A combination of traditional folk art and science


Music Sources

I remember my first visit to a high-end audio store. I was looking for a receiver. This was about 1977. The salesman asked me what I thought the most important part of the receiver was. I told him the FM section. He asked why. I told him because I listened to the radio a lot. The salesman began telling me how FM was not a good source of listening to music. He went on about how I had to listen to records and even then, I should only listen to "direct-to-disk".

I didn't buy from that store. I wound up buying an 80 wpc JVC receiver that I used for another two years until I wound up buying my 250 wpc Soundcraftsman amplifier and my Hafler preamplifier.

When I first got into audio, the only high quality music medium was long play 33 1/3 records. To play these, I had a turntable, an SME arm that cost about $300 and a moving coil phono cartridge that cost another $350.00. Because the arm on my turntable was manual, I had to lift the needle off the record myself or I would have to listen to ssk, ssk, ssk, indefinitely. Each album side was about 25 minutes.

I bought a Laser Disk player in 1982. I saw this as the wave of the future. The sound was still analog but there was no needle to wear out. I could listen to the music and see the performance at the same time. I bought a lot of concerts, performances and even music in this format.

There were three types of high-end albums during this time. Some albums were recorded in digital and transferred to album. I believe that Tusk by Fleetwood Mac was one of the very first if not the first digital recording. Listening today to Tusk, I believe the technology was not ready for prime time.

I used to use a cassette deck to record all my albums. I did this for three reasons. The first was that I could play my music in the car. The second was that it preserved my albums from wear and the third was that I didn't have to turn the LP over. I could listen to the entire album without getting up. I always used very high quality three head recorders so my tapes sounded quite good.

There was a technique called "direct-to-disk". This technique created the master directly from the performance. The "direct-to-disk" recordings were often very short as the person engineering the disk had to allow plenty of space between the grooves because the transients might cut from one groove to another. My experience with "direct-to-disk" was that while the recordings were technically excellent, most "direct-to-disks" were too controlled and not very interesting.

Another technique was to remaster original disks. These were generally mastered at half speed and then pressed in Japan where a better grade of virgin vinyl was used. This was my favorite type of high quality disk because I could buy performances that I liked and the sound improvement from the standard issued record was dramatic.

During these days, I found the quality of most albums substandard. I bought over 1,200 albums until I switched over to CD. I liked the convenience of CD's. I believed that the player technology would get better and I fully planned on getting a player at some point. My first player was a Philips based unit. The sound was dull and lifeless but it certainly wasn't as shrill as the original player I had heard.

My second player was a Sony ES with 4x oversampling. I quickly replaced this unit with a California Audio Labs ICON. The ICON was far better sounding than my Sony. From this point on, I was generally pleased with the overall sound of CD's.

Some of my original CD's sounded very bad. Reissues of these recordings got better and better. In time, I rebuilt most of my original LP collection in CD's. When I moved to Thailand, I left my LP collection behind. I now had 1,500 CD's.

After switching to CD's, my cassette recorder never got much use. I no longer needed to worry about wear. I could play CD's in my car. A CD was more convenient than a cassette tape. Both my LP players and Cassette deck retired about the same time.

Recently, two several new audio formats have appeared. One of these is MP3. MP3 is a method to compress music by a factor of 10. The way it works is it throws out bits that are masked by louder sounds. Philips introduced MP3 for it CD-I entertainment system and for its DCC digital recording system.

Computer users discovered that they could easily compress a song so that it could be easily sent over the Internet. They could then expand these songs and burn them onto CD's. Websites started appearing that had huge libraries of MP3s. The Music Industry recognized this as a tremendous threat to its sales.

Stereophile put out an article stating that MP3 sound was horrible. I wrote a letter that was never published challenging this. The letter was not printed. I questioned whether the author had ever done any real listening tests.

I have compressed disks and listened to the impact. I would say that a casual listener would not generally know they were listening to MP3. Careful A/B listening will show that the MP3 is somewhat less lively. However, MP3s sound surprisingly good.

Stereophile and other audiophile publications are worried about any compression. The reason is they feel that the audio industry is moving in the wrong direction. They believe that CD's were a step backwards from LP's and that any compression is moving even farther behind.

When I was a kid, I used to stack 45s on a spindle. I would play something by The Beatles and then listen to Frank Sinatra. I could listen to any song in any order that I wanted. I could stack 10 disks so I could listen to about 45 minutes of whatever I wanted.

It is amazing that young people today are using MP3 to do the same thing. They are mixing their own combinations. They are recording their favorite hour of music onto portable devices or burning CD's with their own collection.

Some people are using MP3 technology to squeeze more time onto a standard CD. A standard CD will hold about 10 albums. Some people have mounted computer laptops and computers in their trunk to have an entire library of songs online.

I recently purchased two Distar DVD players. These DVD players have the ability to play MP3 disks. This means that if I burn my own CD filled with whatever music I want, this player can play that CD. I can put the entire Beatles library on one disk.

Speaking of DVD, I have a few of the new Audio DVD disks.  These disks sound fantastic. They offer 24 bit/96Khz performance.  The sound is more natural and open than any CD I have heard.  I believe this technology is better than any LP I have ever heard.

My opinion is that MP3 is a valid technology for reproducing music. I feel that from a technology standpoint, I have as much right to listen to MP3 as I did my FM radio, stack of 45s, or cassette deck. Some audiophiles might not approve. What can I say other than - enjoy the music.

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