I have CDs, SACDs and a music server with abut 2500 CD’s ripped to WAV files, but also use Qobuz and I love them all.
At the end of the proverbial day, we all have some sort of musical library—something more than just a jumble of discs.
For some, our libraries live in the cloud: millions of titles available through streaming at the touch of a button.
For others, it’s a wall filled with vinyl or a rack full of CDs.
Still others enjoy a combination of both streaming and hard copies.
I find myself in the last camp. I have my favorite Octave releases on SACD (as well as a handful of classic CDs) and for everything else, I am streaming off of Qobuz.
With all we invest in our treasured systems, they would be of little use without a library of music to enjoy.
Hopefully, your library is rich with the best music on the planet.
I am delighted when taboos and rituals are challenged and good things still happen.
Remember how much more enjoyable playing music became when we no longer had to demagnetize or paint green edges on CDs? Or weigh down the tops of our stereo equipment with VPI Bricks? Or paint the tip of our stylus with Last? Or zap our vinyl with a Zerostat?
We were told not to eat the forbidden fruit of simple system enjoyment without first running through the essential rituals and routines.
Did those rituals work? In many cases, they sure seem to, but over time, they became so tiresome that I moved on.
Sometimes it’s better to eat the fruit of simple musical enjoyment and let the quality of your equipment do the work.
How did we get to 192?
When playing high-resolution PCM files the defacto industry standard seems to be 192kHz, 24 bit. Right? I mean, given a choice between the next candidate, 176.4kHz, we automatically choose 192kHz.
Why would we do this? Perhaps human nature. We assume higher is better.
But, in fact, there’s reasonable evidence that in many cases, 176kHz is preferred. Much depends on the original recording process.
At the dawn of digital recording, the pro machines were all based on the standard of 48kHz (and later its multiples: of 96kHz and 192kHz). To produce useable digital releases on the (then) new CD format, everything had to be rejiggered through a complex compromise that resulted in 44.1kHz for CDs.
Life at the time would have been a lot simpler if CDs had just adopted 48kHz as the standard, but, alas that was not to be.
Today, some recording engineers still mindlessly choose 192kHz as their high watermark to record at, then down sample to the uneven result of 44.1kHz (which is always a bit of a compromise).
If one were to think about it just a little, we’d be asking for releases and recordings to be standardized at 44.1kHz and its multiples: 88.2kHz, 176.4kHz, 352kHz, etc.
It’ probably doesn’t matter much anymore and it’s certainly nothing to lose sleep over.
But if I have a choice it’s always 176kHz.
The way music is supposed to sound
Tell a false fact or a mistruth enough times and people will believe it to be accurate.
I wonder if the same thing applies to music and its reproduction.
Could it be that with enough repetition the hyper-compressed music of acts like Kanye West and Diddy is how music is supposed to sound?
What happens when enough people who believe that is the standard by which all recording should live up to hear open expansive music? Will they then think it’s wrong?
It is conceivable that if enough people think MP3’s and earbuds are the standards by which music is expected to be listened to that someday LP’s and CD’s will to them sound bad.
Cultural shifts often happen because enough people go in a common direction. Even if it is in the wrong direction.
When that common direction is in a direct opposite path than what we as audiophiles have come to accept as real and right, there’s a risk it will become the norm.
For some, it likely is the norm.
Are libraries obsolete?
For years I have been hearing about how our musical libraries are vanishing, yet to this day I have never met a fellow audiophile without one.
Perhaps it’s my limited exposure to other audiophiles but I rather think not.
Instead, I’ll bet the bulk of you still have collections of physical media. I certainly do. Rows of albums and piles of CDs and SACDs.
What I think has changed is not the presence of physical libraries, but rather a decline in their use. Unless I am working on a specific project where I need an absolute known reference, I am more likely than not playing it from Qobuz.
So, I don’t think libraries are obsolete. Not for a long time.
I do believe their use is declining.
I for one would feel rather naked without my surrounding collections of physical media.
How about you?
The soft effect
A very kind HiFi Family member generously sent me a few Sheffield Labs Direct to Disc CD’s. These treasures are hard to find and I was extremely grateful to have received them.
Upon playing the Lincoln Mayorga and Friends disc I was reminded of just how direct and dynamic they were. There’s a clarity here that you just don’t find on even the best vinyl products.
That clarity comes not so much from the direct to disc mastering process but rather from the lack of the tape recording process.
Tape recorders have a softening effect and every generation of tape gets softer and softer. Cutting out the tape and going direct to disc, while a pain in the keester to make happen, really demonstrates just how soft tape can be.
We get that same softening when we run our audio through analog electronics. Each pass through the circuit rounds off ever so slightly the transient edges, blurring the lines just enough to hear it.
It turns out one of the main advantages of digital is the elimination of the softening effect. No matter how many copies or generations of digital we never lose any resolution.
Tape was an essential medium. Without it we’d never have gotten to where we are today. But I am reminded of how much I do not miss its softening effect.
I prefer the direct dynamics found in the music—regardless of how they got there.
Sheffield Labs in a great music label and makes both LP’s, as well as CD’s. Their recordings sound terrific and what Paul is writing about today, has seen the same thing happen here, especially with the new T+A electronics I use and have become a dealer for. And, unlike many labels, their music selection is varied.
The first time I listened to a Sheffield Labs direct to disc recording I experienced a dynamic surprise. A kick drum that seemed to come out of nowhere to pound my chest. Oh my gosh that was an amazing experience, one that’s stayed with me all these many decades.
Modern recordings seem to have forgotten the joy of dynamic surprises. Instead, many producers want constant loudness and drama, forgetting (or maybe not being aware of) the sheer delight rapid changes in dynamics can bring.
Very few recordings in my stable of treasures have those dynamic surprises, something we fully intend to change as we produce music.
If you have a few favorite recordings with dynamic surprises, please do share it with us.
There’s always an appetite for the unexpected.
Except for a few of my audiophile customers, none of the people that I have worked with care about audio cables and audio tweaks. I do, but mostly because Its a hobby and I enjoy it.
That being said, I’ll say it again, a few basic rights and wrongs and you’ve got most of what you need to accomplish with cables taken care of.
I’m not convinced
Boy oh boy, my simple post about our lunchtime conversation concerning cable elevators has once again let all the worms out of the can.
Of course, the controversy is to be expected. Anything involving cables, tweaks, isolation bases, fuses, and whatever manner of heresy I write about will naturally draw ridicule. And that’s alright. I can remember when the notion that electronics sound different or the idea that CDs sound different than vinyl were thought to be subjects worthy of burning one at the stake. Today, that’s mostly accepted.
What truly tickles me is when I get notes from readers announcing they are not convinced. That my words and opinions did not sway their opinions. Thank you for those comments. Anytime someone reaches out and connects it’s welcome.
Here’s the thing. I am not attempting to sway opinion or convince anyone of anything. What I do is to openly share my thoughts with you, our HiFi Family—our community. Think of it like standing at the bar of our local pub, mug of frosty white in hand, chewing the fat about what we believe and why.
We’re community. Family. Friends. I am not out to change the world nor sway others to my thoughts.
Mine is about sharing.
More than bit depth, to me, the type of digital file and how its delivered to our DAC’s make the biggest difference. I compared a FLAC file via Qobuz vs a ripped WAV file of a Lee Ritenour 16/44.1 CD last night and there was no contest. Qobuz is great, but just not nearly as good sounding as music ripped from a standard CD and off of my hard drive. No contest.
There sure is a lot of controversy over bits and depth. One group feels that dividing 96dB of dynamic range into 65, 535 slices (16 bits) is enough, while others are more comfortable dividing 120dB into 16,777,215 slices (24 bit).
Bit depth: the difference between the softest and loudest captured sound. How important is it?
We know that CDs have a dynamic range that blows the doors off analog recordings of any kind. And we know that we’re not limited to just Red Book standards, that it’s trivially easy to get better.
Does it matter?
Of course, the arguments fly as fast as manure at a political rally. The truth lies somewhere in the middle (doesn’t it always?).
It’s all in the hands of the recording and mastering engineer, not the technology. If the engineer decides to use 24 bits but then shoves all the audio in the upper 16 bit space, ignoring the lower 8 bits, then nothing’s been gained other than a marketing advantage when they print “24” on the label. So, it’s rarely the technology at play and more in the hands of the engineer.
Which is a shame because most engineers aren’t interested in the highest fidelity.
We have the means, just not the will to use it.
There is one picture with this post that shows people listening with their eyes closed. I wonder if any of them are asleep. With much of the music at shows being simple things that sound good on almost any stereo, it wouldn’t surprise me if there are one or two!
Vinyl exceeds CDs
Yesterday we learned that sales of vinyl LP’s have outstripped CDs for the first time in decades. An article posted in Rolling Stone Magazine made the rounds at RMAF, yesterday. I haven’t yet figured out if this means sales of CDs are continuing their downward spiral or vinyl’s picking up steam, but whatever the implications, it’s certainly a twist of events.
And speaking of vinyl, one of the great treats of a consumer trade show like RMAF is the chance for our Hi-Fi Family to gather together and enjoy what we all are interested in, music and 2-channel audio.
Reviewer Micahel Fremer of Stereophile and Analog Planet fame was generous enough to bring his collection of prized vinyl to our room and play it to a packed house for an hour. Just check out the crowd. I could barely squeeze into this standing room only group outside the few prized seats in our listening area to get this picture in the first place.
What a treat! Mikey pulled from his arsenal a prized copy of Joni Mitchel’s Court and Spark to start the afternoon off, and I don’t believe anyone in the room had heard such glorious music. All were transfixed with the vinyl he played. I had chills running down my spine listening to his last track, Zepplin’s Stairway to Heaven. Holy Moly! I am so used to the flat and lifeless digital version that I had no idea of what the recording really sounded like.
Fremer and Stellar Phono designer, Darren Myers, worked well together to make this a seminal event. In the second picture down, we were also honored by the presence of Sharyl Wilson of Wilson Audio fame in the front row.
Here are a few more pictures from the event to enjoy.