Friday, August 22, 2014

Throw away CDs and MP3s folks, vinyl revival is here!!!

Why vinyl records again ?
This is the digital age, one might wonder why do we need to go back in time. Why do we need to listen to vinyl records again ?  The truth is vinyl records never died but it was just that were a bit distracted. There's a huge difference in terms of audio quality and accurate sounds on vinyl compared to "modern day CDs", not just a nostalgia as many tone deaf thinks.

Is this is just a trend ? is there's a real benefit on records ?

Music lovers, the audiophiles moved away from CDs towards vinyl records over the recent years due to this thing called "loudness war" (also known as loudness madness/loudness mania). The CD manufactures over the years "increased the amplitude in CDs to make the CDs sound a bit louder to compete with other CD manufactures. We call this ugly competition as "loudness war", which killed the dynamic range that the music has. The record companies achieved this by compressing the music "further more" on a CD. 

What does the loudness war mean ?
Ortofon 2M Bronze Cart in action
Well, it's quite simple, record companies increased the amplitude of the lows and brought the highs down to make the waveform even and then increase the amplitude altogether; thus resulting the music sound a bit louder but flatter. You might think this is pretty cool, since you'll get to hear music a bit louder at a lover volume. But unfortunately it is not. This process kills the dynamic range of the music and make everything in a song sound flat, muddy and distorted. The range of the drums, depths of the vocals and the clarity of individual instruments are all gone during this process. This makes all instruments and vocals to sound at the same range/level. The "loudness war" distracted those who listen to real "music". (ie this doesn't have any impact on those who plug their ipods with Apple provided headphones or beats/bose crap)

For an example, if you listen to Sade's original recording of the "Promise" album and the recently remastered CD, the latter sounds a bit flatter and dull. The difference is like day and night. Metallica's "Death magnetic" album known to be the loudest album ever produced, which sparked a protest against the "loudness madness" and many fans requested a re-release of the album with the dynamic range ie without the loudness mania but that never happened.

Why can't make vinyl's sound louder ?

The limitations on the media itself prevent record manufactures applying same principles of the loudness war on vinyl records. That said, I have seen badly pressed vinyl records that aren't distant from CDs. But overall, the vinyl records win hands down in terms of sound quality and there would be no fatigue for long hours of listening to the analogue music since waveforms aren't computed as in digital media. The new vinyl records aren't cut from CDs or digital master copies often but from the analogue sources. The new 180gram pressings sound awesome and promised to last a few generations making record warp a thing in the past. The records do have a higher sampling rate compared to digital media.

Can records last longer like CDs ?
Well, the answer is yes and no. The vinyl records would indeed last for generations. I haven't seen any CDs last the way vinyl records so. My vinyl collection consists records older than 45 years. Recently one of my mates brought a 45 years old Simon & Garfunkle record and it sounded brilliant without any hiss or pop after giving it a bit of clean. The vinyl records however wear out over a period of time but that's insignificant and there are ways to minimise the record wear, which I'm planning to explain in another article. In a nutshell, if you configure correct tonearm height, stylus pressure and anti-skating correctly you could make the record wear to be very minimal. In worst case scenario, the records would still play and generate music no matter how many times you've used it or how badly they have been used. I've got a mate having a collection of records some have been played to death yet sounds great.

I think I stopped buying CDs about 6-7 years back and I blogged my experience here. That said, I bought a few CDs where there's no vinyl counterpart and some were original releases. In general, you need to take a good care of vinyl records to make them last generations. A clean before dropping the needle, a periodic stylus clean are just a few basics steps to ensure a longer life span among many other. One might think this as an annoyance compared to playing a CD. Well, absolutely not. Playing a record involves a bit of human effort, which makes the individual a part of the listening experience. In return, vinyl records have more presence to the music, warmer, natural yet detailed sounds. The dynamic sounds are there to enjoy all day along.


Why should I go through this hassle to play a record ?

It's like using a DSLR camera vs a point and shoot crap; both take photos. The DSLR in manual mode needs a bit of effort at each photo shoot; you need to set the correct aperture, shutter speed, film speed, white balance, configure the focus point etc,. However, the end result justifies the efforts you've put at each click. Just like listening to music over vinyl record. To conclude, if you're given a manual 1987 Ferrari 288 GTO and an a 2015 plated Toyota Hybrid Camry with all the bells and whistles, what would you pick to drive ?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Why Audio Video Receivers suck at music reproduction ?

A bit of background
Do Audio Video Receivers (AVR) deliver quality music for audio sources ? No, never. I guessed yes for a while but I soon discovered AVRs lack real presence of music although I listened to audio in Pure Direct mode.  What Pure Direct mode does is, it disengages power and control to tone controls (IOW it bypasses tone controls). This helps AVR to minimise signal contamination by the noise generated as a result of AVR's digital signal processing (DSP) mechanism. Pure Direct mode sends input signals straight to the amplification stage without deteriorating the signal quality.

What is missing in an AVR ?
The biggest problem with AVRs is lack of power among many other things resulting inaccurate music. You could certainly hear some "sound" but that isn't what actually the corresponding music instruments' music sounds in real. The depths of vocals, warmness of music, the tone, real spectrum of drums and heavy bass are just a few missing bits when you listen to music on an AVR.

AVR distributes its power to various other segments although you don't use them while listening to audio in pure direct mode. This is one of the key reasons why these AVRs don't sound good. The AVRs by design cut corners and the power isn't necessarily sufficient to drive speakers for good music reproduction even if it does, it lacks musicality.

With the storm of Audio Video Receivers (AVR), most people found AVRs a great way to listen to music via multiple speakers. The AVRs appeared to be a cheap, cost effective way of enjoying both worlds; audio and video. However, this trend crippled the HiFi stereo component market. The stereo aka two channel amplifier market plunged almost to its extinction as many manufacturers quit bowing to the declined sales.

AVR vs Stereo Integrated Amps

Just like many, I've been using a receiver for audio and changed a number of receivers in the space of 5 years starting with Yamaha RX-V 663, Marantz 7002 and Yamaha RX-V 2073. It didn't take much time for me to realise how bad the AVRs are for music, since I have extensively used a two channel integrated amplifier before moved on to AVRs. I almost stopped listening to audio on my AVR since music sounded crap.

I checked a few audio forums on what others say about two channel audio on an AVR. Quite surprisingly, many commented that there wouldn't be much of a difference in sound quality given most modern AVRs are powerful enough to deliver quality audio, which turned out to be an utter rubbish theory. 

Yamaha RX -V 2073 known to be a very good AVR in its league and its specs are promising on the paper but wasn't delivering the goods on pure direct mode for audio. I generally tend to do what mass majority thinks wrong. A good two channel integrated amplifier could outperform any AVR twice the cost of an amplifier on real music reproduction.

Why Yamaha A-S1000 ?
I short listed a few integrated amplifier brands, such as Rotel, Krell, Naim and Arcam but at the end I bought a Yamaha A-S 1000. I'm not a Yamaha fanboy but Yamaha outperformed many over hyped big names on the paper and on sound quality. The retail price for Yamaha A-S 1000 is ~$2500 but I got a nice discount from Todds.

 I've got a couple of turntables but I hooked my old Sony PS 3300 turntable to Yamaha A-S 1000; connected Klipsch F30 speakers with oxygen free four core cables using banana plugs. Powered the system and dropped the needle on one of my favourite records. The sounds were amazing, the sound quality difference between A-S 1000 and the AVR is like cheese and chalk. Some claim Yamaha amps are bit bright but I guess it all comes down to the speakers. The Ortofon 2M Bronze cartridge known to be on the bright side too but the highs aren't bright as bleeding as some say. The clarity, tone, details, depths are amazing. The sounds are very neutral yet natural and of course, I didn't touch the tone controls and I doubt I would ever.

Look and feel and sound quality
The A-S 1000 has been built like a tank, weighing 22.5kg. It has the retro 1980s look with a few modern twists built into it. The damping factor is pretty decent at 160 amongst many other little things, that are collaboratively effective in generating quality vibes. The THD is pretty low and the giant capacitors are yet to warm up to reach their peak. The S/N ratio is excellent at 93dB on the paper for my main music source, phono. For a moving magnet (MM) cartridge, it's an excellent figure. Importantly it runs at ease at a very cool temperature to my surprise, thanks to the Thor power board. This is my second integrated amplifier since Kenwood KA 4040-R in 1993 and the best to own so far. Finally, hifi music has arrived at its best. Now I hear music as it is in detail :-)

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Greatest Sacrifice

The turning point of mankind 
People have varied opinions on the turning point of mankind, some say it was when we invented the transistor. The newer generations claim it was after the WWII. The most recent generations claim the ARPANET, the first TCP/IP packet based network, which led the way to Internet. If you ask this question from a science student, you would hear penicillin as the answer. The evolution of technology and science have made our day to day life much easier and saved many lives although it has its own fair share of failures and setbacks. Sadly though, science or the technology has failed to defeat the death or find answers to the eternal questions on life after death. 

If someone asks my opinion on the turning point of mankind. I have an easy answer. It was the day when the Word took a cross in flesh on behalf of all the mankind, two thousand years ago. On a day like this. That was the day, when the separation between men and God was put to an end on a cross by a Man named Jesus. That was the greatest sacrifice on the surface of earth, and there won't be any of that kind ever in this world again. 

In simple words, the turning point of mankind was the day when Jesus was crucified on a cross. He was crucified to pay the price for all our sins, as a sacrifice.

What does that mean ?
A line of separation was drawn between men and God, since the day men turned away from God towards sin. The priests, descendants of Levi tribe were chosen to mediate between men and God. It was the highest priest, who met God in the most holy place in temple, representing men. 

The most holy place in the temple was the meeting point of God and the high priest; which was visually separated by a curtain from the rest. This process wasn't God's desire, His plan was to have a direct relationship with men and bless them with eternal life with His abundance of love. But the sin separated men from God.

Who is Jesus ?
Jesus is God. God sent Jesus into this world, to pay the price for all our sins; once and and once for all. Jesus was the sacrifice and the priest on the cross. His sacrifice cleansed us and spared from the eternal condemnation. This eventually terminated the need of having priests among men to consult God. Jesus took over the priesthood by becoming our mediator between God and us. His self offering was accepted by God as Jesus rose from the dead on the third day since he was crucified.

What it takes to have Him in our lives ?
Jesus Christ didn't come into this world to start a new religion or to establish a new denomination. Religions are a product of men, denominations are a barrier between the same league of followers. He came into this world to put an end to a thousands of years long dispute of man kind with God, to make a WAY for men to have a relationship with God through Him. His message is very simple. That is to accept His sacrifice and He as our personal saviour, to have a relationship with God. To save our souls at the end of our life span in flesh. 

Death is an event which spares our soul from the flesh. The soul lives on until the end, we follow Jesus to save our souls and to make our souls to be with Him at the end.

Jesus wants us to be His friends, come closer to Him, to become His followers. Following Jesus is all about taking our own cross and following Him and experience Him, His power. This process helps us to have a good communication with God. A communication means, a two way communication. Not just we talking to Him but to hear His voice in return.

What it takes to experience Him ?
The first and foremost thing is to become humble and honest. We can't come closer to Him with our own egos. God didn't have an ego. Jesus being God, humbled Himself at the hands of sinful men during the crucifixion. Being sinful, weak men, what do we seriously have to be ego driven ? Our days on the earth are numbered. We simply take the relationship we have with Jesus and the knowledge of Him when we bid farewell to this life in flesh.

Jesus didn't expect us to be just believers, instead He expects us to be His friends, followers and disciples. The early church didn't have a church building or well qualified preachers but it was filled with the power of God with Fire. Today we have well equipped church buildings with all the fancy things in the world in it, choir groups, well educated preachers (preaching boring sermons), comfortable seats, massive sound systems but the Spirit of the Lord and His power.

I'm glad there weren't any bible collages at the time of apostle Paul. Had there been bible collages during his time, he would have spent decades learning the bible, spending his best time learning the word, without actually carrying out his "duty". The only qualification God expects from us is to have a BA; Born Again.