Metal Monday #21

If I were to do a post relevant to the holidays, which I would never do, but if I were to do such a thing, this is the song I would feature. There isn’t much to say about it musically, it’s the same song as ‘The 12 Days Of Christmas’ except the gifts are changed to objects that are stereotyped to metal culture.

A tattoo of Ozzie

Two pairs of spandex pants

Three studded belts

Four quarts of jack

Five skull earrings

Six cans of hairspray

Seven leather jackets

Eight Pentagrams

Nine tattered T-shirts

Ten pairs of platforms

Eleven black mascaras

Twelve silver crosses

The patience required to perform this song is amazing.

You probably think since its Christmas time, there will be no brutality. Well that’s where you’re wrong

@00:46

I like to imagine santa listens to this during his physics defying trip around earth in one night. After all, he is essentially a pagan god in our society worshipped by children until they come of age.

Happy holidays, hail  Satan Santa.

Metal Monday #20

It’s amazing how much of a difference the recording style can make to the overall sound. A typical “br00tl” sound has lots of gain and distortion to give a very dissonant/aggressive sound. To me, this is more brutal than any of that cliché standard sound. There is still plenty of gain and pedal effects, but the guitars seem more soft spoken and clean as opposed to in your face and distorted. Some people might find the different instruments seem to blend together more this way and it’s harder to understand, but other prefer this more atmospheric sound to the more articulate sound.

The advantage of this kind of methodology, is it leaves a lot more freedom for harmonics. DUN DUN DUN DUN chugging has to articulate all the notes in a chord simultaneously, while this more open structure to the chords allows the notes that fill them to be played at different times, or certain notes to change pitch in a chord while other stay the same. In a way, I think it does make it metal that is more oriented for the introspective type of listener as opposed to the head banging listener.

The lyrics are written as free-verse poetry, which goes perfectly with the open chord changes that are happening. The lack of repetition will be disappointing to anyone looking to sing along, so I guess it would not be very approachable to the average music listener. The song title is deceiving, I was expecting themes of science and astronomy and the inevitable heat-death of the universe. Instead, entropy seems to be used as a metaphor for convergence of our society and loss of individuality. There are lots of excellent vocabulary words, I admit even I had to look up the meaning of some of them. This clearly is not music that is meant to overwhelm your body with its driving rhythm and catchy melody, its music that was written with intent to make the listener think, people like me who spend too much time listening to it.

The structuring is divided by stanzas in the lyrics, and there are 9 sections including the introduction and conclusion. The transitions into new sections are the highlight of the track for me, there is no defined time signature or recurring rhythm, yet the group still makes it clear when a new idea is being introduced, without the listener being able to expect what is going to happen next.

BREAKDOWN BEATDOWN

A perfect example of the style I was referring to in the beginning of the post is this. It is much more articulate and aggressive, more straightforward.
1:52 for the part you are waiting for.
Do you see what I mean by DUN DUN DUN DUN? If you come up with a better way to describe it with text let me know.  This is better than most death core in terms of structure, but still limited to the word of cliché death core in harmonics and style.

I think there is some confusion in my intent of BREAKDOWN BEATDOWN. I do enjoy a good breakdown, but the real intent is to point out the difference between music that is for moshing/body movement, and music that is for listening. There is a different mindset that you need to enjoy this derivative breakdown oriented music, when you compare a band like Ulcerate to a band like Disfiguring The Goddess there is no question which artist is superior intellectually and musically, but DTG is definitely entertaining to listen to in its own regard. In other words, the first link of Metal Monday is to stimulate your mind, while the second link is to stimulate your body, if that makes sense.

Why It Sucks #8

In one of the greatest creative decisions ever made, Britney and company have decided to let Will.I.Am produce every song on this album.

The change is evident on this track. She certainly has come a long way since the days of ‘Oops I Did It Again.’ Instead of utilizing her soft-dreamy voice to her advantage, she has decided to go with a more aggressive-talking style. It’s hard to say that that is the reason this song is awful, since it’s pretty acceptable for rappers and hip-hop artists to do this same thing and it would be considered ‘intense’ and not degenerate to the style.

This is not that style though.

Let me preface this in depth look into the amazing display of talent by pointing out the beginning is literally 16 bars of 808 kick drum. There is that syncopated/distorted synth that that leads into the 5th, 11th, and 15th measures, but you can hear how Will.I.Am took the first 4 bars he worked really hard to create and then copied and pasted them 3 more times. The song is called Work Bitch, and it’s about how to get fame and glory you have to work for it. Yet I get the vibe that Will.I.Am did very little work on this song, and has a very minimal understanding of digital audio workstations, virtual synthesizers, and production in general. The fact that he even had the opportunity to work on any music as a professional producer makes me sad. If you listened to literally ANY producers work compared to this you can hear the difference. Will uses barely any modulations, barely any harmonic layers, uses the default drum kits that come included with DAW’s, and reuses the same VST over and over.

This would be like using times new roman as a font, every time, even when new free fonts get released. It’s like driving a 2001 Honda civic in a race full of 2013 models. Out of context it works just fine and gets the job done, but comparing it to other, newer innovations, it looks out of place and stupid.

How about those vocals though? After the aggressive talking section, Britney actually uses musical pitch, but she bases the ‘melody’ line on one note, and the note one octave above it. A note that is an octave higher is the same note, so really there is only one note, until 2:48 when the bridge happens.

If using one note and its octave is the most basic melody that can exist, then using a note and the 3rd, and 5th of that same note is the second most basic melody. You make the most basic chord that can exist with root III V, and these are the ascending/descending notes in this melody.
The entire song is based off of only 1 chord, the entire time. The only thing that is not a constant in this song is the lyrics. I have ranted before about how people really only relate with the lyrics and not the music (because they don’t understand anything about it), but here you go. This is why you need to learn. So songs like this can stop being made and stop being on the Top 40. This is why Work Bitch by Britney Spears (and Will.I.Am) sucks.

The Truth About Headphones

What even is quality audio?

How do you describe it is what I mean. We all know if something sounds good or bad (from our own perspective at least), but describe to me what some properties of good audio quality are without naming a brand of audio products.

Audio quality is in the ear of the beholder. Give the same set of headphones to 5 different people and they will all have something different to say about them. We are forced to make these purchases without hearing what they sound like first though, it’s a little unfair, but there are ways to overcome the ignorance of the average consumer and the marketing of the audio companies. Beats and Bose have us all fooled that headphones of good quality cost over $200, when often the components within $50 headphones are almost identical, with only the speaker driver itself being the difference.

Time for some audio mumbo-jumbo, bear with me.

Let’s look at how headphones work.

http://img.ehowcdn.com/article-new-thumbnail/ehow/images/a04/ld/8p/headphones-work-800×800.jpg

This is the most simple headphone design. The electrons are arranged by the processor of the source device (iPod, mp3 player, etc.) which travel through the copper speaker cable to an electro-magnet. The electrons react with the magnet, which then vibrates the speaker coil at the correct frequencies, which is turned into sound that is amplifier by the diaphragm.

 

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/85/Es_spk.gif

This is a picture of how an electronic signal is converted into air pressure fluctuations (sound).

 

There are other features that modern headphones include, and the manufacturers would like you to believe that their technology is brand new and revolutionary.

Noise cancelling was discovered in the 80’s and Bose started selling noise-cancelling headphones by 1990. How it works is simpler than you would think. First, there is an important difference between ‘noise-isolating’ and ‘noise cancelling.’ Noise-isolating is basically passive noise cancelling, which means the headphone shell is designed to be thick and completely encompass your ear to prevent noise from traveling through. Electronically it does nothing, it’s like putting your hands over your ears, it just blocks the sound. Active noise-cancelling requires some more components within the headphones. The headphones have a mic, or a number of mics, which picks up all the sound that it hears (that your ear would hear), but not the sound that the headphones are producing. Then there is a little processor that takes the signal from these microphones, and shifts them 180 degrees out of phase. What this means is, it takes the sound wave, the air pressure fluctuation, and inverts it so that the waves cancel each other out and you perceive no sound was ever made at all. This technology has existed for two decades and has now been implemented in a number of different ways. Some headphones always have active noise cancelling on, some have a switch on them to turn it off and on when you don’t need it, some just blare white noise to make it sound quitter (sort of like a library) when really they just make it louder overall even though it is easier to hear your music.

So when the box says ‘noise-cancelling’ make sure it has active noise cancelling with microphones, otherwise they are technically lying to you.

 

Let’s have a look at some real life products, and the ways that their marketing team bends the truth to sell you a pair of headphones.

 

http://www.beatsbydre.com/headphones/pro/beats-pro.html

“True noise reduction”

 

“Because Beats Pro headphones have heavily padded, pivoting ear cups, you get the noise cancelling effect without the need for power switches or batteries. It’s the real studio monitor experience in a headphone.”

So they say “true noise reduction” then go on to describe what noise isolation is.

http://www.engadget.com/products/monster-cable/beats-by-dr-dre/beats-pro/specs/

This shows that it in-fact does have active noise cancellation, which does require power from somewhere.  I don’t know why I had to look at an outside source to find any of this information in the first place.

http://store.apple.com/us/question/answers/readonly/whats-the-difference-between-pro-and-studio/Q2F9C9944JC4HDK2Y

Not a very valid source, but the confusion continues. Here it is explained that the beats studio have active noise cancelling, while the beats pro do not. Based on what beats says on their website, and the fact that the studio headphones require batteries and the pro do not, I am led to believe that the beats pro do not have active noise cancelling. Notice that they never SAID that they did, but they want you to believe that this lingo they created “true noise reduction” means the same as noise cancelling, which they use in the description of the feature.

http://www.beatsbydre.com/headphones/studio/beats-beatsstudio.html
notice the new model of studio beats comes with a charging cable, because active noise cancelling requires power. This is a really easy way to tell if you are getting active noise cancelling or not, since often they will use similar wording either way.

So why are the Beats Pro more expensive than the Beats Studio?

“Clear highs and deep lows”

“Beats Pro are made of steel and aluminum, giving you an interior sound platform more solid than most. That’s why you’ll feel the kind of bass that resonates deep in your chest when you play your music”

What?

No really, I have no idea what they are talking about, and I would consider myself well educated on audio. The headphones shell is made out of steel and aluminum. The shell has absolutely no effect on frequency response of the headphones. What is an “interior sound platform”? What does this term mean? Who knows, but I reiterate the makeup of the shell has nothing to do with audio quality.

Also, if it did, metals have very HIGH resonate frequencies, so making them out of metal materials will help reinforce the higher end of the frequency spectrum, not the bass that resonates deep in your chest. So even if this steel and aluminum was affecting the interior sound platform, which it doesn’t, it would not help the low frequencies, like they are saying.

So why are they more expensive? Because the materials to manufacture them are more expensive, which makes them also look more expensive. Is the difference in price between about a pound of plastic and metal $100?

All of these things are not my biggest problem with Beats. The problem is that they advertise their audio quality to be supreme. Well good audio quality is true audio. Ideally, a perfect set of headphones will perfectly reproduce the sound of the recording as it was mixed. The face that ‘Beats Audio’ does anything to alter the sound at all should tell you about their esteemed sound quality. Beat Audio puts all sound through equalization. Equalization is the altering of different frequency band volume levels in the overall sound, you may be familiar with simple EQ’s that tune the ‘high’ ‘mid’ and ‘low’ frequencies to your liking. This is what Beats Audio is doing, it is altering the sound that is coming into your ears to the way Beats thinks it should sound. Being the owner of an HTC phone from the era when Beats Audio was included in every model, I can hear first-hand what this mysterious EQ does. It makes the low end louder, and the overall volume higher when switched on. The thing is, this is what people THINK is good audio quality. Due to trends in popular music, the ‘bass’ has become the most important aspect of every speaker. Using their own proprietary EQ that you cannot turn off allows them to build off this belief without having to create larger speaker coils/diaphragms that can more accurately produce lower frequencies. Beats forces you to have a less true sound, which is what makes actual good audio quality. If you want true studio quality (true to the recorded sound), then don’t buy beats because you simply cannot obtain a true sound when it goes through an EQ.

I’ll leave Dr.Dre alone now. Beats are not the only ones who fill their product advertisements with meaningless garbage that doesn’t make any sense.

http://en-us.sennheiser.com/downloads/d3a25f7a03e97a4d2f9f48bc7354d7c7.pdf
This is a specification sheet that is supposed to tell you all the technical information about the headphones, for people like me. Notice that even this document has lots of pictures and focuses on the features without describing how they really work.

“Best-possible protection from outside noise (up to 90%)”
Really?

http://www.audio-technica.com/cms/headphones/939a5e9985fc5d2c/index.html
These say they get 95%. I guess best-possible does not mean actually the best.

“adaptive baffle damping”

Baffle damping is to prevent mechanical vibration, which isn’t a bad feature, but the word ’adaptive’ is what irks me. A quick google search reveals that this term is only used by Sennheiser on their own products. If I were to guess what the adaptive nature of the baffle damping is, it’s that it can baffle many different frequencies, preventing you form feeling vibration, depending on what sound is being produced. Again, not a bad feature, but this has nothing to do with the audio quality, like they infer it does in their first statement.

Those things being said, these headphones are much better than the beats just by the amount of extra components and features. I don’t know why a leader in headphone technology has to say deceptive things about their products on their own spec sheet, which shows that they are legit.

 

 

http://us.akg.com/akg-product-detail_us/k551wht.html

At least this has a very small spec section at the bottom of the page (labeled as “full specs”). To find the actual FULL spec sheet, it took a bit of navigating.

http://us.akg.com/tl_files/catalog//AKG/AKG/Spec%20sheet/Home/K%20551/Specification%20Sheet%20-%20K551%20%28English%29.pdf

“1-31/32” drivers”

“Powerful 1-31/32-inch (50-millimeter) drivers enable K551 reference-class headphones to do things that other headphones can only imagine. Music is rich and layered, while sound environments seemingly unfold before you no matter how loud you turn up the volume.”

Music is rich and layered. That really depends on the song don’t you think? A better way to say what they want to say would be that the headphones produce sounds at all frequencies very evenly, which allows you to hear the layers and richness in music.

“Real Image Engineering

Real Image Engineering is the science that fits an actual soundstage inside the space between your ears and the K551 headphones. With Real Image Engineering, sounds are huge and accurate, with an incredibly realistic sense of width, distance and depth.

Again, very cool feature, but very dependent on the audio you are putting into these bad boys. It won’t make a stereo MP3 file sound like you are in a magical realm where you are listening to the artist record right in front of you. If you are not sure what  stereo MP3 file is, its what you get form iTunes, Amazon, google play, Spotify, last.fm, pretty much every major music distributor uses a less demanding audio codec like mp3 (apple uses their own proprietary format that is very similar, but slightly better). What this means is that unless you are actually doing studio recording, or listening to something with surround sound, this feature does nothing. It’s a fancy way of saying “has 7.1 channels of surround sound.”

So what do you do? Even the legitimate good audio companies say superfluous crap to make you buy things, how can we believe anyone?

There are a few things you can believe, the specs. There are 4 key specifications that can tell you at least a little bit about what to actually expect from the headphones. They will always have some patented feature that they are trying to sell, but all headphones have these 4 properties in common and are defined somewhere on the products webpage/spec sheet/packaging.

Frequency Response (frequency range)

This is the frequencies that the headphones are capable of producing. Typical lower-end headphones cover 20Hz to 22000Hz. The average human can hear 20Hz to 20000Hz, and even less of this spectrum is used by musical sounds. Giving the range of frequencies that the speaker can physically produce is nice to know, but it doesn’t tell you anything about the harmonic makeup of the sound, which is what will actually determine the “trueness” of the sound.

http://www.jblpro.com/BackOffice/ProductAttachments/JBL_EON510.pdf

This is a spec sheet for a JBL speaker. On page 2 in the top left corer you see a frequency response graph. A perfectly true speaker would have a perfectly flat frequency response, but as you can see there is always some inconsistency due to the resonances of the physical components. THIS tells me what the frequency response is, not a range of frequencies that it at some level can produce. Since the headphones won’t even be using the ends of this spectrum most of the time anyway, it’s pretty useless to use a range of numbers as a gauge for sound quality. If you can find a frequency response graph (unlikely) for the headphones,  that will tell you what you really need to know.

Sensitivity

The sensitivity is easier to understand. The higher the sensitivity, the greater the change in volume per adjustment increment. So if you turn up the volume one notch on headphones with 100dB sensitivity, they will not be as loud as headphones with 101dB sensitivity. Typically having higher sensitivity is better, since it gives you a larger range of volume adjustment, but having sensitivity above about 105 will allow the headphones to operate at a volume that will (not can, will) damage your ears over time, so keep that in mind.

Impedance

The most useless of all of these specs, this is basically a ration of sound output to power input. Higher impedance (in ohms) means louder for less power. Higher impedance can be detrimental to the lifetime of the headphones if they have cheap components (see Skullcandy), but typically higher impedance is better because it is more energy efficient.

Maximum input power

This tells you the amount of power that the speakers will operate at. Again, higher is typically better, but this power is drawn from the device that is playing the music. If you have bad battery life on your music player, you might want lower input power.

So wait, none of these things actually tell me about sound quality? You are correct. Unless you find a frequency response graph, there is no way to know what will sound better. Ultimately that is the fundamental problem with trying to sell headphones, you have to sell a product that produces sound based on what people can see. If you over-complicate the information that you give about the product it will get lost in translation, so they keep it simple with flashy vocabulary and audio buzzwords that will appeal to the average consumer, without actually saying anything. What I want you to take away form this is that these companies are taking advantage of us as consumers. They know that we don’t know, they know we make decisions with our eyes, and they exploit this with the way they market their products. Audio quality is in the ear of the beholder, not in the words on the packaging, and without blind testing of two separate products it is impossible to distinguish which one has “better audio quality,” plus every person prefers their sound a certain way (see psycho acoustics post) so you get different opinions from different people. Just be sure you are getting a product by a manufacturer who has been distinguished in the industry and has features that you want. Good ‘sound quality’ means sound that is as close to the original waveform as possible, which then depends on the content, you feed into the headphones. Perhaps that is a topic for a different post.

 

Metal Monday #19

How do I move my body? What do I do with my arms?

This is the type of music you hear the first time and wonder if there is any rhyme or reason to it. Once you get farther into the song you will hear certain parts repeat themselves, it isn’t just the equivalent of mashing buttons in fighting games. The biggest thing that makes this seem so off-putting at first is the strange intervals and range of the guitar that are being used. There isn’t very many lower chords that could be described as “darker,” because of the diminished dissonance, instead there are many different kinds and in much higher octaves.

So you can look at it as very odd and awful, or very interesting.

Well let’s review what causes me to enjoy music, it needs to have interesting chord progressions, non-linear rhythms and of course, it has to have feeling.

Duct Tape Smile helps explain what the song is about for those of you who are having a hard time understanding what is being said. Fake smiles put on display for all to see, while actually living a depressing and unfulfilling life. The story is divided up in the transitions. Notice at :15 “smile for the camera” which is the first time we hear this theme. Then again the same theme repeats at :54, but this time he says “scream for the camera.” It’s a clever song writing technique that, through the madness of the instrumental sounds, gives it structure and shape.

For this week’s breakdown beatdown even I cringed a little the first time.

This is one guy doing all the instruments. One guy is responsible. There is an episode of south park, where Eric Cartmen sees Ben Affleck’s real parents who have asses where their faces should be. Cartmen finds after seeing this, nothing is funny to him because Ben Affleck’s ass-head parents are the funniest thing he will ever see. @4:58

That’s how this makes me feel. I don’t know if there is any other way to make it more br00tl, I think it may be musically impossible, to go more over-the-top than this. There is definitely an audience for this sort of thing, but I cannot take this seriously. Neither should you, just let the head banging take its course then never listen to it again.