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Why Steve Albini Still Prefers Analog Tape 440

Posted by timothy
from the he'd-have-to-reinvent-his-legend-otherwise dept.
CNET's Steve Guttenberg ("The Audiophiliac") profiles prolific audio engineer and general music industry do-it-all Steve Albini; Albini (who's worked on literally thousands of albums with musicians across a wide range of genres) has interesting things to say about compression, the rise of home-recording ("The majority of recordings will be crappy, low-quality recordings, but there will always be work for engineers who can do a good job, because there will always be people who appreciate good sound."), and why he still prefers to record to analog tape. (Note: Albini is justly famous not just for his production work, but in particular for his essay "The Problem with Music.")
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Why Steve Albini Still Prefers Analog Tape

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  • by bmo (77928) on Sunday September 08, 2013 @01:41PM (#44791031)

    I have a PhD in Digital Music Conservation from the University of Florida. I have to stress that the phenomenon known as "digital dust" is the real problem regarding conservation of music, and any other type of digital file. Digital files are stored in digital filing cabinets called "directories" which are prone to "digital dust" - slight bit alterations that happen now or then. Now, admittedly, in its ideal, pristine condition, a piece of musical work encoded in FLAC format contains more information than the same piece encoded in MP3, however, as the FLAC file is bigger, it accumulates, in fact, MORE digital dust than the MP3 file. Now you might say that the density of dust is the same. That would be a naive view. Since MP3 files are smaller, they can be much more easily stacked together and held in "drawers" called archive files (Zip, Rar, Lha, etc.) ; in such a configuration, their surface-to-volume ratio is minimized. Thus, they accumulate LESS digital dust and thus decay at a much slower rate than FLACs. All this is well-known in academia, alas the ignorant hordes just think that because it's bigger, it must be better.

    So over the past months there's been some discussion about the merits of lossy compression and the rotational velocidensity issue. I'm an audiophile myself and posses a vast collection of uncompressed audio files, but I do want to assure the casual low-bitrate users that their music library is quite safe.

    Being an audio engineer for over 21 years, I'm going to let you in on a little secret. While rotational velocidensity is indeed responsible for some deterioration of an unanchored file, there's a simple way of preventing this. Better still, there have been some reported cases of damaged files repairing themselves, although marginally so (about 1.7 percent for the .ogg format).

    The procedure is, although effective, rather unorthodox. Rotational velocidensity, as known only affects compressed files, i.e. files who's anchoring has been damaged during compression procedures. Simply mounting your hard disk upside down enables centripetal forces to cancel out the rotational ruptures in the disk. As I said, unorthodox, and mainstream manufactures will not approve as it hurts sales (less rotational velocidensity damage means a slighter chance of disk failure.)

    I'd still go with uncompressed .wav myself, but there's nothing wrong with compressed formats like flac or mp3 when you treat your hardware right


  • by ffflala (793437) on Sunday September 08, 2013 @02:06PM (#44791181)
    That was my first thought.

    My second was that Steve Albini certainly wouldn't be ignorant to these issues. Rather, he probably has a New Jersey warehouse or two of blank tape and unused tape machines that he bought up as manufacturers have dropped off, and is setting himself up for a stable, long term niche market of people who need either tape and/or tape machines.

ASCII a stupid question, you get an EBCDIC answer.