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Feb 26, 2003

Well today I got to spend some time listening to Alvin Foster’s audio setup (dipole/line array ribbons with 4 15-inch subs). I think it goes without saying that I was blown away. My prior experience with ribbons has been mixed, but his speakers opened my eyes. They were apparently custom-built for him. I brought over some of my CD’s and we just spent time listening. One thing I will note - his system is so good, it was immediately apparent just how badly most CD’s are mastered. Not just pop music, even classical CD’s. Most of the CD’s we listened to had no headroom, and lots of clipping - both of which could be verified by the spectrum analyzer and Lissajou display he has coupled inline with his system.

We had discussions about the state of CD recording today. One thing is clear: before we start looking at 24bit/96kHz CD’s, how about we get the 16bit/44.1kHz format correct first?

FYI, it turns out that my Empire Strikes Back soundtrack CD (from the Star Wars Trilogy boxset), the Return of the Jedi SE soundtrack CD, and the Titanic soundtrack CD were the best performers out of the dozen or so CD’s we tried. The pop CD’s (Janet, Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, EPMD, a few others) were the worst, but I’m sure that comes as no surprise. As Alvin put it: “we buy the CD’s despite the recording quality because we like the music.” Sad but true.

Finally: a DIY list member recently brought up the topic of having a get-together in the North East. Since I was meeting with Alvin, I asked if the BAS would be willing to host and meeting, and he seemed excited to do one, probably at a BAS member’s home. Preliminary plans are to have it during the BAS June or July meeting. If you’re interested in coming, drop me a line. Stay tuned for further details.

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Feb 16, 2003

The members of the press have a hard job - they need to be “knowledgeable” about a lot of subjects… but then there are times you just can’t help but to cringe when you watch a news broadcast. Fox 25 (in Boston) ran a blurb on thier 10:00pm newscast about hearing loss. In particular, they focused on how everday activities may be exposing people to high noise levels that can lead to progressive hearing damage. So far so good.

They try to emphasize the point by following a representative from the Deafness Research Foundation around Boston with a Radio Shack sound level meter (“decibel meter” in TV parlance). That’s when the queasy feeling starts to set in. I suppose I can ignore the fact they seem to be reading linear decibels (here’s a hint: 150 dB at 30kHz ain’t going to do squat to damage your hearing). But the newscast then shows the representative making a noise measurement in gusting winds, with no windscreen in sight! Later on, the newscast gives typical levels for normal activities including 100 dB for the interior of a car with the radio on, and 140 dB (presumably linear dB) for rock concerts. Uhhh, no. Not even close.

The message is important, and I’m glad the DRF and the local news are trying to spread the word. But please, try to get the facts correct!

By the way, the DRF link above has some pretty good information. Unfortunately, it also has some misleading information, but like I said, they should be commended for fighting the good fight.

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Feb 14, 2003

Another big shocker in Boston Area transportation: the state has halted work on the MBTA Greenbush commuter rail line (link will likely change in a day or so). For those who don’t know, the Greenbush line is a part of the Central/Artery Tunnel mitigation, and has been beset with controversy. If you want to read more, you can read the Greenbush FEIR on the MBTA’s website (full disclosure: I worked on the noise & vibration section, but this article is not based on “insider” knowledge).

The Greenbush line was also controversial because of its increasing price tag over the years. When the project was proposed back in the 1980’s, the cost estimate was around $20-30 million. The current estimate is $500 million. The project has been delayed due to a variety of factors, including several lawsuits. The price tag has also increased due to inflation, higher property values, the addition of a tunnel through Hingham Square, and various other items.

I know people tend to get upset when they see the costs of large public works projects like this balloon out of control, but to some extent, that is part of building large projects. A paper given at TRB goes into these items in detail. It seems as though a major reason we see cost increases is because the project “definition” constantly changes in a vain effort to appease all of the various special interests. Everytime a project makes a change, the designers, the engineers, the architects, the consultants, the public affairs people, the environmental analyists (including the noise & vibration guys) and so one have to spend labor hours to update their work. And that costs money.

Think about that the next time you demand a change in a project at a public meeting. Most political-types are willing to bend over backwards to make you happy, but in the end, it will cost you.

The alternative is to be like the Chinese I suppose. One of the reasons their maglev program was built so quickly was because they didn’t bother to waste times with <sarcasm>silly items like an environmental review</sarcasm>.

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Feb 12, 2003

Thanks to the Boston AES and Goodwin’s High End in Waltham MA, I got to listen to a $300k stereo system made up of Wilson Audio Watt/Puppy’s, Sophias, and Maxx’s. All I can say is:


‘Nuff said on that topic.

On another topic, Sony’s electronics division is at war with its entertainment division. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. But maybe there is a ray of hope: “Some day, [Sony head of new technology Fred Ehrlich] concedes, online music will offer the same flexibility you get with a CD - you’ll be able to keep it forever and play it anywhere. ”

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Feb 08, 2003

The Boston AES hosted a presentation by Dr. Joseph Pompei, who created the Audio Spotlight. I couldn’t attened because I was in Washington D.C. for the TRB annual meeting, but the BAES has a summary of the presentation. I wish I could have been there.

In other news, Wednesday February 5 2003 was my last full time day at HMMH. I’m going to be doing some parttime work so I can close out one of my projects, but after that, it’s me against the world. Should be interesting.

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Feb 01, 2003

Just woke up to the news that the space shuttle Columbia has broken up over central Texas. I remember waking up early to see the first launch of Columbia in 1981. I feel like I’ve lost a friend.

NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe: “the investigation that we have just launched will find the cause, we’ll fix it, and then we’ll move on”

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