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Thread: Quality of Streaming Services on "old" material?

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    Quality of Streaming Services on "old" material?

    This thread is going to be a bi different from my normal stuff.

    Have any of youn lot ever looked at the quality of recordings provided by various streaming services and wondered, for all their claims of "million plus" (or whatever) tracks, just how they got those tracks and how much effort goes into them. Or alternatively (the reason for this bit will be clear shortly) how much trouble record companies go to when preparing re-releases, compilations, special editions etc?

    Over the last couple of years, on and off, I've had access to Amazon Prime Unlimited. Right now, I have it. I got a 50% off for 3 months offer and, oh, what the hell. So I took it out again. For the offer's duration, probably.

    But mostly, I just listen to my own LP/CD collection that's been digitised onto my NAS. After all, I'm of an age where modern 'junk' is, like my ol' Dad used to say to me ... "bl%&$y awful racket, that isn't music". His idea of music was more Frank Sinatra, mine was 60's - 80's-ish. I now think exactly what he did except that 'proper' music, if not classical, is Beatles, Stones, Moody Blues, Queen, Renaissanc, Blondie and so on. Not either ol' Blue Eyes or "modern junk". (see note)

    So anyway, getting to the point ....

    I was listening to an old Moody Blues album on Amazon, and it sounded dire. I mean, horrible. Really bad. At first, I thought my headphhones had blown their voice coils or something. A quick test established that nope, the equipment was fine and it was the recording that was the problem.

    The specific recording was the Moody Blues, In Search of the Lost Chord. I haven't played this for ages but, back in my 'youf', it got played rather a lot. Enough that along with quite a bit of my LP (no such thing as even CDs in those days) collection I had recorded the LP to C90 cassette and used the tape for general listening, such as when sitting writing an essay or whatever. I ONLY used the LP when actually 100% listenng, so as to not wear out the LP. And I was using a pretty high end turntable, arm and cartridge combination, carefully set up, to do it.

    Yes, that's all relevant. A year or two ago, I invested in some half-decent equipment and recorded my entire LP collection to my NAS. As a guide, a good (but certainly not stupidly expensive) phono pre-amp, feeding into a decent quality audio interface, and the ADC in that feeding into Audacity on a PC via USB. Once recorded, I gave the recording a very light tweak with some effects, and if I felt they helped, saved the tweaked version as FLAC files. If not, I saved the raw recording. Either way, separated into "track" files, suitably labelled and tagged. Oh, and quite a few of my LPs had had a good clean with an ultrasonic cleaner.

    So I have that same Moody Blues album that I was listening via Amazon on my NAS as well, recorded by me, via equipment that is no doubt better than most home users would have, unless they're serious about their music, but neither that equipment nor the bloke driving it (me) are anything remotely close to studio quality or an experienced sound engineer.

    My recording, from an LP and done at home, was way, WAY better than the one on Amazon. Mine, though clearly from an old recording (that album dates back to 1968 and it would have been probably very early 70s when I bought it), had none of the noise or distortion on the Amazon one.

    The Amazon one was, as I said, truly nasty. Between tracks (even where it was supposed to be continuous) there was a nasty low rumble that sounded suspiciously like turntable bearings rumbling. The high end was horribly distorted, exactly as if driven far too hard and was clipping badly.

    It was, in short, unlistenable.

    So I looked around Amazon and there are several "versions" of that album. One (the bad one) appeared to be the original '68 album, about 42 minutes long. Another was a "2018 remix". A third was a 50-year anniversary that seemed to include those original dire recordings, a 2018 remix (mainly mono), and some 'live' versions of most or all tracks that were BBC rcordings.

    What puzzles me is the truly awful recording of the "original" '68 album, which sounded like it had been done from a worn out LP on a 5th rate record player (maybe one of those £50 USB t/tables that were a thing for a while). Even the 2018 remix wasn't much better, but I assumed from"remix" that someone (record company??) had gone back to what admittedly are now very old tapes and would have at least brought up a little more clarity in the instruments, though I don't expect miracles either.

    Yet, my recording, from an actual LP, done at home, was much better, much cleaner, no rumble, no inter-track rumble or hiss, and certainly no horrible over-loading or clipping.

    My gut feel of Amazon's streaming, over quite a while is that quality is highly variable. It's not the first occasion I've felt a recording was noisy, or just dull and flat, but that clipping ... g'ahhhh!

    And sure, anything ripped from a CD, let alone "modern" recordings that are prbably digital from begiinning to end of the process, will have none of those issues. It's an "old" music issue.

    But if I can do better with home equipment and an LP i've had for half a century, why the <bleep> can't either Amazon or the record company at least match it?






    Note - I'm generalising a bit. I do have a few modern albums, usually where I've heard something modern accidentally, decided I liked it an bought a CD or two. I'm also well aware that what I regard as "proper" music from my teens and 20s is a sample of the vast array of total junk washing around even in those days, and is carefully curated to suit my tastes. So don't take "modern junk" jibe too seriously.
    A lesson learned from PeterB about dignity in adversity, so Peter, In Memorium, "Onwards and Upwards".

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    MCRN Tachi Ttaskmaster's Avatar
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    Re: Quality of Streaming Services on "old" material?

    Amazon likely using cheap old/knackered kit in some Thai/Taiwan/Brixton sweatshop to rip cheap media found unsold in jumble sale bins.
    Gotta watch those profit margins...

    60s-80s music?
    So something like Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, yeh?


    As for Sinatra - I once heard Phil Cool parodying those exclusive 'cannot be bought in the shops' albums... in his case 'Sinatra Sings ****'.
    He then impersonated Frank singing various trash hits, including the aforementioned Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep. It actually sounded better than the original!
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    Re: Quality of Streaming Services on "old" material?

    I can't say I've noticed a huge problem with streamed Amazon music, but I'm not really listening to any...ahem...'old' recordings

    On the subject of revisiting old recordings though, I did come across this Youtube video, which highlights an issue the I didn't even realise was a thing: using 'autotune' & pitch-correction to 'improve' old recordings:



    The tragic thing is, apart from drastically changing the character of the performance, it seems that record companies are removing the original recordings from streaming services, so the mucked around with versions are the only ones available.

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    Re: Quality of Streaming Services on "old" material?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ttaskmaster View Post
    ....

    60s-80s music?
    So something like Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, yeh?

    ....
    Why, you cheeky young pup! I'm gonna, gonna ... erm ... clonk you one with my zimmer frame. If I can catch you.

    Or, i could be bought off with a good BBQ .... he said, hopefully.

    As for Chirpy .... I did say there was a "vast array of total junk washing around even in those days". I think you found a prime example.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ttaskmaster View Post
    ....

    He then impersonated Frank singing various trash hits, including the aforementioned Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep. It actually sounded better than the original!
    Not that high a bar to hit, IMHO.

    But on Sinatra, I heard him (on TV, and in the time it took me to fumble for the mute button on the remote) in his latter years, must've been in his 70s, I guess. I needed earplugs. But I was thinking about it a couple of days ago when (on Amazon) I came across an early 2000's recording of Renaissance, doing one of their iconic numbers from the 70s. She wasn't as old as her 70's (more like mid 50's) but by 'eck Annie Haslam still had one hell of a voice even into this millenium. I somehow hadn't noticed that Renaissance had reformed and were back performing again in the 2000's. I think that album was rcorded live, in Tokyo, IIRC. I'm now on the hunt for a proper copy. Sadly, now, even if they're still doing it (I dont know, but doubt it) I'd guess she'd struggle with those protracted high's.

    The chance to see them again, if they were still going, might even be enough to motivate me back onto a 'plane, again.
    A lesson learned from PeterB about dignity in adversity, so Peter, In Memorium, "Onwards and Upwards".

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    Re: Quality of Streaming Services on "old" material?

    @Mr Jim - yeah, I came across the pitch 'correction' thing a couple of years ago and it shocked me. While there are singers that, for me, could perhaps benefit from it (like Bob Dylan), even then it'd destroy the .... nostalgia .... of the songs.

    For any offended Dylan fans, I guess it just comes down to taste. His voice always just, i don't know, sounded flat, to me, and not in an endearing "character" kind of way. There's a track or two I can stand but, mostly just he doesn't sound right to me. It's subjective and i just never was keen on it.

    But pitch 'correction' (perhaps more aptly called pitch alteration), in general - utter travesty.

    It does, however, make me wonder what those of that mindset in record companies do with some modern 'stars'? in spite of my jibes about modern "junk" there is still a central core that really can play, sing and write but it seems so many are 'manufactured'. With the advent of AI in all things arty, I'm not sure how far I'd trust any future "artists" ... without seeing/hearing them live, without any equipment enhancement at all, just to be sure it's not all somehow being AI "enhanced" in real-time.
    Last edited by Saracen999; 31-08-2023 at 02:32 PM. Reason: Tpyo
    A lesson learned from PeterB about dignity in adversity, so Peter, In Memorium, "Onwards and Upwards".

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    Re: Quality of Streaming Services on "old" material?

    I currently have Spotify streaming and I've found the quality to be fairly poor on good quality headphones and when playing loudly in the car.
    For whatever reason my ears can pick up when symbols are over compressed. The only way to describe it is a fuzz.

    This problem though, is not restricted to streaming.

    Years ago when Guitar Hero & Rock Band were a trend a player noticed how bad his CD version of the song sounded when compared to the version within the game.
    https://www.wired.com/2008/09/does-metallicas/

    Unfortunately since then I've read quite frequently on various forums that compression on modern CDs is very high now.

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    Re: Quality of Streaming Services on "old" material?

    Quote Originally Posted by Saracen999 View Post
    As for Chirpy .... I did say there was a "vast array of total junk washing around even in those days". I think you found a prime example.
    Chirpy was actually a pretty popular song... enough that we always got everyone on the dance floor whenever we included it in our set.

    BBQ... It could happen, but not with the current weather.

    Generally I don't stream music though, as I've taken the time to set up my PC music player mostly how I like it... and I resent paying subs for something I don't then subsequently own or have immediate access to. It's bad enough with Alexa never being able to find a sing she played perfectly fine only just yesterday, or being a **** and suddenly hiding it behind the Amazon Prime Music Plus Special Elite God-Tier paywall... if the playback quality is going to be equally frustrating, then burn it down... baby, burn it burn it down!
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    Re: Quality of Streaming Services on "old" material?

    I'm sure at some point they will just get an AI to sing the song in the style of the original artist, and ignore the recording altogether

    I would have thought the copyright holder would originate the digital recording. Doesn't stop the likes of Amazon deciding to stream it at 1kbit/s because it's old.

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    Re: Quality of Streaming Services on "old" material?

    Quote Originally Posted by DanceswithUnix View Post
    ...

    I would have thought the copyright holder would originate the digital recording. Doesn't stop the likes of Amazon deciding to stream it at 1kbit/s because it's old.
    I would think that too. Certainly, Amazon can't do it (legally) without their permission, and i highly doubt they'd do it illegally.

    I blame Amazon because :-

    a) it's them I get the streaming service from, and
    b) I don't know who the rights holder, or digitiser, is.

    But whoever did it, at least on that recording, it is to digitising what a 3-yr-old's pre-school finger-painting is next to a Michelangelo or Renoir.

    It would also perhaps account for at least some of the huge variation in quality if different 'suppliers', aka rights-holders, were doing (or sub-contracting) the digitising. One delightful irony is that the decent-but-domestic-standard equipment I used to digitise my LPs can be bought .... right there on Amazon.

    i would think that a bit of basic quality control on 'product' Amazon allow to be uploaded onto their service to be streamed would have been a good idea, though.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ttaskmaster View Post
    ...

    Generally I don't stream music though, as I've taken the time to set up my PC music player mostly how I like it... and I resent paying subs for something I don't then subsequently own or have immediate access to. ...
    Likewise. Hence putting my LPs and CDs on the NAS, and working my way through my DVDs doing the same.

    I did have Amazon's Music (paywall'd) service for a while once before, and briefly do again now. When I'm in the mood to spend some time doing it, I do find it useful for checking out two categories of music, though. First, artists I know but albums I don't, and second, artists I don't know but come across that catch enough of my interest to induce me to dig a bit deeper. i use a period of subscription from time to time to vet both categories, and add them either to my "acquire this" list of (mainly) CD's, or to the "Umm, no way" list. In either case, it's useful info from a month or two of subscription .... especially in the classical music field, much of which I like, but don't know anything like well enough. I guess what I'm saying is it serves a purpose, replacing the hours i used to spend in record shops vetting what to buy, or listening to the radio hoping something I like but don't already have comes on.
    A lesson learned from PeterB about dignity in adversity, so Peter, In Memorium, "Onwards and Upwards".

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