Updates on audio-related things in progress…

  1. The long-running archiving project has hit a significant milestone – I’ve now digitised as much of the physical media as I can. Limits are set now by condition of the incoming media, and whether or not it’s really worth digitising 4 or more decaying copies of the same thing when we already have better copies of the same thing elsewhere.  The only reel (!) exception is a set of reels for a particular project whose magnetic layer fell off as soon as the reels were unpacked.  No way is that worth spending money to preserve further given the age, obscurity and potential value of the content, not least the hardware value to retrieve it once the media itself has been restored.  Shame, but commercial sense has to come into it somewhere along the line.
  2. Now have a DIY automated process for holding an in-DAW mix (working in REAPER) at -23dBLUFS or thereabouts, which greatly simplifies things for radio and podcast production.  Even if I only use it for monitoring or other less critical work, it’s an amazing time-saving tool.
    • Obviously this means it can be adapted for -16dBLUFS or any other value as needed.
    • It’s *really* not pretty  for a number of reasons – most bothersome to me is that it presently works in stepped values, somewhere around 10 updates per second – rather than more smoothly applying gain or attenuation.
    • For high-end stuff, I’m still happy to do final levelling by hand as it does tend to sound better, but that does add time to any given project.

Lossless audio compression for project work and archive – what do you use and why?

I’ve been using lossless audio compression as a matter of course in my audio workflow for a while, and not just for end-distribution.  Services like Bandcamp and Soundcloud support uploading in FLAC format, and many clients happily accept ALAC (Apple Lossless) or FLAC in place of traditional uncompressed WAV or AIFF formats.

As for long-term storage and archiving, I’ve switched to FLAC for my projects, and have back-converted most of my catalogue.  But why FLAC?

Pros:

  • The reduction in network bandwidth and storage requirements is always nice.
  • It brings the possibility of checking the project audio files for errors via the FLAC checkum (applied at the time of creation) against how the file decompresses in present-day.
    • This can show up problems with “bit-rot” on disk storage that would otherwise remain hidden.  It’s a useful alternative to deploying ZFS-based file systems and keeps storage and network kit at an affordable “prosumer” level while such technologies mature a little longer, and hopefully come down in cost too.
    • If I find a problem file? Fine – restore from a good backup.  But that does rely of course on having good backups, and the corruption not being carried into those!
  • It’s an established format that many, many software applications can read, across a wide variety of operating systems – and given the number of websites springing up offering “audiophile” digital transfers of consumer audio material based upon the format, I have good confidence that software to read and write to the format will continue to be developed for some years ahead.  And if not, it’s still easy enough to batch-convert files to whatever format replaces it.

Cons (none unique to FLAC, I notice):

  • Reaper is my DAW of choice, and exporting large projects out to FLAC is time-consuming as it still doesn’t multithread FLAC exports for projects.
  • While Reaper *does* support (in version 5.111, at last check) recording directly to FLAC and other formats, recording to anything other than WAV or AIFF on my systems has consistently thrown up audible glitches in the recorded material. With some sample-accurate editing these can be fixed, but still not acceptable.
    • What I do therefore is to record to WAV/AIFF first, then save the project to FLAC before any significant mix down happens.
  • Not every DAW supports FLAC natively, or at all.  But then, for me this is a moot point – not every DAW can read project files from every other DAW, so this is just a part of that wider picture.  You pick your tool for the job and deal with the consequences.
  • Conversion takes time, especially offline for large projects.

So  – that’s a quick brain-dump of how I’m working with this stuff and why. I’ve missed steps and I’m sure others will be quick to pick holes in it.

I suppose my question to anyone else reading this with sufficient interest is… What is everyone else doing? What file format would you pick, and why?