New CDs yay

September 16, 2009

Just got my CDs that I ordered from yesasia today. Only had a chance to listen to one of them though, Maaya Sakamoto’s Kazeyomi. Beautiful album and beautiful voice, very relaxing and soothing to the point that I fell asleep whilst listening intently. CD quality is pretty good too, can hear every little detail like the plucking of strings and the airiness of Maaya’s voice. Her voice is so beautiful and smooth and the music is well composed as well, it is very different to the Kalafina I was listening to before in terms of style.

Kalafina is more primal in terms of rhythm and more classical in musical approach, also the music seems to be more energetic in presentation. Maaya Sakamoto has this delicate refinement about her music and it seems that the goods are in the detail. All in all, 2 different styles of music both of which are awesome!

I will have a listen to the other 2 CDs probably tomorrow whilst I am working. Nico touches the walls “Who are you?” and Rie Fu’s “Urban romantic”. I shall see how they are in CD form compared to mp3.

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A little about Yuki Kajiura

September 7, 2009

I don’t expect many people to know, but Yuki Kajiura is a Japanese composer and producer behind many anime projects such as Noir, Tsubasa Chronicle and Mai-Hime, as well as being the brains behind FictionJunction, See-Saw and Kalafina. I was first interested in see-saw from their performance in Gundam Seed opening and at that time I had no idea who was behind the music, later see-saw also produced the song Akatsuki no Kuruma and that was what got me interested. It wasn’t particularly the voice of the singer which was so interesting but it was the mix of instruments and the composition which captured my attention.

Very rarely does a composer or producer become more famous than the singers, but in this case Kajiura has done it. FictionJunction, See-saw and Kalafina are all her projects, and she hires singers to suit each song’s needs. Her music is even categorized as “Kajiuran”, crediting her unique style of music which meshes Japanese with European sounds. The music she creates is more pop-opera, mixing chorus chants with violins and the usual pop instruments. She is able to sing and perform piano in her own compositions which is quite amazing since her music is quite sophisticated compared to your average pop.

At the moment I am listening to Kalafina’s album “Seventh Heaven” and it is so clearly Kajiura’s work, mirroring the style she used in FictionJunction exactly. It is a very enchanting style which relaxes very easily while still being exciting to listen to, the voices that she chooses are perfect for the role too, so soothing to the ear.

I have also been asking around and reading various things on audio and have a system in mind which should cater for my needs whilst staying within my budget.

  • cambridge audio 340C
  • cambridge audio 540R
  • Yamaha NS333 bookshelfs
  • Yamaha YST-SW515 sub

I will have to go audition this setup to make sure it is what I want, but I just hope that it will be the godsend I am hoping for. The speakers are the really important part, but the amp and player are fairly solid products for the price from what I have heard so the real choosing is for the speakers and sub. My dad runs an all Yamaha system and I wasn’t too impressed; good for movies but seems to lack something in music. Maybe the levels in my car and room are different, but I shall reserve judgment until I have listened to the proposed system.

Sound bytes

September 2, 2009

I spent a good few hours tweaking my car sound system the other day, and no matter how I tweaked it I found that something seemed to be not quite right. Originally I upped the gain on my amp and I got more separation (I define this as being able to hear individual instruments) out of my music but as a result, the tweeters were way too bright and absolutely dominated everything else. So I turned the gain down on the tweeters until everything was at the same level but then I noticed that no matter how high I turned up the volume, the sound seemed to lack clarity (clarity I define as being able to hear an instrument clearly, ie be able to distinguish similar sounds).  All my mp3s seemed to play with a more noticeable constant background interference after I tweaked my system. I didn’t really know why until I switched over to a CD. My CD seemed to play much better, with greater clarity and separation than the mp3 counterpart. It wasn’t until I read on the internet that I knew why I heard what I heard.

Basically, mp3s are lossy compressions of the original CD track. Take 1 song from a CD, remove the detail that the encoder thinks people can’t hear and thats how you get an mp3. To play back, take an mp3, insert some detail that may or may not have been removed in encoding and that is how an mp3 sounds. Basically, you are getting information removed and added in which deviates greatly from the original CD track. The noise floor is also raised in an mp3 compared to the original CD track. This is from mp3s mostly encoded at 320kbps and I was able to notice it, lets not go to any lower bitrate because I can only imagine the compression artifacts…

In effect what I have done by turning up the gain is amplify the usually inaudible noise from the mp3 to audible levels. It is true that I have also increased the dynamic range but the noise just kills the music. Another thing I have realized is that my car is probably not the best environment to listen to music due to the huge amounts of interference present. For one thing there is road noise, and then there is inadequate wiring insulation, also electrical interference from all the other devices drawing current from the battery.

I will need to go buy some CDs to compare quality between them and mp3s, but there are so many variables I need to account for that this process of converting to an audiophile will take a bloody long time and a freaking lot of money!

Random piano music + stuff

August 17, 2009

I found some random Japanese piano music (applique and akatsuki works) on a forum I frequent and was pleasantly surprised when I listened to it. It actually sounded like a score from a video game, notably sounding like the soundtrack for Eternal Sonata of which I have also listened to. I don’t really listen to too much instrumental stuff but this album is pretty simple and relaxing stuff which I need. My only gripe is that the tracks all sound too similar, with minor variations to differentiate one song from another. Can’t have too much of a good thing though… right?

I have also been playing a lot of Tales of Vesperia for x360 lately and I realized that the voice acting has improved over Tales of Symphonia by leaps and bounds unless I have gotten used to the dodgy (admittedly difficult) translation jobs that JRPGs are so well known for. There are so many subtle aspects of Japanese culture that are programmed into the game dialogue that makes series like Tales very difficult to translate effectively. The VAs also don’t really understand how to voice certain situations very well due to the lackluster translation in Symphonia. In Vesperia the translation work seems to be better done, making the VA more convincing and more likable.

All in all, not much happening in my life really, just trying to keep distracted from things I should be doing just because I can.

Music stuff + new songs

August 12, 2009

I was talking to a customer the other day about music, since he works in the industry as a sound technician and he was saying how he is needed less and less as time passes by, attributing the lack of business as as result of the move to digital distribution and the decline of live performances. I found it kind of sad that someone who was so passionate about their work would be finding themselves out of a job after so long in the industry. He seemed somewhat reminiscent about the past, how the only affordable way of listening to music when he was young was to go out to live local performances.

I feel a little sad about how people these days take music for granted. Music permeates all environments, walk into a shopping mall and you will hear the soothing (irritating) background music, go to work and somebody will have a radio on, get on the train and somebody is listening to their mp3 player. Do they ever wonder how much time and effort it takes to produce music like that? Or will they go home and just listen to anything which will fill the silence?

I have always found that there is something special in the creation of music; especially how you can arrange instruments together and it will typically net an improved result over the individual items. The insight required to compose music and to make the most out of individual instruments to create a finished piece is something that I can only dream to grasp. From that, of all 5 senses, hearing is something which I feel is the most unique.

People usually associate senses together: taste and smell are physically linked, you touch what you see; but you don’t usually associate taste, smell, touch or see what you actually hear (unless you are synesthetic). This is why I like music so much, because I feel that it is so unique. I regret a little that I didn’t learn any instrument when I was younger because now I have limited time and don’t have the same learning ability as before…

Moving on, I have been listening to 1 song for the past 24 hours playing on repeat and I cannot stop. “Supercell – kimi no shiranai monogatari” is composed by ryo and sung by nagi aka gazelle from niconico fame, her voice is so damn sweet I just love it, and the composition is fabulous, simple with only 4 instruments: drums, electric guitar, bass and piano. The playing of the instruments isn’t fantastic or outstanding but it is just the composition and gazelle’s voice which makes the whole song. Also because it is the theme to Bakemonogatari. I also have “Nico touches the walls – Hologram” which is awesomely rocktastic.

That’s about it for me today, poetry Friday will have a music inspired poem I think, we shall see what my muse brings.

It is amazing what we take for granted sometimes. Hearing is something that most of us are capable of but not all of us appreciate fully. I am not talking about musical taste because that is very individual, but rather the perception of sound quality and accurate sound reproduction. Being the elitist sound whore that I like to pretend to be, I like to think that I have a certain affinity to good quality music. I have no idea how I managed to “cultivate” this obsession, because I had never been a huge follower of music and SQ until recently.

When I listen to mp3s I can actually hear distortion and what I call sound artifacts, where certain parts of a song are muffled or where the instruments aren’t clear or are harsher than they are meant to be. I don’t know how I know that but I just have a feeling that it doesn’t sound right. Mp3s go through a process of compression, that is how mp3s are so much smaller than CD tracks. Through the compression there is a loss of audio quality because that is how the encoding process is. CD quality is as close to live music as you can get without going to a performance these days. And of course, you will need the quality equipment to listen to all this.

Your music is only as good as the equipment you listen with. You can have the best recording ever but if you listen to it through the earphones supplied with your ipod it will sound like absolute shit. I can tell you now, the best earphones will never match up to even a midrange decent sound system. Also sound processing is important when you want accurate playback, of which i find ipods are somewhat notorious for. The sound processing on those things are horrendous! I can listen to my 6 year old iriver and it sounds better than an ipod made today, with the exact same headphones! The difference to the average ear is probably not too noticeable, and to tell the truth I would have to listen to songs I am familiar with before I can distinguish the difference, but for what you are paying for it is just not right.

But when you listen to music through commercialised audio goods and then go to a specialist retailer you can just hear the difference. It becomes night and day and you wonder how the hell you ever listened to music through your old speakers/earphones. When I went shopping for my car speakers my ears were opened to the possibilities, after driving 15 minutes in the car with old speakers, then walking into a room full of high quality car speakers I will never turn back.

Do your ears a favour, buy some better earphones or speakers. When it comes to AV, when you haven’t heard of a brand then it is good. Koss and sennheiser are good for earphones as well as shure, these you might be able to find at a local electronic retailer. Speakers you will be very hard pressed to find good ones at your local harvies or JB, because that area is dominated by more mainstream audio which is at a fraction of the price. You would probably not be able to justify its cost against the perceived benefit. Decent speaker sets cost upwards of $900, for 1 pair. This would be more a floor standing unit with high and mid drivers plus a woofer, or a really good pair of bookshelfs. They say to spend twice as much on audio as you would on a TV, but in audio they say to spend as much as you would on speakers as you would the sub!

So being an self proclaimed audiophile does have its drawbacks… which is that it is a very very expensive hobby!

PS. on a completely unrelated note, here is an image I stumbled upon at work. Don’t blame me if you piss your pants laughing cos that is almost what happened to me at work today if I were a man with lesser bowel control. Image.