The Wikipedia explanation:
"Even today, some artists of all genres prefer analog tape's
"musical", "natural" and especially
"warm" sound. Due to harmonic distortion, bass can
thicken up, creating the illusion of a fuller-sounding mix.
In addition, high end can be slightly compressed, which is
more natural to the human ear. It is common for artists to
record to digital and re-record the tracks to analog reels
for this effect of "natural" sound. In addition to
all of these attributes of tape, tape saturation is a unique
form of distortion that many rock and blues artists find
"Euphonic distortion and noise levels aside, high-quality
analog tape currently outstrips the transparency of all but
the best digital recording/playback systems: digital systems
can suffer from (among other problems) clock jitter,
inferior analog circuitry, inferior digital filter design,
improper wordlength conversion, and/or lack of correct
dithering. Dramatic improvements in the average quality of
digital hardware design are narrowing the gap, though, and
might soon eliminate the quality distinction altogether."
So, the LP that we recorded from may be more accurate, but
the distortion imparted by recording it to tape is more
pleasing to our ears, which of course makes us tell others
that the tape recording is "better".
So, the LP that we recorded from may be more accurate, but
the distortion imparted by recording it to tape is more
pleasing to our ears, which of course makes us tell others
that the tape recording is "better"
.....yes this is well known some people refuse to admit that some coloration and distortion can be pleasant.
"Plenty of variables to play with tape (reel-to-reel playback)! These parameters introduce distortions of harmonic content (particularly at low frequencies), and frequency and phase-response irregularities, and they reduce dynamic range, mainly affecting high-frequency transients through magnetic saturation and self-erasure effects" but some of those that have chosen to go back to tape still believe that they are on the Holly-Grail path of the audiophile "purist" approach, when it is just another case of ignorance, not having the technical knowledge to explain what caused the changes to the sound. The very same can be said of vacuum tubes as a generalization! and make no mistake about it that this is the same behavior and attitude towards, power-cords (cables in general), isolation devices, power-conditioners and other various tweaks that make up the Great Audiophile Swindle! There is much mis-perception, misconception, unguided souls, marketing spin and unfounded and unsupported claims in High-End audio that take advantage of gullible and technically challenge audiophiles with deep pockets!
This observation is certainly true.
But audiophiles prefer the discomfort and unpleasantness of ever increasing accuracy, "transparency" and "resolution" to the contentedness of being happy with their systems.
Without this neurosis, they would have no reason to participate in these forums, or tweak, change or upgrade any of their equipment.
I have been listening to the superior sound of reel for over 30 years; I don't need any explanation.
I agree, reel to reel captures some 'better sound', but I do doubt it was better then the lp. I have some AFRTS, 7.5 prerecorded tapes that were sourced from lp's. The transfers are very high quality as I have many of the original lps from which the transfers were made and I have compared them in some blind tests. The government spared no expense in creating the transfers, thank you all taxpayers. . As many R2R fans know Drake produced many tapes for FM radio stations that were sourced also from lp's, the also sound great but they don't equal the origian lp as 'better sound'.
Buconero, did the government use a state of the art TT, tonearm, and cartridge, when they recorded the LP?
I have to debunk some of what is being said here.
The reel to reel thing: Think about how you do your dubs from LP. If you are like me, you use headphones plugged into the tape machine for a monitor. I usually keep the speaker volume down, as there is no microphonic upset to the LP that way. The result is that the LP playback is more accurate than it is with the volume up. So tapes can indeed sound better on this account.
Second: distortion in tubes- it is important to follow the rules of human hearing, not made up stuff on paper with no meaning to the human ear. The ear finds trace amounts of odd-ordered harmonics to be unpleasant, audiophiles have terms like 'bright', 'harsh', 'brittle', 'clinical' and the like to describe odd-ordered (5th, 7th, 9th) distortions of less than 1/100th of a percent. The reason we are so sensitive to these harmonics is because the ear uses them to determine how loud a sound is. If you violate this fundamental rule, its instantly audible.
By contrast, the lower orders (2nd, 3rd, 4th) are not objectionable and humans will tolerate several orders of magnitude more than above (10%-30%) without objection. Push-pull amps of both tube and solid state cancel even orders, so really the 3rd is the big deal, and it tends to be quite low compared to the 2nd. IOW, distortion is not something that is somehow inherent to tubes, if you know anything about electronics then you know that triodes are some of the most linear devices known.
Power cords: a 2V drop across a power cord can rob a tube amplifier of as much as 40% of its output power! Cripes! You're trying to say you can't hear that?? So this is very measurable and audible as well. On lesser transistor amps, a power cord will be less audible as the drop across the cable is reduced, but a class A transistor amp will easily bring out cable weaknesses.
That is not the end of it with power cables either. Most conventional power supplies consist of a power transformer, rectifiers and filter caps. The caps usually only charge on peaks of the waveform unless the circuit is just starting up. This means that the cord has to pass high frequency bursts of current as the rectifiers commutate. Some cords don't have the bandwidth. The difference between the worst and the best is about 10% in this department, that is what audiophiles are hearing. Again, this is easily measured if you know what to look for.
Power conditioners: If they did not work, there would not be industrial power conditioners that are aimed at markets other than high end, although in the high end world most of the power conditioners are terrible. The best was made by Elgar and is an industrial design that is too mechanically noisy to put in your living room, but will put out a perfect sine wave. The 5th harmonic of the AC line is the issue: this will cause rectifiers to become noisy, transformers to become noisy and generate excess heat, and cause synchronous motors used in turntables and tape machines to weaken and actually have counter-rotational forces. Fluke instruments produced a white paper of the 5th harmonic nearly 20 years ago. Again, this is quite measurable and audible.
I can go on, but I think you get my point- the things audiophile hear are often real (and yes, often made up too). As soon as you close your mind, thinking that everything is figured out, you create a blind spot for yourself because that will be about something that you don't know, and you won't know that you don't know it.
Atmasphere, great post. Thanks for the details on audible effects of AC cables and conditioners. Lots of mumbo-jumbo and name-calling in this domain, very refreshing to have some new and solid facts.
Excellent post Atmasphere. Thanks.
Just as all turntables are not created equal, neither are all reel to reel tape-decks. A modified 2 track is much different than a 1/4 track.
Power cords: a 2V drop across a power cord can rob a tube amplifier of as much as 40% of its output power!
Ralph, could you provide a technical explanation of why that would be so? I don't doubt your statement, but I'm interested in understanding why that would occur.
Re your other points, all of which strike me as excellent, I think that it should be stated that none of those points NECESSARILY mean, to cite an example, that a $2,000 power cord will outperform a $200 power cord in any given system.
I just wish A-gon had a "like button". Great thread people.
I think that you simplify the matter to suit your needs. Let's review:
Reel-to-Reel(tape playback), tubes and transformers (to a lesser extend) all create distortion in the form of phase shifts and alter the harmonic structure often to increase clarity and enhance low-level details as a psychoacoustic effect that is pleasing in an aural way to our brain.
Second, while professional and industrial line regulation and power conditioning devices do offer benefits, supported through data, they are also priced and marketed in a fashion where the claims can be supported; that is not the case for most of the high-end audio's products.
I do not want to lose sight of the main discussion topic here with a sideband discussion so I strongly encourage you to educate yourself with the following article:Analogue Warmth The Sound Of Tubes, Tape & Transformers
After you read it, we can go on but I think that you'll get the point!
Colouration and distortion are spoken by some talking heads a as a bad thing. But hold on partner. When we listen to even a LIVE event even if the direct sounds are accurate based on the tuning of the instruments and the vocalist we get a preponderance of sound via multiple reflections and each reflection we pick up on is coloured by the surface texture and the shape of it as the reflection bounces to our ears. We live in a world of coloured sound be it live or recorded.
Recorded sound will reflect the design of the recording room or venue. The sound of our listening rooms will colour and distort the sound we hear. And yes the equipment we use from the playback of the source through to the speakers will all add subtle colourations and distortions.
This nonsense that we can engineer a colourless and accurate audio sound track should stop.
Heck, even our ears, the Pinna ??? Outer ear and canal will colour the sound for each of us.
In the end only when sound is gravely coloured, distorted or muted will we find it objectionable. Before that point is reached it is all subjective to our personal preferences.
Better analogue sources can make great sound be they vinyl or tape. Better digital sources can make great sound too. Poor sound is result of poor engineering of both the recording and the equipment made to replay it all.
Great article Carlos.....thank you.
Carlos269, upon reading this article I am struck by the simple fact that the guy who wrote it must have an atrocious monitor system! -and is either partially deaf (common with engineers in the studio) or simply has no idea which way is up. I too have run recording studios for the last 30 years and digital has to be one of the biggest single steps backwards to occur in that time.
Using 24-bit files (which we use as backups for our analog machines), **anyone** who hears the comparison between them always comments on how much better the analog machines sound. There is a greater sense of presence, greater sense of soundstage, improved tonality (I find that even with the 'treble' controls run all the way down, that digital often still sounds bright). Admittedly, the 88KHz scanning and higher has helped a lot since you get rid the brickwall filter, but they still, in a word, suck.
As far as conditioning goes, please re-read my comments- your comments sound like you did not read mine. For brevity I will restate one thing- most high end audio conditioners are terrible. But if you thus assume *all* are therefore bad you commit a logical fallacy called 'guilt by association'. see http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/
for more info on logical fallacies.
As far as tubes go: if you build single-ended transistor circuits you will get terrible distortions, requiring a lot of feedback to (poorly) correct. So most transistor circuits these days are balanced, even if they only have single-ended inputs. With tubes you can not only build them single-ended, but you can run them zero feedback and they will still have acceptable distortion figures (if you are able to run them at a low enough level the distortion cannot be measured). The Ampex 351 is an example of such a beast. Its distortion is quite low until you are nearly saturating the tape, and there is less phase shift than you see in digital systems. As you record at lower levels (for example, hall ambiance) the distortion vanishes.
Compare that to digital: if you have 16 bits to express 0VU, you get only 8 to express -45 db (where the hall ambiance is). 8 bits sounds like a cheap phone message machine. Its not hifi. That is why digital lacks low level detail.
Now don't get me wrong- there are a lot of products out there that take advantage of tube distortions in order to create effects. Often they starve the tube; a circuit that should be running 200V on the plate of the tube is only getting 12Volts, things like that. Its a fact that tubes have pleasing distortions, and its something that everyone should pay attention to, because devices that have irritating distortions aren't going to help :) This is why I spoke of human perceptual rules earlier- our ears find these things pleasant or unpleasant for a reason!
Al, the reason a power cord can have this effect is simple. If there is a 2 volt drop in a power cord, the filaments of the tubes will run cooler and the B+ will be reduced. Since this is a voltage, the result is we get less voltage output out of the amp. Less voltage=less power. Depending on the amp this can be pretty profound. and I have seen it with my own eyes. I do agree though that that does not justify a $2000 power cord, but it **does** justify one that has decent connectors and conductors that will not heat up at all. That has to cost something, probably not $2000 though. One thing about audio is that if there is a phenomena, there is also snake oil for it.
Al, the reason a power cord can have this effect is simple. If there is a 2 volt drop in a power cord, the filaments of the tubes will run cooler and the B+ will be reduced. Since this is a voltage, the result is we get less voltage output out of the amp. Less voltage=less power. Depending on the amp this can be pretty profound. and I have seen it with my own eyes.
That would also seem to say that the value of the ac line voltage at each listener's location can be a very significant variable in the performance of a tube amp (assuming it does not have regulated filament and B+ supplies).
Which in turn emphasizes how easy it can sometimes be for extraneous variables to lead to incorrect sonic assessments.
No doubt! But it extends to anything that can draw significant power- and bigger transistor amps can! Imagine the peaks just... not... making it.
This taught us a lesson... when we set up an amplifier for test, we test the AC line voltage from the IEC connector. The meter on the variac (a bit of test instrumentation) cannot be trusted.
Les creative edge,
Well said!!!!! I concur. The "purist" audiophile approach is just a flawed ideal and like other sacred things, some use it to extort or out of ignorance. I'm personally not "holier than thou" as I was there once myself but once the blinders where removed, it became a more enjoyable, less expensive, and a more intelligent world!
I think that you missed the gist of the article. It was not an analogue versus digital, which sound better? article; but rather and article concerning why added distortion, by way of phase manipulation and harmonic enhancement/restructuring, has pleasing effect that many qualify as sounding "better".
I have said it once (actually many times here and on Audio Asylum) and I'll say it again:
In a nut shell, my position is that:
The one-shot trial and error substitutions that are the current basis of the audiophile doctrine can be replaced by predictable, systematic, repeatable, scalable and defeatable operations.
The power of convolution processors, linear-phase filters, sampled reverbs and spatial matrixing is much more compelling and efficient than power-cord, speaker-cable, interconnect, cleaning solution, fuses, isolation/coupling devices, tonearm, cartridge or even source component swapping.
A simple way to test this approach for free is to listen to two different mastered versions of the same recording or to an original version compared to a re-mastered edition. Even XRCD's and K2HD CD's are products of re-mastering and see how much difference the process makes as compared to cable or fuse swapping, for instance.
Wikipedia. It's in print, sort of, so it has to be correct. Right? ;-)
Yes I was once one of them audiophile types. It was out of some hope I could rectify all sonic anomalies if I just spent more money. Though I have done a lot to build a nice system and I have educated myself on speaker placement and room treatment. I also am now more of an audio enthusiast, trying to enjoy my gear and learn more about the fun of the hobby. I still want to get better performance but I realize perfection is IMPOSSIBLE. I just want to play around with my gear, maybe buy new stuff of even vintage gear from time to time and then enjoy listening to my music and watching movies.
My theory is there are lots of ways to make good soup.
Also thank God not all soup tastes the same, no matter how good it may be.
Dan_ed, there is no right or wrong here. The Wikipedia article was just a reference that offered an explanation why tape sounds the way it does and why some people prefer it vs digital. In just about every field, experts will always disagree.
....in the immortal words of Sylvester Stewart: different strokes for different folks.
It was not an analogue versus digital, which sound better? article; but rather and article concerning why added distortion, by way of phase manipulation and harmonic enhancement/restructuring, has pleasing effect that many qualify as sounding "better".
Carlos, I realized that right away- the problem is this article is coming from someone who does not know what is possible in the world of high end audio, assuming that things can never sound real. His initial assertion that digital was such a great thing for audio... well, the fact of the matter is that a lot of the analog manipulations that he mentions in his article have appeared **as a result** of how bad digital is.
There is a definate portion of the audio community that simply does not have any idea of how good audio playback has gotten, and on top of that seems to think that anyone who does try to push the art is in fact not doing anything, because they are a complete nut. This community uses simple assumptions, like 'tubes=distortion' and other arguments we have seen here already. Tubes don't have to have any more distortion than transistor amps- I've built tube amps with THD at full power under 0.01% for example. If you use techniques that the transistor guys use to get low distortion, you can do the same or better with tubes, if you know what you are doing.
Now its a different matter as to whether or not its a **good idea** to build any amplifier with distortion that low. Here's the crux of it: any amp with distortion figures like that is likely violating a fundamental rule of human perception, which is how we perceive the volume of a sound. So in high end you see a lot of designers that build their gear to **not** make the distortions that the ear cares about, and likely are not worried about the distortions that the ear **doesn't** care about. Such equipment may not look good on paper, because the paper specs have little to do with human perceptual rules.
Tape happens to be a medium that makes very low distortions, at very low level, quite the opposite of digital, which is guilty of increased distortions at low level. Unfortunately, tape, by driving it too hard, has become an effect in the studio that is not representative of what it is capable of. Its when you drive it hard that it can pick up distortions that become audible.
Here is something that that community I mentioned does not like to hear: distortion plays a greater role in coloration than frequency response does due to how we perceive sound.
Inconveniently, the most obvious and pesky colorations to the human ear are also ones that are hard to detect with modern distortion analyzers: the 5th, 7th and 9th harmonics for starters but also the inharmonic distortions generated by digital equipment. These harmonics are percieved as harshness, the need to turn the volume down (IOW if your stereo ever sounds loud to you this is the reason why- most people never listen music anywhere near the volumes that it actually occurs in real life since their gear will get too unpleasent to be in the same room with, even if it could make the volumes) and the like.
It is true that lower ordered harmonics are perceived as warmth, and it is also true that this type of distortion will mask detail. However, it it not a failing of tape or tubes **unless you want it to**, IOW if you set out to intentionally make it so.
Bottom line is that IMO/IME digital and transistors are far more guilty of coloration than tubes or tape, and the colorations are the type that are outright unpleasant (ask any audiophile and you will find that the majority of listeners really hate excess brightness). This is not to say that they can't work, its just harder, and the transistor amps and digital gear that really do make music are few and far between.
The truth of the matter is that the only way to make digital sound like analogue is to add distortion. This is not confined to the studio/professional-audio world; have you seen the measurements in the review of the the Playback Design MSP-5 SACD player in Stereophile? There have been many AES papers written on how adding distortion helps increase clarity and enhances low level detail. It is also common fact that most Audiophile find equipment "clinical" or "analytical" sounding often are the same with low THD and great linearity measurements. You can arrive at the logical conclusion right????
My point, Mitch, is that Wikipedia is hardly a "verified" resource but yet so many people want to quote it or point to it.
As for the topic, I don't really care why it sounds better.
It is also common fact that most Audiophile find equipment "clinical" or "analytical" sounding often are the same with low THD and great linearity measurements. You can arrive at the logical conclusion right????
Carlos, not to put to fine a point on it but it appears that you have not understood what I have written or did not read it. You are correct in your statement above, but its important to understand why audiophiles use these terms to describe equipment that measures like that.
Its because it uses large amounts of loop feedback. This technique, while resulting in 'high linearity' (in a broad sense) and low THD comes at a serious price: loop feedback enhances the 5th, 7th and 9th harmonics used by the ear as loudness cues (as I have at this point mentioned several times before). That this is the case is easily proven by anyone with simple test equipment.
General Electric proved about 1965 or so that humans will not tolerate even trace amounts of this distortion, as we use these harmonics as loudness cues; arguably we are more sensitive to their distortion than we are human vocal ranges.
IOW, loop feedback violates a fundamental rule of human hearing when used to get low THD and 'high linearity'.
This is why your statement is true, although the reality that underpins it seems to be counter-intuitive. It is not a convenient fact, because linearity without loop feedback is difficult to achieve. However, if you think about it, linearity on paper is not real if the ear thinks its wrong! I guarantee that if we did not have ears, we would not play with audio devices; the ears are the most important things that any audiophile has.
With regards to the previous statement:
The truth of the matter is that the only way to make digital sound like analogue is to add distortion.
You can *mimic* analog in this way but it will not **sound** like analog! This is a common myth; you cannot increase detail and improve transparency by adding distortion, because distortion will mask low level signals (masking is a rule of human hearing BTW). Digital **already** lacks low level detail. So if you were to mask details even more, the difference between the analog and thus-doctored digital is immediately apparent.
To quote an Audiophile approved source, John Atkinson:
Perhaps his description of its sound being "analog-like" is a cluefor reasons that are not fully understood, a signal with very-low-level random noise added is sometimes preferred, on that it is more intelligible, to the same signal without such noise; See, for example, "Stochastic Resonance in Acoustic Emission," M. Friesel, Journal of Testing and Evaluation, 1999, and "The Benefits of Background Noise," Moss, Wiesenfeld, Scientific American, August 1995.
From the AES documents library:
Aural Exciter and Loudness Maximizer: What's Psychoacoustic about -Psychoacoustic Processors?-
In this study two so-called -psychoacoustic processors- are examined exemplarily by applying concepts, models, and methods of scientific psychoacoustics. Physical measurements of processed sounds and results of hearing experiments on speech intelligibility and sound quality (Aural Exciter) and loudness (Loudness Maximizer) are presented and discussed with regard to classic psychoacoustic models and potential new applications. Therefore relevant psychoacoustic facts, in particular the perception of nonlinear distortion, are reviewed.:
Author: Chalupper, Josef
Affiliation: Institute of Human-Machine Communication, Technical University of Munich, Munich, Germany
AES Convention:109 (September 2000) Paper Number:5208
Right. The first has nothing to do with my comments as it addresses a different issue of digital gear. The second does bear some relevance and does not contradict the findings that GE made in the mid-60s.
Carlos, are you suggesting that digital process don't add their own colorations?
No. Nowhere do I say or imply that; although I do have my thoughts on the matter. The discussion, on my part, was about what it takes to make digital sound like analogue.
if its not real and does not sound exactly like the source, its distorted in some, often multiple ways.
Of course what the source actually sounded like is often unknown. What you here is what was recorded the way the recording engineer wanted to record it.
So, chose your distortions. Don't worry, be happy!
Atmasphere - My Benchmark DAC1 was specifically designed not to be warm sounding since according to technical director of Benchmark John Siau warm sound is good for voice and some instruments like guitar but does bad things to instruments that have more complex harmonic structure like piano. Piano, according to him, can sound on very warm gear almost like out of tune.
People don't want neutral sound - just look at Audiogon posts how many people seek warm sounding gear or ask how to make sound warmer. One person started thread asking how to make sound warmer and less detailed (I advised blanket over speakers) http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr.pl?aamps&1198790051&read&keyw&zzblanket
My Benchmark DAC1 was chosen in studio test as most accurate but not the best sounding of few DACs. Recording engineers liked it but audiophiles didn't - calling it sterile and clinical. Somebody even mentioned that instruments should not sound separately but together (as a sound blob). My first impression was pretty much the same - it was so clean I thought at first that some instruments are missing from recording. It is a little bit similar to sound of guitar - clean jazz guitar will be lifeless and sterile but you add distortion and it will become lively and dynamic rock guitar.
As for reel to reel - there are reasons why it was replaced in studios by digital recorders. Nobody is recording with pre-emphasis anymore because of that (useless feature of CD player). I also remember that analog tapes had tendency to copy from layer to layer and had to be once a year rewind to prevent it.
Yes, digital has shortcomings but I cannot stand hiss coming from analog recordings or pops coming from vinyl. It constantly reminds me that I listen to speakers and not the concert. It annoys me so much that I will take any other option to avoid it - but reel to reel isn't the one.
Yes, who in their right mind would prefer cold to warm?
And neutral is average or boring depending on how you look at it.
I want speakers that swing all three ways. That's why I run 6 or more pair at a time in different rooms.
Thanks, Carlos. It was this line that struck me a bit.
The truth of the matter is that the only way to make digital sound like analogue is to add distortion.
I don't disagree. If I was to be anal about it I would say "the only way to make digital colorations sound like analog colorations", etc.
"I want speakers that swing all three ways. That's why I run 6 or more pair at a time in different rooms."
Mapman - can you repeat it in front of my wife? (otherwise she won't believe me)
People don't want neutral sound - just look at Audiogon posts how many people seek warm sounding gear or ask how to make sound warmer. One person started thread asking how to make sound warmer and less detailed (I advised blanket over speakers)
Kijanki, I think you are quite right about people wanting colorations. The question for me is, what is colored, what is not? Before I got into the business, that was a question that I felt needed answering. One thing I can tell you from the process that I went through is that you will not know the answer if you don't involve yourself in the recording process. Its very useful to hear live music, and then hear what the microphones hear, and finally the finished recording.
One thing I can say is this: our transducers, like mics and headphones, as well as electronics are a hellava lot better than any medium, analog or digital! They can fool jaundiced audiphiles at the drop of a hat, where neither tape, LP nor digital master file has that same ability.
Anyway, when you have a master tape from a session that you were present for, you have a valuable tool for sorting things out. Having used a variety of machines over the years, the reel to reel tapes remain, despite a great number of weaknesses, the best thing out there. A lot of the industry went digital simply because of the cost of the media; reel to reel tape can be quite expensive, especially in larger formats.
BTW I don't go for excessive warmth either- I regard it as a coloration, euphonic yes, but still a coloration (brought on by lower ordered harmonics). I just want neutral, my goal is to make it sound real, failing that as true to the original recording as possible. So far, reel to reel is a lot better at that than digital, though digital has made great inroads in the last 10 years.
Atmasphere - I wish I knew more about recording process. What you say about superiority of recording hardware over media must be right since I've heard some older recordings as good as modern ones. Problem started only when they started digitizing poorly, with a lot of A/D jitter, at the beginning of CD craze.
Wow - Atmasphere, as usual you have made a great contribution to this site!! Fantastic info! You are very, very good at describing things that (as a musician) I can hear but cannot explain adequately to others as I do not have the technical knowledge. Your discussions of distortion on this site have been particularly useful in understanding why different types of equipment/technology sound how they do. Your concise and clear explanations are better than anything I have ever read elsewhere - one does not have to be an electrical engineer to understand them! I have learned so much from your posts here, and wanted to thank you publicly for sharing your knowledge.