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Monday, 08 August 2011

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Now, lemme see. Can we harness this beast to rid me of my tinitus?

I can't help but wonder what portion of your album collection could have been purchased as professionally digitized lossless AACs, FLACs, or even CDs.

The current resurgence of demand for vinyl would have likely gone far to offset the cost.

I had a scratch on a recording of Elton John's Rocket Man whose pops were in perfect time to the music. It didn't sound like a scratch, more like a drum beat. The first time I heard the song at a friend's place, I was shocked not to hear that beat. To this day, I think that the clean version sounds wrong.

Robert,
That's funny. I have an unpedigreed theory about "disguised errors." To my mind an obvious typo in the magazine was not as bad as a hidden one. That is, if "this" is written "thiss," readers know instantly it's a typo and they know what it was supposed to be. But if "sulfite" is written "sulfate" it can be misleading and misinforming, so it's a worse type of error. I'm not even quite sure which category your "tick with the beat" falls into!

Mike

As a more front-end solution to pops and clicks on vinyl, there is always the 1980's era KLH Transient Noise Eliminator. I sold mine 20 years ago, but remember it being a gawdsend on used records.

I don't know what they would go for now, but there's one on ebay for something like $80. For any vinyl aficionado, it's a must have.

Just as a point of information, I'm a little fuzzy as to what your final hardware solution was. Part II of the article seems to focus on the postproduction issues.

Also in the comments to part I, I didn't get the used record store beef at all. Is there some subtlety that voids the used book or even used work of art analogy? As in I bought the book I'm free to sell it, and the new owner is free to sell it too. I know there are folks who believe artists should retain rights to subsequent sales, but at this point in time we don't.

Dear Robert,

I had one of those. Only reason I figured out it was a record defect was because it faded out at a musically-inappropriate point.

Now I'm envisioning musicians who intentionally set a beat at 33.3 cycles per minute, just so that record flaws won't be as obvious.

~~~~~~

Dear Vadim,

I think all that information was scattered throughout the last column, but it wasn't collected in one place, so it's a good question.

1st off, only about half my albums are available in CD/digital form. So only half the problem would be solved.

2nd, the cost offset isn't as substantial as you would think. Some vinyl sells for a lot of money. Most doesn't. Much isn't really sellable at all (stuff that was produced in very large quantities when the artist was at their peak of popularity). Also, unless you already have a zero-effort channel set up for selling such merchandise, you will be selling it through a vendor who is set up to deal in the stuff, like the used record store, and so you'll get $.50 on the dollar or less.

Net result is that I averaged a little less than a dollar per album. That's not a large percentage of cost of a CD or high-quality digital download.

Today, I might still have gone that route for the half of the albums I could purchase digitally; I have less free time and more discretionary income. 3 years ago, I had a lot more time and less money… And I did think it would only be a one-year project (which it would have been if I had known about Audition back then).


pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
======================================
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com
======================================

"tick with the beat"

Sounds like a bloodsucking drummer.

Dear Mike,

I think it's more in the vein of "chaise longue." The common misspelling ("lounge') slips in so well that likely the majority of readers and speakers of English don't even realize it.

pax / Ctein

Many of us have large collections of vinyl records and tapes that need cleaning up like this, but the effort and software investment are redundant after someone has already done the hard work. The cleaned files should be made available for free or low cost over the Internet. If the RIAA complains, we can prove we own the original recordings. And many old recordings are out of print, so buying a new digital copy is not an option. Why duplicate the effort?

Ctein,
Yeah, that's a good analogy.

Mike

This might OT on an OT, but I could use some help on a similar audio archiving issue from Ctein and Mike and the rest of your readers.

I have a lot of mono reel to reel tape recordings of spoken lectures by a dear friend of mine who passed away some years ago. (Perhaps 300 double sided 7 inch reels.)

I listened to one the other day and it was still audible, but showed some deterioration of sound quality. At some points the lecture was hard to understand because of tape noise, background noise from the original recording and mike distortion.

(The reel to reel tape deck is old but of very good quality and I listened via "RCA Plugs" connected to a modern stereo system)

I want to preserve the lectures from any further deterioration by turning them into electronic audio files that can be stored on a hard disk and replicated via CD.

It would also be nice, if possible, to transcribe the resultant files via voice to text software if such is within the realm of do-able these days. (Can't do voice training with the software because the original individual is no longer around...)

I am running Apple gear through-out and very occasionally windows software on the mac via VM Fusionware. Suspect that Mac Based software is probably the best option.

Any thoughts how this might be best done, keeping in mind that I don't have the budget for Big$ software.

Any help much appreciated

Dear Dennis,

The final “hardware solution” was a Akai AP-D210 direct drive turntable with a Ortofon OMB 10 cartridge and a no-name phono preamp going into a Personus Inspire 1394 A-D converter connected via FireWire 400 to a MacBook Pro. Sampling rate was 48 kHz at 24 bits per sample.

IP law and practice are somewhat different from music than for books or visual artwork. Therefore it is not possible to draw a good analogies between them unless one is extremely familiar with music IP law. I am not. That's why I never make musical/photo analogies when discussing copyright and other IP issues. They don't always work the same.

~~~~~~

Dear Tom,

Oh, bad idea, REALLY bad idea. This is one point on which copyright law is pretty consistent: buying a single instance of a work in no way licenses you to redistribute copies of it in a broad or unlimited fashion. No way, no how. Your ownership of the original recording is irrelevant.

And in case you're thinking this might be a loophole, cleaning up the recording does not create a new work. That is entirely a derivative work. You own your work product that you put into doing the cleanup, but unless you can figure out some way to distribute that without it being attached to the original recording, you're out of luck.

Really, don't even think about trying this one. If me selling my albums was illegal, it was illegal like going 3 miles over the speed limit on the highway is illegal -- a common practice that the Highway Patrol largely ignores because it doesn't especially endanger or damage anyone. In contrast, what you're proposing is like going 50 miles over the speed limit. if you get noticed, you will not be ignored.


pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
======================================
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 
======================================

The UK has a little known law that records can be exchanged for CDs at a discount. No idea if this law is still on the books and the music companies are hardly queuing up to advertise it but it's an option. (Me wondering if there's a class action lawsuit that can be brought over this.)

I can't find the actual quote so be patient with me here but when the Beatles catalog came out on CD George Harrison was quoted as saying that he missed the surface noise and clicks on his favorite albums.

re: Transcribing Lectures.

It should be possible to do the voice training, do the voice training yourself, making a list of required phrases.

Digitize several tapes, find the required phrases, cut and paste them into a file and use the file to train the speech to text program.

-Hudson

For removing clicks from vinyl transfers I can wholeheartedly recommend http://www.clickrepair.net/

Its produced by an indie software developer; the user interface is not the best in the world, but it does a very good job of removing clicks and nothing else. I trialled numerous plugins and filters before settling on it.

I'm not affiliated with the developer in any way, just a happy user.

Mike,
Neil Young was anti-digital for a long time too. He is on record several times saying he thought albums sounded better. Of course specific arguments have been refuted all over the place. And Neil has obviously had to go with the flow.

My own feeling is that the sound of vinyl albums can run from a D- to an A+, while the spectrum of CD sound is approximately from C to B+. When people say "CDs sound better," they're right--but that's because the best they could ever achieve with vinyl was a "C" and their CDs rate a "B" without any particular effort or expertise on their part. I don't think the sample rates are high enough with Redbook CDs--SACD and DVD-A sound obviously better, even on old and non-optimized recordings. The big mysteries to me are that a) the hi-fi magazines, instead of advocating for higher-res digital audio, either reverted to vinylphilia or threw up their hands, failing to get behind the existing hi-res formats in a meaningful way, and b) that high-res downloads have not taken hold yet.

The obvious solution to the "source material" problem is to have high-res downloads available for, say, $3 a cut and $25 an album, for those who want them, from the major players. This is starting to gain some traction on some small specialty sites, but in the same desultory, unenthusiastic, backwater way that was eventually the undoing of SACD. (At one point I managed to convince myself that Apple was readying hi-Q downloads to be introduced on some special occasion such as when it finally got hold of the Beatles catalog, but that was obviously just wishful thinking.)

In the meantime, it's one of many factors helping to strangle high-end audio as a technical pursuit and as a hobby. You just can't throw enough money at "home audio" to make a CD sound better than a strong B+. Its limited quality is inherent to the medium.

The other thing that's killing high-end audio is that record companies no longer make enough money on specific records to justify recording them well. The "just good enough" mentality saturates the industry. Again, there are a few small specialists taking fastidious care with their recordings, and that just serves to let us know what we're missing.

It's a sad situation, and one which I'm afraid could find an analogy in the camera industry one day.

Mike

Ctein,
Forgive me if I missed it, but how did you handle track splitting? Did you use Audition to do this after the processing? Also curious how you did MP3/ITunes tagging.

Jim

Dear Jim,

Haven't gotten that far. It was my original plan to split and label tracks and rip everything for putting on a portable music device (3 years ago I was planning on buying an iPod, but now I have an iPad).

I think that plan has fallen by the wayside. At this point, I'm happy enough just having all the albums as flacs on a hard drive. When I want to listen to one, I open it up in Audacity or Audition. Takes a couple of minutes to load the file, probably about the same amount of time I would've spent dealing with a vinyl record.

I just play the album like I would have if it were a record, because that's what I'm used to. There's a modest advantage over vinyl in that if there is a song I really don't like I can easily skip over it and if there's one I'm especially enamored of at the moment I can highlight it and stick it on loop until I'm sick of listening to it.

I'm not at a loss for traveling music; I own over 10 GB of files -- nearly 120 hours of music, 2000 cuts –– that are in my iTunes library and had been ported over to my iPad. Yes, most of them are somewhere between mediocre and crappy MP3s, but I only listen to “portable” music when I'm in my car or on an airplane. Issues of high fidelity are considerably less important.

At some point I might decide to pull my most favorite track or two off of each album, rip them and compile a “best of” catalog for traveling music. That's a ways off.

Closely related question, which hasn't been asked: cataloging. I ended up going with Delicious Library, because it would both import and export text and database files I could use with other programs. Having gone to all the trouble of entering the album data, most of which had to be done manually, I didn't want it locked into a proprietary program. Delicious Library also had the nice feature of being able to scan barcodes; about 20% of my albums were late enough issue to have those, which saved me that much data entry.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
======================================
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 
======================================

Over the last few months I've been digitising a small collection of much-valued 1980s Latin American music (Victor Jara, Mercedes Sosa, Isabel and Angel Parra...) which I bought on cassette when I lived in Ecudaor in the 1980s. The aim is not so much to achieve perfect versions of these songs - which could probably be bought on CD - but to preserve the spirit of my cassettes before they disintegrate physically. I used a programme called Total Recorder; this has an audio restoration add-in which to my inexpert ears seems to have done a reasonable job - it certainly offers an impressive number of options, which I mostly left in their default settings. When I listen to the digitised versions in the car I feel as if my cassettes have been reborn - the sound quality is still quite distinctive, perhaps because the tapes stretched, but the irritating cassette hiss has mostly been removed. Total Recorder was able to split the tracks fairly consistently, which greatly speeds up the process. It also handles the mp3 tagging, although of course the song names have to be entered manually.

It'd only work for the vinyl, but why not ust buy a good record cleaning machine for $650, clean up your collection, and resell the machine for $400?

Dear Thomas,

A good recommendation for someone embarking on this.

I didn't have $650 to spare when I started this, so I hand-washed each and every record just before playing it. Then I used when of those lovely groove-penetrating brushes on each side when the platter was on the turntable. Made a huge difference.

Still amazing how much crap gets through.

pax / Ctein

There's a reasonably priced program called click repair that you can download over the internet. The author has a 21 day trial period that you can test it with. I've taken old records which I couldn't stand to listen to, and created quite listenable cds. But I will say that I haven't tried the noise reduction in audition.

Best of luck

Mike: your post above here in the comments is a fantastic summation of what music lovers face today regarding hi res vs. everything else.

One huge caveat regarding hi res downloads such as from hdtracks.com --- they are still beholden to the labels for content, of course, and what's supplied is often just as dynamically compressed as modern CDs are. It's a malaise that says, "whatever we distribute, be it new or reissued titles, must represent what we feel is best today." They are part of the problem, helping to make shity sound a self-fulling prophesy.

Ctein ---

Why WAV? AIFF is an industry-recognized format that was specifically made for audio.

If using iTunes, why not Apple Lossless? It's bit-for-bit identical to AIFF or WAV while smaller like FLAC, and if necessary can later be easily converted to one of them or say, FLAC by any number of applications, some of the best of which are free (XLD, xACT) should iTunes ever become discontinued. I use XLD every day to convert FLACs online to ALAC for iTunes and it automatically can import into iTunes.

Speaking of "proprietary formats" (which again, Apple Lossless isn't in a practical sense, and actually it's just a flavor of MP4 ...) how about Delicious Library? Storing metadata in a small developer's application doesn't impose its own risks?

Dear David,

WAV is just the intermediate format I'm using that is cross-application (my apps, yours may differ) compatible. It gets discarded when I'm done. Any lossless format would do for this-- WAV is just as good as any other.

iTunes isn't part of the workflow.

FLAC is an open standard that I can have confidence will be supported into the indefinite future (well, until every UNIX geek on the planet dies).

You might want to reread the paragraph on Delicious Library. You missed a key point.

pax / Ctein

Ctein, you made a point of asserting that iTunes is somehow more proprietary than Delicious Library for the purposes of storing metadata, which isn't the case. I understand the other two things you like about Delicious Library, but my response wasn't about them.

You play music on an iPad. Forgive me if I misunderstood you to therefore store music in iTunes for transferring to the iPad and that some of that might be the vinyl you've ripped.

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