The impermanence of trends
Trends are nearly impossible to see in the moment.
When I was growing up men all wore hats and women were daring if they wore pants. That’s just the way it was.
Only, normal is a trend: a temporary condition that feels relevant at the time but in hindsight is only a passing phase.
Trends are rather pervasive in high-end audio. First it was owning a console with everything built-in. Then we moved to separates. Turntables were all we knew until the CD came along. No one considered a subwoofer until it’s not cool to be without.
I think it’s healthy to separate trends from qualities that deserve permanence.
A love of music is timeless.
A desire to strive for better feels eternal.
It’s not a trend to fall in love with a great performance in your home.
My T+A MP2500R plays SACD’s, as well as CD’s and boy, does it sound great doing it!
Go for the gold
Today marks a smile milestone for Octave Records.
We’re launching two new killer discs, each mixed on the FR30s, and each available as a 24-karat gold CD in addition to our standard SACD and download versions.
While our SACD releases are popular, we get soooooo many requests for lower cost CD versions that we rolled up our sleeves to see what we could do.
Our first challenge was to make sure the 44.1kHz versions of the original DSD masters were flawless and held all the magic of a DSD recording. Our second challenge was to find the perfect pressing plant to make these rare 24-karat releases with the quality that we demand.
And we did! Now, for the first time for many, you’ll be able to enjoy state-of-the-art recordings as made by Octave.
Our first is our latest Audiophile Masters compilation number 6. What a wonderful collection of tracks from the likes of guitarist Miguel Espinosa, the Seth Lewis Quartet, a touch of country, classical, and sweet music.
The second is without a doubt killer. The Everlasting Dance by Tierro. I can’t wait for you to hear the recording quality we achieved on this masterpiece.
Both are available now.
Can’t wait for you to see what your system is really capable of.
Jumping up and down
The humidity levels during winter months in Colorado are really low. Low enough that every time I slide my butt off the listening room seat I get a charge of static electricity—enough to really zap myself and the equipment. I’ve gotten used to discharging the static buzz by touching the grounded equipment rack.
But it reminds me that I rarely move off the stereo listening chair. That not since long ago when vinyl was king and I had to get up and down to change the vinyl LP side or select another track have I even given much thought to the jumping up and down of vinyl.
The most I ever do is when I am listening to a disc on the PST and it needs to be changed. I do find that discs (even CDs) still sound better than streaming but I hope that as soon as I get my greedy little hands on the upcoming AirLens that will resolve itself for CD and higher resolution PCM files on Qobuz and I won’t be jumping up and down quite as much.
That said, there’s nothing in the streaming world that I am aware of that’ll be playing the DSD SACD layer…though perhaps I’ll then switch over to Octave downloads and “stream” them from my computer in DSD.
No big conclusion here. Just a bit of ramblings and ruminations about jumping up and down.
Breaking with tradition
I know what I am about to do isn’t proper, kosher, or acceptable, but it’s the last day of the year so, what the hell.
The first time I heard Thom LaFond’s first track New Wildfire, I thought it was Harry Connick Jr.
I know, it’s not cool to suggest one artist sounds like another, but…
And danged if the next track, Isolation Hymn doesn’t sound like another famous group (you tell me).
And then the third track, Life as a Sigh is pure Thom.
This latest release from Octave is by far my favorite to date. Not only do the releases get better as the engineers hone their skills, but the artists do as well.
I have a new reference album in The Moon Leans In. It’s one hell of a great piece of music and an amazing accomplishment in the recording arts.
Whether you have just a CD player or a full on streaming rig you want to rip or add the download to, this is now not to miss.
Dynamics are defined as the difference between loud and soft. That the greater the dynamic range the greater the magnitude of differences between the loudest and softest.
At least that’s the official definition. In reality, we rarely come close to using anywhere near what is possible.
For example, the maximum dynamic range of a vinyl record (on a good day) hovers around 70dB while what’s possible on a CD is just about 100dB. If we were to play a track where the lowest musical note was 1dB and the loudest at 70dB we’d not be impressed by the dynamic range. We’d not be impressed because our volume control would be set such that when the loudest note played the softest note would be inaudible. And, of course this would be even worse with a CD.
Technical issues aside, it isn’t so much the magnitude of contrast that matters, but rather a more complicated set of rules that involves time as much as any other factor.
As we listen to softly recorded music our ears open up so we may better hear into the soft passages of music. Kind of like an automatic level control. Once opened, we’re then startled when even a moderately loud passage comes rolling in.
Dynamics happen with a very set formula of time and contrast.
It’s not the range of possible that matters, but how its implemented that offers us a sense of dynamics.
When do we make the decision to compromise? To choose convenience over quality of experience.
It is far more convenient to stream music than play it from a CD disc. And yet, discs of the exact same music still outperform by a noticeable degree music streamed by even the best stereo systems.
Being basically lazy I tend to lean hard in the direction of streaming. Certainly, I can hear and very much appreciate the differences between the physical copy and the streamed version. But that said, the convenience of streaming is so enticing…
It’s a tough choice knowing where to draw the line.
Where is that line for you?
In an age where multi-channel receivers and equipment can be easily had, why do we stay with only two speakers?
Some of us have been around long enough to remember the days of Quadraphonic sound.
As its name implies, Quadraphonic sound utilized 4-channels of audio typically encoded on LP vinyl in a matrix system based on the work of musician and mathematician, Peter Scheiber. His basic formula utilized 90° phase-shift circuitry to enable enhanced 4-2-4 matrix systems to be developed, of which the two main leaders were Columbia’s SQ and Sansui’s QS Systems. (Scheiber eventually sued the Dolby Corporation for theft of his intellectual property).
The three most popular quadraphonic LP formats in the 1970s were SQ (Stereo Quadraphonic), QS (Regular Matrix) and CD-4 (Compatible Discrete 4) / Quadradisc.
These 4-channel systems enjoyed a brief flash of acceptance and then died out, never to be heard from again until the advent of home theater.
Seems people weren’t all that interested in populating their living room with more than two speakers for the playing of music.
Though some of the most involving and emotionally satisfying musical presentations I have ever heard were multi-channel in nature, I still am in love with two-channel audio.
It might have been nice at one point in the development of home audio systems to have had buy-in from the world that rooms should be filled with speakers and recordings should all have many tracks.
That’s not what happened and I for one am pleased with what we have.
Hope for the future
There are many reasons why we launched Octave Records, but chief among them was to add to the small supply of high-resolution recordings as well as to help set standards of what we as the high-end audio community demand in the way of well-recorded material. To that end, I think we’re on the right track.
Part of the reason we felt compelled to add our voice into what seems like an empty wilderness is the deplorable state of most modern recordings. Seems the state of the art has been sliding backwards for years.
I was heartened to learn that a committee formed by the Grammys has been pushing to set some standards for high-resolution recordings. Though they are not taking a stance on either heavy-handed compression or the loudness wars, they are at least addressing the issue of resolution and…get this…pushing hard against not only MP3, but raising the sample rate above CD quality!
“THE REAL DIFFERENCE BETWEEN 44.1/16, 48/24, 96/24, 192/24 AND BEYOND
Is there truly a noticeable difference between MP3s and 192/24 files? Absolutely, but everyone owes it to themselves to listen and compare. In most cases the differences between CD-quality and 192/24 are at least noticeable, and frequently, they are stark. Skillfully mixed and mastered music with a wide dynamic range benefits dramatically from a hi-res workflow. For recordings
such as symphonic film scores, classical music, or other recordings that feature acoustic instruments, hi-res audio is a perfect fit—the increased audio quality can be appreciated by virtually anyone who hears it. In the experience of this committee and the audio professionals we interviewed (including numerous rock, pop, and urban producers and engineers whose work is aggressive and powerful), recording, mixing, and mastering at resolutions 96/24 or better results in a final product that is both sonically superior and faithful to the sound of the final mastered mix.”
You can download the paper here.
I realize this is a task akin to steering the Titanic away from danger, but we gotta start somewhere and I am heartened to read that recording engineers are being told resolutions higher than 44.1kHz are audible and preferred.
Maybe there’s hope for the future.
There are plenty of audiophile rituals. Though they might seem quirky or odd to the great unwashed they are part of what defines us as purveyors of the art.
Take for example the rituals many of us have for playing a vinyl record: how we carefully remove the disc from the sleeve, cleaning the stylus, perhaps zapping the staticy disc with a Zerostat, the care with which we set the arm over the record, the flourish at the end as we make a last check everything’s in order before sitting down in our listening spot.
Did I mention our listening spot? The sweet seat? The ritual where newcomers to our stereo system are offered that lofty perch from which to fully enjoy the pleasures of the experience?
Or the turning low the lights for that special track?
Or setting the cover of the CD or album upright as if it were being presented as a marquee?
I won’t even mention demagnetizing a disc before playing.
Rituals are there to make sure everything’s in order and that chaos does not affect the outcome.
As Audiophiles, we’ve certainly got our share.
Finding your passion
Passion is a feeling of intense enthusiasm for something (or someone). Finding it isn’t always easy but, when you do, it’s great to hone in on the elements that really fan the flames.
If I look at myself I quickly identify two major passions: learning how things work and building solutions.
From as far back as I can remember, I had to know how everything worked: why the sky is blue, what are rainbows, how a button and a switch work, a synthesizer, a phono stage, a vacuum tube, a traffic light. When I interact with the physical world there’s not a lot around me I don’t understand.
Faced with a problem or presented with a challenge, I am inspired to build a solution. When I was unhappy with the sound of the first CD players from Magnavox I figured out how they worked, determined what I could and could not affect, and built one of the first outboard DACs to solve the problem. When I was unhappy with my stereo’s dynamics I added side-firing drivers activated by a log amplifier to extend the system’s dynamic range.
Not everything is understandable to me. Not everything is fixable to me.
That was never the point.
The point is to identify and then follow one’s passion even if it means failure.
What’s your passion?