Saturday, June 30, 2007

A processing artifact that puzzles me

I was listening to WLYT (Charlotte) HD2 this morning ("The Shuffle Channel", and heard something that truly puzzled me.

If you're familiar with the Bangles song "Eternal Flame", you know it's a lovely ballad in 4/4 time. At the first of the song, and at various points throughout, the fourth beat in each measure is punctuated with a "ding" on a bell. "Close your eyes...'ding'...give me your hand, (ding on the start of the word) Darlin', can you feel my (ding on first of word) heart beating....."

I've heard that song a million times. So imagine my shock and confusion when, listening this morning through headphones to this 48kbps HD2 stream, the "dings" were completely gone. THEY WERE NOT THERE! They were replaced with a very slight high frequency transient, which I wouldn't have noticed if I didn't know what belonged there.

Now I have commented earlier that the processing (audio compression and limiting) are too damn aggressive on "The Shuffle Channel". What I wonder is if this is the work of a Neural pre-processor, or similar device, tweaking the signal to minimize (data) compression artifacts. I know that all limiting softens transients. Cymbal crashes never have the SPLASH after going through the old Optimod (insert favorite processor here). But I have NEVER, in 33 years in radio, heard instruments DISAPPEAR from a mix. Anybody else ever noticed anything like this?

Headphone followup

Thanks for the comments so far, first of all. I've owned many headphones through the years. I have the Sony MDR-V6, and MDR-7506 (consumer and pro versions of the same damn thing). I've owned many Sennheisers...some I loved (HD-400s I owned in the 70s), some I came to be lukewarm about (HD-580). I've also owned Grado SR-60s, and SR-80s.

I came to tire of the overly aggressive "brightly lit" sound of the Sonys and Grados. Great for production and mixing (I know you're not supposed to mix through headphones. It's just that I produce much better mixes when I do!), but for just listening to music, I don't want to be beaten over the head with detail. I just want everything there, in it's place. So I've moved to a preference for a much "warmer" sound than what used to be the norm for me.

By the way...just because you've tried more expensive Sennheisers, don't think that means you have a handle on what the HD-435 sounds like. Sennheiser's "family sound" is turned on it's ear in these (and many of their newer 'phones). Bass is FULL, and very extended. Mids and highs are BACK WHERE THEY BELONG, not up front and 'in your face". If the MRD-7506 and Grado are "solid state" sounding, the HD-435 sounds more "like tubes". I know that's a lame analogy, but there's some truth to it. Though perhaps not as strictly accurate, the 435, to these tired old ears, is quite a bit more "musical".

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I'm a junkie, Man (Sennheiser HD435 review)

Many of us have addictive personalities. I'm one of them, I'm afraid. Some are addicted to drugs, others to alcohol, still others to sex. For me it's none of these. I'm a junkie alright, but the drug of choice is HEADPHONES!

When I was about 10 years old, my parents bought a huge Zenith console stereo. It was glorious! 12" 3 way speakers, three speed record changer, auxiliary input for a tape deck, external speaker outputs (more on that later), and AM/FM STEREO!

By my 12th birthday, the audio and radio bugs had bitten, and I bought an adapter cable at Radio Shack so I could plug headphones into the RCA speaker jacks. A pair of el-cheapo headphones from Brendles in Elkin NC later, and I had a near-religious experience. Stereo through headphones was MAGNIFICENT! EZ-104 (WEZC Charlotte...104.1) and WBT-FM (107.9 also of Charlotte) broadcast beautiful music in glorious stereo. Then WKBC FM (97.3 in North Wilkesboro NC) went stereo. WOW! I listened through headphones for HOURS. I was hooked. And I still am.

Through the years I've bought MANY pairs of headphones (I'd be embarrassed to tell you how many I own). My collection includes some of the "big guns"...Sennheiser HD580, Sony MDR-7506, Beyerdynamic DT-990 PRO, Koss A250, among others. But they mostly sit unused, because these days my favorite "cans" are the cheap (about 60 bucks...cheaper if you shop around) and outrageously good Sennheiser HD-435

Their bass is solid to the "bassment" (20hz and below), the response is smooth octave to octave, and the deviate from neutral on the "warm, full" side. The bass is slightly elevated in level, but this is perfect for the way I listen...mostly at night to soft music (cd, mp3, HD Radio, XM, internet radio). They're comfortable...and I'm talking about more than just their fit. The SOUND is can slip it on like an old pair of slippers. And unlike "analytical" 'phones such as the MDR-7506/MDR-V6, they don't emphasize what's wrong with a signal. You may hear things like artifacts in low bitrate digital streams, or slight distortion in recordings or broadcasts. But when there are problems, the 435s just make you aware of it, rather than BEATING YOU OVER THE FREAKIN' HEAD WITH' EM!

They're great 'phones for the real world, if not for "audiophools" (those who care more about gear than music). REAL recordings, those with musical merit are enjoyable, even if the recordings aren't perfect. What more can one ask?

Buy them. They're FANTASTIC!

A Prarie Home Comanion AT LAST!

At last my favorite radio program on Earth is available noise-free at my rural locale. XM has added "A Prarie Home Companion" to their "XM Public Radio" channel. I know XM can sometimes suffer from audible artifacts, but NOT THIS CHANNEL. The engineering is excellent, and the audio quality superb. If you're an XM subscriber, check it out...Saturdays at 6pm EDT. Garrison has never sounded better!

Now if he'd just write a sequel to "WLT...A Radio Romance"! THAT was a fun read!

NO BS, just the facts, and my views on digital radio, audio, video, and multimedia

Welcome to my new blog. On it, I will bring you the latest news about radio...particularly digital radio (HD, satellite, and internet), audio, video, and multimedia (as in computer-based entertainment).

I look forward to this opportunity. But a word to the wise (and not so wise). This is MY's about my opinions, not a place to air your own. FRIENDLY dissent is welcome, but unreasonable, even hostile dissent will be edited and/or deleted at MY discretion. After can assault, er...bless us with YOUR views on your own blog!

I've been in radio since August of 1974...33 years and counting. Read more about me in my bio, but I'll assert time and again that I LOVE RADIO. Voices through the air at the speed of's MAGIC. And the new digital modes, the improved audio quality and extra services they provide, ARE THE FUTURE. If you disagree, you won't feel very welcome here. And if you disagree in terms I find offensive, you'll be edited and/or deleted.

Ok...there's a brief summary of what to expect. First out of the gate...I am very excited by HD Radio (read more at the official HD Radio website). In November of '06 I purchased what was the least expensive HD radio available...the Accurian table radio from Radio Shack ( I have quite literally never used it as a table radio. The headphone output is actually ideal as a line output, and I have used it as a component tuner in my bedroom system, pulling in a great number of HD stations from Charlotte, Greensboro, Hickory, and Black Mountain (Asheville) NC...up to 100 miles away, with an INDOOR antenna (the Magnum Dynalab SR-100 ( While it has served me shockingly well for an indoor antenna (mounted on the top shelf of my closet, in my home in Boomer NC...Wilkes County, in the foothills of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains), today I step up to the "big leagues". Today my "new baby" is being installed...a top of the line Antennacraft roof antenna with Channelmaster rotor, and Winegard preamp. It will serve not only my HD Radio needs, but also HDTV (when my Vizio 32" tv arrives on July 7th), and analog radio and tv on my Media Center PC.

Here are some recordings I've made with my rig...examples of what HD Radio sounds like from great distances, with an INDOOR antenna

The second is the "Shuffle Channel" an HD2 stream from WLYT (102.9) in Charlotte NC.

Here's a link to a recording of WFAN (660 AM) in New York, demonstrating the quality of AM HD Radio

And here are some examples of analog reception...some of it pretty impressive in it's own right. First a recording I made with my Grundig S350 (Wide Bandwidth, Center-tuned) of WKSK (580AM) West Jefferson NC...about 35 miles from my home. WKSK has a brand spankin' new transmitter and tower, and state of the art (all digital) studio gear...a real 'class act' of a small market station still SERVING THEIR COMMUNITY. They even feature performances from live musicians on Saturday mornings...sometimes from the station, sometimes from the Ashe Civic Center, so listeners can participate.

Finally, a demo of analog AM stereo...which most new HD Radios support. This is WNMB AM in North Myrtle Beach South Carolina...also recorded from an Accurian HD Radio

I'd LOVE to receive other recordings of HD radio reception. PLEASE send them to me at and I'll gladly host them at my site. If you have REAL recordings of interference caused by HD stations, I'd welcome those as well.

Thanks, and enjoy! Your opinions are welcome. Mine, of course, are the undisputed truth (KIDDING!)