SH Spotlight What sounds just like the master tape: CD, Vinyl, SACD or a 1:1 analog Reel tape copy?

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Steve Hoffman, Nov 30, 2007.

  1. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Audiophile Music Mastering Your Host Thread Starter

    First, let me say that I love records, compact discs and SACDs; I have a bunch of all three formats. Nothing that I discovered below changed that one bit.

    I did these comparisons a few years ago. Since I spilled the beans to an interviewer on mic last year I continually get quoted and misquoted about this subject. I'll try to set the "record" straight in this thread. Please note I'm typing on a whacked out computer not my own with a tiny monitor and no spell check.... There could be a (gasp) typo or two...:eek:

    A few years ago, mainly out of curiosity (and nothing else) I got the chance at AcousTech Mastering to compare an actual master tape to the playback of a record lacquer and digital playback. Also did the same test using DSD (SACD) playback as well later on in the day. The results were interesting. The below is just my opinion. Note that we cut the record at 45 because the lathe was set for that speed. A similar test we did using the 33 1/3 speed yielded the same result.

    FIRST COMPARISON: MASTER TAPE with ACETATE LACQUER AT 45 RPM with DIGITAL PACIFIC MICROSONICS CAPTURE.

    We had the master tape of the Riverside stereo LP Bill Evans Trio/WALTZ FOR DEBBY at AcousTech and decided to do this little comparison. Since the actual master needs a bunch of "mastering" to make it sound the best, I set the title track up as if it was going to be mastered (which in a sense it was, being cut on to an acetate record).

    We cut a lacquer ref of the tune with mastering moves while dumping to the digital computer at the same time with the same moves.

    Then, after a break, we sync'd up all three, first matching levels. Simultaneous playback of all three commenced and as Kevin switched, I listened. (We took turns switching and listening). First thing I noticed:

    The MASTER TAPE and the RECORD sounded the practically the same. We honestly couldn't tell one from the other during playback. This was of course playing back the tape on the master recorder with the mastering "moves" turned on. The acetate record was played back flat on the AcousTech lathe with the SAE arm and Shure V15 through the Neumann playback preamp (as seen in so many pictures posted here of AcousTech).

    The flat digital playback of my mastering sounded different. NOT BAD, just different. The decay on the piano was different, the plucks of Scott's bass were different, the reverb trail was noticeably truncated due to a loss of resolution. Non unpleasant, just not like the actual master tape. This is slightly frustrating to me because it confirmed the fact that when mastering in digital one has to compensate for the change (which I do with my usual "tricks"). The record however, gave back exactly what we put in to it. Exactly.

    Please note that an actual record for sale would have gone through the manufacturing process and the lacquer would have been processed to a MASTER, MOTHER, STAMPER and VINYL with increased surface noise, etc. but the sound of the music remains intact for the most part. A remarkable thing since records have been basically made the same way for over 100 years.


    SECOND COMPARISON: MASTER TAPE with ACETATE LACQUER AT 45 RPM with DSD MASTER (SACD MASTER).

    So, using the same master tape of WALTZ FOR DEBBY, we compared the before mentioned acetate that we cut on the AcousTech lathe (manufactured in 1967 and modded by Kevin Gray) with a DSD playback of the same tape with the same mastering and levels.

    Result? The DSD/SACD version sounded even MORE different than the compact disc digital playback compared to the analog master. More not-like the sound of the actual master tape. The resolution was fine and we could hear the notes decay, etc. just like analog but the TONALITY was a bit off. It was not telling the truth when compared to the master tape or the acetate record.

    THIRD COMPARISON: MASTER TAPE with ACETATE RECORD with OPEN REEL TAPE COPY AT 15 ips:

    We made a dub of the tune WALTZ FOR DEBBY to an Ampex ATR-100 at 15 ips non-Dolby, +3 level and played it back with the actual master tape and the acetate record. Both of us thought the open reel tape copy sounded inferior to the acetate record when compared to the master tape; weaker transients, a more "blurred" sound that would never be noticeable unless played back with the actual master tape to compare it to.

    So, what does this mean to you? Probably nothing. What did it mean to me? I found it interesting. The CD playback had more accurate tonality than the DSD/SACD playback. The DSD playback had more front to back resolution than the CD playback. The tape copy sounded slightly lackluster. The acetate record playback beat them all in terms of resolution, tonal accuracy and everything else when compared directly with the analog master in playback. This is not wonderful news in a certain sense; vinyl playback is sometimes a pain in the butt and knowing that CD's are not capturing everything in perfect resolution drives me bonkers.

    Regarding the lowly phonograph record:

    We know that records have their problems (could be noisy, warped, bad cutting, etc.) as well but for the most part they will be a damn miraculous representation of the actual master recording for not much money.

    Your comments are welcome.

    Please remember, the above is just my OPINION but I found it interesting. I love my compact discs but I realize they are not the last word in resolution; they are damn fine though and when listening for pleasure I play CDs and records, with CDs getting the most play. My Sony and Living Stereo SACDs are never far away from me either. If you disagree with me, that's cool. It's all fun, or should be.

    Sorry again for some awkward English in this; my proofing time was limited (but not compressed).
     
  2. Bob Olhsson

    Bob Olhsson Motown Legend

    Location:
    Nashville, TN
    If you ever get the chance, try recording at bit at 78 on the back of a scrap acetate. I did that once at Motown and never got over how great it sounded.

    I don't think most people have any idea how good analog disk recording is.
     
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  3. imagnrywar

    imagnrywar Well-Known Member

    Location:
    San Francisco
    That's odd about DSD/SACD being less accurate than CD. I wonder why that would be the case? Anyone?
     
  4. Another Side

    Another Side Well-Known Member

    Location:
    San Francisco
    Interesting about DSD. I wonder why it's the case. :shh:

    I do remember that when you brought up this test at the HeadFi meet last summer, you also mentioned that in the Master/Lacquer/CD comparison you noticed a lack of ambiance in the CD compared to the other two. Or am I misremembering?
     
  5. Bob Olhsson

    Bob Olhsson Motown Legend

    Location:
    Nashville, TN
    My experience is that digital stuff is more a question of implementation than of format.

    I do know that Keith Johnson spent years developing an A to D that could capture the tonality of his tape recordings. I'm not sure that anybody else has put that much sweat equity into making a set of converters sound "right."
     
  6. JJ75

    JJ75 Active Member

    Location:
    London UK
    I would imagine that the dsd converters (being the younger technology) are simply less tonally neutral than the pcm converters in the computer.

    Perhaps they require some subtle (or maybe not so subtle) eq to compensate.

    Then they would sound closer to the master than 16/44 pcm, in terms of tonality and resolution....but still not as good as the totally analogue laquer.

    (im not a pro or anything so this is just an educated guess, to see whether I get it or not)

    JJ
     
  7. John Carsell

    John Carsell Forum Resident

    Location:
    Northwest Illinois
    That really surprises me about the SACD/DSD v.s. CD comparison.
     
  8. Bob Olhsson

    Bob Olhsson Motown Legend

    Location:
    Nashville, TN
    Noise floor is meaningless. It's all about dynamic range, i.e. unacceptable noise to unacceptable distortion.

    Most digital gear is speced with the converter muted! A friend of mine was telling me about his utter frustration searching for an A to D converter that didn't have an RFI floor around -50 prior to the anti-alias filtering. When you start digging into this stuff with test gear you'll find lots of older technology stomps all over new technology when you apply the above definition of dynamic range.
     
  9. MikeT

    MikeT Forum Cretin

    Location:
    New Jersey, USA
    This brings up an interesting question, was the digital playback sampled as if it were a CD 44.1/16 or was it higher resolution? I ask because I wonder how DVD-Audio or 96/24 or 192/24 would hold up against the analog cutting.

    I am also surprised at the SACD/DSD comparison to CD, since I tend to find that SACDs done right sound excellent (more "real"), but then maybe I like my tonality to be askew. :)

    On another "note", I assume your analog cutting sounded like the master tape because of the way you master? I can't believe a lot of the vinyl I own, those which sound terrible for instance, sound anything like the master tapes?? :)
     
  10. pick-me-up

    pick-me-up Straight shooter from S/FI

    Location:
    Sweden
    Thank you so much, Steve!

    Really interesting. :righton:
    I think your writing was perfect!
     
  11. ivan_wemple

    ivan_wemple Forum Resident

    You forgot the scenario where you compared the MASTER TAPE with ACETATE LACQUER AT 45 RPM to the 128 kbps MP3 conversion.

    If you "curve fit" the tonality versus resolution curve to MP3 based on the existing two data points, that's the digital version that will sound most like the master tape.

    IPods rule, man! :p
     
  12. Metoo

    Metoo Forum Hall Of Fame

    Location:
    Spain (EU)
    Steve, in your case, you can always fix this at the mastering stage. :D
     
  13. Metoo

    Metoo Forum Hall Of Fame

    Location:
    Spain (EU)
    Steve, there's something that has me scratching my head here: if I understood your post correctly, you have mastered the original master tape unto acetate lacquer while recording to digital. This begs the question, if you were mastering for acetate lacquer would this not directly throw off (at least in part) the sound of the digital recording given that the mastering was not done directly for that medium?
     
  14. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Audiophile Music Mastering Your Host Thread Starter

    No, why? I master the same regardless of the medium. Always do.
     
  15. LeeS

    LeeS Audio Research Fan

    Location:
    Atlanta
    ???

    Steve,

    I wish I could trust these results but I don't. Every comparison I have done with mastertapes I worked on regarding instrument tonality has shown both 24/96 and DSD to be much better than redbook, even on the best converters.

    I wonder if the DSD converters used were of high enough quality or if there is something else impacting playback here.
     
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  16. Metoo

    Metoo Forum Hall Of Fame

    Location:
    Spain (EU)
    Thanks for your reply, Steve.

    On another note, when you mention 'digital' here I take it we are talking about 44.1/16, not 96/24 or 192/24. Isn't the loss of the reverb trails part of the shortcomings of redbook CD resolution?
     
  17. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Audiophile Music Mastering Your Host Thread Starter

    Let me rephrase. If you listened to a blank cut lacquer and a blank cut TP made from the lacquer you would NOT hear much more noise. It's amazing but true (considering the plating process was perfected in 1903) and I've done the test hundreds of times as have those of you who have visited Record Tech/AcousTech Mastering in one of our many field trips.

    However, that being said, the purity of the vinyl comes in to this equation as well as the type of stylus used in playback, preamp noise, etc.

    If a test pressing had 20 db higher noise floor than a lacquer, records would really suck.
     
  18. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Audiophile Music Mastering Your Host Thread Starter

    44.1, yes. I don't give a darn about 192/24 unless a compact disc can reproduce it..

    Reverb trails are not essential to good listening but once one is made aware of the problem, it's pretty easy to spot on a CD, especially when comparing to the higher resolution DSD layer. Just an annoyance, not the end of the world.
     
  19. Vinophile

    Vinophile Active Member

    Location:
    Cambridge, UK
    This may be a stupid question, but how does one spot reverb trails?
     
  20. Metoo

    Metoo Forum Hall Of Fame

    Location:
    Spain (EU)
    Steve, again thanks for being so forthcoming. :)
     
  21. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Audiophile Music Mastering Your Host Thread Starter

    Are you sure you want to know how to spot a reverb trail? Might ruin it for you.

    I've used this example many of times.

    The SACD/CD of Creedence WILLY & THE POOR BOYS that I did with Kevin a few years ago for Acoustic Sounds/Analogue Productions has a great example that you can try at home.

    If one put on FORTUNATE SON in the SACD/DSD layer and just listen to the intro of the song, concentrating on the echo trail after each drum thwack you will hear how far "back" into the mix the echo of each distinct drum hit goes. Memorize that sound. If you don't trust the resolving power of your speakers, use your headphones...

    Now, switch to the CD layer, cut by Kevin and I on the same day with the same mastering. Listen to FORTUNATE SON again, concentrating on the each drum thwack in the intro. Notice how the reverb vanishes much faster and is not as intense? Loss of resolution.

    I once told this to a guy and he thought I was totally full of ****. He actually went out and bought the disk. He listened and said that I purposely ADDED echo on the SACD layer to make this so (like Kevin and I dug an echo chamber at RTI that matched Wally Heider Studio just to do this..) :laugh:

    Really, resolution loss is true. Not much we can do about it!
     
  22. Vinophile

    Vinophile Active Member

    Location:
    Cambridge, UK


    Thanks Steve! I'll give it a try tomorrow and report back.
     
  23. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Audiophile Music Mastering Your Host Thread Starter

    Forthcoming? Nah, most people out there wouldn't notice any difference between any of the formats if I a/b'd 'em for them. That's fine with me. It's just interesting to me that these discrepancies exist. Nothing we can really do about it. Most people wouldn't even want to know or care, since all of these formats are essentially "dead" to 99% of the population anyway.
     
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  24. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Audiophile Music Mastering Your Host Thread Starter

    In a dream world situation, get Kevin Gray to cut you a blank groove on a lacquer ref. 'Bout 100 bucks I guess would pay for it. Take it home with you. Get one of the many "test" LP's that have some blank grooves on them for set up. Make sure it's a virgin vinyl one.

    Now, drag out your old cassette deck from 1980. Put the lacquer acetate on your turntable and adjust your cassette VU meter to -10 for the noise. You'll have to crank it. Got it? Now, put the test LP on (a pressed record) and see how much louder your meters go without readjusting. Maybe 2-5 db if it's a nice, quiet pressing?

    It's really quite remarkable considering the LACQUER/MASTER/MOTHER/STAMPER/VINYL stages the thing has to go through to be pressed. It never seems like it would work (see below "tour" of record pressing at RTI) but it does, just like it did in 1960 or 1930.

    http://www.recordtech.com/Tour.htm
     
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  25. Larry Naramore

    Larry Naramore Bonafied Knucklehead

    Location:
    Sun Valley, Calif.
    I don't think you replied to post #2 by Bob Olhsson...

    ...I was wondering if you had ever done this.

    If you ever get the chance, try recording at bit at 78 on the back of a scrap acetate. I did that once at Motown and never got over how great it sounded.

    I don't think most people have any idea how good analog disk recording is.
     

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