On this episode of Working, David Plotz talks to Google software engineer Nina Kang about what makes good code, and how many coders worked on Google Maps.
Fighting the loudness wars: Digital music engineering, particularly for radio-bound music, is often marred by a volume arms race, which leads to fatiguing, hyper-compressed songs that squish out the dynamics and textures that give recordings their depth and vitality. Vinyl’s volume is dependent on the length of its sides and depth of its grooves, which means an album mastered specifically for the format may have more room to breathe than its strained digital counterpart. The longer an album, the quieter it gets: Gonsalves played me Interpol’s lengthy debut album and a 12-inch Billy Idol single, and the decibel difference — without any distortion creeping in — was remarkable.
That warm vinyl sound: “I think this is what people like about it: it pins very closely to the way that human beings hear music organically,” Gonsalves said. “It’s very mid-range-y and very warm,” a sound that flatters the fuzzy guitars of rock ‘n’ roll.
“All-analog” doesn’t always happen: Many modern vinyl records are produced from digital masters, either recordings made natively in software such as Pro Tools or converted from tape before being sent along for mass production. When I visited Gonsalves, he was working on My Brightest Diamond’s new album — from his computer. But analog-to-digital conversion (and vice versa) has come along quite a bit since the birth of the CD, and Gonsalves says he asks for high-definition, 24-bit files to master from if digital’s the option.
Still, as artists and labels hop on the vinyl trend, some new vinyl releases may be mastered from CD-quality audio, not the high-resolution formats audiophiles and folks like Neil Young adore. Is a CD-quality album going to sound more accurate on vinyl than a CD? Nope. But it will sound more vinyl-y, if that’s your preference.
“There’s basically nothing you can do to make an hour-long album on one record sound good,” Gonsalves said. Vinyl’s capable of a lot, but only if the grooves are wide enough for the needle to track them properly. A longer album means skinnier grooves, a quieter sound and more noise. Likewise, the ear-rattling sounds of dubstep weren’t really meant for your turntable. “If you had taken Skrillex into Motown Studios, they would’ve said, ‘It’s uncuttable!’” Gonsalves said, thanks to the strain the high-energy music would put on the needle’s journey.