Friday 15 February 2013

BitPerfect 1.0.6 Released!

BitPerfect version 1.0.6 has now been released to the App Store.  It is a free upgrade for all existing BitPerfect users.  Version 1.0.6 is a maintenance release.
  • Grey out Integer Mode check box when the device / OS doesn't support it 
  • Detect and avoid certain gapless glitches caused by iTunes 
  • Improved tooltips 
  • Stop hog Airplay Devices checkbox from showing in Snow Leopard / Lion 
  • Fix a crash on 32-bit CPU macs 
  • Fix 64-bit iTunes start up error on Snow Leopard 
  • Fix up/down sampling to work by multiple powers of 2, not just 2x 
  • Fix Mountain Lion crash 
  • Fix an intermittent problem with iTunes communication in Lion / Mountain Lion 
  • Fix icon colour after iTunes exits 
  • Fix playing at wrong sample rate if DAC cannot be configured correctly 
  • Option to turn off Gapless Playback

Tuesday 12 February 2013

Deleted Scenes From The Cutting Room Floor

Caro Emerald (Caroline Esmeralda van der Leeuw) is a Dutch Jazz singer who burst onto the Dutch scene in 2009 with her debut single "Back It Up", closely followed by her debut album Deleted Scenes From The Cutting Room Floor.  It is one of those rare blow-you-away-on-the-spot albums which wins instant converts from those who claim not to like the genre!

The album was wildly successful in Holland, quickly eclipsing the record of Michael Jackson's Thriller for successive weeks at that country's #1 album spot.  From there, Deleted Scenes gradually won over larger audiences across Europe, most notably in the UK and Germany.  The album was only released in the USA in late 2012.

Caro Emerald's music is hard to adequately describe.  It is basically straight-ahead 1920's-style Big Band Jazz, but performed with a level of gusto, commitment, and panache that is quite unique.  I think what she has done is to take the idiom of an almost century-old music style, and set about performing it without trying to painstakingly replicate the authenticity of the period.  Back in the day, when this style of music was the latest thing, it was conceived to appeal to the brave new world of the young post-war generation, and to intentionally separate itself from the established musical forms of the time.  It played to the hippest cats around.  The big bands who created and performed this music were the free spirits of their age, and what they were playing was new, different, and so, so modern.  How do you recapture that today?  Any big band jazz on record today which would be considered authentic, is inevitably also seriously dated.  How do we capture what those original audiences must have felt, when to hear it for ourselves invokes, at best, nostalgia?

What Caro Emerald does is to use modern performing and recording techniques, modern playing styles, modern recording and mixing styles.  In a nutshell, she has re-imagined the genre as though it had never previously existed, and created it anew using the available musical vocabulary of the 21st Century.  Thus the thundering underpinning drum beat, the hints of a house or hip-hop vibe, and a soundstage that places you right there in a hot, steamy, speakeasy nightclub.  Incredibly, it is an album that suddenly allows the 20's to make sense.

Deleted Scenes From The Cutting Room Floor is an amazing achievement.  You just gotta hear it, dude!

Attention Headphone Enthusiasts ...

... here is an album you ABSOLUTELY MUST HAVE!  Chesky Records are one of the studios most committed to serious recordings using the "binaural" technique.

Most high quality recordings attempt to capture the illusion of a three-dimensional space using a stereo pair of loudspeakers.  This is possible because the brain can do an amazingly good job of interpreting what it hears in a form which closely approximates what it believes it is hearing.  If we capture the sound in a recorded space using a pair of monophonic microphones, one pointing slightly toward the left, and the other slightly towards the right (a "crossed pair") and we play the result through a pair of stereo loudspeakers, we can do a remarkably good job of re-creating the illusion of the original recorded space.  Variations of this "SoundField" recording technique have been widely adopted by conscientious recording engineers for decades.

Unfortunately, while SoundField recordings can sound incredibly realistic through loudspeakers, when listened to through headphones the perceived spatial imaging goes haywire, for reasons beyond the scope of this post.

There is an interesting solution to this.  Basically, you make a dummy of a human head, including the ears.  Inside each ear you place a microphone.  This is called a "binaural" recording technique.  With this technique, the resultant recordings possess a truly staggering spatial realism when listened to through headphones - far more so than with a SoundField recording via stereo loudspeakers.  The knock on Binaural recordings, though, has always been that the stereo image is totally screwed when listened to through conventional loudspeakers.

Explorations in Space and Time comprises nine tracks, simultaneously recorded using both a SoundField microphone and a Binaural Microphone.  The recordings through the different microphones are presented as eighteen separate tracks, one version of each in SoundField and one in Binaural.

What these Binaural recordings achieve, even when auditioned through everyday headphones, is one of life's great audio epiphanies.  And to hear these through Stax SR007's is an experience tough to adequately describe.

Actually, Chesky describes these recordings as "Binaural+", which apparently adds signal processing to render the recordings as effective through loudspeakers as through headphones.  I will leave you to be the judge of how well that has been accomplished.

Monday 4 February 2013

Vintage Trouble

We saw The Who back in November, doing their fantastic new Quadrophenia tour.  So why is it I am writing here about the supporting act, Vintage Trouble?

Vintage Trouble opened for The Who with a high energy act that absolutely defines high energy.  From the opening seconds until they left the stage with the audience in their pockets, they absolutely sizzled.  So now I have their album, The Bomb Shelter Sessions, and I get to write about that too.

It is always interesting to compare a live act with their studio output.  With any good band what you are looking for is the ability to build upon their studio references and deliver a statement that reflects an honest performance, and not just a live replica.  In other words, you should never be your own tribute band.  So why am I writing all this?  Well, because there were surprising stylistic differences between Vintage Trouble on stage, and Vintage Trouble on disc.

Here is my impression of the live act: Imagine The Red Hot Chili Peppers getting together for the first time, but for some reason Anthony Kiedis gets cold feet, or changes his mind.  Anyway, for some reason he doesn't show.  Then along comes James Brown who says "Man, I feel good! How 'bout I join YOUR band!".  This is what we listened to for one high-octane hour in the Bell Center in Montreal.  Kudos to The Who for putting on an opening act fully capable of upstaging them!  In the end, of course, nobody upstages Pete Townshend.

The studio album, The Bomb Shelter Sessions, comes across quite differently.  More mainstream R&B, a la "The Commitments".  More Stevie Ray Vaughn than James Brown.  More Blues than Soul. But more music than posturing - these guys can really play, and Ty Taylor can really sing.  And they do so with the poise of a band that's been steadily polishing their act for twenty years, not the mere two years that they have been in existence.  More '70's than '10's in the sense that back in those days substance counted for more than style.  Substances too, as I recall.

I'm sure you'll enjoy The Bomb Shelter Sessions.  There is a vinyl release too, but no word on whether it was mastered more carefully than the sonically disappointing CD.