interference, which was in 95% of the jobs. I backed off into project studios where I could develop my own acoustics and recording techniques, but could not get around the drastic information reduction of microphones and speakers, even with phase aligned monitors.

          That was also when I discovered the realism of small diaphragm microphones over the revered large diaphragm U47/67/87, the inherent distortion in all processing gear and the superiority of near coincident pairs over mono spot mics and pan pots.

        2. The dead thing began in the ’70s. Ironically the hits were often still coming out of the older live studios and by the ’90s new live studios were being built.

  4. Agree.
    I only listen in digital because I prefer it to analog. To me it sounds cleaner and clearer. I don’t want it to sound like tape and vinyl.

    I think the whole “like analog” terminology came about b/c till relatively recently, “digital” mostly meant that harsh sound with glare many associate with 80’s CD digital recording and playback.

    Today, we need some different terminology. Instead of “analog like” we need to say “more like the real thing”, “as if taking place in my room”, or “like hearing it in person”.

      1. No preference. Just well recorded, no matter the source. I have hi-res and DSD sourced from tape that sound fantastic. I also have original digital recordings that do, both PCM and DSD.
        I still think many people who think digital “can’t” sound good just haven’t heard it from good digital recordings or on a really good digital setup.

  5. I guess it’s another topic I see from another view
    For one thing no system can reproduce live of any event for many reasons
    So that goal is pointless
    Next analog sounding is the ref made by audiophiles and I am
    Glad I am not one. Having said that the best music we own or I own is sourced from analog tape or vinyl
    Ripped. What do you guys say to this and you to paul. Who here likes the new pure dsd recorded stuff over the analog source stuff.? This is where the answer is for this post.
    While some new I like it lacks the texture of the old. Maybe it’s what I have grown to love.
    We don’t live in the digital domain so it seems to me that analog is closer to natural sounding. A great tape recording sounds better to
    Me then any digital does to me.
    But digital is by far the easy medium to pick out much more music to
    Listen to. I don’t play analog period but feel it’s the absolute goal to attain to. Great analog or great digital are very different but when both are done well from
    Source to sound they both are great. MICHAEL Jackson who I think made some really great sounding music did his last album in analog 8 channel
    For me dsd is best and dsd sourced from tape is best of that. Pure digital rarely gives me a feel of passion for the magic of music. them Being there or being here is a nice coined phrase that I feel has little merit other than to point Out if our system is good. Bad beef please weigh in on this you love dsd .

    1. “Who here likes the new pure dsd recorded stuff over the analog source stuff.” you asked…

      Although I cherish what vinyl delivers differently to digital (or what I still remember from my old Revox tape machine), I must say there are quite some digital recordings played over the DS which I’d consider so perfect that I doubt they could be beaten by anything analog. This might be mostly DSD recorded stuff, but also PCM recorded, I don’t care for it too much.

      How good they are in comparison for me mainly depends on the recording quality, the initial mid/top richness and harmonic structure of the recording, the importance digital strengths have for that recording and if top end resolution and extension plays a major role in the recording. Where i.e the sound of cymbals is essential to the music as in many jazz recordings, nothing digital comes close enough to an analog recording played by vinyl to me yet.

      But if we take Sound liaison’s Impromptu DSD Recording of piano and bass, some 2L, Yarlung or the fabulous Northstar classical recordings (PCM sourced as Richard Muron mentioned) and I don’t know how it could get any better.

      There are also great analog sourced DSD recordings like some from Esoteric etc. or some analog processed digital recordings from 2xHD, but I wouldn’t give it that much importance compared to pure digital like really listening to analog recordings from vinyl.

      For me pure digital can be as close to perfect as vinyl, in both cases it depends on the preconditions the recording gives.

    2. +1. Pure digital recordings leave me cold, whereas a good analog recording, a DTD, a master tape, a careful mastered and pressed LP can have the emotional spark of the real thing. DSD is close, really close and with a better DSD DAC might equal or better the best analog in my system. That said, ripped digital sounds better than CD from the source for what ever reason. I have no explanation for this weird behavior.

    3. There are attributes of the best vinyl in a groove that are more compelling and simply make me feel better than digital, like the original MONO Gould Goldbergs. DSD erases the fatigue, but analog had evolved into an art form where the highest practitioners added in a pinch of live music reality that is missing in a flat playback – although I stopped buying vinyl in favor of SACD because of the convenience, extended bandwidth and lack of splicing and processing. (Beware of digitally processed and upsampled recordings. Any mixing, mastering, processing and splicing has to be done on decimated files!)

      Most of what I listen to now has substantial background noise from the live recordings so SNR is not a consideration. Back in the master tape era I preferred tape hiss to Dolby and dbx, and I still prefer ticks and pops to the spatial distortions of multi-track recordings and the digital artifacts of mixed and mastered CDs.

      I suggest tracking down a late model Victrola mechanical player and some good ’78s. I heard something in that format that is more palpable than even LP technology, a feeling I can remember years later as being different and more direct to my soul. There were musicians who preferred acoustic phonographs too.

    4. There are attributes of the best vinyl in a groove that are more compelling and simply make me feel better than digital, like the original MONO Gould Goldbergs. DSD erases the fatigue, but analog had evolved into an art form where the highest practitioners added in a pinch of live music reality that is missing in a flat playback – although I stopped buying vinyl in favor of SACD because of the convenience, extended bandwidth and lack of splicing and processing. (Beware of digitally processed and upsampled recordings. Any mixing, mastering, processing and splicing has to be done on decimated files! Pure DSD has none of the above)

      Most of what I listen to now has substantial background noise from the live recordings so SNR is not a consideration. Back in the master tape era I preferred tape hiss to Dolby and dbx, and I still prefer ticks and pops to the spatial distortions of multi-track recordings and the digital artifacts of mixed and mastered CDs.

      I suggest tracking down a late model Victrola mechanical player and some good ’78s. I heard something in that format that is more palpable than even LP technology, a feeling I can remember years later as being different and more direct to my soul. There were musicians who preferred acoustic phonographs too.

    1. rwwear,

      from all I’ve heard so far I’m completely on your side, even if a lot of people here will disagree (look at the two dislikes) because they prefer DSD.
      I’ve done so many tests comparing DSD vs PCM HiRez and I never realized that DSD was better.
      Of course Paul and Ted Smith hear the difference with dramatic advantage for PCM – I don’t.
      Till today I do not understand why the audio industry and the record industry does not push multi-channel PCM HiRez. I think they’ve been stuck in the past first trying to imitate the sound of an analog source in the digital world and then staying with two-channel stereo although one has the tools to do better.
      Sometimes it is really frustrating for me.


  6. For me, vinyl sounds more natural. The best comparison I use is TVs. I have LCD TVs in the house, not LED TVs. LED displays, while technically considered better in almost every measurable way, have clarity beyond what I naturally see every day. Maybe for an owl or eagle, it may seem natural, but not for human eyes that simply don’t see that clear in everyday life. Like our ears in audio reproduction, our eyes can obviously detect tremendous detail (or I wouldn’t notice it), far beyond what we use in a real world setting. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because we are hearing and seeing, using more of our senses at the same time in the real world. Maybe our eyes and ears, when processing in a natural 3 dimensional environment have more information than we give credit, and simply don’t process information the same way with less information being sourced from a 2 dimensional flat screen or speakers.

    Since everything is a fabrication, things start falling into preferences. Some people love the detail and extra information their LEDs or digital front end provide, some don’t. To me analog sounds more natural, like what I hear if I were in a natural setting. Personally, there is a sense of ease when I listen to it. I attribute that sense of ease to things being closer to what my senses are used to. In my case, I feel like I start to “actively listen” to digital vs. “naturally listen” to vinyl. It’s hard to explain. I tend to start to try and pick apart different sounds when listening to the more detailed, nearer to distortion free, technically superior digital sources.

    I think “recreating the live event” doesn’t accurately state my goal in a system. As stated before, live events frequently have poor sound. For me, trying to “recreating what I naturally hear in the real world” better states it.

  7. Almost all the music I listen to is old. It was recorded in an acoustic or analog electronic process designed to sound good on records. The sound was never supposed to be a three dimensional illusion created by super speakers in a small room. Records were made to sound like the music heard by the recording engineers out of their monitors.

    The songs themselves were written and performed to be reproduced on an analog medium as well and to my ears sound most alive when played back by original first pressing LPs or 78 rpm records. When you hear it you have to say: “There it is.”

    Digital sounds dry and powdery to me, like music reconstituted to meet specific modern audio standards, not the original intentions of the recording artists themselves. Sometimes a digital transfer of an old recording is done well but that is more a function of the turntable and cartridge used. If too much digital processing is used the soul is squeezed out of the music.

    Recently I did a transfer to digital of some old recordings by Yodelin’ Slim Clark, a New England Cowboy singer. Although I also had the CD compilation, the original discount LPs and 78s sounded so much richer and realistic compared to the cleaned up digital there was no contest. Noise and scratches and all.

    Digital is like processed food. It’s better they say but it doesn’t taste that way.

    1. Who says processed food is better? I have always heard the opposite. Natural, organically grown, or real chunks of meat. Compared to processed sausage, natural is healthier.

      As to how it was recorded, you must be talking mono, as stereo was deigned to be three dimensional, and that happened in the 1950s. Although mono was the more prevalent media through the mid ’60s. Listen to the mono box sets of the Beatles, I think up until Sgt Pepper, but it could have been Revolver or Rubber Soul, the stereo release was an after thought, done electronically. The digital mono releases sound very good.

      If digital sounds dry and powdery, you need some better digital playback gear. I don’t know of anyone who describes their digital playback that way. They may, feel analog sounds more natural, or less fatigue, but not powdery. That’s a new one. What digital gear do you have?

    2. I can think of one artist that may disagree…………………..he’s spent a lot of time and effort in pushing Hi-Res digital files of his music, determining it is more akin to what he intended. That artist being Neil Young.
      I would also bring to your attention the recent American Epic re-recordings that people on the PS Music Forum are raving about. Period music that has been manipulated for sure.

  8. I agree there is some great pure digital out there but it’s far less of it compared to old dsd conversions.

    Any form of dsp if used Ina transfer ruins the texture and this removes what makes the magic of the music.

    Just a transfer from tape to dsd or vinyl I love. Now of EQ is used I don’t know. But the back ground snaps or hiss is part of the body and soul of it. I own a 1929 45 vinyl rip
    Done froma ultra high end TT to dsd 128. I have also a copy of it cleaned up by dsp. There is no comparison to the original. At first I felt I heard more notes or details. After going back and forth there is no more details. What there is less of I call texture of the music. Pure digital has less texture in some ways.
    It seems thinner in some ways.
    Maybe I just have a preference for the impurities of analog.
    Having had several times a guitar or saxophone in my room there is no way I can say it’s real in anyway

    1. Your “Preference for impurities of analog”:

      Possibly one aspect, that “black background” is not happening live, is an artificial “artifact” of digital to many, although actually it’s an advantage.

      1. That is true
        Having said that the hall mark of a great server is a blacker back ground
        But still having the air. A live event is filled with many sounds even if no one is playing. Even a studio has ambient noise at times. Amps hum as an example. It’s not that I love the noise but it’s a song I am hearing all there is. Tumbleweed connection has some really good tracks
        Hearing his lips is part of what I mean. Ina lesser system this is not heard.
        Digital from analog is not analog but it is not pure digital either.
        I have some feel you can take pcm and transfer it to dsd and it’s better.
        So the recording medium itself has its own sound.
        I have an analog productions of billy holiday that is sourced from hi Rez pcm transfered to dsd. It’s dsd to me not pcm anymore.

        1. Rooms and halls have a sound. The Los Angeles Cathedral, Our Lady of Angels, has a wonderful organ, but the room has a background sound that is audible when the organ is sounding and when it isn’t. The same with Disney, the performance hall at LA Harbor college, etc.

          The lack of background sound and I am referring to the recorded lack of sound, not sound from the equipment, which is always UNACCEPTABLE, with digital is not realistic sounding. This lack of sound robs the music of its life IMO. Analog, while the background of the equipment can be equally “black” that recorded sound help illuminate the music in a more realistic manner to my ears,

        2. To be honest I personally can’t say that I clearly prefer DSD to PCM or that PCM converted to DSD sounds better than PCM or that analog sourced PCM or DSD sounds better than digital sourced.

          Recordings are to different (some good, some bad in all sections) and I never had the patience and need to do a detailled comparison.

          Maybe I start a try to get some Info from Ted in the forum, what’s the difference of the first mentioned options from the technical perspective of the DS DAC. I don’t know if/how’s the difference between i.e. PCM and PCM sourced DSD if everythings converted to DSD anyway. All I know is that it’s better to use a PCM file in case an SACD or DSD file is based on it anyway.

  9. Perhaps the idea is to do well enough for an experienced listener to suspend belief. And my gut feeling is that this is more dependent on good recording techniques than on the method of reproduction. And, of course, this is the portion of the chain we listeners have no control of.

  10. Here is another thought on noise in the recordings.
    I own a dac that can yield higher details in some modes of use.
    Some may say it always should yield the most details and they are right and wrong. More details may yield a thinner sound like stats over ribbons. Weight is also important in making it right for that system.
    My dac allows tube rolling they very much effect the sound as Paul’s DS does in firmware.
    Another feature I asked for is to remove a cap in the audio circuit
    It’s controlled by a setting so it can be removed and put back.
    You would be surprised how one cap makes you go closer to the tape
    A while back Paul’s dacs had filters to pick from. Perhaps paul you can revisit this. Variation allows for better intergration I think. There is no magic bullit
    Not all recordings can stand a closer look but for ones that do magic happens. So for me noise is also a good thing

  11. My reference is live unamplified sound in a proper acoustic environment. I’ve walked out of many concerts and Jazz Clubs shaking my head as how an excellent musical experience in one venue could sound like total crap with the same performers in different acoustic environment. Sometimes a wonderful music reproduction system beats live, while at other times I return home from a night of live music and want to toss my equipment, piece-by-piece out the window

    1. My friend Scott and I were talking the other day about him hearing a live high school band. He was deflated, his stereo wasn’t turned on that night.

      Scott’s stereo was featured in Copper a few months back. It can reproduce transients and dynamics extremely well. But Scott just couldn’t bring himself to turn it on.

      I digress…. Scott was saying that no stereo could reproduce that dynamic sound and presence. I began to question the recording process. The microphone is a mechanical to electrical transducer, it is the opposite of a speaker. Microphones have all the problems that speakers have. And then there is the electronics.

      Maybe our systems are perfect and the recording process is wrong?

      Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

    1. And it varies with our moods. When we were dealing with a family tragedy my system sounded like garbage, dead, lifeless, boring. As my emotional state improved so did the sound of music in my house. No changes occurred in the system. The changes were limited to my brain.

  12. This is a huge language problem, because the word “Music” has been semantically subsumed by “music reproduction”. I consider physically generated sound REAL MUSIC, and reproduction is FAKE MUSIC. This is supported by longitudinal brain imaging studies which show that people who hear acoustic music played in the room daily grow bigger brains than their counterparts who only listen to loudspeaker reproduction. The brain is expanded for musical hearing, spatial mapping and interconnections between cortical regions and brain hemispheres given thousands of hours exposure to REAL MUSIC during formative years.

  13. Paul, you’ve said it properly…capturing the essence of a live event. Replicating the soul and body of the instrument. That is what I wish to hear through my system.

  14. As the reference is live unamplified sound (I don’t know what “live” adds to the equation), why do people list demo playlists with amplified music?

  15. The irony might be that digital sounds too much like the live event… It can be more true to the live performance. Having sat in may a rehearsal and enough gigs to know how live music sounds… (which most of the time is not pure acoustic). There is a certain edge that is manifested in a live performance that analog dulls down often in a euphoric way.

    If I held my ears close to each drum head it would not sound the same (nor as good) as several feet away. Yet? They place mics right near the heads… Having sat directly in front of guitar amps while rehearsing I will testify that you could never reproduce that in your living room. Live performance? The big rooms played in is a major part of the produced sound.

    I believe the real problem with digital is getting rid of the internal electronic noises that never were a major issue with analog’s sound. Once the problems with digital are sufficiently solved we might enter into a new “ear-a” of experiencing three dimensional high definition sound. And, to be heard by scale, just like we once had with model trains (if any of you remember). There will be nearfield soundscapes in various highly detailed scales. HO scale… O scale…. TT… etc. That’s my hope anyway. Audio landscapes in your room with dimension and movement…. with the benefit of the visual (video) to allow you to be amused with almost all your senses as one did when running his miniature village on the floor.

  16. Many times terms are so descriptive of the truth that they cannot be replaced. Vinyl like or tape like is the closest sound reproduction has come to the real thing. This is because analogue is a complete process. Digital is an incomplete process by it’s very nature and can never be complete and thus never be close to the real thing. The irony of it is that if digital ever became complete it would become analogue and would cease to exist. Even if the implementation of analogue becomes so good that it equals the real thing the term vinyl like or tape like would still be the correct terms. We just have to come to terms with the truth. Just think why did nature opt for analogue and not digital ? Simply because digital is incomplete. In fact digital does not exist anywhere in creation except in man made systems. It is totally unnatural and artificial. No other way out.Regards.

  17. Paul is right, if what is listened to was performed Live, Unamplified and recorded without compression and other added “bells and whistles”. Most modern music has been through such a chain of electronics with personal tastes added (or subtracted) from what the artist created. As a builder of drivers, our motto has been “The gold standard of sound reproduction”. We cannot control what was recorded, but if it was on the tape, CD or whatever the engineer intended, that is what you should hear – good or bad. Same as computers – GIGO. Paul’s equipment does a very good job of that, some speakers do a better job than others. Audio is difficult, what appeals to your ear may not be “right” and what is true and accurate might not appeal. Build your best and let the market figure it out.

  18. Everyone who listens to music (unamplified or not) on a regular basis in different concert halls, knows that the sound and soundquality you experience depend on the acoustics and your seat (front, back, side, corner).
    Sound and acoustics are a dichotomie.
    And since the cd’s you buy are not recorded in your room, they (and thus your speakers) will never sound like the musician(s) in your room.
    So, live music as a starting point for judging soundquality ?
    IMO not as obvious as it seems.
    For some it’s the microphonefeed. How close is the sound to what the producer meant.

  19. I have heard my playing on tape… and digital. Analog was flattering, like what a good portrait painter will produce of a person who would not be as pleasant to look at in real life. Digital on the other hand? Is more like a HD photo portrait without airbrushing…. Quality digital, that is. You get to see the warts that analog will hide. People have been screaming for accuracy. Well?

    Again… digital technology needs to get the distortions involved in the audio chain tamed to sound true. Analog has its inherent limitations. Vinyl has to limit dynamic range, and the bass grooves in the record are usually mono to keep the stylus from bouncing out of the groove. Digital has no such limiting factor.

    1. That’s true and I often ask myself, why I and others still listen to it from a technology standpoint.

      I can’t think of another example where such a compromised concept still competes against latest modern technology. In the upper price range it’s more than a hype.

      If just one would produce a digital player with some DSP presets (as bad as it is otherwise) in the lower price range many vinyl sound arguments would dissipate.

      1. Lucinda Williams on the deluxe version of “Blessed” includes a second CD of the kitchen demos. Just her and her guitar recorded on a Samson Zoom Q3. It sounds very good. If you can get that on a $500 portable, I don’t know why they they can’t get near perfect quality on an unlimited budget.

  20. A secret to realistic sound has been buried for years. We need a good time delay system …. with only two good sized rear speakers needed. The big woofers should be in those. And, no tweeters in the rear….. just upper mid range and on down. Placing tweeters in the ‘reflected sound speakers’ produces a very unnatural sound when compared to what actually bounces off the walls in an real room/hall. Your bass drop out problems should also be improved in time delay is done right. Have an old Yamaha Delay I found on Ebay still sitting in my closet awaiting refurbishment and some possible upgrades.

  21. I thought about why Paul, you may have felt the need for this initial post.

    Possibly because in your “Reference standard” post (meant: the DMP for digital sources) you wrote:

    “There is much to vinyl to love and efforts at digital always lean toward an “analog sound” (meaning vinyl, of course). Which begs the question, why not just play vinyl? Many people do.

    Only, vinyl is restricted in ways that bother many of us (dynamics in particular). If the goal is to get as close to live music in the home as technically possible, we understand analog tape/vinyl is not capable of reproducing the full dynamics of an orchestra. Digital is.

    Speakers are the same way. Flat panel speakers like Magneplanars and electrostats simply cannot move enough air to reproduce dynamics properly. Like farting into a wind storm. You just can’t get there.

    So, the good stuff you hear on vinyl is real and we try our best to emulate it with digital – and exceed its weakness. We’re mostly not successful.”

    I must say I never understood this in terms of taking Vinyl as a reference for digital, just that there’s a certain part and strength (among many limitations) in vinyl playback that (my understanding:) many would also like from digital and which would also be welcomed by digital designers in case it comes for free without any twisting of general principles .

  22. Once I learned about music and its structure I knew that music was analog; it is a summation of sine waves. If you know what a sine wave is you know it is a continuous function.

    So getting to analog is a spot on description.

  23. There is what digital could have been and then there was what we got which was primarily much cheaper technology than analog. The analog stages of most digital recording gear are pathetic junk!

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