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December 2012 Issue
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TAMING DIGITS

I’m wondering if the infamous harsh CD sound dating from the mid 80s is not due to the CD technology of the time, but more to the media of the time. I explain. 

Most of the CD releases of the second half of the 80s and of the 90s, were made from the vinyl LPs, or from the analog tapes mastered for vinyl. Which explains why we can hear tape hiss on ‘so called’ digital recording, or inferior replication of playback through CD compared to vinyl.

After all, mastering is not being done for nothing. In case you have forgotten what mastering is, it is to adapt the music to the medium e.g. for one mix there are made at least three masters - one for vinyl, one for CD and one for radio broadcast, and all three are different.

Back on track: today I’ve listened to ‘Handy’ by Wishbone Ash on the eponymous CD album. Immediately the ‘tape hiss’ annoyed my ears, as well as the so-called digital harshness in the cymbals and the top octaves of the guitars. As the album was on my NAS it took me five minutes to process it through Adobe Audition and to remove the ‘tape hiss’ and by the same token the so-called digital harshness.

The objective results are that the bass is untouched (up to 150Hz), the mids are -2dB at the highest (1.8kHz) and the highs are -3dB at the highest (4kHz) without my ears noticing it. I know that it is heresy to modify the ‘Perfect Sound Forever’ CD gives us. But what the heck if I don’t like it? The subjective results are that I’m not annoyed by the tape hiss anymore and that the playback is more gentle on my ears (no digititis anymore).

Therefore it took me five minutes of brainstorming, five minutes of processing, and ten seconds of checking to enjoy again ‘Handy’ by Wishbone Ash. As Adobe Audition allows you to ‘batch process’ it will take me another five minutes to process the whole album.

Of course, the whole process has to be started from scratch for another album, as different albums have been processed by different mastering engineers, for different companies with different distributors (i.e. manufacturing plants).

But I consider it’s worthwhile to do it (it’s free as long as you consider that your time is free) compared to the $ xx,xxx that a piece of hardware can do for you and a piece of hardware won’t do it exactly as you wish.

Best regards 

Jean-Christophe Xerri

South Australia

 

 

Wishbone Ash album 'Handy' has tape hiss that I removed with Adobe

Auditions, says Jean-Christophe Xerri. 

 

 

 

 

Adobe Auditions has 'sweetening tools' including 'Adaptive Noise Reduction' 

to lessen tape hiss.

 

 

Hi Jean, that is a great suggestion, one I sympathise with. I spend time working with Audacity, the free music editor, changing and creating files for test purposes. Every now and then I also re-balance tracks just for the sake of it. These days it is easy to load the processed .wav file on to a USB memory key and play it on a media player – and the results can be intriguing. 

Adobe Audition CS6 costs £300 and is a professional editing suite a bit beyond the understanding of most users I feel. I see the outgoing CS5 is being priced at £99 and this looks like better value.

If  readers would like to tell us what they use, and how they use it, it would make for interesting reading. 

NK 

 

GOING FOR A SONG

I have what I think is a reasonable hi-fi system at home in England (Spacedeck, Croft Valve pre-power, Spendor.) but as I work abroad for most of the year I only get to use it for about six weeks so I thought that I would share my experience of a computer system I have set up in my apartment. 

I started with a Cambridge Audio Sonata DVD player into a pair of Wharfedale active Diamonds on Target stands. Having bought a new MacBook Pro I thought that it would be good to store all of my CDS on it and use it for a source player. Later I read a review of the Matrix Mini-i D-to-A converter which sounded exactly what I needed so I bought one and brought it back. 

Now I had remote volume control, a headphone amp, USB input and digital in for the DVD player. Everything is wired to the mains (even at home) using Rowan power cables that I discovered in my local hi fi shop in Basel, Switzerland. They are very good and also reasonable at about £40 for a metre. 

CD ripping is done using XLD, downloaded music is converted from FLAC to wav to burn to disc via xACT and as all files are kept in the finder music section and not iTunes, played with Audirvana plus.

The other advantage of the computer is that I also have internet radio (Venice Classic Radio for classical and Shoutcast for all else) and the resulting sound is actually quite good considering it’s not expensive gear. 

Now for a question. I have recently started downloading high res music from sites such as Linn and the Classical Shop. Could you please tell me how I can save them to a DVD Audio disc as I cannot find any software that works with a Mac. 

Thank you in advance, 

Best Regards 

Paul Marfleet

 

 

 

 

MacBook Pro had a disc drive (latest versions do not) for ripping CDs and will run high

resolution audio up to 24/192. It can feed a DAC through an optical S/PDIF output integrated

into the headphone socket (you need an adaptor). Use Songbird to play hi-res files.

(picture courtesy of Apple)

 

 

Hi Paul. Macs will handle right up to 24/192, even though most people think 24/96 is the maximum. Songbird will play high res files or you can convert to Apple Lossless and load them (i.e. 24/96) into iTunes and play them. Remember to go into the Applications folder, then Utilities and set the Audio/Midi doo-dah to 24/96 output. In a Mac this locks the output rate, so all audio is output at 24/96, even if it was originally a CD rip at 16/44.1, by up-sampling (this does not improve sound quality: I have tried it and listened and heard no difference). 

As far as I am aware, you cannot now either create or play DVD Audio discs, except with a non-transportable Cambridge Audio or Oppo player (playback only). I am afraid to say silver discs are yesterday. When you hear hi-res files you will understand why. In particular, 24bit resolution enormously lessens distortion and lowers noise – and you will hear this on a decent system. Suddenly, digital becomes a lot smoother, more subtly and richly detailed and has more apparent depth. CD sounds barren and flat by way of contrast. 

A 96k sample rate is fine; 192k sample rate is pushing the boat out a bit (it doubles file size and download time) and as yet I am uncertain it is audibly better in most systems. 

I hope that helps. NK



 

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