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Topic: why is digital audio so awful?

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  1. #1
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    why is digital audio so awful?

    In an age when one would have thought uniform standards and quality would be eminently achievable, I never fail to be disappointed - no, dismayed - at the lack of consistency and quality across the rock-strewn, pitted landscape of available stuff. The vast majority of which is junk. (Including some stuff from names like Bose.)

    When I create my audio recordings, particularly of GCPO arrangements, I use Sony MDR-7506 flat response headphones, and get incredible realism. In these headphones, my recordings sound as much like a real pipe organ in the acoustic being modeled. Then I begin testing on audio equipment of friends and associated... and not one such system produces a sound like any other, never mind the studio-grade leveling and EQ of the original. Among the obstacles are undefeatable bass-boost, subwoofers that can't be bypassed, subwoofers that can't do the job, tweeters that can't do the job, muddy middles, absent middles, and the biggest disappointment in this regard is Bose, which obviously inserts its own EQ and a soundfield bias.

    Just venting.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Silh's Avatar
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    Re: why is digital audio so awful?

    Quirks across different equipment aside...

    The other part is room acoustics and comb filtering.

    (And yes, UGH, Bose...)
    -- Matt Wong

  3. #3

    Re: why is digital audio so awful?

    Hi, Passagio - This is a good, interesting topic for General Discussion. This page we're on is The Listening Room, intended for posting our music projects. Something to keep in mind next time.

    But while I'm here, here are few thoughts:

    --What you're talking about aren't problems caused by digital audio. The same challenges are faced in audio now as were faced back in the 1950's, earlier. It's the mechanics of playback devices you're talking about - the physical components of speaker cones, enclosures, EQ units etc. and those are completely separate items from digital audio.

    --Music always sounds better on headphones. That's why it's better to mix on speakers, reserving headphones for when you don't want to disturb housemates or neighbors. The sound is clearer, the stereo separation is more pronounced - headphones, especially good flat response phones like yours, won't give you a preview of what your music is going to sound like on speakers of any kind.

    --You're mainly talking about the frustrating mixing challenge which has always challenged engineers. People really ultra serious about making good recordings will test their mixes in a variety of playback situations, ranging from average car stereo systems to high end audiophile systems. No matter what's been done in the mix, music is just going to sound different on every system, sometimes vastly different. The theory is to adjust a mix to average things out so it sounds as good as possible on all possible systems. That's an impossible goal, but that's the aim.

    --Sub-woofers--don't they make you sick? All the artificial pumping up of the bass frequencies is The Worst - like the teenager driving by with his Rap turned up full blast, and the BOOM dada BOOM can be heard all over the neighborhood. Sub-woofers in movie theatres have their place, amping up the absurd over-the-top mixing style popular in movies. But anywhere else, I think they should all be junked.

    --So, the more accurate subject line for your thread would be "Why is mixing so difficult?" From the old days of reel-to-reel, to our current day of digital audio - arriving at mixes that sound passable on as wide a variety of speakers as possible is the goal. We can't let ourselves live in the fantasy world of thinking that the beautiful, airy sound in our headphones is Anything like what the majority of listeners will be hearing.

    Randy

  4. #4

    Re: why is digital audio so awful?

    I've always wondered when people listened to my music what does it sound like to them. Are they listening through headphones, large speakers, etc.? When I am working on a project I have to use headphones since I live in an apartment. My wife doesn't like for me to use them because she wants to hear me working but I always think of the neighbors first. When we buy a house this summer I won't have to worry about that. I will play my music in my headphones and it will sound clear, then I will burn it on a cd, place it in my stereo and it will be like, "BOOM!!!!" on some of the percussion and bass hits.
    ~Rod

  5. #5

    Re: why is digital audio so awful?

    Since a couple of months, I do everything with headphones. AKG K271 MKII. I applied a little calibration according to the "rules" of headroom website. It took quite a while getting the sound right, adjusting certain frequencies over and over again (this can easily be done on a EMU1616M- PCIe). The next level will be the B&W P5 set. I did thorough listening. Not yet totally convinced. We'll see. Before that, just have to save money for those "cans". My wife is satisfied, my neighbours also. So I render in peace..........

    And digital music doesn't sound awful. Depends on the space where it is played.

    Raymond

  6. #6
    Senior Member fastlane's Avatar
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    Re: why is digital audio so awful?

    Quote Originally Posted by rbowser- View Post
    Hi, Passagio -

    --Sub-woofers--don't they make you sick? All the artificial pumping up of the bass frequencies is The Worst - like the teenager driving by with his Rap turned up full blast, and the BOOM dada BOOM can be heard all over the neighborhood. Sub-woofers in movie theatres have their place, amping up the absurd over-the-top mixing style popular in movies. But anywhere else, I think they should all be junked.
    Randy
    I've got two subs that match the mid-high speakers with my Kefs. I do dial back on the bass a little but they sound very rich and full. Having two subs instead of just one gives it needed balance instead of just a boom boom effect.

  7. #7

    Re: why is digital audio so awful?

    Well, +1 with the Bose description for a start.

    It's definitely true that you have to choose carefully. Just because it has a "digital" label on it doesn't mean it's any good, nor even that it's digital. How can conventional speakers or headphones be digital? I don't have a binary input to my centres of hearing ... yet.

    However, Randy, I have to take issue with you over sub-woofers.
    Boom boxes, like those fitted to most (it seems) cars these days, yes definitely.
    And 90% of the so-called subs I've listened to, agreed.

    However, as part of my main audio system I have a beautiful cherry wood finish box some 2 foot high, by roughly 18 inches by a foot (or so) called a Rel Storm III (try googling it). They cost about $2,000 dollars in the States.

    With this beast, the crossover can be tailored to cut in anywhere from 95 Hz down to somewhere in the mid 20 Hz in semitones. There are hi and lo sensitivity inputs and level controls. Most of the time, in my setup, where the crossover is set somewhere in the mid 40 Hz range, I don't hear it at all. But with the e.g. Verdi Requiem, the Grande Cass strikes as the gates of hell open has to be experienced to be believed. It reminds me of the time I heard the concert live in the Albert Hall where the drum rattled the wall lights in the loggia where we were sitting. A physical blow to the stomach!

    And for organ pedal or the really low notes on a piano, it fills in the missing bottom octave most amazingly ... when it's there. The thunder from 32' foot pipes just has to be experienced to be believed.



    Front view seen behind the music stand which is behind the right hand of a pair of Bowers & Wilkins CDM7SE speakers.



    Rear view showing connectors and crossover controls.

    Kind regards,
    John.

  8. #8

    Re: why is digital audio so awful?

    Howdy, Phil - Howdy, John - You've both put up a number of neat posts today, here and in General Discussion - Thanks!

    John, we actually agree about sub-woofers. I was generalizing very broadly previously, thinking of "90% of the so-called subs" that you've referred to. When one has the budget for audiophile units like the REL Storm you've pictured, or the ones you're talking about, Phil, then I'm sure the sound is good and musical. But for the majority of home recording enthusiasts, something like that just isn't in the realm of possibility. $2,000 is more likely to cover their entire studio budget, leaving good subs low on the priority list. The boomy boxes people end up with are, to me, nothing more than unnatural sounding, rumbling annoyances.

    It's a personal preference of mine, undoubtedly shaped by my experience and what I've had in my studios, to not care for prominent bass. I've never been interested in attempting to emulate the thundering bass of a live pipe organ and other instruments that can have quite a punch in the bass frequencies in a live situation. I'm constantly turning bass down both as I work and when I play back music from any source. I'm known to politely ask friends if I may turn the bass down on their systems when I'm visiting--lol.

    Randy

  9. #9

    Re: why is digital audio so awful?

    Once upon a time I built myself Helmholtz resonators. Just about 1.20 meters height. After a couple of months, measuring and measuring with equipment for resonance, room corrections, e.a. we (a friend of mine also had some effort in those) decided that all parameters were set to the best I could get. We gave it a go with a piece of (if I am right Janacek or Kodaly: a suite picturing the siege of Napoleon). On top I had the mid-speaker, also built as a smaller Helmholtz and above those a tweeter. When playing that particular piece of music, I had no trouble at all. But the lowest frequency was about 16 hz and my neighbours thought that some heavy truck drove thru their living room up to 6 floors above me.

    An earthquake alike!!! Now I have more modest speakers, still the best ever made (European standards). Bought them in 1981 and still satisfying in all frequency ranges.

    Raymond

  10. #10
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    Re: why is digital audio so awful?

    Your points are all well made, and to take a couple that seemed particluarly prominent: yes, we are talking the analog, not digital (cone, pressure) etc. So it's too bad that the best speakers I ever had - which could render the theorbo amid the brass and winds of Handel's fireworks music! - finally gave out after 30 years of use. They weren't huge, and they weren't hugely expensive, but they were accurate, rangy and responsive. That's the standard of speaker I have in mind. Today, to the chagrin of my neighbor, I'm mixing to M-Audio AV-40's (a middlin,' muddy pair) and thinking...why can't I hear the high G in the trompettes en chamade? Why do those staccato eighth notes sound like a legato quarter note? So I put on the headphones...no problems. it's all there!

    I agree about that 32' open flue - a pipe you don't hear as much as you feel it. Although, compared to the real thing, a subwoofer still doesn't quite get it done (anyone who's heard the real thing and listened to the best Rodgers, Allen, or Marshall & Oglethorpe digital instruments can tell you that too - along with a couple of people at Trinity Church Wall St, who are ditching the digital for real pipes again). But it's way better than nothing - and the 32' open flue is what establishes the presence of the instrument in the room. And the 'wet' acoustic gives those low frequencies a longer tail - love that convolution reverb in GCPO.

    But since most folks have worse speaker gear than my modest rig, I will have to continue to put up caveats about the bass.

    (Now, one friend and I listened on his very serious audio system with a power amp, electrostatics and a lot of other stuff... very convincing. And no subwoofer. I recommend his system for everyone.)

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