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Live - or is it?
RECORDING ENGINEER TONY FAULKNER LIFTS THE LID ON THE MURKY WORLD OF 'LIVE' RECORDINGS
Back in the cassette era: "Is it live? Or is it Memorex?" was the question that launched a thousand hi-fi advertising pages. A more appropriate question today might be: "If it says it's live on the CD cover, is it really a live performance on the CD?"
In recent years much of my time has been spent recording concert performances, especially those of soloists, ensembles and orchestras for their own CDs and downloads. The term 'live recording' would seem to be self-defining - turn up at a live concert with some microphones, record the event on to some convenient medium, top it, tail it, then send a master to the CD factory. As ever, life becomes more complicated once other factors come into the frame, especially since the march of technology has made it so easy to mess with recordings.
I have made about a hundred 'live' productions for commercial release on CD and/or downloads. Their fidelity to the term 'live' has varied from truthful, slightly tweaked, right through to downright dishonest. In the latter classification they are studio performances to all intents and purposes, with multiple edits added from recording sessions (sometimes several days' worth) before and/or after the audience was present at the 'live' event.
download excerpt "The Death of Dynamics"
GENERAL READER FEEDBACK IS NORMALLY POSTED ON OUR WEBSITE (WWW.HIFICRITIC. COM), BUT WE DECIDED TO PUBLISH THIS UNSOLICITED PIECE FROM JULIAN MUSGRAVE FOR SEVERAL REASONS. IT'S FEATURE LENGTH; IT INTELLIGENTLY DISCUSSES A NUMBER OF RELEVANT ISSUES. BUT ABOVE ALL IT MADE US LAUGH!
Congratulations team - you have backed your convictions with your own hard cash (I assume), burned a few bridges by saying the unsayable, and are poised to reveal the unvarnished truth to a hushed and expectant world. After breaking out the champers and singing a few verses of Roll out the Clichés, there's nothing left to do now but write exactly what you want when you want and, naturally, wallow in all the glory and money that rolls in.
Or perhaps, being seasoned campaigners, you might welcome an audiophile's view of HFCrit. You may not agree; you may splutter and clutch the fevered brow, but rest assured I'm on your side. First of some good things about HFCrit. (Relax, there is not an equal and opposite list of bad things)
Cable Controversies (Part 3)
IN THIS THIRD PART OF HIS MAGNUM OPUS ON HI-FI CABLES, MARTIN COLLOMS DISCUSSES IMPEDANCE MATCHING AND DISTORTION MECHANISMS, THEN REVIEWS A COMPREHENSIVE SELECTION OF INTERCONNECTS
Cable designers have a hard time of it. There are many more failures than successes, and they need to be obsessed with the science of small differences; otherwise performance improvements occur more or less by chance. The sheer variety of form, colour and size reflects the disparate approaches adopted by the designers, and you could be forgiven for suggesting that a dose of snake oil is an integral part of the audiophile cable business. Furthermore, the extravagant claims often made for the advantages of specific constructions do not help establish credibility.
The decisive factor that can cut through the confusion is the 'try before you buy' service offered by some suppliers, allowing the cable to be returned if you don't find an anticipated improvement sufficient or convincing.
Metallurgy and Stranding
Metallurgy - the element or alloy chosen to conduct the signal - is one of many aspects of cable technology that can affect sound quality. Simple copper is available in a range of purities down to six decimal places, and is capable of excellent performance. Beyond that, copper can be plated, or better still clad in a co-extrusion process (a technique different from electrochemical silver plating), most commonly using silver. Various other alloys can be chosen for the conductor, as well as costly pure metals such as silver or even gold.
The conductor can take many forms, ranging from a single strand to arrays of simple multiple strands, multigauge strands or individually insulated strands (called Litz, after the inventor). Many divers stranding styles and geometries have been formulated, and are generally offered for sale with near occult theories explaining their specific innate superiorities.
The type of insulator used to separate the conductors and build the cable also influences sound quality. Use of exotic materials such as gold wire and foam Teflon insulation may or may not guarantee excellence. Build quality matters, as does the physical properties of the assembled cable. Above all, there is the skill of the designer.
Some cable makers speak of impedance and matching, generally on the basis that a matched cable is terminated with its 'characteristic impedance', conferring a... (continued)
Roksan Radius 5/Nima
ROKSAN'S RELATIVELY AFFORDABLE TURNTABLE/TONEARM COMBO TURNS OUT TO BE MUCH MORE THAN A VERY PRETTY STYLING EXERCISE, AS PAUL MESSENGER DISCOVERS
Even though it lacks the simple convenience of digital optical disc replay, I've never lost my personal enthusiasm for vinyl replay, so it's rather gratifying to find that what once seemed a rather lonely and isolated place seems to have been enjoying steady growth for the past several years.
I'm neither blind nor deaf to the limitations of vinyl replay, and can fully understand why CD became the most popular music carrier, especially amongst those primarily interested in classical music. But for all CD's convenience and absence of surface or background noise, there's something very relaxing and natural about vinyl replay which CD never seems quite able to match.
I'm not proposing to reiterate all the pro and con arguments here, but the bottom line, as ever, is revealed by one's behaviour: if I settle down for an evening's music listening, I have no problem moving from CDs to vinyl discs, but find it psychologically much harder to follow vinyl with CD.
Four Phono Stages
ALVIN GOLD ASSESSES FOUR PHONO STAGES WITH SERIOUS PERFORMANCE POTENTIAL, WITH ASSISTANCE FROM MARTIN COLLOMS AND CHRIS BRYANT
There is something at once exciting but also terrifying about audiophile attitudes to vinyl replay. By now vinyl should be footnote in history, but someone didn't read the plot, and instead it could even be that CD will have been consigned to the graveyard before vinyl takes its last gasp. The terrifying aspect of course is the quasi-religious zeal of many vinyl adherents, which simply knows no bounds, and which it is hard to avoid concluding is only loosely related to any rational assessment of the merit of the format. You have probably heard that vinyl is incomparably better than CD. It isn't of course, even if it once was back in the early days of digital audio.
What really sets vinyl apart is obvious enough when you think about it, and can be summed up in three words: catalogue, catalogue and catalogue. The reality is that no one will ever again record Wagner's Ring again for the very first time, and very probably no one will ever conjure up a worthy successor for the Beatles, Rolling Stones or Bob Dylan. Some of course will point to the sound quality issue as the clincher in vinyl's favour, but I don't buy this for a second. If it really was all about sound, we'd be braying for DVD-Audio or SACD, which have been all but written out of the history books. Or even Elcaset, which long ago suffered that ignominious fate. No, the reason why vinyl has the status that it does is because its heyday coincided with a brief moment inhistory which saw a confluence of cultural influences, musical ideas and technological possibilities that no later or earlier age has been able to anticipate - or replicate.
Notwithstanding all this, vinyl replay can be remarkably good. With sufficient care and attention, sound quality from records may indeed be in the same ballpark as CD. Sometimes worse, but equally sometimes better. Not better if you're easily put off by the merest whiff of vinyl roar, or impulsive surface noise of course. You need to cultivate a certain forbearance for endemic analogue shortcomings that is simply not otherwise necessary in a digital age. We'll return to this later.