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Jeff Wexler

Neil Young talks about analog vs. digital

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My father shot this piece with Neil Young talking about analog sound, digital sound, and his approach to creating and recording music. Quite a unique perspective, pretty far out there ---- but hey, it's Neil Young!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Saw Neil again play in Pasadena about a month ago.  He's still in fine form!  His current backing band is great too.

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Neil is great on the process of making (and finding and capturing) musical art, and the contribution of an analog tape deck and its tape to his sound.  There is a diff between digital and analog capture of audio for sure, but someone should tell Neil that just as he feels all the ultimate divisions of digital sound (samples) are somehow all the same, so are all the "lands" of magnetic oxide on the analog tape he's using.  That uniformity of the particles of the magnetic oxide of tape was long in coming and contributed to tape acquiring a better signal to noise ratio as formulas improved.  High end users of analog tape, esp classical music recordists still argue over this issue in deciding which brand/type of tape to use.   2nd thought, don't tell Neil, since it's all working for him just fine.  Good questions from HW, asked in a way and by a person Neil takes seriously enough to answer eloquently (ie not just another Youtube interview kid).

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Interesting, Thanks Jeff. Yes Niel's pretty far out there.

His hi-res digital 'Pono' player never caught on, and I did not think it would due to the high price of the player and music (in the Pono format whatever that was).

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15 minutes ago, Rick Reineke said:

Interesting, Thanks Jeff. Yes Niel's pretty far out there.

His hi-res digital 'Pono' player never caught on, and I did not think it would due to the high price of the player and music (in the Pono format whatever that was).

 

I don't think a 24 bit player can make a difference for most listeners, and especially in less than ideal conditions. 24 bit recording gives a lot of headroom when recording (which is good for dynamic sources that will be somewhat tamed in the mix) and it will help to reduce quantization noise when mixing lots of tracks.

 

Could anyone imagine Pono succeeding with the extraordinarily smashed dynamics of current pop and rock releases? I remember "Monarchy of Roses" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers in which it seems that the mastering engineer somewhat solved a system of nonlinear equations, delivering a mastered mix that, adding an enormous amount of distortion when playing it somewhat sounds like music. Seems to be mastered so that the distortion due to the hundreds of clips per second are part of the music.

 

Try an experiment. Play it (on iTunes, for example) reducing the volume from iTunes (ie, in the digital domain) and raising it in the analog domain (monitor volume) and you'll notice how it loses "sparkle" even if you march levels. 

 

 

 

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I can tell from this video that your dad HW had some charm and it was working on Neil Young. There is a point in the video where Neil Young is turning away, maybe thinking about walking away from the camera.  Your dad pulled him right back with a few words, and resisting the reflex to flee the interview,  Neil Young stays and engages the questions seriously.  Really cool video. Thanks for sharing this.

 

 

I like Neil's analogue-to-digital signal path explanantion too. 

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Wow. Great interview. And I didn't think Neil Young seemed that far out there at all, actually. I totally got his analogy about pushing as far as you want into analog and always having something new to explore, whereas in digital, once you've gotten to the individual sample, you're done. There ain't no more. Both visual AND aural. Very cool stuff. Thanks for sharing!

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On ‎8‎/‎4‎/‎2018 at 12:54 PM, Philip Perkins said:

... but someone should tell Neil that just as he feels all the ultimate divisions of digital sound (samples) are somehow all the same, so are all the "lands" of magnetic oxide on the analog tape he's using.  That uniformity of the particles of the magnetic oxide of tape was long in coming and contributed to tape acquiring a better signal to noise ratio as formulas improved. 

Good point.

I love old Neil and his approach to music, recording and all but I've been trying to make the same point in discussions numerous times, the idea that digital audio is different (and inferior for some esoteric reason) because electrical signals get converted into abstract things like zeros and ones falls apart when you consider that a tapehead is also nothing but a converter, call it a ACF converter (AC to Flux) converting electrical signal into storable information via magnetically orienting oxide particles. Even the stylus of a cutting lathe is a converter ,AC to mechanical, so are microphones and speakers and at every conversion process the original is encoded into a different physical state ( sorry, I'm no physicist, so excuse my lingo).

Then there are our ears and brains, the ultimate conversion device, incoming mechanical signals passing through impedance conversion from air and bone to fluid, then decoded into electricity / sampled by a limited number of detectors (1,200 to 1,800 detectable frequencies) to ultimately be (up) converted  again in our brain by comparison to previous data.   The idea of "universal wholeness" vs "fragmented sameness" is a charming one though.

BTW, are people still using the CLASP system (that device which lets you record digitally straight off the playbackhead during the recording process)? I thought it was a great idea.

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You know, I cut musicians way more slack on the digital vs analog debate than I do others. They're all about tone, the experience, the performance. Even if there's no audible difference, if they're happier with an analog pathway, Kauer Super Chief with TV Jones Powertrons, candles in the studio or on stage, and that helps them perform, then cool. And maybe I'm reading too much into it, but it seems like Young kinda acknowledges that the difference is ephemeral at best. I have a cool story about this sort of thing, but it's an in-person-over-a-beer/coffee kinda story (a tease/invitation!)

 

I cut less slack for producers who insist on a pure analog pathway. I mean, I get that they're creative (and often musicians) and are also all about performance, tone and stuff. But I remember an interview with T Bone Burnett (probably in TapeOp) who, in his producer role, fired an engineer because the guy stuck in some outboard digital device in his otherwise all-analog chain. There's probably more to the story (like the guy didn't tell Burnett or there were other issues), and I --think--  I'm remembering the story correctly, but that seemed a bit much. Still, analog studio equipment is cool...

 

As for audiophiles getting all into the superiority of analog, well good for them if it makes their hobby and listening experience more fun. But come on dude (and it's just about for sure a dude). It quickly gets silly...as we all know...and hopefully agree 😉

 

Bla bla bla. Time to roll!

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Interesting.

I was outraged to find 4 sample gaps in SD 633 recordings at the 2Gb file divisions, (between the preceeding file to the supposedly continuous next file) but was amazed to discover that try as I might, I couldn't hear 4 sample gaps when playing back the music. (approx 1/480th of a film frame, or 1/12000th of a second)

It was an ambisonic recording of David Bowie's Lazarus.

So that proved something to me, haha, try it yourself?

I did report it to Sound Devices......

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11 minutes ago, pindrop said:

I was outraged to find 4 sample gaps in SD 633 recordings

 

How did you find this gap?

just out of curiosity...

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6 hours ago, Constantin said:

 

How did you find this gap?

just out of curiosity...

Zooming in to the max in Pro Tools, it's easy to see and measure samples, and I was curious about the accuracy.

Interestingly both Zaxcom Nomad, and Zoom F8 file joins are sample accurate.

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6 hours ago, pindrop said:

Zooming in to the max in Pro Tools, it's easy to see and measure samples, and I was curious about the accuracy.

Interestingly both Zaxcom Nomad, and Zoom F8 file joins are sample accurate.

 

No, I mean how do you know something is missing?

I know where and how to see the samples, but you‘d need some form of comparison to see if something is indeed missing, wouldn’t you?

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12 hours ago, Constantin said:

 

No, I mean how do you know something is missing?

I know where and how to see the samples, but you‘d need some form of comparison to see if something is indeed missing, wouldn’t you?

 

Screen grab showing Pro Tools 4 sample gap when consecutive files spotted to the timeline by timecode.

Memory locations on gap samples, to make missing samples clear.

The end of the previous file is 3858768000 samples and the start of the following file is 3858768004 samples, a 4 sample discrepancy.

 

Screen Shot 2018-09-11 at 18.50.05.png

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3 hours ago, pindrop said:

 spotted to the timeline by timecode.

 

Timecode is nowhere near accurate enough for this. Or did you use wordclock as well? But O don’t think you can use wc for spotting purposes in PT. 

Are your results consistent between several attempts? 

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BWAV TC is stamped samples since midnight and Pro Tools places on the timeline in samples since midnight, so in the case of Pro Tools it works perfectly accurately.

Totally consistent yes.
PS. Zaxcom unlike SD which attempts to cut at frame joins ie. TC 00 frames and failed, on this occasion, with a 4 sample gap, whereas Zaxcom cuts and restarts at any samples since midnight value, rather than SD's 00 frames, but Zaxcoms file joins are nevertheless sample accurate.

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NY is right that with say a film image there's theoretically no limit to the amount of potential "detail" but there's is a definiite limit to the detail  we're interested in. With sound, humans cant hear beyond about 20kHz max. There might be a "universe" of potential information above 20kHz but no one  hears it. 

 

in any case  when it comes to capturing huge bandwidth, digital recording kills analog tape recording. Tape is limited to about ten octaves due to the limitations of the inductive tape heads. If we really want to capture audio information that no one will hear, digital is the better tool. 

 

 

 

 

 

  

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