Remarkable noise

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On one of the many pilgrimages to HP’s Sea Cliff listening room back in the 1980’s, I made a startling discovery – record noise.

It wasn’t remarkable that there was record noise and tape hiss on the albums we were listening to because everything at the time had it. What startled me was the separation of that noise from the music; as if both were completely separate entities. Neither the noise nor the musical content affected each other. I had never heard this before.

On my system and on most systems I had ever heard, the record noise and tape hiss were intermixed with the musical content and all were perceived as a part of the same package; sonically speaking. This blending of all elements together was so normal and accepted to me that when I heard them as completely separated entities I was baffled by it. What I wasn’t baffled about was the “rightness” of this presentation. I became instantly convinced that I could never again accept anything less. To this day, I have always worked to achieve this separation of artifacts in all our designs.

Moving forward in time to the present, it occurs to me that with the advent of digital audio, the challenge of separating the music from the effects and distortions of the medium are even more difficult to achieve than when first discovered. Vinyl’s issues – surface noise, ticks and pops – are far different than today’s digital audio issues, but we should still strive to keep the music separated from the artifacts.

Jitter in a digital audio stream, for example, is a dynamic change in digital audio timing that produces unwanted audible side effects. In a really great system, those artifacts – bright hard sound (glare) and unwanted harmonics – should still sound divorced from the music but, in most cases they actually ride on the music and become a part of it. The problem with this is the music itself takes on the bright hard glare – which is most unnatural. When you hear these artifacts as separated from the music, you are more able to easily ignore the problems and focus on the music.

You may or may not have a chance to hear recorded music played back with this separation I am referring to, but when you hear it, you’ll know that it’s right. Please feel free to comment and share with everyone else reading this your experiences with this.

Meanwhile, keep an ear out for it.

Tomorrow: It’s just wire