Sunday, October 16, 2016

Flashback: Digital Sound Recording arrives w / The 3M Digital Mastering System

From the Files of db- 
The Sound Engineering Magazine: 
February 1980.
The world's 1st Multi-track Digital Recorder -
The Digital Mastering System by 3M, 
arrived in the late 70's.
It was expensive, carrying with it
 a price tag of just under $150,000.
It wasn't the 1st Digital Recorder -
( that was The Soundstream DTR)
But it was use to produce the world’s first
 digitally recorded commercial release.
The compact disc was still three-years away.
More importantly- ( and Not as well-known) 
This was the system that was used to
produce The Empire Strikes Back Radio Drama
@ Studio M in St. Paul - Minnesota in 1983.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Man Cave Stereo - The Workbench CD to CC Transfer System

Ah -October –

 "At least someone is seeing a little excitement."

 Fall has arrived at last,
 and it's about damn time.
The temp is perfectly
 dry 64 degrees..
It's just after midnight and it will go down to near 60 before dawn. Perfect. I'm going to need that much time to finish this little plan.
Anyhow, now I can finally move the recording gear out to the garage to be mated with the system out there-currently a old 80's  NAD 3130 Amp driving driving a small pair of JBL Northridge Series N24 2-way speakers.

Trust me – they are a perfect match.                                                                

Time to drag out the old Isolation Platforms and utilize the new Johnny Workbench recently acquired from Harbor Freight.  
The workbench worked out great. I simply put down a piece of carpet - and hooked the amp up on the bottom shelf and mounted the speakers up on the top shelf. 

The project -
To Transfer “The Star Wars RadioDrama” CD's
 to cassette tape for an old friend.

Now - you got to be asking -
 Why on Earth would I do this
 when you can buy purchase the HighBridge cassette  
from Ebay or Amazon for less than $25 bucks ? 
There is even the Single Disc Mp3 Topps Trading Card Limited Edition Version that can be had for less.
 ( Not to mention the fact that -
 I already copy of this release on cassette tape.)
Well, I'll have to get to that in a moment.
The 2 MP3 "Light Side" & "Dark Side" Limited Editions
1st - The gear -              

For CD playback
 I used a  2003 Sony 5 Disc
 RCDW-500C CD player / Recorder because
 of it's ultra smooth and very underrated 
2 Ch. 24-Bit ( AKM AK4584) DAC chip. 
You know – the same company that provided
 the DAC to Sony for the infamous Playstation One
 ( accept that DAC was only a 1-bit Delta Sigma )
 and everybody out there seems to think it's the best damn sounding little steal of a deal CD players to like ever come along in our lifetimes … but that's another story.  This CD recorder retailed for a mere $300 bucks over 10 years ago-and both the build and sound quality on it are way above it's price tag.

As a matter of fact – unless you are willing to layout some big bucks to buy your way into the high end of stupid – the only CD player you are more than likely going to find today with a better build quality for $300 or less is to simply buy a used Laserdisc player on Ebay.  I happen to own  one – 
Pioneer's best Industrial LD Player ever produced
 the LD-V8000
However, she doesn't play CD's.
If you want to go that route - you'll  have to find one with a 20-bit DAC – because most of those Pulseflow DAC aren't as good as the AKM Chip used in this Sony.
 Next up – the cassette recorder.                                            
I own several tape decks. Heck – 
I even thought  about buying another one just for this little project. However- in the end - 
 I decided the just to ahead and use my
Pioneer CT-W606DR double cassette deck. 
No- it's Not the Elite Version of the deck ,
 but this was still one of the best sounding dual tape decks Pioneer ever made -thanks mainly in part to the on-board 20bit A/D, D/A DSP Noise Reduction chip.

This system actually works better going the other way around - when being used to transfer cassettes to CD = as  the tape deck is a better playback unit than a reorder. 

YES- I know – I can already hear some of you screaming right now- "A double cassette deck instead of a high end single well, three head/motor recorder you say... No way! Say it isn't so." The scene from Empire Strikes Back comes to mind –    you know the one where Luke Screams “That's not true – that's impossible!” just after Vader tells him he's his Father. Yep.

It's true..all of it.

 ?Weaknesses – well, yes, there are.
The build quality on the double tape deck is lacking.
Unlike the decks of old where they were built like brick shit houses w/ their solid brass and copper frames – this thing is a cheap feather weight. The build quality on the Sony CD player/ recorder is better than average - and way better than today's el-cheapo plastic Blu-ray players that you'll find in most of today's big box stores. Heck – you could play frisbee with my Sony BDP1700 it's so light. This is one of those areas where the True High End beats Mid-Fi gear.

So at 1st I was going to put a brick on top of the tape deck's housing , although I ended up using a 25 pound weight – cause I preferred to use the brick a top the CD player. This was done Not because I'm one of those audio nuts who is foolish enough to believe that a brick on top will improve the sound quality      ( ok – yeah deep down where I don't talk about these things at parties – maybe I do? ) but rather it was done just to prevent the deck from moving. I also added two large anti – skid pads   (a flipped a pair of "furniture sliders " ) by super-gluing them to the back bottom underside of the deck – which really kept the player from moving at all. 
It also leveled it.
Now for the interconnect. My personal favorite cable to use is the 3ft Fusion Audio Cable from –of all places - Radio Shack. 
 Yes- you read that right. Hard to believe? 
This Premium cable was only manufactured for a year due to a deal struck w/ Monster Cable in 2004 ( kind makes you wonder, doesn't it?) and was of much higher quality than their standard Gold Cables at the time. 
As a matter of fact – it was better than the Monster 
in this case the Interlink 400 MKII ) ) that replaced it. 

Furthermore -
 reviews of this cable were all of high praise      
 One reviewer, who owns some of those extreme top-of-the-line, not to mention, expensive  cables – from manufactures such as Kimber and  Audioquest-wrote that the Fusion Cables were: 
far superior to any high end cable 
that costs under $300.
I couldn't agree more.
For less than $30bucks, 
what more could you ever ask for?

I don't know about you- but I had to ask myself- “Am I ever likely to spend $300 or more on a single 3ft pair of analog interconnects today in an HDMI / fiber optic world? Er – NO. No I'm not.
 Hence – The Fusions. 
I'm proud to own them I tell you, 
    they really do a real nice job.

Now I know most everyone runs their cables from
 the CD player 1st to the amp – then out of the amp
 ( via the tape monitor out) to the tape recorder – 
and / or vice versa – but in this case I ran the interconnects directly to the tape deck –
 then out to the NAD –  in order to preserve 
the most direct signal path and thereby 
reduce any signal loss.
 Both desks have headphone jacks 
and I'm going to use the headphone output
 in the tape deck to monitor the transfer.

 At this point – I bet you are thinking I'm making a transfer to a Maxell XSII-S or a Sony-UX Pro right? 
Well – Hardly.   

Truth be told – all of this might be for not.
  Let me explain.
See, the reason I'm doing this, is because 
way back in 1982, The Star Wars Radio Drama
 came to one of my best friends
 via the way of a guy who had “bootlegged” them
 from our local NPR station and recorded it
 on some Scotch AVC audio cassettes
 that I've never seen since.
You can read about that story here.

  I can only figure / guess that the cassettes were only manufactured for a year or two, or maybe (?)
 they were  ( more likely than not) only manufactured 
& sold in bulk to studio's, radio stations, business, etc etc, etc, but I've never been able to cross reference them w/ a barcode.
 Now - since it was the early 80's, 
I realize that Not all products for sale in retail
 had switched over to the barcode system at this point,
 so this is just my theory. I don't really know for sure.
As it would happen, one day I'm on the Ebay –
 AND There They Were! 
  A whole box of em – unused !
 I bought them then and there, and
     several days later –
          here they be !    
Red Labeled 80's Scotch AVC Cassette

Until this point in time -
 all I'd ever been able to find was the early 70's 
Yellow Label Version of this cassette - 
along with it's matching Open reel counterpart.


It's kind of like rediscovering an old friend I tell you.

In some ways I like the look of these tapes more than 
 the look of the Clear HighBridge Produced cassettes . 
The one thing I found odd about the HighBridge cassette production was the fact that -instead of only recording
 one episode per side - the manufacture recorded 
three episodes on a 45 minute tape –
 and split episode 12 between sides One and Two  –
 so there is a break in the episode.
 Not only was this strange, but I didn't care for it. 
 They could have accomplished this better if they did it
 during a scene change – there are several, but no.
 They split it during the middle of a scene,
 and not even equally. 

Side A Tape 6 HBP 23246
Side B of Tape 6

Now - 
I realize that it was more than likely a cost saving move
as now instead of 7 cassettes - there are only six –
 and this thing  1st retailed for only $39.99 in 1993.
  The price later dropped  to a mere $34.99 on the re-release in 1996 - even though they actually added cassette shell's for each tape.

The original 1993 release.

 HighBridge did, however, allow episode 13 to stand by itself, on it's own disc on the $65 dollar,+ 7 disc CD version. Maybe it just came down to how many cassettes the cardboard box was designed to hold? Interesting enough – they did “fill in” the 7th CD w/ “The Making of” and addition bonus material in the “Complete “ and “Trilogy” Special Limited Edition numbered Box sets. 

So now - here we have these Scotch AVC “Heavy Duty” cassettes.They are now 35 years old. I have no idea what their storage conditions have been like. They could have been in someone's basement or in an non air-conditioned attic all these years. In that case –
 they might (?) be in terrible shape.
 God only knows.
I've stored my cassettes in a dark closet –
 maintained @ a temp range of between 69 -71 degrees for years, and while most play just fine, some of them are still not without issues.

 So here we are.
 Once I plugged both decks into my
 OneAC Power Conditioner I was ready
 for an all – nighter.
 Yes – I've cleaned the heads and rollers, and 
wiped everything down with an anti-static cloth, ok? 
So after deciding which version 
( either the HBP 25621, 25697, or the 30086
 I was going to use – I loaded the CD tray,
 inserted the 1st blank cassette - 
put the Pioneer into record standby – 
set the recording level – and "here, we, go" -
 straight on till morning.  

  Yes- I then turned off the fluorescent lights – 
just on the off chance they might produce a 60Hz buzz. 
Besides – 
we all know this stuff sounds better in the dark.  
Did I manage to finish getting all the episodes transferred by the time I raised the garage door as the sun came up at 7am? 
Well- Not quite – we stopped @ episode 10. 
But how did we do when it was all said and done?
The Work-Bench CD to tape/ tape to CD Transfer System.  

Well –
 I had to stop after four cassettes to clean the rollers. 
How did the tapes sound when I played them back? 
Believe it or not - 
Not bad ! But not great either.
Truth be told = the cassettes are so old -
 there were dropouts. So- obviously 
NOT as good as if I had recorded em on one of them there 
Maxell XSII-S's or TDK SA-X's or Sony UX-Pro's               (these Scotch's are so NOT chromes ), but still...
That wasn't the goal  of this reproduction. 
Dropouts aside  - 
except for missing that infamous 
"An adaptation for Radio in thirteen parts " line
as read by the late Ken Hiller 
I believe they might just be on par w/ the originals?
Wish we still had one of my beloved copies to compare.
I have no idea how long ( or how many plays )
 you might be able get out of them –
but, truth be told, all things considered 
I wouldn't recommend playing them very often -
 or even at all. They might (?) leave behind a heavy residue  
 and the tape might stick to itself or worse yet -
 bind up inside the old cassette deck.

No - 
 This is more of a keepsake. 
  I'm willing to bet that he'll be stunned.