Interesting read from Dave McNair about why records sound better

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by RickH, Oct 18, 2020.

  1. RickH

    RickH Senior Member Thread Starter

    Raleigh, NC
  2. DigMyGroove

    DigMyGroove Forum Resident

    Thanks for posting this, a very interesting piece indeed, and lots more to read there as well!
    RickH likes this.
  3. CMT

    CMT Forum Resident

    Having read through that, I can't say he answers the question--or maybe I just didn't understand.
    Dennis Metz likes this.
  4. harby

    harby Forum Resident

    Portland, OR, USA
    "In my particular setup, (custom Scully with Westrex cutter head and hybrid tube and solid-state electronics), the lacquer almost always sounds better overall than what I send to it to be cut."

    Distortion, compression, narrowed sound stage. Some people like that.
  5. bhazen

    bhazen Magical Mystery Tourist

    Newcastle, WA
    I really, really appreciate Dave McNair's article.

    Honesty, perceptiveness, expertise and balance. Helps me understand a lot of the arguments and issues (not least because it tells me that my own mode of listening to music is perfectly valid.)

    Amazingly, I don't think I've ever read anything detailing how so many different pieces of gear, software, etc. -- analog and digital -- affect the final sound. And detailing the changes in practice over four decades of producing music for the listener using digital technology.
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2020
    RickH likes this.
  6. jeffmackwood

    jeffmackwood Forum Resident

    Is it just semantics to wonder what the definition of "record" is?

    Is it always vinyl-based?

    Because I look at the Grammys' definition and it does not seem to be limited to a particular type of physical medium.

    Just curious.

    bhazen likes this.
  7. IRG

    IRG Forum Resident

    Ithaca, NY
    in the article being referenced here, yes, it is record vs a digital source. Record being vinyl in this case.
  8. Phil Thien

    Phil Thien Forum Resident

    Milwaukee, WI
    "Also, there’s a little more vivid mid-range with some added air on top. While not as wide sounding as the source (cutter heads and cartridges might have 25db of separation on a good day), there is some kind of intangible sonic mojo that makes imaging quality seem more palpable."

    I've been saying this for a while. The brick-wall separation in digital releases of older analog sources often seems unnatural, compared to the vinyl versions.

    Similar convo here, but it didn't get any traction:

    Crosstalk and Channel Separation - Tapeheads Tape, Audio and Music Forums

    Greetings, all!

    I thought we could get a discussion going about crosstalk and channel separation.

    Some years ago, I purchased Rhapsodies, with Leopold Stokowski conducting (RCA Victor 09026-61503-2), and was very disappointed with the sound: It came across like there were separate recordings coming out of each speaker. There was a hole in the middle; the recording sounded edgy and boxy, like the musicians were locked inside the speakers.** One day, I had what I thought was a brainwave: I ran my CD player into my mixer and gave each of the two channels its own track, then turned the pan pots far left and right respectively. It increased the channel separation, but sounded even more edgy. so I turned the pan pots a bit toward each other, thus decreasing the channel separation but removing the so-called hole-in-the-middle.

    My observation is that, if this had been an LP played with a really decent phono cartridge, the channel separation values would be--What?--around 25 to 35 dB, right? Yet when the original master tapes were transferred to CD, the resulting channel separation is over 100dB.

    My premise, then, is that ONE reason for digital edginess that audiophiles abhor so much must be channel separation.

    For synth music, when you oftentimes NEED a hard, edgy sound, what is supposed to be in the left channel stays there, and likewise for the right. But at a symphony, you don't hear the first violins only with your left ear and the contrabasses only with your right--you hear the whole orchestra with both ears. You're awash with sound. The recording should reflect that listening experience.

    I'm prompted to write this thread because on my Hammond XK3c organ, there is variable crosstalk to correspond to older Hammond organs that had so-called "leakage", that is, the sounds from one drawbar "leaked" into the sounds from another (analogue technology of the 1950s). Older organs had that "warmth" that newer synth organs never had, not because the technology wasn't good enough, but ironically because it was TOO good: No leakage, no crosstalk. Music sounded TOO clean, TOO...well...antiseptic.

    I realize that channel separation isn't the same as crosstalk, of course, but both phenomena involve "leakage" of audio material getting into someplace where it doesn't belong. My point is that crosstalk and low channel separation values aren't necessarily bad things.

    Any thoughts out there?

    **A newer CD player with upsampling solved this problem with higher rez. The recording sounds great with both good channel separation and loss of the hole-in-the-middle, but I still contend that lower channel separation is closer to what the engineers in 1960 and 1961 had to work with, at least with regard to the then-current state-of-the-art technology.​
  9. Dillydipper

    Dillydipper Sultan Of Snark

    Central PA
    Taking the "devil's advocate" position (and frankly, akin to something I've been saying for some years about people who mistake the artifacts of the recording and pressing of analog process - a "soup", if you will, in which the actual sound of the recording floats in when played in the vinyl medium - for the "purity" of the analog sound, because their brains are attuned to these cues, which they are missing in a digital version):

    So, what he's telling us is, apparently there are also artifacts introduced in the cutting process, and adjustments you can make during this process, that can artificially-introduce "pleasing" elements of the overall analog listening experience, which careful listeners mistake for the "purity" of the analog production of an LP. And, once again, none of these he's detailing, happen in the CD production stage, since there is no lathe-cutting process. So again, we don't hear this on CD's. Only the master.

    :idea: And, what he's not telling us is...having isolated and studied the specific adjustments and characters in lacquer production that creates these artificial anomalies in the first place...with the proper engineering talents aware of such effects on subconscious listening...these same overall effects could also be introduced into the mastering process for a CD as well! "Enhancing" the overall effect of experiencing the master, in the same context of all these further artifacts, which are also introduced in LP production, that "fool" a listener into thinking one medium is superior to the other...based on even further artifacts beyond the tics, the pops, the motor rumble, the tape hiss, and any spare electrical hums of magnetic cartridge problems - and, of course, the necessary RIAA curve EQ compromise.

    So; we have a recording expert, who freely admits that the CD can sound astonishingly good, once you get past the earlier equipment that first soured many on the actual medium, rather than its' execution of it; and once you recognize the digital compression of poorly-mastered "loudness-wars"-era engineering as a chief barrier to the actual potential in great digital sound production and not the digital medium itself. Yet, he is still framing his position of his article on the basis of, reasons people find the vinyl medium superior...even as he is detailing the little-discussed "artifacts" and adjustments that are introduced in the cutting process, as reasons people like the sound opposed to the sound of the actual recording!

    People who prefer vinyl have taken umbrage occasionally in the way I defend the CD medium - perhaps because of the attitude in my writing that makes them defensive. But I have always expressed as best I can, an even-handed approach to the whole CD-vs.-LP subject, acquiescing at the very top of my position that, vinyl can lead to a more satisfying experience (but, it's perhaps the following caveats in my argument they don't like); and I'm not posting here to fight that battle once more. They call me a digital purist just on the basis that I don't consider myself a vinyl purist, and they miss the balanced part of my point.

    I'm just amused that, the one thing an engineer has isolated about the better sound of vinyl production, involves another example of yet another artifact, and another added adjustment...both of which could therefore be also replicated into the production of a CD if desired...because apparently, these are things which listeners can confuse with the actual superiority of vinyl play...which could just as well be applied to a CD master as well, to do the same Jedi mind trick. And, his article and position, seems oblivious to that very obvious elephant in the room.
    Stanton56, MC Rag, Drekow and 2 others like this.
  10. bhazen

    bhazen Magical Mystery Tourist

    Newcastle, WA
    I'm with the Grammys, here. Any medium containing a recording, is a "record" (of a sonic, or musical, event.)

    Same thing with albums: whether I'm listening to vinyl, cassette, CD or Spotify, I'm hearing an 'album' (i.e., collection) of a performance of songs.
  11. alpentalic

    alpentalic Active Member

    Good read thanks for posting
    bever70 and RickH like this.
  12. Phil Thien

    Phil Thien Forum Resident

    Milwaukee, WI
    Yeah I agree w/ you. I don't find vinyl superior inasmuch as I find some vinyl releases superior to their CD counterparts.

    Not just because of loudness, but because many of the weaknesses of vinyl are actually strengths. And those same aspects can be easily duplicated in digital (and I think often are with newer material).

    But with few exceptions, my vintage vinyl just sounds better to me than the CD versions thereof.
    gabbleratchet7 and Dillydipper like this.
  13. Dillydipper

    Dillydipper Sultan Of Snark

    Central PA
    And I think you will find that far more prevalent in earlier-produced CD's, and the other mastering mishaps already noted.

    Funny, I never hear anybody complaining about any of Steve's CD masterings, as compared to his same LP releases. :pleased:
    bhazen and Phil Thien like this.
  14. Phil Thien

    Phil Thien Forum Resident

    Milwaukee, WI
    On the first part, I entirely agree. On the second, I don't know if I have any of Steve's CD releases. One of these days I'll have to investigate that.
  15. Dillydipper

    Dillydipper Sultan Of Snark

    Central PA
    In the meantime, you do have all the evidence you could search for right here, on Steve's own site. All of the "breath of life" and complimentary comments you could hope for, with nary a, "yes, but your LP sounds better than your CD from the same master". Funny how that works.
  16. coolhandjjl

    coolhandjjl Embiggened Pompatus

    And that's why I always added 'noise' to my digitally produced photographs to harken back to film grain.
    (I'm a recently retired commercial photographer who navigated from the darkroom to the computer just fine. I began and stuck with Mac's after all :p)
  17. Gaslight

    Gaslight ⎧⚍⎫⚑

    Northeast USA
    Gels with some of my feelings on the topic - not so much that vinyl by its nature sounds better, but that it adds something that we perceive as more warm or analog or whatever. Even from a digital source.

    Also why some of us record our vinyl back to digital and enjoy the music that way.
  18. Whoopycat

    Whoopycat Forum Resident

    Des Moines
    You may be onto something and it dovetails with a random theory I have which is that there may be a certain signal to noise ratio above which the brain starts to interpret as less pleasant to listen to. Or in more layman's terms, people just love their tubes 'n' vinyl. Nelson Pass can hit any distortion figure he wants but he focuses on listening first and if he thinks the sound benefits from a bit of second harmonic (or negative feedback), he uses it.

    Also, I'm sure Dave is not the only mastering engineer to add tape hiss to digital recordings.
    Phil Thien likes this.
  19. bever70

    bever70 It's all about the soundstage

    Nice article, thanks !

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