Popular Memory of Vinyl Records Probably a Shifting Memory

One phenomenon known in Psychology is, that as the years pass, memories which we have of a same thing that once happened, will change, so that, 10 or 20 years later, it becomes hard to trust those memories.

A modern phenomenon exists, by which many Baby-Boomers tend to recall their old vinyl records as having had better sound, than so-called modern, digital sound. And in total I’d say this recollection is partially true and partially false.

When “digital sound” first became popular (in the early to mid- 1980s), it did so in the form of Audio CDs, the sound of which was uncompressed, 16-bit PCM sound, at a sample-rate of 44.1kHz. Depending on how expensive a person’s CD player actually was, I felt that the sound was quite good. But soon after that, PCs became popular, and many eager people were advised to transfer their recordings, which they still had on LPs, to their PCs, by way of the PCs’ built-in sound devices, and then to compress the recordings to MP3 Format for Archiving. And, a bit-rate which people might have used for the MP3 Files could have been, 128kbps. People had to compress the audio in some way, because early hard drives would not have had the capacity, to store a person’s collection of music, as uncompressed WAV or AIFF Files. Further, if the exercise had been, to burn uncompressed audio onto CD-Rs (from LPs), this would also have missed the point in some way. (:2)

What some people might be forgetting is the fact that many LPs which were re-recorded in this way, had strong sound defects before being transcribed, the most important of which was, frequent scratches. I think, the second-most-common sound defect in the LPs was, that unless the listener had a high-end turntable, with a neutrally counterweighted tonearm, and a calibrated spring that defined stylus force, if an LP was listened to many, many times, its higher-frequency sound content would actually become distorted, due to wear of the groove.

(Updated 3/02/2021, 18h05… )

Continue reading Popular Memory of Vinyl Records Probably a Shifting Memory

There can be curious gaps, in what some people understand.

One of the concepts which once dominated CGI was, that textures assigned to 3D models needed to include a “Normal-Map”, so that even early in the days of 3D gaming, textured surfaces would seem to have ‘bumps’, and these normal-maps were more significant, than displacement-maps – i.e., height- or depth-maps – because shaders were actually able to compute lighting subtleties more easily, using the normal-maps. But additionally, it was always quite common that ordinary 8x8x8 (R,G,B) texel-formats needed to store the normal-maps, just because images could more-easily be prepared and loaded with that pixel-format. (:1)

The old-fashioned way to code that was, that the 8-bit integer (128) was taken to symbolize (0.0), that (255) was taken to symbolize a maximally positive value, and that the integer (0) was decoded to (-1.0). The reason for this, AFAIK, was the use by the old graphics cards, of the 8-bit integer, as a binary fraction.

In the spirit of recreating that, and, because it’s sometimes still necessary to store an approximation of a normal-vector, using only 32 bits, the code has been offered as follows:

 


Out.Pos_Normal.w = dot(floor(normal * 127.5 + 127.5), float3(1 / 256.0, 1.0, 256.0));

float3 normal = frac(Pos_Normal.w * float3(1.0, 1 / 256.0, 1 / 65536.0)) * 2.0 - 1.0;

 

There’s an obvious problem with this backwards-emulation: It can’t seem to reproduce the value (0.0) for any of the elements of the normal-vector. And then, what some people do is, to throw their arms in the air, and to say: ‘This problem just can’t be solved!’ Well, what about:

 


//  Assumed:
normal = normalize(normal);

Out.Pos_Normal.w = dot(floor(normal * 127.0 + 128.5), float3(1 / 256.0, 1.0, 256.0));

 

A side effect of this will definitely be, that no uncompressed value belonging to the interval [-1.0 .. +1.0] will lead to a compressed series of 8 zeros.

Mind you, because of the way the resulting value was now decoded again, the question of whether zero can actually result, is not as easy to address. And one reason is the fact that, for all the elements except the first, additional bits after the first 8 fractional bits, have not been removed. But that’s just a problem owing to the one-line decoding that was suggested. That could be changed to:

 


float3 normal = floor(Pos_Normal.w * float3(256.0, 1.0, 1 / 256.0));
normal = frac(normal * (1 / 256.0)) * (256.0 / 127.0) - (128.0 / 127.0);

 

Suddenly, the impossible has become possible.

N.B.  I would not use the customized decoder, unless I was also sure, that the input floating-point value, came from my customized encoder. It can easily happen that the shader needs to work with texture images prepared by an external program, and then, because of the way their channel-values get normalized today, I might use this as the decoder:

 


float3 normal = texel.rgb * (255.0 / 128.0) - 1.0;

 

However, if I did, a texel-value of (128) would still be required, to result in a floating-point value of (0.0)

(Updated 5/10/2020, 19h00… )

Continue reading There can be curious gaps, in what some people understand.

There exists HD Radio.

In Canada and the USA, a relatively recent practice in FM radio has been, to piggy-back a digital audio stream, onto the carriers of some existing, analog radio carriers. This is referred to as “HD Radio”. A receiver as good as the broadcasting standard should cost slightly more than $200. This additional content isn’t audible to people who have standard, analog receivers, but can be decoded by people who have the capable receivers. I like to try evaluating how well certain ‘Codecs’ work, which is an acronym for “Compressor-Decompressor”. Obviously, the digital audio has been compressed, so that it will take up a narrower range of radio-frequencies than it offers audio-frequencies. In certain cases, either a poor choice, or an outdated choice of a Codec in itself, can leave the sound-quality injured.

There was an earlier blog posting, in which I described the European Standard for ‘DAB’ this way. That uses ‘MPEG-1, Layer 2′ compression (:1). The main difference between ‘DAB’ and ‘HD Radio’ is the fact that, with ‘DAB’ or ‘DAB+’, a separate band of VHF frequencies is being used, while ‘HD Radio’ uses existing radio stations and therefore the existing band of frequencies.

The Codec used in HD Radio is proprietary, and is owned by a company named ‘iBiquity’. Some providers may reject the format, over an unwillingness to enter a contractual relationship with one commercial undertaking. But what is written is, that The Codec used here resembles AAC. One of the things which I will not do, is to provide my opinion about a lossy audio Codec, without ever having listened to it. Apple and iTunes have been working with AAC for many years, but I’ve neither owned an iPhone, nor an OS/X computer.

What I’ve done in recent days was to buy an HD Radio -capable Receiver, and this provides me with my first hands-on experience with this family of Codecs. Obviously, when trying to assess the levels of quality for FM radio, I use my headphones and not the speakers in my echoic computer-room. But, it can sometimes be more relaxing to play the radio over the speakers, despite the loss of quality that takes place, whenever I do so. (:2)

What I find is that the quality of HD Radio is better than that of analog, FM radio, but still not as good as that of lossless, 44.1kHz audio (such as, with actual Audio CDs). Yet, because we know that this Codec is lossy, that last part is to be expected.

(Updated 8/01/2019, 19h00 … )

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A Basic Limitation in Stereo FM Reproduction

One of the concepts which exist in modern, high-definition sound, is that Human Sound perception can take place between 20 Hz and 20kHz, even though those endpoints are somewhat arbitrary. Some people cannot hear frequencies as high as 20kHz, especially older people, or anybody who just does not have good hearing. Healthy, young children and teenagers can typically hear that entire frequency range.

But, way back when FM radio was invented, sound engineers had flawed data about what frequencies Humans can hear. It was given to them as data to work with that Humans can only hear frequencies from 30Hz to 15kHz. And so, even though Their communications authorities had the ability to assign frequencies somewhat arbitrarily, they did so in a way that was based on such data. (:1)

For that reason, the playback of FM Stereo today, using household receivers, is still limited to an audio frequency range from 30Hz to 15kHz. Even very expensive receivers will not be able to reproduce sound, that was once part of the modulated input, outside this frequency range, although other reference points can be applied, to try to gauge how good the sound quality is.

There is one artifact of this initial standard which was sometimes apparent in early receivers. Stereo FM has a pilot frequency at 19kHz, which a receiver needs to lock an internal oscillator to, but in such a way that the internal oscillator runs at 38kHz, but such that this internal oscillator can be used to demodulate the stereo part of the sound. Because the pilot signal which is actually part of the broadcast signal is ‘only’ at 19kHz, this gives an additional reason to cut off the audible signal at ‘only’ 15Khz; the pilot is not meant to be heard. But, way back in the 1970s and earlier, Electrical Engineers did not have the type of low-pass filters available to them which they do now, that are also known as ‘brick-wall filters’, or filters that attenuate frequencies above the cutoff frequency very suddenly. Instead, equipment designed to be manufactured in the 1970s and earlier, would only use low-pass filters with gradual ‘roll-off’ curves, to attenuate the higher frequencies progressively more, above the cutoff frequency by an increasing distance, but in a way that was gentle. And in fact, even today the result seems to be, that gentler roll-off of the higher frequencies, results in better sound, when the quality is measured in other ways than just the frequency range, such as, when sound quality is measured for how good the temporal resolution, of very short pulses, of high-frequency sound is.

Generally, very sharp spectral resolution results in worse temporal resolution, and this is a negative side effect of some examples of modern sound technology.

But then sometimes, when listeners with high-end receivers in the 1970s and before, who had very good hearing, were tuned in to an FM Stereo Signal, they could actually hear some residual amount of the 19kHz pilot signal, which was never a part of the original broadcast audio. That was sometimes still audible, just because the low-pass filter that defined 15kHz as the upper cut-off frequency, was admitting the 19kHz component to a partial degree.

One technical accomplishment that has been possible since the 1970s however, in consumer electronics, was an analog ‘notch filter’, which seemed to suppress one exact frequency – or almost so – and such a notch filter could be calibrated to suppress 19kHz specifically.

Modern electronics makes possible such things as analog low-pass filters with a more-sudden frequency-cut-off, digital filters, etc. So it’s improbable today, that even listeners whose hearing would be good enough, would still be receiving this 19kHz sound-component to their headphones. In fact, the sound today is likely to seem ‘washed out’, simply because of too many transistors being fit on one chip. And when I just bought an AM/FM Radio in recent days, I did not even try the included ear-buds at first, because I have better headphones. When I did try the included ear-buds, their sound-quality was worse than that, when using my own, valued headphones. I’d say the included ear-buds did not seem to reproduce frequencies above 10kHz at all. My noise-cancelling headphones clearly continue to do so.

One claim which should be approached with extreme skepticism would be, that the sound which a listener seemed to be getting from an FM Tuner, was as good as sound that he was also obtaining from his Vinyl Turntable. AFAIK, the only way in which this would be possible would be, if he was using an extremely poor turntable to begin with.

What has happened however, is that audibility curves have been accepted – since the 1980s – that state the upper limit of Human hearing as 20kHz, and that all manner of audio equipment designed since then takes this into consideration. This would include Audio CD Players, some forms of compressed sound, etc. What some people will claim in a way that strikes me as credible however, is that the frequency-response of the HQ turntables was as good, as that of Audio CDs was. And the main reason I’ll believe that is the fact that Quadraphonic LPs were sold at some point, which had a sub-carrier for each stereo channel, that differentiated that stereo channel front-to-back. This sub-carrier was actually phase-modulated. But in order for Quadraphonic LPs to have worked at all, their actual frequency response need to go as high as  40kHz. And phase-modulation was chosen because this form of modulation is particularly immune to the various types of distortion which an LP would insert, when playing back frequencies as high as 40kHz.

About Digital FM:

(Updated 7/3/2019, 22h15 … )

Continue reading A Basic Limitation in Stereo FM Reproduction