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What are the weaknesses of digital sound and why?

post #1 of 30
Thread Starter 
Cymbals seem to be pretty hard to do right and very noticeable when done wrong on digital playback. I would like to understand more on why it's hard to do some instruments well and not others. I've also read a lot of people have problems with piano and violin.
post #2 of 30

What are you comparing digital to? Analog like a turntable?

post #3 of 30

Yeah, depends what you mean when you say digital playback. Like at what bitrates, or equipment?

 

It tends to be headphones that struggle to be honest.

 

Thing is with violins, and pianos, they are more than just one note played. When you play either instrument, you are hearing a larger range of notes played at once. A lot of subtlties.

Cymbals and the like depend a lot on the headphones you are using too.

i.e some headphones have a recessed treble response to help protect hearing, which may not make the cymbals as loud as you'd like, or maybe as detailed.

 

It also depends on noise reduction circuits, and whatever else maybe an amp is using to put the sound through, or anything in the chain that could be causing extra stuff to be added to the sound which is probably best turned off.


Edited by musical-kage - 1/26/13 at 4:10pm
post #4 of 30

Cymbals use a lot of high frequencies. The higher the frequency is, the more samples you need in order to reproduce it digitally. That's where nyquist frequency comes into play, which says that if your sampling rate is double the amount of the frequency needed, it will be accurate.

post #5 of 30

Cymbals, pianos and violins are hard to mike. They had just as much, if not more problems with them in the analogue era.

post #6 of 30

Imho, the biggest "weakness" is the misinformation spread about digital audio and lack of understanding how it works.

post #7 of 30
Thread Starter 
I have gotten accustom to digital audio but I still read (almost always vinyl fans) that digital don't match vinyl. So I thought it would be a good discussion to break down why vinyl fans feel digital is inferior.

I notice the cymbals don't sound right on XM/Sirius compared to fm in the car but that's probably in the transmission method.
post #8 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Happy Camper View Post

I have gotten accustom to digital audio but I still read (almost always vinyl fans) that digital don't match vinyl. So I thought it would be a good discussion to break down why vinyl fans feel digital is inferior.

I notice the cymbals don't sound right on XM/Sirius compared to fm in the car but that's probably in the transmission method.

 

FM quality can be very good in some cases....I never tried sattelite so I don't know what bitrate they use.

 

Digital can match or supercede vinyl; the argument against digital pertains a great deal to the "loudness war" and poor mastering which is a whole other issue entirely.

post #9 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Happy Camper View Post

I have gotten accustom to digital audio but I still read (almost always vinyl fans) that digital don't match vinyl. So I thought it would be a good discussion to break down why vinyl fans feel digital is inferior.
 

 

The why to that question has nothing to do with digital audio, a little to do with analogue recording and reproduction, and a whole lot more with psychology.

 

As for why cymbals may sound fake on digital audio, this has nothing to do with the basics of digital audio, i.e. sampling and reconstruction*. For instance, XM's cymbals sound like crap because you're listening to lossy compression.

 

 

 

*sampling rate and reconstruction filter may have an audible effect in worst case scenarios with high frequency content, however I don't think this applies to the context of your question

post #10 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Happy Camper View Post

I notice the cymbals don't sound right on XM/Sirius compared to fm in the car but that's probably in the transmission method.

 

Note that FM radio is also bandlimited, in fact it has a lower limit than CD (only 15 kHz instead of 22.05), and is more comparable to digital audio sampled at 32000 Hz. Not to mention, chances are that music on FM radio is played from a CD format source anyway. normal_smile%20.gif However, it also uses pre-emphasis/de-emphasis, so the maximum amplitude of treble frequencies is limited, and FM radio broadcast is often subject to different equalization and dynamic processing than CD. Because of the more limited high frequency response, it may sound smoother and less harsh than digital audio, but that does not mean it is more accurate. The main culprits when it comes to harsh/unnatural cymbals in CD audio are probably transducers with uneven and peaky treble response, and badly mastered CDs (they often have boosted treble to sound better on lo-fi equipment, and when you combine that with heavy clipping, and listen to it on a headphone that has a 10 dB treble peak, it is not surprising that the result is not quite pleasant).


Edited by stv014 - 1/27/13 at 5:14am
post #11 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by stv014 View Post

 

Note that FM radio is also bandlimited, in fact it has a lower limit than CD (only 15 kHz instead of 22.05), and is more comparable to digital audio sampled at 32000 Hz. Not to mention, chances are that music on FM radio is played from a CD format source anyway. normal_smile%20.gif However, it also uses pre-emphasis/de-emphasis, so the maximum amplitude of treble frequencies is limited, and FM radio broadcast is often subject to different equalization and dynamic processing than CD. Because of the more limited high frequency response, it may sound smoother and less harsh than digital audio, but that does not mean it is more accurate. The main culprits when it comes to harsh/unnatural cymbals in CD audio are probably transducers with uneven and peaky treble response, and badly mastered CDs (they often have boosted treble to sound better on lo-fi equipment, and when you combine that with heavy clipping, and listen to it on a headphone that has a 10 dB treble peak, it is not surprising that the result is not quite pleasant).

While correct that FM is band limited (it's actually a bit higher than 15KHz in transmission), if you're going to compare FM to satellite radio, FM actually has the equivalent of a far higher bit rate.  Satellite radio stations average a 40Kb stream, where FM transmission through reception is capable just shy of roughly 1Mb (the equivalent of 14bit/32KHz).  Not to say every station actually takes advantage of that, their station processing often destroys music.  But the stations that care about good audio, usually jazz and classical, take it easy, and their processing doesn't perceptably damage much audio, and handles the pre-emphasis nightmare fairly well.  Low bit rate systems using perceptual coding always have trouble with impulsive highs like cymbals. 

 

The entire signal chain at an FM station is now usually digital right up to the transmitter's modulated oscillator, and sometimes even beyond.  DSP devices (mixers and processing) are 24bit or greater, and most source material is CD or equivalent.  HD Radio uses most of the same audio chain, down to processing and transmitter which are different from analog, and, by the way, also low bit-rate.  Satellite stations are no different, except for the final transmission method which is where the bottle-neck is.

post #12 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Happy Camper View Post

I have gotten accustom to digital audio but I still read (almost always vinyl fans) that digital don't match vinyl. So I thought it would be a good discussion to break down why vinyl fans feel digital is.

There is an element of habit to vinyl...pulling the record out, smells, sounds, cleaning, dropping the needle, etc. that digital doesn't replicate.
I personally feel this is a lot of the perceived difference. It's not dissimilar to some drug addictions (or pavlovs dogs to be more politically correct smily_headphones1.gif

I have no attachment at all to the vinyl experience but I completely respect it. Digital cannot recreate the tactile experience but in most cases can recreate or even better the actual sound delivery
post #13 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by ferday View Post


There is an element of habit to vinyl...pulling the record out, smells, sounds, cleaning, dropping the needle, etc. that digital doesn't replicate.
I personally feel this is a lot of the perceived difference. It's not dissimilar to some drug addictions (or pavlovs dogs to be more politically correct smily_headphones1.gif

I have no attachment at all to the vinyl experience but I completely respect it. Digital cannot recreate the tactile experience but in most cases can recreate or even better the actual sound delivery

 

Digital doesn't recreate the tactile experience of vinyl, but delivers all new tactile experiences of its own.

 

Inserting a disc into the player for example - contrast normal tray players with toploaders and even trayless.

 

But even more so - look at the tactile experience of using touch screen devices to browse music.  You can flick through albums with album art and potentially other multimedia features, instantly organize your music however you want, and more.  The future is going to bring us whole new ways as well.

post #14 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Happy Camper View Post

I notice the cymbals don't sound right on XM/Sirius compared to fm in the car but that's probably in the transmission method.

I believe satellite radio streams AAC 128.
post #15 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by BlackbeardBen View Post

Digital doesn't recreate the tactile experience of vinyl, but delivers all new tactile experiences of its own. Inserting a disc into the player for example - contrast normal tray players with toploaders and even trayless.

It's become mundane to me now, but I remember when CDs first appeared, I was amazed by the silver rainbow reflections, the overkill packaging of longboxes and jewel cases, and the magical way the disk tray slid in out out of the player. I'm sure that once physical media is a thing of the past, people will be making a fetish of those things just like they do vinyl.
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