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Why did home audio go Digital?

Discussion in 'Hi-Fi Stereo Systems & Separates' started by buns, Oct 30, 2002.

  1. buns

    buns
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    Now perhaps there is something obvious, but having been doing a load of stuff on signal processing, i can see no particularly good reason for us using digitally pre recorded material.

    The using of digital adds an inherent error to the signal in the first place, plus it forces the use of band limitations. It has the benefit that it is very good as far as not showing up noise.....but what does that have to do with the home environment!? For the most part, we send signal in an analogue manner anyhow!

    So.......major benefit of digital is that it does not degrade in transmission. (and i guess the media doesnt degrade). But, we dont use that.

    So why one earth do we use digital at all?!

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    ps. im missing something arent i!?
     
  2. michaelab

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    I think you are missing something:

    At home we benefit both from the fact that it doesn't degrade in transmission (from the digital master to the CD) and the fact the the media (CDs) don't degrade over time or with use (as vinyl and tape do). Digital media (CDs, DVDs) also tends to be far more robust than anlog ones (vinyl, magnetic tape).

    Since most original recordings are made, edited, mixed and mastered digitally these days anyway (because you never lose anything in any of those process if done digitally) it makes sense to just transfer that digital master to CD rather than doing a D/A conversion to an analog medium.

    Digital sources are also virtually noiseless, silence really is silence, not the quiet hiss of an analog source. That extremely low noise also means you can have great dynamic range and don't have to use compression noise reduction techniques like Dolby B (for tapes).

    Digital also is not inherently 'bad', just that at the time CD was invented 16bit, 44.1kHz was the best current technology could do. With high enough sampling rates and resolution a digital recording is as good or better than any analog recording. IMO an SACD is as good as any analog LP, and it's far easier to get the best out of it.

    Even normal CD is pretty darn good with the recent advances in DAC technology. For 95% of people CD is streets ahead of vinyl in quality. Add in the convenience and robustness of the format and it's a no-brainer.

    Michael.
     
  3. buns

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    But........

    we dont transmit digital signal in the home, not in cd players anhow! The disc is digital, it is read from the disc then converted to an analogue signal. So the transmission is analogue.

    Granted I can accept that an analogue master will degrade. But beyond that, the only other true benefit is that the media does itself not degrade.

    Digital sources are mostly noiseless. That i again agree on. But technology as it stands is now capable of basically noiseless analogue.

    To disagree with a point, digital recording cannot better analogue. Since digital is a sample of an analogue signal, it would be impossible to get a digital version which sounded better. This would be the same as saying that the digital sampling procedure actually improves the original version. Yes you can keep upping the sampling rates and upping the bandwidths, but the is still the inherent error going to be involved.

    Im not saying im right on this, im just interested to know what everyone thinks!

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  4. michaelab

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    A digital recording may be a 'sample' of the original analog sound but you're assuming that an analog recording records the original sound perfectly, which it doesn't. At very high sample rates and using SACD style 'direct stream digital' I believe a digital recording can record an analog sound more accurately than an analog recording mechanism.

    As to the 'transmisison is analog' thing: at some point you have to convert to analog in order to drive the speakers. Doing so before the signal is amplified for the speakers is the last reasonable place you could do it.

    A good, high sample rate, digital recording stored on optical media is a far more accurate and non-degrading rendition of the original sound than any analog medium.

    However you've got me thinking: what if you could make an anlog recording onto an optical medium that was read by lasers just like a CD? Then you would have an analog format that didn't degrade that might be capable of great things. In fact this has been done a long time ago: 16mm film soundtracks were often (always?) stored optically down the edge of the film and read by a light beam. Quite how it all worked I'm not sure, and the quality wasn't that great either.

    Michael.
     
  5. buns

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    Quite how analogue recording is done, i dont know. I always assumed that everything was recorded. No sampling was done. So basically an analogue recording contained everything the original would have had. Of course this will be subject to additions through interference, noise and the likes. I dont know about dsd, all i know is that, having discovered pcm has an inherent error associated, i just wondered.....

    The transmission is obviously the big digital strength. But in the home, as you accpet, there really is no transmission going on.

    Im not sure about the idea of an optical analogue medium. To me is sounds to defy definition of both analogue and digital........ without knowing the analogue method of recording i shouldnt say anything!

    all this is sparked by another thread of mine.......vinyl.......i have just heard my lovely cd system whipped silly by a budget record player.....

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  6. michaelab

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    Analog recordings are commonly made in one of two ways:

    Magnetic tape, where the analog sound waveform is transferred as changes in a magnetic field onto the tape; or, some physical method like cutting a groove on a wax disc or cylinder (rather like a reverse turntable where the stylus is cutting rather than reading).

    Obviously neither of these methods is perfect. Neither the analog transfer mechanism nor the storage medium necessarily have a full frequency response or dynamic range required to store the sound exactly.

    With current technology it's much easier to make a 'perfect' digital recording that will last forever than a 'perfect' analog recording.

    You should check out SACD and DSD using google. IMO it's the future of digital recordings. In many ways it's like analog recording. If you saw the bitstream of a perfect sine wave encoded in DSD it would be recognizable as a sine wave pattern.

    Michael.
     
  7. ukaudiophile

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    Hello,

    Even on an LP the mastering was often done in the digital domain throught the eighties and nineties.

    If we go right back to basics, let's say, hypothetically, that you wanted to do a pure analogue vinyl LP and a CD. Now the correct way of doing this is to have two completely separate feeds from the microphones, one going to an analogue recorder, a second going to a digital recorder. Now assuming this recording is for the pop marketplace, you're talking about multi tracking, again in both formats, then mixing on two separate mixing boards, using separate effects boxes (to ensure the effects boxes don't do an A --> D stage then a D --> A stage). Hopefully you now have a digital master and an analogue master. Now you can master the vinyl album, only the cutter head uses a digital monitor hence there is a deterioration at the actual master cutting stage, unless the cutting lathe uses analogue head electronics.

    As you can see from the above illustration there are a large number of places where an A-D or D-A stage can get in the way of a pure analogue signal, so it's all the more remarkable that LP's sounds as good as they do.

    It's already been tried, the ELP laser turntable is a contactless, optical turntable that is really marketed at the archival markets. It's hideously expensive, about £18K when I last looked, and it's sound is good, but can be easily bettered by a really top notch T/T using an MC cart.

    I'm not actually surprised by this. In '89 I really thought I had a first rate CD playing system using a Denon DCD 1500 MKII CD player, at the time it was considered the deck to beat for about £500. I was speaking to a friend of mine whose Father had an LP12 / Ittok / Roksan Chorus Balck cart. He invited me over to his house with the CD player to put the Denon up against the LP12. I figured I was on safe ground with my Denon sporting the latest technology. It did sound excellent, but from the first bar of Miami Sound Machine's 'Primitive Love' album I knew I was beat. The LP12 just sounded more like music. Of course, between then and now I've learnt a lot more about turntables and analogue, but even today I bet that same T/T could shake up a lot of modern CD players. As Michael said, the 16 bit 44.1 kHz was the best that could be achieved at the time, and frankly I feel the record companies should have waited at least another 5, maybe 10 years before going digital so we could at least have had a format using 88.2 or 96 kHz with at least 20 bit word lengths. Given the current state of play, and the fact that many record companies are mastering to DSD, I see a future where SACD MAY be able to give vinyl a run for it's money when put against a top flight T/T. Having said that I've heard the new Alison Krauss album 'Forget About It' on the Diverse Record label which is mastered from a DSD master. The pressing and mastering are truly incredible. DSD may well turn out to be the best thing yet for both LP and digital replay in the home.

    Regards and best wishes,

    Dave
     
  8. ukaudiophile

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    Hi,

    To answer you original question, why did we go digital, it's simple. MONEY!

    The record shop's didn't like having to deal with all the returns because the guys in the warehouse and the shops didn't know how yo handle the vinyl correctly. The record companies didn't like the returns situation, but they wanted to cut the actual production costs of the records, the shipping costs (LP's a re much heavier than CD), reduce their warehaouse space and reduce production costs. Digital allowed them to do all this, whilst simultenously they sold us, the public, on the idea that as it was SO much better than vinyl, they'd have to charge us more for it, and of course they could re sell their entire back catalogue on the 'Superior' medium.

    In short the interests of the music lover were at the back of the minds of the record companies, who had been systematically making vinyl albums towards the end of the seveties of poorer and poorer quality to reduce costs and, I now think, to make LP's sound much worse so we'd accept the sound of CD as superior. I really think the record companies figured that they'd have totally killed vinyl by 1990 and there would be no pressing plants left working.

    Ironically there are now more pressing plants working and more turntables being sold than there were in 2000. Project alone shipped over 26,000 decks last year.

    That, I'm afraid, is the sorry story of why we have digital audio in the home. As I said in my previous post, it was 10 years too early to move to digital. I think if they'd waited until 88.2 or 96 kHz was available to implement in a home audio system, they'd have been far more successful in killing off vinyl.

    Regards and best wishes,

    Dave
     
  9. BigAde

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    No idea how true this is but...

    The story I heard was that CDs had to be small enough to fit into a typical car-stereo-sized-slot in a dashboard. That determined the physical size of the disc. Next the person in charge of developing CD particularly loved Beethhoven's ninth symphony - so that determined the maximum length of recording. That meant that a maximum sampling rate of 44khZ/16-bit was all that could be used so that it all still fitted on the disc (given the 1970's technology at the time it was developed).

    By the way, I have to take issue with the 'fact' that vinyl degrades over time. I can't accept this is any more true for vinyl than it is for CDs/DVDs. I have a couple of records from the 1950s and plenty from the 1960s which have been well-treated and are still in perfect condition. I guess it comes down to how well they are looked after over the years. Who hasn't come across a CD which is rendered unplayable through neglect or misuse?
     
  10. buns

    buns
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    all this being true.......... why is vinyl still better? and seeing it is better, why are we using the inferior sound quality?!

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  11. michaelab

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    buns - might be worth checking out a new book by John Watkinson called "An Introduction to Digital Audio", published by Focal Press. It's on the front page of the site at the moment.

    Has been highly recommended by a couple of HiFi mags and I'm just about to put my order in. You can read the first chapter online on the site.

    Michael.
     
  12. ukaudiophile

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    Hello,

    I don't know about the size of the disc, but the part about Beethoven's Ninth is correct, the running time of the disc was determined so the whole of the Ninth could fit on one disc. The sampling rate was selected not only because that was all you could fit on with the available beam spot, but because the 44.1/16 standard was approachign the point where it was affordable to integrate into home audio components at that time. In fact most of the first generation Philips CD players had only 14 bit DAC's I understand due to expense and scarcity of the full 16 bit chips.

    Couldn't agree more. Most vinyl "degradation" is in fact caused by people using poorly designed turntables / arms / carts., worn out carts, using the wrong tracking force, mis handling of the records and using the wrong chemicals to clean them together with incorrect storage. It goes without saying that in CD's favour, it does seem MUCH more durable than vinyl LP's and tolerant of mishandling. Having said that, I have heard LP's from the 60's that still sound fabulous today. The whole vinyl wear thing is due to the public not being educated how to handle the medium correctly in the first place, not due to poor design of the medium.

    Regards and best wishes,

    Dave
     
  13. BigAde

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    Well to my mind, yes, vinyl does sound better than CD (I know others will disagree - each to their own!). Whether that will still hold true once (if) DVD-A/SACD takes over, I'm not so sure. I've personally never held anything against digital medi per se, I just have an issue with the low sampling and bit-rates used on CD. No doubt there will be the usual beardy flat-earthers who will maintain that there is still a difference (and hey, I may be one of them - not having heard DVDA/SACD I don't know yet!).

    I guess we use the 'inferior' sound quality of CDs for a number of reasons:
    1. Hi-Fi is no longer as popular as it once was (sad but true) - unlike in the sixties/seventies there are other items of consumer electronics which compete for our cash. This means that your average Joe Bloggs is content with a £300 far-eastern 'hi-fi' mini system from Dixons with flashing lights, 3,000 fictious Watts and lots of buttons (cue Smith and Jones hi-fi sketch!). On such a system, sound quality is not going to be terribly great, so Joe and his family won't appreciate the quality difference between CD/DVDA/SACD/vinyl (or for that matter compact cassette).
    2. Convenience. You ain't gotta turn the CD over to hear all of it - you have repeat, random and program functions! You have multi-changers, more flashing lights etc etc.
    3. CDs fit in cars - with the exception of a very old Laurel and Hardy film, I don't think I've seen a car record-deck.
    4. Portability. CDs can be played on the move. Okay so there was a vertical portable record deck in the 70's, but I don't think we can seriously consider that!
    5. Availability. Let's face it, with the exception of dance 'music', vinyl is hardly available in every HMV, Virgin and Our Price any more.
    6. And lets not forget that the vast majority of people haven't actually heard a good vinyl system in operation and therefore aren't aware that there's an alternative!

    My concern for the future is that for the reasons outlined above, most people are happy enough with CD - so how many people are really going to bother shelling out for another set of discs which for the time being at least aren't going to play in their CD Walkman, car stereo or mates's system?
     
  14. CJROSS

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    :rolleyes: :rolleyes: :rolleyes:

    I guess I am a rarity in that I enjoy both formats equally, Neither is better than the other IMHO, they just have different presentation thats all. To call one better is just down to personal preference of the sound, I have always struggled to see how one is better than the other. I have many friends who prefer one over the other but cant categorically state that one is the best when pressed when asked for a reason apart from their preference.

    For example the variation in sound from vinyl playback systems due to differing deck types, psus, arms & cart type/quality is bewildering. Are we honestly saying that all TTs are better than All CD replay systems ? The exact same is true of CD technology, you cant lump it all in the same boat, every different manufaccer has their own tailored company sound, this being down to the design & components used. Which brings me nicely to recording quality in both vinyl pressing & CD transfer, I have heard a lot of sublime material all the way to atrocious recording quality, again no medium has the instant right to a better quality IMHO. I have tried DAD 24/96 & to me it compares very similarly to HDCD encoding, now this is at 20/44.1 Khz sampling frequency, so is this Better ? The variation in CD recordings from AAD/ADD to DDD mastering is another facet of how similar recording can sound totally different vai the same sampling rate.

    Some very good points about the convience of CD over Vinyl, but then you level a format like MD being the most versatile digital (hardcopy) medium for convienence IMHO. I love the points stated for CDs convience but does it have the same “event” procedures of vinyl of actually placing a record on the platter, then cueing up your arm+cart, no !!

    I think a big plus point of Digital is future convergence be it hard disk encoding, to multi format players that are with us already ie CD/DVD-V/DVD-A/SACD combined players that can do it all under one bonnet. Have no doubt though that digital is here to stay and very good results can be had from all the formats IMHO.

    BTW BigAde Im sure it was the wife of the heed honcho at Sony or Phillips who liked that particular track you mention hence the format being chosen by a hen pecked duder. A better case of SWMBO in hifi terms Ive yet to find.
     
  15. bjd

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    Quote:

    all this being true.......... why is vinyl still better?

    http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~ashon/academics/Ultrasonics2.doc

    I gave this link in another thread. It is just a summary of the fairly in-depth info available from the links at the bottom of the article.
    Basically, it seems to imply that cd made a big mistake using a 22Khz or thereabouts hard cut off. Even if the frequencies above 22Khz are "inaudible", these articles show that they may well have an effect on how we percieve music.
    If any of it has any truth, it will give me the answer to the question that has dogged me since the introduction of cds, which was, why, if they are such a perfect reproduction, did they always sound clinical to me. I had previously been told it was because I wasn't hearing the "colour and distortion" that was added by vinyl. I never really felt that that was a particularly convincing argument. The idea that inaudible frequencies still have an impact on how we percieve what we hear is much more appealing, and, for me, explains it all. CD digital got it wrong, full stop. :)

    Brian
     
  16. WhyAyeMan

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    bjd, perhaps you are correct that sound over 22KHz does somewhat alter the character of the sound somewhat, but it is not really an issue for most people as most loudspeakers cannot go over 20KHz anyway, so if vinyl contains this extra frequency but loudspeakers (and amps possibly) cannot reproduce it, I cant see that this would be the reason for the two formats sounding so different.
     
  17. BigAde

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    You're right in saying that most hi-fi gear would struggle to reproduce those higher frequencies, but let's not foget you will have some of the harmonics of those higher frequencies appearing below 20KHz.
     
  18. michaelab

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    Yes, but in that case those harmonics would have been captured by the original 44.1kHz sampling.

    What's more likely is that ultrasonic sounds interact in the human ear to create 'beat' frequencies and similar effects which are 'artefacts' of the human ear so can't be captured at all, by any mechanism. The only way to recreate them is to capture the ultrasonics which cause them to happen. Of course then you do need amps and speakers which can reproduce ultrasonics. Which still doesn't explain why SACD or vinyl sounds so much 'better' than CD on equipment that can't reproduce those ultrasonics :confused:

    Michael.
     
  19. BigAde

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    It's not just about the ability to reproduce ultrasonics though.

    Trouble is that the sampling rate on CDs is not exactly high enough to capture every subtle harmonic and nuance of the music. The poor dynamic range of CDs doesn't help here either with lots of detail lost at lower volumes. SACD & DVDA have higher sampling rates and dynamic range which help retain more detail in the recording.

    Proper analogue-processed vinyl doesn't have sampling rates at all - you get pure analogue sound out.
    After all (and this comes back to what the original post was about) if we take an example of 'pure' music (a live performance) - a singer produces an analogue sound wave which is picked up by an analogue transducer, our ears - the source is analogue, sound waves are analogue and our ears are analogue. So you can understand the argument for not processing the signal in the digital domain at all. Nice theory anyway! In practice, vinyl is rarely properly analogue-processed and suffers from it's own inherent limitations making it difficult and therefore expensive to produce quality pressings.

    Just to complicate things further - there's evidence that we are able to perceive music with more than just out ears. Other parts of our bodies are sensitive to certain frequencies. It's believed that we can 'perceive' higher frequencies, even if we can't hear them! Too complicated for me - it's Friday lunchtime and I'm in need of liquid refreshment. ;)
     
  20. michaelab

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    That's certainly true. The well known and world renowned classical percussionist Evelyn Glennie (spelling?) is profoundly deaf but she can still play with an orchestra and 'hear' it, aswell as 'hearing' her own instruments.

    She plays barefoot and says that she somehow can 'feel' the music.

    And, just for those who don't know, classical percussion isn't all about fairly atonal things like kettle drums and cymbals, it covers xylophones, marimbas, tubular bells etc (basically anything you have to hit to make a sound) which are as musical as a piano or any other instrument.

    Michael.
     
  21. dunkyboy

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    I may be misinformed, but from what I've read/been told, CD has vastly superior dynamic range to vinyl, and vinyl is limited in practice in frequency range (i.e. LP's are very unlikely to reach as high as 20KHz). Vinyl also introduces distortion not present in CD's, which (as someone else mentioned) many ascribe to some people's preference to vinyl over CD (as they find it to be euphonic distortion).

    Isn't it also true that above a certain sampling rate/bitrate an analogue wave can be reconstructed perfectly from a digital PCM signal - i.e. digital distortion is no longer an issue. I'm sure I was taught that some-random-boyo's theorem states something along those lines. (I'm a real fountain of knowledge, me! :p) The thing is, I believe 16/44.1 is comfortably above the required rate, and so (at least in theory) the analogue wave can be reconstructed *perfectly* given a CD's PCM encoding, due to the fact that a wave always behaves as a wave and, given a minimum amount of information, the wave's actual form can ge derived without error. Someone's definitely gonna have to set me straight on this.

    As I say, I may be wrong, and if I am please do correct me. I can't speak from personal experience as I have never had the chance to test a good vinyl setup against a good CD setup, and even if I had I doubt it would be conclusive, as there are plenty of other variables to take into account (such as how the discs were mastered, the quality of a preamp's phono stage, and numerous other factors).

    Anyway, I find this discussion interesting, as in theory an all-analogue record-storage-playback path should be able to reproduce the original sound perfectly. In practice, of course, this is never going to be the case, but I'm curious about just how close you can get with vinyl. I don't have a record player but I'm considering buying a Project Debut just to give it a go. I wonder how it would compare to my [£1000+] Meridian 506.24 CD player...

    Cheers,

    Dunc

    P.S. - Isn't piano considered to be percussion too?
     
  22. kevenh

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    vinyl needs to have 'data' added to compensate for centrifugal force.
    I'm one of the people who love the convenience, and (near) guaranteed repeat play quality of CD.
    And I don't miss having to swap sides after 20mins.

    I think they were two of the benefits that 'hyped' the CD format in the early 80's.
    And I remember Midge Ure/Ultravox raving how you could hear never heard of before 'sounds' on a CD - the nearest you could get to being with them when they recorded/mastered the album.

    All that must've helped sell CD's
     
  23. michaelab

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    I knew someone was going to say that :rolleyes: - there have been debates about this in classical music circles almost as fierce and pointless as the various CD vs. Vinyl debates :p Technically you could argue that a piano is a percussion instrument (as it's just hammers hitting the strings) but I think most people take the view that since the act of hitting the strings is indirect, via a complicated mechanism, that it's no longer in the same category.

    It also obviously requires a playing technique totally different from any percussion instruments so that sets it apart aswell.

    Michael.
     

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