Giving In To The Streaming Monster

I am always pushing for higher sound quality and reminding people about the limitations of streaming.

I’m also a modern man in this streaming world – one who is online 24/7. I can’t resist the addictive power of youtube and I know you can’t either.

I’ve put a lot of work into our YouTube playlists. Curation is key.

If you are needing the streaming, tune into WFNK.com.

Enjoy!

 

Dumb vs Smart


It seems in many ways dumb devices are better than smart devices:

Why? Security, privacy, and quality.

Anything with a network connection can be hacked: smart TV’s, cars, streaming boxes, appliances, routers and every other smart device, or IoT device, have all been hacked.

Anything that gets a software update can get hacked. That’s called a backdoor.

Then there’s the fact that most smart devices track how you use them, and many of them upload and sell that information to 3rd parties. There is money to be made in tracking the habits of their users, and companies exist to make money.


Think about it. Look around your life. Think about what you need to do, and if that needs to be trackable, hackable, and exploitable.

Things we used to do without smart technology:

  1. Drive somewhere
  2. Watch TV or Listen to music
  3. Read a book
  4. Play a game
  5. Talk to a friend
  6. Research something

1. Insert needle into groove. 2. Enjoy!


Nowadays, most people use connected devices to accomplish these tasks. The underbelly of the convenience they promise is the tracking and exploitation these devices offer their manufacturers.

Is the world better after knowing everything you’ve watched, listened to, read, googled, browsed, and seen?  I’d argue no.

The only thing improved is the bottom line of the company selling this data, and their ability to get the device to keep you using it longer than you would have naturally.

I always feel like somebody’s watching me!

The lack of security and privacy in their software is covered up with perpetual updates.

Overall, the whole situation doesn’t feel very smart to me.

Forgotten Audio Formats: MP3

The year was 1994.

Music was as popular as ever, with rock bands like Nirvana and The Smashing Pumpkins, pop artists like Ace of Base and Mariah Carey, and soul artists like Boyz II Men and Janet Jackson selling millions of albums.

The music industry was healthy and investing in new artists. Thousands of people were employed to record, catalog, distribute, market, and keep the books for successful recording artists.

This B-side collection by The Smashing Pumpkins sold 1,000,000 copies in america in just a few months to go certified platinum. That’s 1 million CD’s sold, not youtube views.

Music could be consumed on multiple formats and most people had a mixed bag for their own collection: analog vinyl LP’s and cassettes along with digital CD’s.

Other physical formats existed like reel-to-reel and LaserDisc but were tiny markets. DAT and DSD were still years away.

File-only digital had just begun with the WAV format being released in 1991, but a CD held more data than most hard drives.


In the tech world a trend was accelerating that would forever change the music industry: hard drive price per megabyte:

1988 – $16
1989 – $12
1990 – $9
1991 – $7
1992 – $4
1992 – $2
1993 – $0.95
1994 – $0.81
1995 – $0.68
1996 – $0.21

1 CD worth of drive space would have cost $10k in 1988!

By 1994 it was $526. By 1996 you would have spent around $135 for 650mb of HD space.

But the 650mb CD cost pennies to manufacture and sold at retail for $20. Plus they were proving to be pretty durable and CD-R’s were coming down in price. CD was the digital format of necessity unless and until something drastically changed with either the bandwidth needed or bandwidth available.

Don’t forget: bandwidth = moving storage.  aka Storage = static bandwidth.


So the same software engineers who came up with lossy JPG image compression were called upon to investigate audio and video compression. Their goal – to get the file size small enough for 1990’s bandwidth.

For music testing they used contemporary music (Suzanne Vega) and developed what they called perceptual coding.

Perceptual coding targeted all the parts of mixed music that were open to perception beyond the main focus of the song (melody and beat): things like transients, pan/placement, room and soundstage size, timbre of instruments, blending of sounds, that type of thing.

Remember hi-hats? MP3 crushed them into non-existence.

These audible cues are all present in mixed music but are unmeasurable. They are all nearly impossible to explain and communicate verbally or through written language.

You may know it when you hear it, but it’s not possible to explain further in a controlled, consistent, scientific way. No matter how descriptive you are, the next person will use completely different terms.

This listener confusion and lack of terminology made the engineers jobs far easier. They found that they could remove nearly 90% of the audio data before testers consistently identified a difference using their flawed testing methods.

A few 90’s mp3 engineers, not audio engineers.

 

This gave them the green light they needed. The MP3 specification was published and started to catch on. A 50mb WAV file was now a 5mb MP3 file and life was good!

It was true – at first listen, they almost sounded like the original. It took a more critical listen, or repeated listens, to pick out the degradation, and over time many came to hate the MP3 sound. Casual listeners didn’t care as much, but professionals, musicians, and audiophile-types rejected MP3 as lossy.

Sound quality was secondary though. Finally computers could play near-full quality music! Digital file-based convenience had arrived.

Finally modems and networks could send the files around! Finally bootlegging was convenient!


MP3 was quite popular in it’s time. Nearly every device made could play MP3 files, including phone’s, video games, TV’s, and wireless speakers.

Early MP3 player

But MP3 had no artwork beyond a tiny cover. No lyrics. No credits. No booklet. No shout outs. Nothing to attach to. It was highly bootlegged and for some time, recorded music lost all value.

It also required almost no people to distribute or sell. Nothing to sell & nothing to move = nothing to promote. Nothing to invest in.

Bootlegging ran rampant and the music industry practically folded. Most musicians stopped making money from their music.

Limping along, MP3 got one quality improvement in 2009 (aac), but it wasn’t going to help much. By 2014 streaming was stealing the download market.

Streaming takes everything bad about MP3’s and extends it to the rental model.

Now you own nothing. You just pay a subscription to hear degraded versions of your favorite songs in between commercials. Don’t pay up? No music for you.


The current streaming business model is unsustainable for both the license holders and the license purchasers, but in this post-fact world it really doesn’t matter. Quality has been trumped.

Lossless formats like FLAC, around for years, finally took off around 2016, giving critical listeners an open format to rally around. Buying hi-res music from sites like HDTracks ProStudioMasters was a thing again. Hi-res hi-fi DAP’s finally emerged in many markets. 24bit FLAC continues to offer higher-resolution files with no DRM.

Bandwidth/storage is now available. I have 60+ full lossless albums on a card the size of my pinky nail. I have the bandwidth into the house to stream 24bit audio, if anyone offered it.

One can only hope that the MP3 era is the last time we accept such a massive downgrade in quality.

#SaveTheAudio

 

Proper Digital Audio Playback

The PonoPlayer got it right, whether they survive as a business or not.

There is a right way and a quick way to build a digital audio playback circuit.

The following information comes from Charlie Hansen, the designer of the Pono audio chain, and the excellent review by Tyll Hertsens. I’m putting it into it’s own post so other audio device builders get inspired.

  • EVERYTHING from DAC to jacks is DC coupled. No coupling caps anywhere.
  • Everything is TRULY balanced from the DAC chip all the way to the output jacks. There is no virtual ground needed, as we have true +/- rails from the switching power supply. The raw rails go to SUPER low noise regulators, of which there are a TON.
  • The audio circuitry has their own dedicated +/- regulators.
  • All of the digital circuitry runs off of positive voltage only
  • Three or four separate dedicated regulators there — one for the audio master clocks, another for the digital side of the DAC chip and a third for the rest of the digital circuitry.

“NOBODY builds portable players that are fully-discrete, fully-balanced, and zero-feedback. This all makes a huge difference.”

— Charlie Hanson of Ayre Audio

That’s what happens after the DAC, in the analog stage.



Regarding the file quality and DAC behavior before the analog stage, we have more details from Charlie:

 

  • Brickwall filtering creates massive time smear.
  • The human ear/brain is already known to be exquisitely sensitive to time smear.
  • DBT and AB/X are really only sensitive to differences in frequency response. Using these tools for anything to do with music is like pounding a nail with a screwdriver. Ain’t gonna work.

Specifically, one of the massive benefits of a higher sampling rate is not extended bandwidth.

Instead, it allows for gentler filters to be used.


In the case of the Ayre QA-9 A/D converter, the anti-aliasing filters have zero ringing or time smear for double and quad sample rates. (Only one cycle of ringing for single rates — something has to give somewhere…)

When Ayre designed the PonoPlayer’s audio circuitry, we held back nothing.

We gave it everything that could fit within the constraints of the budget, physical space, and battery life.

Every single secret we discovered went into the PonoPlayer. The digital filter is taken directly from our own products.

Movie Lovers Coalesce The Vapors Around Streaming

It’s not just music lovers realizing that streaming has a long way to go to match physical media.

Film lovers see the same issues:  degraded quality, no extras, no ownership, unknown/ temporary access.

We give up a lot for the convenience of streaming.  #SaveTheAudio ?  #SaveTheVideo


The Problem With Experts Indeed

studio


Interesting take over on RealHDAudio taking shots at a music producer.

I read and replied to his post but it’s not publishing over there, so here is:


vocalize


Timing, timbre, and room sound.
Timing, timbre, and room sound.
Timing, timbre, and room sound.

These are things that you can’t scope or measure or chart. These are the basic building blocks of music.

This is why record producers, mastering engineers, and artists with a good ear are the experts here.

They are the only ones who understand mixed music. Not test tones. Not frequencies alone and isolated. Every bit of music is a complex stew of multiple tones, some heard, some hinted, some masked, some over/under ringing.

If the people in the studio that did the session say the 16/44 version sounds the best, then it does. If they prefer the 24/88 or 24/192 versions, they are the best. Creators privilege. Only they heard it as it was being made, aka what it originally came from. (They can all be different mixes of the song too, they don’t have to tell us that.)

The rest of us just take it for granted and enjoy it. Unless you are making the mix, or making the original sound being mixed, you are a secondary expert.

Mixed music is a tremendously complex collection of tones, all affecting each other, all containing critical timing, timbre, and layers upon layers of complex sound.

That’s why it’s so powerful. The power of music is ignored in these scientific discussions. If the 16/44 version moves you emotionally, that’s good. If the 24bit version does it more so, it’s a better version. Whichever packs the most in it is the best.


Even for sparse music, acoustic music, whatever…. more data = more sound = more vibration = more enjoyment. It’s simple.

I do think there’s a limit though. I hear some advantage at 24/192 on very good rigs but it does not make 24/88 or 24/92 sound degraded.

The pointless 16/44 is the degradation that we need to remove.


 

Too many people these days try to hear with their eyes and understand with their computer screens.

 

Which is music?

This:

beatles_wave

Strawberry Fields Forever, by The Beatles

 

or the audio track in this?

 

Anti-Audio Tech Sites, Pt. II

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I’m an A&K and I take sound quality very seriously.


To followup on my rant against american tech sites like Ars Technica and how they completely ignore hi-res audio, I found some proof.

Check out Crutchfield, an american stereo catalog retailer. Crutchfield is known for their help in installing and explaining tech. They have a whole section of their catalog for portable hi-res music players.  They have a nice selection of the current products available to US consumers: Sony, Pono, Pioneer, Onkyo, A&K.


pioneerxdp100r

Pioneer making it’s pitch with a good hi-res DAP that looks like nothing else.


Head over to arstechnica.com, a site that reviews the newest tech gadgets, and search the site. You will not find a single mention of any of these devices (except for takedowns of the Pono). No reviews, no press releases, no mention in other articles. It’s as if they don’t exist.

It’s not that they don’t cover audio or mp3 players: search for headphones and get 2000 results. search for mp3- 970 results. iTunes? 8410 results.

Pono? 5 results, including 3 for the same review slamming it as ‘snake oil’. All the other DAP’s combined? 0 results.

Why do self-professed gadget lovers ignore this class of gadget. Is it plain ignorance of good sound or is something more nefarious at work?


sonynwa26

Sony has multiple walkmans, including Hi-Res models starting around $300


It’s not just Crutchfield, either, an audio specialist. Check out Amazon.com and you’ll see hundreds of MP3-only players under $100, and at least 40 different models of hi-res players starting at around $100.


pono_both

The PonoPlayer is the only one noticed by Ars Technica, and they shit on it by saying it sounds the same as an iPhone with a radio shack switcher, and by the way no one needs lossless music either. Snake oil! Audiophiles!

Required Viewing – The O’Jays Crush It

Daryl Hall has reworked his show Live from Daryl’s House and it’s still one of the best music shows going. Originally set in a barn on his rural property, it was a jam session sleepover recorded for our entertainment. He brought all sorts of artists out to the barn – indie and legends – and they would jam on a few songs, hang out, and generally just celebrate the awesomeness of great live music.


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It’s now in a club-like setting up the road, featuring more space and better sound and still without a crowd. The end result feels a bit more like a throwback recording session than a jam session.

Which is awesome, of course.

The sound is perfect and there’s a little more space to stretch out and get more camera angles. It feels as though the musicians present the songs better than in the barn, perhaps because it’s more obviously a TV show and recording session. The barn was charming but had a private rehearsal feel.

I’ve watched several of the 2016 episodes now and the highlight has to be The O’Jays. They are funny, have a monstrous catalog, and of course Daryl is such a disciple of the O’Jays sound that it all fits perfectly.

11 Years Gone

2mericaAXE


11 years ago, Me and My Friends made some of music. Well we had been making it for years but we finally released something in 2005.

The magic of the internet allows it to still be available. This was the 1st 2MERICA LP, followed up by Sensors&Switches&Buttons in 2007, and the Mass Entertainment EP in 2012. The 3rd and 4th are both in production. 2MERICA is EVERYWHERE U R.


Humanity Becoming Pixelated

john-hurt-as-kane-in-alien-1979

Oh the humanity of a hand puppet, fake blood, and animal entrails.


The tech takeover is something we’ve been watching for decades now, and with regards to audio production and socializing I get preachy about how much we’ve lost.

Here’s a great article sowing the same seeds but covering the movie industry. By inundating us with CGI the overall effect of images being shown to us has declined.

Pixels Are Driving Out Reality

Well written stuff there, and much of it translates to audio/music consumption as well.

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The Power of Labels

Degrade -d  

  • treat or regard with contempt or disrespect
  • lower the character or quality of
  • reduce to a lower rank, especially as a punishment

Synonyms: demean, debase, cheapen, devalue, shame, humiliate, mortify, abase, dishonor, dehumanize, brutalize, lossy

 


Original   

  • present or existing from the beginning; first or earliest
  • created directly and personally by a particular artist; not a copy or imitation

Synonyms: authentic, genuine, actual, true, bona fide, kosher, archetype, prototype, source, master, lossless

 


Do you think mp3 would be nearly as popular if it was called the devalued version or dehumanized version? 

Do you think lossless would be ignored by the masses if it was called the original version or the true version?

Of course not – this is the power of labels. Marketers and politicians understand this and use it against us. We must see through the subtle brainwashing, this trick of words.


TLmatched

This is not an audio wave but it caught your eye didn’t it?


Lossy sounds like a cool nickname on purpose. It’s all marketing. They figured out how to sell us less for the same and have been doing it for nearly 16 years now.

The various limitations requiring degradation of our fucking music have expired – leaving only greed.

dictionary-page

 

 

Lossy Is Hurting Us

 

Cedar_Point_beach_view_from_Sky_Ride_2013_resize

Summer fun in full resolution: Cedar Point, Ohio looking out over Lake Erie.

 

Windows Phone_20130621_02520130621194354

If you stream music or buy lossy files, here’s your version of summer fun. Close enough, right?

 

If you own a ponoplayer or another fancy modern 24bit digital audio player, you can experience this. Full resolution for all the music you love will return you to the quality you deserve.

 


Note 1 – I bet your browser showed the compressed image first. That’s why data compression exists – to get the file to you faster. Once they are both loaded, was the wait worth it?

Note 2 – Image is not audio. Audio has more detail, more nuance, and packs far more emotional cues than visuals.

#SaveTheAudio

 

 

The Art of Recorded Music

Studer_A80

A canvas. A monitor. A block of clay.

Human imagination is more fertile and expansive than all of them.

Human imagination is where the soundstage of recorded music is rendered.

640px-Shilkret_directing_Bain_Collection_(edited)

 

Creating sound for a recording takes planning. Even a simple voice over requires quieting the room, writing a script, and a doing a mic level check. Recording a band or larger unit requires extensive planning, both technical in nature and strategic from an artistic sense.

 

Foley_Room_at_the_Sound_Design_Campus_(cropped)

 

How many sounds are we trying to create? How many instruments, voices, microphones, and additional dubs? How many tracks per song? How many songs per album? These are artistic decisions mixed with lots of technical hum-drum (a million cables).

 

Eddie_Kramer

 

As the musicians and producer start to craft the songs they are already working on many layers.

The arrangement is one layer, actually each part within the arrangement is a layer. The type and style of sounds emanating from the instruments are another layer.

 

640px-P_Kolbe-13_Stern-Trio-1965_01

The feel or tempo of the songs is another layer. The prominence of each instrument in the mix is another layer.

The amount of soloing is another layer. I could go on. Some bands do indeed go on and on!

640px-Mervin_Solomon

My point? There is complexity here that gets painted into the soundstage of the final product. These layers of creation are not only intentionally put there, but fretted over in emotionally draining recording sessions, hour after hour.

There are screaming battles, insults, and hurt feelings as the artist sweats and bleeds for their art.

Pure creativity is buried throughout the mix.

Artists layer the sounds in their heads while recording engineers massage and place those sounds through the recording system.

640px-Diana_Yukawa_at_Abbey_Road_in_Studio_1

 

The blend of the sounds is critical. Each sound works within, against, and through all other sounds. This is known overall as the mix. It’s a most precious thing.

No medium has more depth than sound. Nothing – NOTHING, including color, mixes like sound.

No other medium works by fully enveloping the participant.

IMAX? IMAX is actually about 20% of your surroundings fixed in space with visible framing. A simple head turn or eye close makes IMAX = no-max.

Sound has no equal. This is why I fight so strongly these days against the lossy crowd, against the phones are fine for music, buy new headphones crowd.

Even my own friends. I have to remind them that reducing our music is reducing our soul and we should be very careful with such things.

 

Team Eye vs. Team Ear Part 1 – TV Sets Through History

il_340x270.469154305_ttbe


Recording allows us to store and replay something. It is the first time-shifting. It’s been around for ~ 200 years but it wasn’t until the last 100 that they really started making tangible progress for commercial applications.

Images were first. Then sound. Then moving images. By 1930 they were all combined into “talkies” – narrative moving pictures with synced sound.

These independent technologies progressed through the 20th century: Phonograph was invented and perfected to bring recorded music into the home; TV was invented to bring moving pictures into the home. The march of progress was obvious. Each new era brought better tech with better specs.

Today we are going to look at the advancement of the TV set over 70 years.


 

[infogram id=”aHKoRm07UAUDaUs5″ prefix=”Yry” format=”interactive” title=”TV Set Historical Averages”]


You can see that overall screen size has risen linearly while pixel size has grown exponentially. Weight has come down and price, after adjusted for inflation, has come way down.

How do you think TV set history will compare with music playing equipment? Stay tuned to this series to find out.


 

Sony-KV-1220U-photo-1-logo-shp-525-WP

Youkill Audio Youtube

lossless-jpg

Lossless data on the left. The right side is a visual representation of what we’ve been listening to for 20 years now.


Deets on Youtube’s audio handling:

Audio is streamed at either 128k or 320k mp3.

Everything defaults to 128k. You can only get the 320k audio stream by selecting the HD video quality. Some videos start in HD but most don’t. It’s also hard to embed HD youtube into other sites since it seems to default to the basic stream.

It appears there’s no FLAC streaming allowed and no lossy streaming of any kind.

The 320k mp3’s can sound decent, especially coming from 128k, but once you go lossless you won’t want to listen to lossy anymore.


deubert_fig06

Which is better? Neither. The compression on the left appears to have slightly fewer artifacts but neither is close to the original.

Good Morning Eddie

hqdefault


Who’s the finest electric guitarist of all time? It’s a very short list at the very very top.

There’s likely millions of good ones, thousands of amazing ones, and probably 100’s of legends I have heard of.

But then there’s the very top. The completely untouchable, unplayable motherfuggus that just knock people out. Done.

They make other guitar players try harder– or quit. Mic Guitar drop.

Eddie Hazel is one of those guys.


 

tumblr_lz8sm0O6DL1r533yoo1_400


The most genius amongst a pack of them, he blazed through the P-Funk mob from ’67-’82 then battled his addictions outside of music. By 1990 he was starting his comeback stronger than ever. He passed away in 1992 at the young age of 42, a medical prescription error the supposed cause, unfinished music.


 

12512846_113305915406


 

There’s lots of tributes out there. This one always gets me. It’s Bootsy’s tribute track just a few short years after Eddie’s passing. Beautiful.


 


 

Why flip the title? Good morning shows the future is bright.

“Good morning Eddie” because I know through music education our youth (and ignorant adults) will know geniuses like Edward Earl Hazel. They will live forever. They will be studied academically, spiritually, and musically. They are the 20th century masters.


 

Ehpalladium

 

Magical 2nd Track

image1-001

Living Colour circa 1988

When you have your first certified hit as track #1 on your first album, track #2 becomes really important.  Track 2 = What else can this band do?

If track 2 sounds like track 1 – probably a 1-trick pony. If track 2 sounds like a totally different band, well that’s confusing. If track 2 is nice but clearly not a hit, you think one hit wonder.

I Wanna Know, track 2 on Living Colour’s debut is nearly perfect. It counters the track 1 megahit Cult Of Personality with playfulness right off the bat. It isn’t driven by a monster riff and political lyrics but a bouncy bass line and sugar coated setup for a lovey vocal and cutesy guitar riffs in the verses.


Here’s a smoking live version from 2013:


The short cheesy verse moves quickly into the dramatic but nearly monotone hook, then back into a longer verse 2. It’s addictive by the time the 2nd chorus comes around.

When the bridge opens into new parts, including a 50’s style walking bass and a vocal break, I find myself thinking about Cult of Personality and how different that is from this.


 

Here’s a crap mp3 of the original (which you must own):


As the tight formula for I Wanna Know plays out and the musicians add more flavor, you start to hear the chops behind this song. The solo starts to wail, the rhythm section locks into a funk groove, then begin the long fade out, and concludes a nice little piece of pop/rock /metal.

The monster staccato riff of Middle Man then jumps up and you are sold on this Living Colour. Great album. Vivid indeed.

 

What’s That Sound What’s That Sound?

Is it Freekbass gettin’ down?

I don’t think so. Not funky enough.

It’s an unknown sound disrupting an Oregon town and it has experts stumped.

It’s a high-pitched squeal almost like a boiling tea kettle or crazy flute, has no apparent pattern or timing, and it’s source cannot be found.


Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 12.31.32 PM


Locals claim this same thing happened and was never solved decades ago. They complained to the gas company and the fire department but both are stumped. The gas company said everything passed diagnostics and inspection and the fire department has had no luck catching the creator of this very loud sound. The police said if it’s man-made a ticket will be written.

I listened to the cell-phone version posted here and to me it sounds like pressure relief, like air coming out of a balloon. But with no explosions or other seismic activity reported, I’m stumped too.

Streaming’s Shortcomings

Unknown-1images Unknown


If everyone got their music from streaming?  That’s a big problem.

Streaming…

  1. has no cross promotion with local events or the local economy.
  2. has no cross promotion with local unsigned bands.
  3. has no direct connection back to the artist.

  4. completely ignores the purchasing power of the listener.
  5. has a limited and unstable (ever changing) catalog.
  6. pays a lower royalty per listener than other performance licenses.

  7. is the worst sound quality of all distribution platforms.
  8. has no production credits or copyright information.
  9. has no writer, composer, or publishing credits.

  10. has no human interaction for discovery of new music.
  11. assumes genre and style over all else when mixing music.
  12. assumes what you liked yesterday morning is what you will like Friday night.

  13. avoids selecting album/deep cuts and non-hits nearly as bad as top 40.
  14. requires multiple subscriptions (network and provider) to be active and paid up.
  15. cannot be rewound and reviewed for additional enjoyment.

  16. cannot easily be recorded or mixed into playlists and sets.
  17. contains only a low-resolution cover image, not complete artwork.
  18. contains no lyrics or artist notes.

  19. just got The Beatles in 2016.
  20. requires almost no paid humans to get it to your ears.

 

I’ve been around streaming for literally 20 years now, and have programmed it and listened to it since the beginning. If it truly is taking over the music industry we have to be honest about it’s shortcomings. That’s the only way we can start to address them.

Another internet casualty

Another internet casualty

 

The Mortal Coil

freekbass_cea

The Bump Assembly: The late Ken “Big Bamn” Smith, Chris “Freekbass” Sherman, Jason Burgard


 

We wake every day, or we don’t. I’d like to keep it that simple but man is it hard to contain the sadness as more and more beautiful people perish.

The latest is a great musician and friend Big Bamn, born Ken Smith, an amazing man and top-notch percussionist. He died yesterday tragically in a car accident a day before his 31st birthday. He is survived by his wife and 5 beautiful kids. Damn, another great goes early.

I have lost several friends in the last 12 months and it’s not getting any easier. Jesus, David, Eli and now Bamn. If I made a list of the most amazing guys I know that’s it.

Knew. Legends now, all of them.

Joined by the famous legends David Bowie and Lemmy Kilmister, and now there’s word that Bernie Worrell is sick with cancer.

Life’s a bitch and then you die. Better make love and music while you are here.

The Next Era of Music

Direct_Drive_Turntable_System_SL_1200GAE_3.0

Hello old friend:  The new Technics 1200SL turntable.


 

On the playback side, not the creation side….

Turntables have been selling well the past few years but there was one big dark spot on that record – the iconic Technics 1200, the stratocaster of turntables, was discontinued a few years back.

This  made the so-called vinyl revival seem a bit gimmicky without the classic deck represented. Anyone that was anyone had 1200’s and probably half the other decks were knockoffs of the 1200. I own a decent 1200-clone from Gemini, the PT2000.


gemini-pt-2000-ii-direct-drive-turntable


 

The 1200 is back! Technics is bringing it back along with 1200 editions of a beautiful collectors version. Very nice.

There’s also this new turntable from Sony that takes your vinyl right to hi-res audio – very cool!  Of course you could do this before with a combination of gear – a turntable, an interface, a good DAC, a DAW, and knowledge of recording and sample rates, etc..

But the Sony PS-HX500 makes it easy, providing software to take you right into hi-res from vinyl. It even does both accepted hi-res formats – PCM/FLAC and DSD.

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 11.32.14 AM

Son’y new turntable features the Hi-Res Audio badge because using included software it will transfer (rip) your vinyl into hi-res digital format (either PCM or DSD).

The Sun Within

The person behind this website does a few other things that you might kindly check out:


21st century concept albums from 2MERICA:

https://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/2merica
https://soundcloud.com/2merica

https://www.reverbnation.com/2merica
https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/mass-entertainment-ep/id537824079


ROAMING CRAZY. FOR REAL.

 


EZRAZ solo noodles.

http://ezraz.bandcamp.com


This is all distributed by Collinwood Sun and produced at The Flux-Adel Recording Division.

A wise friend of mine use to say prove it.

 

New Bowie: Behold The Blackstar

david-bowie-last-panthers-blackstar


 

David is 68 and counting and still making new, relevant music – very inspirational.

For his new record he scouted the New York scene and then hired an experienced hard-jazz improv group to act as his foil. He brought them his demos and ideas, learned to work with them in the studio, then had his long-time producer Tony Visconti set up and record nearly the entire album in the 1st or 2nd take, all in the same room, with minimal overdubs.

The resulting album is called Blackstar and the sound is new, expansive, and fresh. Bowie growing as an artist, still!?!

The only trick under the sun that constantly works is letting good musicians work together to sell the song. No technology can help that.

Here’s the first single from the album: Lazarus.

 

Science On My Side

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Another advancement in the understanding of how we detect sound: timing is more important, and more accurately detected, than frequency. #savetheaudio

This flies in the face of hi-res skeptics who believe our horrible ears could never hear beyond that CD-quality standard from 38 years ago.


It points to my favorite quote regarding this debate:

“The whole point of science is that most of it is uncertain. That’s why science is exciting–because we don’t know. Science is all about things we don’t understand. The public, of course, imagines science is just a set of facts. But it’s not. Science is a process of exploring, which is always partial. We explore, and we find out things that we understand. We find out things we thought we understood were wrong. That’s how it makes progress.” – Freeman Dyson, 90, Mathematical Physicist

and shows me that the established science will eventually catch up with what musicians and music lovers have known inherently for a long time. Some day they will be able to accurately measure what and how we hear, and perhaps even what music does to us.


Musical-Timing-Metal

 

 

 

More Hi-Res Rumors For Apple

imagesI guess this is good – rumors are floating again that Apple Music is moving into Hi-Res Audio.  Being a rumor there are very few specifics but a few people more influential than me are saying that 24/96 streaming is coming, along with the lightning port replacing the headphone jack on Apple’s mobile products.

It’s not all good because although Apple is the market leader in the consumer tech space, doubters and ignoramuses far and wide are commenting on music formats in the comments section.  It gets pretty ugly with the nonsense spouted there.

No surprise, many who have never heard hi-res digital refuse to believe it exists. Most ignore it completely, or they’ve tried 1 hi-res file on their laptop or phone.  Of course those devices can’t render hi-res properly, so the user reaffirms their belief that this is all a scam devised to charge them more for the same thing. Stupid users!

If you can’t hear that 256k bitrate < 1000k that’s your problem, not mine. If you don’t believe that 5800k > 1000k this lack of mathematical logic is also not my problem.  Your lack of awareness and listening ability should not hurt my ability to enjoy good music. Perhaps your taste in music also needs an improvement?


Pono_Player_Photo_BlindTestingGear


 

Finally, if you won’t accept that each Netflix/Youtube/Hulu stream is 3000k+ you will never understand that most of us have plenty of bandwidth and storage for hi-res audio.  We just value video far more than music on the internet.

Basic Apple nerds are very anti-hi-fi audio because they have been hooked into the lie that is MP3/AAC, where convenience trumps quality every time. Even the late Steve Jobs couldn’t believe how fast MP3 took over, he thought the quality was too low to fully replace previous formats.


 

PerceptualCoding

Music Education Helps Us For An Entire Lifetime

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What an amazing study done by Northwestern University showing that simply taking music lessons as a child can improve your cognitive ability as you age and actually offset natural degradation. Music lessons from over 40 years ago still resonated with– and improved the brain performance of– participants.

imagesThey can now measure the reaction speed of the brain to sound. They played the participants letter sounds and measured how long it took their brains to understand the sound. The results were overlayed with the lesson history of the participants.

If they had several years total of any musical lessons they were in Group A. If they had very little or no musical training in their youth they were in Group B. The total pool consisted of adults from ages 55-76.

Group A consistently processed the sound 1millisecond faster than Group B.


music2


If 1ms doesn’t sound like much remember it adds up. That’s 1ms per letter sound so imagine an entire conversation of 1ms pauses and you have slow and possibly degrading conversation ability.

Buy or give music lessons to your kids, grandkids, nephews, nieces, or even the neighbor’s kid. It’s one of the best things you can do for them.


 

group-music-lessons-long-beach

 

Hearing With Bones and Eyeballs

Wha? We hear with more than our ears?  

Our bones? Our joints? Our eyeballs? Our teeth?

But don’t they just test the ears in hearing tests?  Yep.

Don’t they just test the ears in music listening tests? Yep.


ykbbzz7j-1373648866


 

See the problem? Complete hearing is done by combining multiple inputs.

Those making measurements of hearing and sound continue to miss this basic point.

PonoPlayer is the Stereophile 2015 Digital Product Of The Year

050415-PonoCables-600


Ignore those who wouldn’t know good sound if their life depended on it.

The PonoPlayer is winning awards and impressing nearly everyone who hears it.

I’m referring to those that have some idea what they are doing and hearing. First the Rocky Mountain Audio Product of the Year, now Stereophile’s Digital product of the year.

It’s sad but understandable that rave reviews from all kinds of audio blogger types against 2 bad reviews by mainstream tech blogs (Yahoo! and Ars Technica), that those bad reviews would spawn more snark and negativity from uninformed bloggers who have never even heard the device.

These tech sites are all hooked into Googleverse and generate the highest page views, so when you search PonoPlayer you see negative results listed ahead of good reviews.

Here’s what you need to know: Stereophile just awarded PonoPlayer their Digital Product of the Year.

They said it was the least-close category, that’s how impressive the PonoPlayer is at it’s price point.


ponoplayer6


 

Here’s plenty more good reviews if you need convincing that this is the best sounding $500 device made:

Scot Hull – Part-Time Audiophile – 11/19/14
Michael Sawh – Trusted Reviews – 1/8/15
Rick Schmidt – Home Theater High Fidelity 2/9/15
 What Hi-Fi? – 2/13/15
Ty Pendlebury – C-Net – 3/12/15
Sam Berkow – SIA Acoustics – 3/16/15
John Atkinson – Stereophile – 3/23/15
Raymond Wong – Mashable – 3/23/15
Tyll Hertsens – Inner Fidelity – 3/26/15

 

Only Stream If You Also Buy Music

If you stream and don’t buy anything ever, you are hurting us all.

We all do it, or know those that do. Since about 1999 (the early Napster era) the idea of actually paying for your music collection has been passé.

There has been an entire generation that expects music product for free.


shoplifting_charges


 

It’s no coincidence that most of their time is spent listening to fake instruments, fake voices and fake sounds made by a laptop operated by a guy fake playing – aka pretending to be working much harder than he really is. You can sit at your desk as I am now and computer DJ.

I’m a DJ, I know. There’s no reason a computer DJ should ever sell more tickets than a proper traveling band. But that’s the norm these days.

The computer DJ’s have won and it’s sad. I was a computer DJ 20 years ago and I didn’t want to win I just wanted an outlet, a slot, a chance to get my creations heard. Now it’s everywhere yet rock and soul played by actual musicians emoting right in front of us is harder and harder to locate.


Porter-Robinson

I used to computer DJ to 20 people 20 years ago. These guys are hotter than rock bands now, so I suppose I won and lost. Where are the great new bands? Killed by the computer DJ.


 

 

Anyway, find $10 for a CD or a digital download (preferably hi-res) of a classic album, or something from a new artist that does it for you, and just purchase the damn thing. Restart your collection. It’s better than giving to charity.

Language Splits; Music Unifies

image-20150323-17680-hbzefx


 

Interesting article here about how humans use music psychologically, and how we have evolved with the help of music.

Language divides us into groups and parses all types of information into specific, tribal code.

Music on the other hand, unites us as one species, something that our brains require to comprehend and solve our daily problems.

“Music is the greatest mystery” – Charles Darwin

Very interesting read. Especially how Darwin tried to explain music creation by natural selection and was puzzled. He resorted and retired with the generic “music is the greatest mystery”.

 

 

Guide To Hi-Res Audio

The momentum continues, as more publications pick up on this new push towards quality in consumer audio.  MP3 won’t die without a fight, but it’s 15 year grip on the music industry appears to be loosening.


1015prov.hands

 


 

Check out the Consumer Technology Association’s Guide To Hi-Res Audio for a nice wide overview of the hi-res music market as it stands now.

 

Free Upgrades For Life

Funny how reality got in the way of the Pono bashing and Neil Young hating that was all over the internet in 2013-2014.

The emperor has clothes. He usually wears yellow.


 

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 9.19.02 AM

Oh internet, you can be so stupid sometimes.  No snake oil. No streaming service. No emperor. When you scroll down to the next 10 reviews you find raves.

 


 

  • They claimed Young was trying to make us all rebuy our music in a new proprietary format. Yet Pono chose DRM-free open sourced FLAC as their file format.
  • They claimed Young was a shyster and would never even ship the thing. Yet they sold out of PonoPlayers faster than they could make them.
  • They claimed it was nothing more than marketing and it would sound no better than an iPhone. Yet everyone (except a few notable tech-bloggers at the top of google) is impressed with it’s sound. Read reviews from stereo hi-fi and music production types and you’ll see nothing but raves and it’s already won some industry awards in it’s first year.  Hear it yourself and you’ll know.
  • They claimed that hi-res titles were overpriced and no one would accept those prices for music. Yet most 24bit albums are <$20, most 16bit albums are <$15 and people are buying again, some getting an album for the 4th time in what could be a final digital format.
  • They claimed that the ‘whole hi-res thing’ was a scam of upsampled files being marketed to fools. Yet Pono puts out the Pono Promise and works hard to discover the provenance of each album, buyers are educated, and the company is standing by it’s provenance by guaranteeing you free upgrades if the label raises the bar.

 

Reality bites. I’m sure there were more attacks I haven’t debunked here. I just wanted the record to show that no matter what happens to Pono Inc. in the long run, they delivered on their promise and more, slapping all the haters and skeptics right in the jaw. Bravo for Neil, Bravo for Pono Inc. and bravo for music.


FullSizeRender 2

 

A Tale Of Two Setups

I was in my new all-analog studio last night with a simple task – dump from the 4-track tape machine to something digital so I could share the tracks just recorded with the artists.


 

RS-56S_UTC_equaliser_(1950s,60s),_Abbey_Road_Studios


First I needed to do a little bit of a mix on the tracks. I loaded up tape #1, went to my cue point, rolled tape, and worked on patching in some reverb and some parametric EQ. I twiddled with that for a few minutes in the speakers until I was happy. I switched between 2 sets of speakers and then realized my headphone amp wasn’t getting signal. I patched that in and tested my mix using 2 sets of headphones: good & earbud. OK all set, let’s get digital!


 

During the work above I was using devices made over nearly a 50 year range. They all plugged into each other using standard connectors and levels. These connectors are available everywhere cheaply, made by thousands of manufacturers. Almost every device had clear buttons, lights, and panels to understand and manipulate the audio. No drivers or software was needed.


 

Time to fire up my Focusrite interface, a nice piece of digital kit that’s about 4 years old now. It’s primary job is to convert analog to digital and vice-versa, back out to analog again. I attach the firewire cable to the back of the focusrite, plug it in to the wall, and then grab my mac.

Oh damn, where’s the firewire port on this thing? I got a new mac a couple months back and hadn’t used this one for recording anything yet. No firewire port. Not even Firewire 800. Not 400. None. I guess I need an adapter to get to the lightning port. Not available to me at that moment, not standard, not used for anything else. Great, I can’t connect the interface to this mac, not tonight.


Focusrite_Saffire_PRO_14

 


OK never mind the interface, I’m coming out of the mixer in 2 track so I can just go into the line-in headphone jack and let the mac do the conversion. Bedroom producers have been doing this trick for 20 years now.

I find a RCA-to-mini plug in the drawer and run tape out from the mixing board into the mac. Launch Garageband.  Back on track.


Garageband says “thanks for purchasing garageband from the app store!” I don’t remember purchasing this. Why the excitement?

“Garageband needs to download samples and loops in order to launch.” I don’t want samples or loops, I just need to record from the line in!

But I have no choice. Garageband goes about 15 minutes downloading and installing things I don’t want or need.

Meanwhile I turn to the tape machine and roll to the next track. I decide I want compression instead of the EQ on this track so I patch in a few different compressors until I find the one I like. Write down my settings on my log paper.


 

Garageband is done installing itself again. I get a wizard offering me everything under the sun except basic recording. I select ‘Hip-Hop’ thinking this might be closest to basic. Haha, stupid! No way I need MPC’s and a thousand loops. Delete this session.


 

Studer_A810_BBC_Studio_Reel_to_Reel_Master_Tape_Recorder


OK, I find basic recording and I try to arm track 1 coming in from line in. That’s when the bad news hits:  this mac has no line in. It has a port that looks like a line in, exactly like the previous model’s, but it’s not a line in.

The only sound the mac will accept is from it’s own microphone or a microphone on an iPhone headset plugged into the mac through this mystery port. I find the documentation to back it up – I need a USB or lightning port interface to get audio in.

Damn. Apple, what were you thinking? Yes lots of people have interfaces, but lots of people fall back on their line in during emergencies or for simple 2-track needs. Big Fail.


 

So the analog world managed to cooperate and work with over 4 decades of gear. My digital world failed in under 1.

To think that you continually need a new interface every 3 years just to get audio in makes the mac far less of a production machine, and bodes bad for the digitally-dominated future.

How quickly will things go obsolete, how much will our culture suffer from a lack of backward compatibility?

Quality Hiding In Plain Site

54cab076bc5e5_-_blindness-ld-md

Derp.


 

Why the hatred of quality music and sound right now?  Is it really the machines taking over?


 

Little_Wizard_Stories_of_Oz,_1914


 

Consumer audio suffers this weird delusion. It seems to be a digital blindness.

It started in the 80’s but was a small segment of the listening population. Simple nerds.

In the 90’s it was distracted by the creation of the internet. They built the infrastructure while the arts flourished (money helps), and the digital babies sprung up everywhere.

[note – I’m one of the early ones. By 1991 I was pretty convinced computers were going to run just about everything by Y2K so I learned them, made a career of them, and continue to this day to be a technology worker, user, and lover.]

Then the iPod hit. “Good enough” took over for a nice ride that I figured would have run it’s course by now. Of course they would get better at playing music!  (ok once). Of course digital would figure out how to sound better than a 2001 mp3 on a 2002 iPod (it has).


Apple_historic_iPod

Even Steve Frickin’ Jobs didn’t think people would stand for the quality of mp3’s.

 

 

I don’t know, did 9/11 knock everyone into everything is a matter of life and death, and if my iPod gets better sounding, well that is shallow thinking?


 

Change_of_Authority_Ceremony_at_Joint_Service_Station_War_Eagle,_Baghdad,_Iraq_DVIDS159745

Sound quality is not life and death, it’s about life only.


 

It’s been 15 years of this downward turn in quality. Even the best artists working now release things that are so loud, so pumped, so faked (in some cases) that no one really even trusts them anymore.

The gods of music are long gone and there are no new ones that aren’t vintage re-do’s. OK very few. I blame the digital machines and our willingness to accept their flaws in quality.


1980 Curtis Mathes TV 1-13-12 002

I’m a 1980 TV. I should be good enough quality forever, right? Oh no, I’m not a stereo, haha!


 

Meanwhile, TV has been upgraded at least 4 times in the USA since the CD shipped.


 

PIONEER_SX_1980

I sound way better than a phone you downgraded suckers!


Now Jay Z, pushing his Tidal service, is forced to talk sound quality. That’s the only thing Tidal has over competitors – BITRATE. They stream the same stuff, they just stream it at 5x the data rate. CD quality.


 


 

If he cracks the code and gets mainstream person to understand that 1400k > 256k EVEN IN AUDIO, and you guessed it, 5800k > 1400k too.  See how easy?

Want To Go To There

FunkhausStudioBerlin_2

Part of the Foley room built for sound effects and radio production. Notice the different types of stairs to create different sounds.


 

Outstanding tour of perhaps the biggest recording complex on the planet: Funkhaus Berlin.

Legendary. Take a 30 minute tour below.


 


The entire complex was specially-built for recording and radio production by the Russian government in the 1950’s. They spared no expense with particular focus on acoustic properties of the rooms.

It fell into decline under private ownership over the last 25 years. That’s a huge facility no longer paid for by communist government money.

Now Funkhaus has new owners that are investing and improving the gem, reclaiming it’s place as the most impressive collection of studios ever built.


If I can’t move to Berlin and work there I think we all need one of these closer to home.

With no communist government to score deals from, my american solution would be to find some corporate cast-off, or antique no longer loved by the general public and make your own Funkhaus for your city. Probably need some business or public entity to fund it’s restoration.


une_funkhaus

1 of the 2 large live rooms connected by a massive control room. The entire complex boasts over 9 impressive, flexible studio spaces and associated needs.

 

Headphones or Speakers

One thing I think is lost during audio debate and discussion these days is whether we are discussing listening on speakers or headphones. I find them to be very different.

Music is very complex vibration. When it is made by an instrument or voice it agitates the air and sends sound waves in all directions. We receive this vibration through multiple inputs:

  • our ears
  • our hair including eyelashes, facial hair, and body hair
  • our chest cavity (pressure)
  • our joints (vibration)
  • our skin (secondary vibration/touch/air movement)

The ear uses a very complex liquid-based limiter/expander inside of the spiral-shaped cochlea, after being amplified by the mallet/anvil/stirrup, which is after the tympanic membrane on the input chain. Thousands of microscopic hairs in triangle shaped clusters determine qualities of the sound, and the binaural earbrain works with amazing precision and speed to stereoscopically place sounds in spaces.  I could spend my life studying the Organ of Corti: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organ_of_Corti


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Welcome To The Cochlea. We hear you.


 

If the sound or the overall space you are in changes you know instantly, for this is the primary tool of survival.  You can hear a door open, a presence in the room, a misfiring speaker cable, etc..

This signal, when played through speakers, enters the actual room and becomes part of the room sound. The listeners head moves, turns, walks around, and otherwise is constantly changing axis’ and distances from the speakers and from the reflections of the wall/floor/ceiling.

Our ears use all of their evolutionary powers to decode the sound in the room and by moving about we are getting different versions of the sound with every movement. This is all stored subconciously.

The speakers themselves are moving air around the room, vibrations into the room, and all of the vibration inputs of your body are activated. The table, the floor, the plants, the computer keyboard – it’s all vibrating along with the music.

 


250px-Junior_Walker

Moving air for fun.


 

When listening with headphones the actual room is removed from the experience. All inputs outside of the ears are removed from the experience.  There is very little ability to move around the sound or the room the sound is in. The virtual center of the soundstage does not exist in front of you and have real dimension, it exists inside of you, somewhere between your left and right headphone, with dimensions that must be imagined.

If the drums sound huge you know they can’t actually fit inside of your head, even though that’s where the sound originates from. You must suspend disbelief to even enjoy headphones.

Note here that I do indeed enjoy headphones. This is not a takedown of headphones, just making the point about the differences.

 


Cervin_vega

Also moving air for fun.


 

 

With speakers the huge drum is almost living in your room. Close your eyes and it might appear.  You can even move around it if you want.

The total amount of data that is transmitted from speakers > headphones.

The total of amount of data received and processed from speakers > headphones.

Headphone listening is both necessary and enjoyable, but it is very different than speaker through air listening.

I hope we remember this when talking audio: vibration requires movement to work. Headphones are tiny snapshot of vibration injected directly to our middle ear, which is not a natural listening experience.

 

Preserving Our Art


 

David-Bowie-Recording-Low-Heroes-Lodger

Bowie, Eno and others in the studio, Berlin


 

The master copy. In production it’s paramount.

Who owns it? Who is securing it? Can it be lost or ruined? Can I purchase it?

Digital allows us to make infinite copies of a file without loss of quality. The master’s initial quality is preserved, therefore making the initial quality even more important.

Music performances, unlike text or computer code, can’t be re-keyed (typed again). It’s similar to fine art in that the original, or best, form of the work holds the true value. But it’s only kin is film making.

Movies and music are the only two types of art I can think of that can be copied en masse and sold or rented across the world perpetually without the viewer believing they are only seeing a copy.

Music has been recorded commercially for over 100 years.  For the first 80+ it was recorded in analog form, usually to tape. In the last 15 years it’s being converted to digital during production, and in the last 30 years it’s been distributed digitally, leaving your player to convert it back to analog sound waves.


 

Masters have become no-less valuable in the digital age. They are still the only source for making high-quality copies, and with that content generating millions of dollars in repeat commerce, owners of masters spend money caring for and protecting their stock.

This overlooked part of the industry can tell us much about analog/digital realities: In Hollywood, films costing 100’s of millions of dollars made using the latest in digital technology are ultimately printed to celluloid film stock, spooled onto reels, and stored in a locked box down in a professional climate-controlled vault.

In the music industry, millions of tapes are stored in professional vaults around the world that labels spend millions maintaining. A small subset of artists even record to tape, and vinyl sales have gone up for the first time in decades. Digital has been through almost as many formats as analog in only 20 years.


 

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Thelonious Monk in the studio


In both industries, digital has become the dominant working format. Most internal transfers and external distribution happens in the digital realm.

It is critical to preserve analog masters as long as possible and to transfer them to a digital format at the highest possible quality.

This is why I support things like PonoMusic and HiRes Audio whether you think anyone can hear it (or cares). It’s critical to treat and preserve the art of recorded music. It’s tells us more about our society than most other data we bother saving.

Hi-Res MUSIC logo(4x3)_0


 

A digital degradation stage (or two, three) is no longer needed in music. But it has remained for convenience and a list of marketing and business reasons.

  • Everyone making music in 2015-on should be working at 24bit or in analog. You can’t raise the standard if artists themselves don’t bother.
  • Everyone distributing music should move away from selling or renting “lossy” as soon as possible. It is damaging us.
  • Everyone listening to music should make plans to get away from listening to lossy sources, at least as their prime listening rig. We can’t easily escape what TV/YouTube/providers does to the music, but we can choose as consumers to demand better audio from our gadgets. Rip CD’s to lossless and buy new music from HiRes sources.
  • The loudness problem really is a problem with no easy solutions. But we can’t address the loudness problem when operating in a limited bandwidth environment – the current distro format matches their disregard for traditional bandwidth and forces their hand.

 

bob_dylan

The times, they are a changin


 

The loudness problem has 5 stages as I see it:

  1. Radio multiband compression – a radio station pays a lot for the license, and a lot in electricity to power that transmitter. They have to keep the signal clean, loud, and not over modulating. They have the original loudness compressors, from the beginning, 1940’s?
  2. CD replacing vinyl – dropped noise floor, removed rumble, removed channel crosstalk, doubled runtime of disc. The 1980’s.
  3. Minidisc and then MP3 making perceptual digital loss acceptable as the mainstream format. Less bandwidth than CD and new artifacts meant more production tricks meant to distract and jump, pump and dump. Listening fatigue is constant and unlimited choice makes listeners very twitchy. The 2000’s.
  4. The smartphone and other mobile devices becoming the dominant playback device. Low-quality playback devices multi-tasking with all sorts of overlayed EQ and boost, used primarily with cheap earbuds or over-boosted headphones. The 2000’s.
  5. Production moving exclusively to DAW’s and DJ-style music creation software holding thousands of virtual instruments and samples. Often times the tracks arm in a boosted state, the limitless plug-ins contain hundreds of boosted presets, and there are no rules or limits as to how much boost and compression you can achieve in the digital realm. Most output severely boosted sound by default. The 2010’s.

 

That’s 5 clear opportunities to raise volume, and “they” did it each time. #1 is necessary, and #2 and #5  were inevitable, but 3-4 can be reversed by moving to hi-res digital.

It won’t win the war, but it will be a strong victory in the battle for bandwidth.

Promises Fulfilled

I don’t think I ever posted this – this is from a guy that spends his life testing high-end audio devices – things like $15k Amps and $5k headphones. This ain’t my market as you know.

He ordered a PonoPlayer and by the time it arrived he was so sick of the hype, the politics, and the nerd battles raging online about Neil Young’s latest business venture that he skeptically pressed play.

Read his review to get a real nice impression of the impression this device leaves on people. Even the professionals.

He also has the technical chops and the connections to get into the nitty gritty of what is going on when you press ‘play’ on this odd shaped thing.

Pono_Player_Photo_BlindTestingGear

Image from Inner Fidelity

We Will See What The Digital Age Has In Store For Us

joe-walsh

Records, record stores, record sales … it’s all gone.

It’s up to the young musicians to try an’ figure it out.

There’s no money in it. There’s no record companies.

It’s free! You can download it. Nobody gets paid, so they can’t afford to make music.

That’s what’s happening.

They are just cranking out music that is just like a recipe.

Nobody is playing at the same time.

Everybody’s adding on virtual instruments that don’t exist onto a drum machine that somebody programmed.

You can tell in the music that’s out now. It’s been programmed.

There’s no mojo.

There’s no testifying.

There is not the magic of a human performance, which is never perfect.

And the magic of the human performance is what we all know and love in the old records, by the way they were made.

And it’s all gone.

So we’ll see what the digital age has in store.

– Joe Walsh, 2012

 

 

[btw I know 2MERICA dabbles in that territory he describes, but song for song we made them differently, sometimes very organic, sometimes very digital. 2MERICA’s only process was that there was no process in the creation side.

Plus I’m repenting by going ALL ANALOG at my recording studio….. oh yeah!]

WalshIndy

Happy Birthday Enters Public Domain

One of the funnier/sadder stories of licensing and copyright folly involves the beloved song “Happy Birthday”. It’s origin is a 1890’s kids song with different lyrics, but somehow it was copyrighted in 1935 and that copyright was eventually acquired by Warner/Chapell music.

In the last couple of decades Warner/Chapell has been enforcing that copyright and collecting fees to use the song. While they don’t try to monitor casual use, aka singing at birthday parties, they do expect payment if it is used for commercial purposes. This is why you don’t hear it sung often in recorded music, TV shows, movies, or commercials.

 

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A federal judge just ruled the copyright is for the music only, not lyrics, therefore making the overall copyright unenforceable (not sure why).

Warner/Chapell is also ordered to return up to $5 million in royalties collected for the song. I’m sure they will appeal but it’s a good first step in ending the tyranny of enforcing 115 year old copyrights, which should have already expired.

 

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How You Hear Music

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Listening 101

1. Directionality – Where is that sound coming from? Where exactly is that hi-hat sitting in the mix? Is the band in front of me or all around me?

2. Delay/Roomspace – Am I in a large room, small room, outside? Was this music recorded in a large room or small room? Was the recording room rounded, square, long?

3. Quality/timbre of instruments – Is that an electric guitar? Do I like the tone of it? Do I like that keyboard patch? How about the singer’s voice?

4. Stereo soundstage – Do I hear 2 guitars doubling each other, or 1 guitar with a wide delay? Is the singer front and center, or is he singing 2 parts, 1 left, 1 right? How wide are the drums set in the mix?

5. Timing of musicians and recording – Do the various delays work together musically, or are they clashing and changing the feel of the song? Are the drummer and bass player locked in? Is the 2nd percussion player ahead, behind, or on the beat?

6. Quality of recording – Is this the best version of this song? Is the distortion in the track intentionally added by the artist or is it in the format?

7. Clarity and breadth of EQ – Are most of the pleasing frequencies present, and are the harsh, brittle frequencies diminished?  Do the various instruments and voices blend and work with each other as layers, or do they cover each other?

8. Noise floor – Is there a hum or buzz in this recording? Is it from a bad recording, or a loud instrument, or something wrong in my system?

9. Phase – If things were recorded in phase you don’t notice it. If things are out of phase with each other, various comb filtering and aliasing artifacts appear in your music.

10. Digital loss/compression – Has this file been reduced from the original? Did they remove things they hope I can’t hear to make the file smaller?  Are there compression artifacts in the mix.

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There’s 10 things to listen to without even thinking about frequency range. 10 things most internet audio experts never take into account.


Becoming a better listener makes you a smarter consumer. It will drive you to enjoy your current collection again and find new music that moves you.

It will also hopefully drive you to push for higher quality. If you must stream, go 16/44 lossless. If you collect, get as much hi-res as possible and play it for as many people as you can.

#SaveTheAudio

Dawg Gone Analog

It’s happening. I’ve considered and planned and anticipated this for 15+ years. But always compromised.

I’m going analog at the studio. Direct to tape. Outboard gear. No DAW. No computers needed at all.

The real deal. Why wait any longer?

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YOLO sly, yolo

Why? One Word. Workflow. [whoo!]

New Studio’s Primary Rule: NO SCREENS = EARS MAKE ALL DECISIONS. EYES MAKE NONE.

MISSION STATEMENT:  NO SCREENS.  EARS MAKE ALL DECISIONS.  EYES MAKE NONE.

Here’s some initial thoughts –

  • I will track to tape.
  • I might live-mix bounces and direct to 2-track final mixes.
  • Patchbays!
  • I can only afford 4-track 1/4″ tape decks right now, but it could be a stepping stone.
  • Most of my vintage compressors, preamps, mics and processors can finally be put to proper use.
  • Yes…. there will be a digital interface and something digitizing stem mixes from the tape machine for backup, recall, and perhaps future use. It will be also be optional, hidden by default, and have no visible screen.

The bottom line is no screens — we will get a sound from the instrument(s), work with the mic(s) and the input, track to tape, then move onto next layer using only your ears and available dials and knobs.

 

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This is the analog version of a hard drive full of plug-ins. Except these sound better. And have knobs.

 

I know I’m swimming upstream here. It’s not my first time on that trip.

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Quality swimming up the river Convenience

 

Even the founder of the magazine Tape Op, the bible amongst analog types and tape ops, said on a 2014 panel “someone buying a 1980-era consumer-level 4-track is the least exciting thing to me right now”.

Someone buying a 1980-era consumer-level 4-track is the least exciting thing to me right now – Larry Crane, Tape Op Editor

A slap down from tape jesus himself! But alas, I will work to prove him wrong. My 1980’s era TEAC 4-track tape deck passed it’s exam last night and should be ready for sessions any day now. My studio is shifting into a new mode and it’s all about workflow, limitations, and performance pressure.

 

Cliff Notes on the Loudness Wars

With master quality HD audio getting into people’s ears and getting more buzz every day, I think its important to look into one of the related issues in recorded music: The Loudness Wars.

It really does get to the core of the industry vs. art debate, the present vs. the past & future.

I support a wide dynamic range and have trouble listening to most modern music because of the loudness problem. Even classic artists that I love have put out records in the last 10 years that are so friggin’ loud they crush my ears on first note, and not in the good way. Pure fatigue.

This video covers the industry pressure and competition driving the volume problem.

But there are two other battlefields in this war: the playback systems used to render our music and the production tools used to make our music. Both are bloody battles between quality and convenience.

I’ve been covering the playback side of things with iPhones and PonoPlayers for the last few years, I’m going to start covering the production side of things soon.

 

 

Making Records In The Age of Pono

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Great blog post covering Pono and the trends in music from a well known music producer. There is a lot of work to still be done in ending the era of bad sound quality but I like how he acknowledges that Neil Young has been leading the fight with a Pono-shaped machete, hacking away at low quality playback habits wherever he sees them.


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Youtube’s Audio Specs

Finally got my answer about Youtube’s audio specification — there isn’t one, really.

The only have a video policy.  Audio stream quality is a part of the video spec.

So here’s the details:

  1. Audio streams as 128k or 320k MP3 only
  2. 320k is only played during videos streaming in HD of 720p or higher
  3. The video must start in HD to get the 320k audio, and most players will not reload the higher audio stream if the user switches video quality during playback.

The end result is that most of youtube is streaming 128k mp3 audio, aka garbage.

The high quality portion of youtube can get 320k MP3 to you but it’s not automatic. They have to force the player into high-quality, which is against the youtube platform defaults.

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The FLAC folks on Youtube? They force the 320k MP3 and perhaps they are encoding the video with a high resolution flac as the audio source? Or they are just misrepresenting themselves?

The two I contacted about their sources never answered me, so I don’t know. From what I’ve read youtube cannot stream FLAC or even lossless audio.

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And yes, 320k MP3 sounds pretty good, it’s almost CD quality. But there’s still digital loss, artifacts, and a fatigue from listening.

CD’s usually push about 800k bitrate at you, so the perceptual coding at 320k sounds pretty close to the original.

But once you up that lossless original to between 2000-6000k (24bit audio) you really hear it pop and become realistic as compared to 320k.

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Relatively accurate representation of some of what is LOST: things masked by louder sounds, aka the feel of the space as the note plays.

Here’s to hoping youtube allows lossless streaming soon, or at least defaults to 320k mp3.

 

The Danger of Perceptual Coding

Perceptual coding is responsible for data loss that is greatly misunderstood and perhaps even dangerous to society.

What is perceptual coding ? It’s a data compression concept used in audio, video, and streaming technologies.

 


 

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ZIP is a lossless compression like FLAC. To permanently reduce media size, MP3 and AAC use perceptual coding to determine importance of data and permanently reduce it.


 

Why does perceptual compression exist? Native media files tend to be large. In the 90’s it was difficult to move these files around because they were too large for the network speed and storage prices of the time. Extreme data compression was needed.

A CD might hold 10 songs at 40mb each for a total of 400mb. How to get that 40mb song file small enough to fit through a dial-up modem and play on the other side in real-time?

The answer was perceptual coding, the trick behind lossy compression. It has been used for decades in voice transmission compression. You have to go inside the audio data and start throwing sound away.

 


 

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But what sounds can be thrown away? How do you go inside of a mixed piece of music and delete things? And how far can you go before people notice a quality drop?

Perceptual coding can’t do things like delete the 2nd guitar solo or reduce the backing vocals, that can only be done in the mix of the song.

Perceptual coding also can’t make the song acoustic or shorter in length, those can only be done in the mixing stage.

What perceptual coding does do is analyze the sounds in the song and prioritize them. The programmers determined which sounds are more important on the scale.

First it locates the lead sounds – the main instruments/voices in the material.

There might be 5 primary sound makers in your song, let’s say drums, bass, guitar, keys, and voice. Perceptual coding manages to quarantine those and only removes small amounts of their identifying data.

This allows a listener to quickly ID the melody, the lyric, the artist, and the song since these primary elements are only slightly degraded.

 


 

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But you can’t achieve 90% overall data reduction by only slightly degrading the material. Perceptual coding achieves the brunt of it’s loss from outside of the primary sounds.

This includes everything not inside the primary sound including the echoes and delays of the primary sounds. In fact all reverbs, delays and room sounds are attacked and removed. Other things outside the primary sound are timbre characteristics, breaths, string and instrument noise, room shape and activity, and soundstage timing cues. All of this is shorthanded to “the tone” and “the soundstage”.

By masking and/or deleting all kinds of sounds that they believe are unable to be reliably perceived* by listeners they achieve massive size decreases.

*What the smart DSP programmers behind perceptual coding understood is that while people can easily hear this loss in the music, most can’t identify it reliably and consistently using the same terminology, and good luck having any of this come out in the whacked-world of ABX listening tests.

If most can’t identify what is gone, but can identify the song and sing along, the codec is considered a success. And MP3 was and still is a huge success by those metrics.

But listen to Ghost in the MP3 to hear an idea of what perceptual coding takes away from your music.

 


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The destruction of all of the natural movement, transients, and timing cues has a long lasting effect on our music, which has a long lasting effect on our psyche.

The things that perceptual coding deems unnecessary and inaudible are in fact the critical emotional elements of the music.

This amounts to a perceptual loss in all modern music and is the reason behind two trends: 1- robotic voices with fake instruments, and 2- hyper-fast switching of sounds from disparate sources with heavily active pan and audio limiter settings.

When your end result is forced to be artificial and limited in size and range, hip producers know to co-opt the weaknesses and make them strengths. The more artificial and huge you can sound the better.

No point in producing realism when there is none at the distribution.


 

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An approximation of lost data from this image after lossy compression.

The Resolution Wars

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Visual representation of “lossy”. These pixels are what is lost when this image is compressed using mpeg.


MP3’s are dying, thank god. MP3 is a transitionary technology that has overstayed it’s welcome. If you believe lossy MP3 is all you need for music, goodbye. Come back when you want to listen. Yes 320k is better than 192k or 128k. Yes it’s getting close to CD quality. It’s still less than half the data (Not to mention CD is 37 year old digital technology!). MP3/MP4/AAC is a lowest common denominator. It has no place in a discussion about quality.

CD quality is 600-1400k so you can just get CD quality these days, even streaming with Tidal. Once you leave the world of lossy and get to real resolutions, you won’t go back.

Confused with all the combinations of bit depth and sample frequencies available: 16/44, 24/44, 16/48, 24/96, etc.?

So what do you need?  Avoid buying expensive 16 bit. Don’t pay new prices for it, unless it’s the best that material ever hopes to be released at. Demand 24 bit versions and pay full price for 24 bit versions.

  • 24/44 is awesome enough for The Beatles and The Cars, two amazing bands
  • 24/88 and 24/96 are the emerging standards for hi-res audio
  • 24/192 is the highest resolution anyone works at and is starting to become popular

I haven’t heard 16/48 in 20 years but I can assure you that 16/44 is not able to deliver the full audio signal -if- the material is from higher resolutions or analog masters.


 

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One part of one inner ear – the most amazing vibration detector I can imagine. Every component does multiple tasks with such detail and subtlety that some of our finest machines could only hope to match it some day.


To spell out audio resolutions in human terms: you need at least 18bits of space to store the data and you need about 30k of undamaged samples per second.

If they had a format of 20/60 it would have been perfect for CD, but they didn’t, so we have to overshoot a bit since the format is just the container. The music is the content and you don’t want the container smaller than the content. In 1977-78 when the CD was being designed, this was a necessary compromise for reasons that have long since expired.

This 18/60 threshold is about the total of what we can detect as humans, so to me, 24 bit is the indicator of true high-resolution audio.  Higher sample rates might give you slightly more detail and audio data, but to my ears 24 bit is the primary upgrade.


 

There's a lot going on inside your ears.

At a micron level inside of the human inner ear. There are thousands of these tiny hairs positioned into arrays at multiple depths, each able to detect certain frequencies and timbres. Each hair sways, the entire mechanism can move, and opposite this area there is a mysterious fluid that appears to defy physics while it adjusts it’s location and density based on the sound. Some researchers believe this fluid performs a liquid-based form of compression/limiting/expansion as well as EQ and is controlled by still unknown forces. That’s serious resolution right there – self-organizing liquids and moveable micron-microphone arrays?  320k/sec is not holding that, nor is 1400k/sec.

Healing Senses By Depriving Them

Interesting theory here that a lazy eye can be cured or corrected with several days of absolute darkness. The lazy eye is a function of the brain not being able to control and process the eye properly, not a function of a malfunctioning eyeball.

The idea is that this total darkness reboots the visual cortex and allows the subject to emerge from the darkness and view the world in a more accurate way.

This is based on the what they call plasticity of our brains when we are younger. It’s been shown that the young brain adapts and takes on new skills faster than an older brain, in particular sensory and motor skills.

 

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The visual cortex in the rear of the brain

 

Researchers believe prolonged darkness, while maintaining everything else in normal patterns (eating, sleeping, socializing, etc.), allows the visual cortex to reset. When first presented with light it quickly decodes it and re-learns how to see.

The theory is that those that suffer from a lazy eye will see a real improvement with this non-invasive treatment.

The doctor behind it had to do a trial run, so he used himself and a volunteer to live in a light-free apartment for a week. Since they survived the trial run with no drama a larger study is being prepared.

 

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The auditory cortex is nearly wrapped around the Thalamus, which is responsible for processing all sensory input, and regulating consciousness, motor skills, and sleep.

 

It is also interesting to note that sound experiments with light depravation have shown that subjects increase their acuity to sound when in the dark – aka the blind musician concept. Researchers kept mice in the dark and did sound tests and guess what, the dark-living mice could detect more detail in sound than the lighted ones.  But in this case, once emerging from the darkness, their hearing skills went back to previous norms. They want to extend the test to see if they can permanently improve the subject’s hearing.

I generally support any therapy that is non-invasive and non-pharmaceutical, so I wish them luck in their studies.

I’d go into a dark room for a few days and have a real stay-cation especially if I believed I would emerge improved and healed. This also sounds like something someone could manage mostly by themselves with a few close companions and basic medical consultation.

Prince Does 24bit

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The genius of early Prince is finally available at full quality digital. Check out ponomusic’s Prince page for his first 8 albums at 24/192!

  1. For You – 24/192
  2. Prince – 24/192
  3. Dirty Mind – 24/192
  4. Controversy – 24/192
  5. 1999 – 24/192
  6. Purple Rain – 24/192
  7. Around The World In A Day – 24/192
  8. Parade – 24/192
  9. Sign o’ The Times
  10. Lovesexy
  11. Batman
  12. Graffiti Bridge
  13. Diamonds & Pearls
  14. Love Symbol
  15. Come
  16. The Black Album
  17. The Gold Experience
  18. Girl 6
  19. Chaos & Disorder
  20. Emancipation
  21. Crystal Ball
  22. Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic
  23. The Rainbow Children
  24. N.E.W.S.
  25. Musicology
  26. 3121
  27. Planet Earth
  28. Lotusflow3r
  29. 20Ten
  30. Art Official Age – 24/44
  31. Plectrumelectrum

Prices are a little high ($22 each LP) but you’ll never have to buy another copy again!

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