AAA Vs. 96/24 Vinyl Project Update

Here's a project update:

I've gotten prices from Kevin Gray for lacquer cutting and digital conversion. The plan to use both 96/24 and DSD on the digital side is not workable. Can't be changed in "midstream" so the digital side will be 96/24 only.

I've decided to go for 33 1/3 instead of 45 so you can hear one entire side of the record. There will be a royalty charge for using the tape but it is extremely reasonable. In addition, Analogue Productions will provide its original artwork used for AP's double 45rpm issue and Marshall Blonstein, head of Audio Fidelity has generously offered the services of his art department to produce the new jacket and label art, incorporating the original artwork. I will write new back cover liner notes.

So, this project is moving forward. Once all of the costs have been calculated, a Kickstarter project will be launched. Once the funds have been pledged, we'll proceed with lacquer cutting at Cohearant using the original master tape, with plating and pressing at QRP.

I'll keep you deformed!

carl478's picture

Nicely done. Looking forward to it.

mraudioguru's picture

...looking forward to this.

isaacrivera's picture

Can't wait.

Moodeez1's picture

What's the point of using digital files to press an analog LP? Until the industry gets away from this practice and demands the use of original analog tapes for re-mastering, count me out.

HalSF's picture

What an odd comment thing to post in response to a deeply tantalizing project designed to provide accurate empirical evidence, which is always better than dogma or blind ideology. For someone like you who believes that digital-sourced vinyl is decisively and audibly inferior to analog-sourced vinyl, I would think this project would be right up your alley as a potentially revelatory demonstration that you’re correct. On the other hand, of course, you may have to confront the horror of having been close-mindedly wrong and be forced to contemplate the ignominy of admitting you’ve been wrong counting yourself back in.

Moodeez1's picture

I don't think I've missed the point at all and I find your response to my post a tad on the pompous side. The original recording is analog, correct? Then why would ANYONE want to digitize an analog source just to turn around and press a vinyl version of it? Everyone knows what an arduous task it is to handle vinyl vs. the ease and convenience of CD's. However, in order to extract every single nuance, subtlety and the "air" from the analog master, must it not be transferred in its original analog form? I'm baffled by the number of audiophiles who continue to purchase LP's mastered from digital sources. Assuming most of them have high quality CD players, why put themselves through the additional work of dealing with those "files" just because they've been pressed on vinyl? They can't possibly sound any better than the limitations of their digital origins.

HalSF's picture

I’m baffled by your effort to invalidate Mr. Fremer’s proposed listening test before it’s happened. You have plenty of company in viewing the a priori idea that vinyl made from digital sources is a nonsensical affront, no case-by-case listening required. “They can’t possibly sound any better than the limitations of their digital origins.” That’s called a hypothesis, and the necessary complement to any hypothesis is experimental proof.

Sorry for using big words and adopting a haughty tone — that’s just me!

Moodeez1's picture

It's been my experience over the years that audiophiles will constantly spend more and more money, striving to hear things that simply aren't audible on a particular recording. The whole LP resurgence is folly, based more on the cool retro image than anything else. Don't get me wrong. I'm still a believer. But not in digital conversions when the original analog source should be used. You are haughty, to be sure, Hal. But it doesn't make you right. And as for your use of "big words", if they make you feel better, great, but I haven't seen any that have baffled me yet. Keep pontificating. You obviously need that outlet.

isaacrivera's picture

Digital LP editions of analog recordings keep being released everyday. The reasons are easy to understand, it's cheaper to do so both in materials and talent. This exercise will help us determine if what we believe is actually true and the difference is substantial. Clearly many are excited about it and do not think it's pointless. Since it's not tax-funded, all anyone who does think it's pointless it has to do to avoid it is not participate.

Moodeez1's picture

....can it possibly be cheaper to press an LP vs. a CD (much more limited runs, higher defective rates etc.)? And, assuming most audiophiles already have sophisticated CD players, why also have a pricey analog front end if you're going to be content to listen to digitally sourced LP's?

isaacrivera's picture

I am talking about LPs. A fully analog LP is more expensive to produce than a digital remastering of same. I think the conversation here is about hi-rez formats... Personally, my tests lead me to prefer a 24/96 LP over a CD any day of the week.

isaacrivera's picture

I can quickly come up with 2 or 3. (1) Determine if your system can resolve the difference. (2) Assuming your system is highly resolving, determine if your ears can resolve the difference! (3) Show others that there is or isn't a difference.

Should you not pass 1 and 2 or should you decide the difference, in your system, is not substantial enough, you could decide to either buy digitally-sourced records or upgrade your system. Hell I just came up with a (4) Take the record around to audition audio hardware!

rompolompo's picture

You should try recording direct to 24/96 as the source and only then use it to press the vinyl. What is the point of using analog tape that falls short of the file's capabilities?

isaacrivera's picture

You are joking right? If you are not, then this record should prove you right or wrong. I mean if 24/96 has higher "capabilities" than analog tape--which it does not, but let's play along--if it does, then the digital cut should be able to reproduce the analog with fidelity in every aspect, no? I mean it it has higher "capabilities" and it's "transparent to the source", then it should sound the same. I would not hold my breath.

rompolompo's picture

When you record on tape, any transfer to a different technology is going to alter the sound. You record on tape and then convert the signal to digital file or vinyl, still, this is not the same as the source. If you record on digital at 24/96 and then convert to vinyl, you will be able to have a better comparison between the formats. By "higher capabilities" I refer to dynamic range, frequency response, channel separation and noise.

isaacrivera's picture

I don't think what you propose is in any way a fairer comparison. Assuming you recorded the same performance simultaneously to digital and analog, the result would be a comparison of different recording hardware, as you would not be able to record simultaneously with the same hardware to both sources.

Secondly if 24/96 can accommodate all that analog can and then some and is transparent to the source, it should be able to reproduce the source with precise accuracy.

Thirdly the only one of those "capabilities" that 24/96 beats analog in is noise. Frequency response is much higher in analog and measurably so and consequenlty dynamic range.

rompolompo's picture

You keep using the word "analog" but we are dealing with analog tape and vinyl which are not the same. Tape and tape head have a different sound than vinyl and cartridge. While tape will give you (on a good day) around 75db of dynamic range it will not reach that of a 24bit recording.

isaacrivera's picture

Amply on these pages and even engineering papers shown, if you care to search for them and read them, just in case your own ears are not enough evidence. Vinyl has wider frequency response and range. Both physical media, tape and vinyl, can record everything the human ear can hear and way above 20K Hz. Good cartridges can definitely reproduce beyond 20-20K in both directions as can a good amp and phono preamp.

Michael Fremer's picture
is suggesting that analog tape is inferior. He's baiting you. It's quite possible that in terms of measured performance, 96/24 is superior but then, so is CD versus vinyl. As for which one sounds better, no contest. So don't take rompolompo's bait
rompolompo's picture

I am just questioning the validity of this process. Both technologies have their pluses and minuses and are far from perfect. My comment is within context of the suggested experiment

Michael Fremer's picture
The process and the experiment are 100% valid. Labels are busy issuing vinyl from 96/24 files instead of using the original analog master tape. The goal of this experiment is to find out if listeners can tell which side is AAA and which side is 96/24 sourced.
isaacrivera's picture

But, better than analog tape? God have mercy on his soul!

sdecker's picture

Just reading these comments, it appears rompolomopo (rplp) doesn't know why we've chosen to do the LP this way, he may not be 'baiting'.

Our concern comes from all the older re-releases that were originally recorded to analog tape (when they all were, pre-digital recording), but record companies, often cashing in on the vinyl surge, are releasing boxed sets, 180g pressings, 'remastered' editions of old recordings using digital files taken from the original analog tapes, rather than using the original tapes themselves. (Often the tapes are in sketchy condition, but that's a different issue) And some of these digital files were made off the analog tape a long time ago with old-school digital tech. The Roxy Music Box (and others) MF reviewed recently underscored some of the issues of using digital files to cut all the LPs.

So the purpose of this kickstarter record is for us to hear how much -- if any -- audible degradation occurs by cutting an LP from digital files taken from the analog tape (using the best digital gear)(ADA) versus cutting the LP direct from the original analog tape (AAA) with no digital conversions.

RPLP has a fully valid point if our project was to evaluate high-rez digital cut direct to LP, when the recording was originally recorded fully in the digital domain. To me this is totally relevant as 99% (?) of all recordings of the past decade or two have been recorded direct to digital, therefore nearly all new-material LPs have fully-digital sources. And if so, why buy an analog format to replay them, vs all the good digital playback options out there? (SACD, 24/96 or better files) Except that CDs dumb it all down to 16/44, so LPs may better retain the attributes of high-rez digital.

This would require a live all-analog performance being recorded simultaneously to analog tape and to high-rez digital files (PCM and/or DSD). One side of the test LP would be cut pure analog from the tape, the other direct from the high-rez files. THAT would thoroughly answer our questions about what we're missing (or not) buying current LPs sourced from the all-digital recording session, versus the huge expense required today to record to analog tape to produce a new AAA LP.

Am I interpreting everyone correctly?? (If long-windedly)

rompolompo's picture

Thanks for making this clear.

audiof001's picture

As someone who owns both the original Vox Turnabout and Athena remaster of this record, count me in. I'm fascinated to hear the differences between the 24/96 side and analog sides. While my bet is decidedly pro analog, I remain objective enough to hear the capabilities or discrepancies in both.

And thank you HalSF for your response to Moodeez1: this project does seems right up his alley. I hope he reconsiders his position and supports this educational effort.

rompolompo's picture

I am just questioning the validity of this process. Both technologies have their pluses and minuses and are far from perfect. My comment is within context of the suggested experiment.

weirdo12's picture

Transfer original tape to 24/96 and do any mastering in the digital domain. Record the digital file to tape. Cut with the 24/96 file and the tape copy of the digital file. Wouldn't this get the volume levels closer to an apples to apples comparison? Just a thought. I guess that only compares cutting from digital and cutting from tape.

avrcguy's picture

...looking forward to this!!!!

Jon's picture

How is the Kickstarter project going to work exactly? Is it necessary to make a pledge to buy the LP? Does a pledge result in a corresponding discount off the price of the LP even if it is bought from a non US dealer? Do those who pledge effectively receive a copy to their front door including delivery? I'm only asking because as a non-US participant, the only way I would want to buy this LP is through my regular Australian based dealer who sells amongst other things Analogue Productions pressings. Obviously amongst other things the freight costs are huge compared to US participants.

Michael Fremer's picture
Exactly how the Kickstarter project will work.... will make that clear once we have it all ready to go..
SigSoundRich's picture

I am looking forward to getting this Micheal and will support/buy it. Hope it goes so well that you then do another one with AAA on one side and DSD on the other since 24/96 and DSD on one side is not workable.

drumarty's picture

How much extra for a cassette copy? I enjoy watching the little reels go around!

Garven's picture

The only way this will be a valid exercise is if the sides are not in any way labeled in terms of source. Most people refuse to admit it would apply to them, but expectation bias is very powerful.

So this could be an excellent experiment provided it's done right.

I also hope Kevin will be careful to match the levels of the two sides as much as possible to avoid the tendency of a louder source being perceived as sounding better.

jazz's picture

For whoever's interested: I think this is a comparable approach with the difference that it's done from a hires digital source on multiple formats

Ktracho's picture

even if only for purchase. I expect it would not require much additional effort, and it would allow a comparison with vinyl for those who have the option of buying either vinyl from a digital master or a digital file download.

Dr. AIX's picture

Michael, as you know I recorded Christian Jacob's "Beautiful Jazz" (MD for Tierney Sutton and accomplished jazz pianist) at 96 kHz/24-bit PCM and at 15 ips 2-track stereo reel-to-reel. Paul Stubblebine cut the lacquer masters from the analog tapes and RPI pressed 500 vinyl LPs.

I've been talking to the artist lately and have a couple of boxes of the vinyl LPs and will putting the 96 kHz/24-bit PCM files up on iTrax very soon.

I think your readers might be interested in these two versions. The artist loved both for different reasons. He definitely didn't like the additional cost and trouble staying in the analog domain caused.

If anyone is interested, they can drop me a line.

Mark Waldrep
AIX Records

Mendo's picture

In. I love this kinda shit.

billbrocket's picture

Why don't you release the disc without labeling the sides and let everyone vote on which they think is digital. What fun!

Kirby's picture

Wow The hornet's nest has been stirred. Love it, i'm definitely in now!

billbrocket's picture

Had to read back to the first post. Didn't remember you thought of that first Mikey ;-)

Ananias's picture

Why not make this project really useful and provide a download of the 96/24 file. This would really be interesting and revealing.

Ananias's picture

This experiment is truly only useful within the context of this particular setup. There are so many variables, that one really can't make any conclusive absolute statements about AAA vs. ADA except for within ONLY this particular experiment. The analog tape machine, any analog electronics, cables, A/D, mastering process, A/D converter, etc. are just some of the variables that will influence the outcome of this experiment. Even the quality of the master tape and original recording may not allow some of the differences to be observed.

It strikes me as very humorous that folks would want to listen to a 96/24 conversion to vinyl. That really is ridiculous. Any decent music-loving audiophile should have a good D/A converter, so unless someone is comparing a cheap/poor quality CD player/DAC to a relatively high-end turntable, the 96/24 file itself will be much more accurate - it has to be! Unless manipulated for some reason, A 96/24 file available for end-users will be 100% identical/faithful to the master 96/24 file. The transfer to vinyl by nature is worse than the original digital file.

That being said, if the sales of vinyl reissues allows the economics of remastering, then I am all for it. If selling very few digital copies of a remaster doesn't make the project viable, but adding the revenue created by selling vinyl editions makes it economically feasible, then it all makes sense. It just would be nice to have the digital file available, as well.

Theoretically I would much rather my vinyl be sourced form the original analog tape itself, presuming it was originally an all analog chain. Even this prospect gets messy since the entire recording production can have multiple A/D D/A processes regardless of how it was originally captured.

It will be interesting to see if in this particular project if the added 96/24 A/D conversion is distinguishable between the analog master once on vinyl. Please publish the entire signal chain, including manufacturers and models of the equipment of this project, since that is important and essential to correlating conclusions.

sdecker's picture

"Any decent music-loving audiophile should have a good D/A converter, so unless someone is comparing a cheap/poor quality CD player/DAC to a relatively high-end turntable, the 96/24 file itself will be much more accurate - it has to be!"

I agree with most everything in your posts except the above. Sure, most of us have very good CD players, but there isn't a 24/96 CD. It seems to have long been established that 24/96 sounds notably better than 16/44, but there's no physical media to carry it since DVD-A was nearly DOA.

If we were all paying HD Tracks top dollar for their questionable signal chain and downloading to an excellent USB DAC, theoretically no advantage to vinyl. I would bet the much better sound of 24/96 PCM over 16/44 would translate better to the potentially higher-rez of vinyl than would dumbing it down to CD rez...

Ananias's picture

In my comment from the prior post i failed to point out the A/D conversion AS WELL AS the D/A conversion for vinyl. It is two steps, not just the A/D. The conclusion should read:

It will be interesting to see if in this particular project if the added 96/24 A/D D/A conversions are distinguishable between the analog master once on vinyl. Please publish the entire signal chain, including manufacturers and models of the equipment of this project, since that is important and essential to correlating conclusions. Certainly the quality of the A/D converter and the subsequent D/A are critical. Unfortunately, we are at the mercy of the mastering folks and their choice of equipment. Too many variables . . .

Ian M. Gordon's picture

Unless the analog masters are unplayable or so poor sounding as to render them useless from a frequency response standpoint, I am very strongly against the use of digital files to master to LP unless the recording itself is digital (which creates other issues). The recent Beatles stereo release infuriated me when digital source was used. The mono, which I heard recently was a joyous revelation to my ear. The stereo? Pure stupidity when the master tapes are reportedly in excellent condition. And that is the point. One pass direct to Lacquer is, to me, the ultimate purity and if the analog tape is wonderful and gear capable, a nearly compatible sound is achieved to my subjective ear.

I would hope Mr. Fremer and myself are in full agreement that whether digital or analog, it is the source, the mastering and quality of the vinyl pressing that makes a tremendous difference on playback. This is especially true at 45 RPM. And the icing on the cake is when that playback is achieved with an excellent turntable and state of the art cartridge.

Analog and digital playback are different sonic interpretations. Period. Both have reached an incredible level with digital sounding unbelievable with the right gear. Yet the crossover effect when mastering to vinyl creates a large problem in select cases. Which is that the "language" of both signals are obviously different. And I agree with other posts that the signal chain is crucial whether it is this experiment or any mastering process. The variables as many of you have said are too numerous to create a true control variable when you take into account all individual playback systems.

When you transfer digital to vinyl it potentially takes with it a graininess, harsh treble and either overmodulated or harsh transients due to the technical capability of digital itself when placed on a record. When you hear it in a digital circuit with the possible headroom allowed, it can sound natural. On vinyl, which despite the frequency response and inner groove compression argument that will go on forever, over modulated digital source treble on sub par gear may be fatiguing and possibly unlistenable dependent on personal subjective taste.

If a master analog tape no longer exists than you use the best earlier LP curve backup or even a copy of the original record to keep things as pure as possible. If digital backups were made years ago and the tapes found in horrible condition, of course I won't argue the use of them to vinyl hopefully with a dac worthy of the music.

Ian M. Gordon
CT Audio Society

Moodeez1's picture

I thought you were comparing the cost of producing an LP to that of a CD. Of course, you are correct when comparing the cost of producing digital LP's to analog. But my question remains: Why invest in a digitally mastered LP in the first place unless you do not have a top shelf CD player? And, if you do, why......?

isaacrivera's picture

A 24/96 LP Is higher resolution than CD (16/44.1) and sounds much better. Not everyone has a way to play digital files or even SACD at home.

ScottTso's picture

yup, a 20 spot would be fine...