If the music is good you listen through the imperfections. Great performance trumps great great sonics.
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If it's an older CD you really love to listen to, do some research to see if you can find a remaster or audiophile copy. Some older albums have been remastered over the years as much as 4 or 5 times!!
This should be obvious but, try to find discs that are made from the original master of the recording. And be aware that the newest versions of albums are not always the best sounding. Studios have been employing the use of dynamic compression more and more over the years to best suit the portable MP3 market with little to no regard for high-end audio reproduction.
What did you do with bad recordings on LP? I can think of countless LPs where either the recording or the pressing were so poor that it distracted from the musical performance.
You've received a good suggestion about looking for remasters. (Of course the reverse can be true. Sometimes the original mixes are better than the remasters. A friend had a "Yes" LP he loved and bought the CD which he thought was terrible. We solved the problem by my converting the LP version to CD for him.)
However, it is simply a fact of life that many recordings are mediocre and a few are just downright bad. At that point you have to decide whether the music is more important to you than the recording quality.
I have found that some 'tweeks' help to take the edge off of a badly recorded CD. Mapleshade micro polish helps. Audio Desk edge beveller backs off some of the nasties. Painting the edge with a permanent marker possibly will reduce jitter. Bottom-line, however, is that as your system continues to become more transparent, it will naturally expose more of what is in the CD good and bad. I have some CDs that I will not play over our reference system while they sound tolerably good over our Bose Wave radio/cd player.
Digital front ends are all different and IMHO SS ones are the least forgiving. Get a 2d CDP which uses tubes. Then put tubes in which have some added warmth - that should take care of a lot of marginal CD's. Might even improve some good ones. If your pre-amp has a tape loop you can put a tube buffer in it and switch it in and out as needed.
They make great bar coasters. Get some thin corkboard, draw the CD's circle onto the cork, and using an eXacto knife, trim off the excess. Glue in place. My friend who runs the Vans Warped Tour and Ozzfest has done this for years. No more bad music--a great conversation piece while drinking a few of the favorites!!!!
Why not a machine that can uncompress and restore the recording to its original dynamics? It seems this should be possible.
It is a shame that bad recordings can't be returned. To me after I pay $15.00 for a CD (or more) and it sound is hideous I should be able to return it and buy a new CD (not a exchange it for the same one).
Bad news for you LP fans, I've purchased just as many records that were poorly recorded as CDS.
It is not the format, it is the recording engineer, artists, etc. Some labels are noted for poor recordings while others tend to get it right.
I propose a machine (something like a DAC) that would take the digital hi rez feed and then give the user a choice on how it is mixed for car, mp3, redbook, no compression, natural dynamics, etc. This would give the enduser the choice.
I have some CDs that sound better than others, but very few that sound bad (<10%).
I strongly believe that the % of CDs that sound "good" on a system is a useful measure of overall system quality. If a lot of CDs do not sound good on a system,that is an indicator that a change needs to be made. The change, if done right, does not have to even be very expensive, I have found.
Bad is a matter of opinion though. The only CDs I have that I would say sound bad are those that have extremely bad dynamics, excessively limited frequency range and significant background noise in the mix. Almost all CDs on my system nowadays are enjoyable within their inherent limits. Those limits are a result of lackluster production process in making the CDs. The same truth applies to vinyl records...some are good, some are poor, and some are great.
My recent satisfaction with CDs as a source overall I can attribute to several factors I've introduced into my system over time:
1) external (tube)DAC as an upgrade
2) Audio Research Tube pre-amp
3) careful matching of amp to speakers
4) careful choice of speakers to fit rooms
5) the MIT terminator interconnects seem to let the best attributes of the components connected by them shine through, ie the ICs are not a bottleneck
6) my music server has become my prime source of digital material over CD player and has enhanced my listening pleasure as much due to convenience and flexibility factors as due to the fact that it sounds fantastic as well, as does my Denon player/recorder through the same external tube DAC.
Why not a machine that can uncompress and restore the recording to its original dynamics?There is a pretty simple answer to that question. There are just too many variables for that to work across the board.
First, there are a lot of things that get adjusted besides dynamics. On a typical modern recording, there are dozens and dozens of mike tracks that get mixed down. Take drums for instance. There will be multiple mikes on the drums and each one may get a different adjustment for frequency response, dynamics, and position in the stereo field. (Ever notice that some drummers seem to have a 15' wide arm span?) There are dozens and dozens of signal processing effects that can be added and many have nothing to do with dynamic range.
I've got Adobe Audition that I use. Without running over to that computer to check exactly, I think it supports up to 128 channels and the processing effects seem endless.
In other words, a final recording is basically a scrambled egg and you're asking to have it unscrambled and put back in the shell.
Just taking compression, the settings for that parameter are infinitely variable in Audition and I'm sure most other studio recording programs.
As a practical matter, you're not going to find many artists or record producers who will release an unmixed/processed album. It sounds the way they want it to sound, even when it is not to your liking.
I usually have the artist rerecord the material:) I am assuming that by poor performance, you mean that the CD sound quality is bad and not that the artist himself/herself gave a bad performance. I usually apply some ultra vivid or other treatment to the CD and it does render the sound quality somewhat more acceptable. I find some of the earlier CDs were very lean and strident, it is very good with them. If it doesn't work, you can send them to Garebear!
Too bad my proposed machine to restore the dynamics on recordings might be difficult to achieve.
However it still is a shame to purchase music that you hear and like, and then bring it home to find it unlistenable because of the "recording choices". I've found this to be true with all recording formats and every type of music I purchase from ragtime to rock.
It doesn't seem to matter where I play such a title (in the car, home theater system, IPod, or the main rig) the performance (because of the recording) suck!
As a result, after being burned a few times, I never purchase another CD by that artist and I avoid the labels that typically produce such unlistenable horrors.
What happens next? The CD either is kept and never played, or traded at the local used CD shop. Sometimes the local CD shop doesn't even want them, because there is no demand.
I still consider recordings like this inferior products and believe the consumer should have the right to return and get a refund on such junk. Maybe then the artist, recording engineer, and label would get the message.
" I find some of the pop music recordings with syntheciser sound un-refined, as were the husky voices"
NEed to know what "un-refined" means to you?
Many pop synth recording suffer from compressed dynamics in teh recording process, which might be considered "un-refined", but other than that they should sound clear and undistorted at any reasonable volume you listen at.
I do not subscribe to the theory that the better the Hi-Fi, the worse poorly mastered CDs sound. In my experience the opposite is true. On poorly matched systems, bad mastering does indeed become fatiguing and painful. When you have a well matched setup, you do, of course, STILL hear far more of the music. I do not own an unlistenable CD and none are fatiguing, even some well publicised turkeys.
Someone mentioned earlier that perhaps one in ten CDs were audiophile quality, well not in my world :)! Perhaps we listen to different genres? On my RYM page I list audiophile quality CDs - I have 98 audiophile CDs out of 3322 currently catalogued. I still have to re-assess quite a number but I would hazard a guess that only 3-4% are of a high quality. I also have around 500 "remastered" CDs and only about 50 of those are what I would term audiophile quality. I would say, in defence of current issuing policies, that I believe the backlash that I'm sure we have all witnessed in recent years, regarding the state of modern mastering/remastering, has had a knock-on effect on record labels, certainly the smaller independent ones. Lots of recent re-issues have been very good indeed.
I added Van Den Hul Optilink glass cables to my digital front end. The OPPO (transport mode) is also connected through a single digital cable, and 6-channel for SACD's. I can toggle between inputs on my Proceed processor while the CD is playing for comparison. The Van Den Hul Optilink II digital connection best smoothed and cleaned up the worse recordings.
Also helpful: While critically listening, I can adjust volume of the subs, or, toggle the subs ON/OFF to send full range signals to all speakers. Removing musical subs (SVS Ultra 13 and REL Storm II tuned together) for certain CD's or tracks can make the CD sound much more enjoyable by cleaning up a poorly recorded bottom end.
Harsh highs can be tamed a bit by positioning speakers slightly off axis AND slightly moving yourself out of the direct line of poorly recorded high frequency output.
My system and room set-up included tests on each source to troubleshoot the best settings for poorly recorded music. My processor has a couple settings that "agree most" with the worst recordings. They are stereo, PL II Music, and L/R Surround mode. Each requires a moment to adjust the best sub setting: Volume up, down or subs on/off with full range signals sent to all speakers.
My subs set-up default settings helped: I set the default on the SVS to about 1/4 volume and used the internal crossovers of the sub itself from 20-40, and the REL at 2/3 volume and crossed over wide open from 20-92. Both are next to the Left main and both subs phases set to zero. The final default SML speaker level tests equalized levels of all speakers at 80 dB with the subs up 3 db for a large listening area. The subs bass blends great with the mains and has so much clear rhythm and natural feeling punch (especially with the REL turned up a bit), that alone can often override poor recordings. I now enjoy redbook disks like never before. My experience was sort of like painfully crafting one musical instrument capable of reproducing all instruments, then, learning to play the source material the best ways through it.
Instead of letting off many rounds ammo at many cds, why not take aim with an RPG at the huge pile of expensive crap masquerading as high end state of the arty poos hi-fi gear, but just can't seem to manange to play a less well engineered cd to the musical satisfaction of the poor listener?
Now, THAT would be fun.
mapman, while ago you asked for some samples of a bad recorded cd:
i remember playing this cd on my system years ago by Adcom - it sounded good.
Recently, i played it on Accuphase with Magnepans, and McIntosh with B&W - and it is difficult to listen to it...
the CD is Love and Rockets - "Express"
Listening on my computer using decent earbuds, it sounds OK, on par with most similar material I could compare with. Nothing great, nothing horrifically bad.
On a good system, really good recordings can make stuff like this difficult to listen to in comparison.
Myself, if the music is good, and I find it flat or less polished than most good recordings, I can still enjoy, as long as I find the listening to not be outright fatiguing.
ALso there is more that goes into system sound than just speaker and amp. The fine details can make or break things sometimes. There are many ways noise and distortion can be introduced into even the best systems in most environments, and with good gear and keen ears one can tell.
I also have a collection of sub par recordings ( excellent performances, however) that stay in my car. If its a bad recording and a bad performance, I give them away.
All that said, as my system has improved, I have found that I have fewer and fewer bad recordings. For years, I was frustrated with the Harmonia Mundi label, which fairly consistently delivered excellent performances compromised by what I thought was digital glare in the upper frequencies. That "digital glare" disappeared with better ac delivery. Power cords and power treatment to address RFI/EMI made a huge difference.
My new Sony HAPZ1 has substantially improved reproduction of a number of cds that I would have characterized as bad recording quality.
Some of these bad recordings may be bad. Or, they maybe revealing something that is not optimal in the system.
I added a Pangea AC14SE power cord for my DAC recently.
The biggest difference I seem to notice with this is that my worst loudness wars CDs that had some edge to them prior are no longer fatiguing to listen to. A good example is Accelerate by REM and Death Magnetic by Metallica.
This cord is designed for use in source and line level gear to reduce noise and distortion, and I think that is what I am hearing overall and is most noticeable with the edgiest CDs I own that now seem to be more pleasant.
SO yeah, if you still do not know what to do with your bad recordings, seriously, send them to me. I might be able to wean some enjoyment out of them. :^)
Beewax, you gave a brilliant suggestion - why didn't I think of that ? The wind and engine noise + speakers no in a proper enclosure all adds up to an idealistic condition for music listening - so I might as well listen there...
Thanks for the idea !
Mapman - you have a good sense of humor - I wish you lived near so we can hang around - like most people, I love a good sense of humor...
I wouldn't throw them out. You haven't heard all them at their best yet! It's great you're enjoying your excellent system--but there is more!! First question--do you have a "phase reverse" switch on your preamp - and if so have you experimented with it? The better your system the more difference correct phase makes. It can definitely be the difference between poor versus involving sound.. There's more... hang on to your discs
Get a VCR tape demagnetizer from Radio Shack. Demag your CDs after using any cleaning fluid. This makes CDs sound more analog. It reduces grain and glare. If that doesn't work, then toss them into your "trade box." and when full, take them down to your local used record store and trade them in for store credit. Then hit that store's record bins and pick up some great vinyl.
Agree with Oregon Papa, degaussing is a good idea, so is ionizing the CD, so is degaussing the interconnects. In fact, can I say that almost all CDs are well recorded, it's just that there are a great number of problems in the playing of the CDs that make it appear the CDs suck. I have gone on record for many years saying that out of the box CDs by and large sound thin, unnatural, tizzy, boomy, threadbare, congealed, airless, unfocused, very distorted, two dimensional, boring and amateurish.
Have you ever noticed, especially early on when CDs first came out, that pianos sounded like those children's toy plastic pianos? Also, on symphonic music, it sounded like the recording engineer had his hand on the volume dial, and instead of the orchestra's natural volume expanding and contracting, it sounded like the engineer was moving the dial up and down. It even sounded that way on the initial Telarc releases on vinyl. Do you remember those? The conductor was Fredrick Fennell. Terrible recordings!