Thursday, February 11, 2010

Digital Memories

2-11-10 Digital Memories

The other day I had a discussion with a friend of mine and we were trying to remember the earliest digital recordings we could think of. I remember “Bop Till You Drop” by Ry Cooder being touted as an early “all digital” recording – even on the (analogue) LP. Another early one was the original soundtrack to “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees.

What early (’83 or earlier) “all digital” releases can you remember? What was once touted as ‘superb recordings’ (i.e. “DDD” in ‘all digital’) is now sometimes scoffed at. But I definitely remember people being interested in LP releases being sold as “Digital Recordings”. Some rock music, but also jazz and classical titles…

And while it was never a consideration for me, many of Frank Zappa’s 80’s recordings were “Digital Recordings” – and the first set of his US Rykodisc CD’s did all pretty much sound ‘funky’ – too much ‘digital reverb’ etc.

Of course, as we all know – many 80’s CD’s – even “DDD” recordings – sometimes had very low audio level, at times. Yes, years before anything was being sold as “Digitally Re-Mastered” – there are discs (CD’s) that “don’t sound as good” because of extremely low audio level.

I always wondered about digital “reproduction” – when does it stop being digital? With my amp? My speakers? Speaker cables? The output of the CD (or SACD) player is (or can be) “Digital” – but what about the amp? Is it, by default, “digital”? And a D.A.T. is “Digital” – but it’s still a damned physical magnetic tape! What about Minidisc? Is it “more Digital” because it’s a disc? I doubt it…at least it wasn’t a magnetic tape!

Ah, the good old “Spars Codes”: AAD = Analogue recording, analogue mix, digital reproduction; ADD = Analogue recording, digital mix, digital reproduction; DDD = Digital recording, digital mix, digital reproduction. I remember those silly CD’s that were DAD = Digital recording, analogue mix, digital reproduction! All we need now is DAA & AAA!

The miracle of Solid State electronics! I have my turntable running into my 70’s Sansui amp, via my Sony board with a pre-amp built-in. Sounds good to me. Any self-respecting audiophile store will tell you, “You’re only as good as your weakest link!” – my speaker cable is old – but it was very good at the time I got it. My 70’s speakers are a bit ‘funky’ too (self-assembled). But even with an old Sony turntable, I can get some pretty decent sound out of some of those old LP’s and 45’s.

These days, I take great delight in finding CD’s of things that I only have old, beat-up records on. Almost anything on Collector’s Choice or Wounded Bird, for example. I recently delighted in a glorious late 80’s digital reproduction of some Strawberry Alarm Clock. I am pretty sure that old CD sounded better than any vinyl on them.

I am still a bit amazed that we can burn CD’s so easily in our homes with a computer.

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