Whittlebury Show 2016

Just back from the National Audio Show. I’ve not reported on a hi-fi show professionally for many years – I was far from thorough in visiting every room. Here are my highlights…my choice couldn’t have been less digital!

Chasing the Dragon vinyl recordings – direct-cut records of fantastic quality reproduced through Tron amplification and DeVore Fidelity Orangutan 0/93 two-way speakers. A lively, dynamic and thoroughly engaging sound.

1723_monitor_front_grilleoff_gw

Arendal 1723 monitor

I had an interesting if brief chat with the Norwegian manufacturer of the new Arendal loudspeakers. The company was demonstrating its smaller two-way monitor in one of Whittlebury’s compact hotel rooms yet producing a good sound by not being overambitious or trying to ignore the room acoustics.

The 1723 Monitor has an unusual soft-dome tweeter behind a waveguide that produced a bright, transparent yet sweet treble very much to my liking. Arendal makes all its own drive units.

Surprisingly, the speakers are sold direct to the public from Norway at a reasonable €1600 delivered. A matching mass-loaded stand is available as is an interesting sub-woofer.

 

249219_a784744d26484863a00084caa2dcc412mv2_d_2515_4000_s_4_2

Code Acoustics System-1

Code Acoustics have adopted a similar direct-to-customer distribution model and were producing some very good sounds from their three-way active system with its off-board controller with DSP crossover, preamp and six power amps.

Sound Fowndations was another room producing an exceptional sound from vinyl – Roy Orbison’s In Dreams when I visited. A good deal of this was down to the DS Audio DS-W1 light sensing cartridge that uses optical sensing of the stylus vibrations rather than an attached magnetic or coil system. Solid, stable imagery with a lovely clean treble. Sadly the same could not be said of the David Bowie Vinyl frontier three-albums dem in the Vale suite. Presenter Jeff Lloyd was sadly incapacitated but the flat, lifeless sound and hail of surface noise had three-quarters of the room leaving before the end of the first track of Ziggy Stardust. I believe the system was sorted later in the day.

 

pm-3_01_h

Alternative colours available!

I finally got to audition the Oppo PM-3 headphones and hear why mastering engineer Bob Katz recommended them. The PM-3s have a buttery smooth sound with fantastic detail plus a controlled and extended bass.

They are also physically comfortable for over-ear phones featuring a fully padded headband and soft leatherette ear cups.

Wished I’d heard the Teddy Pardo and Audio Note systems but there’ll be another time…

 

Critical Listening course Week 1

Week 1 of the course in completed with a satisfactory score – enough to make me think it’s worth moving on to Week 2! The materials are well presented and, in the main, come with clear explanations and instructions. The week was spent learning to identify pitched notes and the centre frequencies of octave bands of noise. I think many of the students found the lack of good headphones or a wide bandwidth sound system a limiting factor. I had difficulty hearing the 55Hz piano notes as different from 110Hz (without a direct reference) on my small office bookshelf speakers which are 3dB down at 80Hz according to the Tannoy spec.

Some interesting people on the course and some great links and learning material coming from participants – I’ll put some relevant links up here as the weeks go by.

Critical Listening for Studio Production

A FREE ONLINE COURSE – Critical Listening for Studio Production

Just joined this course – described as a ‘technical ear training programme designed to improve critical listening in a music studio context’. Run through Queen’s University, Belfast and futurelearn.com it starts 12 September for 6 weeks with a 3 hour per week demand on one’s time.

Very keen to find out what’s being taught.

Proof of concept

The thought of moving away from streamers to a Mac+DAC gets stronger. As proof of concept I’ve quickly tried an old copy of Audirvana 2.2.5 under Mac OS 10.6.8 on a Mac Book Pro (2008) not wanting to lug my iMac with 2.5.3 into the music room. ‘USB out’ into the ‘digital USB in’ on the Cambridge Stream Magic 6 directly accesses the oversampling DAC. I tired transferring a more up-to-date Audirvana database from the iMac but no deal. So rather than wait for endless indexing I pointed the newly installed copy on the Mac Book Pro to my Test files folder on the NAS drive.

Impressed is not the word. What an improvement! Image focus and stability massively improved; bass more cleanly resolved and real dynamic changes from within the stereo image (i.e. instruments not moving when they get loud). What a treat to hear the string sections so discretely imaged from the old Hi-Fi News test disc Dvorak Serenade for Strings with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe – and my chum Ivor’s flute playing in the Gluck Dance of the Blessed Spirits.

Raw DSD files were startlingly natural – thanks to Oppo’s website for Rodeo on a Ridge a pure DSD64 recording from David Elias’s Acoustic Trio – DSD Sessions download (and thanks to the techs who sorted out the proper CD Red Book camparison file download on the Oppo site for me too.)

Sadly, all put away at the end of the day but this points the way to go. Mac Mini or iMac? Touch screen or headless? Still plenty to think about…especially the issue of manual syncing to network drives. How’s that going to happend with a headless setup?

Ancient history II – Mastering

There is a handful or articles I feel truly proud of having written. My research into the mastering of vinyl and early CDs published in 1983 in Hi-Fi News is one of those. The original publication of ‘All Records Are Made Equal…But Some Are Made More Equalised Than Others Part I’ suffered from repro problems on the magazine page that obscured much of the data – though of course my text and analysis was fine. I’ve now rescanned the original Genrad traces and remade the pages to bring Part 1 into line with Part 2.

Both are available to download here: All_records_1 and All_records_2. Interesting how much is still relevant, primitive though the tools were.

Genrad.jpg

SAMPLE GRAPH – ‘Lime House Blues’ from the Proprius double album ‘Jazz at the Pawnshop’ (PROP 7778/9); this is the dashed spectrum. The solid bar spectrum is taken from the single disc recut of highlights issued by ATR (ATR 300). Though average levels are the same (A and F bars) there is more ‘push’ in the 1k to 3.15kHz bands on the ATR recut; the pressings of the ATR issue seem quieter than the Proprius presssing. Difference in low end could be due to different tape machines being used for reply.

Citations:

Präkel, David. “All Records Are Made Equal…But Some Are Made More Equalised Than Others. Part 1.” Hi-Fi News & Record Review 28, no. 7 (1983): 30-3, 36-7.

Präkel, David. “All Records Are Made Equal…But Some Are Made More Equalised Than Others. Part 2.” Hi-Fi News & Record Review 28, no. 8 (1983): 20-1, 24-5.

Vinyl Studio III – de-click and noise reduction

I’ve been far less productive than expected digitising my vinyl. In part that’s due to the great de-click and noise-reduction capabilities of Vinyl Studio.

Just as recording and track splitting have their windows, clicking Cleanup Audio opens a two-track view of the recorded waveform.

Alpine Soft recommends a ball mouse to get around the Cleanup Audio window quickly as you move a lot from overview to high magnification. An Apple trackpad and Magic mouse proved a confusing combination and while I downgraded to an older Apple mouse to try a ball I didn’t stick with it. Zooming with the keyboard + and – keys and replaying with the spacebar worked fine for me.

Clicks first.Vinyl Studio can automatically detect and correct vinyl clicks and pops. Thresholds can be adjusted and both percussion strikes and brass ‘rasps’ excluded from erroneous correction. Too much correction and the sound is lifeless. I chose a light-handed approach – once I’d learned to visually spot clicks I started editing digitised LPs by replay and eye combined. This takes considerable time but I have to say the results so far have been worth it.

This is how to see a click. In the waveform view you know roughly where the click appears but may not be able to track it down and spot it for correction.Vinyl Studio gives you an spectral view which instantly identifies the energy spectrum of the click. The fast rise time of the click waveform contains all frequencies (rather like a square wave) so it becomes easy to spot.

Screen Shot 2016-05-21 at 09.17.10.jpg

You can hear a nasty click but can’t spot it in the complex waveform

Screen Shot 2016-05-21 at 09.17.22.jpg

Spectral view on the V key shows just where the click is hiding

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 09.36.54.jpg

Using a highly magnified view, the click waveform can be edited out (original waveform grey, corrected green). The area over which the correction is applied can be adjusted – see cyan correction ‘slice’ with drag handles

Click detection and editing is very flexible. With some serious headphone time you can produce click-free transfers that are musically satisfying, airy and thoroughly listenable. Just beginning to wish I was doing this at 24/96.

Hiss and hum reduction is also possible. A sample of vinyl surface noise (or tape hiss) can be used to create a noise filter. I’ve used this sparingly to reduce surface noise between tracks or with single instruments or voices. I’ve only cleaned up one whole  album – a very noisy Polydor pressing of Burt Alcantara’s synthesiser classic Zygoat. The hum filter with 50 and 60Hz mains filters has proved useful on one unexpected occasion.

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 09.49.14.jpg

Custom EQ curve used to gently boost ‘presence’. This can be saved for later use on a whole album side or part of a track

Equalisation is also possible – again this is something to use sparingly. I have used all the click, hiss and EQ tools on one old favourite – a poor quality pressing of Richard Blackford’s Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. This was compulsory Chirstmas morning listening in our household but we began to learn every click and vinyl swoosh – not next holidays!

The more you explore the filtering capabilities of Vinyl Studio the more you are rewarded with clean, musically satisifying tranfers but as my productivity shows you have to work hard to get the best results.

folder 2.jpgfolder.jpg

That header picture

IMG_1477-2.jpg

In response to people who have asked…my header picture is a collection of gramophone horns at the fantastic  Johnson Victrola Museum at 375 S. New St, Dover, Delaware, 19904.

I visited the musuem in 2009 and could not have been made more welcome by the knowledgeable and enthusiastic volunteers. Theirs is a fascinating collection of phonographs and gramophones chronicling the development of the sound-recording industry, in particular the contribution and achievements of E.R. (Eldridge Reeves) Johnson founder of the Victor Talking Machine Co.

IMG_1479.jpg

Demonstrating the origins of the phrase ‘put a sock in it’

IMG_1496.jpg