Thoughts on Hi-Fi news demo from the 80's?

Around the same time that CD first hit the market (1982) Sony also put out a manageable-sized digital tape recorder on the market.

I was at a Hi-Fi News show in London and went to a demo by Hi-Fi News reviewer Paul Messenger.

The setup used the Marantz CD player (which used an upsampling DAC and digital filtering, if I recall), a Linn Sondek driven system, (with Naim amplification and Spendor speakers, I think) the Sony recorder, an expensive-looking Revox (who made some of the best analog tape recorders then.)

The music was a live recording of a baroque orchestral performance that Paul had made - recording simultaneously on the Revox and the Sony, and Dire Straits “Private Investigations” - featuring Knopfler’s delicate E-minor melody on nylon acoustic guitar - played from the “Love Over Gold”  LP* and from the CD.

The 60 or so people in the room unanimously preferred the analog renditions - the richer timbre of guitar, the spatial ambiance around the orchestra - to the digital: something like “scotch vs scotch and water”.

But, Paul explained, the Sony had sounded “exactly like the mic. feed” on first playback.

So I asked if we could hear the analog sources playing through the Sony, monitored on and off the tape. He set this up, but with just the ability to switch the ADC/DAC stage in and out (without recording the feed). To me, for both tracks, there was no difference in the sound with the digital conversions in or out of the loop! With Paul switching them and out “blind”, the audience seemed to be guessing right about 50% of the time when asked.

But, as Paul pointed out, the Sony was not storing the bits.

My inference then (and it is still the same) was that the Redbook CD spec. was as good as any other storage medium for home music reproduction - but only theory. After all, all recordings are quantized - but with analog (magnetized particles, vinyl molecules) the quanta are not all the same size. So, with enough resolution, and accurate encoding and decoding, there is nothing wrong with digital.

At first, I think, some CD’s released were made from analog masters mixed to sound intelligible on AM radio - and the harsh accuracy of digital made them unlistenable. There could have been, I suspect, quality deterioration from repeated coding/decoding at only 44k/16bit - as could happen when mixing?

(When I edit an 8-bit .jpg file with Photoshop I first convert it to a 32-bit .psd image and do all the filtering and resizing at that resolution, before saving the result as a .jpg again)


* “Long Playing Record”


Interesting observation. Possibly a factor why the Parks phono pre works so well - ADC>DSP>DAC via Texas Instruments.

Digiphobes don’t worry about it.

If Shannon mashed it with a Budgie even valves could be satisfied.

As in audio playback, every step along the way in recording music makes a difference in what you hear.  So, how and on what the music was recorded, mixed, mastered and pressed into final format makes a difference.  

There is variation on how this is done for vinyl and CD.  Add to that the fact that most artists, producers, recording, mixing and mastering engineers don't care what the recording sounds like as long as there are no obvious edits or other errors that they do care about, and there's lots of opportunity for degrading the sound quality of the music in the process of getting it into our systems.

That said I think that digital recording is hitting its stride and that there will come a day when all but the most hardened vinyl enthusiasts will agree that digital provides the best sound quality.

It was at a hotel in north London. The session that I was at used Dire Straits - plus the chamber music tape recording. Maybe they did more than one session.

It was later. 1987 maybe. The Penta at Heathrow? Anyhow, the analog vs digital demo was a massacre. The digital played first. I think it may have been an expensive Krell CD player. Then the analog. There was literally a gasp from the audience!