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?

 

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?

Progress Being Made Towards High Definition Audio

Finally! The recording and music industry is discussing standards and practices for proper high-resolution audio, which will hopefully lay the groundwork for mass acceptance by consumers.

This is 20 years past due. Better late than never.

All of this vibration won't compress to 256k.

All of this vibration won’t compress to 256k.

The various entities are having trade shows, panel discussions, demonstrations, and are talking standards, consumer education, and branding for music of all qualities.

Here’s an overview of the talks taking place.  Here is another tech overview. Here is a mainstream consumer view on it.

The keys here are A) provenance and B) final resolution.  Provenance covers the origin of the recording while final resolution is what you are actually being sold. How it got from A to B is important when pushing quality and asking consumers to buy something that many have devalued.

The industry has recommended the following grades that they are calling Master Recording Qualities:

  • MQ-A: From an analog master source
  • MQ-C: From a CD master source (44.1 kHz/16 bit PCM digital), could be up-sampled
  • MQ-P: From a PCM master source that is 48kHz/20 bit PCM or higher (typically 96/24 or 192/24)
  • MQ-D: From a DSD/DSF master source (DSD encoding)

Similar to the 3-letter code on vinyl telling you if it’s sourced from analog or digital, this should inform the consumer and allow the labels to sell guaranteed quality.

This could be a big step towards the mainstream adoption of high resolution audio (HRA).

 

Note: This has nothing to do with Meridian’s new encoding format dubbed MQA (their acronym for Master Quality Assurance, I think) which is built to be a replacement for PCM, the encoding used for most digital audio. If anyone ever records in MQA, it could perhaps become MQ-M above.

The Rise of High Definition Audio – Save The Audio!

Hear My Pixels

If eyes were treated like ears.


Ah finally, I’m not alone on the internet! Someone agrees it’s time to retire the MP3 and bring on high def digital audio.

We keep upping the resolution of our digital lives but seem to have neglected sound for 30+ years now.

Sound is more fundamental to our mental and emotional state than a flickering image. Eyes close, turn away, and can lose focus after a few feet. Created images bring no physical vibrations to our body, and we do not create images for our guttural, natural communication.

There’s a layer of abstraction when creating images as opposed to creating sound. You just did it now (made sound) and you can’t stop doing it. Neither can our machines or mother nature. Don’t forget sound in the pursuit of vision.

Don’t forget quality, even when compromising for convenience.

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Progress, Washington, Same Sentence

200w


Obama just did this: More than doubled the required average fleet MPG by 2025 for US automakers.

Lots of info there —basically each car company has a range of vehicles. Those vehicles all have a miles per gallon score. The entire company’s fleet then has an average MPG. The federal government requires the average to hit a target, and this is how they press for innovation. This is the regulation that republicans dread.

Our past oil loving presidents held the required average in the 20’s, leaving the market stagnant (way more SUV’s sold than Prius’). Obama has now ratcheted up the standard twice since taking office. Automakers will have from 2012-2017 to meet the first set of standards, then 2017-2025 to reach this 56 MPG average. This might actually bring us a cleaner future, with SUV’s getting 40 MPG and the rest of us getting 80+. Nice.

Note that this is for passenger cars and SUV’s – pickup trucks (even light trucks) are not exempt but do have lower standards to meet.

Of course, GM and Chrysler are on board since they are still taking marching orders from Washington, but Ford, Honda, and Hyundai are reported to be supportive as well.

Don’t let the news whores fool you – good work is getting done in Washington by this administration. Progressive, intelligent, actual strategic work is getting done, as opposed to the flashy, ignorant, sound-bite politics of the last administration. Don’t be fooled by marketing and lowest common denominator politics when it comes time to vote.