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Why Steve Albini Still Prefers Analog Tape

timothy posted 1 year,24 days | from the he'd-have-to-reinvent-his-legend-otherwise dept.

Media 440

CNET's Steve Guttenberg ("The Audiophiliac") profiles prolific audio engineer and general music industry do-it-all Steve Albini; Albini (who's worked on literally thousands of albums with musicians across a wide range of genres) has interesting things to say about compression, the rise of home-recording ("The majority of recordings will be crappy, low-quality recordings, but there will always be work for engineers who can do a good job, because there will always be people who appreciate good sound."), and why he still prefers to record to analog tape. (Note: Albini is justly famous not just for his production work, but in particular for his essay "The Problem with Music.")

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how can you not play an audio file? (1)

alen (225700) | 1 year,23 days | (#44790643)

all you need is a decoder program. its not like the old days when devices were dumb and we had new physical formats for every music generation. starting with CD's and DVD's every new generation of device plays most of the old formats if not every single one. the price of production drops so its not a big deal for new and faster devices to play old formats

Re:how can you not play an audio file? (4, Insightful)

Tablizer (95088) | 1 year,23 days | (#44790669)

How will a regular musician know if the format or encoding is common enough to have decoders in the future? That's hard to predict. Some new something could be just around the corner that will make people dump and forget the current stuff. And the current stuff could have some goofy DRM in it that the musician cannot detect and that limits decoder makers because they don't want to get sued.

Re:how can you not play an audio file? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44790717)

If you care about longevity, you write PCM. You know the stuff, a number per sample and channel. An idiot could look at a file like that and understand what it is with not a header in sight.

Re:how can you not play an audio file? (4, Interesting)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | 1 year,23 days | (#44790721)

How will a regular musician know if the format or encoding is common enough to have decoders in the future?

Perhaps in the same way that VXA [mit.edu] , for example, allows you to future-proof compressed archives?

Re:how can you not play an audio file? (1)

ethan0 (746390) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791025)

that project looks pretty interesting.

but it just moves the question one step away: how do you know if the decoder can be executed in the future - will VX32 be around and supported at some arbitrary point in the future?

Re: how can you not play an audio file? (0)

O('_')O_Bush (1162487) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791095)

As long as there is media in a format, there will be something to decode it or translate it into something that can be decoded or emulated. See 8 bit games and the Linux kernel for examples of how obsolete technology is kept alive indefinitely.

Re:how can you not play an audio file? (2)

gl4ss (559668) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791339)

how about defining an arbitrary "law" for the problem..

for all file formats reading them 5 years to future from any given day is at least 5 times easier. (reading includes writing a decoder and presenter sw)

this is even true for dreaded formats like swf. for nes rom files. for gif files. for arcade rom rips. for cad files. for pcx files. for mp3. for mp3+. for aac. for mpg. for anything, if you have a file format that is hard to write a decoder today then I can guarantee that it was much, much harder to do 5 years ago.

even running the old sw seems to get easier year by year.

Re:how can you not play an audio file? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44791337)

That seems more like abstracting the point of rapid change. It might not be enough for those ever-lasting archive disks designed to last for thousands of years. Performance be damned in such cases, and machine description is probably required.

Re:how can you not play an audio file? (5, Interesting)

greg1104 (461138) | 1 year,23 days | (#44790739)

Analog master tapes normally have extensive printed notes on their label, about things like the speed used and which tracks are in what location. Digital files need similar documentation on things like format used. Studio masters being made by the musician shouldn't have any DRM silliness to deal with.

The main challenge for digital audio preservation is that all audio tracks need to be exported into simple PCM files. I would agree that some common studio digital formats will not be readable in the future. That means the musicians need to get .wav files instead of things like ProTools files. But saying properly exported and documented digital is fragile compared to analog tape is ridiculous. I expect to be able to read PCM files saved onto current CD and DVD media for at least another 50 years, while it's already hard to get good quality tape playback.

Re:how can you not play an audio file? (2)

ColdWetDog (752185) | 1 year,23 days | (#44790823)

I'd worry about those expensive studio recorders not being available in the future. The chance of finding a copy of the source code for, say, FLAC and computer hardware that can run it seems higher than a specific 4 channel tape deck last made in the 1990s.

Re:how can you not play an audio file? (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44790741)

The easiest way by far is to do now a conversion to a non-trouble loss-less format (such as a .wav or a .flacc file) of the things to be preserved.

Re: how can you not play an audio file? (2)

NIK282000 (737852) | 1 year,23 days | (#44790743)

Can you give any examples of music that is permanently lost to an unpopular format or bad DRM? It may happen in the future that some music is abandoned due to software but music is already being lost due to lack of playback hardware. He can stomp his feet and say that tape is best but there will be a time when no one makes tape players any more, it is pretty unlikely that there will be a point in the future when we stop using computers to play back media.

Re:how can you not play an audio file? (1)

niftymitch (1625721) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791295)

Yes, predicting the future is not an option. It is known to be hard.

Note, some of us are open source minded and drag digital copies of this
that and almost anything with us. I suspect he is a product consumer.
and has found a media he can work with. He will have seen a lot of
digital solution come and go none of which were as good as his analogue
tool kit. Modern audio digital recording is a long way from where he
has been but is still compared to his gold-standard analog tape to validate
its quality.

The issue of "gold-standard" is interesting and tells any listener what
is needed in the studio. When a new gold standard arrives the
solution will change.

He can still mix and publish in a digital domain but the master tracks are something
he has faith in as a primary recording media.

In 20-30 years there will be another SteveA that has his own opinion and it
will be different (most likely). But I know better than to predict the future so
forget what I said.... ;)

Re:how can you not play an audio file? (2)

gigaherz (2653757) | 1 year,23 days | (#44790775)

Imagine a future where having access to your storage space, and being able to see the raw contents of your data is something of the distant past. When someone finds some old device, labelled as containing music, that seems to have used a PHYSICAL connection to a computer. This person tries to find the means to recover that music, but realizes that the only people with such old computers charge a huge lot of money to extract them from the device, and make them available on the new-internet, assuming they are allowed to, because the corporations that were elected to run the government have very strict rules on what data can be made available, to who, and at what price.

Re: how can you not play an audio file? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44790887)

it is the same principled stance as Stallman. don't wait until there is a problem - make sure there never is a problem.

I disagree with him, but I appreciate his concerns. he has spent 20 years trying to get people out from under the thumb of the RIAA, and this is one of his many tools to do so.

"because It's not a problem now" is how people paint themselves into a corner.

Re:how can you not play an audio file? (0)

Dzimas (547818) | 1 year,23 days | (#44790979)

I have a number of digital recordings in a 14-bit stereo format that encoded the digital signal into the video portion of a VHS tape. Decoding them requires either a standalone Sony PCM decoder or a VHS deck with integrated PCM decoder. There is a very real risk that master tapes recorded in this manner will be unreadable in half a century.

Re:how can you not play an audio file? (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44791007)

that is cause you used some half assed proprietary garbage using improper equipment well before the technology was ready, and since your not transferring this to other media that has been accepted for decades now, its quite obvious that it wasnt worth saving in the first place.

Re:how can you not play an audio file? (2)

Dzimas (547818) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791173)

Actually, it was a bridge technology between Sony's PCM-3202 digital stereo mastering deck and affordable modern digital recording systems (DAT, CD-R). There was a short period in the late 1980s when PCM encoders for VHS were extremely popular, because they allowed us to create digital masters for CD replication at a fraction of the cost of having a high-end PCM-3202 in the corner of the studio. Back then, recording and mixing a CD was an expensive proposition that required spending hours or days in a "pro" studio. Mixdown from 16 or 24-track analog tape wasn't automated in the more affordable studios, so the engineer and producer would ride the faders in real-time to produce the final track. It was a complicated dance, and we'd often end up with a handful of slightly different mixes for each song. Being able to take the PCM-encoded VHS tape home and listen to each mix without having to pay for studio time really took the pressure off. Once we selected the best mixes, they'd be digitally duplicated onto a master tape that was used to create the final CD. The other mixes on the VHS tapes were either wiped or put into storage. They're not critically important, but on the off chance that one those acts became incredibly famous, there *might* be value in recovering some of the alternate takes.

Re:how can you not play an audio file? (1)

NJRoadfan (1254248) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791279)

Sony actually introduced a portable Betamax deck to be used in conjunction with that PCM adapter. If the masters were on Betamax, I'd be a bit more concerned than if it was on a far more common VHS tape.

Re:how can you not play an audio file? (0)

Grishnakh (216268) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791293)

Again, the AC is correct: you used some half-assed proprietary garbage and improper equipment. This is nothing like someone recording to a WAV or FLAC file and saving it to an archival-quality optical disc. How many of these weird Sony VHS players with integrated PCM decoders exist? Not many, I'm sure. How many CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drives exist? Too many to count. That's not going to change much in the future, and it's pretty easy to pop a DVD-ROM into a DVD-ROM drive and copy the contents to a hard drive or some other format so you can have backups. (Plus, newer optical drives are always backwards-compatible with older formats, so DVD-ROM drives all read CD-ROMs, BD-ROM drives read CD- and DVD-ROMs, etc.)

Keeping all your important stuff on analog tape isn't much different: how many of these analop tape decks still survive? Or will be around in 25 or 50 years? With digital files, it's easy to make (perfect) copies of copies and keep things indefinitely. As long as you don't use some shitty proprietary undocumented file type, then you'll always be able to read it. WAV and FLAC will always be readable, WAV because it's just simple PCM any idiot can decode, and FLAC because the source code is open and easily available.

Obama Fellatio HQ (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44790647)

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Re: Obama Fellatio HQ (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44790799)

Oh more downmods, aren't you cute.

Can't stand a little sunlight huh? Like cockroaches you are. Can't handle a little truth.

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Re: Obama Fellatio HQ (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44790991)

> Oh more downmods, aren't you cute.
>
> Can't stand a little sunlight huh?

Maybe you’re just, you know, off topic? If you’re going to post flamebait and troll people, why not do it where people might actually take the bait? Instead of in a post about analog tape for audio recording?

Re: Obama Fellatio HQ (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44791193)

Because I want to that's why.

Oh an by the way genius, I posted this also where it was NOT off topic and the brave warriors of Obama who mod Slashdot felt it needed downmodding there.

You wonder why I speak so aggressively and troll, it's because a socialist cannot stand a fair discussion and when confronted with facts and logic will themselves only attack and call names.

Why don't you socialists try engaging fairly for once? Because you are intellectually dishonest and liars is why. Your arguments cannot hold water, that is why you cannot abide dissent.

So when the socialist intends to bomb brown people to further some hidden agenda, kill people, including women and children, I get pind of pissed off. I'm funny that way.

Any other questions?

"Digital recordings will be unplayable" (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44790651)

And the longevity of analog tape? It decays. We have a steady stream of older musicians who are desperate to use our ancient reel-to-reels for a chance to digitize their brittle, fragile old tape recordings.

No storage medium is permanent, but PCM audio has remained mostly unchanged since Max Mathews, Bell Labs, 1957.

Re:"Digital recordings will be unplayable" (1)

greg1104 (461138) | 1 year,23 days | (#44790759)

Anyone who recommends long term storage via analog tape is being incredibly irresponsible. We don't need another generation stuck with tape baking [wikipedia.org] .

Re:"Digital recordings will be unplayable" (2)

hedwards (940851) | 1 year,23 days | (#44790825)

Indeed, with digital you've still got bit rot to worry about, but as long as you've got backups, monitor the backups and transfer to a more recent storage medium from time to time, you shouldn't ever be caught in the position of not being able to read the files.

It also becomes trivial to store multiple copies of the same file in different locations.

Re:"Digital recordings will be unplayable" (2)

Blaskowicz (634489) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791133)

But you may be storing digital files on tapes.

Re:"Digital recordings will be unplayable" (3, Funny)

ffflala (793437) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791181)

That was my first thought.

My second was that Steve Albini certainly wouldn't be ignorant to these issues. Rather, he probably has a New Jersey warehouse or two of blank tape and unused tape machines that he bought up as manufacturers have dropped off, and is setting himself up for a stable, long term niche market of people who need either tape and/or tape machines.

Re:"Digital recordings will be unplayable" (2)

king neckbeard (1801738) | 1 year,23 days | (#44790817)

He might be speaking of the project files themselves. How long will you be able to use a Pro Tools 11 project file? I seem to recall difficulties with some major DAW in getting files to work on both Windows and OS X.

Re:"Digital recordings will be unplayable" (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44791033)

So maybe dump out all the raw recordings in PCM? In a bunch of WAV files? If they take up too much space for archiving you can even compress them with ZIP or gzip or even bzip2. All of those formats are widely known, extensively used, very well documented, and thus future-proof. Then all you have left to worry about is migrating them from one medium to another so that you don’t have hardware problems in the future.

Seriously, this shouldn’t be an impediment unless you don’t understand how digital audio works. I get the funny feeling that maybe Albini doesn’t really understand what he’s talking about. There are an awful lot of people in music who really don’t understand digital audio and seem to be too afraid of embarassment to ask.

Re:"Digital recordings will be unplayable" (2, Informative)

Grishnakh (216268) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791307)

Better than ZIP/gzip/bzip2/xz is FLAC, which is also very well documented and open-source, and thus future-proof, and better suited to audio than a general-purpose compression format.

But you're absolutely right, Albini has no idea what he's talking about.

Re:"Digital recordings will be unplayable" (1)

BanHammor (2587175) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791303)

Here's an interesting thing: Cakewalk Sonar records completely in PCM, having a file to write how it all connects and what edits were made to the files. Hardly the fastest format, but it allows for the files in question to be imported (via a sound engineer working for really long) to pretty much anything.

Re:"Digital recordings will be unplayable" (1)

king neckbeard (1801738) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791357)

Is the file itself well documented and in a text-based format?

Re:"Digital recordings will be unplayable" (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44791047)

actually, SIGSALY [wikipedia.org] , also from Bell Labs, used non-linear PCM 15 years earlier.

Re:"Digital recordings will be unplayable" (1)

Tapewolf (1639955) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791211)

And the longevity of analog tape? It decays. We have a steady stream of older musicians who are desperate to use our ancient reel-to-reels for a chance to digitize their brittle, fragile old tape recordings.

No storage medium is permanent, but PCM audio has remained mostly unchanged since Max Mathews, Bell Labs, 1957.

Depends on the substrate and adhesive. I suspect there are Nazi-era tapes that are still playable (this was certainly the case as of 1991, see 'The Secret Life of the Video Recorder': http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=gOULWR4h4Io#t=1017 [youtube.com] ...17 minutes in)

There were a lot of problems with tapestock from 1975-1994 which used a synthetic substitute for whale oil. Japanese tapes that carried on using whale oil (Maxell) and formulations prior to this are rock-solid, and Ampex/Quantegy tape from 1995 and later have proven stable to date. When it comes to being able to stick it on a shelf and play it back 20 years later (or in the case of 'Jesus Christ Superstar', 42 years later), digital formats simply aren't in the same ballpark - and I suspect a lot of this is because the density has increased so much.

No Analog is not better... (2)

SerpentMage (13390) | 1 year,23 days | (#44790685)

I have this argument oh so often... Analog is not better. The reason why digital can be sucky is due to the resolution. If you want super quality digital audio it will not be a song that needs 10 MB of room. It will be a digital file that probably needs about 500 MB per song. That is the problem, not the underlying technology.

Re:No Analog is not better... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44790729)

That is if you can get perfect anti aliasing filters

Re:No Analog is not better... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44790883)

Anti-aliasing filters were a real problem when ADCs sampled at the intended data rate, such as 44.1 KSPS. You had to have something that passed everything up to 18 KHz or so, but was a brick wall at 22 KHz, with no ripples or phase distortion. That was a problem and bad recordings got made.

But ADCs don't work at the sample rate any more - they work many, many times faster which means the analog anti-aliasing filter is trivially simple. Then, before the data even leaves the chip, it goes through a digital low pass filter which constrains the bandwidth to what the output sample rate can support, with far fewer distortions than were possible in the analog realm. That filter is typically built right into the process of decimating the sample rate to the 44.1 or 96 or 192 KSPS output rate.

Re:No Analog is not better... (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44790819)

This is so fraught with unsubstantiated nonsense it makes me ill. Which resolution are you referring to, sample rate or bit depth? Do you know what those actually do?

Sample rate: a higher sample rate allows for higher frequency representation. As in, if you have a sample rate of 48,000Hz, you can play back a frequency of 24,000Hz (already above the range of human perception). Higher sample rate = more high frequencies you can't hear.

Bit depth: higher bit depth increases dynamic range (think: ability to represent *quieter* sounds), and reduces quantization error (white noise). A 24bit CD has a 144dB dynamic range and 1/33,554,432th of the signal will be noise. Even 16 bit (CD) has 96dB range and 1/131,072th noise. Going higher won't make anything sound better.

It is MUCH more important that you have a guitar amp that doesn't buzz, a drum kit that's been tuned well, and a singer that can actually sing than it is to get 'super digital quality.' But please, continue to believe in nonsense numbers like 500MB per song.

Re:No Analog is not better... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44790903)

Relax, they were just proving a point. The issue is not anti-aliasing filters either, that was essentially solved with oversampling converters, which allowed the filters to be constructed with nearly perfect phase linearity while still having enough alias rejection before the nyquist of the converter was reached.

A small part of the problem are the converters themselves. Try as we might, they still do a few "oddball" things. One of them is modulating the noise density they produce depending on current code and bit depth used. This causes modulating noise when music is played. It's not a non-linearity, but in some cases it can be distinguished.

By far the biggest problem is psycho-acoustics. If someone "believes" something sounds better, then to them, it DOES sound better. Sound is influenced by a lot of things, only one of which happens to be the sound waves smacking into your ear drum. Nostalgia, preference, thinking something must sound better because you dropped thousands on it, etc, etc.

Re:No Analog is not better... (1)

Shinobi (19308) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791155)

Higher resolution could also be having more channels, like, say, one channel for each instrument

As for sample rate, just because the ear doesn't pick it up per se, you can still FEEL those frequencies, which you'll note if you ever go to a live orchestra. Some pipe organst can go below 10Hz. You won't hear the primary sound but you'll hear the harmonics, and you'll feel the low-frequency rumble. Even with raw digital audio recordings, pipe organs, grand pianos, violins etc are still examples of where even the supposed perfection of digital recording, as claimed by you for example, is shown to be flawed.

Re:No Analog is not better... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44791191)

Also, if you consider a DAC operating at 192kHz at 24 bits, the sample timing jitter needs to kepts down in the tens of femtoseconds, which is simply not possible. So audiophiles' precious recordings at this rate/depth are never as good as the numbers suggest, becuase the hardware to record them does not convert sound that accurately.

Noise from external sources, air movements, trucks on the road two miles down the road, air conditioners next door, power hum from the PCB traces, magnetostriction of the SMPS inductor, even the heartbeat, breathing and blood sounds of the musician, are all much greater sources of noise (even in a 60dB sound insulated chamber) than noise from the DAC. And that assumes the performance is perfect, which it won't be.

Re:No Analog is not better... (0)

Okian Warrior (537106) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791227)

As in, if you have a sample rate of 48,000Hz, you can play back a frequency of 24,000Hz (already above the range of human perception). Higher sample rate = more high frequencies you can't hear.

By your logic, one would only need a sample rate of 40,000Hz since human hearing maxes out at 20,000 Hz.

At higher sample rates you get more noise information, which can be used to remove the noise from the signal.

For a much-simplified example, consider sampling at 1 million Hz while looking for a signal at 600 hz. Pick any point in the audio and multiply at this point by 1 wavelength of 600Hz, 600.001Hz, 600.002Hz, and so on for ten frequencies. Average these together and replace in the recorded signal.

The 600 Hz signal will be almost 100% in all 10 samples, but the noise will tend to average out. What gets put back is the original signal with the noise reduced by a factor of 10.

Another way of looking at this is from probabilities. The probability of noise being positive at two consecutive points is 50%. If you have a higher resolution of 100 points between the two original points, then your idea of "average" height of the waveform becomes more accurate.

This glosses over a lot of subtleties and gotchas, but essentially, having a higher sample rate gives you more information about the noise, which can be used to remove the noise from the signal.

Re:No Analog is not better... (0)

Frosty Piss (770223) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791309)

Sample rate: a higher sample rate allows for higher frequency representation. As in, if you have a sample rate of 48,000Hz, you can play back a frequency of 24,000Hz (already above the range of human perception). Higher sample rate = more high frequencies you can't hear.

First, I know *nothing* about audio.

So a question: Sure, there are frequencies humans can not hear. However, in to context of "playback", do those frequecies effect how we hear what frequencies we do hear, eaither due to the audio equiptment (speakers) or interaction with other frequencies?

Just askin...

Re:No Analog is not better... (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | 1 year,23 days | (#44790847)

And 5 GB per song is nothing for master files. Hell, that's a few minutes of video. You think you have problems.

Re:No Analog is not better... (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791277)

And 5 GB per song is nothing for master files. Hell, that's a few minutes of video. You think you have problems.

Hrm; when we have the bandwidth for 5GB songs, sending all the channels and the mix data separately would actually be really helpful for optimizing the playback to the environment. 'One mix to rule them all' is always going to be a compromise.

Re:No Analog is not better... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44790861)

I haven't read the article yet, but the summary says he prefers recording to analog. That is completely different than arguing that everyone should listen to analog. For instance, generally consumers don't play their sounds out to an analog device back in to their recording device to capture whatever the analog device did. (Crappy YouTube videos being an exception.)

Old Timer (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44790945)

I haven't read the article yet,..

Ah, an old timer. Please continue....

Re: No Analog is not better... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44790919)

he is not talking about quality. maybe the reason you have this argument is you don't bother to listen.

he is concerned about being able to read the data.

Re:No Analog is not better... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44791163)

It's all a matter of perspective. Digital is unforgiving... all the flaws reproduced with accurate fidelity. It is crispy. Analog is luxurious and forgiving... it is ultimately an effect that many love. The effect is reproducible, somewhat, without actually using analog media, but if one really likes the sound of tape, there is no substitute for the real thing.

Old fart can't let go of his superstitions (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44790687)

Hopes to replicate the vinyl cult among analog tape enthusiasts. News at 11.

Re:Old fart can't let go of his superstitions (1)

jythie (914043) | 1 year,23 days | (#44790765)

The tricky part when hearing advice from experts is it is hard for the layman to distinguish superstition from domain knowledge.

Re:Old fart can't let go of his superstitions (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44790977)

Someone who thinks that you can't encode music digitally in a way that far exceeds the quality and longevity of an analog recording is hanging on to superstitions. A 24 bit 96kHz PCM multi-track audio file, which has all the headroom a pro audio engineer could need and completely leaves analog audio in the dust qualitywise, is as simple as it gets. You could basically play it with all wrong parameters and still hear some sound, then home in on the correct parameters by tweaking and listening. You could also look at the data and see the right parameters with hardly any experience in reverse engineering. Or just write the parameters into a text file or put them in the file name. PCM audio files are like plain text files: If there should ever be a time when people won't be able to read them, it will be because there aren't any computers around anymore.

Why Analogue? Stranded investment. (4, Insightful)

cblood (323189) | 1 year,23 days | (#44790701)

If you had a few hundred thousand dollars tied up in analogue equipment you would champion it's "superiority" too. That and resistance to change. Don't get me wrong the guy makes great sounding records. but I doubt if Steve or anyone else for that matter could pass a double blind test and identify analoge from high end digital.

Re:Why Analogue? Stranded investment. (2)

greg1104 (461138) | 1 year,23 days | (#44790791)

You really should RTFA before constructing your strawman. "Albini records to analog tape, not because he's in love with the sound of analog. No, he's concerned that as digital formats continue to evolve, today's digital recordings will be unplayable in the future".

Re:Why Analogue? Stranded investment. (2)

rudy_wayne (414635) | 1 year,23 days | (#44790867)

"Albini records to analog tape, not because he's in love with the sound of analog. No, he's concerned that as digital formats continue to evolve, today's digital recordings will be unplayable in the future".

And what about that reel of tape that Albini hands you at the end of your recording session? Where are you going to play that in the future? Reel-to-reel tape machines are disappearing fast because they wear out, break down and no replacements are being manufactured.

Re:Why Analogue? Stranded investment. (1)

greg1104 (461138) | 1 year,23 days | (#44790927)

That discussion is already going on in another thread here. This one, anchored with an incorrect "stranded investment" claim, is redundant.

Re:Why Analogue? Stranded investment. (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44790935)

You really should RTFA before constructing your strawman. "Albini records to analog tape, not because he's in love with the sound of analog. No, he's concerned that as digital formats continue to evolve, today's digital recordings will be unplayable in the future".

Not really a much better argument than the GP's. Claiming "two-inch tape will always be readable because you can build a deck" handwaves away so much complexity that the pro-digital argument could just as well argue "digital will always be readable because you can write a program".

Tape is the audio world's equivalent of a fixie: used by snarky assholes who consider its shortcomings "charming" and who enjoy acting superior.

Re:Why Analogue? Stranded investment. (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44791017)

Today's analog recordings will be unplayable in the future too. And you know what really will cause recordings to be lost? Obscurity and the copyright act.

Both reduce the number of copies made. The fewer copies made, the higher the odds that eventually there will no longer be playable copies. And that applies to both analog or digital recordings.

Lastly, so what if stuff is lost? We think too much of our species. That's understandable from our perspective, but there's no need to take so much effort to preserve every crappy sound or painting everyone makes. Yes some parents love doing when it comes to their precious kids. But there have been more than 7 billion of us, and no we will not as a whole be diminished that much if some "great work" is lost, especially if we continue making new great stuff. You think something is worth preserving? Keep preserving it. Yes maybe some day digital copies will be unplayable but that'll mean that too few around think it's worth keeping.

Then he's just a clueless luddite (1)

Powercntrl (458442) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791243)

Right, just like I can't play old Amiga MOD songs on my fucking cell phone. (that's sarcasm, in case anyone misses it) In the future 3D printing may progress to a point where you can simply replicate a reel-to-reel machine even after they've gone extinct. I doubt that would ever be necessary, though. Even if the specifications of a digital recording format were somehow completely lost, emulation has a pretty good track record for virtually bringing obsolete computer hardware back from the grave.

Now sure, in some post-apocalyptic (zombie invasion, goa'uld attack, natural disaster, etc.) scenario it might be easier to afro engineer a reel-to-reel player, but in that situation there'd be far bigger problems than losing the master recordings of few pop songs. In short, this guy just may be getting OLD.

Re:Then he's just a clueless luddite (1)

greg1104 (461138) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791311)

I'm glad to see you're worrying about how fan films [youtube.com] might devastate our digital archives.

Re:Why Analogue? Stranded investment. (1)

jythie (914043) | 1 year,23 days | (#44790805)

I would be curious to see more experiments like that actually done. There is actually something to the 'golden ears', a small percentage of the population really does have much finer grained hearing then most people. Unfortunately for every person who actually does have this unusual trait, there (like wine drinkers) probably a thousand people who do not but blindly follow their lead, and probably another thousand who since they can not tell the difference they conclude that there is none.

Re:Why Analogue? Stranded investment. (5, Interesting)

greg1104 (461138) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791149)

I can credibly claim to be in the "golden ear" crowd as a former high-end audio reviewer [soundstage.com] . You need functional ears, but that's more about training than anything else. The better reviewers have spent years of their life carefully listening to different equipment and music, trying to become good at hearing small differences.

There are a few small tricks people usually fall for that good listeners try to get a handle on:

  • Louder is better. This one is very hard to isolate out; if you're not using tools like a voltmeter sometimes to match levels, you're being fooled by it.
  • More compressed is better.
  • Boosted bass and treble is better.
  • Familiar is better.

The last one is the most insidious, and I have an anecdote on how deep that goes. When 24/96K digital was first being released for studio use, I sat through a single-blind demo room at an AES show. They played an excellent analog master jazz recording, a version sampled at 24/96, and a version at 16/44.1 CD resolution downsampled via their equipment. I correctly graded the three from better to worse, seemed pretty obvious to me even though the high res digital was very close to the original.

As the presenter worked the room asking people which of his samples A, B, and C were, it was obvious mine was not the majority opinion. There were a few vocal people expressing their opinion that got things completely backwards. They thought the CD quality version was the "best", and therefore it had to be the original master. As this was an AES show, these were people who worked with audio all day, and their preference didn't match reality as I heard it at all.

Listening to their (incorrect) arguments for why they made their decisions, I realized they liked CD quality and its limitations. There was some compression to the CD version and a bit of a fuzzy/harsh roll off at the top end. But it was what they were used to. They thought recordings were supposed to sound that way, because most recordings they listened to did. You can see "familiar is better" in every generation of listener. People who grew up on vinyl like surface noise, early CD listeners are used to terrible aliasing filters, and people who grew up with low rate MP3s like their artifacts. And on the studio side, there are people who like the way analog tape sounds. To be fair, that was better than any digital available until very recently. Recent remasters of old analog recordings are still digging out details you couldn't hear in the earlier digital transfers. I think current generation 192/24 bit digital equipment is more than good enough to replace analog tape though; we passed that point a few years ago.

Re:Why Analogue? Stranded investment. (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791349)

I think current generation 192/24 bit digital equipment is more than good enough to replace analog tape though; we passed that point a few years ago.

I don't have access to this kind of gear these days, but I can tell you that it shouldn't be surprising. Back, gosh, almost 25 years ago in school, I was doing some audio stuff, both from the CS and the music sides of the house, and it was pretty clear from what we knew about both the anatomy of human ears and the physics of musical instruments that CD and 48K (96K was just starting to show up) was a start limiter and that we'd wind up at 192/24 some day.

IIRC, 192/24 is slightly above the requirements, but it was the next-highest increment that was reasonable to implement.

I'm sure your ears are right - just adding that your experience matches prediction based on physical properties. The thing that surprises me the most is that the same audio format is still considered premium 25 years later.

Re:Why Analogue? Stranded investment. (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44790911)

From high end digital programmed to model the limitations of the analog you mean...

I guess as long as he doesn't use a Mac (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44790737)

I'm on his side. Apple & Microsoft suck.

stupid industry know-nothings (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44790753)

Albini records to analog tape, not because he's in love with the sound of analog. No, he's concerned that as digital formats continue to evolve, today's digital recordings will be unplayable in the future. I loved the way Albini put it: "I feel it would be irresponsible to give my clients digital files as their permanent masters, knowing they would eventually disappear or become unusable, so I won't do it. Some of the bands I work with don't appreciate the difference, or take seriously the notion that music should outlive the people who make it, and I understand that." Still, Albini feels that analog tape offers the best chance for recordings to survive. I agree, and analog tape can be used to create great sounding high-definition digital masters. That's not true of the vast majority of recordings that are being made today; most are limited to 48-kHz/24-bit digital.

Seriously, WTF? Apparently, Albini hasn't heard about the troubles studios and bands that existed before 1980 have been experiencing with their archives. They have to bake the tapes in the oven to get one last good play before the substrate disintegrates entirely. With digital, at least, you can keep backing up your precious masters to new formats without loss, to say nothing of the benefits of having redundant clones stored in disparate locations. I doubt very seriously that capability to read WAV or other formats that are simply a header tacked onto interleaved PCM samples will ever be lost.

Then the schmuck writing the article thinks noisy analog tape has "higher definition" than 24-bit digital. The fight against audiophoolery and ignorance will probably never end...

Re:stupid industry know-nothings (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44791213)

Then the schmuck writing the article thinks noisy analog tape has "higher definition" than 24-bit digital. The fight against audiophoolery and ignorance will probably never end...

Technically, it does. There are no samples with tape. The resolution of the waveform is limited only by physics... it's not infinitely resolute, but theoretically goes all the way down to Plank limits, far beyond the limits of even 32-bit digital. Tape does add noise. But the noise sounds good. It is no different, however, from an effect.

Re:stupid industry know-nothings (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44791381)

Tape also has a problem with tape speed not being constant.
Although there are now programs that look for the 50/60Hz hum on the recording and use it as a reverence time source.

Incidentally the police keeps a recording of the hum, so that they can use it find the time any recording was made.

Albini the analog snake oil salesman (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44790863)

his only real claim to fame was the nirvana gig like 20 years ago but he sure does know how to keep his name in the air.

Re:Albini the analog snake oil salesman (1)

CRCulver (715279) | 1 year,23 days | (#44790969)

He also produced Pixiesâ(TM) Come On Pilgrim (which in fact inspired Kurt Cobain to have him produce Nirvana's Nevermind). But yes, he does know how to keep himself in the public eye.

Re:Albini the analog snake oil salesman (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44791125)

He also produced Pixiesâ(TM) Come On Pilgrim (which in fact inspired Kurt Cobain to have him produce Nirvana's Nevermind). But yes, he does know how to keep himself in the public eye.

Not to nitpick but he produced In Utero, not Nevermind.

Re:Albini the analog snake oil salesman (1)

catmistake (814204) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791251)

Butch Vig produced Nevermind. You can easily tell it's Butch Vig by listening to Smashing Pumpkin's Siamese Dream, which Vig also produced. Perhaps you're thinking of In Utero.

He's a moron (4, Insightful)

PhrostyMcByte (589271) | 1 year,23 days | (#44790869)

He might be a fantastic audio engineer, but I think his reason for continuing to use analog tape is idiotic.

Albini records to analog tape, not because he's in love with the sound of analog. No, he's concerned that as digital formats continue to evolve, today's digital recordings will be unplayable in the future. I loved the way Albini put it: "I feel it would be irresponsible to give my clients digital files as their permanent masters, knowing they would eventually disappear or become unusable, so I won't do it" ... Albini feels that analog tape offers the best chance for recordings to survive.

I can't see FLAC losing support for a long long time. When it finally does, the beauty of lossless digital formats is that you can batch-convert your entire library into a newer, better format with a very small script and no loss of quality. Seriously, if you don't have the diligence to convert your music library once every 25 years, do you really think you'll be able to keep a tape from rotting or being accidentally degaussed?

As for tape -- once it's on there, that's it. You can't transfer the audio anywhere else without it being lossy. Audio engineers have been able to transfer older recordings from tape with excellent results so I'm not say it would necessarily sound bad (assuming your tape is still good) but why use a lossy format if you don't have to?

I can only assume his reasoning is for the super-long-term Roland Emmerich future. In 2000 years, some aliens will be digging up a post-nuke Earth and come across a collection of tapes, which will be easy to reverse engineer relative to a digital system's multiple formats (HDD/file system/compression).

This sounds like the classic case of an audiophile finding a way to justify use of an ancient technology, but I don't understand how an actual audio engineer could succumb to such nonsense.

Re:He's a moron (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44790915)

Because if the masters in uncompressed wavs they can take to any studio and get someone to work on it, if they get the masters in some wacky tape format only Albini and a couple jews in Hollywood can read then that musician is locked in.

Re:He's a moron (0)

msobkow (48369) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791151)

Does FLAC support 24bit/192kHz?

If not, it's useless for recording masters.

Re:He's a moron (5, Informative)

PhrostyMcByte (589271) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791187)

Does FLAC support 24bit/192kHz? If not, it's useless for recording masters.

FLAC supports up to 32-bit @ 655 kHz

Re:He's a moron (1)

greg1104 (461138) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791205)

Of course FLAC handles 24/192. So does ALAC. Here's a sample record [linnrecords.com] available in all of those formats. hdtracks [hdtracks.com] is a good source for these too.

Re:He's a moron (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44791237)

Quote the all-knowing Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] :

It can handle any PCM bit resolution from 4 to 32 bits per sample, any sampling rate from 1 Hz to 655,350 Hz in 1 Hz increments, and any number of channels from 1 to 8.

Re:He's a moron (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44791377)

The problem with FLAC is that a minor loss of data can result in an archive that cannot be extracted. A single bit error can result in major lossage.

PCM does not have that problem - you only lose what you lose.

FLAC is great, but I do not archive in it. Also, the space savings are not that great.

So, in other words, he's clueless (2)

Zero__Kelvin (151819) | 1 year,23 days | (#44790877)

"Albini records to analog tape, not because he's in love with the sound of analog. No, he's concerned that as digital formats continue to evolve, today's digital recordings will be unplayable in the future. I loved the way Albini put it: "I feel it would be irresponsible to give my clients digital files as their permanent masters, knowing they would eventually disappear or become unusable, so I won't do it."

Somebody should start the Open Source movement!

Somebody should really explain digital to this guy. His delusion that analog tapes will outlive digital content is sad, and represents a serious level of incompetence; I don't care how many bands he has recorded.

Analog lasts longer than digital? (2)

Trip6 (1184883) | 1 year,23 days | (#44790907)

Huh? The magnetic bits start to lose their little minds after 10 yrs. Yes you need high band width a to d (at least 20 bit) but that is cheap these days. And it all comes down to the speakers reproducing the music since they add so much distortion the original sound is lost anyway.

Fact (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44790933)

Chuck Norris washes Steve Albini's boxer shorts.

Trolls trolling trolls (0)

bmo (77928) | 1 year,23 days | (#44790943)

Audiophile "logic" is the worst.

"Hurr, you haven't spent $50,000 on a power cord!"

Never mind the fact that there are tens, or hundreds of miles of "power cord" between the stereo and the power station.

"You haven't spent enough on your equipment~! How can you listen to that? Don't you hear that?" - Audiophile actually listening to his tinnitus.

Honest to glub. Listen to the music. Don't listen to the equipment or the imagined superiority.

--
BMO

why not a record then? (1)

Takahashi (409381) | 1 year,23 days | (#44790947)

Saying tape has a longer life is silly. I'd have no idea where to get an 8-track player today even though it's an analog format.

Same with a record player, but I could make one pretty easily. (there's a reason why we shot a record into space instead of a tape)

Really, though a documented and uncompressed digital file, properly kept track of, could last forever similar to a record even if we lost our codecs it would be easy to write a new one.

Re:why not a record then? (1)

greg1104 (461138) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791289)

8-track players are easy to find. I have two in my basement, and I was just laughing at one in a 7-11 store last night. The biggest problem with 8-tracks is that the tapes are very fragile. A few parts in the mechanism don't last very long. Maybe 10% of the tapes I try will still play for me.

Polemical Pontification (5, Funny)

bmo (77928) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791031)

I have a PhD in Digital Music Conservation from the University of Florida. I have to stress that the phenomenon known as "digital dust" is the real problem regarding conservation of music, and any other type of digital file. Digital files are stored in digital filing cabinets called "directories" which are prone to "digital dust" - slight bit alterations that happen now or then. Now, admittedly, in its ideal, pristine condition, a piece of musical work encoded in FLAC format contains more information than the same piece encoded in MP3, however, as the FLAC file is bigger, it accumulates, in fact, MORE digital dust than the MP3 file. Now you might say that the density of dust is the same. That would be a naive view. Since MP3 files are smaller, they can be much more easily stacked together and held in "drawers" called archive files (Zip, Rar, Lha, etc.) ; in such a configuration, their surface-to-volume ratio is minimized. Thus, they accumulate LESS digital dust and thus decay at a much slower rate than FLACs. All this is well-known in academia, alas the ignorant hordes just think that because it's bigger, it must be better.

So over the past months there's been some discussion about the merits of lossy compression and the rotational velocidensity issue. I'm an audiophile myself and posses a vast collection of uncompressed audio files, but I do want to assure the casual low-bitrate users that their music library is quite safe.

Being an audio engineer for over 21 years, I'm going to let you in on a little secret. While rotational velocidensity is indeed responsible for some deterioration of an unanchored file, there's a simple way of preventing this. Better still, there have been some reported cases of damaged files repairing themselves, although marginally so (about 1.7 percent for the .ogg format).

The procedure is, although effective, rather unorthodox. Rotational velocidensity, as known only affects compressed files, i.e. files who's anchoring has been damaged during compression procedures. Simply mounting your hard disk upside down enables centripetal forces to cancel out the rotational ruptures in the disk. As I said, unorthodox, and mainstream manufactures will not approve as it hurts sales (less rotational velocidensity damage means a slighter chance of disk failure.)

I'd still go with uncompressed .wav myself, but there's nothing wrong with compressed formats like flac or mp3 when you treat your hardware right

--
BMO

Re:Polemical Pontification (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44791087)

I hear digital music sounds better if you stand on your head - confirm / deny?

Re:Polemical Pontification (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44791107)

parent is copypasta not new material

http://pastebin.com/9tr309fk

Re:Polemical Pontification (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44791263)

parent is copypasta not new material

It's OK, BMO is a socialist - he thinks everybody else's stuff belongs to everybody.

Re:Polemical Pontification (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44791299)

Someone hasn't heard of error correction routines or CRC. Hell, use something as simple as MD5 to verify (given, no correction here) or PAR for redundancy with a sprinkling of MD5 on top. These aren't new problems.

Re:Polemical Pontification (1)

Karzz1 (306015) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791327)

I have 3 characters for you. M.D.5.

Tape? Sure. (1)

AnotherBlackHat (265897) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791071)

You want to give me a master copy on tape? Great!
I wouldn't say no to CD either, and pretty much any other format or media.

Just be sure there's at least one a digital copy in a lossless DRM free format included in the pile of copies you're giving me.

Who cares? (0)

macbeth66 (204889) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791081)

I don't care how you record shit. If it's shit, the best you are going to get is shit. There hasn't been any decent sounds in at least a decade. Sure, there are a few exceptions here and there, but they prove the rule...

Oh, forget it.

Get off my lawn!

Analog is not the long term solution (2)

Christopher Deneen (3051719) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791093)

1. Copying from one analog medium to another reduces the quality no matter the quality of your equiptment 2. All analog media decays either by time (the physical medium decays) or by playback (physical contact with head wears it down) That means that no matter what eventually your original recording will be destroyed. However, you can take a WAV file and copy it digitally 1:1 many times. This includes backups and moving to different storage media.

Don't underestimate our ability to recover audio.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,23 days | (#44791167)

He records on analog tape because he likes dinosaurs. And theres nothing wrong with dinosaurs, dinosaurs are awesome. But natural selection has long since spoken. We're no going back to tape or vinyl. As far as retaining all those recordings? Theres a difference between being a museum curator and a hoarder. I doubt digital recordings by major artists today will flat out disappear a hundred years from now. We've manage to get audio from Alexander Graham Bells optical discs and he didn't have a way to play them back! http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/We-Had-No-Idea-What-Alexander-Graham-Bell-Sounded-Like-Until-Now-204137471.html

Obsolescence (2)

bheading (467684) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791225)

"I feel it would be irresponsible to give my clients digital files as their permanent masters, knowing they would eventually disappear or become unusable, so I won't do it."

The hilarious thing about this is that I don't think anyone even makes analogue tape machines, right now. I checked Fostex, Studer, and Tascam. No tape machines being made.

Given this .. how easy will it be to play an analogue reel to reel tape in a few short years ?

Hell, I currently have no easy means to play my 4-track double speed/dbx cassette multitracks from years ago, and I have to go out of my way if I want to play an LP.

But, I can still access a tar file produced by a machine from 20 years ago, and I'd expect to have no trouble accessing a tar file from 20 years ago. Digital makes it easy to move your data as new technology comes out. Each time you copy your analogue tape you lose some of the original recording.

A Plethora of Recording formats (2)

mendax (114116) | 1 year,23 days | (#44791323)

I understand why this fellow uses tape. Stored properly, the tape can last for decades. However, there is a larger problem, one that has been in existence since the invention of practical audio recording in 1877. Audio recording mediums as well as their formats regularly change. Let me see how many I can recall off the top of my head (in roughly chronological order):

Wax cylinders
Edison flat disks
The thinner 78 rpm 10- and 12-inch disks that eventually became the standard
16-inch 16 rpm disks that were used by radio stations to record broadcasts
Magnetic wire
Mono magnetic tape (1/4 and 1/2 inch)
Three-track tape (for studio masters in the mid-1950's)
Two-track stereo reel-to-reel tape
Compact cassettes (mono, stereo, and quadraphonic)
33 rpm "long playing" records, the LP made with vinyl
45 rpm "singles", the ones with the big hole in the center
Stereo LP's and 45's
Multi-track one inch tape used for studio masters
Quadraphonic LP's (that's four audio tracks)
14-bit digital recording onto VHS tape
Compact disk (CD's)
Super-audio CDs
MP3, AAC, FLAC, PCM, AIFF, WAV, and whatever alphabet soup of compressed and uncompressed digital audio formats

I've left out most digital recording media for the masters because those can vary widely depending upon the computer system used.

The problem people making audio recordings face should be obvious now.

Recording media (and formats) are going to continue to change as recording technology continues to develop and evolve, and as computer data storage media continue to develop and evolve. In my mind, the only way to make a master recording and keep it fresh and readable is record it digitally at a very sampling frequency and at a high bit rate so the recording resolution is very high, and then every so often copy it to a new recording media. In short, audio recording in a digital world requires the preserver to take an active role in its preservation. So, in my mind, this guy's attitude in recording masters onto audio tape is laudable but probably not practical long-term.

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