Materialism at its finest

This article originally appeared on the now-defunct dbrmuz blog.

The Harvestor of Sorrow has placed an offer on this beautiful specimen, a Yamaha 1992 deck. Her pecuniary solicitation is pending consideration from the powers that wish they were.

Yamaha deck

One seller is offering 26 blank tapes for approximately $1 each when you factor in postage. Although it’s entry level normal position tape, it seems like a steal considering the items are boxed and brand new. Nonetheless, you could just buy the TDK D-120 tape which is still readily available at retail outlets.

TDK cassettes bulk pack

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Discounting

After an extended absence, the London Ebay sellers are again making available ‘as new’ condition Creative Zen recorders that record analogue audio via line-in to WMA files for convenient uploading to your blog. These devices have been refurbished by the manufacturer. Prices listed below include airmail shipping to Australia and a seven day warranty. Keep in mind that buying a new one with a one year warranty from the USA is still preferable. Unfortunately, no MP3 player is engineered to last very long because of technical obsolescence. Discounting means the refurbished models are less than half the price that my Zen Neeon cost secondhand.

The exchange rate has also improved markedly since Christmas. Take a squiz at the graph. On February 10th, Ben Amrany commented:

Since the turn of the year the pound has constantly weakened against the Aussie Dollar. With Australia pretty much recession proof compared to the ongoing issues in the UK the pound has weakened to a 27 year low against AUD.

Every device I own plays WMA files but the internet is clearly not so ‘accommodating’ of Windows Media. When uploading WMA recordings (which are created by the newest Creative recorders) to this blog, I can’t use the normal WordPress.com audio plugin because it only streams MP3 files. Worse, WordPress.com does not allow users to store WMA files even when they have purchased the space upgrade for some explicable reason, yet MP3 & Wave files can be stored. What the hell? Wave files but not AAC or WMA?

Solution? Store the files on Box (below right) which is supported by WordPress.com. Readers simply download the WMA file. Who needs Flash streaming anyway? Enough about the peculiarities of WordPress.com, here are some offerings.

$34 or $39
Creative Zen V 1GB

$37
2GB Creative Zen V Plus

$72
1GB Creative Zen V with one year manufacturer’s warranty

As per usual, this blogger has no affiliation with any Ebay seller, Creative Laboratories nor Microsoft Corporation. Windows Media is either a registered trademark or trademark of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries. This entry should not be construed as an endorsement of any particular model. Prospective buyers should carefully make their own enquiries. The longevity and build quality of new Chinese-made models may be inferior to the older models which were manufactured in Malaysia.

Clip Waikato NZ

Rewind button

Let’s hit the rewind button to Thursday, January 27th last year. Tropo from the Hamilton powerhouses ducted through along with the Auckland ones over two, maybe three nights coinciding with Tropical Cyclone Yasi. The original entry has been fully updated with two new clips added.

The broadcasts were received at two locations on three different antennas. In this particular escapade, we are using the 15-element FM antenna connected to the Yamaha TX-930. At times, the spectrum of the highly modulated local talk station on 98.5 MHz completely overpowered the weak DX, which meant an eight hour overnight tape recording was not overkill on this occasion.

The signals were adequate on the eight element FM antenna. Using the wideband antenna, I could only receive the signal on peaks for half an hour at most. In turn, the guys from Northland in New Zealand were hearing the powerhouses in my region for two nights. I know Bryan for example, was using a five element FM antenna. After this duct was spent, it was Sydney’s turn!

Icon by Dry Icons.

Editing compressed audio files

When editing audio from lossy formats, it is important to use a programme which does not re-encode the audio when saving your edited file. Re-encoding is also known as transcoding. It is like making a ‘copy of a copy’ and affects the quality. According to Wikipedia:

The process of lossy-to-lossy transcoding introduces varying degrees of generation loss… The key drawback of transcoding in lossy formats is decreased quality. Compression artifacts are cumulative, so transcoding causes a progressive loss of quality with each successive generation, known as digital generation loss. For this reason, transcoding is generally discouraged unless unavoidable.

The side effects are particularly problematic when re-encoding MP3 files, according to listening tests performed on the Hydrogen Audio forums. An enthusiast explains:

Each time, there was the same kind of distortion. It’s a form of ringing, very typical of lossy encoding, and which ruins the quality of background noise or ambiance. I was often amazed by the huge difference existing between the encoded file and the re-encoded one. I didn’t imagine that re-encoding could have such impact on quality.

Most programmes including Audacity & Total Recorder re-encode the audio! Whilst these are indispensable, it is recommended to use them to analyze your compressed audio only. This screen capture shows me doing the ‘dirty deed’, saving a purchased MP3 file using Audacity!

I don’t understand what programme I’m supposed to use! Explain it properly!

Sure. Here is a real example. I have a one hour recording of tropo recorded using my Degen DE1121 or Creative Zen which encode to 128 kbps MP3 and 160 kbps WMA compressed formats respectively. I connect the device to my USB drive and copy the file to the hard drive. I want to get rid of the static and keep the useful part of the file so I can share it on the blog.

Opening up the programme Audacity, I listen to the file using headphones and view the waveform to find out what bits are garbage (this step is optional). I make note of the only sections of the 60 minute recording that I want to keep. Let’s say I only want 01:30 to 6:45 and 15:00 to 24:15. Armed with these times, the actual editing of my MP3 clip performed in MP3 Direct Cut or MP3Splt. In the case of a WMA clip, editing is performed in WMA Splitter or ASF Tools.

Why should I bother with specific programmes for editing MP3/WMA files? Why can’t I just convert my compressed audio to a lossless format?

Is it true that you can simply convert the original WMA/MP3 clip to uncompressed Wave format and edit that file using Audacity. Unfortunately, this technique only avoids re-encoding if you never save it in a compressed format. Because uploading huge Wave files or lossless formats such as lossless WMA or FLAC is extremely painful for most people, I don’t consider this method really practical. You will still end up needing to convert the Wave file to a lossy format (re-encode) when you need to share it on the internet! However, this is an excellent technique for storing compressed audio on your hard drive. As long as you keep saving the file in Wave format only, this method will not induce any loss.

Do I need to worry about this if I record directly from my computer?

No. My understanding is that by recording directly to uncompressed Wave or lossless format, editing a file does not usually result in any loss of quality. If you are lucky enough to have your laptop’s sound card hooked up to your tuner to record, any editor will suffice. It’s not convenient for me to lug around my laptop every time I want to record. For this reason, I always utilize the convenience of recorders that induce some minuscule loss of audio quality (Compact cassette, Video cassette, DVD-RAM recording, DVD-RW recording & portable MP3/WMA recorders).

Free programmes to edit your Dolby Digital (AC3), MPEG2 Audio Layer 3 (MP3), Windows Media (WMA) or Ogg Vorbis (OGG) compressed audio recordings without re-encoding:

MP3 Direct Cut

Mp3splt for MP3 & OGG

WMA Splitter

ASF Tools for WMA

AC3 Splitter

This author has been professionally trained in live sound mixing. This includes recording experience (for broadcast) using early compression techniques such as Adaptive Transform Acoustic Coding (ATRAC). He has been using MP3 Direct Cut & MP3Splt for several years. Both programmes are extremely stable on an Intel Celeron 2 GHz laptop running Windows XP Home SP2 2002 edition. Asf Tools has been used successfully for several weeks. Feedback on the software cited (especially programmes that I haven’t fully tested yet) is greatly appreciated!

Everything Zen

No, this isn’t about an enjoyable Bush single release from the nineties. Definitely a more interesting topic, but sadly no. Also, the only thing I remember about Bush is that the vocalist married Gwen Stefani. Onto more pressing matters… Radio Geek has taken delivery of a Creative Labs Zen recorder. A cable and adapter are required to connect the unit to the rear RCA sockets of a component tuner, such as the Sony XDR-F1HD.

These particular models are from Jaycar. If a Jaycar Electronics store isn’t nearby, Dick Smith would probably have an equivalent. It’s worth mentioning that Jaycar is an Australian-owned private company. Unfortunately, they also sponsor the Bulldogs in the National Rugby League competition, but no-one is perfect! 🙂

3.5 mm stereo plug to 2 x RCA PLUGS

Available in various cable lengths

WA-7014
WA-7015
WA-7017

2.5 mm stereo plug to 3.5 mm stereo right angle SOCKET

PA-3502

or 2.5 mm stereo plug to 3.5 mm stereo SOCKET

PA-3532

Next time, there will be photos of the Creative Labs Zen Neeon recorder connected to the Blaupunkt Casablanca CD51 posted on this blog. In the meantime, this entry is hopefully better than nothing.

To connect the recorder to the Tecsun portable radio (or any FM or DAB+ portable) via the headphone socket, this cable only is required.

Lead 2.5 mm – 3.5 mm Stereo PLUG 1.5M

WA-7004

Weekend ducting from Taree

Both Coffs Harbour stations. This is the second time that Coffs Harbour stations have been received in the city.

Pt Macquarie station, 2MC FM from Mt Yarrahapinni.

These high pressure systems near New Zealand (above) also meant that Taree was heard via tropo at stronger than usual levels. Under every day conditions, these signals from Taree can be heard at weak levels from roughly 10 pm – 9 am throughout summer. The signals likely fall within the definition of troposcatter as the signals are permanent yet exhibit heavy fading, disappearing for up to five to 10 minutes.

Notice the cloudless humid weather (above). Permanent reception of the Coffs Harbour powerhouses was considerably stronger than usual. With the preamp, stations were 88 dBf on the Yamaha or 3 bars on the Sony. Without signal amplification, levels were 64 dBf and 1 bar respectively.

For overseas visitors:

Taree – Middle Brother site 490km / 304 mi
Pt Macquarie – Mt Yarrahapinni site 390km / 242 mi
Coffs Harbour – Bruxner Park site 329km / 204 mi

These cities are within the Australian state of New South Wales. All distances cited on this blog are calculated accurately using FM Scan. Please do not use the distances provided to partake in one-upmanship.

Clips of 2MC and 2CS will be posted next week.

Updates

The mobile bandscan undertaken at Clear Mountain on Tuesday night has been added. Enjoy!