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Mastering Vinyl, Myths, questions, discussion
Axon
post Sep 9 2008, 02:56
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This is a split of a discussion Hancoque and I had, which desperately needs to be elaborated on.

First of all, I've dumped my thoughts on the matter into the Wiki: http://wiki.hydrogenaudio.org/index.php?ti...Vinyl_Mastering. Please comment on it.

A couple of the points there are explicitly worth starting this topic off:
  • There is no consistent, unambiguous way to identify the provenance of a vinyl master. Most methods - but most of all, the zoomed-out waveform plot - are inaccurate in one way or another. Visual examination of clipped samples is fairly telling, but not applicable or effective in all cases. How can a vinyl master be accurately observed as being the same or different as a CD master?
  • Even if a difference exists, whether or not it is audible is another question entirely. IIRC, brickwall limiting of 3-4db, correctly applied, may not be audible. If so, Hancoque's Slayer waveforms might not mean anything, because his peaks are all within 4db of the CD peaks. What audibility thresholds exist for clipped signals?
That said, I may be eating a hearty dinner of crow tonight, as I just examined one of the records I thought was of the same master as the CD (Battles - Mirrored), and I was able to observe pretty strong differences in clipping between the vinyl and CD versions. I'll reply later with some visual examples.
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Axon
post Jul 1 2010, 02:18
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Oh for f*cks sake people. I don't mind pedantry - this entire topic is all about splitting hairs - but this is getting a little weird.

QUOTE (krabapple @ Jun 30 2010, 00:56) *
I think most of us can agree:

-- vinyl masterings are OFTEN -- maybe TYPICALLY -- different from the corresponding CD release
-- but by no means NECESSARILY different

And that these are the most salient points.

I can agree with these points, buuuut... I really am asserting something much stronger than this.

I don't claim to have much of any hard evidence for my beliefs here, besides counterexamples.. Such is the life of of the amateur researcher. But I will claim that there isn't any hard evidence arguing the contrary position. And the soft evidence I do have is pretty damn strong TYVM. 
So here I will try to outline precisely what I am trying to argue here, as a hypothesis, which is both quite falsifiable and not impossible to find hard evidence for assuming it's true.

---

For the class of vinyl releases with a "hypercompressed" CD of the same material released simultaneously, where there are no public claims one way or the other about the processing chain of the vinyl master (ie, at which point does the signal flow of the CD and vinyl masters diverge): let's say that some proportion of these vinyl releases' masters are sourced from a signal less hypercompresed than the CD master. Let's call this proportion Plh.

(As a point of reference, the "myth" claim that analog scott originally objected to, I believe, represents the belief that Plh=1 - that, due to restrictions on modulation velocity/acceleration, cutting head temperature limits, tracking etc, no hypercompressed material is allowed on vinyl. I think krab's post settled everybody on that point.)

Hypothesis: Based on all available evidence, Plh << 0.5. That is, for albums with simultaneous CD/vinyl releases, where the CD is hypercompressed and the vinyl is of unknown mastering provenance, one would expect very few vinyl masters to be less hypercompressed then the CD masters. Therefore, buying a vinyl release, in order to (primarily) avoid hypercompression that is known to exist on the CD, is not likely to do so.
  • There is no conclusive empirical evidence supporting the position that Plh >= 0.5. AFAIK, there isn't even evidence that Plh > 0.5 in any reasonably sampled subset of vinyl releases that fit the class of releases being discussed - like, what one would find in a given record store, or for a particular genre or even label.
  • There is much anecdotal evidence supporting the position that 0 < Plh < 0.5. In fact, from anecdotal evidence, Plh ought to be predicted to be fairly close to 0. I base this claim on the following points.
    • Based on my own (very limited) analysis comparing digital transcriptions of vinyl to CD versions that I have access to, every hypercompressed CD I looked at looked clipped to exactly (or almost exactly) the same magnitude on the transcription. IIRC, this is for perhaps a sample size of roughly 2-3 albums. For albums with mild or nonexistent hypercompression on CD (a much larger number), all of the equivalent vinyl transcriptions I've looked at had no additional dynamic range and no unambiguous improvement in limiting/clipping magnitude.
    • The impression I get, from reading comments made by cutting engineers on forums, is that the overwhelming majority of the sources they receive for vinyl mastering are the same as the equivalent CD masters.
  • A priori, there are reasons for believing the near-certainty that Plh < 0.5, and there are decent reasons to believe Plh << 0.5.
    • My understanding of the vinyl mastering process is that, overall, it is typically more expensive or more time-consuming to source the vinyl master from a separate audio signal than the CD master, particularly if it is to be meaningfully separate (ie, does not contain hypercompression present on the CD release).
    • If extra attention was paid to the vinyl mastering, in the sense that it was less hypercompressed, assuming this represented an added expense in production, it would be reasonable to expect that this would be prominently featured in the marketing for the vinyl release, to best capitalize on the investment. This was most certainly true of, eg, Steve Hoffman's mastering of Icky Thump[i], of the mastering of [i]Mudcrutch, etc. I have no idea what proportion of Plh for which this is actually true, though.
    • My impression of the opinions of "a significant fraction" of people - perhaps "most" - who prefer vinyl over CD on sound quality grounds, are going to base their belief more on the intrinsics of the formats, rather than the quality of the masters being used. (It would not surprise me if most producers/musicians with such preferences believe the same thing.) From a return-on-investment point of view, this is an incentive for a label not to use a less hypercompressed master for vinyl, because such a feature simply would not sway the buying decisions of some/most customers and thus not provide a significant return on investment. It is worth noting that the belief that hypercompression is inimical to vinyl as a format plays into this incentive.
    • Fundamentally, this is not a sound quality that consumers have terribly accurate accuracy in estimating. IIRC, Bob Katz estimates in Mastering Audio that transients can usually be hard limited to -6db down without audible insult. Moreover, even trained and well-respected mastering engineers will prefer vinyl even when it is hypercompressed to the same degree that the CD is. And most music listeners only know about the "loudness wars" only in the context that their CDs mastered in the 1980s sound much quieter than those in the 90s/2000s - sound quality itself tends to be a secondary discussion. That leads me to believe that, while hypercompression in itself is often audible and ABXable, believing differences in its magnitude are consistently identifiable is very unjustified.

      This matters because IMHO product quality in a market is positively correlated with the accuracy in which consumers are able to estimate it. When there is little reason to believe that consumers will consistently tell the difference when a vinyl master is less hypercompressed than a CD master, there is little reason to believe that most labels and producers will go to such troubles.
By "hypercompressed" here, I mean that multiple points exist in a 44.1khz PCM signal, where there is constant (or nearly constant) slope for over 0.5ms (22 samples) of the waveform, and such constant slope is best explained by aggressive hard limiting or outright clipping at some point in the signal flow (from recording to mastering). A signal which is significantly "less hypercompressed" than another will have correlated peaks but much smaller durations of constant slope.


---

OK - does that make sense to everybody? Is this a reasonably cogent argument? How may this be full falsified (or proven)?

QUOTE
But out of humanitarian concern Axon should modify the wiki language to prevent a tragic twisted-underwear-induced injury to sensitive readers.
Point taken, and after this argument is over with I am certainly going to rewrite the page in places, including with this issue. But there are some pretty fundamental issues people are having with the page as a whole that need to be discussed first.


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Posts in this topic
- Axon   Mastering Vinyl   Sep 9 2008, 02:56
- - Hancoque   I have to admit: You are right. The vinyl version ...   Sep 9 2008, 21:49
|- - Glenn Gundlach   QUOTE (Hancoque @ Sep 9 2008, 12:49) I ha...   Sep 10 2008, 05:46
- - Axon   Bump for massive schadenfreude at Gearslutz, where...   Jun 22 2010, 01:13
- - analog scott   QUOTE (Axon @ Sep 9 2008, 02:56) This is ...   Jun 22 2010, 13:22
- - analog scott   "There's this idea floating around that v...   Jun 22 2010, 13:27
- - 2Bdecided   Axon, The wiki page says "The CD and vinyl m...   Jun 23 2010, 12:19
- - analog scott   QUOTE (2Bdecided @ Jun 23 2010, 12:19) Ax...   Jun 23 2010, 23:12
|- - Arnold B. Krueger   QUOTE (analog scott @ Jun 23 2010, 18:12)...   Jun 26 2010, 10:43
- - 2Bdecided   Please read the page we're discussing. This de...   Jun 27 2010, 00:20
|- - Arnold B. Krueger   QUOTE (2Bdecided @ Jun 26 2010, 19:20) Pl...   Jun 27 2010, 10:25
|- - 2Bdecided   QUOTE (Arnold B. Krueger @ Jun 27 2010, 10...   Jun 28 2010, 11:05
|- - Arnold B. Krueger   QUOTE (2Bdecided @ Jun 28 2010, 06:05) QU...   Jun 28 2010, 11:25
- - analog scott   QUOTE (Arnold B. Krueger @ Jun 26 2010, 11...   Jun 27 2010, 09:13
- - Axon   QUOTE (analog scott @ Jun 22 2010, 07:27)...   Jun 28 2010, 20:07
|- - analog scott   QUOTE (Axon @ Jun 28 2010, 21:07) QUOTE (...   Jun 29 2010, 08:10
||- - cliveb   QUOTE (analog scott @ Jun 29 2010, 08:10)...   Jun 29 2010, 08:39
||- - doctorcilantro   QUOTE (analog scott @ Jun 29 2010, 08:10)...   Sep 2 2010, 05:32
|- - Arnold B. Krueger   QUOTE (Axon @ Jun 28 2010, 15:07) QUOTE (...   Jun 30 2010, 11:48
- - analog scott   QUOTE (cliveb @ Jun 29 2010, 08:39) QUOTE...   Jun 29 2010, 10:20
|- - cliveb   QUOTE (analog scott @ Jun 29 2010, 10:20)...   Jun 29 2010, 11:55
- - analog scott   Since you are looking for comments and the thread ...   Jun 29 2010, 10:51
- - 2Bdecided   I think it's a waste of time to argue that thi...   Jun 29 2010, 10:51
- - analog scott   >> How do you know if a vinyl master is audi...   Jun 29 2010, 11:16
- - analog scott   QUOTE (2Bdecided @ Jun 29 2010, 11:51) I ...   Jun 29 2010, 11:25
|- - 2Bdecided   QUOTE (analog scott @ Jun 29 2010, 11:25)...   Jun 29 2010, 13:20
- - analog scott   QUOTE (cliveb @ Jun 29 2010, 12:55) QUOTE...   Jun 29 2010, 14:06
|- - Arnold B. Krueger   QUOTE (analog scott @ Jun 29 2010, 09:06)...   Jun 30 2010, 14:06
- - analog scott   QUOTE (2Bdecided @ Jun 29 2010, 14:20) QU...   Jun 29 2010, 14:10
|- - 2Bdecided   QUOTE (analog scott @ Jun 29 2010, 14:10)...   Jun 29 2010, 14:57
- - analog scott   QUOTE (2Bdecided @ Jun 29 2010, 15:57) QU...   Jun 29 2010, 18:06
- - krabapple   Wow, can this get MORE silly? I think most of u...   Jun 30 2010, 06:56
|- - botface   QUOTE (krabapple @ Jun 30 2010, 06:56) Wh...   Jun 30 2010, 08:12
- - MichaelW   I was in my local, rather good, secondhand record ...   Jun 30 2010, 07:59
- - analog scott   QUOTE (krabapple @ Jun 30 2010, 07:56) Wo...   Jun 30 2010, 09:01
|- - greynol   QUOTE (analog scott @ Jun 30 2010, 01:01)...   Jul 1 2010, 01:11
- - greynol   I think all he's trying to say is that it...   Jul 1 2010, 00:57
|- - Axon   QUOTE (greynol @ Jun 30 2010, 18:57) I th...   Jul 1 2010, 02:54
||- - greynol   QUOTE (Axon @ Jun 30 2010, 18:54) PREFERE...   Jul 1 2010, 04:06
|- - MichaelW   QUOTE (greynol @ Jul 1 2010, 11:57) I thi...   Jul 1 2010, 05:37
- - Axon   Oh for f*cks sake people. I don't mind pedantr...   Jul 1 2010, 02:18
|- - cliveb   QUOTE (Axon @ Jul 1 2010, 02:18) OK - doe...   Jul 1 2010, 08:38
|- - 2Bdecided   OT-ish, but... QUOTE (Axon @ Jul 1 2010, 02...   Jul 1 2010, 09:37
|- - googlebot   QUOTE (2Bdecided @ Jul 1 2010, 10:37) ......   Jul 1 2010, 11:14
||- - 2Bdecided   QUOTE (googlebot @ Jul 1 2010, 11:14) * I...   Jul 1 2010, 17:08
|- - botface   QUOTE (2Bdecided @ Jul 1 2010, 09:37) OT-...   Jul 1 2010, 11:28
- - Axon   Scott, all flaming aside, I would like to thank yo...   Jul 1 2010, 02:43
|- - analog scott   QUOTE (Axon @ Jul 1 2010, 03:43) Scott, a...   Jul 8 2010, 20:14
- - analog scott   QUOTE (Axon @ Jul 1 2010, 03:43) Scott, a...   Jul 1 2010, 14:21
- - analog scott   QUOTE (MichaelW @ Jul 1 2010, 06:37) QUOT...   Jul 1 2010, 14:40
- - analog scott   QUOTE (2Bdecided @ Jul 1 2010, 10:37) OT-...   Jul 1 2010, 14:55
|- - Arnold B. Krueger   QUOTE (analog scott @ Jul 1 2010, 09:55) ...   Jul 2 2010, 13:13
- - splice   Article in the NY Times about Tom Petty's ...   Jul 2 2010, 01:24
|- - Arnold B. Krueger   QUOTE (splice @ Jul 1 2010, 20:24) Articl...   Jul 2 2010, 13:55
|- - 2Bdecided   QUOTE (splice @ Jul 2 2010, 01:24) Articl...   Jul 7 2010, 11:17
- - analog scott   For this title a "compressed" CD version...   Jul 5 2010, 16:28
|- - Arnold B. Krueger   Read what I said - my question what about producti...   Jul 6 2010, 20:26
- - analog scott   I read what you said Arny. Not sure how mastering ...   Jul 7 2010, 01:46
- - usernaim   I think it's important to keep the timeline of...   Jul 7 2010, 13:14
- - botface   Nice idea usernaim but trying to generalise like t...   Jul 7 2010, 15:19
|- - splice   QUOTE (botface @ Jul 7 2010, 06:19) Also,...   Jul 7 2010, 22:24
|- - krabapple   QUOTE (splice @ Jul 7 2010, 17:24) Cuttin...   Jul 8 2010, 00:43
|- - botface   QUOTE (splice @ Jul 7 2010, 22:24) QUOTE ...   Jul 8 2010, 09:32
|- - splice   QUOTE (botface @ Jul 8 2010, 00:32) Well,...   Jul 8 2010, 23:30
|- - Arnold B. Krueger   QUOTE (splice @ Jul 8 2010, 18:30) Step 1...   Jul 9 2010, 01:23
|- - analog scott   QUOTE (Arnold B. Krueger @ Jul 9 2010, 02...   Jul 9 2010, 15:39
|- - greynol   QUOTE (analog scott @ Jul 9 2010, 07:39) ...   Jul 9 2010, 18:55
|- - analog scott   QUOTE (greynol @ Jul 9 2010, 18:55) QUOTE...   Jul 9 2010, 19:40
|- - greynol   QUOTE (analog scott @ Jul 9 2010, 11:40) ...   Jul 9 2010, 19:47
|- - analog scott   QUOTE (greynol @ Jul 9 2010, 19:47) QUOTE...   Jul 12 2010, 22:03
- - analog scott   QUOTE (botface @ Jul 7 2010, 16:19) Nice ...   Jul 7 2010, 15:44
- - greynol   You brought these papers up in a direct response t...   Jul 12 2010, 21:24
- - Axon   ..... I probably should be reading this thread, sh...   Jul 14 2010, 00:32
- - Arnold B. Krueger   QUOTE (Axon @ Jul 13 2010, 19:32) ..... I...   Jul 15 2010, 13:59


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