I’m still around – there are actually 3 projects on my bench currently that are ongoing, and I’ll hopefully have a few posts in the next couple of weeks were I fix a Philco Model 66, a Silvertone 1708A, and a Westinghouse WR-8 Columnaire. Until then, I’m quite busy, so things are moving a bit more slowly than they otherwise might.
I bought an inexpensive aftermarket car stereo about six months ago, and it’s sat unopened in my closet until this past weekend when I was able to find 30 minutes and actually put it together. The process in my 2003 Honda Odyssey was incredibly simple – six screws was all it took. And now I have a great, brand new Blueetooth and Pandora-enabled car head unit!
The feature I already enjoy the most, though, is the HD Radio receiver. I’ve never owned anything with HD Radio before, nor can any of my SDRs decode HD Radio as it is heavily protected by iBiquity patents. Let me tell you – it’s like night and day. FM Radio around the Seattle area is always spotty for some reason which I’ve always attributed to the geography. Even a big station like KNDD (locally, 107.7 The End) pushing 18.2 KW of transmitter power has static intrusion, fade, and general sub-par audio quality beyond the normal loudness war audio degradation.
Every time I tune a station on this new head unit, it’s like an immediate A/B comparison between Analog and Digital radio. The tuner first locks onto the analog channel, and there’s some hiss and crackle and the sort of noise you expect from radio. Then the “ST” indicator disappears from the dial and “D” appears when the digital sideband locks in, and the audio quality jumps, the sound field expands, and the artifacts melt away entirely. I swear, it’s like I’m listening to a CD. Except for the commercials.
It’s just amazing. It’s by far the best feature on my head unit, because it makes the experience of being lazy and passive in my music selections better like night and day. Now the music I listen to when I’m bored of my CDs, sounds as good as the music I’ve put some planning into bringing with me. If you don’t have an HD Radio already, you should definitely get one.
One of my favorite bands, EVE 6, recently got back together after a multi-year hiatus and put out a new album. “Speak in Code” came out a few weeks ago. I caught the band on their tour through Seattle just before the CD release, so ended up having to order mine from the Internet instead.
I bought the vinyl of the album because it seems like a more interesting collectible than a CD, and while waiting for it to arrive downloaded the MP3s of the album from a non-BitTorrent download site. Just yesterday, my copy of the album arrived and inside was an unexpected code for a Dropcards.com Free Digital Download of the album! I went to check it out and download the files and got a great surprise – the free digital downloads were uncompressed WAV files. That’s about as close to the master as you can get without knowing the sound engineer who mixed it.
I wanted to see the difference between the purchased uncompressed files, and the less-than-legitimate free alternative so I generated two spectrum analysis plots (FFT) and placed them on a common axis. I used the second track on the album, “Victoria” which rated decently on the top Alternative charts.
On the left of the frequency plot, the “Inner Sanctum” release MP3s – the only MP3 downloads of this album I was able to find. On the right, the free digital download from Dropcards.com. As you can see there are some differences – both large and small. Click the chart for the full sized version. If you’re not familiar with an audio spectrograph, the vertical axis of the chart plots frequency with bass notes towards the bottom and treble towards the top. The horizontal axis represents the amplitude, or volume, of that frequency in the song. The further away from the center you go the louder the sound.
The MP3 track starts dropping off more sharply than the uncompressed track at around 12 kHz and completely starting at 19 kHz while the uncompressed track carries more detail in those higher frequencies and extends all the way up to 22 kHz. You’ll have to listen for yourself to hear the difference, though, so go and buy their album!
I might post a more detailed comparison later, with some more analysis points, if I can come up with an iTunes version of this track for comparison…if you have one and don’t mind sharing it for this experiment, get in touch!