A great-sounding recording will sound its best only when it's properly mastered to LP, SACD, DVD-Audio, or a high-resolution file. Those formats will reveal the full glory of the music in ways that lower-resolution formats like MP3 or analog cassette always miss. But if you didn't have access to the high-resolution file to compare it with, a great recording will still sound pretty terrific as an AAC, M4A, or 320kbps MP3 file, because the recording's innate quality would shine through. On the other hand, a heavily compressed, processed and crude recording will always sound heavily compressed, processed … Read more
At the end of May, Onkyo will start selling Dolby TrueHD 5.1-channel music downloads, first in Japan, and by the fall of this year worldwide. That's either a brave or foolhardy move.
Multichannel music formats -- starting with quadraphonic LPs and tapes in the early 1970s, DTS encoded surround CDs in the 1990s, and DVD Audio and SACD in the early 2000s -- have all suffered from a lack of consumer demand. Very, very few surround releases were initially recorded in surround; most rock and jazz titles are remixed from older stereo recordings. The Blu-ray format has now … Read more
High-resolution formats like Blu-ray, DVD-Audio, SACD, and LP are all capable of delivering superb sound quality, but having music in those formats doesn't automatically guarantee great sound. The recording itself would first have to sound great, or to put it another way, a great sounding MP3 would sound better than a heavily compressed and studio processed 192-kHz/24-bit Master Audio Blu-ray.
Worrying about what sounds better--FLAC, WAV, or AIFF files--is a total waste of time if you're listening to an Adele or Black Keys album: the music's processing levels are so extreme, there's nothing for … Read more
Quadraphonic was the first music surround format, and the first to bite the dust. That was in the 1970s. The SACD and DVD-A formats debuted at the dawn of the century, promising vastly improved sound quality over the CD, and both formats flopped. Their futures looked bright, so why did they fail?
Of course the record labels knew selling a new format on the basis of sound quality was a risky business, so they tacked on 5.1 surround sound. There were millions of households in the early 2000s with multichannel home theaters, so selling new music surround formats looked … Read more
The analog vs. digital debate has been raging for nearly three decades, and there's still no clear winner, because it's really just a matter of personal preference. I'm fine with that, but there's a lot of sniping in the analog/digital wars, and each side never misses an opportunity to put down the other side as misguided, deaf, just plain stupid, or worse. Each side claims its chosen format is superior and the opposite's is garbage.
I'm an analog guy, but I'd admit that analog's distortions, speed variations, and noise/hiss make … Read more
Why did home theater buyers readily accept surround sound, but consistently reject multichannel music formats? From Thomas Edison's very first phonograph in 1877 through the late 1950s, monophonic sound was the only way people heard music at home.
Stereo arrived in the late 1950s on LP and analog reel-to-reel tape, and stereo has remained the most popular music format to this day. Quadraphonic (four-channel surround) debuted in the early 1970s, but didn't survive the end of the decade. People didn't want to plant four speakers in their living rooms, and the Quadraphonic Wars ensured the format's … Read more
Digital audio won the popularity contest years ago, and nowadays almost every sound you hear coming out of a speaker is digitally encoded. Sound is always digital, whether it's on your phone, computer, radio, TV, home theater, or in a concert hall. I'd go so far as to say most people never hear analog recordings anymore. Unless you're a musician, or live with one, virtually all the music you hear live or recorded is digital.
Digital audio eliminated all of analog audio's distortions and noise-related problems. In that sense digital is "perfect." When analog … Read more
The CD is fast approaching its 30th anniversary, and it's looking a bit tired. Funny, the LP is more than twice as old and its resurgence is ongoing. Not just among oldsters playing records they bought decades ago; a fair percentage of young bands are releasing new vinyl pressings.
CD box sets and remastered CDs, like the Beatles catalog that came out in 2009, still sell in big numbers. I remember when the CD was introduced, the media predicted the LP would be gone in just a few years. Now it's starting to look like the LP will … Read more
Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab has been perfecting the art of remastering audio since 1977. It currently offers a broad catalog of music, from Frank Sinatra and the Pixies to Yes and Little Richard on LP, SACD, and CD.
I recently chatted with Rob LoVerde, one of MoFi's mastering engineers, about how the company's remasters differ from the original label's product.
First and foremost, he said that every MoFi LP--which was originally recorded to analog--is cut from an analog master tape. That's interesting because ever since digital came onto the scene, most, probably about 99 percent, of LPs for sale now are cut from digital masters. So unless you're already buying MoFi LPs, you still haven't heard what a pure analog recording sounds like--older LPs, pressed before the 1980s are all-analog.
Second, LoVerde said that MoFi never uses dynamic range compression. Virtually every new recording is compressed during recording, mixing and mastering. But MoFi eliminates the last compression stage. He also said that equalization is either avoided completely or used sparingly.
LoVerde came to MoFi from Sony, so I was curious about how the two companies approached mastering. At Sony, LoVerde worked within a team, at MoFi each mastering project he takes on is controlled entirely by him. And at Sony, LoVerde had to work fast and complete one or two projects a day. At MoFi he can take his time and track down the best possible master tape. I was surprised to learn that LoVerde doesn't go out of his way to listen to previous remasters. Instead, he's trying to transfer as much of the original master's sound to the final product as possible.
The analog master is also used for MoFi's SACDs and CDs. That means MoFi's analog sourced SACDs are totally PCM-free, which is extremely rare. Most SACDs on the market have at least some PCM digital in them, which means they're not really delivering the format's true potential. MoFi SACDs are the real deal, pure SACD--using Direct Stream Digital DSD coding.
LoVerde said he knows that MoFi customers expect the best possible transfer, so he can't let a "good enough" mastering leave the plant. MoFi has occasionally bailed on a project because the sound wasn't up to its standards.
I listened to a stack of MoFi vinyl and the sound was awesome. Yes, there's more bass, a near absence of vinyl's old friends--clicks and pops--but it's the clarity improvements that were the most impressive. … Read more
For those of you with older receivers lacking HDMI connectivity, or perhaps for audiophiles with stereo home theater systems, the Oppo BD-83 Special Edition player is for you.
You see, the new Oppo player handles the digital-to-analog conversion at a higher standard than the original--and still available--BD-83 player. So rather than use its HDMI connectivity you hookup the Special Edition's eight analog (7.1) outputs to the multichannel inputs on older receivers or sound processors. Don't worry if your receiver is limited to 5.1, the Special Edition will work perfectly well with those systems. The Special Edition … Read more