Audiophiles constantly seek ways to improve the experience of
hearing reproduced music. Preamps are upgraded, digital processors
are compared, turntables are tweaked, loudspeaker cables are
auditioned, dealers are visited, and, yes, magazines are read- all
in the quest to get just little closer to the music.
No matter what medium is employed, there can be no high-
fidelity reproduction of music unless there is a corresponding
high-fidelity recording of the music. This is axiomatic and immutable.
The most elaborate and sophisticated audio component system cannot
make a poor recording sound good; as we all know, the higher the
quality of the play-back system, the more we will hear the sonic
warts of a poor recording. The sonic quality of the best medium today, the
digital recording still depends on the skills of the recording
engineer, on the microphones he uses, and of the manner in which
these mikes are employed after careful consideration of the
When we buy records or CDs they are often very bright, metallic,
lacking depth, devoid of inner detail, and generally unmusical, the
audiophile's first reaction is to question the recording engineer's skill
or commitment to sound quality.
Why the recordings vary tremendously in sonic quality?
Let see what some recordists say about their art.( I'll allow myself
some remarks (in bold italic).
...."Although achieving a "good" sound is on the engineering mind,
the recording session is not the optimum environment for discerning
differences and spend time (read "money") on what are considered
matters of secondary importance. Recording engineers in a session
don't have the luxury of sitting in a chairs with nothing to think
about other, than the sound they are hearing. Further the differences
between cables, mike preamps, and other electronics are often more
subtle than and of a different nature from the large differences
introduced by changing or moving microphones. The first-order
effects of tonal-balance differences between microphones tend to
overshadow the second-order effects of cables and electronics.
Finally, it is not the engineer‘s prerogative to stop the session to
experiment with tweaky techniques or components"....
...."It's very easy for audiophiles to forget that, in the vast
majority of recording sessions, those involved are there to
manufacture a product for mass consumption, not preserve the
qualities audiophiles find important..A recording success is judged
by the number of records it sells, not by how much space is captured,
or how realistically instrumental timbres are portrayed"....
....Because most of the listening public hears the engineer's work on
car stereos there isn't the motivation to capture the signal as an
audiophile would expect it to be preserved. Engineers assume that no
one will appreciate the difference. After all, why bother? The
unpleasant truth is that most music is recorded for teenagers with
boombox, not for the audiophile with tube-driven electrostatics"....
Another factor widens the gulf between audiophiles and recording engineer:
the recording community's general ignorance of high-end audio. Very few
engineers, producers, or artists listen to their music through system
audiophiles would call high-end. Instead, they have scaled-down versions
of studio playback systems that play very loudly, have low distortions
at high levels, and are reliable. These systems also tend to be extremely
colored, lack sound staging ability, and have a very hard treble. Many
of the recording community just don't know what a high-end system can do
because they've never heard their music (or rather any well recorded music)
(These comments were from a workshop held at the 89 AES convention in Los
Similarly, (some engineers have learned one way of recording and
see no need
to change. Many techniques that could be used in modern multitrack sessions
are purist in approach yet wouldn't compromise the goal of making of
There is a good example of this in a recording magazine article that
top engineers for their tips on recording brass instruments and horn section.
An engineer described an accident that changed the way he thought about
.... "I was miking a horn section with my usual method: a mike
at each instrument's bell, horns positioned left to right in stereo image
console's pan pots, and artificial reverb added to each instrument. This
gives me total control over the balance between instruments,
spatial position, and even allows the sound of a particular instrument within
the horn section to be tailored with equalization. I also put up a coincident
stereo pair away from the horn section to pick up some "room sound" that would
be mixed in well below the direct sound.
One day-quite by accident-I pressed the "solo" buttons on the
console, cutting out all sound from the monitors except for the signal
from the coincident stereo "room sound" mikes. I was shocked to hear
that they did a much better job by capturing the sound than the
multi-miked, panpoted, equalized and artificially reverbed technique.
If I hadn't accidentally "soloed" the coincident pair that day, I
could have spent my entire career not knowing that there was another
way to record a horn section"....
But look at what happens when the gulf between the values of audiophiles
and recording engineers is bridged. Engineers like Keith Johnson of Reference
Recordings, Bob Katz of Chesky, the engineers from "London" label, Jack Renner
from TELARC, Tony Faulkner from "Green Room Production" Middlesex, England
or Marc Aubort, bring an audiophile sensitivity to recording,
elevating it from technique to art. They capture the music in a way
that can only be described as magical. Their work and the work of few other
likeminded engineers, dramatically illustrates the width of the value gulf
separating sensitive listeners and most recording engineers.
More important, their recordings reveal how much better the music can be
preserved when this gulf is bridged.
This gulf needs bridging more often.
Here are some opinions about "Stereo":
Stereo Doesn't Exist! We all want "concert hall realism" in our
living rooms. The music
lover returning home from a concert hall performance and playing a
recording of a concert hall performance and complaining of "not
sounding the same" is right. It is not the same. It is not stereo.
That's why. True stereo is totally unattainable, using a pair of
Loudspeakers juggled into "proper position", propped up at the one
end of the listening room with the listener seated at the other end.
The sound from the two speakers mixed with the room reflections, each
ear hearing both speakers (crosstalk) is not hearing "stereo". It
is only a poor simulation. It should not be called "stereo". Maybe
just "bi-channel". High Fidelity speakers in this case is an oxymoron.
True concert hall sound means hearing with two ears, two channel
signals mixed in the brain, not outside our heads, and scrambled on
the way to our heads. Like an egg, it cannot be unscrambled. Super
speakers, super amps, three channels, four channels, more channels,
rear speakers, side speakers, equalized sound, delayed sound,
surround sound, room acoustic treatment, new speakers every two or
three years, etc., etc. are all exercises in futility.
Want to hear the closest to realistic sound reproduction?
Tryheadphones. The complaint about headphones that "sound is
inside the head", as when listening to mono through them , can be the
result of poor separation within the system, such as crosstalk in
the cartridge. One advantage of CD is perfect separation. Partly to
blame is the microphone positioning. This is primarily done for
playback using speakers, or a mix of microphones (scrambled sound
again). Too great a distance between the mikes is not good. Your ears
are not ten feet apart. Nevertheless, with any stereo source, the
closest to concert hall realism is obtained only by the use of the
headphones. "Inside The head" sound can be alleviated by playing the
reduced volume while using the headphones. The speakers will be heard
as ambient sound as a result of the slight delay of sound from them,
which helps in moving the music out front.
The so-called binaural recordings made with the kunstkopf
(artificial head) are a further attempt toward realizing naturally
reproduced sound, and make for exciting listening. Get a pair of
good headphones, put on a record of one of your favorites, dim the
lights, sit back, and enjoy the absolute sound...."
"TO EQUALIZE OR NOT?" A SOUND PHILOSOPHY .
Most recording mixing consoles have EQ capabilities, and
engineers regularly utilize outboard equalizers ( either analog
or digital) for final mastering. It may come as a surprise to
audio purists that the majority of their treasured recordings
contain some degree of post production EQ. So why is it such a
heinous crime to use high-quality EQ in domestic playback situations?
Because most audiophiles believe that any manipulation of the
frequency balance in the original source will seriously compromise
the sonic and musical result. We all recognize that recordings
vary tremendously in the sonic quality. But why? Well , of course,
there are different halls and different performers. But there are
also different microphones (with strong sonic coloration and
frequency aberrations) and studio monitor systems that vary
significantly in tonal balance. Some experts state that "one system
might be up 8dB in the high frequencies where another is down 7 dB.
If a recording is optimized for one system, it may not sound "right"
on another. Since even a dB or two can make a big difference,
such big disparities pose a formidable problem . The only
logical answer is to give to home listeners a user-friendly and
sonically transparent instrument with which to correct ( if
possible at all) the tonal imbalance.
Home Sound Recording
There are more different recording systems available today than
ever before. Digital and analog are both available to the
consumer. With the advent of consumer digital recorders, used
pro analog recorders are becoming available for surprisingly low
prices. Now may be the time for you to buy a microphone and
recorder and make your first!
DAT (Digital Audio Tape) is currently the standard professional
digital format for 2-track digital recording. DAT had a
short-lived consumer presence, but never "made it". As digital
recorders have no tolerance for clipping, using a DAT recorder
takes a slightly different knack. The results can be worth it,
however, as DAT format offers the same resolution and dynamic
range as CDs. DATs record for up to 2 hours on a tape, and can
run at three different sampling rates: 32 kHz, 44.1 kHz
(for CD), and 48 kHz (the DAT standard).
DCC is Philips' attempt to modernize the regular cassette. DCC
decks can play analog cassettes, and can record new Digital
Compact Cassettes. They use stationary heads (DATs use rotary
heads as do VCR's), and although they are digital, they use
lossy compression to fit all the data on the cassette. Although
DCC sound quality is far better than the 1960 standard cassette,
the DCC does not have the sound quality present in DAT or CD.
DCC may be a good choice for consumers who want to assemble mix
tapes for cars or walkmans, but is not suitable for any
professional applications. As of December 1992, DCC is very
new, DCC equipment is very expensive, and the ultimate future of
DCC is not assured.
Recordable CD's are available. Blank
discs sell for approximately $35 each, and the recorders start
at around $6,000 (recently under $300).
Dolby B, C, S, and DBX are techniques for increasing the
signal/noise ratio of recordings. All work in similar ways:
they compress the dynamic range of the sound during recording,
then expand it back upon playback. As much as we would like
it to be otherwise, you only get correct reproduction if you
use Dolby B to play back a Dolby B tape. Same for Dolby C,
Dolby S, and DBX. Dolby HX Pro is the exception.
Dolby B works mostly with higher frequencies; it increases
their levels during recording and decreases their levels, and
the levels of high-frequency noise such as tape hiss, during
Dolby B tapes can be played back without Dolby B processing,
but high frequencies are over-emphasized and the sound will
be excessively bright. This can be compensated for to some
extent by turning down the treble control. Audio novices
often remark that commercially recorded tapes recorded using
Dolby B sound dull when played back with Dolby B; this is
because they are accustomed tothe boosted high frequencies
they hear when playing these tapes without Dolby.
Dolby C achieves greater noise reduction (about 8-10 db) than
Dolby B by working with a greater range of frequencies and
altering relative levels more; this means that playing Dolby C
tapes back with no Dolby processing or with Dolby B, leads to
very bad frequency response and a sound that most people find
unpleasent. Dolby C may also be more sensitive to variations
among decks in exact frequency response, alignment, etc. Some
people find that tapes recorded using Dolby C sound best only
when played back on the deck on which they were recorded.
Dolby S works with an even broader range of frequencies than
Dolby C, and achieves slightly greater noise reduction. Its
has three advantages over Dolby C:
DBX is similar to Dolby B, C, and S, but uses the same compression
on all frequencies, high and low. However, DBX is mostly used
in the professional market. Very little home DBX equipment is
available, and some of that home equipment is no better than
comparable Dolby B home systems. All DBX systems are compatible
with all other DBX systems, but incompatible with Dolby. A DBX
tape will sound terrible without DBX processing during playback.
- many people find that
tapes recorded and played back using Dolby S sound closer to
the original than tapes done using Dolby C;
- tapes recorded
using Dolby S don't sound awful if played back on Dolby B decks,
- Dolby S seems to be less sensitive to variations among
All compression/expansion systems suffer two problems. One is due
to the fact that compressors can't compress a loud signal before
they have heard a bit of it, so that little bit of loud signal
will get through uncompressed. Likewise, quiet passages will not
be expanded until after they are detected. These delays give rise
to an audible problem often called "breathing".
The other problem inherent in all compression/expansion systems
is that if there are any frequency response errors in the tape
recorder, they will be made worse by the compression/expansion.
For example, if there is a 2dB dip in frequency response at 1kHz
in the tape recorder, this will be accentuated to a 4dB dip if
the compressor is using a 2:1 ratio. So compression/expansion
trades noise for frequency response error. For that reason and
the previously mentioned breathing, some people prefer to use
their recorder without any noise reduction at all. They prefer
a bit of noise to the other errors.
Dolby HX Pro is not noise reduction and does not use
compression or expansion. HX Pro is a technique developed by
Dolby Labs to increase tape headroom by decreasing the bias
when recording signals with a large high frequency component.
This allows better transient response, particularly on less
expensive tapes, and requires no processing when the tape is
played back. Dolby HX tapes can be played back on any system
with no decrease in quality.
PASC (Perceptual Audio Sub-band Coding) is a data-compression
algorithm. It increases the length of recording that can be
stored in a given number of data bits by eliminating sounds that
the developers' research claims can not be perceived by human
listeners. Its most important component is the omission of
quiet sounds that occur at the same time and near the frequency
of louder sounds. It provides up to a 4x increase in the length
of recordings a given digital medium can hold; this is essential
to allow full-length digital recordings on DCC (and on MD, which
uses a different compression technique). It is not necessary
to translate CD data to analog before compressing it using PASC,
nor the reverse.
You CAN hear PASC, but it is very difficult, since it is not
a distinctive noise (like a hiss) nor a consistent diminution
(like a notch in a speaker's response), but a broad,
uncorrelated dropout in a changing collection of sounds that
are masked by sounds that you can hear very easily.
Since it is lossy, repeated PASC recording will cause
progressive loss, and this signal damage may become easily
noticeable. This is a side effect that recording companies
hope will have the effect of discouraging piracy via DCC.
SCMS (Serial Copy Management System) is a copy-protection system
intended to stop rampant piracy of commercial recordings to
digital tape. SCMS allows the home taper to copy from a CD to a
digital tape, but prevents anyone from digitally copying that
new digital tape.
You CANNOT hear SCMS.
There are professional devices used by engineers to manipulate
the digital bitstream, but they cost several hundred dollars and
are not cost effective for consumers. If you need to make
perfect digital copies of digital copies, buy a professional
digital recorder. Pro models do not have SCMS, are more durable
than consumer recorders, and may have better quality electronics
than consumer models.
Every digital audio tape recorder and every blank digital tape
sold in the USA is priced to include a "premium" or "tax". This
tax is collected by the US Copyright Office and distributed to
the recording artists and record companies that own the
copyrights to commercial music. These fees are supposed to
repay them for lost royalties.
Many believe that this "tax" is illegal, because it represents
an assumption that the buyer will use the recorder and tape to
violate a copyright, and not to record their own works. A
founding principle of the USA legal system is that everyone is
assumed innocent until proven guilty.
If you believe that this law is unjust, write your elected
In the US today, it may be legal to copy LP's, CD's, etc. for
your own private use (such as to copy a CD to play on your
walkman). UK law specifically prohibits this, but it is almost
never enforced. It is definitely not legal in the US, UK, or
almost anywhere else, to copy these sources for commercial
purposes, or to give the copies to others.
It is as of yet unclear whether you own the rights to sell
or give away a copy of a recording if you made the copy on media
which was sold with an included digital audio tax.
First, a caution: DAT recorder tape heads are VERY fragile.
Before cleaning the heads on a DAT recorder, get specific
recommendations from a very knowledgeable source that is
intimately familiar with DAT head cleaning.
To clean tape heads, use pure isopropyl alcohol and lint-free
swabs. Wipe the metal parts of the transport with alcohol
(DON'T wipe the rollers!) and allow them to dry. Throw the swab
away after use. Be exceedingly careful when cleaning the heads
on a DAT. DAT heads are notoriously easy to misalign by
Practical tape head demagnetizers are available for under $10.
Try to find one with a plastic coated tip. If you can't find
one which is plastic coated. you can slip a drinking straw or
plastic tube over the tip for the same effect. This plastic
will prevent the demagnetizer from scratching the head.
Before plugging in the demagnetizer, remove all tapes from your
working area and unplug the recorder. Hold the demagnetizer
away from the recorder as you plug it in. Slowly bring the tip
of the demagnetizer up to the tape head and slide it back and
forth across each tape head for five one-second strokes. Then
pull it away from the head slowly and go on to the next. After
demagnetizing the heads, use the tip on each metal tape guide
with a similar five strokes. Last, slowly pull the demagnetizer
far away from the recorder and unplug it. Recording engineers
use a demagnetizer before each recording session.
Adjusting a tape machine for best results usually requires
special equipment and test tapes. Unless you know what you're
doing, leave it for a pro. If you are serious about doing it,
buy the service manual for your particular tape recorder. It
will list a detailed procedure, as well as describe the correct
test tape and tools.
As for setting of record levels, it is best to experiment with
different levels on different tape brands. Different
formulation will reach saturation for different levels.
Generally speaking, the transients on a Chrome tape should peak
at about +6 dB above 0, though some formulations can take
significantly hotter signals.
Projector-Recorder Belt Company
Whitewater WI USA
Teac RC-1 available from
J&R Music World
59-50 Queens-Midtown Expressway
Maspeth NY 11378-9896 USA
800-221-8180 or 718-417-3737
Tascam Rubber Cleaner RC-2 available from:
No. They will work fine. They are no more abrasive than common
tape and may actually be less abrasive than very cheap tapes.
Recorders which are designed for CrO2 or Metal tape have
different bias settings and equalization settings to take best
advantage of the greater headroom and to give flat response with
these different types of tape. However, they use similar if not
identical heads as less expensive tape recorders. Almost all
tapes are in some way lubricated, and these lubricants minimize
wear and squeaking.
One simple answer to this question is that the best tape is the
tape which was used to align your tape recorder. A second
simple answer is that more expensive tapes are frequently
better in terms of quality of the backing, durability of the
oxide, accuracy of the shell and guides, and life.
Background: When you make a tape recorder, you build electronic
circuits which have specific, non-flat frequency response.
These circuits correct for the non-flat response of the tape
heads, the recording process, and the tape. These circuits can
be adjusted after the recorder is made, but adjustment is
tricky, and may or may not be successful with every tape made.
The designer of the tape recorder picked one tape as their
standard when they did the design, and built that recorder
to work well with that particular tape. It may work better
with a different tape, but it won't necessarily sound the
best with what one person calls the best sounding tape.
From a review of frequently given answers to this question,
it is obvious that almost every brand of tape has its advocates.
Many brands also have their detractors. Maxell and TDK tend to
have a strong following, but that is in part because they own a
large share of the US tape distribution market.
See 14.22. Just as cassette tape recorders are set up
specifically for one type of tape, reel-to-reel tape recorders
are equalized and biased so that they are best with one specific
brand and model of tape. Just as more expensive cassette tapes
will last longer and have less noise than cheaper ones, you can
expect fewer dropouts, better quality control, and lower noise
from more expensive reel-to-reel tapes.
The major brands in reel-to-reel tape include Ampex, Scotch
(3M), AGFA/BASF, and Maxell.
These are IEC (International Electrotechnical Committee)
standards. They provide broad standards for all tapes,
and end the need to align a deck for an individual tape.
Type 1 is for normal "iron oxide" tapes (Fe2O3), Type 2
is for high-bias "chromium oxide" tapes (CrO2), Type 3
(obsolete) is for FeCr (ferric chrome), and Type 4 is
for Fe (Metal). Type 2 tapes tend to be more expensive
than type 1, and type 4 tapes are the most expensive.
This is because type 2 tapes tend to have less noise and
flatter high frequency response than type 1, and type 4
tapes tend to have even flatter highs and even less noise.
Some Type 1 tapes are more expensive than other Type 2 tapes,
and may be worth the extra price. More expensive tapes come
in better shells, have better lubrication, fewer dropouts,
smoother frequency response, and better uniformity from tape
to tape. Even though the types imply a particular tape
formulations, the type really refers to the tape performance.
For example, some iron oxide tapes have an unusual oxide
formulation with very small grains that conforms to the type
2 standard better than the type 1 standard. These tapes
will be labeled type 2, but may not have any chrome in them.
Most modern cassette recorders sense the tape type by the
holes in the back of the housing and adjust bias and
equalization to compensate for the differences. A few
top cassette recorders (the Revox and several Nakamichis)
automatically align to a particular tape by recording test
tones and then setting their own equalization.
In practice, each brand and model tape is slightly different.
For the very best recordings, adjust your recorder for the
tape you use most, or buy the tape which works best in your
recorder. Manufacturers adjust each recorder for a specific
tape at the factory. So the best tape might be the one
referenced in the recorder owner's manual. In a recording
studio, it is common to align the bias and equalization for
the specific tape used, and stick with that tape.
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