Posts Tagged 'audio'

The Art of Noise

For the rest of the time when we’re not trying to introduce some form of hiss or distortion to make our tracks sound like they were recorded to tape sometime in the 1960s, it seems like we’re trying to get rid of it. In particular, location and field recordings are often particularly problematic: as soon as you start recording outside of your nicely treated acoustic environment, acceptably quiet recordings become harder and harder to achieve.

While this may not be a problem for a lot of music production where, either the noise will be masked by other sounds, or the noise may be an integral part of the production and the reason you set foot outside of the studio in the first place. Where background noise, hum and hiss can really cause problems though, is in location recording of interviews and dialogue for broadcast, podcasts etc.

This post will cover some of the ways you can use the tools of the modern audio editor to try and reduce the impact of noise on your recordings. I currently use Steinberg’s Wavelab 7 as my audio editor, but you should be able to work in any program that can host VST plugins. Before you start solving problems though, you need to take the time to listen to your recordings and work out what the problems actually are…

Reducing Hum

Ground loops and other issues can often lead to the characteristic 50 or 60 Hz mains hum (depending on where you are) being present in your recordings. The advantage of hum problems is that you generally know what the frequency is; it can sometimes drift around by a few Hz, but it’s quite straightforward to locate and quite narrow band. Buzz is related to hum, but, as there are peculiar distortions involved, can be harder to pin down as some of the frequency content can be enharmonic.

The easiest way to start to deal with hum is by using a parametric eq. For 50 Hz hum, add the first band at 50 Hz with perhaps 12 dB of peaking cut with a very high Q; if the hum moves about a bit, you may need to reduce the Q. As the hum will also be present at the harmonics, you will also need to cut in a similar way (although with smaller gain reductions) at those harmonics. So, if you are in the UK and have 50 Hz hum, cut at 50, 100, 150 & 200 Hz etc. One side effect of using very high Q values is potential phasing problems around the corners, so you will need to listen for artefacts in your signal, to make sure that your not causing more problems than you solve.

Reducing Hiss

Hiss is perhaps the most common of problems, and more difficult to solve than hum, as it can often be very broad-banded, rather than the specific frequencies seen with hum. As such, if you try to solve these issues with eq cuts, you may find you are taking away much more of the signal than you would like. A better solution is to use bespoke broadband noise reduction algorithms. My personal choice is the Sonnox Denoiser (part of their Restore bundle, although the Wavelab versions are cut down from the full plugins) that comes with Wavelab 7, but the freeware Audacity also includes a noise reduction process, which requires the sampling of a noise ‘fingerprint’, which is then applied to the file. If the audio with which you are working has already been edited, you may be able to work with the gaps between words, although noiseprints of >1s often yield the best results.

For most of these processes, their use is always a balance of noise reduction against damaging of the wanted audio: dulling of the high frequencies is a common problem associated with noise reduction processes and, at some point, you just have to make a judgment call as to what degree of noise or quality reduction you are prepared to accept. Perhaps the easiest thing to suggest, at least where the signal to noise ratio is good, is to use an expander with a medium to long attack time to push down the level between words. I prefer to use an expander over a noise gate, as I find gating leaves the results sounding too unnatural. Adding some wide eq cuts at the higher-end of the spectrum can help, but this again can lead to dulling of the wanted sounds. Also, be wary if you use any compression to even out the vocal levels, as this can bring up the noise level between words.

Suppressing other noises

The noises we have covered so far are, in some ways, easier to deal with as the noise is constant, reducing the requirement for complicated detection algorithms. Dealing with sounds such as doors closing, passing traffic, digital clicks, air conditioners switching on, vinyl crackle etc can be much harder to deal with. Some low-end rumbles can be dealt with a high-pass filter or some low-end eq work, but things may not be this simple…

Automating eq’s and filters in your DAW and dealing with these things manually may well be the best solution if you can’t justify, or can’t afford the expense of specific tools such as CEDAR Audio’s products for Pro Tools, BIAS SoundSoap Pro 2 or the Sonnox tools etc. One more affordable VST Plugin for some of those random noises is Waves’s W43 multiband plugin, an emulation of the Dolby Cat43 processor: an invaluable tool for location dialogue editing, which is, at heart, a multiband expander. At the cheaper end of the spectrum, Magix Audio Cleaning Lab or BIAS’ slimmed-down SoundSoap LE 2 or SoundSoap 2 may suit you, but perhaps the most complete package at a price that can be justified outside of the pro-studios is Izotope’s RX2 package.

Summing up

There are many types of noise that can interfere with your recordings and can cause problems with either reducing them, detecting them in the first place, or both. As with many audio processes, there is always a balance to be struck between a problem-solving edit and negatively impacting the wanted audio. One strategy is to chain multiple processes -perhaps a filter, then a noise removal plugin, then expander- to remove noise, rather than try to do everything in one step.

Noise removal and audio restoration is, unfortunately, like so many things in life, the best tools often cost the most; you will get better results with bespoke tools than from using freeware. If you do spend a lot of time editing audio such as location dialogue/interviews for podcasts etc., I do recommend Steinberg’s Wavelab Elements 7, a cut-down version of the full Wavelab, but which still includes the Sonnox tools for noise removal. I would also recommend reading this outstanding article from Sound on Sound on the various noises that can creep into a recording and how to remove it. I also recommend this article (with audio examples); although it focuses on Pro-Tools, the techniques are broadly transferrable; there is a good post on noise removal using Audacity here.

Perhaps the best solution is to try not to record noise in the first place: check your studio set up for ground loops (unplugging laptops and running from the battery can often make a huge difference); record using a pop shield; if you’re recording interviews, stand to shield the hot side of the mic from traffic noise and wind by standing in the way and try and use an appropriate microphone windshield. This, unfortunately, is often easier said than done, and some cleaning up is required, while there area number of almost miracle-working tools available, use your ears to make sure you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Testing Times

I read a lot of reviews of audio tech products, synths, preamps, compressors, EQs, software and hardware and the reviews I read are generally incredibly thorough. Boutique outboard is dismantled to check build quality, given the Windt Hummer test to check for potential ground loop problems and distortion and bandwidth figures quoted; and that’s all in addition to how it sounds. There is little to complain about in terms of detail.

However, is that review sufficient to make a purchasing decision? A lot of these reviews seem to lack one critical component: a blinded scientific comparison between the product under review and its competitors. I know this would add complexity to a review: it would take at least two people for a start, and other pieces of gear may not be available for comparison, but I think this type of test would really allow people to make better informed purchases.

For example, when I read a review that describes a new digital converter as, let’s say, producing ‘an open, clear sound with good separation of individual instruments and excellent stereo imaging’, I would have more confidence in that statement if the reviewer was able to tell this unit apart from its competitors, or perhaps cheaper competitors, in a blinded test.

I remember reading an article in which a number of top engineers took part in a ‘shootout’ between D/A converters, there was no clear consensus on one unit in particular sounding ‘better’. Unfortunately, these were all high-end units; it would have been very interesting if some prosumer and consumer-level converters were also included. Would the golden ears be able to choose between Apogee and M-Audio, or Prism and MOTU? I wonder, though, if perhaps the industry might be scared of the results.

Ultimately, it all comes down to the sound, and that is often highly subjective. Given that the end product is more commonly delivered as compressed mp3s, rather than CDs or vinyl these days, perhaps the arguments about squeezing every last sample of quality from the studio is less relevant now than it used to be. I’ve not heard people in the clubs complaining that the bassline is from a soft-synth rather than a MiniMoog, so perhaps I’m worrying over nothing…

Update- For the Price of Cheap Monitors

After writing the aforementioned blog, I came across a post in the IDMf site, which reminded me of an article I had seen in Sound on Sound magazine (my go to source for all things audio tech). While looking searching for the article I was sure I had seen and not just imagined, I came across these two articles:

Should I mix on high-end headphones or low-end monitors?

Mixing on headphones

And thought that, given my recent blog, that it made sense to advertise their sage advice here. I have to say, you rarely go wrong with SoS!

For the Price of Cheap Monitors

When it comes to choosing a first pair of monitors, today’s producer is spoiled for choice. The number options around the £250-£350 mark is almost overwhelming. When I was getting into production again a couple of years ago, I thought that a pair of monitors was one of the first things I had to have, so rushed out for a pair of KRK Rokits.

They did the job I suppose. The bright yellow cones certainly gave my ‘studio’ as it was then some gravitas; but now, with hindsight, I’m not certain that was the best way to spend the money… While I’m well aware that all of this advice is subjective, and that five people may well give you five different answers, I’m tempted to say this: If your budget is under about £300/$500, don’t buy monitors, buy headphones.

Now, as with all rules, there are exceptions. If your room is already acoustically treated, or it’s full of soft furniture, irregularly stacked book cases and heavy curtains, you might be fine to go and spend your whole budget on monitors, but, with my room at least, coupled with the fact I needed to know how far down the low end of that kick drum went, I wouldn’t have gone with small monitors, I’d have bought a pair of Sennheiser HD650s from the outset.

Yes, headphones have their shortcomings: they exaggerate the stereo field for example, you might pan more conservatively than you would on speakers, and reverb decisions might be different as you won’t get the benefit of your room reflections. Plugins like 112 dB’s Redline Monitor can help, as can a headphone amp like SPL’s Phonitor or 2Control, which can feed some of the left signal to the right, to simulate the ‘crosstalk’ you would get from speakers. Although, with the amount the SPL units cost, you could invest in some good monitors and acoustic treatment! Still on my wishlist for late night production though.

A set of monitors will make your studio look more like a studio, but you need to be aware of the limitations of cheap monitors in untreated rooms: limited bass extension, problems with flutter echoes and reflections, peaks and troughs in the level of various frequencies across the room. All those things can be compromising your mixing decisions. Now, that’s not to say that you can’t get around some of these limitations by spending a lot of time listening to commercial mixes and learning how your room sounds. In my, albeit humble, opinion, however, at low budgets headphones have fewer cons than monitors. Try out a pair of HD650s or Beyer-Dynamic DT-880s one day and see how you get on…

This post was first published as a news item for NowThenRecords.

The Maschine Mikro

Following the success of Native Instruments’ Maschine comes the Maschine Mikro, a stripped down piece of hardware for those with either more limited wallets, or those needing a bit more in the way of portability, but with exactly the same power of the Maschine software.

If you’ve not checked out the Maschine before it is, fundamentally, a groovebox: everything you need to make a complete tune (once you add a computer…), albeit with the advantage of a full-size screen, rather than squinting and menu scrolling on the grooveboxes you may have used before. Having myself previously struggled with a Yamaha RMX-1 and a Roland MC-303, I’m quite glad in the change of working method! However, as Maschine has no real synth engine of its own, it perhaps has more in common with Akai’s MPC range of sampling boxes, although Maschine does have the useful ability to host VST instruments and effects.

The take-home point is that the Maschine hardware is just a controller: it needs to be connected to your computer running the Maschine software to do anything. My main reason for buying a Maschine Mikro was that I was in the market for a new pad controller and percussion library anyway, so Maschine seemed like the perfect choice, with the alternative workflow of the Maschine software an added bonus. The pads have a great feel to them and have encouraged me to develop my finger drumming skills, and the smaller footprint fits in my studio setup more easily than the original Maschine.

The included sounds are very comprehensive: they range from world percussion, through 60’s acoustic kits and on to contemporary electronic kits. In addition to the drum and percussion sounds, there are also a number of synth and musical samples, ready to be mapped to the pads.

I’d almost forgotten how inspirational it was to just play some sounds in live, and add all those deep house conga fills in in real time. There are loops and grooves that I just don’t think I’d have come up with I’d been programming with the mouse. Also, as mentioned before, Maschine can host VST plugins. I’m imagining that I will be taking advantage of this in the near future, as I get to grips with Logic Pro, and may well end up using Maschine as a VST ‘wrapper’.

For me though, the most useful feature is one that allows Maschine to fit in with my workflow in Ableton Live. Before arranging, I work predominantly in the clip view. Maschine allows you to drag loops you’ve created in the Maschine sequencer plugin into an empty clip in Live as either audio or MIDI. This allows me to create a whole bunch of loops in Maschine, then work with them as audio in Live. That way, if you don’t want to mess around with learning the Maschine sequencer and its scenes and so on, you can use it solely as a loop creation tool and continue to work in your sequencer of choice. So far, I’ve had a couple of bugs with this, which hopefully NI will address in future updates, but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed by moving a couple of warp markers.

To summarise then, the Maschine software is fairly intuitive and deeply powerful, with a superb range of included sounds, which can be supplemented with additional -pay for- packs. The Maschine Mikro loses some of the real-time control that you get with the original, due to the cut down encoder complement, and you’ll spend more time looking at your computer as the Mikro loses a display. For the money though, I think it’s a pretty inspiring piece of kit. I’ve had mine for three months and feel like I’ve only scratched the surface.

This article first appeared on NowThenRecords‘ website.

Of Monitors and of Monitoring…

So, you’ve been producing on your headphones or some old hi-fi speakers, and you’re ready to go out and get yourself a new pair of studio monitors. This is going to be the addition to your studio that really changes your productions: you’ll be able to hear all those little details you couldn’t hear before; you’ll eq better, compress better and pan better. You’ve got a budget of, lets be mathematical about this and say £x, so you go out and buy a new pair of monitors that cost exactly £x, the best pair of monitors you can afford. Is that the right thing to do? In most situations, probably not.

It might be easier if you think of your budget not as how you have to spend on your monitors, but how much to spend on your monitoring. Being able to hear what is going on in your mixes is perhaps the most important thing to get right when trying to make informed decisions about your productions and making mixes that translate well to other systems. What you hear isn’t just a function of your monitors, but of a whole chain, from the DA conversion in your soundcard, through any monitor controllers, the monitors themselves, how the monitors are placed and what the rest of the room is like. You may well find that you get the best monitoring environment if you apportion a, sometimes not insignificant, part of your budget to some of these other variables, rather than blowing the whole lot on the monitors themselves.

As you might guess, this is a pretty big topic, and so there will probably be a few posts on more specific aspects of the subject. I’ll try and give a bit of an overview here of some of the things that have worked for me, which don’t cost a huge amount of money and, hopefully, don’t require that you rearrange all your furniture to get yourself a decent monitoring environment.

The first thing, that has probably made the biggest difference for me, is to try and get rid of any hiss and hum that might be emanating from your speakers. Ground loops can be a big problem here. If you can, get hold of a power filter/surge protector (the latter is a good idea anyway) with multiple outlets. These don’t have to cost an arm and a leg and can help get rid of some ground loops. Different power outlets can often be at different potentials, leading to current flow when different bits of gear are plugged into different outlets. By plugging computer, soundcard and monitors into the same outlet, you can sometimes get rid of some problems, just make sure and count up how many amps you’re drawing! If you’re using a laptop, sometimes disconnecting the power and running on the battery can make a huge difference. For critical mixing tasks, this can sometimes be a big help.

Try and mount your monitors on proper stands with as much mass as possible, some can be filled with sand for this purpose. If your monitors are just sitting on your desk, you can get problems as the sound from the speakers bounces of the desk and mixes back in with the sound coming at you directly, this can cause comb filtering. Additionally, placing some foam ‘wedgies’ –the type with the pyramid patterns are good for this, and not too expensive- at the acoustic ‘mirror points’ on the side walls to try and break up as many reflections as you can is often a good first step on the road to more thorough acoustic treatment.

Additionally, if you’re using stands, it can sometimes be easier to achieve a good monitor placement. You’ll want to try to get the monitors forming an equilateral –or sometimes isosceles!- triangle with your head, pointing in slightly (if you can’t really see the sides of the monitor cabinets, that’s usually pretty good) with the tweeters at ear level or the monitors tilted slightly so a line coming straight out of the tweeters is aimed at your ear height.

If you can, try not to have your setup with speakers tightly in the corners of rooms or against a wall, although sometimes this is unavoidable. If your speakers have ‘placement correction’ controls –they often high pass filter the bass or allow cut or boost of the low and/or high frequencies- experiment with those to try and find the best settings. To do this, you’ll want some reference material. One easy way to test things is to draw an ascending chromatic scale in your DAW playing back a sine wave in a soft synth. Sit in your monitoring position and hit play, the notes should sound at equal volumes. If you hear louder or quieter notes –due to interference creating room nulls and resonances- you can adjust the settings, or at least be aware of which notes are problematic and make informed mix decisions. The excellent Sound on Sound has a bass staircase mp3 here. Additionally, playing back some tracks you know well can be a big help and never underestimate the power of listening to your mixes on as many systems as possible!

That probably covers it for the quick and easy fixes for now, but chances are good that we’ll revisit a lot of these things in future posts. If anyone has some more easy solutions and suggestions to improving your monitoring, I look forward to hearing them!

The Quick and Dirty Home Mastering Guide: Part 2

Okay, back to the home mastering: a rough and ready guide to making your mix that bit louder. If you caught the first part of this post, then you should have your mix ready as a wave file with some commercial releases ready for comparison. I’ll admit, I’m a bit nervous about this blog post, there are too many different opinions, many held by people who aren’t backward in coming forward in telling you that yours is wrong; all I can say is that this type of process has worked for me, hopefully it can get you going in the right direction too…

Step 1: Import your mixdown into two channels in your DAW. One of these is going to be the channel you process, the other is for comparison. Set your channel and master faders to 0 dB.

Step 2: Processing time. Insert a low cut filter first in the chain and set the frequency to about 25 Hz. After the filter, insert a parametric eq. This stage of processing is for any surgical corrections that you might need to make: any resonances or one-note-bass type problems where you might need to make some narrow, high-Q cuts.

Step 3: Insert a compressor. If you have a lot of compressor choices, I would be tempted to lean for something designed to be fairly transparent, rather than a ‘character’ compressor. Set the ratio between 1.1 and 1.2:1 and bring the threshold all the way down. This compressor should be working constantly and giving you a couple of dBs of gain reduction. If the terms for some of these compressor settings are unfamiliar, a quick internet search should tell you all you need to know; they’ll also be the subject of a future post.

Step 4: More aggressive compression. This one starts to become a bit more about your personal taste and will be quite dependent on your source material. You could maybe start with a ratio of about 2:1 and reduce the threshold until you get a couple of dBs of gain reduction. Start with the attack time at about 50 ms and bring it down, listening to what happens to the sound. Listen out for any loss of bass as a marker for when you’ve gone too far. If your compressor has an auto release setting, go for that, if not, then start with quite a long release time and bring down listening for any pumping sounds.

Step 5: The tone control. Here your just about the subtle tone shaping, just like the bass and treble controls on your hi-fi. Set up an eq with high and low shelving bands and start adjusting to taste. If you have a fingerprint eq you can use it here to dial in the general flavour of a commercial track in the genre.

Step 5: Limiting. This is where you add those extra dBs you want. Insert a lookahead brickwall limiter and set the output to -0.3 dB. Start to add gain and you’ll hear the track getting louder. It can be helpful to insert a couple of metering plugins after the limiter. The excellent TT Dynamic Range meter is an excellent plugin for seeing how much dynamic range your song has and for checking RMS values. Solid State Logic’s X-ISM plugin is very useful for checking intersample peaks to ensure you don’t clip any DA converters.

As you start to add gain with the limiter, listen for distortion of the low frequencies, the kick is a useful guide here. You’ll also want to listen for softening of transients; listen to the front end of snares and hats in particular. All the while flicking back and forth between the processed and unprocessed mixes to make sure every adjustment is improving the sound over your original, or at least is a good trade off of quality for the loudness you are after.

So, there we are, a quick and dirty guide that may provide a useful starting point to get your mixes where you might want them to be and that might bail you out when you need a mix sounding louder at short notice! I would still recommend the professional approach, but that might not always be an option.

Given the benefit of additional pairs of ears can have to your mix though, you could consider grouping together with other like-minded producers to master each others’ songs, it keeps things free and you can another opinion.

There are also a few other things that can be used for this type of finalizing process. Effects like tape saturation can sometimes help to glue the parts of a mix together, and you can also play with adding some low level distortion and high frequency compression to simulate that. Effects like exciters and stereo width enhancers can be used, but are best used sparingly, you don’t want to be trying to fix mix decisions at the mastering stage (and be careful about maintaining mono compatibility with stereo enhancement).

Okay, we’ll leave it there for now. Please leave any comments and tips you have for mastering your own tracks and hopefully we can make this a useful little resource.

Happy loudness maximising!

The Quick and Dirty Home Mastering Guide: Part 1

One of the themes I see coming up rather often on a lot of the recording forums is of people complaining that their mixes don’t sound as loud as commercial records. The answer given most often is, of course, mastering.

Before we carry on, a few caveats. First off, getting a good mix comes first. As [one version of] the saying goes: you can’t polish a turd. The next thing is that I highly recommend having a reputable professional mastering engineer do your mastering for you.

There are two main reasons for this. The first is that they are going to have absolutely top class equipment, most importantly their monitoring, their room and their ears, along with the experience to get the most out of them. The second is that you’ll get a second person listening to your mix. If you’ve been immersing yourself in your programming, performing, arranging and mixing, you can start to lose some objectivity. The mastering engineer can step back from the mix with a fresh perspective and hear what the mix might need.

When it comes to picking a mastering service, do your research. It seems like mastering has exploded in the last couple of years. It seems like everyone with a copy of Waves L2 has set up an online mastering service. Look to see who has mastered some of the records in your collection and check them out; they might be more affordable than you think. With even huge studios like Abbey Road offering online mastering services, anyone can now get access to those ears of experience.

All that said of course there are going to be times you might want to do it yourself. You might have a work in progress you want to listen to in the same context as some commercial releases; you might have just finished a song that you want to play out that night; or you might have just spent your last penny on the latest plugin.

So, for those occasions, how can you bring that level up and add a bit of punch? A simple internet search can give you more ‘how to’ guides than I could ever hope to list, so I’ll just run through a quick step-by-step of what works for me, and you can adapt it for your own best results.

In preparation for part two of this post, get yourself a stereo wave file of your final mix ready along with a couple of files of similar style commercial tracks for comparison and stop back in a few days for the step-by-step…

Beauty in Music’s Physical Form

I’m not a neophile, I’ll quite happily admit that; I do not immediately jump on board the latest craze or gadget just because it’s new. However, I wouldn’t say I was especially big on nostalgia either. I don’t automatically think that something is better just because they don’t make it anymore. I just like things to work and I don’t see the point of change for change’s sake. For example, I like TVs with buttons on them so I can use them when I’ve lost the remote, but I like being able to take thousands of pictures on holiday, store them on one tiny card and only print out the ones that aren’t of my thumb.

All of which brings me somewhat inelegantly onto the subject of digital music downloads.

Digital music delivery is huge, I don’t think you can deny that, but is it an improvement over where we were before? It has certainly made music more available, it’s now incredibly straightforward for a new unsigned artist to get tracks out to people, but I think that’s a subject for another post. I’m more interested in the concept of buying something that doesn’t really exist in a physical form. In order to discuss the present case of music downloads though, I think it’s best to start with the past…

With each new format of sound delivery, there has traditionally been an increase in quality, from wax cylinders, to vinyl discs, to the cassette to the CD. Now, I know that vinyl is actually better in terms of certain specifications than the digital constraints of CD, but that’s a whole other post again… Generally though, each successive format has improved our listening experience. Then, in 1999, along came the super-audio CD (SACD). Using a 1-bit high frequency technology, the SACD offered audio specifications approximately equivalent to 24 bit 96 kHz recording, with better frequency response and dynamic range than the original CD. An excellent review on the science behind the quality of SACD can be found in Hugh Robjohns’ interesting Sound on Sound article.

While some hi-fi audiophiles picked up SACD players, it just didn’t catch on the same way CD did; the same for DVD-Audio. It appears that the CD is the plateau of consumer quality, a point above which it wasn’t worthwhile climbing. And it makes sense. What percentage of the world’s music listeners even own a hi-fi separates system these days, let alone have their chair neatly positioned in the stereo sweet spot and some acoustic treatment in their listening room?

So, the next step beyond the CD: a step backwards in quality. Limited bandwidth compressed audio: the all-conquering mp3. Now, this brings me back to the first paragraph, I think the mp3 is a wonderful thing. I can carry thousands of songs in my pocket (I sometimes miss my CD Walkman days though, but that’s also another post…) and I don’t really notice the loss of quality as I’m stood in a bus shelter, next to a main road, when it’s raining and listening through ear buds.

The thing is though: I rarely buy mp3s. There are the occasional tracks, maybe a random tune from an album where I don’t want to buy the full thing, but that’s really it. Virtually all my mp3s are ripped from the CDs I buy. The reason (apart from the whole quality thing): I like the physical interaction you get when you buy a record. Be it CD or vinyl, it’s a wonderful thing to look at the cover art, read the liner notes, it becomes more of a ritual, like grinding the beans for your morning coffee. Taking the record from the sleeve, sitting it on the platter, the thunk, hssssss, as the needle finds its groove… wonderful. And to come back to the visual art of vinyl and CDs, some of it is superb purely on that level, from beautiful to iconic and back again, records can be very pretty things… and I’m not just talking about my 12” Kylie Minogue Slow picture disc.

Back in my teenage years of limited pocket money, as opposed to now with limited disposable income but the benefits of credit, I could perhaps afford a CD every two to three weeks. I would end up knowing that album inside and out, I could draw the cover from memory (not very well, art was never really my thing), tell you who produced and engineered it, where it was recorded and even give you a potted list of the people in the thank you list.

I still get that same buzz today when the post delivers that tell-tale cardboard sleeve containing the latest vinyl purchase. The Hidden Orchestra limited double 12” on the clear/marbled vinyl and my signed Jo Mango 10” (she says I’m a wee star!) remain wondrous things to behold before you even listen to them, along with my complete set of the Journal of Popular Noise 7”s, an original 45 of The Velvelettes Needle in a Haystack and my early Amy Winehouse CD promos, the list goes on, but I love them all dearly. I just don’t get that same feeling with a mouse click and a little download progress bar somehow…


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