These Are the Songs a High-End Audio Company Uses to Test Its Speakers

From Leonard Cohen to Eva Cassidy, here’s how the audio experts at Sonus faber ensure the best sound for their line of speakers

(via Rolling Stone} by Tim Chan

WHEN PAOLO TEZZON puts his Sonus faber speakers through the paces at the company’s headquarters in Italy, he has a very specific checklist of things he’s looking for, to make sure they’re sounding their best.

“There are many things I try to address any time I test a loudspeaker system,” Tezzon tells Rolling Stone, on a recent visit to the Vicenza factory where all Sonus faber audio systems are still designed and manufactured today. “First and most importantly, at least to me,” he says, “is the overall ‘tonal balance,’ meaning all the frequencies must be present and well-harmonized.”

“Sonus faber tailors the sound of our creations,” Tezzon explains, “so that our speakers will never sound artificial to human ears, but rather replicates natural sound as best as possible.”

Other things that can affect the way your speakers sound: “transparency,” a.k.a. “a speaker system’s ability to reveal every detail, down to the smallest ones, contained in the recording,” Tezzon says. To wit: during a listening session, Tezzo demonstrates how a speaker should reflect not just the main voice, but every background vocal and harmony too. Listening to a rock or jazz track? A good pair of speakers should let you hear the drum beat down to the distinction between hi-hats and snare…

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24/192 Music Downloads …and why they make no sense


Articles last month revealed that musician Neil Young and Apple’s Steve Jobs discussed offering digital music downloads of ‘uncompromised studio quality’. Much of the press and user commentary was particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of uncompressed 24 bit 192kHz downloads. 24/192 featured prominently in my own conversations with Mr. Young’s group several months ago.
Unfortunately, there is no point to distributing music in 24-bit/192kHz format. Its playback fidelity is slightly inferior to 16/44.1 or 16/48, and it takes up 6 times the space.
There are a few real problems with the audio quality and ‘experience’ of digitally distributed music today. 24/192 solves none of them. While everyone fixates on 24/192 as a magic bullet, we’re not going to see any actual improvement…

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How Can 30-Year-Old Receivers Sound Better than New Ones?


(via C/net)

by Steve Guttenberg

It’s a strange turn of events, but mainstream manufacturers long ago gave up on the idea of selling receivers on the basis of superior sound quality. I’m not claiming today’s receivers sound “bad,” but since almost no one ever listens to a receiver before they buy one, selling sound quality is next to impossible.

Back in the days when brick-and-mortar stores ruled the retail market, audio companies took pride in their engineering skills and designed entire receivers in-house. Right up through the 1980s most of what was “under the hood” was designed and built by the company selling the receiver. That’s no longer true; the majority of today’s gotta-have features–auto-setup, GUI menus, AirPlay, iPod/iPhone/iPad compatibility, home networking, HD Radio, Bluetooth, HDMI switching, digital-to-analog converters, Dolby and DTS surround processors–are sourced and manufactured by other companies. Industry insiders refer to the practice of cramming as many features as possible into the box as “checklist design.” Sure, there are rare glimpses of original thinking going on–Pioneer’s proprietary MCACC (Multi Channel Acoustic Calibration) auto-setup system is excellent–it’s just that there’s precious little unique technology in most receivers…

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The Loudness War: Good and Bad News from the Front


(via msn entertainment)

by Matt Medved

In honor of last month’s Dynamic Range Day, mastering engineer Ian Shepherd made an infographic comparing the loudness of popular albums — and the results may surprise you.

Take Taylor Swift‘s 1989, which clocked in at a fairly compressed DR6 rating. While Shepherd says that’s pretty standard for modern pop music, it’s still much louder than classic heavy metal LPs like AC/DC‘s Back in Black (DR12) and Metallica‘s The Black Album (DR11). Metallica’s more recent Death Magnetic reached a blistering DR3 level, while Skrillex‘s Recess charts at DR4…

…There may be hope on the horizon. As YouTube joins platforms like Spotify and iTunes Radio in employing loudness normalization to even out track volumes, Shepherd believes artists and engineers will realize the audio arms race is “pointless.”

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Adobe Photoshop PDF

Is the Sound on Vinyl Records Better than on CDs or DVDs?

(Reprinted from HowStuffWorks)

The answer lies in the difference between analog and digital recordings. A vinyl record is an analog recording, and CDs and DVDs are digital recordings. Take a look at the graph below. Original sound is analog by definition. A digital recording takes snapshots of the analog signal at a certain rate (for CDs it is 44,100 times per second) and measures each snapshot with a certain accuracy (for CDs it is 16-bit, which means the value must be one of 65,536 possible values).

Comparison of a raw analog audio signal to the CD audio and DVD audio output

This means that, by definition, a digital recording is not capturing the complete sound wave. It is approximating it with a series of steps. Some sounds that have very quick transitions, such as a drum beat or a trumpet’s tone, will be distorted because they change too quickly for the sample rate.

In your home stereo the CD or DVD player takes this digital recording and converts it to an analog signal, which is fed to your amplifier. The amplifier then raises the voltage of the signal to a level powerful enough to drive your speaker.

A vinyl record has a groove carved into it that mirrors the original sound’s waveform. This means that no information is lost. The output of a record player is analog. It can be fed directly to your amplifier with no conversion.

This means that the waveforms from a vinyl recording can be much more accurate, and that can be heard in the richness of the sound. But there is a downside, any specks of dust or damage to the disc can be heard as noise or static. During quiet spots in songs this noise may be heard over the music. Digital recordings don’t degrade over time, and if the digital recording contains silence, then there will be no noise.

From the graph above you can see that CD quality audio does not do a very good job of replicating the original signal. The main ways to improve the quality of a digital recording are to increase the sampling rate and to increase the accuracy of the sampling.

The recording industry has a new standard for DVD audio discs that will greatly improve the sound quality. The table below lists the sampling rate and the accuracy for CD recordings, and the maximum sampling rate and accuracy for DVD recordings. DVDs can hold 74 minutes of music at their highest quality level. CDs can also hold 74 minutes of music. By lowering either the sampling rate or the accuracy, DVDs can hold more music. For instance a DVD can hold almost 7 hours of CD quality audio.

CD Audio DVD Audio
Sampling Rate 44.1 kHz 192 kHz
Samples per second 44,100 192,000
Sampling Accuracy 16-bit 24-bit
Number of Possible Output Levels 65,536 16,777,216

DVD audio discs and players are rare right now, but they will become more common, and the difference in sound quality should be noticeable. To take advantage of higher quality DVD audio discs, however, you will need a DVD player with a 192kHz/24-bit digital to analog converter. Most DVD players only have a 96kHz/24-bit digital to analog converter.  So if you are planning to take full advantage of DVD audio be sure to look for a 192kHz/24-bit DAC.

(Thanks Dave!)

Neil Young Explains Pono to David Letterman…Sort Of

Pono will give us “the best sound anybody can get” and Neil Young is already starting to transfer classic Bob Dylan albums to the new “Mother of all formats”.

Here’s hoping it truly makes the woeful mp3 obsolete one day soon.


Will Neil Young Save the Sound of Music?

neil young pono

(Photo and article reprinted from Rolling Stone)

Neil Young Expands Pono Digital-to-Analog Music Service

By Patrick Flanary

Aretha Franklin had never  sounded so shocking, Flea decided last year, as “Respect” roared from the  speakers of Neil Young’s Cadillac  Eldorado. Stunned by the song’s clarity, the  Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist listened alongside bandmate Anthony Kiedis  and producer Rick Rubin while Young showcased the power of Pono, his  high-resolution music service designed to confront the compressed audio  inferiority that MP3s offer.

Beginning next year, Pono will release a line of portable players, a  music-download service and digital-to-analog conversion technology intended to  present songs as they first sound during studio recording sessions. In his book  out this week, Waging Heavy Peace, Young writes that Pono will help  unite record companies with cloud storage “to save the sound of music.” As Flea  raves to Rolling Stone, “It’s not like some vague thing that you need  dogs’ ears to hear. It’s a drastic difference.”

Pono’s preservation of the fuller, analog sound already has the ear of the  Big Three record labels: Warner Music Group, Universal Music Group and Sony  Music. WMG – home to artists including Muse, the Black Keys, Common and Jill  Scott – has converted its library of 8,000 album titles to high-resolution,  192kHz/24-bit sound. It was a process completed prior to the company’s  partnership with Young’s Pono project last year, said Craig Kallman, chairman  and chief executive of Atlantic Records.

In mid-2011, Kallman invested with Young and helped assemble a Pono team that  included representatives from audio giants Meridian and Dolby, according to  insiders. Once WMG signed on, Kallman said that he and Young approached UMG CEO  Lucian Grainge and Sony Music CEO Doug Morris about remastering their catalogs  for Pono distribution. Neither UMG nor Sony officially acknowledged those  conversations.

“This has to be an industry-wide solution. This is not about competing – this  is about us being proactive,” Kallman tells Rolling Stone. “This is all  about purely the opportunity to bring the technology to the table.”

The title of Waging Heavy Peace refers to the response that Young  gave a friend who questioned whether the singer-songwriter was declaring war on  Apple with his new service.

“I have consistently reached out to try to assist Apple with true audio  quality, and I have even shared my high-resolution masters with them,” Young  writes, adding that he traded emails and phone calls with Steve Jobs about Pono  before the tech king’s death last October. Apple declined to comment on whether  a collaborative or competitive relationship with Pono exists.

Apple’s Mastered for iTunes program, which launched last year with the  release of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ I’m With You, requires mastering  engineers to provide audio quality based on a listener’s environment – such as a  car, a flight or a club. Those dissatisfied with Apple’s AAC format argue that  it still represents a fraction of the high-resolution options that Pono promises  to deliver. Engineers have debated the value of sound quality for  years.

In early June 2011, after filing a handful of trademarks for his cloud-based  service idea, Young traveled to the Bonnaroo Festival to perform with Buffalo  Springfield. While he was there, he invited fellow musicians into his Cadillac  for a Pono demo, including members of Mumford & Sons and My Morning Jacket,  and videotaped their reactions for a potential marketing campaign.

“Neil’s premise is cool, and I think it’s exciting as a traveling musician,”  My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James tells Rolling Stone. However, he  adds a caveat: “I think that’s somewhere that he has to be careful: I’ve already  bought Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect’ a lot of times. Do I have to buy it  again?”

While Young acknowledges in his book that existing digital purchases will  play on Pono devices, he points out that his service “will force iTunes to be  better and to improve quality at a faster pace.”

“His reasons are so not based in commerce, and based in just the desire for  people to really feel the uplifting spirit of music,” Flea said in defense of  Young. “MP3s suck. It’s just a shadow of the music.”


“We Stomped On The Quality of the Art of Music”: 20 Record Stores Weigh In on Vinyl’s Return

(Reprinted from Paste Magazine)

The emergence of vinyl fans among a generation that didn’t necessarily grow up with it left some scratching their heads, but its success is undeniable. Vinyl records, which some thought had taken the same forgotten route of 8-tracks and laser discs, are the one format that’s seen an increase during a notable slump in record sales. With artists like Arcade Fire, the Black Keys and the Beatles leading the vinyl march, the format is here to stay, at least for a while.

We asked record stores across the United States what they thought about the return of the waxy, black format. Here’s what they had to say:

(excerpt follows)

Terry Currier, Music Millennium: Vinyl Records are one of the greatest inventions ever made. They’re the purest form of sound of any format of recorded music that has been introduced to music fans. The industry did a big disservice to music fans by forcing vinyl out in the ’80s. Not only the great quality of sound but the get quality that went into many of the packages.

Vinyl was treated more like art than the CD and especially more than digital downloads. You interface with the packaging much more with a 12″ × 12″ than you do with a 5″ × 5″ cover of the CD, thusly you learn much more about…the music you are experiencing.

…We are a society of convenience and because of that we stomped on the quality of the art of music. Vinyl may not be the salvation of the record industry but this new renaissance in vinyl is here to stay.

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Neil Young Trademarks New Audio Format

It’s just a shame that this kind of thing falls to Neil Young, and no one at Sony or Apple has bothered doing it years ago. Here’s hoping Neil succeeds in helping us reclaim the other 95% of our music!

Neil Young and the Travesty of mp3 Audio

Any music consumer who cares about the audio quality of what he listens to ought to give half an hour’s time to the interview Neil Young did at The Wall Street Journal’s Dive Into Media conference.

We’re losing the battle for great-sounding music because of the assumption that we must choose between audio quality and convenience of use. In the 21st century there’s no reason we should have to choose between the two. And no reason to settle for digital sound that’s nowhere near that of 1970’s analog. Most of us haven’t heard music the way it’s supposed to sound for decades now. Some of our children never have. Why have we demanded ever larger, higher-resolution TVs but settled for the backward trend in audio reproduction? Because we think we must sacrifice great sound for the portability we want. The truth is: what we demand will be what is produced and sold, even made affordable. We just have to stop settling for a false compromise–we can have both convenience and high-resolution audio.

Neil discusses that issue and touches on a few others too, such as audio piracy, the presumed demise of the album, and how 5.1 Surround failed because women wanted furniture–not five boxes–in their living rooms.

The point Young makes in the very last minute of the interview is key: the larger and higher-quality the sound system, the better it will reveal the difference between a high-quality music file and the skimpy 5% of the music that an mp3 actually contains. And that’s why a DJ should never rely on mp3 audio to entertain wedding guests, unless his goal is to make an early night of it.

An informative and provocative 30 minutes.

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