Hi-Fi Fo-Fum – A BBC short film about audiophiles in the 60s'.
“Do they like music? Or are they in love with equipment?”
BBC Archive has uncovered a rare video for audiophiles. A 1959 short film called 'Hi-Fi-Fo-Fum' reveals the burgeoning audiophile scene, with more than a little ironic humor as a bonus.
“There is a man in Wimbledon who will go on adding to his equipment until he can hear the sigh of the conductor as the piccolo misses its entry," it goes the introduction. He sounds like our kind of man.
"Is it a religion or a disease? An American psychotherapist calls it 'audiophilia", says the voiceover, as men - and it's mostly men - shuffle in and out of hi-fi stores before rushing home for enthusiastic listening sessions.
"Do they like music? Or are they in love with equipment?", questions our narrator, as one excited punter buys a new tweeter for 6 pounds 4 pence. And while a lot has changed - we now don't see many shops with individual listening booths - a lot has stayed the same. "A dream of perfection... of machines more sensitive than the ears they play to". It reminds us that enhancers to audio frequencies that the human ear can't hear aren't new. The video also shows the early music critics. "With a dozen different recordings of every work, how do we find the best?" ponders the voiceover. "Rely on the critic; nothing escapes" – is the reply.
The music industry has experienced ups and downs over the past decade. Since the beginning of the '00s, there's a buzzword that just can't leave us behind – the loudness war. I'm talking about the consequences of dynamic compression that's commonly used in popular music. Let's consider Paul McCartney's 1989 song Figure of Eight. The following demonstrates it's original recording with the modern remastered version.
As you can hear, the snare drum doesn't sound sharp, but more like a padding a piece of leather with a wooden stick. This practice of squashing the sound results in the quiet parts becoming louder, and the loud parts becoming quieter. It's thought that The Loudness War reached its critical climax when Metallica released Death Magnetic in 2008. The thing was that it was released for CD distribution and as an album for the Guitar Hero. The game doesn't compression the sound. Fans could hear the difference between the actual track before the compression and what is there on a CD.
Music lovers are well-known for being extremely sensitive about the sound engineering and its outcomes. After the release, Metallica's fans submitted a petition asking to remix the record
. There's actually another kind of compression going on today — one that allows us to carry hundreds of songs in our iPods. More on that in a minute.
Digital compression is the process that reduces the file's size form naturally big (100 MB) to extremely small (5 MB) – so you can carry thousands of them on your iPod. Where's the poop, you may ask. Digital compression is the process that allows a song to go from being a very big sound file in its natural state to a very small file in your iPod — so you can carry your entire record library in your pocket. But at what cost? Here's an explanation by Dr. Andrew Oxenham. He is a professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota. He specializes in auditory perception – study on how our brains and ears interact.
"Really, the challenge is to maintain the quality of a CD but to stuff it into a much smaller space. Let's think about how digital recording works. You start out with a very smooth sound wave, and we're trying to store that in digital form. So we're really trying to reproduce a smooth curve with these square blocks, which are the digital numbers. Now, the only way you can make square blocks look like a smooth curve is by using very, very small blocks, so it ends up looking as if it's smooth. Now using lots and lots of blocks means lots of storage, so we end up using fewer bigger blocks. Which means we end up not representing that curve very smoothly at all. The difference between the smooth curve and the rough edges you end up with in the digital recording, you can think of as noise because that is perceived as noise. It's perceived as an error, something that wasn't there in the original recording. The trick is to take the noise — which is the loss of fidelity — and just make it so you can't hear it anymore."
A situation: you are chatting with someone is a quiet room. You hear every word clearly as there's no background noise. If you go out to a busy street, you will get the point of the conversation but probably miss a few words. The traffic noise would mask them. That what happens during the record processing – the loud parts of a recording hide that distortion produced by the erroneous squares of those digital 1s and 0s.
What are we missing?
"There are really different levels of MP3 coding. You can go from much less data — which people can hear the difference — to higher levels of coding which take up more space on your MP3 player but sound better and are basically indistinguishable from a CD. And I would argue that under proper listening conditions — if it's really indistinguishable from the CD as far as your ear is concerned — then you really haven't lost anything perceptually."
Best Sources for Downloading CD Covers and Artwork
You may think that software media players like iTunes, Windows Media Player, etc., can find and download all the album art you need for your digital music library. However, there are times when you'll need to look further afield in order to successfully populate your music collection with the right CD covers.
You may, for example, have a digital music collection that is mainly made up of a lot of old analog recordings that you have—digitized vinyl records and cassette tapes, for example. Then there's rare compilations, bootleg recordings, and promotional material—album art for these types of audio collections are almost impossible to find using common methods that automatically add metadata tags; MP3 tagging software and music management programs for instance that have built-in ID3 tools.
To help you with this task, take a look at the following list (in no particular order) which showcases some of the best resources on the Internet for finding cover art for your digital music library.
Discogs is one of the largest online databases for audio. This rich audio catalog resource can be particularly useful for non-mainstream recordings where software media players such as iTunes or Windows Media Player might not be able to find the correct artwork. If you've got hard-to-find commercial releases, bootlegs, white label (promo) material, etc., then you might be able to source the correct album art using Discogs.
The website is easy to use for finding album covers not only for digital music releases but for older mediums too like vinyl records, CDs, etc. For digital music, you can also fine-tune your search with a handy filtering option that can be used to only display certain audio formats like AAC, MP3, etc. More »
Musicbrainz is another online audio database that has a huge catalog of music information with included artwork. It was originally conceived as an alternative to CDDB (short for Compact Disc Database) but has now been developed into an online encyclopedia of music that sports a lot more information on artists and albums than simple CD metadata does. For instance, searching for your favorite artist will usually yield information such as all albums released by them (including compilations), audio formats, music labels, background information (relationships to others), and the all-important cover art! More »
The AllCDCovers website makes use of a neat flash-based wizard to guide you through the process of finding the correct artwork. In the music section, there are sub-categories you can choose to fine-tune your search; these are albums, singles, soundtracks, and collections. Once you have selected the title, you have the option to download different types of artwork covers—usually the front, back, and inside covers, plus the CD label.
To make using the website as flexible as possible, there's also a couple of extra ways that AllCDCovers have included to search their database. You can directly use a search box to find artwork on their site if you don't want to use the wizard tool. There's also a toolbar that can be downloaded from the site for popular Internet browsers such as Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer, Apple Safari, and Google Chrome. We haven't tried this toolbar, but it could prove useful if you elect to use AllCDCovers for your artwork needs. And if that's not enough, AllCDCovers also has a large collection of movies and games artwork too—making it an invaluable one-stop resource if you need to locate images for all of your media libraries
Why 8-track failed?
When 8-track tapes come out to the public access, it seemed like a bliss compared to huge and immobile vinyl records. Listening habits have instantly changed: we could listen to music in cars and with portable 8-track players AKA boomboxes. People even thought the ear of vinyl was over, but in reality, it was completely the other way round. Within a decade, 8-track tapes where history. What happened? Why so? Here are some reasons for that:
8-track was unreliable
The key reason 8-track vanished from the shelves of record stores was because it was unreliable in use. They were made to last just a little bit of time. New tapes used to be OK, they wouldn't melt under the sun or whatever. It's the internal parts that would fall into piece after some time. Provided the manufacturers had chosen high-quality construction, 8-track could've lasted longer.
They wouldn't work properly in cars
Every car owner felt the happiness of buying an 8-track to listen while driving. They also felt pain from realizing the stereo could easily eat a tape. Again, the problem was in their construction. Imagine a tape wreck during your favorite part of some song.
8-tracks fade out
8-track tapes consisted of 4 track, each in stereo which equals 8. That meant all tracks had to be of the same length, which usually wouldn't correspond to the original LP. That's why some tracks had to be split into equal parts, thus – terrible fade out and in.
You couldn't rewind
Not being able to rewind was a pain-in-the-ass as all 8-track tapes would eventually become an infinite loop of 8 track until it just cracks. That could easily drive anyone mad as listening to the same tracks, with the same fade out is just annoying. They had to be at least a pause, or whatever. While some considered loop to be an advantage, my parents totally hated it.
Cassettes were cheaper
Price is always a game-changing feature of any product. Enhanced by the ability to be rewound and portability that Sony Walkman would offer, cassettes doomed the chance of 8-track tapes to exist in the late 70's. Cassettes and 8-track looked similar, they both had tape, but people were too annoyed by the obvious flaws of 8-track, so they disappeared for good.
Those were good times, but technology always changes and improves, so 8-track just got replaced by something more advanced. Just like CD surpassed cassettes, and then MP3 surpassed CDs. It's development, and it's great it happens.