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New Absolute Sound guest editorial by Jonathan Valin

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Posted on March 10, 2017 at 19:12:05
ecl876
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"DIGITAL IS TO ANALOG AS A BUTTERFLY PRESSED UNDER GLASS IS TO A BUTTERFLY IN AN OPEN FIELD"

This isn't my analogy but Valin's and I'm pretty sure it's not him at his most elegant. His article in the new TAS entitled THE EMPEROR'S NEW SERVER is essentially his perspective on the digital vs. analog debate, after "taking the computer audio plunge ....the last 24 months...auditioning hi-res files over a variety of pretty good DACS." To be fair, he does list all the real or perceived advantages of digital audio (convenience, pitch stability, consistency, lack of surface noise, price, no warpage, availability of contemporary music) but still concludes "I positively dare you to listen to any well recorded piece of music turned into a digital file and played back from a computer via USB DAC and then listen to the exact same recording played back via a really good turntable, tonearm, cartridge and phonostage and tell me, with a straight face, that the digital recording sounds more like the real thing than the analog one."

It's a fair and well written piece but honestly, after naming all the advantages of digital playback, he seems to have run out of steam. His main argument in favor of analog is an old one: " What is wrong with digital audio, be it computerized or not, has been wrong from the go. No matter what the bit rate, no matter what the digital delivery system, you simply cannot "sample" the continuous-time sound of instruments or vocalists, turn it into discrete -time numbers, and then turn those back into instruments or vocalists without losing some of the very continuousness of presentation--the dense, constantly renewing, uninterrupted flow of articulation, dynamics and timbres--that is the very breath of musical life."

He repeats his dare about listening to a really good analog setup vs. a digital one but concludes with "All in all, it's probably best to look at this editorial diatribe as a minority report from an Old Fogey."

 

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RE: New Absolute Sound guest editorial by Jonathan Valin, posted on March 10, 2017 at 20:19:01
ahendler
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He takes a lot of wordage to simply state that he likes analog better than digital. Also his assertion that to hear how good analog is you have to listen to an $80000 turntable with a $20000 cartridge I would tell him to listen to a ladder dac like the Audio-GD Master 7 to see how good digital can be. It will only cost $2500. I'm sure he has never heard this dac and Stereophile will never review it because it is so much better than most super expensive dacs and most turntables. Just my opinion which is all that Valin's is
Alan

 

Yes - I'm sure he's made all the Luddites very happy! ;-), posted on March 11, 2017 at 00:58:39
Chris from Lafayette
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"Old Fogey" indeed!

BTW, I'd be glad to tell him "with a straight face" that digital sounds better to me than vinyl (and how's multi-channel working out for vinyl these days?), but he probably won't take me up on my offer. ;-)

 

RE: New Absolute Sound guest editorial by Jonathan Valin, posted on March 11, 2017 at 08:12:24
Analog Scott
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While I share his preference for vinyl playback i have to say that what he said about digital here.... "No matter what the bit rate, no matter what the digital delivery system, you simply cannot "sample" the continuous-time sound of instruments or vocalists, turn it into discrete -time numbers, and then turn those back into instruments or vocalists without losing some of the very continuousness of presentation--the dense, constantly renewing, uninterrupted flow of articulation, dynamics and timbres--that is the very breath of musical life." Is complete B.S. Digital recording and playback is quite capable of complete audible transparency.

 

Not all of us luddites are happy with his nonsense about digital audio., posted on March 11, 2017 at 08:14:29
Analog Scott
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Preferences are subjective and inarguable. I share his preference for vinyl. But he is completely wrong about digital. Digital can be utterly audibly transparent.

 

Yes - a statement like the one you quoted ("losing the very continuousness. . ."). . . , posted on March 11, 2017 at 09:01:47
Chris from Lafayette
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. . . makes me think that he must have persuaded himself that he's hearing stair-steps in the sound waves, per the misleading explanatory graphics we used to see in the magazines when digital first came out. (See link below.) The effect of psychology on our listening (mine too!) is a powerful factor and is very much underappreciated in our whole listening experience!

 

Sounds like Fremer in Stereophile...yawn...(nt), posted on March 11, 2017 at 09:31:26
mkuller
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(nt)

 

RE: Yes - I'm sure he's made all the Luddites very happy! ;-), posted on March 11, 2017 at 21:51:01
learsfool
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Hi guys - I think you are misinterpreting (perhaps deliberately?) what Valin is saying here. He does not say that digital is not transparent. Quite the opposite, in fact. The main complaint, which I share, is that to achieve this "transparency" and "clarity", too much has been processed out with digital. As rbolaw mentioned (I think in the analog posting section), it processes out much of the ambient noise which is an integral part of live performance. You can almost never tell what hall something was recorded in with a digital recording, for example - it makes them all sound the same, ironically in the interests of "clarity."

Also, those of us who are wind players or singers for a living, and create our sounds with our breath, find that digital processing invariably removes many of the subtleties we aim for in our sounds. Audiophiles have various terms for this that aren't very satisfactory - many on this board call it "bloom." As much as digital has improved, especially over the last several years, it still does not come close to analog in recreating the very subtle timbre changes our instruments are capable of (as opposed to string and percussion or keyboard instruments), and I'm sorry, I believe that Valin's reason is correct. I am not sure it will ever be possible for digital to do this, no matter how much better it gets. And as a wind player, this is a much more important thing for me to hear reproduced as well as possible (for it can NEVER sound totally life-like, no matter what the technology used), then having every single bit of "noise" or "distortion" removed. I will put up with a little surface noise on an LP to hear this, rather than listening to a cleaner sounding recording, with some of the life also removed. This is why almost every single wind player and vocalist I know still prefers listening to vinyl, even on a modest system such as mine, to something that costs much more but throws out the baby with the bathwater. OK, that's a little much, but I hope you get my point.

A related point - one interesting test I always use of a system is to play a copy of John Gielgud's one man Shakespeare recitations on LP. Especially if you are in another room, with a good analog system many people are unable to tell that the voice is recorded rather than live. This is never the case with a digital recording - you can always tell it is a recording, and I believe that this is because of the digital processing removing too much of the timbre of the human voice, as Valin says. And there are quite a few recording engineers who say that this is true, as has been said many times here. So sorry, Chris, it is nothing to do with being a Luddite. :)

All this said, of course I have a decent digital playback system, too - one has to if one wants to listen to just about every new recording of the last couple of decades. In fact, I probably end up listening to it more than my vinyl system, certainly for work.

 

huh? , posted on March 11, 2017 at 22:12:31
Analog Scott
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"Hi guys - I think you are misinterpreting (perhaps deliberately?) what Valin is saying here."

Nope. he has been quoted and quoted in context. That is the opposite of misrepresentation.

"He does not say that digital is not transparent. Quite the opposite, in fact. The main complaint, which I share, is that to achieve this "transparency" and "clarity", too much has been processed out with digital."

Actually he does say that it is not transparent. You are saying it too. If *anything audible* has been "processed out." It_aint_trnasparent. Transparent means zero audible change in the signal.

"it processes out much of the ambient noise which is an integral part of live performance."

Anything that does that is not "transparent."

Clarity and transaprency are not the same thing.

"Also, those of us who are wind players or singers for a living, and create our sounds with our breath, find that digital processing invariably removes many of the subtleties we aim for in our sounds."

That would also fall into the catagory of NOT transparent.

No point in going any further about transparency. It's not "clarity." It's the transcription of *ALL* audible parts of the original signal without any audible changes whatsoever.

Now to the point. Digital absolutely can be absolutely transparent.


And let me add that I do prefer vinyl playback (high end vinyl playback specifically) when all else is equal over digital transparency.





 

Excellent response, Scott, posted on March 11, 2017 at 22:27:26
Chris from Lafayette
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The proof of the pudding is that experiments were done (quite early in the digital age actually) which showed that when CD-quality digital recordings were made of LP tracks, listeners could not tell the difference between the actual LP playback and the digital copy.

OTOH, if you make an analogue copy of a digital source, it's often quite possible to tell which recording is the copy.

I think that if learsfool is hearing all these subtleties via vinyl that he's missing on digital playback, he must have something wrong with his digital set-up.

 

I think the digital v. analog( vinyl) issue is actually a kind of complex one, posted on March 11, 2017 at 22:48:11
Analog Scott
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"I think that if learsfool is hearing all these subtleties via vinyl that he's missing on digital playback, he must have something wrong with his digital set-up."

If this is true over a broad range of source material then i would agree that either there is something wrong with his digital playback or we have a case of strong bias effects. But if it is not true over a broad range of source material then it simply could be a number of other real factors. We have to remember that what we have in the world of audio is a huge and diverse well of source material. LPs, CDs, SACDs, DVD-As, MP3s etc etc of a wide range of recordings. All recordings have their own individual sonic issues and virtues. All masterings of any analog tape sourced recording has a mine field of variations many of which are untrracable. Even digital recordings are often subject to major variations in mastering. And then we have a slew of digital playback that has not been implimented by design or by accident to be audible transparent. Then we have even mopre issues to contend with on the vinyl playback side of things. You have all kinds of distortions that are inherent. Some of them degrade SQ and some of them are euphonic in nature. And you have even greater variants within the different vinyl playback gear. Again some to the detriment of the SQ and some to the enhancement. Whenever I see anyone claiming that digital is always better or that vinyl is always better I suspect this is a malinformed opinion frought with limited experiences and?or major listener bias issues. Because of all the real world variables if one is trying to cut through the audiophile crap and get to the best sound one has to examine each recording and each piece of gear on an individual basis. And one has to understand the difference between objective accuracy, subjective realism and personal preference. I only concern myself with personal preferences.

 

Yup, pretty much agree with all that [nt], posted on March 11, 2017 at 23:34:12
Chris from Lafayette
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"All recordings have their own individual sonic issues and virtues.", posted on March 12, 2017 at 08:08:23
rbolaw
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I think you've nailed it there, Scott, and in the rest of your post, too. As for your response to learsfool's thoughtful post, where he cites one of my (no doubt learned and intelligent) posts, I'm not sure which one, I think there's no need to get into semantic debates as to exactly what "transparency" or "clarity" mean, though I understand the point you are making there as well and I don't disagree.

The bottom line is, my fellow wind player learsfool is describing a specific effect of digital recording (as distinct from digital playback, I think) that I hear as well, and that is particularly noticeable with wind instruments and the human voice, as he says. Professional engineers know all about it, and are skilled at compensating for it, especially with today's technology.

Anyway, it only proves your point, that each technology has its own issues and virtues.

 

This is not a new concept, but like..., posted on March 12, 2017 at 09:23:43
MWE
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so many things, it's less about the method and more about the execution of that method. There are fantastic-sounding CDs and horrible-sounding LPs- and the converse of course. Either method can sound wonderful if carefully done, and there's no law restricting us to one or the other; as a matter of fact I find it more interesting to have the variety. I guess some folks just enjoy being dogmatic.

Mark in NC
"The thought that life could be better is woven indelibly into our hearts and our brains" -Paul Simon

 

RE: New Absolute Sound guest editorial by Jonathan Valin, posted on March 12, 2017 at 10:08:32
Old Listener
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To most of the population, high priced digital gear is unnecessary and rather ridiculous. Quite inexpensive gear does what they need and they enjoy the result.

Vinyl is a more defensible space. Minimal intrusion from the progress of real technology. It may require generating some "alternative facts" but audiophiles already have that skill.
my blog: http://carsmusicandnature.blogspot.com/

 

Digital is the parabolic curve that, posted on March 12, 2017 at 17:46:12
Ross
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comes close to but never quite touches the analogue baseline.

High Res makes the comparison much closer, but still analogue prevails.

 

RE: "All recordings have their own individual sonic issues and virtues.", posted on March 13, 2017 at 22:11:17
Analog Scott
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"The bottom line is, my fellow wind player learsfool is describing a specific effect of digital recording (as distinct from digital playback, I think) that I hear as well, and that is particularly noticeable with wind instruments and the human voice, as he says. Professional engineers know all about it, and are skilled at compensating for it, especially with today's technology."

If one were to say this was a problem that plagued many early digital recordings and many early CDs I would completely agree. But if one is saying this is an issue that is still current and universal in all digital recordings I would definitley disagree. As has often been pointed out, one can make a digtal copy (which is a recording) of any LP and capture every bit of the audible signal.



 

RE: Digital is the parabolic curve that, posted on March 13, 2017 at 22:15:49
Analog Scott
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At least you got it right that it isn't a staircase. But digital certainly can come much much closer than any analog recording to matching the original signal within the bandwidth of human hearing. If absolute audible accuracy is one's goal when it comes to audio signals the digital is the superior method.

 

oh and about "smeantics", posted on March 13, 2017 at 23:38:35
Analog Scott
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cant get aroound them in audio. Meaningful discussion falls on it's face in audio if we don't agree on the specific meanings of audio terms. I don't think it is a trivial thing to point out that clarity and transparency are not synonymous in audio. The problem often lies in the fact that there is a great deal of overlap with many terms and concepts in audio but that is often mistaken for interchangability. Just consider the two often used terms "realism" and "accuracy." Plenty of overlap but certainly two terms with very different meanings in audio. They are not interchangable. And yet so often the assumption that these terms are interchangable derails discussions on the merits of accuracy in audio.

 

RE: New Absolute Sound guest editorial by Jonathan Valin, posted on March 14, 2017 at 05:34:26
fantja
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IME, the whole hi-rez download / music server/ computer audio argument cannot compare to a well-heeled CD/SACD player or TT -based system.
Valin is not far off from the mark.

 

RE: "All recordings have their own individual sonic issues and virtues.", posted on March 14, 2017 at 22:31:20
learsfool
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Hi guys - I actually agree with almost all of what Scott is saying here as well, especially about the semantics part, and how this hampers conversations about audio stuff, including this one. Most of my post was actually ignored in the semantics discussion that followed. Putting those terms in quotation marks was my attempt to show that I did not necessarily agree with their use in the context (there are many audiophiles who seem to mean by "transparency" or "clarity" simply a lack of surface noise, and I agree with Scott that these are two very different terms, however I would say that no two audiophiles would define them in exactly the same way, either). This unfortunately was not clear - there is a reason I am a musician and not a writer, lol!

I will say, though, that rbolaw restates my main point very well, and correctly guesses that I meant the technology rather than the playback. I still stand by my comment that even the latest greatest digital technology still is incapable of what I said it was (as he says, professionals attempt to compensate for this in a great variety of ways), and for me personally, this is why I prefer analog. Others will not care about this issue whatsoever, and I am not saying they should. If all someone listens to is mostly electronic produced music made in a recording studio, then I would agree that digital is going to be the better technology for that. That type of "recording," however, does not remotely have anything to do with what audiophiles call "the absolute sound," yet another ambiguous term.

 

RE: "All recordings have their own individual sonic issues and virtues.", posted on March 16, 2017 at 09:55:38
Analog Scott
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IMO the problem isn't digital. It's the very nature of audio recording and playback. Many analog/vinyl colorations, some inherent in those media and some unique to the specifc gear actually give us some compensation?fix for those inherent weaknesses in audio recording and playback. This is a wonderful seredipitous thing in the case of the media and a wonderful designed thing in much high end vinyl playback gear. I think this muddies the waters however when it comes to cause and effect. IMO, IME this leads to the idea that digital is doing something wrong when analog is actually doing something unexpectedly right.

Don't get me started on "the absolute sound." I will certainly piss off about half the folks on this forum with my opinions on that subject.

 

"...every bit of the audible signal." Good one, Scott! , posted on March 16, 2017 at 19:03:14
rbolaw
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Today's audio engineers and their equipment, both digital and analog, is so sophisticated that I, an ordinary listener, am very far from any position to pass judgment on the current state of the art.
Of course, perfectly reproducing a recording is not the same as perfectly capturing a live music performance. The former task is probably definable, at least. I'm not sure the latter is.
And the industry has been making the claim of perfect music reproduction for a long, long time.

 

Valin Is Another Sad Example of the Ravages of Aged Metal Decline, posted on March 16, 2017 at 20:15:32
Newey
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Only a few years ago, he was claiming in one of his audio reviews that he was young and hip.

Over the years, since his days in the genuine Harry Pearson led TAS, I've found him to be contentious and lacking in rigorous logic. For example, his stand on the basic principles of high end audio takes issue with Harry Pearson's tenets, while adhering to them at other times [and sometimes in the very same article].

Digital vs Analogue?

Who cares. That was a fight from the 1980's and 90's. Today, you may listen to any format you wish, with the inclusion or exclusion or any as you wish. Most folks, whether they like or hate digital sound, listen to it via their cell phones. It's a resource, and its convenient. What're you going to do? refuse it - standing on principle? And, if you do, go ahead. Who cares?
Severius! Supremus Invictus

 

"perfectly reproducing a recording is not the same as perfectly capturing a live music performance", posted on March 17, 2017 at 10:50:22
Analog Scott
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This basic fact is so important in understanding audio at it's most fundamental levels. Yes!!!! The original live music performance is a profoundly complex 4 dimensional waveform. It is impossible to capture and encode that waveform in it's entirety using microphones placed at points in that space and then reduce those 2 dimensional electrical signals into two or even five discrete 2 dimensional signals that will convert into acoustic waveforms at two or five speaker sources in an entirely unique seperate sound space (the listening room) and bare any real similarity to the original waveform. Not only is it not possible it isn't even what the designers of stereo and multichannel were trying to do. They are trying to use those microphone feeds to creat an aural illusion in the playback. Like watching 3D movies.

 

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