Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Now You Hear It -- Now You Don't

When I was a kid in Primary School, I had a few good friends whose homes I would visit from time to time to play.
I enjoyed music:  my parents were both good singers and my dad played piano as well.  He also had a record player.  It could only play " 78's ", but he had ingeniously connected the pick-up output to a nice cabinet-style radio set on which it was perched.  Most days after school saw me sitting under the dining-room table, which was quite close to the radio/record player, listening to one of my favourite Radio Serials.  Anyone remember Superman, Biggles, Hop Harrigan or The Lone Ranger?

At that time I was the proud possessor of a small collection of 78's - a couple of jazz numbers and 2 or 3 story records.  One of my friends occasionally invited me over to her(!) house to play records on her dad's wind-up phonograph:  no electrics here - the sound waves pressed onto the record's surface were traced by a steel needle, which caused a diaphragm connected to the needle at the end of the tubular pick-up arm to vibrate in sympathy, and the resultant sound waves were funneled down an internal horn and emerged somewhat louder through an opening in the lower front of the machine.  Volume could be controlled by adjusting two louvered doors across this front opening.  Close the doors - quieter:  open the doors - louder.  Simple but effective.
Not what you would call "Hi-Fi", but we had fun.

Two main problems with 78rpm records of those days, before the advent of the LP - short playing time and horrendous surface noise, compared to the LP record.  In addition, both the "needles" and the records themselves tended to wear quickly.

Fast forward to today...
I love some of the music and performances on those old 78's, and have in recent years been transferring many a disc to CD format, both from my collection and customers of my little business.

Here is a sample of a 78 side cut in the '40's or early '50's - Al Jolson is in good voice.  The disc was transferred on a modern turntable, with an appropriate stylus, at 33rpm, and the recorded sound file adjusted in the computer to the correct speed and pitch.  No other "monkey business" was employed...

Now for the same song, but with "state of the art" noise reduction applied.  It still isn't "Hi-Fi" quality, but surface noise and much of the damage heard in the "straight" version have largely disappeared.  Further work could have been attempted, but the result is quite satisfactory.  It's amazing what can be done using the right software these days.

Now, where did I put that Enrico Caruso record...?

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