Month: October 2011

String or Nothing

Comparing Classical 1: Time Curve Preludes

William Duckworth composed the Time Curve Preludes between 1977 and 1978.  And for a long time the only recording of Duckworth’s 24 short pieces for piano was by Neely Bruce.  It was recorded in 1981.


Then Bruce Brubaker recorded Time Curve in 2009.  This recording includes a work in 6 parts by Philip Glass followed by the first 12 preludes.


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Duckworth is apparently very pleased with it.  I wonder how he feels about the Neely Bruce performance, because the two are really quite different.  Brubaker’s version is slower and less demanding on your attention, and kind of softer.  This is particularly evident in the very first movement – the Neely Bruce version gets off to a flying start and the Brubaker version just seems to idle along – almost lagging behind the music, frustrating the listener with its dawdling.

However the relentless pace of the Neely Bruce recording is a bit fatiguing with its constant demands on your attention.  By comparison the Brubaker version is easier to live with, and though slower the music feels more organised, and communicates more effectively.  Overall I feel the Brubaker recording is easier to get into – I felt like I was holding the other recording at arm’s length a lot of the time.  They’re both awesome pieces of music though, and worth doing the comparison for yourself.

A third recording by R. Andrew Lee is out in October, which should make for an interesting third comparison.  Although his name isn’t Bruce, which may cause a bit of confusion.


The analogue fetish

About a year ago a neighbour gave me his vinyl from the 70s and a turntable with an Australian plug. They were moving and he didn’t want to take it with him.

Then my grandmother died and I inherited my grandparent’s vinyl as well as an idler deck – a Goldring-Lenco 75.

Lencos are sought after for refurbishment because they’re easy to turn into good decks by sticking them in a good plinth with a decent tonearm. The platters are heavy and because they’re idler drives instead of belt drives they have very good speed stability – poor stability leads to wow and flutter.

The Lenco will need some work, so for now I’m using the Project deck – but even that sounds pretty good.

More recently I decided to get a tape deck as well. I wondered about a Nakamichi, which are supposed to sound like nothing else. They certainly look like nothing else:

They also fetch silly money on ebay, and a tapedeck is hardly a sound future investment – especially as I’m not sure my tapes will still sound good. I got a sony instead.

Analogues vs digital

Vinyl has an occult status in hifi – those who prefer it will claim that it represents the original master more faithfully than CD ever could, along with a load of other myths. But there are several good reasons why budget vinyl playback is as good, or better than CD.

For a start, although turntables can suffer wow and flutter they will never have a problem with jitter.

I do believe that jitter makes a big difference – when an audio stream shows jitter it sounds confused, loses timing, just doesn’t make sense. That’s why making a high end CD player isn’t just a matter of digital to analogue conversion – the transport matters both in getting detail and reducing jitter.

Because analogue music doesn’t suffer from this problem, even budget turntables sound just great – infectious and musical, relaxing and easy to get into – music just flows. Even my tapes have the same quality although they’re limited in other ways, particularly tape hiss and dynamic range.

But there’s also another reason that vinyl – vintage vinyl – sounds better than cd. Take my copies of Diamond Dogs:

My CD release is the 1999 Virgin Remaster. The vinyl copy is probably based on the 1974 master.

The version on vinyl sounds muddy, crackly, diffuse. The CD is predictably detailed with better frequency extension and cleaner sound. But the vinyl sounds better. It’s most obvious on Sweet Thing – the CD loses all of its emotion. Somehow the remastering has squashed all of the life out of the original and just made it very hard edged, not at all soulful.

But is this effect really down to the music, or could it be the vinyl’s rolled-off treble that just makes it sound “warm” by comparison?

The Dynamic Range Database doesn’t have an entry for this album, although it does note that “Heroes” has lost about 4db of dynamic range in the 1999 master compared to the 1984 release.

There are a lot of good reasons to like vinyl – gatefold artwork, mechanical handling, the joy of digging through second hand stores – but the biggest reason is that some of the recordings just aren’t available on CD. It’s kind of tragic.


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