Jun 152010
 

Adventures in High Fidelity Audio is very keen on supporting and helping to promote any professional causes that seek to address some of the fundamental issues directly effecting the sound quality of the music we play on our audio systems and how its played. Three such campaigns we want to draw your attention too, are the Real Stereo, Turn me Up and Save FM.

REAL STEREO

In the current age of Home Cinema, High Definition Television, Blue Ray and 3D Television there is an ever growing threat to the high quality sound that Stereo can reproduce and that threat is multi channel surround sound.

There have been many so far failed attempts to introduce this kind of sound to music reproduction originally as Quadrophonic back in the 70’s which led onto Dolby Surround for videos and more recently as part of DVD Audio and Super Compact Disc (SACD).

Now none of these formats were commercially successful, to any great extent, with the general population showing little interest in them and for the most part the stereo music enthusiasts were happy with using just two speakers. However with the introduction of DVD back in the mid 90’s many in the general population have bought into the concept of using multi-surround-sound speakers for watching and listening to movies and sadly by default music. It is all to easy or so it would seem to play a CD on your Home Cinema DVD system rather than a quality dedicated Hi-Fi system.

For some its the lack of space to have both types of technology in the living room, for others it’s a lack of funds but for most I think it is just plain ignorance of the fact, that a well set up even modestly priced two channel audio system can sound amazing with just two speakers.

With the advent of the High Definition Blue Ray format recently and the 7.1 surround sound that this format offers, there is once again talk of releasing music on these discs; which will present music in surround sound. Now I have heard some of the older SACD and DVD Audio surround efforts and frankly they don’t work very well, and while I will concede that electronic music or some Prog Rock music might work in surround the majority of music won’t sound right presented this way.

I have sat back stage with a band during a concert, during a practice (I used to manage a band once) and also in the choir seats during classical music concerts and frankly none of the surround sound music I have ever heard reproduces the music in a natural way. At no time have I ever hear drums, singers or any instruments floating around the ether as most surround sound placements have them doing. Now you might say “well it’s just for fun” but it is not an accurate representation of how music sounds in real life, either played live or in a studio. To my ear only Stereo does that, as it presents the music in a believable 3 dimensional space before you, the listener, with both image width left to right, image height and image depth.

Now to a certain extent certain types of reproduction technology such as, analogue open reel to reel, vinyl and valve amplification excels at this ability to create a natural soundscape when reproducing a stereo recording; than say solid state amplification (in my experience) or Red Book CD but even those technologies offer more music reality than surround sound be it 4, 5, 6 or 7 channels. So stereo is best for listening to music (I have no objection to Dolby or DTS 5.1 surround sound movie soundtracks) in my opinion and that of those who support the Real Stereo campaign.

It should also be mentioned at this point that the quality of a stereo recording also matters in how a believable, natural soundscape is created and no mater how good the technology is, if its feed a poor recording it will only reproduce what its given, but more about that in relation to the Turn Me Up campaign…..

TNT Audio, an on-line magazine like ourselves, are behind the we support Real Stereo campaign and their aim (in there own words) is to promote the value of……

“True stereophonic sound, as devised by Blumlein, is quite capable of reproducing such an event with just two channels and two loudspeakers, so why complicate the issue with more channels and more speakers? The problem is, that as consumer electronics manufacturers and media providers concentrate their efforts increasingly on home theatre, stereo is being increasingly sidelined. We can already see this happening, with a rapidly diminishing choice of affordable stereo hi-fi components, the market being polarised towards low-cost, all-in-one mini systems at one end of the scale and exorbitantly priced specialist components at the other. Similarly with recorded media. Apart from the stream of re-issues, how many contemporary recordings are made using the real stereo techniques which have served us so well in the past?

There is a distinction of course between multi-track recordings mixed down to two channels and stereo. The latter provides a completely different listening experience – an experience which is now in danger of disappearing if the industry believes there is little future in it.Hence the Campaign for Real Stereo. The objective of the campaign is to draw attention to the often passed-over benefits of real stereo and, if sufficient support is forthcoming, highlight to the industry the fact that many people do not want Alan Blumlein’s wonderful invention to be neglected and forgotten in the relentless commercial drive for new consumer market technologies.” © Copyright 2004 TNT Audio.

You can read the full article here http://www.tnt-audio.com/topics/realstereo_e.html

I have been aware of TNT’s efforts in this area for awhile now but as I am now in a position to offer full support to this campaign via Adventures In High Fidelity Audio, I will be doing so and I would urge you to do so as well if you care about High Fidelity sound in music reproduction.

TURN ME UP

Another increasing problem area in regard to music reproduction, is the increasing use of dynamic compression and the increase of loudness levels in recordings.

Not only do we have a levelling/reduction in the light and shade of instrument volume levels in their own right and in terms of their relationship to each others while playing together or individually in a piece of music (dynamic compression) but we now also increasingly see the overall volume levels of a recordings increased to the point of distortion.

Do you ever wonder why during a nights listening session that you have to reduce the sound level on your amplifier for more modern music and increase it for older CDs you bought, say maybe 15 years ago; well its loudness and dynamic compression levels in the newer music.

This trend began quite a few years ago with the first wave of digital remastering of old analogue recordings and first generation digital recordings,  such as Ocean View’s reworking of the albums by Prog-Rock group Yes and the 1991 box set Yes Years (Atco 7567-91644-2).  This was the first time I had really been aware of severe dynamic compression but also in the overall loudness of the music.

The recordings were flat mostly all on one volume level and that level was so loud that very audible clipping could be heard during play back.  Sadly this is not a one off case as way to many remasters are now so loud that the same thing happens on musical peaks as the signal distorts, it is just too loud.

Its not just remasters of old material that is affected by this problem but most modern recordings too. Recent examples include Magnetic Death by Metallica and the Sade album Soldier of Love to name a few are all too loud.

The reasons for these problems are not as a result of technology gone wrong (though the use of pro tools in my opinion does not help the recording process) but are down to decisions made by record labels and maybe even the musicians themselves who have been told that loudness will win them listeners.

Regardless of the reasons behind this trend in music presentation, the bottom line is that the quality of sound is being destroyed. These recordings which are so far away from being high-fidelity are really much more suited for use on a phone, I-Pod or in car radio listening rather than on a quality audio system. This is the crux of the problem as most now listen on mobile devices and music has become nothing but a commodity, rather than something to be treasured and listened to carefully. Where did it all go wrong ? and can it be put right ? Well the Turn Me Up campaign  is all about trying to return the quality to modern music recordings and they explains there goals here….

“Turn Me Up! is a non-profit music industry organization campaigning to give artists back the choice to release more dynamic records. To be clear, it’s not our goal to discourage loud records; they are, of course, a valid choice for many artists. We simply want to make the choice for a more dynamic record an option for artists.

Today, artists generally feel they have to master their records to be as loud as everybody else’s. This certainly works for many artists. However, there are many other artists who feel their music would be better served by a more dynamic record, but who don’t feel like that option is available to them.

This all comes down to the moment a consumer hears a record, and the fear that if the record is more dynamic, the consumer won’t know to just turn up the volume. This is an understandable concern, and one Turn Me Up! is working to resolve.” © Copyright 2007-2008 TurnMeUp! http://www.turnmeup.org/

You will find many articles here, both for the layperson and the engineer on this site, which explain all the issues, the solutions and both the good and bad recordings.

I urge you, that if you care about music listening or making that you consider joining the campaign and taking part in it as Adventures in High Fidelity Audio has.

FM RADIO

Another area close to my heart is the death sentence that quality radio broadcasting has been handed by the proposed switch off of analogue FM radio to the digital (DAB) broadcasting platform. The proposed date for this to happen is 2015.

Having compared the sound of FM radios to DAB and even radio derived from SKY and Free View (signal feed into a quality DAC) I can assure you that FM sounds better every time. Whether you are using a basic radio,/FM tuner or a high quality classic FM tuner such as a Leak Trough-line or a Pioneer 9800 the sound has a life, naturalness and body to it that the thin, flat DAB platform lacks, FM wins every time.

As this is a very complicated and technical debate, I will leave a full discussion to another time but you can read more about the issues on these sites http://www.savefm.org/, http://savefm.net/http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/blog/2009/jul/01/dab-fm-digital-switchover, and here also http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/3357711/Must-FM-die-to-save-digital-radio.html

I urge you not to sit about and allow a quality radio service for the whole of the UK to be switched off in favour of an out of date poor sounding substitute.

Adventures In High fidelity Audio has been and will be fighting this proposal….SAVE FM.

Neil

© Text  Copyright 2010 Adventures in High Fidelity Audio, except the logos used and quoted text which is Copyright TNT Audio and Turn Me Up tm.

NB No part or portion of this article may be reproduced or quoted without written permission.


 Posted by at 6:06 pm

  One Response to “REAL STEREO,TURN ME UP AND SAVE FM….Three very worthwhile causes.”

  1. Hi Neil,

    There’s a lot to say here, but to be brief, I agree with everything you say on all three topics.

    To elaborate:
    Real Stereo. Blumlein’s patents considered multi-channel sound, but he did speculate that it ought to be possible to achieve realistic stereo by using just two microphones, provided they had the requisite polar pattern, or were separated so as to mimic the polar response of the human ears and the separation between the ears on a human head. Also the necessary phase delay that would be caused by diffraction by the human head would need to be taken into account.

    Recordings made using what is known as crossed-dipole microphones, achieve a very realistic portrayal of what a listener would hear at the recording venue. I believe that in the ’70s and ’80s recording companies became obsessed with complete control of the recording process. This meant that a plethora of microphones were used; almost, but not quite, a microphone for each instrument. Whatever, close miking was the order of the day, and with multi-miking came the phase and timing errors that result. Certainly, in most cases, any sense of the acoustic of the recording environment was lost. What ‘acoustic’ there was, was created artificially – ugh!

    Multi-channel reproduction is, at best, an example of ‘brute force and ignorance’, at worse it is a cynical example of opportunism by those purveyors of audio equipment to sell extra and unnecessary speakers and amplification channels. Cynical moi? Oui!

    Turn Me Up
    Oh, how true. Again a result of opportunist recording companies who have little interest in providing realistic, naturalistic recording with believable dynamics. On the contrary, they are pandering to the MP3 generation who have the attention span of a goldfish! Oh – and it sounds good on a car radio. A good example of the insidious compression prevalent in modern recordings is Duffy’s CD ‘Rock Ferry’. The final track is done in a Spector-esque style, that has a dynamic range of about 10dB at the very best (I measured it!). I also compared it with an LP of some of Phil Spector’s recordings: think ‘River Deep Mountain High’, or anything by The Ronettes or The Crystals, there the dynamic range was at least 20dB.

    I think I commented on this insidious, creeping fashion for dynamic compression in my review of Snakefarm’s ‘Songs from my Funeral’.

    FM Radio
    Well what can I say – you’re preaching to the converted. I do think that there might be a stay of execution to well past 2015, but FM protagonists are in a bit of a ‘cleft stick’. Until FM is switched off and we can hear DAB at full broadcast powers, we can’t really fully judge the quality of DAB. The trouble is, it could well be foisted upon us as a ‘fait accompli’, because the general public has lost its powers of discrimination, or even cares about quality: the MP3 generation again.

    We can lobby as much as possible, but market forces will prevail; there’s money to made in squeezing as many channels into the the frequency spectrum, regardless of quality. In extremis, one could always refuse to pay for a TV license (and not watch telly), but I can’t imaging Joe Public doing this.

    Best Regards
    Barry

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