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montag

Why do digital recordings suck?

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I have seen that a lot of you here seem to have knowledge of modern technology that I lack, so could someone please explain to me why digital recordings can't have the depth and warmth of my old beloved vinyl records and tube amps? (I ask this while listening to Pink Floyd Meddle) I guess that at some point in the past it was too data intensive to convert analog completely to digital, is this still true? Couldn't digital recordings equal the quality of analog recordings at this point in time? Crap, I'm not sure this question will even make sense, unless you have ever experienced true analog music you may not even understand the difference. Just trust me, you youngsters have never really been able to really experience music. The difference is beyond night and day. For any of you old timers, my last system was a (long gone) Sota turntable and a NAD amp.

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I'm not a audio expert, but I think many humans don't like perfect working things. Maybe, because they prefer other people with small quirks

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IMO it depends on a lot of factors. Actually, it was during the "radio days" in the 90s when dynamics of recordings was completely destroyed by loudness wars. We're mostly past that, although there are still bands who get their material mixed like that, and even like it that way (see latest Metallica album). I'm 36 and know how the analog stuff sounded like. I have no problem with listening to digital recordings, although I do that with pretty good headphones (AudioTechnica), which have excellent separation and very neutral sound, which appeals to me most (I hate bumped up highs and lows).

 

Obviously, a lot of depends on final quality of the mix. You can hear that especially with indie artists. I have this one vocalist I love, but it's obvious she mixes her stuff herself, on a laptop and Beats headphones at best. Her music is fine when you listen it on a phone, with generic in-ear headphones, but it completely falls apart, when you put a good pair of studio monitors. If mastering is good, you will hear a lot of subtle and interesting things going on, in comparison to generic headphones/speakers.

Edited by Judith

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Digital cleans up the low range and high range sounds that go over/below a preset level, there's also a filter pass that removes the background noises. digital is also a bunch of 0's and 1's, while valve amps and vinyl goes beyond what can be defined by just 1's and 0's.

 

its like a circle, analogue will see the circle as a curve, while digital sees the circle as a jagged line.

Edited by stumpy

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Digital cleans up the low range and high range sounds that go over/below a preset level, there's also a filter pass that removes the background noises. digital is also a bunch of 0's and 1's, while valve amps and vinyl goes beyond what can be defined by just 1's and 0's.

 

its like a circle, analogue will see the circle as a curve, while digital sees the circle as a jagged line.

 

That is a false generalization. It very much depends on the way you encode/compress the audio. And even then, lossy codecs are made to take away from the frequncy spectrum we are not able to hear anyway, so, there won't be much of a degradation when using those either.

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So, If read all this right, it would technically be possible to reproduce the "sound" of a vinyl record digitally? It is just a matter of jamming more info into the media? I guess that in the early days of compact discs that would mean that each disc might only be able to hold part of a song. How many TBs would an average album require? 2-3 might suggest that there may be some chance of what I am hoping for.(digital that sounds the same as vinyl) But I'm guessing we would be talking 100's of TB. Oh well, I can dream anyway. Thanks guys!

Edited by montag

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A good start would be to point out what you'd expect to be on a vinyl, which is so sorely missing in the digitized copy. Or, a digitized version of the same recording, without the hiss, noise, hum, and what other artifact will be permanently present on the analog medium. Typically, a digital audio recording will have a sample rate of 44.1 kHz, meaning that audio signals up to a frequency of 22 kHz will be captured. Which means that the whole frequency spectrum a human being is able to hear will be captured. Actually, a human being meaning in this case a young child with perfect hearing, which will (or, let's rather say... might) hear frequencies up to 20 kHz. Again, with perfect hearing. I am almost 40 now, which means that my threshold of hearing will probably rather be 10 to 15 kHz.

 

I know that vinyl enthusiasts often argue that there's so much audio content audible in vinyl recording. Well... again... a typical digitized audio recording sampled at 44.1 kHz will offer a frequency content up to 22 kHz. So, unless you have bats or dogs as ancestors, you simply won't be able to make use of that frequency content vinyl, or analog media is offering. You will definitely hear the noise, hiss, pops, hums and clicks though.

 

And, if your question is whether you can get more frequency content, and a higher bitrate for a higher information rate, yes, of course, and, it will bring up the file size (even though surely not TB's, let alone 100's of TB's). But, what would be the point of that? As i pointed out, there's enough information in the standard sample, and bit rate, and the peeps who decided it is, and the peeps who developed lossy or lossless audio codecs surely know what they're doing too. I read something about MP3 recently, and, in tests, about 95% of the people doing an A/B test with 128 kb/s MP3 and uncompressed audio weren't able to hear the difference, and most of the people who did actually suffered from some kind of hearing damage, which prevented them to hear certain frequencies, which masked the degradation of other frequences, hence those people were especially able to hear a difference, because the psychoacoustic elements in the MP3 encoding were simply non-existant for them. But, it is definitely a very sophisticated technique. And, frankly, i'm frequenting some audio forums, because i'm messing with software synthesizers, and all that, and, many people there, who think that they hear certatin things frankly hear sh**. It is a very, very subjective thing, and, people are easily fooled, when it comes to hearing.

Edited by chakkman

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I know that vinyl enthusiasts often argue that there's so much audio content audible in vinyl recording.

I have to admit that I know next to nothing about how much content is contained in a vinyl recording, but I would have to characterize it as "all" of the audio content. (and pops and hisses don't happen if you treat your records right) There lies the problem I have with digital. (not that big deal to me, understand, I am just curious about why digital can't reproduce analog) There is a noticeable difference between the two, that I believe anyone could hear. Again, I have to fall back on vague terms like "depth" and "warmth" and even "presence" to try to describe these differences. Digital sounds "cold", "stark", and "tinny". I'm 52 now, and spent a good deal of my life building engines and also running heavy equipment, so my high frequency hearing is also likely impaired. My disappointment with digital is not with the frequency range, but with less easy to quantify issues. Many years ago (more than I care to remember!), I, and a few audiophile friends ran a little experiment. We set up two systems with the exact same tube amps, preamps, and speakers. One system had my turntable (a mid-range Sota, widely recognized as one of the best turntables), the other used a Nakamichi CD player (DVD's did not exist at this date). We played albums that we owned on both formats (Fleetwood Mac "Bare Trees", Talking Heads "Remain in Light", and some King Crimson were featured, I just checked with a couple of the people who where present for the experiment), and the consensus was 100% vinyl crushed CD. I guess it's one of those "you have to be there" kind of things. I have to further reveal my ignorance on the topic by asking are modern recordings mastered on digital, or analog? At any rate, I do enjoy hearing from you all, and appreciate your input and knowledge more than I can express!

 

BTW: I apologize for the thread title, I'm not sure why I used such harsh language, I blame the bad influence of ttlg!

Edited by montag

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Might I also include the war on volume for this debate?

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loudness_war

 

Sorta speaks for itself but it's a very sad, very true facet of listener life now.

 

Loudness war is over for quite some time now, if only for the health reasons: research showed that aggressively normalized recordings have destructive impact on hearing, especially with children and in-ear headphones users. Broadcasting commissions all over the world adopted perceptible loudness normalization standards (as opposed to RMS normalization). I think it's -24 LUFS in USA and -23 LUFS for Europe. Recommended value for Internet programming is around -16 LUFS. Everybody has to use it now, at least every legal TV or radio station.

 

If anyone still uses RMS normalized recordings consciously, maybe they're just deaf, like Metallica. Besides, such recordings will get squashed by radio limiters anyway, because they use loudness normalizing algorithms.

Edited by Judith

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In a perfect world, digital sounds 100% the same as analog/vinyl. However, that is like physicists assuming vaccuum conditions and a pointmass. On the one hand, analog sound is degraded a bit by more noise and not perfectly linear sound reproduction, which might yield the warmer feeling you describe. On the other hand, digital lossless audio is dependent on the quality of your digital-analog-converter. A perfect DA-converter reproduces the recorded sound signal perfectly. However, in reality this cannot be achieved and many stereos only have comparatively cheap DA-converters1. So, if you do a comparison of two systems, make sure both meet a certain HiFi-standard.

 

But we all forget an important factor in the perception of sound: If you want it to sound better, it does sound better. Your shiny new, awesome looking stereo will always sound better than your boring looking old one. This is not just me saying that, it has been scientifically backed by many researchers. So, my 2 cents for you are: If you think it sounds better, just carry on and enjoy your time, but it's likely other people don't think the same way and cannot be persuaded because they simply want digital to sound better, so it does to them. I for one am one of the latter kind.

 

________________________________________

1 This is also the reason why you should always connect your digital audio sources digitally (e.g. via Toslink) to your receiver, so that the better DA-converter in the receiver can do its magic.

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But we all forget an important factor in the perception of sound: If you want it to sound better, it does sound better. Your shiny new, awesome looking stereo will always sound better than your boring looking old one. This is not just me saying that, it has been scientifically backed by many researchers.

 

Unfortunately, the exact same applies to the people with the massive vinyl record collection in the back, who always thought that digital sounds "cold", "stark" and "tinny". ;) No offense meant. It's just that such terms are a bit meaningless, and subjective, especially as things like the hearing range, in respect to the used sample rate are much more factual, and the "warm" sound of a vinyl recording could be well due to distortion and saturation of the analog medium, and might have never been deliberately added during the production process of the music.

 

And DAC are pretty damn good these days, even in moderate, or low cost devices. I mean, these days, even mid class smartphones have a better sound than an iPod nano from 2007. Spend some more money, and you get real quality. I don't think that is an issue these days really.

Edited by chakkman

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I suspect any perceived differences come from the way audio is mastered. You don't master a CD the same way you do a Vinyl because their capabilities are different.

 

You might try your experiment again with 96khz 24bit FLAC. If it still sounds "bad" then I'm sure you have enough data at that point to run it through an EQ to make it sound "good".

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Unfortunately, the exact same applies to the people with the massive vinyl record collection in the back, who always thought that digital sounds "cold", "stark" and "tinny". ;) No offense meant.

That was exactly my point. If you want something to sound better than something else, it will.

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And DAC are pretty damn good these days, even in moderate, or low cost devices. I mean, these days, even mid class smartphones have a better sound than an iPod nano from 2007.

Good point, and I should say that my days of spending large sums of money on audio equipment are long behind me, my current "stereo system" is an old (16-17 yrs?) Sony cd player running through that same old NAD amp (after 30 years, it refuses to die!) out to an ancient set of polk speakers. In fact, when I started this thread I was listening to mp3-4s audio rips on my pc, obviously not the ideal situation. As STiFU points out my perception may be tainted by my past, I definitely prefer the sound of analog over digital, but my best analog set-up cost me somewhere around $3800, not something I would ever do again. I did embrace digital when it came out, I had a cd player in my car long before it was mainstream. I can't even remember the brand, but it was a cd player only, no receiver involved and pre-amp only. It had a full size din unit in the dash, and another din sized black box that mounted under the seat. Add in an EQ, and amps, it basically filled the interior of the car. In an automotive environment it was great, I loved not having to deal with the degradation of cassettes any longer. rich_is_bored makes a good point also. (yes, I totally screwed-up multiquote!) I will have to do a bit of googling to learn more about 96khz 24bit FLAC, but thanks for the nudge. As for your point about mastering, I'm going to have to admit that it has probably been over a decade since I last bought a newly mastered CD. So as STiFU says in a more polite way, I'm probably talking out of my ass! Thanks for the education and input guys!

 

tl:dr - I'm an old fart who misses the "clunk" of my 8-track player!

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