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Why are CDs digitized from master tapes?

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Posted on March 19, 2017 at 10:22:19
magiccarpetride
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It seems that majority/most people, given a chance. tend to prefer the sound of LPs to the way CDs and digital files sound. Still, a lot of people are not prepared to make the plunge into the vinyl world, for a number of valid reasons (cost, inconvenience, etc.)

On the other hand, there are a lot of claims that if one were to record a good LP playing on a good turntable, and then turn that recording into a good old 16 bit/44.1 kHz FLAC or AIFF or WAV file (the so-called Red Book format), all the charming qualities of the vinyl playback would be impeccably preserved for posterity. The argument furthermore goes that the reason people don't seem to prefer the CD sound is because CDs tend to present more faithfully the actual sound of the original master tape. When master tape gets converted to an LP, the turntable playback adds all kinds of sexy coloration etc., rendering that playback more seductive to human ears. All that charm is gone when converting the master tape to CDs, because CDs are 'perfect sound forever'. Well, it turns out human ears do not really dig that kind of perfection.

If that's the case, why don't music industry switch to the so-called 'needle drop' production? Meaning, when planning to reissue a classic album, why don't they digitize it by playing the good LP copy on a top flight turntable, and then encode it into the Red Book digital format, and then cut the CDs?

 

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RE: Why are CDs digitized from master tapes?, posted on March 19, 2017 at 10:43:05
Waxxy
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Although not quite the same thing, I recently bought a Ryan Adams album (vinyl) that had a free download card included. The download was of a needle drop of the vinyl! I ended up giving the code to a friend (shhhhh!) so I haven't actually listened to it...but the concept is interesting.

 

RE: Why are CDs digitized from master tapes?, posted on March 19, 2017 at 12:10:13
mr.bear
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Posts: 3761
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Do you recall back in 2013 when the controversial blogger "Archimago" conducted a large, anonymous, online survey to test the audibility of 2 sets of FLAC-encoded audio files. One set of files contained segments of music ripped directly from audio CD (PCM 16/44) whereas the other set had the audio converted to MP3 then decoded back to 16/44 format where it was converted to FLAC.

The shocking (to this Bear's fuzzy ears anyway...) was the 320KBPS MP-3's sound was preferred by a statistically significant slice of the respondents who characterized themselves as "Audiophiles" and serious music listeners. Read the two parts pf the survey, link below. Maybe the erudite folks in the Digital Asylum think Archimago is full of BS, but I find his methods and tests useful and reasonable on the whole. So your cnclusion that human ears don't dig perfectly etched sonic perfection may be right. But there's many more links in the chain of musical pleasure...

Did music "really" sound better on the AM car radio in my dad's '60 Impala (white over lipstick red), parked at the beach with my cuddly high-school girlfriend? Yup, that' the way I remember it! Music appreciation is half technology and half emotional response. You may never resolve the question in your post.

As for questions that begin: "Why doesn't the music business..." The music business are a bunch of rampant scumbags who'd murder the last sea-otter to sell a crappy download for $1.29. Summed up best by Hunter S. Thompson: ""The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." There isn't a sufficient marginal profit in high-grade audio. Contemporary music is mixed, IMO, to sound punchy and bright on iPod stock $.99 earbuds and it isn't getting any better than in 1968 when it mix mixed to sound punchy on Dads Impala's AM radios. Shopping for high-resolution downloadable music today is like picking records from your weird Uncle's console Hi-Fi, plus it's bizarrely expensive.

If you want to hear vinyl- spin records and be happy. If you want to play CDs, streams, and downloads- do that. The music business isn't going to help you resolve that divide. This results in hard choices: I choose to direct my money and attention to my vinyl frontend because I have thousands of records and care somewhat less about digital music. For example I don't recommend that you buy the new $5k DCS streamer (yeah- a brand new $5000 Squeezebox- wow!- the future is here).

Sorry to ramble on so...

 

Well, first of all, posted on March 19, 2017 at 12:11:12
M3 lover
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I'm curious why you believe most people prefer the sound of LPs? Outside of specialized sites like Vinyl Asylum I don't think many folks have a good impression of vinyl playback. Anytime there is a generalized mention in the media (even some hi-end audio) or cocktail party conversation, most talk (focus) is about the ticks, pops, warps, etc., not the quality of the sound.

Other Inmates may address technical answers to your question but from a practical business standpoint, consider the time and labor required to produce a digital file/CD as you suggest compared with working with a digital file to begin with -- too expensive.

"The piano ain't got no wrong notes." Thelonious Monk

 

RE: Why are CDs digitized from master tapes?, posted on March 19, 2017 at 12:32:06
jubal62
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I have some really good CDs and some really bad LPs and just the opposite. CDs tend to have a slight edge or bright sound in the midrange on up. In the beginning of CD production they would actually introduce a low level hiss into some of the recordings trying to tame the bright quality of the CD. The sampling rate of CDs is to low to capture enough of the signal. So there is a lot of harmonics that simply are not there. If you have any old classical CDs from the eighty's listen to the strings because some of those old recordings make the violin section sound like screeching cats. On the other hand LP analog mastering can be just as bad. In the end an engineer decides what you get to listen to.

 

RE: Well, first of all, posted on March 19, 2017 at 13:43:02
SpotcheckBilly12345
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"Many folks" have never heard a decent LP on a high quality vinyl playback system.

Cheers,
SB

 

RE: Why are CDs digitized from master tapes?, posted on March 19, 2017 at 13:45:59
John Elison
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> If that's the case, why don't music industry switch to the so-called 'needle drop' production? Meaning,
> when planning to reissue a classic album, why don't they digitize it by playing the good LP copy on a top flight turntable,
> and then encode it into the Red Book digital format, and then cut the CDs?


It might even be easier than that. Peter Ledermann of Soundsmith used to produce playable master lacquers. I heard one on a high-end turntable and it sounded better than any vinyl LP I have ever heard. It had the quietest surface yet produced the ambient background of the room in which it was recorded along with exceptional dynamic range, clarity and transparency. Consequently, you wouldn't even need to press a vinyl record to get the kind of analog sound quality necessary to produce an analog sounding Redbook CD. I don't know why this hasn't been done but I think it would make exceptional sounding analog quality CDs not to mention exceptional hi-res digital recordings.

Best regards,
John Elison

 

Needle drop MP-3, posted on March 19, 2017 at 13:46:15
Dave Garretson
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I've got the Ryan Adams needle-drop 320K MP-3 file that came with the Ashes & Fire LP. The file ain't vinyl, but it sounds deceptively tasty compared to vanilla MP-3.

 

RE: Well, first of all, posted on March 19, 2017 at 14:22:49
magiccarpetride
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"I'm curious why you believe most people prefer the sound of LPs? Outside of specialized sites like Vinyl Asylum I don't think many folks have a good impression of vinyl playback. Anytime there is a generalized mention in the media (even some hi-end audio) or cocktail party conversation, most talk (focus) is about the ticks, pops, warps, etc., not the quality of the sound."

My observations are strictly personal. I have yet to meet a person who, upon listening to the same track on an LP and on a CD (or any other digitized format), side-by-side, would say that they prefer the way the track sounds on a CD. This, of course, assuming that both the TT and the digital transport/DAC are of decent quality.

Everyone I talked to seems to agree that LPs tend to sound more pleasing to the ear. Yes, CDs are way more convenient, and they are 'perfect sound forever', still the enjoyment seems to be the privilege of the LPs.

"Other Inmates may address technical answers to your question but from a practical business standpoint, consider the time and labor required to produce a digital file/CD as you suggest compared with working with a digital file to begin with -- too expensive."

You've got a point there. I haven't thought about that, but yeah, it's probably not possible to turn such a venture into a profitable business. Thanks.

 

RE: Well, first of all, posted on March 19, 2017 at 14:25:56
magiccarpetride
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>"Many folks" have never heard a decent LP on a high quality vinyl playback system.

Correct. I was talking mostly about people I've met and talked to in person, and also people who come over to my house and listen, side-by-side to the same tracks in two formats.

 

RE: Why are CDs digitized from master tapes?, posted on March 19, 2017 at 17:08:09
John Elison
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> On the other hand, there are a lot of claims that if one were to record a good LP playing on a good turntable,
> and then turn that recording into a good old 16 bit/44.1 kHz FLAC or AIFF or WAV file (the so-called Red Book format),
> all the charming qualities of the vinyl playback would be impeccably preserved for posterity.


I've been making digital recordings of vinyl since 1991 and my digital recordings sound very similar if not completely identical to vinyl. I now have hundreds of 16/44 Redbook copies of vinyl that sound perfect to me. Most recently I switched to a TASCAM DA-3000 DSD recorder and I'm making all my new recordings of vinyl in DSD-5.6M otherwise known as double DSD. These digital recordings are definitely transparent copies of vinyl.

Best regards,
John Elison

 

Good point. nt, posted on March 19, 2017 at 17:47:40
3+4=5
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.

 

RE: Why are CDs digitized from master tapes?, posted on March 19, 2017 at 18:16:29
Tre'
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I wonder how many people would prefer the master tape (digital or analog) to the CD or LP?

When the master tape gets "mastered" to either LP or CD it's not just transferred. It's manipulated.

In the old days the mastering engineers were technicians in white lab coats.

The artist and producer had nothing to do with the mastering process.

The technician's job was to make the LP sound as much like the master tape as they could. Period.

Then guys like Doug Sax can along and made the LP sound "better" than the master tape. The "mastering engineer" becomes part of the artistic process.

This is not mastering in the technical sense.

This is sweetening. I have sweetened many albums myself.

It's interesting to hear the master tape without the sweetening.

It's also interesting to hear different engineer's take on just how to sweeten a master tape.

The only way to get a handle on digital vs. analog is to do a straight transfer (no sweetening) to digital from a analog master tape and a straight transfer to the cutting lathe to make a vinyl record.

The transfer to the lacquer will take some EQ,etc.. to make up for the losses in the cutting and pressing processes but should be done old school technician mastering. Just make the LP sound as much like the master tape as you can.

If you could do all that and then compare the CD vs. the LP vs. the master tape itself, then you would know something.

Here is my point, we both like the sound of our LPs vs. CD.

How do we know that we aren't just liking the "mastering job" done on those LP vs. the mastering job done for the CD?

Tre'

Have Fun and Enjoy the Music
"Still Working the Problem"

 

RE: Why are CDs digitized from master tapes?, posted on March 19, 2017 at 19:57:56
Crazy Dave
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Exactly my point that I have made many times on the Asylum. While most of my CD's that are rebaters of LPs are inferior to the LPs, I have some that are superior. West Side Story comes to mind as a CD that blows away the LP (I have both). It is not enough to have the CD and LP and say that because the LP sounds better that analog is superior. I am heavily invested in both, because I go where the music is and now the music is in both digital an analog medias. While I prefer to have excellent sound, I listen to both bootleg LPs and 78s, because the music is there. In my pursuit of music, I am still not convinced that either medium is superior. Greatness is found in the gestalt that come from the totality of all aspect of the recording/mastering/media processing.

Dave

 

RE: Why are CDs digitized from master tapes?, posted on March 19, 2017 at 20:05:49
Crazy Dave
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Even in the best of CDs, strings are not as good as analog, but brass and percussion can be superior. Woodwinds are a tossup, but i lean towards the analog. Still for me it is performance uber alles, so I choose that over media. You can have my CDs when you pry them form my cold dead fingers!

Dave

 

RE: Well, first of all, posted on March 19, 2017 at 20:09:41
Crazy Dave
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"Manny Folks" have never heard a CD played on a high quality music system. They have either head it on a low-end big-box home theater system of a computer with fine speakers such as Logitech.

Dave

 

RE: Why are CDs digitized from master tapes?, posted on March 19, 2017 at 20:17:18
John Elison
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> I wonder how many people would prefer the master tape (digital or analog) to the CD or LP?

I have a good friend who repairs and restores Studer tape recorders. He has a reputation of being one of the foremost authorities for the repair and restoration of Studer tape recorders in the North-Western United States. He is also heavily into digital and he convinced me to buy a TASCAM DA-3000 digital recorder a couple of years ago. Anyway, to make a long story short, he sent me a digital copy of a high-speed analog master tape made on his TASCAM DA-3000 and it was the best sounding digital recording I'd ever heard.

I firmly believe that digital is accurate and can therefore copy both vinyl and analog tape transparently. I know digital can copy vinyl transparently because I've been doing it for years; therefore, I have no doubt that it would copy a master tape transparently, too. At any rate, the digital recording from the master tape that my friend made sounds absolutely outstanding to me.

Based on my experience with digital over the past 25-years, I can't understand why the record companies don't make better sounding CDs. I nearly always make better sounding CDs using my own digital recorders than anything I've heard from record companies.

Go figure!
John Elison

 

RE: Why are CDs digitized from master tapes?, posted on March 19, 2017 at 20:55:10
simpletwist
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I remember that Allen Wright here in Oz, many years ago, ran a campaign supporting AM radio as a superior format for music. If I remember correctly he made some high end AM receivers.
I also remember seeing him at an audio show wearing a t-shirt stating "Listening to digital audio is like driving a car with square wheels"

 

You can already buy these cds digitized from vinyl, posted on March 20, 2017 at 07:30:37
jeromelang
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If you really like this sort of things

 

RE: Why are CDs digitized from master tapes?, posted on March 20, 2017 at 12:59:41
rbolaw
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Well, one obvious answer is that some of the drawbacks of CD sound do not orginate with the source material -- you'll hear them regardless of whether the source is an LP or tape, or analog or digital.
Another is, even the best, most minty LP pressings add some noise and distortion. Tape playback isn't perfect either (nothing is), but assuming top-of-the line tape playback beats top-of-the-line LP playback, why not use the tape?
Finally, and maybe most importantly, isn't the LP several generations further removed from the performance than the master tape? Whatever "sexy coloration" may be desirable, I assume it would be better to take the source closest to the performance and add whatever coloration is wanted while avoiding coloration that isn't wanted.

 

RE: Why are CDs digitized from master tapes?, posted on March 20, 2017 at 14:59:34
magiccarpetride
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>I assume it would be better to take the source closest to the performance and add whatever coloration is wanted while avoiding coloration that isn't wanted.

That's the clincher. Some people have the money, time, expertise, patience etc. to build a holy grail of a turntable/tonearm/cartridge/wiring/SUT/phono/cabling. The resulting sound tends to be extremely desirable, by many accounts of people who give such a precious system a listen.

So the idea is to try and replicate that exact sound (coloration and whatever else) in a digital format. If that's possible/doable, it is hard to imagine there won't be any market for such products.

 

CDs digitized from master tapes, posted on March 20, 2017 at 18:55:07
hifitommy
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i can see the owner of the master tape not wanting to endanger it by loaning it to a reissue company. copying the tape at the best digital spec with the highest sampling rate/bit depth format and lending THAT.

properly executed hi rez files can come VERY close to the original analog tape. still, i feel that a vinyl playback of the original master tape is the best sound one can achieve.

but there is nothing wrong with LPs derived from the hi rez file as long as it is identified as such. the ABCKO dsd mastered LPs being a perfect example. see link for michael frmemer's take on that format choice.

the xrcd format, for me, is still rbcd and i don't consider it to be hi rez, although there are addicts of that format and will loudly argue of their validity.
...regards...tr

 

It's been done, posted on March 21, 2017 at 02:13:46
Analog Scott
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James Boyk's Performance Recording of Pictures at an Exhibition came as a comparison package. You had the LP cut directly from the analog master tape and the CD which was directly transfered from the analog master tape and the digital master tape. So you could compare the LP to the CD sourced from the same analog tape and the CD sourced from a digital recording all from the same exact microphone feed. Zero processing anywhere along the chain.

 

It's all about the mastering moves, posted on March 21, 2017 at 09:55:37
Garven
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Perhaps I'm mistaken, but you seem to be thinking that all CDs are simply direct copies of the master tapes. That's almost never the case (just as it's rarely if ever the case for vinyl releases). In fact, a lot of audiophiles would be quite pleased if CDs were flat transfers of the master tapes. A lot of the problem with CDs these days is heavy-handed mastering moves, usually a combination of over-compression and goosed highs or "smiley faced EQ" Although sometimes the master mixes needs some help, with digital, it's easy to go way overboard.

Early CDs were often flat transfers of the production master tapes, which were copies of the mixdown master--sometimes more than one generation down-- to which EQ and compression was applied with cutting vinyl in mind. In the rush to get CDs out in the market, record companies grabbed whatever they had on hand. This should be close to having "needledrops" without the needles, but the digital technology back then was primitive by today's standards.

Eventually, the whole "digitally remastered" trend took hold and companies discovered that folks would buy new versions of the same material if they went back to the master tapes and retransferred them. That's fine in theory but then they decided to apply things like no-noise processing, which when misused removed the ambience and life from recordings; then came the loudness war and all hell broke loose!

Most folks who have actually heard the real master tapes will tell you that flat transfers with no processing in many if not most cases do not sound so good. Many times the master tapes need the helping hand of mastering folks (called engineers by many but a lot of them don't actually have formal training in engineering so they're not really "engineers" in the academic sense).

All this being said, I do get what you're saying. I've been an avid "needledropper" now for a decade and I continue to be amazed at how transparently a digital recording can duplicate the magic of vinyl. Heck I can even convert my recordings to high-bitrate MP3s and still they sound a gazillion times better than most commercial CD releases! So clearly modern digital recording, even 16-bit/44.1kHz material, can sound incredible. It's all in what's been done, and not done, to the material.

 

and.........? (nt), posted on March 21, 2017 at 10:26:33
Tre'
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.
Have Fun and Enjoy the Music
"Still Working the Problem"

 

RE: You can already buy these cds digitized from vinyl, posted on March 22, 2017 at 03:09:39
PAR
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Only fly in the ointment is that the master is first cut to copper ( not lacquer) using the DMM process. And many vinyl freaks decry DMM discs saying that the process makes vinyl sound like...er,CDs!

 

RE: Why are CDs digitized from master tapes?, posted on March 22, 2017 at 13:17:47
John Elison
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> Tape playback isn't perfect either (nothing is), but assuming top-of-the line tape playback beats top-of-the-line LP playback, why not use the tape?

I think this would provide the best sound by far. Unfortunately, it's not practical for ordinary audio enthusiasts to use master tapes. There is only one master tape so copies would have to be produced and these copies would be very expensive due to the cost of tape media and the cost of real-time duplication. However, the biggest stumbling block would be that every audio enthusiast would need to own a very expensive high-speed analog tape recorder to play these second and third generation master tapes.

A better idea would be to make hi-res digital copies of master tapes. This could actually be fairly inexpensive to accomplish because there would be only one real-time duplication needed and all other copies could be generated automatically on computers. Due to the nature of digital duplication, all copies would be identical to the original real-time digital copy, which would sound identical to the master tape based on my experience. Furthermore, the cost of a player would need be no more than $1000 for the best sounding player available. This is based on my evaluation of TASCAM's DA-3000 DSD recorder and digital player.

 

"and.........? ", posted on March 23, 2017 at 09:37:29
Analog Scott
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I prefered the vinyl on my system. But the great thing is anyone can buy this comparison package and compare for themselves. It was a great idea.

 

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