Wednesday, 2 April 2014

MUSINGS: On Experts, Experience, and Opinions...



So last night, instead of going to bed early as I was supposed to, I decided to have a look at this interview of Allen Sides from Ocean Way Recording on TWiT.TV. As usual, Scott Wilkinson does a fantastic job with the interview and takes questions from the audience.

Obviously, Mr. Sides is a man of many years of experience and can speak authoritatively on MANY topics related to audio hardware, studio production, and historical anecdotes based on those years.

But some things bothered me. Around 16:00 there was talk about DSD: "somehow between making the recording and that SACD it doesn't sound quite as good as it should". Really? By 17:00, there's discussion about CD copies, different stampers sounding different, then an anecdote on Mariah Carey and how the pressed CD sounded bad compared to the reference. Okay... Maybe... How about someone ripping the disks and comparing the data integrity and talking about that? Given that Mariah was married to Tommy Mottola until 1998, this anecdote is now at least 16 years old so any hope of forensic assessment is long gone - does it still apply as a generalization these days?

Things get really bizarre by 26:00 - "I have never been able to even make a copy of a CD that sounds as good as the CD I started with... It always sounds worse". As you can see, Mr. Wilkinson was perplexed and commented that "it's almost like generational loss in analogue" that Mr. Sides is referring to. "Multiple degenerations"? Please...

I wished Mr. Wilkinson would have done a follow-up question like - "What if you bit-perfectly ripped that original CD to a computer - does it sound the same then?" "How about if you copy to a different hard drive, does it sound different?"

It's also clear that there are some limits to Mr. Sides' knowledge/experience which most of us in the hobby world would have no difficulty discussing. (34:30) Q: "What's your idea of FLAC encoding?" A: "I'm really not that familiar with it." Fair enough, a person cannot know everything.

Although I'm not that old at this point in my life, I have learned some things in my "travels" both personally and professionally. One which I hold dear is that no matter how much we can respect and trust the "experts" for their lived experience and knowledge, they (like us) are all just human. And as humans we all have idiosyncrasies and biases. In this case, I don't think it's much of a stretch for any of us who have spent hours on our audio systems, used EAC or dBpoweramp for ripping to ensure bit-perfect copies, to stand up with good confidence and tell Mr. Sides that he's just plain wrong about not being able to make a copy of a CD that sounds identical. The fact is that in more than 30 years of the existence of the CD format, there has been no evidence of this when variables are controlled for (eg. ensuring that bit perfect copies were achieved, the rater was blinded, etc.). If indeed "generational losses" were possible with digital, this would already be a well known fact and there'd be no uncertainty whatsoever! Moreover, if this were fact, it would change significantly how we deal with accuracy of our digital data (hey... how can I be sure that those numbers in my bank account are accurate?!). Experts can provide educated opinions, but ultimately they are just opinions and not necessarily fact. The same goes for his strange comment about SACD not sounding as good as it should between studio and the physical disk. What is more likely, that the digital data somehow mysteriously changed over time or that his own psychological expectations changed as the memory of the live studio event consolidated? (Assuming of course that the data wasn't altered by some mastering engineer along the way.)

In this world, there are many mysteries yet to be discovered and likely much we as a species will never know. But digital audio systems which are inventions of the human mind based on mathematical constructs and technologically engineered devices (like the CD) that ultimately changes the physical world (sound waves) were not produced by serendipity. I do not feel it's good enough that we should just shrug our shoulders and declare some experiences to have enduring truth like parts of this interview. That surrender to logic leads us into the realm of "anything is possible!" and ultimately the slippery slope on the path to "snake oil". This is especially significant in the impact on those already obsessive-compulsive and perfectionistic (ahem, like many audiophiles). Maintaining an objective approach hopefully allows a counterbalance to this. An opportunity to take a step back and question the things which seem to make no sense. An opportunity to explore reality with techniques and at times instruments of greater sensitivity than that which we are endowed with within this mortal shell. Although the human mind is the best "instrument" to perceive the beauty of music, accuracy of the reproduction chain is a different matter and can be detected by the use of objective techniques with obviously greater sensitivity.

It's fun listening to interviews like this and I certainly felt it was time well spent nonetheless.

9 comments:

  1. I know from experience that making a 'perfect' copy of a CD isn't always a walk in the park. In years gone by various friends have made sample copies for me using various hardware/software combinations and most of those discs fail to report an 'AccurateRip'. Sometimes it's nothing more than a simple offset issue but I have quite a few which have corrupted data within tracks even though they play without obvious skipping and rip without CRC errors. Add to this the variable quality of CD-R media along with the potential for read errors during playback and it's possible to see how a (poorly made) copy may not perform as well as the original pressed CD, at least in terms of bit-perfect output. Of course, whether or not this might be audible is arguable and I'm certainly not seeking to defend Mr Sides. I only know that I was very happy to leave CD playback behind once I owned the necessary equipment to make verifiably accurate lossless archives of my discs. It removes a variable from the equation because those bits really are perfect!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment Stephen.

      Indeed there was a time when making perfect copies was difficult. In the "old days", we were stuck with ripping without the benefit of tools like EAC and burning was a tedious affair. I remember all the coasters I was stuck with back in 1997 when I bought my first HP CD burner - painful given how expensive they were back then. The computer back then (my first PC after transitioning from the Amiga was a 300MHz AMD K6) could barely keep up with preventing buffer underruns and one would not dare multitask during a burn! I could barely achieve bit-perfect copies at 2X speed (1X was usually OK).

      This changed substantially over the years and our general assessment of the situation IMO should change with this! It seems Mr. Sides is stuck with the 1997 viewpoint on this... That only creates fear, uncertainty, and doubt when it's unnecessary especially coming from an expert / authority figure. These days, it's not difficult at all to copy and ensure CD bit-perfection. Although I barely ever burn CDs any more, it hasn't been a problem over the last 10 years and to do it at 24+X speed. (Of course decent media is needed as you pointed out.)

      Delete
    2. I recall a certain hi-fi magazine giving away little stickers that you were meant to attach to the label side of a CD to improve sound quality. I'd like to think it was an April Fool's joke but I'm not so sure. Sadly, I no longer have the magazine to check. It was a long time ago! I'm so glad we've moved on from those times, or at least some of us have!

      Delete
  2. Ten years ago i was involved in a very "nasty" discussion about audibility of burned CDs vs originals.

    After many "arguments" on both sides we conducted blind test at Croatian Audiophile club. Unfortunately I could not attend, but it is irrelevant for my point.

    Originals were ripped on mac computer using error correction, and then burned using ToastTitanium software at 4x speed on a standard quality CD media.

    After hours of ABX listening sessions of original vs. burned CDs, no one could tell the difference, all that on a very respectable setup.

    And that was ten years ago.

    After that session I can't convince "true believers" to conduct any other blind test in public (USB cables test at Audiophile Club for example), they did not like the result.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great anecdote, Marin.

      So do you still hang out with the guys at the audiophile club or did you get excommunicated? :-)

      Delete
    2. Hahaha...I still get invited to the club. They probably like my "sharp tongue".

      Every now and then I show up and shake their "firm believes" carefully and with arguments and a dose of humor, so they end up laughing at them selves :)

      Delete
  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Archimago,

    There's a fascinating discussion brewing on John Darko's website (DAR). I couldn't resist point you towards it. It's about Ethernet cables, except, it isn't.

    http://www.digitalaudioreview.net/2014/07/kih-13-keeping-an-open-mind-vs-being-taken-for-a-fool/

    Regards,

    Bob

    ReplyDelete
  5. otr214427
    INTERNATIONAL CONCEPT OF WORK FROM HOME
    Work from home theory is fast gaining popularity because of the freedom and flexibility that comes with it. Since one is not bound by fixed working hours, they can schedule their work at the time when they feel most productive and convenient to them. Women & Men benefit a lot from this concept of work since they can balance their home and work perfectly. People mostly find that in this situation, their productivity is higher and stress levels lower. Those who like isolation and a tranquil work environment also tend to prefer this way of working. Today, with the kind of communication networks available, millions of people worldwide are considering this option.

    Women & Men who want to be independent but cannot afford to leave their responsibilities at home aside will benefit a lot from this concept of work. It makes it easier to maintain a healthy balance between home and work. The family doesn't get neglected and you can get your work done too. You can thus effectively juggle home responsibilities with your career. Working from home is definitely a viable option but it also needs a lot of hard work and discipline. You have to make a time schedule for yourself and stick to it. There will be a time frame of course for any job you take up and you have to fulfill that project within that time frame.

    There are many things that can be done working from home. A few of them is listed below that will give you a general idea about the benefits of this concept.

    Baby-sitting
    This is the most common and highly preferred job that Women & Men like doing. Since in today's competitive world both the parents have to work they need a secure place to leave behind their children who will take care of them and parents can also relax without being worried all the time. In this job you don't require any degree or qualifications. You only have to know how to take care of children. Parents are happy to pay handsome salary and you can also earn a lot without putting too much of an effort.

    Nursery
    For those who have a garden or an open space at your disposal and are also interested in gardening can go for this method of earning money. If given proper time and efforts nursery business can flourish very well and you will earn handsomely. But just as all jobs establishing it will be a bit difficult but the end results are outstanding.

    Freelance
    Freelance can be in different wings. Either you can be a freelance reporter or a freelance photographer. You can also do designing or be in the advertising field doing project on your own. Being independent and working independently will depend on your field of work and the availability of its worth in the market. If you like doing jewellery designing you can do that at home totally independently. You can also work on freelancing as a marketing executive working from home. Wanna know more, email us on workfromhome.otr214427@gmail.com and we will send you information on how you can actually work as a marketing freelancer.


    Internet related work
    This is a very vast field and here sky is the limit. All you need is a computer and Internet facility. Whatever field you are into work at home is perfect match in the software field. You can match your time according to your convenience and complete whatever projects you get. To learn more about how to work from home, contact us today on workfromhome.otr214427@gmail.comand our team will get you started on some excellent work from home projects.


    Diet food
    Since now a days Women & Men are more conscious of the food that they eat hence they prefer to have homemade low cal food and if you can start supplying low cal food to various offices then it will be a very good source of income and not too much of efforts. You can hire a few ladies who will help you out and this can be a good business.

    Thus think over this concept and go ahead.

    ReplyDelete