Digital or Analog? : LUSENET : To Hear Ourselves As Others Hear Us : One Thread


My copy of the book is on order, so I apologize in advance if I cover topics already discussed in the book. As a young professional pianist, I have two purposes in investing in recording equipment:

1. To record myself in practice to evaluate my playing 2. To present finished tapes to others for enjoyment and evaluation, such as auditions

Because I need to present recordings to others, I will need a means for duplicating recordings without too much loss in quality, and for retaining the master recordings. I would also like to edit selected recordings by computer, which will also allow me also to store the recordings on a more permanent medium such as hard disk. I can eventually output the recordings to CD-R, but this option would require further investment at a later date.

I am considering several options. The ideal system, given budget constraints, is perhaps the Sony TC-D5M ($700), pair of Bayer M-260 microphones ($600), and the Midiman Flying Cow 24-bit ADDA converter ($500): The total is $1800, not including mass-storage drive, digital audio I/O card for connection to my computer, and microphone shock mount and stand. (The 24-bit Flying Cow is new; the earlier 20-bit model retails for $400.) This option, although being far out of my budget, would allow me to record with the recommended Sony deck and to convert to digital with minimal loss, though there would be the additional complications of storing and editing 24-bit data.

There are a couple of viable, less costly alternatives:

1. Sony deck, single Bayer mike, input into computer as is, with poor audio circuitry, noise and all ($1000) 2. MiniDisc player / recorder, one or two Bayer (or other) mikes, digital audio I/O card, for a total of under $1000. This option would be all 16-bit digital, with no danger of electromagnetic noise added during transfer to computer or editing.

Which system is better for my needs, i.e. *which setup will produce better sound in the final tape or CD-R*? Will I unquestionably ruin the quality by inputting the Sony recording into my computer (either with or without the external ADDA converter), editing, and recording the final result either back on the Sony or on CD-R? Or is an all-digital setup, with a cheap MiniDisc with comparatively poor 16-bit sound, better for this purpose?

Also, and fundamental among my questions: Is the primary claim of the book that by carefully listening to my playing, when well recorded and reproduced, my sensitivity to sound and music will be so heightened as to open up new levels of detail to my musicianship? In other words, is it really necessary to spend $1000 or more on equipment just as a tool for evaluating our practice? In your opinion, will the Sony deck allow me to listen to myself better than the MiniDisc system?

I would very much appreciate input from anyone who has used by the Sony machine and MiniDisc or equivalent equipment for recording.


Al Frantz, looking forward to responses and to receiving the book

-- Albert Frantz (, July 24, 1999


The purpose of the book is to present my techniques in a lucid way, not to tell how to make tapes presenting your work to others. I do offer advice on this topic in the last "session," or chapter, but it is not the thrust of the book. It's merely there so as not to leave the reader at a loss about where to start. So before coming to your specific questions, let me say a few things about the main purpose of the book. It will make more sense to you when you've tried the techniques for yourself.

First, what the techniques will do for you, only you can say! But the experience of many besides myself and my students is that they help one..

hear oneself more objectively, work more efficiently, and play more expressively.

Speaking generally, the improvements people find are *not* in subtle matters of detail but rather in fundamentals that have perhaps been acceptable, but, when you get down to it, have never been really right.

All the techniques involve things you *do.* The big weakness of the usual advice to "Tape yourself and listen carefully" is that it leaves you completely up in the air as to *how* to listen carefully, and what to *do* with what you hear. These techniques attempt to fill these gaps.

High-quality recording is *not* necessary for all of the techniques. Even a boom box' can report on how danceable' one's playing is; though Of course the better the recording, the better off one is for the subtleties. The important thing is to get started right away, with whatever equipment one has! Or even with no equipment. Just last week, one of my students, who has no equipment, came in for a lesson after a week of following my advice about dancing.' He had simply danced' the piece he was working on, the score in his hands, noticing carefully where his dancing differed from the rhythmic flow he'd been giving the piece. He came in bursting with excitement. This simple process had revealed flaws in his playing that he'd never known about. (See the Session on "Dancing" for more on this.)

Regarding equipment cost, most people already have some kind of playback system, often including a cassette deck. In this case, all they need is one microphone and maybe one "microphone preamp." This is simply not very expensive. The cost should be compared to the cost of say a year's lessons. One reader of the book, a very experienced performer and teacher who's gone back for a doctorate after years of professional experience as a musician, commented that two weeks on her own with the book did her playing more good than four years of doctoral piano lessons. (This comment is on the reader comments page for the book.) Another reader, the chair of string faculty at a major university, used the book for three weeks with a 12-year-old private student and reported that both he and the student were stunned by the progress the youngster made in that short time. (And mind you, the teacher is already a superb one.)

Coming to your specific equipment questions, things are changing so rapidly, with CD-R and CD-R/W here, and DVD-R/W almost here -- a real alphabet soup! -- that it's hard to know where to begin. However, the following may be useful:

1. Do *not* assume that digital equipment that claims to be "20-bit," or "24-bit," really is so. I know of no digital converters, at any price, that realize the full potential of 24-bit digital. Yes, they manipulate that many bits; but no, they do not get the full performance out of them. The only... **the only**... way to tell about a piece of equipment is to Listen to it compared to live sound. That's why my evaluations take so much time. There are no "specifications" that tell anything useful about sound quality.

2. You really indicate that you need an entire recording studio  for that's what it amounts to when one has microphones, recorder, computer editing system, digitizer, and CD burner.' This cannot be both good and cheap!

3. The Sony MD machines and I believe all of their other inexpensive recorders, except for the TC-D5M which I recommend  have a voltage at the microphone input which may damage mikes. Sony's own mikes are OK; but the Beyer M260, like many mikes, is at risk for damage.

4. For the moment, why not get Perhaps a Sony MiniDisc recorder with a Sony stereo mike. Total list price perhaps $800, street price substantially lower. I bet that you can give a performance that won't need editing. Then you can just copy the minidisc to a cassette or whatever medium you want to use to give to others.

After you've started using the techniques in the book, please let us know how they work for you.

Best wishes.

-- James Boyk (, July 25, 1999.

I have produced many (over 70) high quality two microphone recordings for release (see web site: ) as well as having recorded many concerts (frequently chorus and orchestra). Based on my experience, I would make the following comments about your recording (not in any particular order):

1. I would definitely not recommend purchasing any minidisc recorder. The quality just isn't there. Try a Sony DAT recorder. CDR might also be good, but CDRs are tricky. Of course, if you then go to a computer for editing you can copy the CDR recording to your hard drive for editing.

2. Purchase two mics (I recommend Earthworks SR71 or SR78 as lower cost versions of their mics that still have their excellent sound) with an inexpensive mic preamp/phantom power supply. I have never used the Spirit Folio Notepad mic preamp/mixer/phantom power supply (4 mic channels, although you only need two), but have read reviews that I respect. It is a low cost ($300 list) unit with good quality.

3. Do not under any circumstances purchase a "stereo" mic. The sound is terrible. Usually there is little bass. A major problem is that there is little or no separation between the left and right "mics", so there is little or no phase difference between the channels. Phase differences are a major contributor to making a stereo recording sound realistic.

4. Place the mics on one stand, use an Atlas T-mount to provide proper separation (12-16"), and, most important, move the mics away from the instrument(s). How many times do you see pictures of recording sessions where the mic(s) are in the piano (under the lid). When was the last time you listened to a piano by putting your head under the lid? And if you did, it sounded terrible. Move back to capture the ensemble and the acoustic space. (Of course, it's really nice if the room has good acoustic sound.)

5. Be careful when purchasing computers. You must have A/V rated drives, otherwise the sound stream may be interrupted by the hard drive self calibrating while writing a file. For editing software I would recommend SAW (Software Audio Workshop from IQS, Innovative Quality Software, ), if and when you get to that point of needing a good editor.

6. I would not purchase an ADDA converter. Either save your money or purchase a better DAT recorder. A really good purchase for you would be the Alesis ML9600 unit, which should be released early 2000. It records on a build in hard drive for up to 325 minutes at 44.1 kHz sampling (16 bit), but will record at sampling rates up to 96 kHz, 24 bit (about 95 minute capacity). It also has some limited editing capability and will write a CDR directly (CDR built in). This eliminates all the stuff you talk about buying except the mics and preamp (and cables and stand), while you can cut CDRs to provide to other people and to work as an archive/master copy.

7. Hard disks are not the best "permanent medium" to use for storage. Use CDRs. Make two CDRs of the same material for real backup. And CDRs are cheap, with essentially unlimited storage, since you can use any number of them. Hard drives can fail, and a loss of master recordings stored on one hard drive can be catastrophic.

8. Digital can definitely provide better recordings, particularly for piano, since there is no wow and flutter (speed variations). Wow and flutter, even if "inaudible", convey a sense of unreality to the listener as well as irritation. The sound isn't quite "right".

9. Recording on the "relative cheap" (i.e., not spending huge amounts of money on the so called state of the art) can produce superb recordings by applying intelligence and applying money where it counts. The most important place where money counts is where the conversion occurs from sound to electrical energy--at the mics. This is also the place where intelligent use of the mics (and listening to what the recording sounds like compared to the real thing, and making adjustments where appropriate) is very important--and costs nothing except your time, awareness, and intelligence.

Best of luck.

==Bob Sellman

-- Bob Sellman (, January 09, 2000.

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