Very different vs. right or wrong
Octave Recording artist and trumpeter extraordinaire, Gabriel Mervine, notes near the end of this video that “vinyl sounds different. Very different.”
In fact, identical master recordings sound very different depending on the recorded medium.
Which one is right?
One could easily suggest that because the recording was captured on DSD that playback would be right only when reproduced using the same technology.
Yet to many, the music sounds more “real” and “right” through the lens of LP’s.
As audiophiles, we’re always in search of sonic truth.
Though truth, as I mentioned in an earlier post, isn’t always the same for everyone.
Very different can be just as right as very right.
It’s all in your perception.
PS Audio is a pretty amazing company. They build all sorts of power re-generators, stereo amplifiers, stereo preamplifiers, DAC’s and now, loudspeakers and do it all in the USA. They also make high resolution recordings, which they release in all sorts of formats, including LP’s. Paul is the ultimate audio nerd and I say that in a good way. I have a lot of respect for his passion.
Cat’s out of the bag
In case you have yet to see the latest issue of Stereophile Magazine, I wouldn’t want you to be the last on the block to know what’s going on.
In that latest issue is a two-page color spread showing for the very first time our long-awaited FR-30 loudspeaker.
At 60″ tall it’s not as big as the IRSV it’s pictured in front of, but it’s not small either. The FR-30 features 4 custom designed ultra low distortion long throw 8″ woofers supplemented by 4 10″ side-mounted passive low-frequency radiators. Ribbon tweeter front and back and a 10″ ribbon midrange. No internal amplification, this speaker will light up the room with as few as 100 watts per channel.
It’s been a long time coming. To my eyes and those of the few that have been lucky enough to see them, they’re are a thing of beauty.
Hopefully you can make it to RMAF this year to hear them (and hopefully RMAF actually happens!)
And sonically? Hang on to your hats my friends. Hang on to your hats.
Yes indeed, but not always practical.
It is ironic that the best acoustic treatment I know of is made from ordinary stuff. Books, LP’s, Albums.
We go to great expense and long lengths to acoustically treat our rooms, yet when it comes right down to it, the best sounding rooms are typically filled with ordinary stuff. And lots of it.
How do you know when your room is acoustically correct? Just listen to your voice when inside the room. If it sounds natural you’re 90% the way there.
More than a few times I have recommended to people interested in damping or diffusing the point of first reflection to simply purchase a pair of tall bookshelves and fill them with either books or albums. My preference, by the way, is books. Books are uneven and that randomness helps diffuse sound in a very natural way.
Nothing I know of works better.
And, you don’t even have to have read the books. 🙂
A whole new experience
Octave Record’s first release, pianist Don Grusin’s Out Of Thin Air, was a huge success and much loved by those who bought it on SACD or download. We’re nearly sold out of the final edition of the SACD.
The recording is one I am very familiar with, having heard it any number of times on the big system. It’s one of the best piano recordings I have ever heard.
And now we’re getting closer to releasing Out Of Thin Air on vinyl. We will press a limited edition of 500 LP’s on 180-gram virgin vinyl, mastered at 45 rpm and released on 4-discs.
But here’s the crazy thing. Having been personally involved in the process from day one, as Gus worked with the cutting engineer, I am flabbergasted by the sound. It is Soooo different (in a magical sort of way) than the master DSD from which it was cut.
How can this be?
These discs were cut directly from the DSD master, something almost never done (as we’ve learned). To facilitate the transfer our chief engineer, Bob Stadtherr, designed a DSD delay splitter that made certain the real-time cutting head feed (that sets the groove width in accordance with the signal amplitude) is identical to the delayed musical signal. Every step of the way we made certain the purity of the original master DSD tracks were perfectly preserved.
It should sound pretty darned close to the master.
It does not. There’s a vinyl magic that sets it apart from its source.
This drives me frickin’ bonkers. I know we’ve been many times down this road, but still…
It’ll likely be a few months before we have the finished discs so you can hear for yourself.
I think I am going to go run some cold water over my head.
Exceptions to the rule
Our opinions and judgments are strongly connected to our personal biases. If we’re convinced LP’s are superior to digital we carry that belief into a listening session. If we should hear something that counters our vinyl predisposition, we typically pass the experience off as an exception to the rule.
The rules turn out to be arbitrary: self-imposed fences that help us navigate the complexities of the world.
I am predisposed to believe stereo systems will not properly image unless there’s enough room between them and the front wall to let the image breathe. I am always surprised when I encounter an exception to that rule.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to reset our accumulated biases? Like a case of amnesia.
In my personal development, I have found it valuable to mentally press reset when presented with new ideas or concepts—to let down the guard of my internal rule book and permit the new idea to wash over me without fear or bias. I’ve never managed to pull off this reset technique on the fly, but given a bit of prep, I find it valuable.
I think it’s good to remember that rules are like fences—self-imposed boundary walls erected to keep us safe.
If we’re brave enough, sometimes we can scale the fence and trespass on the greener grass.
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.
Simple, cleaner, less cluttered. That’s the way we like our signal path, right? Less is more.
In simpler days when vinyl LP’s were all there was, a clean and straight path was typically the best for audio quality: the perfect cartridge/arm/table, feeding a great preamplifier, and then on into a power amp. This was before cables and accessories were a thing. Didn’t get much cleaner than that.
Today even analog rigs seem to require more to make them sing. Perhaps it’s an expensive set of audio cables, isolation products, tube dampers, separate phono and line stage, monoblock amps, and so forth.
I remember my first education in how simple isn’t always better. Years ago we used between the phono preamp and amplifier the very finest potentiometer available. No line stage or buffer after the pot for us, because we knew simpler had to be better. Until we tried a proper buffer after that pot and then everything changed. Gone was the wimpy bass without slam factor. Enter a new dimensionality in instrumentation separation and a much cleaner, clearer, better defined soundstage.
All because we recognized simpler isn’t always better.
RMAF is gone, but PS Audio has introduced a loudspeaker and its expensive, although moderately expensive by today’s luxury standards.
With apologies, I am writing this post a day before you actually get to read it. It’s not always easy to juggle all the balls I have in the air and sometimes it’s the best I can manage.
Opening day at a trade show is mixed with both excitement and nerves. Excited because it’s new, fresh and shiny. Nervous because you never know how your efforts and those of your team are going to be accepted. And I can lovingly say our team just knocked it out of the park.
My wife Terri’s in charge of our shows and she directs every aspect of the design and how the room finally looks. And thank goodness for that. If it were left up to me there’d be a stereo system plunked down at one end of the room, a gaggle of folding chairs, and a stack of media in an otherwise empty room. Terri makes our place beautiful.
I’ll have more for you as the show progresses and we get things sorted out, but for today I am sharing a couple of photos and offering an assessment of the sound. Wow! The AN3s are just kicking ass. Dynamics and imaging like we’ve never had at a show in our 45-year history. Wowsers!
And LP’s? With our new Stellar Phono connected to a Lyra cartridge on VPI’s amazing 40th turntable, and Darren and my friend Jim McCullough’s hand picked vinyl, I gotta say it’s impressive. I think this is the first time we’ve spun vinyl in a quarter of a century. Amazing.
Hope you can stop by if you’re in the area.
Part of knowing our HiFi Family so well is understanding what I like to think of as Audiophile Wisdom, the collective agreement of what we believe. For example, audiophiles pretty much agree that vacuum tubes sound one way, solid-state devices quite another. Or, LP’s and vinyl has its sound and digital something different.
Every interest group on Planet Earth has its share of collective wisdom. That’s certainly nothing new, but when it comes to audio I have yet to find any other passion-driven endeavor to be so rich and vocal when it comes to our beliefs.
Some might refer to the common wisdom as myths while others would consider much to be gospel. Whatever your viewpoint on the audiophile’s wisdom, it’s helpful to recognize some of the more popular tropes. Separating the things we believe from facts can be very helpful when attempting to untangle often complicated subjects.
One of the main goals of the Ask Paul video series is unraveling some of the conventional audiophile wisdom and helping people understand the origins of the stories and beliefs. Often, I have to check myself to make sure what I am saying isn’t simply a regurgitation—hard when you’ve been so immersed in the culture for such a long time.
I think it’s always helpful to share our collective wisdom with others. It’s also important to check your sources. Most audiophile wisdom is based in old history that may or may not be true anymore.
Be careful your accumulated wisdom doesn’t send you down the wrong road.
The value of libraries
The value of a music library can easily be measured with only two metrics: its quality content and easy access. If you have 1,000 treasured record albums but cannot figure out where any of the best titles are located it has a lot less value than an organized version.
As we work on our upcoming music server, Octave, one of the keys to its success will be its metadata and what we do with it. A massive stored and streaming music library approaching 1 million tracks isn’t of interest if you cannot easily and joyfully find and play what you’re looking for.
Equally important is how that media sounds. Even the best maintained library isn’t of much value if its content isn’t what you’re interested in or the playback isn’t as good or better than what’s on your discs or vinyl LPs.
Ultimately the value of a library is the same as what attracts us to a great restaurant: easy access to the best there is.
We’re getting closer by the day to launching Octave but don’t hold your breath. While we’re still on for 2019 I predict the days will need to get a lot warmer before she peeks her gorgeous head out into the world.