Monday, May 11, 2009

Cassettes making a comeback?

This is wild...remember my "Cassettes are still a great format" post from a couple of weeks ago? Well, I honestly had no idea that according to some people, cassette tapes are actually having somewhat of a resurgence in popularity. Check out this article from the Telegraph in the UK...

Rewind to the 1980s as the cassette tape makes a comeback

I wonder if this means someone will start making decent cassette decks again. Not likely though. I mistakenly attempted to buy a "new" cassette deck several years back. What a mistake that was...I figured that since cassette deck parts wear easily over time, it might be good to get a newer one with zero miles on it. I know, I can't believe I'm even admitting this. It was awful! Amazing amounts of noise coming from the deck, terrible S/N ratio, and audible wow & flutter. Cost me $100, but I returned it. Bought an old Technics deck for $40 and it blew the pants right off the other deck (which will remain nameless). Actually, then I found at second Technics deck at the dump for free, and that was also far superior to the newer deck.

Anyway, back to the tapes will be interesting to see whether other manufacturers besides TDK and Maxell will get back in the game. I saw a still-sealed Maxell Metal tape at a thrift store recently that had to be from the early 90s...maybe I'll go back and see if it's still there.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Vintage Knob

I gotta give a shout-out here to The Vintage Knob. I found out about this site through a forum I am a member of...hadn't seen it before a few months or so ago. Unfortunately just looking at it makes me want more gear. ;-) The site is loaded with specs and great photos of equipment from the 70s & 80s from the likes of Luxman, Marantz, Technics, Sansui, Pioneer, Sony, Thorens, Aiwa, Nakamichi, Teac, get the picture. It's easy to spend an hour or more here just looking through the photos and details of these beauties.

Here's the link: The Vintage Knob

Be sure to check out some of the extras here too, like the "Miscellaneous" page which includes some old catalogs, tests, and articles.

Note: I am not affiliated with The Vintage Knob in any way...just a fan!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Digital remastering is not always a good thing

Up until about a year and a half ago, I was fooled too. Digitally remastered? Don't believe the hype. Not all digital remasters are bad, but there sure has been a serious epidemic of horrendously offensive sounding remasters in the last 10-15 years or so.

Let's take the Yes catalog, for's been remastered and re-packaged twice now since the original CD releases came out in the 80s. I'm a huge Yes fan so I got suckered into buying them again both times they were reissued. But guess which ones sound the best? The very first batch that were released in the 80s. I kept buying the new ones thinking that the sound had to be even better, but honestly I never even compared the new versions to the old ones to see if that was true.

Are you familiar with the term "loudness war"? Basically, record labels now think their CDs need to be louder than everyone else's in order to compete. Since you can only go so far in terms of the maximum volume a CD can hold before clipping, how do you make it even louder from there? Compression, and lots of it. What does this mean?
  • Little to no dynamic range-- forget about quiet and loud parts, it's all at the same volume now!
  • When loud sounds like drums are squashed, they lose their impact and don't sound as "real."
  • Ear fatigue! Recordings mastered in this manner may sound good at first, but with prolonged listening you will actually notice that it's not very nice on your ears.
When CDs made their debut in the 80s, they promised a much wider dynamic range than was previously possible with records and cassettes. Ironically, they now tend to have a much more limited dynamic range than most LPs, and as a result sound much worse. Basically we have all been sold a bill of goods.

Do a Google search for "loudness war" or "loudness wars" and you will find tons of articles on this subject, most of which will explain it better and in more detail than I have here. Here are a few of them: