Monday, June 1, 2009

Can You Download Sound Quality?

By: Sherry Rashad

Despite of the issue of copyright infringement dogging it since its inception, the concept really has credible green / environmentally friendly credentials because no physical media is transported - often thousands of miles - between point A and point B which generates a somewhat sizable carbon footprint. As the digital download music via the Internet – formerly the magic bullet of music piracy - evolved into a legitimate arm of the embattled music industry. Professional musicians of the mainstream pop / rock persuasion can finally reclaim their bread and butter that was once stolen from them by illegal peer-to-peer sharing of copyrighted media sites like NAPSTER.

But when it comes to sound quality, I’m sorry to say that the digital downloadable music industry has left me wanting for a better alternative - sound quality wise. Having the good fortune of acquiring notable Joni Mitchell and Steely Dan vinyl LPs – touted as the exemplars of sound quality when it comes to 1970’s studio recordings – it seems that their downloaded incarnations are nothing more than a digitized pale shadow versions of these recordings. My 500 US dollar i-Pod – bought out of curiosity – can never match the vinyl-like levels of sound quality that my 100 US dollar MSRP Pioneer universal player being used as a CD transport for my trusty-but-rusty Audio Alchemy DAC – never mind my second-hand Rega Planar 3 bought in the 1990s.

Music piracy and illegal digital music filesharing on the Internet never would have became the best thing since free money if the music industry teamed up with the hi-fi industry in promoting sound quality awareness to the general public. Remember that it is easier to control sound quality from the production side of things – i.e. the music industry’s own CD, DVD Audio / Video and SACD pressing plants. I mean when does a petty music pirates ever concerned themselves with sound quality? When we entered the new millennium almost a decade ago, the introduction of high-resolution digital music formats that promised true better-than-vinyl-LP sound quality became stillborn in terms of sales. Basing on the current state of the music industry, I think sound quality – to them – is something that belongs in the past. Like those garish BORON gasoline adverts from the 1960’s.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

CD to Cassette Tape Recording: Better Sound Quality?

By: Sherry Rashad

Back in the good old days of the mid 1980’s when CD sound quality is not yet as developed as today’s despite the multi-million dollar advertising campaign of “perfect sound forever”. Transferring or recording the music from your CDs to cassette tape was probably the cheapest way to improve your CD player’s sound quality – i.e. making it sound analog like Mother Nature intended it to be. My first CD player – bought second hand back in 1986 from a local garage sale, is a far cry compared to my present set up. Consisting of a Pioneer universal CD, DVD, SACD player hooked up to a mid-1990’s Audio Alchemy DAC to make my CD collection sound like LPs. Yet that first generation Philips CD player really offered me the opportunity on hands-on analogue recording.

Domestic / consumer-level digital music playback technology back then really is at it’s infancy. Entry-level CD sound circa 1984 is not exactly easy on the ears, especially for an amateur musician who cares about sound quality. If you find today’s MP-3 based digital music downloads good enough, you could be in heaven back then. But coaxing the CD to cassette recording to sound excellent is no easy feat.

Test cassettes are a necessity to “tune” your tape deck. One of the cheapest ones back then is the Harrison Test Cassette – if you consider 40 US dollars circa 1987 cheap. This particular test tape has Dolby level plus various other tests. But I was fortunate enough to acquire an excellent condition second hand BASF IEC test tape, which even today, is considered the “Holy Grail” of cassette test tapes. Given that this is an IEC Primary Reference Standard test tape, it costs about 150 US dollars each brand new back in 1987. Even back then, good old analogue sound is not cheap.

Even today, I still use my trusty 1980 era metal cassette tape capable Sony Walkman as a primary portable music system. I never grew accustomed – let alone fell in love - to the current sound quality of pricey i-Pods. Especially in my place that despite adverts of downloadable high resolution digital music now available, our local authorized i-pod dealer only has the Red Book 16 bit 44.1 kHz. CD standard as their highest quality music download available. I mean why pay 300 to 400 US dollars on an i-pod that for all intents and purposes sounds like a cheap 100 US dollar CD player circa 1986? Maybe I’ll just transfer the music on my i-pod – bought primarily for accessory / cosmetic jewelry purposes and data storage purposes - to cassette just to make the music sound better. Have the guys / CEOs / purveyors of music downloads ever listen to music recorded on a large open reel analog tape or a live band for that matter?