Monthly Archives: October 2013

Last night, on TV, my wife and I watched an episode of the current season of “The Amazing Race”.  In our house we have a modest, but surprising effective home theater system permanently connected to our TV set.  It is in play regardless of what we are watching on TV.  Our TV signal is derived from satellite, time-shfted on our PVR, and the show was on a HD channel with the sound encoded in Dolby Digital.  The sound delivered by this system is normally very clear, but in this case it was an absolute cacophany, and I can only describe it as a shameless assault on my ears.

The Amazing Race sees itself as a non-stop action show, punctuated by the occasional pause for an interlude of weepy all-American sentimentalism.  It plays against a continuous background of “Action Movie!!” orchestral blasts, noisy, percussive, syncopated.  No melody at all, and no let-up in its ongoing intensity.  It is mixed with the maximum possible amount of compression, and presented at the maximum volume, so that it is continuously, relentlessly loud.  It accompanies the action non-stop.

The show also provides a commentary, delivered by a shouting host, interspersed with snippets of interjections from the various participants.  The commentary tracks is separately mixed, and is also mastered with the maximum amount of compression, at the maximum volume.

Since the music track and the commentary track are each fully capable of drowning out the other, the producers have determined that the commentary track must take precedence.  So the loudness of the commentary track is used to modulate the loudness of the music track.  When somebody shouts, the music is briefly backed off a little, and immediately ramped back up after, even if they are just pausing for breath.

The net effect is a relentless assault on the eardrums.  It makes it very hard to follow the dialog without getting a headache, and in fact makes watching the show a less than pleasant experience.  Your brain is not equipped to deal with such heavily compressed and modulated sounds, and goes into overload.  I found myself wondering if the CIA would have gotten into as much hot water as they did if they had used “The Amazing Race” instead of waterboarding.

This was way worse than even the last season (or was it the last-but-one season) of “House”, where there was no music track, but in its place the ambient background noises of the set were amplified to the point where it was dominated by hiss.  This hissy noise was then massively modulated by the dialog.  Again, a ruinous detraction from the enjoyment of the show.

These people need to get into another line of work.  Now there’s a thought…  Maybe these ARE the same people who got fired from the CIA for waterboarding!

IOCC“??  What on earth is that, I asked myself the first time I saw a poster for this band in a record store (sometime back in 1974 I would guess).  This was what the stylized print of “10cc” looked like.  A band called 10cc?  Surely not.

Then, on or about my 20th birthday, “I’m Not In Love” hit the radio airwaves, and for a while in the UK it seemed like it was being played all day, everywhere.  It was a stunning song, one which, even listened to on a crappy radio, made you want to hear it on a special audio system.  As many boys as girls seemed to be digging it, and the album from which it came, “The Original Soundtrack“, sold in droves.

I’m Not In Love” was probably responsible for 90% of the album sales, and certainly for the sudden elevation of 10cc to superstardom.  Which is interesting, since it really was not at all typical of the output of 10cc in general, or of The Original Soundtrack album in particular.  10cc is a band that is quick to get to like, and equally quick to get to hate.  If you like to put musicians in boxes, you would put them in the one labelled “Art Rock”.  Their lyrics were clever, but just tooooooo clever by a long way.  There was a sense of smug self-satisfaction about them, as if they were trying to demonstrate their literary chops instead of writing songs.  Their inspiration should have been Noel Coward or Irving Berlin – not Oscar Wilde.  The best pop and rock songs do have a high-literary quality about their lyrics, and 10cc’s are just over the top.  Nevertheless, you should give this album a listen.  You’ll absolutely love it – for a while at least.  I know I did – and still do in many ways.  Forgetting the lyrics for a while, the musicianship on display is awesome.  The melodies and harmonies are memorable.  Some of the guitar playing in particular is absolutely ripping.  Play “Blackmail” at ear-bleeding volume for a prime example.  A-1 air guitar stuff.

I bought the original LP as soon as I heard “I’m Not In Love“, and looked forward to hearing its luscious sound.  While it certainly did not disappoint, the whole album from beginning to end had what appeared to be an enormous amount of upper-midrange emphasis (or boost).  Perhaps this is what lent it its crystalline quality when listened to on the radio, but regardless, the overblown breathy upper-mids remain as a characteristic of this album, one shared by no other I know (except for perhaps one that I’m too embarrassed to admit to owning).

Why suddenly mention it now, after all this time?  Well, I recently got the Japanese SHM-SACD version, which is available online and will cost you deep in the purse.  I was anxious to hear whether the SHM remastering would remove that upper-mid emphasis.  It turns out they either didn’t or couldn’t.  But regardless, what they did deliver was an absolutely magnificent rendering of a phenomenal recording.  Upper-mid emphasis or not, this is a tour-de-force, and a great example of what digital remastering in general, and SACD/DSD in particular, is capable of achieving.  It exposes The Original Soundtrack as one of the great rock recordings of the 1970s.

If you don’t already own this album, and are interested in acquiring an iconic example of 1970’s art rock – an example of both its pretensions and its accomplishments – The Original Soundtrack in its SHM-SACD guise is a magnificent example.

http://www.elusivedisc.com/10CC-THE-ORIGINAL-SOUNDTRACK-SHM-SACD/productinfo/UNISAI90332/

IOCC“??  What on earth is that, I asked myself the first time I saw a poster for this band in a record store (sometime back in 1974 I would guess).  This was what the stylized print of “10cc” looked like.  A band called 10cc?  Surely not.

Then, on or about my 20th birthday, “I’m Not In Love” hit the radio airwaves, and for a while in the UK it seemed like it was being played all day, everywhere.  It was a stunning song, one which, even listened to on a crappy radio, made you want to hear it on a special audio system.  As many boys as girls seemed to be digging it, and the album from which it came, “The Original Soundtrack“, sold in droves.

I’m Not In Love” was probably responsible for 90% of the album sales, and certainly for the sudden elevation of 10cc to superstardom.  Which is interesting, since it really was not at all typical of the output of 10cc in general, or of The Original Soundtrack album in particular.  10cc is a band that is quick to get to like, and equally quick to get to hate.  If you like to put musicians in boxes, you would put them in the one labelled “Art Rock”.  Their lyrics were clever, but just tooooooo clever by a long way.  There was a sense of smug self-satisfaction about them, as if they were trying to demonstrate their literary chops instead of writing songs.  Their inspiration should have been Noel Coward or Irving Berlin – not Oscar Wilde.  The best pop and rock songs do have a high-literary quality about their lyrics, and 10cc’s are just over the top.  Nevertheless, you should give this album a listen.  You’ll absolutely love it – for a while at least.  I know I did – and still do in many ways.  Forgetting the lyrics for a while, the musicianship on display is awesome.  The melodies and harmonies are memorable.  Some of the guitar playing in particular is absolutely ripping.  Play “Blackmail” at ear-bleeding volume for a prime example.  A-1 air guitar stuff.

I bought the original LP as soon as I heard “I’m Not In Love“, and looked forward to hearing its luscious sound.  While it certainly did not disappoint, the whole album from beginning to end had what appeared to be an enormous amount of upper-midrange emphasis (or boost).  Perhaps this is what lent it its crystalline quality when listened to on the radio, but regardless, the overblown breathy upper-mids remain as a characteristic of this album, one shared by no other I know (except for perhaps one that I’m too embarrassed to admit to owning).

Why suddenly mention it now, after all this time?  Well, I recently got the Japanese SHM-SACD version, which is available online and will cost you deep in the purse.  I was anxious to hear whether the SHM remastering would remove that upper-mid emphasis.  It turns out they either didn’t or couldn’t.  But regardless, what they did deliver was an absolutely magnificent rendering of a phenomenal recording.  Upper-mid emphasis or not, this is a tour-de-force, and a great example of what digital remastering in general, and SACD/DSD in particular, is capable of achieving.  It exposes The Original Soundtrack as one of the great rock recordings of the 1970s.

If you don’t already own this album, and are interested in acquiring an iconic example of 1970’s art rock – an example of both its pretensions and its accomplishments – The Original Soundtrack in its SHM-SACD guise is a magnificent example.

http://www.elusivedisc.com/10CC-THE-ORIGINAL-SOUNDTRACK-SHM-SACD/productinfo/UNISAI90332/

I am looking for volunteers to help BitPerfect take the next step in its evolution. Apple gives us the ability to customize our Apps according to the language which your Mac is set up to use. So we can provide a user interface which is customized for the language of its user. This process is termed “Localization”. Since BitPerfect’s customers are located all over the world, it makes sense for us to offer Localization if at all possible.

In order to do this we need the help of a small select group of volunteers who can work with us to provide translations of BitPerfect’s user interface into various other languages. Ideally, we are looking for people with at least a working knowledge of BitPerfect, in order to ensure that all of the translations provided will have the proper context and use all the appropriate technical terminology. We would, of course, be very happy to acknowledge the work of all contributors on BitPerfect’s “About” dialog box.

The most useful languages we are looking for would include Japanese, German, Dutch, Chinese (I don’t know if OS/X supports Mandarin, Cantonese, or both), Italian, and the Scandinavian languages. That would cover more than 95% of our user base (we can speak French at BitPerfect). But we would include any other languages if volunteers were to come forward

Those interested should e-mail me.

I am looking for volunteers to help BitPerfect take the next step in its evolution. Apple gives us the ability to customize our Apps according to the language which your Mac is set up to use. So we can provide a user interface which is customized for the language of its user. This process is termed “Localization”. Since BitPerfect’s customers are located all over the world, it makes sense for us to offer Localization if at all possible.

In order to do this we need the help of a small select group of volunteers who can work with us to provide translations of BitPerfect’s user interface into various other languages. Ideally, we are looking for people with at least a working knowledge of BitPerfect, in order to ensure that all of the translations provided will have the proper context and use all the appropriate technical terminology. We would, of course, be very happy to acknowledge the work of all contributors on BitPerfect’s “About” dialog box.

The most useful languages we are looking for would include Japanese, German, Dutch, Chinese (I don’t know if OS/X supports Mandarin, Cantonese, or both), Italian, and the Scandinavian languages. That would cover more than 95% of our user base (we can speak French at BitPerfect). But we would include any other languages if volunteers were to come forward

Those interested should e-mail me.

I have been using the latest iTunes 11.1.1 release all morning with BitPerfect 1.0.8 and everything has been flawless.  I think BitPerfect users should be safe to download and install this version.

I have been using the latest iTunes 11.1.1 release all morning with BitPerfect 1.0.8 and everything has been flawless.  I think BitPerfect users should be safe to download and install this version.

I tend to have a somewhat contrary attitude towards some aspects system setup. I don’t know how many people have a similar point of view, so I thought I would share it.

Unlike a lot of commentators, I find myself to be quite tolerant of the category of sonic defects that fall under the broad umbrella of “coloration“. Which is not to say that I can’t hear the differences and recognize “tonal palette” defects when I hear them. Its just that they don’t upset me as much as they seem to for many other people. When I compare A vs B, my personal preference tends always to be for the most revealing and resolving, the best micro-dynamics, and the cleanest imaging. If that comes with more tonal coloration then so be it. This doesn’t mean that I actively LIKE coloration. All else being equal, I will always prefer a natural and uncolored sound. And my tolerance for coloration does have its limits. Beyond a certain point, coloration does become an unacceptable defect on its own, but is something seldom encountered these days (with the notable exception of one of the most hyper-expensive SET/Horn setups on display at this year’s CES, whose 1960’s level of coloration was appalling).

I have always played every loudspeaker I have ever owned with the grilles, fascias, and protective structures removed, regardless of how that tilts the tonal presentation.  My present loudspeakers are B&W 802 Diamonds, and I prefer to listen to them with the magnetically-attached mesh that protects the desperately fragile tweeter removed. I know that this lifts the treble response out of balance, but it gives me that itty-bitty increase in resolving power. Actually, its not so itty-bitty!  Experience has shown me that if I get those things right, then the music tends to “communicate” with me more.  After an evening spent listening to a great recording with the mesh removed, it sounds strangled with it back on again.   Of course, YMMV.

I tend to have the same reaction to sorting out bass management issues. Bass management is a problem with the room and the speaker’s interaction with it. The solution should therefore be with the room, the speaker’s placement, and possibly with judicious use of subwoofers. Room treatment involves many things. The choice and placement of furnishings and decorations is a given. Once those are in place, sound-absorbing panels and traps can be used to fine-tune the sound. These can be cost-effectively constructed even by a walking DIY-disaster like myself, but the design and planning is best done with the assistance of an expert. This whole process can take weeks. Months even. For example, introducing an absorbing panel can mean that the speakers might work better in a slightly different position. Or it may make things different, but not necessarily better, which can leave you struggling with what to try next.

When it comes to getting the mid-bass right, though, the interesting question is where I would choose to end up compared with where you might choose to end up. There is no absolute right or wrong here, even though some people will tell you otherwise. Its all about what you prefer to listen to. My room would end up with bass instruments like tympani having excellent stable spatial location, and a clearly resolvable texture and tone. Voices – male voices in particular – would emanate from a human-head-sized point in space (I really dislike those sonic images that evoke a monster-sized human head). Good, acoustic recordings are best for this. Heavily processed studio-based recordings using electronic or amplified instruments introduce an element of uncertainty regarding what it should actually sound like. The bass region is also quite crucial to achieving a sense of acoustic ‘space’ – the ‘you are there’ experience, as opposed to the ‘they are here’ sound. So, ideally you want to listen to the type of recordings that best capture that sense of space. But if the overall sound which best exhibits those characteristics also has a certain element of incorrect tonal colour to it, well I could – and would – live with that. How about you?

[There is a rational argument to be made that if you get the one, you are bound to also get the other, but life is seldom either that easy or that fair.]

As an aside, why does nobody ever mention loudspeaker tilt? Getting the tilt angle ‘just so‘ can pay enormous dividends.  My B&W 802 Diamonds are tilted forward at a quite alarming angle, an adjustment which has allowed the sense of acoustic space (or image depth, if you like) to spring more sharply into focus.

I have never liked the application of EQ to address mid-bass management. Signal processing affects the signal – duh! – but in insidious ways.  It is an unavoidable mathematical consequence that any change in the frequency response brings it with a change in the phase response (and, by extension, in the transient or impulse response).  It is a fair point that you can argue against the audibility of such issues, particularly if it is executed well, but my experience is that in signal-processing your audio, you inevitably pay a price in the revealing/resolving stakes.  At least you do if the original signal was half-decent in the first place.

For the specific problem of sub-bass management, maybe active EQ is the way to go, but since I have never seriously tried that, I really don’t have anything helpful to say about it.

I want to end up by suggesting that you need to build up an inventory of standard recordings that you can go back to time and time again when doing system setup. Each of these would highlight a particular aspect of sound reproduction. Before doing anything else, take a handful of these down to your local high-end audio dealer, and arrange to spend a couple of hours with the best system he has available – something as far beyond your existing budget as he can manage. (He will be happy to do this. If not, don’t worry, you’ll be able to drop by again and maybe avail yourself of a bargain or two during his going-out-of-business sale.) This will give you a point of reference as to what these particular recordings can (should?) sound like. Here are a few that I like to use:

Stravinsky – The Firebird Suite – Minnesota Orchestra, Eiji Oue, Reference Recordings

The Who – Quadrophenia – (I like the Japanese SHM-SACD version best)


Antonio Forcione & Sabina Sciubba – Meet Me In London – Naim Records


Johnny Cash – American IV; The Man Comes Around – preferably on LP


Mahler – Symphony No 2 – Budapest Festival Orchestra, Ivan Fischer, Channel Classics


The Hoff Ensemble – Quiet Winter Night – 2L


Shirley Horn – I remember Miles


Tchaikovsky – 1812 Overture – Cincinnati Orchestra, Erich Kunzel, (1999 version)

I’m listening to Quiet Winter Night as I type this:)

I tend to have a somewhat contrary attitude towards some aspects system setup. I don’t know how many people have a similar point of view, so I thought I would share it.

Unlike a lot of commentators, I find myself to be quite tolerant of the category of sonic defects that fall under the broad umbrella of “coloration“. Which is not to say that I can’t hear the differences and recognize “tonal palette” defects when I hear them. Its just that they don’t upset me as much as they seem to for many other people. When I compare A vs B, my personal preference tends always to be for the most revealing and resolving, the best micro-dynamics, and the cleanest imaging. If that comes with more tonal coloration then so be it. This doesn’t mean that I actively LIKE coloration. All else being equal, I will always prefer a natural and uncolored sound. And my tolerance for coloration does have its limits. Beyond a certain point, coloration does become an unacceptable defect on its own, but is something seldom encountered these days (with the notable exception of one of the most hyper-expensive SET/Horn setups on display at this year’s CES, whose 1960’s level of coloration was appalling).

I have always played every loudspeaker I have ever owned with the grilles, fascias, and protective structures removed, regardless of how that tilts the tonal presentation.  My present loudspeakers are B&W 802 Diamonds, and I prefer to listen to them with the magnetically-attached mesh that protects the desperately fragile tweeter removed. I know that this lifts the treble response out of balance, but it gives me that itty-bitty increase in resolving power. Actually, its not so itty-bitty!  Experience has shown me that if I get those things right, then the music tends to “communicate” with me more.  After an evening spent listening to a great recording with the mesh removed, it sounds strangled with it back on again.   Of course, YMMV.

I tend to have the same reaction to sorting out bass management issues. Bass management is a problem with the room and the speaker’s interaction with it. The solution should therefore be with the room, the speaker’s placement, and possibly with judicious use of subwoofers. Room treatment involves many things. The choice and placement of furnishings and decorations is a given. Once those are in place, sound-absorbing panels and traps can be used to fine-tune the sound. These can be cost-effectively constructed even by a walking DIY-disaster like myself, but the design and planning is best done with the assistance of an expert. This whole process can take weeks. Months even. For example, introducing an absorbing panel can mean that the speakers might work better in a slightly different position. Or it may make things different, but not necessarily better, which can leave you struggling with what to try next.

When it comes to getting the mid-bass right, though, the interesting question is where I would choose to end up compared with where you might choose to end up. There is no absolute right or wrong here, even though some people will tell you otherwise. Its all about what you prefer to listen to. My room would end up with bass instruments like tympani having excellent stable spatial location, and a clearly resolvable texture and tone. Voices – male voices in particular – would emanate from a human-head-sized point in space (I really dislike those sonic images that evoke a monster-sized human head). Good, acoustic recordings are best for this. Heavily processed studio-based recordings using electronic or amplified instruments introduce an element of uncertainty regarding what it should actually sound like. The bass region is also quite crucial to achieving a sense of acoustic ‘space’ – the ‘you are there’ experience, as opposed to the ‘they are here’ sound. So, ideally you want to listen to the type of recordings that best capture that sense of space. But if the overall sound which best exhibits those characteristics also has a certain element of incorrect tonal colour to it, well I could – and would – live with that. How about you?

[There is a rational argument to be made that if you get the one, you are bound to also get the other, but life is seldom either that easy or that fair.]

As an aside, why does nobody ever mention loudspeaker tilt? Getting the tilt angle ‘just so‘ can pay enormous dividends.  My B&W 802 Diamonds are tilted forward at a quite alarming angle, an adjustment which has allowed the sense of acoustic space (or image depth, if you like) to spring more sharply into focus.

I have never liked the application of EQ to address mid-bass management. Signal processing affects the signal – duh! – but in insidious ways.  It is an unavoidable mathematical consequence that any change in the frequency response brings it with a change in the phase response (and, by extension, in the transient or impulse response).  It is a fair point that you can argue against the audibility of such issues, particularly if it is executed well, but my experience is that in signal-processing your audio, you inevitably pay a price in the revealing/resolving stakes.  At least you do if the original signal was half-decent in the first place.

For the specific problem of sub-bass management, maybe active EQ is the way to go, but since I have never seriously tried that, I really don’t have anything helpful to say about it.

I want to end up by suggesting that you need to build up an inventory of standard recordings that you can go back to time and time again when doing system setup. Each of these would highlight a particular aspect of sound reproduction. Before doing anything else, take a handful of these down to your local high-end audio dealer, and arrange to spend a couple of hours with the best system he has available – something as far beyond your existing budget as he can manage. (He will be happy to do this. If not, don’t worry, you’ll be able to drop by again and maybe avail yourself of a bargain or two during his going-out-of-business sale.) This will give you a point of reference as to what these particular recordings can (should?) sound like. Here are a few that I like to use:

Stravinsky – The Firebird Suite – Minnesota Orchestra, Eiji Oue, Reference Recordings

The Who – Quadrophenia – (I like the Japanese SHM-SACD version best)


Antonio Forcione & Sabina Sciubba – Meet Me In London – Naim Records


Johnny Cash – American IV; The Man Comes Around – preferably on LP


Mahler – Symphony No 2 – Budapest Festival Orchestra, Ivan Fischer, Channel Classics


The Hoff Ensemble – Quiet Winter Night – 2L


Shirley Horn – I remember Miles


Tchaikovsky – 1812 Overture – Cincinnati Orchestra, Erich Kunzel, (1999 version)

I’m listening to Quiet Winter Night as I type this:)