Radiophonic

Stumbled upon a cool (if oldish, 2008) article on the now-defunct BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Which (in hindsight) turned out to be the Bletchley Park of electronica.

Influential, groundbreaking bleeps and bloops, at taxpayer expense. Thank you, taxpayer. We are forever grateful to you.

I do miss having knobs and pedals to play with.

Got another cartridge/stylus, the Shure M44-7, on sale. This will replace the original Stanton I think, it seems good with ‘crackly’ albums. It has a reputation as a bass-heavy DJ-oriented cartridge, but my particular turntable hasn’t got much response below 30Hz so excessive bass hasn’t been an issue. As for the Stanton, apparently I can replace its stylus with one designed for 78rpm records. I’ll probably just convert it and use it for that (rather than buying a dedicated cartridge). Cheaper.

Also changed the theme here, once again. I’ll get it right, eventually.

A Second Spin.

Pulled disc 2 of the Syd Barrett album, hardly any crackle. I must have only played it the one time, way back when.

Last week I pulled my copy of Hugo Largo’s Drum. Funny how an album that was so important to me 23 years ago barely exists in the public record now. Just a little footnote on wikipedia. And a long-outdated entry on the old trouserpress website. And some scattered, shattered artifacts of history on youtube.

Other than that, I’ve been working on remastering ‘2002’.

And listening to many, many new things.

Lessons and Carols.

Bought a well-used (and, sadly, well-crackled) LP copy of the King’s College Choir from Christmas 1958. Finally got around to googling it today, and found out that the recording’s fairly well known. Well known enough that the BBC actually remastered the recording into 4:0 “Surround” just this past Christmas. (Not clear from the article what the format means. Is it just 5:1 without the center and subwoofer? Or is “4:0” just what we’re supposed to call old-style quadrophonic sound these days)?

My own copy, bought for $3 at a local second-hand bookstore’s used records bin, is not in the best of shape. As a Christmas album, it was quite likely played once a year, and it shows from the wear and tear. No major scratches (except for one brief dig towards the very beginning), but it sounds as though the disc was never properly cleaned by the original owner (lots of burned-in dust, pops and crackles). It’s also doubtful they had high-end equipment.

But as I played it (pulling it onto the laptop as I did so), I realized that patterns within the wear and tear allowed me to do some forensics. Whoever owned this album is almost certainly dead (as are many of the voices on it, by now), but you can tell from the degree of noise which parts of the disc had been listened to quite often, and which had been largely ignored. I could tell you which three songs he or she adored, playing and replaying them over the years. I can imagine the time someone must have slipped while cueing up the first track to make that scratch I mentioned. It also sounds like they skipped most or all of the vicar’s sermons. And, for whatever reason, they were NOT fond of Oh Come All Ye Faithful, which sounds almost pristine (I intend to recover that one outright for my own Christmas music mix).

With respect to the recording itself, I can understand why this one seems so beloved by experts on the subject. It’s the BBC’s first stereo recording of the King’s College Christmas Mass (or ‘Service’?– do Anglicans call it ‘Mass’?), and it sold well into the 1970s on both vinyl and reel-to-reel. Presumably recorded at the tech limits of late 1958 (at the very beginning you can even hear a truck/lorry driving by outside before the singing starts).

The cleaning software does an admirable job on this material, though some of the noise can’t be totally removed without doing injury to the original recording beneath. Other than Faithful, I have no idea what I will do with these sounds. The vicar’s voice is well recorded, and might have some future use to me. And I’ve always wondered what could be done with a voiced choir’s sounds, after breaking it up into grains.

Prep.

The turnable saga continues. The headshells came, they look pretty good. Slightly heavier than the one that came with the Stanton, but not by much. They’ll do. The new cartridge/needle assembly also came, as did the rubber mat, and the new USB audio interface. That all gets assembled tomorrow.

I did have some time to unbox the USB audio interface (Behringer UFO202) I’d ordered. It’s smaller than a deck of cards and has the USB cable permanently attached. Plugged it into the Win7 laptop, drivers auto-installed, etc. Didn’t get to do much more than fire up Audacity and verify that I could access the device from that. I also sampled a few seconds with no inputs attached to the little box, to get its nominal noise profile. I have the plot (strange noise profile for an audio device– peaks in weird places that don’t seem to correlate to freqs I’d expect to see coming from the power supply, sampling rate, etc). Max noise peaks at -63dB or so, most of the curve lies below that. (Note to self: Post a plot later once you figure out how to embed). I want to get a longer audio sample of this base noise anyway, so I can use it for reference noise later should that ever be needed.

Also played with some of the earlier ‘throwaway data’ I’d captured using the Stanton’s built-in USB preamp. (Audacity again). The original still sounded as horribly tinny as it did the other night, but was also not too difficult to clean up and EQ. Before long I had managed to make the sample much less horrible than it was. Not a great record here, some generic-looking album from the late 50s/early 60s full of ‘Spanish Orchestral Classics’. I might end up seeing if I can do something useful with the string sounds (this assumes that I manage to recover anything interesting).

Assembly tomorrow. Probably.

Spinnin’ Wheel.

Well, it’s done.  Ordered a Stanton T.92 turntable (USB), and it came the next day.  Decided to go with a DJ-style turntable because it would (1) Probably be more physically robust, (2) be easier to set up and more forgiving in actual use, and (3) I’m using this for sampling, not archiving.

I wanted the precision in pitch & tempo of a direct-drive motor, ‘hrumble’ be damned (for that, after all, can be notched out or otherwise altered– again, not archiving).  I only played with it a little to verify that I could set it up and balance it well enough to just coherently play a record, and it seemed easy enough.  Even though I went out of the way to get a turntable with USB conversion as a built-in, it turns out that the built-in phono preamp isn’t very good.  Too… metallic, is how I’d describe it. Too much upper-midrange, very tinny or brassy. (This was with Audacity on a cheap Windows laptop… later this week I’ll try hooking it up to the Mac and see if the sound is any better). The turntable also has phono (ie raw) outputs, as well as RCA line outs and coax s/pdif (the latter two reportedly use the same built-in phono preamp as the USB stage does). Part of why I picked this one, I can hook it up to anything.

That said, I was in the market for a cheap USB audio interface with RCA inputs anyway.  This morning, lo and behold, this Behringer interface (with built-on RIAA phono EQ setting) went on sale today, so I grabbed one.  While cheap, it has reportedly better freq response than the built-in, and I’ll have other uses for it (eg tape in/out) once I get to the point of using a mixer again.

Also ordered a rubber mat for the Stanton (a perfectly fine felt one was included, should my midlife crisis ever lead to an extremely unlikely second career in scratch).  Also some cheap generic headshells (at less than $8/pc) and an Audio-Technica cartridge that reads like it will have a freq-response/tone more to my liking.

I’m going to hold off on getting a cart for 78rpm just yet.  For one thing, I don’t have enough 78s collected yet to make it worth the expense. Soon.  Before they all disappear.  But all in all, I’m essentially done acquiring the turntable stuff, since I already have all the software I need.  I had budgeted $500 total for the setup, and came in under that.  It’ll do.

Back to the turntable itself: It was strange to unbox this thing in 2012.  While I’m plenty old enough to have grown up with records, I never had a ‘stereo system’ with a ‘turntable’.  Like any other 1970s Boston kid, I had a ‘rekkid playa’, upon which we could play our ‘rekkidz’.  By today’s standards, these little stereo systems were tinny little plastic things that skipped, sucked, sounded perhaps slightly better than AM radio, and destroyed records.  But we didn’t seem to care.

I don’t think I even heard the word ‘turntable’ used in the modern sense until the early-80s, when high-end direct-drive Technics became the status/class marker of choice amongst the college set.   To this day, the Technics (and its many clones) still come in the dull silver-grey that used to signify high-end consumer electronics 25 years ago.  I was too busy playing with guitars and computers back then to notice that the turntable had become an instrument, in its own right, almost a decade before.

Now… to find more rekkidz.