An observation about early Japan and W. Germany CDs and perceived sound quality...

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by markl, Jan 8, 2007.

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  1. markl

    markl Forum Resident Thread Starter

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    I think I now have enough observational data on this that I think I can post. Take it for what it's worth, and please be gentle and civil and appreciate the spirit in which it's intended. :wave:

    Several months back, I obtained a top-of-the-line external (very important, shielded from the noise of my computer) Plextor (considered best brand of CD/DVD burners) CD/DVD drive (PX-716UF, $250). Why so much for a drive? I'm one of the loonies who believes the copies he makes of his CDs (even on my older stock Dell drives) sound better than original CDs (so let that color everything I say hereafter for you).

    I use Exact Audio Copy to copy to my hard drive, and in the past, I've used high-quality CD-Rs (usually Verbatim DataLifePlus with Super AZO dye), burned at low speeds (8X, as lower speeds on 52X media often have higher error rates). This has resulted in marginally superior copies.

    Since getting my Plextor, I've switched to Mitsui MAM-A gold discs 1-12X discs burned at 4X. The new Plextor drive allows me to manually adjust the laser power to be stronger, and allows me to burn *larger* pits in the CD-R. The idea is that the larger pits are more permanent over time, but more importantly, *easier to read* by your CD player right now. This results in less jitter and fewer errors and less use error correction on CD-Rs you burn with the longer pits. Plextor suggests this results in better sound quality. Based on what I've heard, I strongly agree. My newer copies are definitely superior to the originals.

    Is this difference perceptible on low-end gear? No. But if you can hear cable differences, you certainly should be able to hear the difference between the original and a properly-burned CD-R. The diference is roughly in the same ball-park as a fairly major cable swap.

    Therefore, my belief-- based on what I've heard so far-- is that the easier it is for your CD player to read a CD, the better will be the perceived sound you get out of it. I think that if you use good practices copying and burning your CD-Rs, and create a superior piece of media containing your favorite album, you can actually obtain better sound quality than you can get from a mass-produced aluminum CD. :eek: So sue me. :angel:

    OK, so what does this have to do with older CDs pressed in Japan and West Germany?

    Well, as you know, I have hundreds and hundreds of these old CDs now, and I've literally burned hundreds (well over 1000) of them onto new media for the superior sound quality. With my new Plextor drive (which I trust more than my older stock drive), there is a STRONG correlation between the quality of the pressing and how easily the drive is able to copy that disc with the extremely picky and difficult EAC.

    The fact is, the older CDs from Japan and West Germany burn much faster and more easily, with far fewer errors than newer discs. I've had many new discs that are MINT in quality, but can't burn with EAC without errors. Where is the flaw that EAC is experiencing that I can't even see? FWIW, I suspect shoddy pressing plant practices, corner-cutting and cheaper-is-better philosophy adopted by plants trying to compete for big contracts with major labels. Do it fast and do it cheap-- chop 'em out regardless of quality.

    We've all held these early CDs and we can tell they are thicker, more substantial than modern discs. The mirror finish is also more polished and distinct. I feel they were produced under superior conditions and with superior equipment and standards way back when than they are today.

    OK, long story short, I think one of the chief reasons we (with high-end systems) can truly appreciate these older CDs and discern differences is down to the fact that they are simply of higher quality than what we can buy today. Our CD players read them with less jitter, fewer errors and as a result, we get purer, cleaner, more focused sound.

    Eroc said something interesting recently in one of his considerate replies to one of the many inconsiderate threads attacking his work that really made me think. To paraphrase, he said all this fetishization of "flat transfers" may be mis-placed, as in many cases, this is simply a sign of zero time, thought, consideration, and effort being given to the mastering of some early CDs, rather than being some audiophile badge of honor. Back then, they must have been scrambling to get CDs in print, so why bother trying to make them sound their best, why not just turn on the equipment, let the tape run as is and be done with it? And on to the next job...

    So, anyway, all I'm suggesting is that maybe we are responding in many cases to the quality of the *PRESSING* of the CD as much as we are it's *MASTERING*. Food for thought....

    Yes, I know there are many members who insist a CD is a CD is a CD, and that's totally fair and legitimate, and I'm sorry for stirring this debate up again. But I would ask them, why is it that these earlier CDs copy faster and more easily than newer CDs if all CDs are the same? And why shouldn't it be that CDs that are better pressed and easier to read shouldn't sound better?
     
  2. curbach

    curbach Some guy on the internet

    Location:
    The ATX
    Interesting post, Markl. I have indeed noticed that some cds rip more quickly and easily into iTunes than others, but I've never paid enough attention to notice if there is a correllation with the vintage of the pressing.
     
  3. OE3

    OE3 Senior Member

    Mark, please define, for clarity, 'newer' discs. to the point, do you think 1980s silver-hubbed 'Made in USA by PDO' and 'DADC' discs are inferior to WG and Japanese discs? i find those an acceptable alternative to the harder-to-find and more expensive WG and Japanese discs. thanks for your post; it is food for thought, indeed.
     
  4. markl

    markl Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    cyberspace
    Hi Eddie,
    I kinda held back from posting the following, as what I've already said is kooky enough, but in for a penny in for a pound, I guess... :D


    The early USA DADC and silver hub PDO pressings are every bit as good as an original Japan or WG edition. There I said it. :D I believe they used the exact same equipment of the day to make those pressings.

    I also believe there was a serious dip in quality from the very late 80's to the mid-90's as new factories came on-line. Those discs are the worst. We all know about the "bronzed" UK pressings of the day, but I feel the problem of bad quality was more wide-spread. Recent discs have improved somewhat, but they still aren't as good. However, if you buy a modern disc pressed in Japan or Germany (particularly deluxe LP-style packaging), you get equivalent quality to the original early japan & WG pressings.

    But modern USA, Canada and UK pressings are more suspect, if not as bad as their late 80s-mid 90's counterparts.

    YMMV.
     
  5. Markl, I think you hit the nail on the head. Further though, I think the Sony engineers were onto something when they suggested that you master everything at -10db the peak zero. NO chance for clipping/error if you are that careful. Sure, a few discs sounded bad when a quiet passage came along (classical, not pop/country etc. cd's) but it worked 95% of the time in yielding a smooth-treble sounding disc, when played back on decent equipment.

    I just bought two German-pressed early-issue Stranglers cd's over the weekend and I am amazed at how much better they sound than my 90's era remastered discs by the same band!
     
  6. ivan_wemple

    ivan_wemple Senior Member

    I spent a fair amount of time one day last month comparing some target pressings to their "Made in U.S.A." equivalents. In cases where the disc contents were "bit identical", I couldn't hear any difference in playback between the two pressings. But that's just me.
     
  7. Metoo

    Metoo Forum Hall Of Fame

    Location:
    Spain (EU)
    Reading this makes me wonder if part of the bruning at lower speeds trick some of us here swear by - and I would add, especially when you are recording HiRez music because there is more data to record and play back later is not connected with how deep or clearly those pits are burned at slower speeds.

    Of course I am aware that some slow speeds work better with certain burner/disc combinations and that some burning software (or was it firmware?) changes the strength of the laser depending on the disc's surface. Nonetheless there must be some type of balance at work among the different variables involved that make burning ar certain slow speeds the better choice for optimum sounding discs. What say you?
     
  8. markl

    markl Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    cyberspace
    That's it? :ignore: That's all you got? :sigh:


    Oh, come on, surely you have some opinion on some aspect of what I've posted? :shrug: How much more RED MEAT do you require? :shake:

    SISSIES! :shh:


    OK, I guess, I'm 100% right; it's just established, then-- the better the original CD, the better the copy you can make from it. OK, fine.

    Thank you, that's what I thought... :agree:
     
  9. BIG ED

    BIG ED Forum Resident

    This "evaluation" between newer (time-frame?) & older disc (80's?) can only be done with CD's that use the same mastering/source.
    Have you taken that into account?

    Enjoyed the thread so far!!!

    I record at 1x for myself/legacy, 2x for family/car, & 4x for others! ;-)
     
  10. thenexte

    thenexte Forum Resident

    Location:
    San Francisco, CA
    Re: An observation about early Japan and W. Germany CDs and perceived sound quality..

    Not sure that perceived sound quality has that much to do with the manufacturing quality of the original disc. In my view what matters most is the digital-to-analog conversion taking place in the circuit of the CD player which reconstructs the original analogue waveform from the PCM information encoded on the compact disc. It's fair to say that it will be much harder for any DAC chip to reconstruct such a waveform from a PCM encoding produced near the theoretical limit of 0dB (which is what today's CD's are), then let's say from a CD with limits at -3dB or -6dB (which is what the encoding on early compact discs was). Have you taken that into account?
     
  11. johnny 99

    johnny 99 Down On Main Street

    Location:
    Toronto
    In the late 80's CD's that were pressed by Polygram in West Germany sounded better than those made here in Canada. John Mellencamp and Dire Straits discs were always superior when made in West Germany. The sound was warmer and punchier. I remember noticing this years ago because most CD's were imports when I started buying them. CD's made by Cinram in the late 80's sometimes did not sound as good as their imported counterparts.
     
  12. markl

    markl Forum Resident Thread Starter

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    cyberspace
    The efficacy of recording at such low speeds depends highly upon the media you record upon. If recorded upon premium media, then you get premium results.
     
  13. markl

    markl Forum Resident Thread Starter

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  14. Oyama

    Oyama Senior Member

    Location:
    Canada
    Re: An observation about early Japan and W. Germany CDs and perceived sound quality..

    Mark, are you hearing these differences on your headphone system or main rig?
     
  15. markl

    markl Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    cyberspace
    My headphone rig is $8K total. So, please don't consider it a lesser rig.
     
  16. Oyama

    Oyama Senior Member

    Location:
    Canada
    Re: An observation about early Japan and W. Germany CDs and perceived sound quality..

    That's what I thought...Us folks listening on our main system would probably have a hard time telling the difference.?
     
  17. McLover

    McLover Senior Member

    Re: An observation about early Japan and W. Germany CDs and perceived sound quality..

    Hi,

    Also, take into consideration that glass mastering was only done in real-time then. Higher speed glass mastering does add jitter to the manufacture of new discs. Steve Hoffman has always insisted on real time glass mastering. Also, mastering was done flat with minimal adjustments to sonics. I feel like many early West German and Japanese CD pressings were indeed better made.
     
  18. Simon A

    Simon A Arrr!

    Re: An observation about early Japan and W. Germany CDs and perceived sound quality..

    Fantastic thread Markl!

    I see two points here:

    1. A certain type of CD burner using a certain type of CD-R at a slow speed will result in better sounding CDs with more stability and compatibility with most CD players.

    2. CDs are now made by an industry that has lowered its quality standards to the detriment of both quality and buyer's enjoyment of the final product.

    What caught my attention here is the second point.

    The passage I decided to quote brought me to a similay comparaison, which although undeniable, can also bring some to say my example doesn't apply because the media differ.

    Some time ago, people believed that a LP, was a LP, was a LP, but we know now that many variables could be appried, from the quality of the vinyl used, to the pressing plant, to the tapes used to create the matrix. I think that these same variables apply to CDs and DVDs as well. I do not intend to convince anyone, this is simply my opinion.

    I look forward to reading this thread as it evolves and I truly and deeply hope that it will not be shut down because of misbeheavior... ;)
     
  19. Gary

    Gary Nauga Gort! Staff

    Location:
    Toronto
    Re: An observation about early Japan and W. Germany CDs and perceived sound quality..

    Ditto.

    :)
     
  20. bhazen

    bhazen From Mars To Liverpool

    Location:
    Deepest suburbia
    How do they sound better? What qualities are enhanced by making a copy? (He asked in a accusatory way.)

    And, if what you say is true, how can I, an owner of a 3-year-old (or so) iBook G4 with iTunes and integral drive that also burns, achieve this result?*
    :D

    cheers,
    Bruce

    *I've been burning CDs at whatever default rate iTunes wants to do 'em - 8x, 12x, who knowsx. will I get a better result just burning 'em 1x or 2x?
     
  21. ec461

    ec461 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Somewhere
    Of course, if you buy a Squeezebox (or a Transporter if you have cash to blow) and a good external DAC, there will be no "good" or "bad" CDs. I have never had problems ripping a new CD with EAC. It may take longer to rip than the older Japanese and WG CDs that you're talking about, but if EAC reports no errors, the rip will be equally good.

    Also, there is a critical flaw in your argument, which I'm pointing out in my next post.
     
  22. ec461

    ec461 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Somewhere
    I'm assuming you're not doing on-the-fly copies. If you are, then my argument is void (and you probably shouldn't do on-the-fly copies anyway if you care about sound quality).

    Once you have the data on your hard drive (after ripping with EAC), the quality of the original factory pressed disc has nothing to do with the burning process. It is your drive and EAC which are producing these errors that you talk about. The original CDs simply cannot be responsible for these errors. You're simply burning a PCM Wave file with 1s and 0s. EAC does not care where these 1s and 0s came from. But from your post it seems you're saying that if you had a CD pressed in Japan/WG in the 80s and you had a bit-identical CD pressed today, the Japan/WG CD-R would produce less errors (PIO & C2) when burnt to disc. Frankly, that is total hogwash. If you think about it, once EAC rips them both to the hard disc, they will be bit-identical (I don't think the quality of modern CDs has deteriorated to such an extent that error-free rips can't be made).

    That being said, you may be right that new CDs don't sound as good as bit-identical 80s WG & Japan CDs when played back on an optical media transport (as opposed to something like a squeezebox) because of jitter . It may also take longer to rip the new CDs to your hard drive because of cheap pressing practices, BUT to reiterate, the quality of new CDs simply cannot be responsible for the quality of burns you get when you make a CD-R.
     
  23. ec461

    ec461 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Somewhere
    Re: An observation about early Japan and W. Germany CDs and perceived sound quality..

    I think jitter is mainly an issue with real-time playback of CDs. I don't think EAC will produce a different rip from two bit-identical CDs because of the glass mastering process or jitter.
     
  24. ec461

    ec461 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Somewhere
    Re: An observation about early Japan and W. Germany CDs and perceived sound quality..

    No offense meant, but the cost of your headphone rig doesn't tell us anything about its quality.
     
  25. tps

    tps Forum Resident

    Location:
    Philadelphia, PA
    Back in the early days of CDs, I think the disc plating was a key concern. I used to visually inspect discs by holding them up to a strong light and looking for pinholes in the plating. Certain manufacturing plants almost always produced discs with plating pinholes. I returned more than one disc that had multiple pinholes in the recorded area of the disc.

    I had a chance to visit Sony DADC in Terre Haute IN a few times to master albums for local bands. In the early days, DADC had a machine that would take the spindles of finished discs and check the error count (reading at high speed) of each disc, placing them on either an OK spindle or a reject spindle. The OK spindles went to the packaging machines. In all my CDs, I've never seen a DADC disc with plating pinholes in the recorded area.

    Seems to me that by the early 1990's, all the plants that had pinhole problems had gotten them under control. It would be interesting to see what my Plextor/EAC combo would do with pinholes. I've never had a problem reading a new disc. Only rarely have I had a problem with a used disc.
     
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