Tag Archives: album

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Mastering

After more years than I can count I am still trying to figure out mastering.

This might seem kind of odd considering our own in-house mastering engineer, Gus Skinas, is one of the world’s most respected. Yet, still I struggle with defining exactly what they do.

I do know they volume adjust tracks on an album or disc. I also know they selectively EQ in order to average out the recordings. Sometimes too they add a touch of compression.

But beyond the obvious, there seems to be a bit of a mystery in the form of art. Like sorcerors holding tight the secrets of their craft.

In 2018 I interviewed the famous Bernie Grundman. If you’re interested in learning more about the art of mastering, this is a good one to listen to.

You can click here to hear the interview.

Whenever art is involved there’s inevitably going to be craft that cannot be put into specific instructions like do this when that happens.

Art is personal. At the end of the day, we’re listening to a person’s vision of how music should sound.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Liner notes

As we move forward with a limited edition vinyl release of Octave Record’s first recording, Don Grusin’s Out of Thin Air, I got to thinking about liner notes.

A rush of memories flooded back.

I don’t know about you, but I distinctly remember grabbing an unknown album from my collection (I had a lot of unknowns because of my years in the music/radio business), dropping the needle on track one and reading the album’s liner notes. If the first few paragraphs and notes both spoke to me, I delved deeper into both liner and musical notes so that by the end of side one I felt in tune with the artist and her music.

Today I can do the same thing with a digital platform but somehow it just doesn’t feel right. Reading from an iPad loses the feel of the cardboard cover, the smell of new vinyl, the permanence of the printed word, the myopic read without the possibility of a click for more info. You got what the artist wanted to share with you. No more, no less.

Which is why I am excited we’re doing a classic vinyl release with lots of liner notes and pictures. The double-disc set will be on heavy virgin vinyl and playback at 45 rpm. I’ll let you know when they’re available.

Sometimes more isn’t always better.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

I sure agree with this!!

Memories and feelings

Last night at dinner, Terri put on a copy of Coldplay’s A Rush Of Blood To The Head album. Instantly, I was immersed in not a rush of blood to the head, but a rush of memories and feelings of the night they played live at Red Rocks in Colorado.

It wasn’t like a detached memory one gets when reminded of a story or an incident. Instead, I was instantly transported back to the actual event: the cold rain that came near the end, the ripple of excitement through the crowd, the intensity of Chris Martin banging on the piano, the wonder, and joy I felt—not the memory of it but the actual feelings. As if I relived it.

I cannot think of any external stimulus other than music that has the power to teleport us back to an event or a moment in time.

A live performance is a once-in-a-lifetime event. If we’re lucky enough to have been a part of the performance, as an engaged audience often is, then it doesn’t take much to bring back a flood of memories and feelings.

Music is a truly magical means of connection and communication.

Thankfully, my readers get it. You’re a special bunch.

Thanks for honoring the music.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Switching valves

It’s remarkable how easy it is to get a little piece of information and turn that into an all inclusive proclamation. Dark clouds on the horizon mean rain. Hospitals are full of sick people, therefore hospitals make people sick. Lots of people bought this album, so it must be good.

One of my favorites is “transistors are switches, therefore they do not make good analog amplifiers”. Or, its cousin “Vacuum tubes are valves, therefore they’re best for making amplifiers”.

We get hopelessly mired in prejudice for or against a particular concept when we form our opinions based on partially correct information. It’s true transistors can be used as switches and it is also true vacuum tubes act as valves. But we can also flip the words around and have exactly the same meaning.

The very first digital computers were built from vacuum tube valves used as switches (which is where the term “bugs” came from).

There’s plenty of reasons why transistors sound the way they do compared to vacuum tubes and vice versa.

Ascribing incorrect information to them doesn’t help our understanding and discovery of the real culprits at play.

 

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Album art

Say what you will about vinyl’s good and bad points but it’s hard to deny the joy of holding a 12″ album cover while you’re playing the treasures inside.

Album art and liner notes on the back cover are perfect in this format, something CDs and digital of any kind really lack. The closest we might get is on the iPad when we’re streaming through a well-designed music management app.

Still, the visceral feel of that album cover…the big front cover…the often well-written prose on the back. More than the special sound quality unique to vinyl, album art imparts a connection to the music we just don’t seem to get with digital.

My readers will know I prefer the dynamics, life, and sound quality of proper digital on a system specific to the medium.

But I don’t want to ignore the look, feel, and magical connection afforded by the album cover and its art.

Some things are just so right they cannot be improved upon.

Album art qualifies in spades.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Back to basics

I am reminded how complex our quest for perfection can be. Even the simple act of playing a record album can seem like an impossible mountain to climb once we factor in the particulars like VTA, phono stages, capacitive loading, proper weight, cartridge types, cables etc. And digital’s even more frightening.

There’s a post worth reading on the Roon forums that delves deep into this very subject. Anders Vinberg pleads with our crowd to go easy when first advising newcomers into computer based audio. And he’s right. How tempting to add in the kitchen sink of advice and recommendations when someone asks us what they’ll need to play music stored on a hard drive. The list is endless. What they really need to know is pretty simple and is detailed in our How To that can be found here. But even this simple setup guide, I am saddened to say, can be daunting.

Truthfully, there’s not much needed to play music other than a computer, DAC, USB cable, and a program like JRiver, Roon, or iTunes. There’s no reason a newbie shouldn’t be up and running within an hour’s time, and yet somehow we manage to make it hard.

I agree with the author of the post that we should always be vigilant figuring out first the level of skill the newbie possesses before dishing out too big a plate of recommendations.

Sometimes it’s the simplest path that gets us through the door. We can always add desert later.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

More of Paul’s audio demo favorites.

Last of the list

Over the last two days, I’ve shared with you some of my favorite tracks so you can not only see what it is I use for audio testing, but why. You probably have a few of these, but if not, it might help to grab a few.

We continue today.

  • Beethoven Violin Sonata #7 in C minor Op 30/2, Itzhak Perlman, Vladimir Ashkenazy. Oh, my, my, I have to say this is a fine older recording but I included for its sheer musical joy and it’s Beethoven. Two wonderful artists dueling it out in a track that lights the system on fire. Get it.
  • Gaia, James Taylor, Hourglass. Jeez Louise. I f you can score and then play the SACD version of this classic treasure you’ll thank me. I use it to see if the bass can be reproduced properly (it often cannot) but every time I listen to it I am entranced by the music and cannot stop.
  • Take Five, Dave Brubeck Quartet, Time Out DSD rip. In my library, I only have this as a rip from somewhere. If you have a DMP or the means to play the SACD, grab this jewel. If not, sorry, the CD ain’t bad either.
  • Just a little lovin’, Shelby Lynne. Analog tape made this album a great classic – and the mastering’s great too. It only takes me about 15 seconds of listening to the opening cymbals to know if a circuit can separate out all the elements buried inside that metal. On many products, it just sounds like a cymbal. Ho hum. But on the good stuff, it’s possible to tell just what kind of metal is being struck and how. Extraordinary.
  • Sugar free, Swing out sister, Live in Tokyo. A decent live recording. I include it because it can sound so ordinary on some equipment. But given the right stuff, it can occasionally shine.
  • Vincent, David Roth, High-End show, Hong Kong. Wow. Not only is this my favorite cover of Don McClean’s classic, it’s beautifully recorded. If you want to see if your speakers can get David’s voice right, this is a great test. I think there may be an SACD version from Stockfish but that’s only rumor. I got it as part of an anthology at the Hong Kong High-end show. Worth every penny.
  • Sacrifice, Sinead Oconnor, Two Rooms: Celebrating the song. This compilation of Elton John songs by various artists is pretty good and I am not certain it’s good enough just for this one gem, but it’s a wonderful piece to listen to.
  • Fallin’, Alicia Keys. Man, can this gal sing. Good recording, punchy, excellent for checking to make sure there are no tubby sounds to her voice.
  • Zweite Szene Was sinnt nun Wotan so wild, Wagner Das Rheingold, Solti Vienna Philharmonic. Want to challenge your system? This ancient recording is about as bright and digital as they come – only, on just the right setup it can be powerful and magical. I have had times when the system sounded so damned good I put this on in hopes of scoring and bam! The power of Vikings rumbles through the music room.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Computer Music 10:

Managing the library

We now know how to get music into iTunes, what formats are recommended, where files are located and how to move around with ease within the program. Good stuff to know. Today we’ll look at cleaning up our library.

I think it might be helpful at this juncture to mention, once again, the purpose of this series. I wanted to offer a simple, understandable, primer on getting music in and out of a computer–one specific to Audiophiles.

The series was never meant as a be-all to end-all treatise of music management software. Nor is it an advertisement for Apple. No, I chose iTunes because it is, in my opinion, the easiest program to learn and get a taste of the benefits of making music with your computer. iTunes easily and beautifully connects to an iPad and lets users taste the fun and power of navigating their libraries. Can you do better? Hell yes! And perhaps our next series will be targeting the more advanced users with a tutorial on another program, like JRiver, or Roon.

Few libraries are in pristine condition. And even rarer still, a new library usually requires work. This is where the editing features of iTunes comes in handy. Their metadata editor isn’t the most robust in the world, but for most users, it’s really quite nice. When would you need the services of the editor? Perhaps there’s missing cover art, or a name is misspelled, a compilation CD needs individual artist names, classical genre and subgenres aren’t correct. There can be many reasons. Bottom line, the cleaner and better organized your tagging data is, the better experience you’ll have playing with the library.

Accessing the tagging editor is easy. Right click on any album, or any track within an album. This dialog box appears.

Select Get Info and the tagging editor window appears.

Most of these choices are pretty obvious – and I find the majority of confusion comes from folks not knowing how to get to these windows. I have prepared a more detailed explanation for the process of editing tags in iTunes and you can take a look here.

Today’s Takeaway: the degree of pleasure and power found in a music library is directly proportional to the accuracy and cleanliness of the data within. Take the time to get all the cover art added, the artist spelled correctly, and clean up the information so you’re proud of it.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Computer Music 9:

Getting around iTunes

We’ve much to go in our series. So far, we’ve managed to get our music copied (ripped) into iTunes, and now we have a few more tasks ahead. We can look forward to:
• Managing the library
• Adding missing cover art and information
• Dealing with multiple artist compilations
• How to remote control iTunes from a tablet
• How to make iTunes sound good

Let’s spend time today learning how to move around iTunes and set the interface up so it’s friendly to us Audiophiles!
First, a quick rant.

When iTunes first launched, and for a long time afterwards, the interface (the bit you interact with) was pretty easy to figure out. And more importantly, it was built as quite a nice music management system. That is no longer true. Many have said “Apple’s lost its way” and that is why the interface now is less than optimal.

Here’s my take.

Apple hasn’t lost its way, in fact, they’re focusing more and more on it. The problem is, their way isn’t ours, nor are their goals. At first, the company’s task was to build a wonderfully easy way to play music on a computer and interact with their seminal music player, the iPod–all revolutionary stuff back in 2001 (a Music Odyssey?). However, it is clear that from the beginning, their purpose in pouring gazillions of development dollars into building a free music management system wasn’t for any reason other than to make money. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

It’s what they should be doing. How does Apple make money? Selling you hardware and software. iTunes’ main purpose is to get you to buy music and movies from them. I buy/rent most of my movies from them because the video quality is second to none of the streaming services I have tried. But music? Never. They don’t have the same standards I do for quality, when it comes to music.

End of rant.

When iTunes first opens it’s going to be confusing. No worries. The first screen you’ll see is their enticement to buy music. But it’s easy to leave this screen and head straight to the music. Once you’ve done this, iTunes remembers and the next time you open it, will be the same place you left off. Here’s what the opening screen looks like:

Just above where “Holiday” appears you see a menu. I added some arrows to help. The menu item highlighted in blue is where you are. iTunes. To the far left, My Music, is where you want to be. Click My Music and the screen changes to this:

Now we’re getting somewhere. This is the Album view. If you have musical notes, instead of album art, like I do in some places, fear not. We’ll get to that tomorrow. Next, we will want to go to the Song view (or list view). On the far right, where the arrow points, click to see the view changes possible.
Select Songs and now you see this:

This is the list of all your songs and also what albums they come from. You’ll need to spend time here organizing your library. But notice something missing? There’s no real information of value here. Right? So, let’s fix that. See the header below the menu items? Where it lists: Name, Time, Artist, Albums, Genre, Plays? Place your mouse in one of the empty slots in that same row and right click to get a wonderful new menu.

You can add or subtract any of the info you want. Just click on any item and it will be added or subtracted. You have to do it one at a time. Once you have all of them selected, your listview looks very much different. If you don’t like the order they appear in, simply click and hold on any of the categories in the header you wish moved, and drag it to it’s new location. For example, I moved Album Artist next the Artist. Here’s what mine now looks like.

See? I have added a lot, including bit rate, file type (Kind), Sample Rate, and importantly, Date Added. I’ll explain why that’s important later. There’s much more you can add, if you wish, but this should be a good starting point

Today’s Takeaway: spend a few moments familiarizing yourself with the user interface of iTunes and set it up like I have.