Tag Archives: PCM

Illegalized: $5

MQA – The Room – Lo-Res got better…

The press on MQA is full of a lot of things but not too many of them have to do with how it sounds. I’ve been listening to CDs since you have, since the beginning, early 80’s. I wouldn’t even buy them until the 90’s cause they didn’t sound good. My cassettes made from my vinyl sounded a lot better to me.

I didn’t have to read about it to know that then.

In fact I didn’t like digital audio until I got introduced to DSD in 1999. It finally sounded better than anything I had heard before!

But CDs and CD quality (and worse: MP3, AAC) didn’t go away. I tried :)

I have made a lot of recordings over the years since the 80’s. Even the 70’s. They started on tape, 1/4″. Even multitrack cassette. So so quality. Good times. Then 8 track digital (not 8-tracks, well yes in my bus in the 70’s) at 16/48. Not bad and way good enough for early DIY and online 1995…

I made those recordings for early CDs, unreleased stuff, and then started recording shows using 1-bit Sony TCD-8 and TCD-10 DAT machines at 48kHz. Not bad! Often these were recorded through a single strereo mic I setup in the room in front of the band. To capture the sound we were making that day with those sets (which weren’t written down usually).

Guess how MQA Ltd describes their tech/product:

“MQA is a revolutionary new technology borne from a simple desire: to bring the listener as close as possible to the artist’s original performance.”

Was I interested in how that sounded when I first read about it? Yes I sure was!

So I have gone back to most if not all my earlier digital recordings and even some tape transfers to PCM and worked with MQA Ltd. to have them encoded as MQA. It sounds a lot better than what I had listened to as CD masters and the like before. Sometimes a lot better.

Here’s what I don’t read the press saying about MQA, but that I find extremely valuable about this technology…

When the master being encoded as MQA is CD quality at 16/44.1, the MQA time resolution repairs (my term) done to the master which remove the audible pre-echo ringing and maybe some post-echo ringing are distinctly heard as huge improvements to the sound, ALL WITHOUT USING ANY SPECIAL EQUIPMENT.

No one has to buy anything such as new audio gear to hear these improvements on the natural sound of the recording.  You don’t need a new software media player or a new DAC or wires or computer or anything else. You just play it through what you usually play music through (computer, phone) or burn it to CD! I think you will hear the difference.

An MQA DAC such as the Meridian Explorer2 (PCM up to 192k for $299 US) will unfold hi-res masters to restore and play the higher frequencies. These sound great too!

This is in addition to what I mentioned earlier. But for CDs as masters (original 16/44.1 recordings) there was no hi-res (high frequencies) recorded or mastered. I find the MQA DAC further improves even these (CD) masters somewhat, but it’s not required.

Here’s what a recent listener who was comparing my “Time Forgets” MQA Master against the original CD said. This was on a Macbook, with no DAC or any other special gear, just iTunes playing the 2 versions of the album, alternating and comparing each song:

“oh wow – oh my god
clearer crisp sharp, gawd!! no question
wow! you can hear everything better, everything being all the instruments
sharper clearer you can hear every distinctive instrument, awesome”

I’ve gotten a lot of comments like these from both straight A music lovers as well as from hard core audiophiles.

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So I am offering you a 75% discount on the $20 MQA Master download of a live recording of a full band made on a TCD-8 using a single $99 Sony stereo mic setup on a mic stand maybe 6-8 feet in front of the band playing.

Illegal Copy #2 – David Elias & The Great Unknown
Recorded in San Gregorio General Store, 2002

Click Here To Preview or Download the Illegal Copy #2 album…

These 9 songs were a lot of fun to play in the Store that day and were recorded at 48kHz then mastered by me at 44.1kHz. What you can download for $5 is the MQA version of the master encoded by MQA Ltd. (http://www.mqa.co.uk).

I made some bootleg copies of the recording back then for some friends and the musicians but it didn’t sound quite good enough to me to release as a CD. The energy and performance were good, just the sound wasn’t really “the room”. Now it is. Close enough for an illegalized copy :)

This is a roots low-level basic recording. It’s not hi-res. But it sounds like the room when I hear it now after all these years. I’ve had audiphile comments on this same recording expressing their appreciation and enjoyment of the natural honest and ambient characteristics of this master. That’s all I could hope for.

Use this PROMO CODE for 75% off:   illegalized   (no capital letters necessary).

Share this with anyone you want. The PROMO expires on midnight (UTC) 8/31/2016. The CD download is $5.

I now have 17 MQA Mastered titles (mostly albums) online to preview and download here:

http://davidelias-mqa.com

Aloha to all and thanks for listening,

DE

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Getting Back to the Source…Back in the room with MQA

The stereo mixes I’ve done for everything always use “the room” in the mix which is usually largely based on 2 or more rear wall mics capturing those reflections at “the source” (ie the wall) as well as high up (ie, the ceiling).

So I mix the stereo as well as multichannel using those tracks (2 stereo or sometimes 3 with 1 mono). In that way I avoid having to use artificial reverb and delay which is so commonly used (both analog and digital versions of these) in studios that most engineers/producers don’t think twice about it.

By using ambient sound in the mix to bring back the natural reverb and delay (slapback sounds from the wall vs the stage) I can recreate a very authentic reproduction that has nothing artificial added.  Just EQ and panning (right and left) during the mix to restore the original sounds and locations in the room.

I started doing this on my own on my very first CD in 1995 (Lost in the Green). I went on to record several other CDs in that fashion through 2001 with Half An Hour Away which I recorded myself in an acoustically beautiful small performance theater in Half Moon Bay on the SF Coast on Hwy 1. Me and my trio at the time (Gary on flute/tenor sax, Lisa on mandolin) played live in the otherwise empty hall for about 4 hours one afternoon with (local fan) director Michael’s permission.  I had mics in the audience front rows as well as back at the high seats in the rear wall row. I mixed the 8 total tracks to stereo analog and printed it.

Within a year or two I was planning and then recording “The Window” to DSD in a fancy studio in Boulder using the same approach. They (local engineers) said I couldn’t do it and shouldn’t try — putting all musicians in the same room without isolation (no real traps between musicians!) and creating the live session with as few mics as possible in the room. But I said we should try it just to see what happened so they shrugged and said ok……..  rest is good history for me :)

I think (my ears tell me) that MQA is exactly what was needed to round out the edges imposed by PCM which is how I recorded and mastered those original CDs. It is the coup de gras for returning the original ambient sound characteristics of the room and performance.

– DE

DSD Bartender — Give Me A PCM Sandwich!

Direct Stream Digital (DSD)

The great news is that hi-rez (aka hi-res, HRA, or HD) audio is getting lots of renewed attention these days, by the likes of Sony and all kinds of audio loving creators and consumers.

I think that’s a great thing because if we would all just remember to slow down a little and maybe sit down and just listen to some nice music more often (like many of us used to do every day!) then we might all feel just a little better about the rest of what’s going on around us.

At 80 years old, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. wrote that without music our civilization would have ended long ago. I’d have to agree with that. Pursuing a certain quality to whatever kind of music we might listen to is worthwhile. Music isn’t a distraction to many. It’s an essential part of our civilization and our lives.

DSD (Direct Stream Digital) is the High Resolution Audio (HRA in Sony’s acronymous world) that has been around as the media format behind SACD (Super Audio CD) which came out nearly 15 years ago. SACD kind of went invisible for awhile due to lack of the music industry’s support, but now is coming back around for big press and lots of attention and ears (new and renewed).

It has been reborn in the form of DSD Downloads, with the same audio quality of any equivalent SACD.

My question is:  How many people out there think they are listening to DSD and are actually not hearing DSD but a PCM conversion of their DSD source track?

DSD DISTILLED CORRECTLY…

Frequently DSD is being changed (converted) by hardware and software alike into the more ubiquitous PCM format before it reaches your ears.

What’s confusing, or worse is completely unknown to many listeners and audiophiles, are the proper steps required to actually play DSD in its native format. Despite the years that SACD has been around at this point, the proper direct DSD playback from both SACD discs as well as DSD Download audio files (DSF or DFF) is still elusive to or misunderstood by many.

Surprisingly, both SACD’s and DSD Downloads often have similar problems getting played correctly in their intended DSD hi-rez format.

This seems to stem from the ways that audio hardware and software have evolved. They have both followed a PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) dominated path that was based on most of the digital music being recorded and played as CD (PCM) since the early 80’s.

That’s a long, long, time and a whole lotta CDs and iTunes downloads ago… We’ve all been listening to PCM since vinyl LPs, cassettes and 8-tracks went out the window…

So the DACs (Digital to Analog Converters) that were first developed catered to PCM, the same format as CDs (WAV/AIFF). As far as I know, the DACs to this day still require different circuitry to support both PCM and DSD.

The bottom line is that it is neither simple nor cheap to support both standards (DSD and PCM) in the same product. Yet they both exist. In September 2013, Sony announced they felt the CD audio quality consumers were being fed for the past 30 years was not nearly good enough. As a result, they decided to back their own HRA format: DSD! This approach removes the edgy and compressed feeling to the sound you are listening to and instead provides a much more natural and ambient analog-like sound your ears are more comfortable hearing.

When software media players such as Winamp and QuickTime came out in the 90’s, they were meant to play the popular PCM formats (WAV and AIFF)  as well as the ubiquitous compressed MP3 (lossy – meaning audio quality is lost), AAC (Apple lossy) and then the more accurately compressed lossless (meaning quality is not lost) formats such as FLAC for the PC and ALAC for the Mac.

There are many more audio encoding formats and what are called containers for video and/or audio playback. I can show you a list of audio/video encoding formats and containers that is a long as your arm! They all have different approaches to compression vs quality and player compatibility.

By the way, notice any pattern here?  The PC and the Mac never really support the same encoded audio files! The Mac will now even run Windows (under a Lion OS X dual boot), but it won’t play a PC FLAC file…Give me a break!  Things are not better on the PC Windows side playing the Mac ALAC files…Give me 2 breaks! Even the mighty “cloud” won’t help you with this one…

A similar discrepancy has occurred in the HRA world of playing DSD through software media players including Winamp, QuickTime, JRiver, Audirvana, AudioGate, Pure Music, and all the rest. The circuitry does not exist inside the PC or Mac to decode the 1-bit DSD directly to analog!  This is pervasive, but perhaps not that well understood.

There is insufficient hardware (specialized chips) in the typical PC and Mac to play DSD as DSD without PCM conversion. Instead it must first get converted (via software) to PCM to then be played directly through its speaker or headphone audio out jack. (For historical reference, the Sound Reality chip in older Sony Vaio computers could in fact play DSD as DSD but that chip no longer exists in the newer Vaio computers.)

If you are using any of the popular media players such as Audirvana Plus, JRiver, Pure Music, AudioGate, Foobar2000, and if you are listening to DSD without an External DSD DAC (see below), then you are not listening to DSD, you are listening to PCM.  Here’s a list of media players from HighDefTapeTransfers.com

IMPORTANT NOTE: Korg’s AudioGate software does not support an external DSD DAC! There’s no way to hear DSD from the Korg software. You can only hear DSD directly output from one of its MR-series recorders (MR-1 or 2, MR-1000, MR-2000). AudioGate software always plays DSD files (DSF, DFF) as PCM!

AudioGate is a great tool for mastering and converting between many hi-rez audio formats including DSF/DFF (I use it a lot), but it does not offer any DSD playback without converting to PCM, nor does it integrate with USB DSD DACs.

THE DSD DAC SOLUTION

Fortunately, there is a way to listen to native DSD from a PC/Mac without converting it to PCM first.

The solution is to add an external DSD DAC (Digital to Analog Converter) to decode the DSD stream to analog and feed it from there to your amplifier, etc.  The DAC typically connects to your PC/Mac via a USB cable. More recent DSD DACs are USB sticks that connect to the PC/Mac directly and also act as headphone amplifiers…this approach (like in a product called GEEK) just might blow the roof off the cost/value proposition in the market! Other interfaces for popular DACs (old  and new) include Firewire, S/PDIF, AES/EBU and Toslink. DSD DACs usually support PCM as well.

In addition to the original Meitner (EMM Labs) DAC products, DSD DACs now are becoming a beautiful audio bouquet of selection from companies such as Mytek, exaSound, TEAC, PSAudio, and others. Some good DSD DAC lists exist at Positive Feedbackand AudioStream…

SAMPLE THIS….

There are differences in the sample rates supported by all of these things so that’s one more thing to pay attention to as a futureproof type of purchasing if that’s important to you. The original DSD 1-bit sample rate was at 2.8 MHz. This is referred to as DSD64 or 64fs or 64x because it is 64 times the sample rate of the CD (aka Red Book CD) standard of 44.1 KHz (44100 x 64 = 2,822,400).

To achieve even better sonic results, DSD sample rates have increased by factors of 2x (DSD128 at 5.6 MHz) and 4x (DSD256 at 11.2 / 12.2 MHz). Different software and different hardware have different capabilities in this regard. exaSound’s e20 and e28 DSD DACs are some of the early adopters supporting DSD256 in stereo and 8-channels! Pyramix and Horus from Merging Technologies also support DSD256.

DSD – NO PROBLEM……PCM – NO PROBLEM…
IF IT SOUNDS GOOD…IT IS GOOD!

I have no dispute to settle. I like good sound. I like to make good sounding recordings. It can be on a cassette in a boom box or DSF file being played and sent analog to that same boom box. It can be an iPhone sitting on a pallet out in the yard turned up like an AM radio from the 70’s. And no, not everything sounds good to me…

In many ways, listening carefully to DSD since 1999 has taught me to appreciate a good recording no matter what device or media it is playing through. I have come to call this the Art of Listening.

Roger Powell gave me the confidence back in the early 90’s to accept the fact that “if it sounds good, it is good. Thank you Roger!  I was trying to make the first “really good” recordings of my life at that point, having done lots of messing around for the previous 20 years. The digital DIY revolution was breaking and I was hooked

I was hoping not to screw up. A lot of things that I used and did for those 90’s recordings were dirt simple at the time, yet still just sounded good (honest, accurate, clean, natural) compared to most of what I was listening to on home recordings and many pro recordings. My sound was nearly all acoustic so that made it easier to evaluate for these attributes of clean, natural, etc.

Roger’s answer to my “is this good quality?” questions gave me the courage to stay on my track. Before too long I would be introduced to DSD by Gus Skinas. I’ve never had to look back or look anywhere else for a truly excellent audo quality resource. I’m not alone. If it sounds good, it is good! DSD has been all of that for me from the very start.

BARTENDER, GIVE ME A SANDWICH!

Say you walk into a bar famous for their home infused jalapeno margaritas. In fact they specialize in all kinds of infused drinks with deep colored bottles lining their shelves.

You sit at the bar and say “Bartender, give me a sandwich!”

He looks at you and shrugs and then goes somewhere and scrounges up a ham and cheese sandwich (maybe from the take out next door) and gives it to you, (Give the customer what they want!). You eat the sandwich and are not too impressed.

Then you go back home to your “Famous Bar Review” webzine work and write something about the poor quality you experienced at what you thought was supposed to be a very high quality establishment.

I’m afraid that this is what too often happens to DSD in its evaluations and comparisons to any other format (analog tape, vinyl, PCM, etc.).

A lot of people are listening to DSD as PCM. This happens if you don’t use the external DSD DAC as described above.  This is also likely to happen if you play the DSD from an SACD player that is using HDMI to connect to an amplifier/receiver or to even a video monitor to display its menus. The transport over HDMI (at least prior to HDMI v1.2) in the mainstream pro and consumer world is always for PCM encoded audio, not DSD.

This is only recently overcome and not usually implemented on the HDMI side of things. Prior to HDMI v1.2 DSD gets converted to PCM for transport to the amp/receiver. With newer HDMI versions, BDP players such as OPPO are now supporting the improved integration with some A/V receivers (some Onkyo, Integra and Yamaha models) where the DSD is preserved over the HDMI transport. There are apparently licensing issues here so DSD support is not guaranteed. You have to check with the manufacturer and spec for each model at both ends.

They have also gotten around this on the software USB side (PC/Mac media player to DSD DAC) using what’s referred to as DoP (DSD over PCM). DoP manages to keep the DSD intact and unconverted when it leaves the software player and arrives at the DAC. Other software drivers called ASIO and WASAPI also exist for similar USB DSD DAC integrations.

So….The hardware and software both cater to the PCM market — no problem…unless you want to hear native DSD and you don’t carefully setup and configure the hardware and software you are using for direct DSD.

The default settings for all these products are to convert the DSD to PCM before it is output.

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I’ve seen this so many times now that I had to write this post.

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It’s like asking that bartender for a sandwich instead of a jalapeno margarita. The finest most exotic and delicious specialty of the house is skipped for what the customer is most used to…

I’ve been on an education type track with hi-rez since well before 2009. I started recording with DSD in 2000 and recorded the self-produced “The Window” in 2002. In 2003 I was taking my SACD disc around to the hi-rez audio retailers in the SF Bay Area asking about all the gear that could play it and testing it out their audition rooms.

Similar issues always existed with the HDMI integration of amplifiers and receivers to SACD players. There can be other default player settings that just convert DSD to PCM for no apparent reason unless you turn it off in the setup configuration. I’ve seen this on Sony BDP players as well as others. Software will always convert to PCM unless you have the right path for it not to (to an external DAC) and set it up (with the right DSD drivers) properly.

People often want to hear my DSD recordings.  If they end up listening to my DSD recordings as PCM conversions, they may be nonplussed with the results, especially as sonic comparisons to other (PCM) recordings they have. I want to help them configure their systems to actually hear the DSD recordings in their native formats. Since they were recorded as DSD, they should be played as DSD.

Usually the response to a changed DSD playback configuration starts with: “Wow!“. The same benefits apply to any other SACD disc or DSD Download audio file played on the same system.

WHAT TO DO, WHAT TO DO…

So I recently created my own checklist for setting up DSD playback. This is so anyone can hear the DSD directly, and not as PCM masquerading as DSD.  It is a pretty confusing product world from one standpoint, but the checklist I came up with is pretty simple.

It is the mental list I’ve used when helping others listen to DSD recordings in their intended way. This list has changed as the whole thing continues to evolve.

So here’s my current Checklist to try to help others listen to native DSD if at all possible. There may be exceptions! In fact, I can think of a few. No matter. It is written for the general and common systems out there.

DE’s DSD PLAYBACK CHECKLIST

1. BEWARE: If you are using a computer’s analog audio jack (headphones/audio or line output), then software as a PC/Mac Media Player ALWAYS plays DSD as converted to PCM, not native DSD.

2. So….An External DSD DAC connected to a PC/Mac via USB is required in order to play the native DSD from a Media Player. This also includes a requirement for proper hardware (DAC) driver configuration on the computer. (The “driver” is software!).

Popular External DSD DACs are available from companies such as exaSound, Mytek, TEAC, Meitner, PSAudio and many others. A good list is here from AudioStream…

3, BEWARE: HDMI (v1.1) converts DSD to PCM before playback and therefore should be avoided when critiquing or trying to fully enjoy DSD audio quality. You can investigate HDMI (v1.2 and later) to see if DSD playback is being supported by your specific BDP (player) and A/V Receiver or Pre/Pro products.

CAUTION
: Enabling HDMI Output on your SACD/DSD player may cause DSD to automatically be converted to PCM on any direct output. This is currently true on OPPO 103/105 models. Check with the manufacturer for your player.

4. The best and simplest audio quality solution from a DSD/SACD player is usually to seek the configuration/setup that sends DSD directly to the analog RCA outputs (L/R stereo or 5.1 Mch).  You also need to enable DSD (instead of PCM) on SACD Output!

5. Finally, most DSD players (hardware and software) give some indication on a screen somewhere of what they are really playing based on their configuration.

Read the screen! 

This can be the media player (software) screen, or the SACD/Blu-ray player (hardware) display.  If it doesn’t say “DSD” or “SACD” and says “PCM”, or AIFF or ALAC, or WAV or FLAC or anything else, then it’s probably converting the DSD to PCM before it sends it to your amplifier or elsewhere. You may need to disable HDMI Output and/or enable DSD on SACD Output.

ONE MORE SIDE NOTE…… If you are using an OPPO BDP (103/105) and are playing DSD Downloads that you have on a USB stick, the OPPO and HDMI video screen displays do not tell you whether you are listening to PCM or DSD!

This is true for the latest firmware dated July 2013.

I was told by OPPO that the player will follow the SACD setup when playing USB DSD file (DSF/DFF).  So if you see “PCM” in the display when an SACD disc is playing, then you need to fix your setup as described above (HDMI Output = Disabled, SACD Output = DSD).

Then go get a good margarita and enjoy yourself!

dsd

dsd

 

new beginnings … 20 years in the making

With the 2013 Autumn Equinox, I am releasing a collection of recordings that was made about 20 years ago. It was the beginning of my work as an independent acoustic artist in the SF Bay Area. I began performing my original songs back then in a retro solo coffeehouse style approach to live music.

I also began recording at my home studio with the encouragement and assistance from Gus Skinas and Roger Powell who helped set me up with gear (which included a nice 100-year commemorative Gibson Gospel guitar!). I recorded to Hi-8 video tape on a Tascam DA-88 8-track PCM 16-bit recorder at 48kHz. Gus loaned me 3 very good mics which was probably the biggest quality influence on the whole setup.


… A CDBaby is Born …

Those are my beginnings as a DIY musician and the first effort yielded my first self-released CD called “Lost in the Green” in 1995. A few years after that I found out about a brand new online retail outlet called “CD Baby” (what a name!) for independent arists.

I had 2 CDs released at that point (“Time Forgets” was recorded in 1997 and released in 1998) so I called Derek Sivers in Woodstock, NY who in 1998 had started this brainchild of hanging anyone’s self-made CD in his storefront window and letting the artist control 100% of everything about the sale through their online account.

This included the retail price and all the info about the release. It could be changed by the artist at any time. Derek provided the warehousing of the inventory and did all the online transactions with Visa/etc. and shipped the package to the customer. Then he told the artist about it via email and kept the history of the transaction online.

To this day, I can look up the first CD I sold through CDBaby online in about 5 or 10 seconds. That’s 15 or more years ago! CDBaby has not changed the price it charges to provide their service to me ($4 per disc no matter what the disc retails for).


 … Getting Online … Slowwwwwly ….

At this point, in the 20-year horizon of how I was encouraged to produce my work and find my way into the Internet and DIY music, I looked back to the first recordings I made. This was all before CDBaby, before iTunes, before Hi-Rez, before Napster, myspace, Dreamweaver, DSL and cable modems, and lots of other things I gratefully forgot about…

I was staying up late nights into early mornings writing HTML in a Notepad text window and uploading it to my account with Netcom.com out of San Jose, one of the first ISP’s in the Bay Area. I didn’t have a domain name of davidelias.com. I didn’t think I’d need one…

But I did use the Alta Vista search engine (no Yahoo! or Google yet) to find the web sites and playlists for public and university folk and country radio shows. In the days of 19.2k, 33.6k dialup modems that everyone had, there was no streaming of music online.

You could upload and download mp3’s and then play them through things like Winamp (which I still use sometimes) but the radio stations weren’t part of that. What they did was show you the programs they had scheduled and the playlists of what went out over the air in recent shows by the different DJ’s. (They were using the web to try to push you to the air waves!!) They often had email addresses for their staff.

So I started emailing those DJ’s who were playing songlists that I felt my work would fit in with. I let them know what I was doing as an independent artist with a web site, writing, performing and self-producing CD’s and asked them if I could mail them a disc to audition for their show. They usually said “Wow – you must be crazy and when do you sleep and sure send a disc to me”.

I could then track my work appearing in shows in the US and other places as far away as Hong Kong. I maintained my web page by hand and added radio info and pictures and mp3 downloads as time went by. There were very few rules as to the “right way” to do things…This was still quite a ways off in the future…maybe it still is…

MP3.com went online in 1997. It let anyone upload their music to the web to be accessed by the universe of listeners, many of which were also artists. I was in heaven!

I don’t remember any other artist songs as covers or copies like the YouTube of today. I remember all this original music. Maybe I’m glorifying it, I don’t know.

Before too long there were a million songs online at MP3.com from independent artists like me. By 1999 MP3.com went public and all the artists online there were offered an IPO price on some (small) number of shares of the stock. Good times!

A shared music platform with free exchange of styles and motivations. Too good to be true? Yep…MP3.com produced some very big rumblings in the record industry that was sitting back watching music being given away…. lawsuits and the rest followed as MP3.com departed. (It first got locked in a drawer by Vivendi, then went to CNET and exists today in another form.)


… Napster (free) … iTunes (not!)  …

In the wake of MP3.com, Napster and others, there emerged a new unfolding of the retail motherlode of digital downloads…iTunes. I had been online almost 10 years with free MP3 music downloads at that point.  But suddenly there was this very huge RETAIL thing looming in front of the independent artists. CDBaby took us (lowly unsiged artists) to that front door, and all the other OMD doors…

Since then, iTunes has sold some 28+ billion downloads…that’s a lot of noteworthy hamburgers so to speak…CDBaby is the Online Music Distributor (OMD) of my catalog to over 50 download retailers including Spotify, Rhapsody, Amazon, Napster, MusicMatch, EMusic and last.FM. There are over 350,000 albums on CDBaby alone (2+ million songs!) that can be purchased as CD and/or downloads right there.  That’s just CDBaby, that’s not iTunes!  You want to make a living as a musician with some songs recorded?…uh you have a few competitors out there…

MP3.com proved that there could be a huge music community of artists and listeners using the web as a conduit for the exchange of music. MP3.com was visionary in this regard. they were ahead (meaning occured before) things like Ecommerce and ad-supported web pages. But they didn’t charge anyone anything to post music or to download music. It was just about the music for them, or so it seemed anyway. I, and I think millions of other people as artists and music lovers, liked that a lot.

Steve Jobs saw and seized the opportunity… iTunes became the vending machine for delivering music to a BUYER not necessarily a LISTENER. People who were involved in the approach (software) used to encode and compress the music files as MP3 were not necessarily happy with the resulting quality of the recording compared to the original. But modem speeds and expensive disk drives at the time were both catering to smaller files to download.

So iTunes jumped on the wave and created what I still think is one of the best media manager software packages out there. I spent years telling people that if they wanted to just catalog their CD libraries they could download iTunes software for free and do just that and play the music from the computer (or send it to their stereo system) or iPod or iPhone if they had one, and never buy a single download from Apple.

iTunes lets you rip CDs to WAV (if you change the settings) so the CD and resulting digital file sounds are identical. I don’t think most people understood how useful that was and still is. You can also sequence songs you want and easily burn a new CD with the same audio quality.

Newer software that can also play DSD now exists so iTunes hasn’t quite the same clout that it did…Still most media player software integrates WITH iTunes, it does’t try to REPLACE iTunes. Talk about market share…

What iTunes also did however, was assign a value ($.99 to be exact) to each song on the web. What a concept that Jobs had!  So free music became less interesting to a whole lot of people on both sides of the equation from then on.

The record industy had its serious competition forevermore; music lovers had to start being more judicious (mainstream?) about their choices of music; and starving artists (or some version of that) got this new gleam in their eye that said “hey if I could only put the right song up on that iTunes I could probably make….”).

Also In the wake of iTunes came a host of new challenges and opportunities, all of which I managed to get tangled in without a lot of guidance because most people didn’t know much about the How-To either.

Some were quite fun really as technology got kind of bolder on the desktop and then notebook then notepad computers. (Today I’m using an old iPhone as my portable tablet!) Plus I’m a persistent type so I don’t mind doing the research and experimenting for my own education.

A memorable list of emerging technology for music during those times is: webcasts, podcasts, live streaming broadcasts, highly stylized and customized media players, standardized media players and eventually videos.  Most if not all of these are still around.

So the waves of independent artist music grew large and poured out over the web, with me right in them.

Derek Sivers has since sold his CDBaby business (2008) which had grown to include HostBaby (where I’ve hosted my web site since he started that around 2000 I think) and other things. But the mechanics of how CDBaby works are the same.


DSD Wobbles Around and Then Sits Up Straight After 10 Years or so…

Time sure did race by… Now in 2013 I am 20 years into being an independent artist and also 10 years into the creation of the planet’s first independent (unsigned artist) hi-rez SACD recorded and mixed for stereo and 5.1 surround sound.

I made “The Window” available as a DSD Disc (stereo DSF files) download in 2009 – another first – to anyone interested in accessing hi-rez over the web as opposed to on an SACD disc. These were mostly being played on some of the 30+ million Sony PlayStation3’s out there that supported DSD Disc.

This same format (DSD as DSF / DFF audio files) was just this month, 4 years since my DSD Disc release, announced and embraced by Sony as part of their new High Resolution Audio (HRA) campaign that encourages DSD Downloads. Good friends to have in the DSD Download market!

You can read about their initiative through these links

http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/personal/2013/09/03/cea-to-tout-high-resolution-audio/2758871/

http://www.cepro.com/article/sony_releases_8_hi-res_audio_products/

You can now also find my released DSD recordings online with the record label DSD Download crowd online at http://www.SuperHiRez.com — there lots of press and buzz about this:

http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue68/hi_rez.htm

I’m just happy that there is a (rapidly?) growing community of artists, producers and labels that care about how good their recordings sound.  They (Sony and retailers) might say it’s because their surveys say that the market wants good sound, but I think they have to want good sound as much or more than anything else… let it happen!


Independent Acoustic Roots…

This new release is where I started with this world-connected music. I’d already been playing guitar and performing my songs for 20 years (I know, I know…). But that’s another story. Everything changed with the digital technology that enabled DIY CDs to be created and web connected communities of art started flowing into retail pretty quickly.

So here are 16 songs that are from the Big Bang of my Independent Acoustic DIY universe as a singer-songwriter. Playing guitar is one of the things I’ve cared about my whole life as a young guy then young student, then young adult then … what am I again now?

It doesn’t matter. Music is timeless. You can find the track downloads online at www.davidelias.com right now.  They will be online at iTunes and the rest of the web download machine any day now. “Lost in the Green” never made it to iTunes for personal and then some bureaucratic reasons. So adding this release to my catalog on iTunes and the other download sites helps complete my story online for Independent Acoustic.

Thanks for Listening and thanks to all those who have helped and encouraged me to be Independent along the way.

Enjoy the change of season with the Equinox.  9/22/2013…4:44pm EDT


About the new release…

Independent Acoustic Roots — these are solo acoustic bare bones performances, original mixes. As a result there is only one overdub on these tracks. Calvin McElroy plays mandolin with me on “Season of the Fall”. John Caulfield added his fiddle part to “Time To Sleep Corrina” as an overdub.

Some of these tracks were used later in multitrack mixes for the release of “Lost in the Green“. Some were unreleased. 4 tracks are written by Townes Van Zandt and recorded during the same time in 1994. Only two of these appeared on “Lost in the Green”.

 1. The Great Unknown (David Elias)
 2. Season of the Fall (David Elias)
 3. Dollar Bill Blues (Townes Van Zandt)
 4. Lost in the Green (David Elias)
 5. Time to Sleep Corrina (David Elias)
 6. May People (David Elias)
 7. Field of Wood (David Elias) *
 8. Nothin' (Townes Van Zandt)
 9. Every Hour, Every Day (David Elias)
 10. Eye on the Wind (David Elias) *
 11. Mainland (David Elias)
 12. Hair of the Dog (David Elias) *
 13. Rows, Desolation & Angels (David Elias) *
 14. Stormy Early Warnings (David Elias) *
 15. Waitin' 'round to Die (Townes Van Zandt) *
 16. A Song For (Townes Van Zandt) *

* Does not appear on “Lost in the Green”

“Independent Acoustic Roots” is online at http://www.davidelias.com


   16 acoustic tracks from the DIY digital dawn... NEW Release! Original Acoustic Tracks from 1993/1994

art + tech = art :: less is more

The biggest incentive I had to start this blog was to offer my experience and maybe some technical clarifications or explanations to those interested in hi-res recordings and DSD downloads + SACD discs in particular. No doubt there are a lot of confusing technologies and messages out there. But I am focused on the desire to hear high quality acoustic recordings. The source of the recordings might be a live performance in a studio or on a stage or from an earlier recording (master) either analog (say 1/2 or 1/4 inch tape recordings or masters) or digital.

I have had a fairly unique vantage point on a lot of this, especially during the early 10 year SACD growth period between 2000 and 2010. I wasn’t part of the music recording industry though I was a working and recording musician in the SF Bay Area. So I was able to see the creation of an industry segment that I was independent of.

I had no manager, no booking agent, no record contract, PR agent or any of the rest of it. I wasn’t really looking for any of that either. What I wanted to do was to make good recordings of my songs. I also wanted to perform in places that sounded good to me. I had already climbed the DIY music ladder from its infancy in those first web+browser days in 1994 and 1995 when my first self-made CD called ‘Lost in the Green’ came out. The web at that time offered me a direct communication path to public and college radio stations all over the U.S. as well as to other countries. This was new! I don’t recall any of the stations broadcasting their shows on the web at that point, just posting info including contact email.

Most importantly to me the web offered direct communication to those station DJ’s. So I started studying their playlists on the endless folk programs I searched for to see where my music might fit stylistically. Then I found the DJ and sent him or her an email to see if they would be willing to receive and test drive my DIY (Do It Yourself) disc and package. The search engines I used then were AltaVista and Infoseek. Google hadn’t been born and Yahoo was soon new on the scene. The browsers being used were first Mosaic and then Netscape. Soon to eclipse them all was Microsoft’s Internet Explorer released in 1996. It would reign fairly undisputed for about 8 years until Firefox showed up. My web pages were all hand typed HTML as there were no WYSIWYG tools like Dreamweaver available yet.

The DJ’s were usually surprised in those years to hear from someone like me doing these things on my own. They were also almost always open to my inquiry and if so I mailed them discs with a printed copy of the email and a hand scrawled thank you. Music uploads were not that commonplace yet as most people connected to the Internet were using a 19.2k or 33k Zoom or Hayes dialup modem. It was slow! ISDN BRI at 64k digital would come and go in the U.S. DSL appeared then and cable modem shortly after that. But mass music uploads and downloads were only just going to begin occuring in the mid to late 90’s on web sites like the original MP3.com which I was also part of. It was all 100% free until Steve Jobs saw the window of opportunity there and iTunes was born. More on that another time.

I got my songs played on radio stations as far away as Hong Kong. I had created my own website and email under my San Jose ISP at Netcom. I kept an up to date list of all the stations adding me to their program playlists. I was very persistent and it was very exciting.

I was recording with a Tascam DA-88 16-bit, 48k 8-track recorder that used Hi-8 video tape to write to. Roger Powell loaned me his to start. I later bought my own DA-38. I mixed “Lost in the Green” on my then new DIY gigging gear from Mackie. I even used my tiny Mackie 1202 mixer with 2 bands of EQ and L/R panning to mix my first CD. No effects like reverb or anything else were used, just treble / bass and left / right.

I still use the same Mackie at most of my shows like from the back of the flatbed truck I played on last Friday in a breezeway between 2 Thai and Vietnamese restaurants in Hilo, Hawaii during a big rainstorm. When I performed recently with my trio The New Containers in a small club in Pahoa I mixed the sound onstage through the same Mackie and gave the house a single mono feed for their PA. This is to preserve the original sound captured from the acoustic guitar, vocal and other mics including percussion. I also still have the Tascam Hi-8 recorder and the source recording tapes of my first 4 CD’s (Lost in the Green – 1995, Time Forgets – 1997, The Blue Planet – 1998, Half an Hour Away – 2000).

I was making simple acoustic recordings but they sounded good enough to me to share with the world. I was into ambient acoustics and in 2000 recorded a trio with only guitar/voice/harmonica, flute or tenor sax, and mandolin live in an empty performance theater on the Highway 1 coast in Half Moon Bay, CA. The CD became “Half an Hour Away” by David Elias & The Great Unknown. Again it used no effects. I used mics onstage to capture the trio and mics in the room to capture the room where the audience would have sat. It became my natural reverb in the mix. All of these recordings were 8-tracks or less, mixed to stereo by me to stereo for mastering and CD printing.

My first CD packages in 1995 and 1997 were done with Gus “Guinness” Skinas‘s help on an early digital mastering machine from Studer-Editech called the Dyaxis. We created a gold master CD disc that could be reproduced directly. We also created the full color insert booklets with photos and song lyrics using Pagemaker. This was submitted to Discmakers for printing on a 10MB Zip Disk. They had never gotten anything like that (ready to print) from anyone before.

I got introduced to DSD in its early days. It was debuted as a commercial (major studio and record label target market) solution to what I’ll call the PCM Quandary which had slammed into the music industry in the early 80’s, quickly displacing vinyl and cassette. The dilemma I observed with PCM and in particular with what the industry calls Redbook CD (which is just the standard CD digital PCM format of 44.1k sampling using 16 bits and encoded as WAV or AIFF files) was that the standard was far from good enough for any real use in terms of preserving and reproducing original audio quality!

This meant that all the messages fed to the buying public (us) for say 20 years about the nice clean sound of CD compared to tape and vinyl (no pops, scratches, hiss or noise, remember?) were pretty bogus. Clean maybe yes, but accurate, well… no. What about warm and ambient and atmospheric like the way we hear things naturally? Well… no. What about accurately preserving the reflective resonant and decaying natures of sounds in a room? (Pick any room they are all sonically different.) Well… nope.

My list of PCM deficiencies goes on and on. Tied to the dying art of listening (which I wrote about the other morning but WordPress lost over half of when I tried to post it — I’ll save more Drafts now — Ouch) is the art of audio reproduction. In today’s gee whiz techno-world there are of course “competing standards” for the best ways to record and reproduce music. PCM sampling has been amped up to 96k and 24 bits (96/24) and well beyond to add depth and sonic accuracy. But to me that’s just the tip of its problematic iceberg and seemed to come only as a band-aid afterthought by those already heavily invested in PCM technology. Even worse is that CD’s which are still the target master destination for many projects are still following the same Redbook standard of 16-bit 44.1k sampling. So those listening to a 96/24 download might be hearing what was originally a 44/16 master recording simply upsampled to the higher rate. That is like taking a 640×480 pixel photo and expanding it to 1920×1280 on a large flatscreen. It doesn’t improve the quality of the photo. It can’t because the bits weren’t there when the photo was created.

Another dimension of the problems with industry recorded discs and broadcasts was tied to the large amounts of gain (volume) and compression used to maximize the output of the mastered tracks as finished stereo WAV or AIFF files. Think of all the bass you’ve heard from cars at stoplights, coming at you through either open or closed windows. Think of the crunched sound of singers and the uber-sizzling sounds of drum cymbals and horns and of course monster guitar solos. A lot of this is achieved mathematically in either a device sitting in a studio equipment rack or from a set of music editing tools on a computer. Remember the VU meters on audio equipment like tape recorders? That meter has a red warning zone at 0db. Any loud signal pushing the needle over into the red zone above 0db has the potential and likelihood of beginning to distort (clip) the audio output you hear. So on the other side of the compression and gain devices and software are often added what are called limiters that detect any signals coming before they can clip or distort and squeeze them back down to the acceptable level desired, say 0db.

The goal of much of the processed industry sound became something on the order of finding ways to maximize the audio signals at all times such that the VU meters would be “pinned” to the 0db mark without going into the red but still staying just under that red zone at all times, Lots of manipulation!

I’ve read that a lot of this came about with early FM radio transmissions so that the songs going out over the airwaves would blast into FM receivers in cars and homes with as much sound as possible. It was all about quantity, not quality. Think of TV commercials that come on and everyone jumps up or grabs the remote to turn it down. That’s what they do to radio! That’s what they do to lots of commercial CD’s!

Essentially what we saw and heard from digital technology through the use of tools available through the 80’s and 90’s were convenient ways to manipulate the sounds in order to broadcast, digitally transfer and directly playback recordings. As tiny speakers and then subwoofers began to get connected to most computers on the web, these needs escalated by a demanding public saying “Give us more sizzle! Give us more bass!”

Around 2000 I happened to get introduced to the format of audio digital encoding called DSD which stands for Direct Stream Digital. Whatever I say about any of this is just what I have come to understand over the years working as a musician with the tools developed and watching a new derivative of the music industry shoot up mostly in the audiophile niche based on this (pretty amazing!) technology. I could certainly be wrong with any of my facts or dates. Still I’ve been directly involved in creating productions for stereo and 5.1 surround sound using these tools and working with and learning from some of its true instigators in the studio and record industries. So I’ve cut my teeth on it as they say.

What Sony and Philips realized as the original developers of the digital CD technology delivered in the early 80’s, was that this format was completely useless to them as a way to archive the aging master tape library of recordings in the Sony vaults. It wasn’t nearly good enough to support the accurate transfer of their physically decaying master tapes to a more permanent digital format.

DSD came about in their labs in the 90’s as a much better way to do this. Sometime around 2000 I saw and heard a 2-track (stereo) prototype DSD workstation. It was a digital mastering machine for the archival of those decaying master tapes. But it was also a stereo recorder of course. This was not software running on a commercial PC or Mac at the time. It was its own small box with a small screen and keyboard.

What I heard then began to forever change the way I listen to music. Nearly 15 years later I feel I am still in a transition of learning how to divest my ears and listening skills from the filtered, limited, crunched and sizzled music that the industry has thrived on, largely through demand.

If you give listeners a recording that is limited to frequencies between 20Hz and 20kHz and has been crunched and sizzled to keep those tweeters and bass speakers fully occupied at all times, and the listeners ask for more of the same if not crunchier and with even more sizzle, then who are you to deny them their request? That’s business.

Take a walk through a forest or any grove of trees, say rainbow eucalyptus. What you hear are both near and distant reflections of sound through the canopy and beyond extending upwards into infinity until they slowly disappear into space. Listen to the leaves rustling together in the breeze and to an occasional branch squeaking against another. There are birds and insects chirping and humming. You also hear the lower registers of sounds rooted into the earth along with the trees, providing a solid bottom that also has no end other than something absolute. This could include the sounds of your footfalls as you walk. The air is the catalyst for all of this as it allows the audio signals to move through it carrying each source of sound to some surface destination where it is reflected and so bounces somewhere else until it reaches your ears or decays without being heard. Each reflection changes the color and level of the sound. The absence of a sound (just air) is just as important as the presence of a sound. The mix is the sum of all these reflections arriving from all the different locations surrounding you to your ears.

When you stand perfectly still you are experiencing reception from 360 degrees. What you hear behind you is just as important to the natural experience as what is in front of you. If you turn around, everything changes in your perceived reception. It is all spatial.

I can compare listening to pure DSD recordings in 5.1 surround sound as a similar experience. They are not like listening to most music as much as they are like listening to nature. My goal as a recording musician and songwriter has been to get as many blocks to that kind of listening experience on a reproduction (be it SACD, DSD download, CD, FLAC/MP3) removed as much as possible.

DSD recording has let me do that, along with the proper minimal but fully spatial microphone setup. This began shortly after I heard those first Sony archive tape masters transferred to DSD. I recorded a series of songs as a solo singer-songwriter to DSD using 3 very good microphones and preamps. This was recorded by Gus Skinas directly to DSD without a mixer in the path. One mic was in front of me catching my guitar and voice directly. The other two mics were slightly above me and equally spaced to my left and right. These captured the stereo image of what I was delivering to the room. It is something of a classic studio microphone setup, at least it was in past decades.

By recording directly to DSD without anything else electronically in the path we were able to capture the audio experience in a highly accurate way. There was no EQ (treble and bass) being added or subtracted. Those controls didn’t even exist in this setup. It was as simple as you can get. Less is more.

The honesty of those recordings was startling to both Gus and I. There are no equations or proofs that can explain how something feels when you hear it. All I can say is that from those experiments I realized that the essential elements of the kinds of recordings I wanted to make were based simply on air movement. DSD was able to capture and preserve that air movement, resonating from my voice and body singing and from the guitar strings and guitar body I was playing.

The frequency range of DSD is 0Hz to 100kHz. Human hearing range is between 20Hz and 20kHz (the lowest and highest sounds that one without hearing loss can perceive). CD and PCM follow these hearing limits exactly and discard the rest of the frequencies. This is how they got rid of the hiss and pops! I am convinced that the eucalyptus forest I described does not sound or feel the same with a 20Hz to 20kHz filter applied. Something would be missing. It might be similar to what you would hear if you put on some earmuffs but didn’t turn the sound down. Maybe a lot would be missing as the air would be robbed of a large segment of what it usually had to carry and distribute, regardless of what we thought we could hear.

Between 2003 and 2005 I went on to record different acoustic bands I was lucky enough to assemble in different studios in this same fashion of minimal micing and direct DSD recording, usually with no effects added. These were recorded on enhanced versions of the 2-track Sony prototype that went on to become the Sonoma DSD workstation. It was capable of recording up to 8-tracks at a time. We used a Sony software mixer application to properly EQ (treble/bass) and pan (left vs right or somewhere in between) each track to recreate the session environment as accurately as possible, giving the listener (you) the perfect seat in the studio, as if you were there. This was done twice from scratch: once for stereo (2 speaker) playback, and once for 5.1 surround sound playback (5 speakers and 0, 1 or 2 subwoofers).

Today the DSD playback of these recordings (“The Window – DSD Download“, “Crossing – 5.1 and stereo hybrid SACD“, ) as either SACD discs or DSD downloads is 100% the same as our final mastered mix of those tracks. It will never age or change sonically as tape would.  Two other DSD source recordings on Sonoma are “XING” (acoustic trio)  and “Live in San Gregorio” (large band). They should be available as DSD Downloads sometime in the near future.

Thank you Sony and Philips for bringing technology to the creation and preservation of art.

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