This week I’ve been playing with our recently acquired Revox B77 1/4″ recorder. It’s a stereo half-track model, and I use it at 7ips. Currently I’m not sure what actual tape I’m recording to, as it’s a 20ish-minute offcut from a reel that was found to be blank at the end of a transcription job. The two tracks presented here represent two very different production methods now open to me.
“Changes Afoot” was sent track-by-track to tape, from DAW, and back again, to produce a digitally mixed master. A couple of those tracks were recorded particularly “hot” to bring out more tape character. No noise reduction was used at all. Signal-to-noise on any single tape recording in this setup was was found to be around 60dB.
“Innocence 2010” started as a digital stereo pre-master that I was never fully happy with, which was sent to tape via a skunkworks noise reduction system I’m working on behind the scenes; the system is not yet complete, but has enough processing built to give a useful 10dB gain in signal-to-noise ratio without any significant audible artefacts, as borne out by the 69-70dB signal-to-noise ratio found in this setup even after peak-limiting.
I suspect the signal-to-noise ratio is limited by noisy pre-amps on my DAW setup; I’ll need to swap to a different audio interface to confirm. That’s something to play with another day. Overall I’m VERY impressed with the overall sound quality this kit is able to deliver, and the range of analogue “colours” it can provide. I’m really looking forward to finishing the skunkworks noise reduction project; I have my eyes set on somewhere near 24dB noise reduction once it’s fully up and running. But it’s good to prove that I can both encode and decode on-the-fly!
While I’m not planning to let go of physical media anytime soon – not least the vinyl collection, I’m becoming a huge fan of Google Play, and its ability to play music “uploaded and matched” from my own collection. Real bonuses for me are that this happens for no extra cost to my Google Apps domain, and it seems to work well wherever I have a reliable ‘net connection. The quality when listening via headphones and Google Chrome on a laptop is surprisingly good considering they’re MP3’s – possibly transparent enough to pass a proper ABX test between them and the original uncompressed digital stream on CD.
But something is different, and something is missing… quite a lot of things are missing actually.
Where’s the song information?
Geeks might call this “metadata”. The information about the making and content of the recording is as useful to me as the actual content itself. I like knowing things like, who wrote the song I’m listening to. I might want to check the lyrics. I might also want to know whether I’m listening to a particular remaster or reissue. While the content and artwork are there on Google Play, I’ve got absolutely no idea at first glance which exact version or release of a song I’m listening to.
At present, I know who the release artist is for a song as it plays, and from which album. I can even see the album artwork for the majority of my collection, as well as a release year. What I don’t know without doing a *lot* more digging is whether the particular copy of “Bohemian Rhapsody” I’m listening to is from a 1990’s remaster, or the more recent (2011?) remasters? I’m not ordinarily such a geek – a great song is a great song whatever the media it’s carried on. But it’s good to know nonetheless. Especially if I happen to like the work of a particular mix/master engineer, or if I purchased a particular CD release of an album due to a known heritage, which has been matched to another version which sounds particularly different.
I think it would be really nice if digital streaming/shop purveyors could actually provide the full information of the songs they’re sending us. There are more involved in most major releases than just the artists, and it’s only right that they get the credit, even if the information shows no significant other commercial purpose.
What even made me think of this?
Listening to the current version of Queen’s “A Kind of Magic” up on Google Play, I’m noticing a lot more musical and tonal detail in the recordings than I remember from my own CD copies. This is an album I’ve known for the whole of my musical life, and I therefore have some very strong memories of it, and can recall absurd amounts of detail regarding both musical arrangements and sonic character and how they were reproduced differently in each of the releases I’ve owned copies of. Since I’m hearing so many new things despite listening on familiar equipment, I’d like to understand where they come from. Since I like the differences, I’d like to know if they are due to a particular engineer’s approach to remastering, and whether I can find more by the same engineer. Or whether I can learn something about the engineering approach that led to the result I liked so much.
On the one hand the freedom offered by always-on streaming access like this is wonderful – but on the other it comes with a lot of compromises, and with a lot of things “hidden” from view that I feel really should be open to us all…