06 September, 2002

Photographs and Phonographs

(Regarding some new software that basically digitizes music from an image. Got the link from Chris' site.)

That is amazingly cool, actually.

I mean, I can't see this becoming the "future of music", but for those who love the past, it could be a godsend. Consider the staggering number of vinyl records in existence. Now consider how many of them have actually been released in a digital format. My guess is less than 60%. Probably less than 40% for "legitimate" releases, but there are people out there carefully digitizing their old 78s and putting them out in the wild for people to download.

The biggest problem with this process is that for many albums, there are no masters. After 50+ years, it can be difficult to keep track of some of these things. It's not uncommon to hear a CD where the best example of a song came from an old record, complete with various hisses, pops and scratches. You can digitally edit these, and even attempt some noise reduction, but the quality always suffers.

Add to this the problem that every time you play a record, you're causing just a little more damage to the grooves. I don't know if this digitization process can be properly refined, but the potential is out there. You find an old album, scan it in (subjecting it to nothing more harmful than 30 seconds of light), put the album away, and then start digitizing.

I doubt we'll ever achieve sonic perfection with this process, and many great recordings are going to be doomed to crappy reproductions. But at least this is a step in the right direction in terms of preservation.


  1. i don't know what's cooler -- that you can actually hear the music in the scan, or that the guy's e-mail address is shorthand for zaphod beeblebrox.okay, okay. the music's cooler. imagine the sampling possibilities...

  2. Actually at some point there was a company in Germany, I think, that was building a laser pickup for records. It'd bounce a laser off the grooves and read that. Pretty cool, and zero wear. Unfortunately, it was like $40k.

  3. Yeah, I heard about the laser turntables. I thought the grooves were supposed to vibrate the "needle", which in this case would be quasi-nonexistent. The electronic approximations by a laser seem like a big hassle in order to play a record, but then again I know nothing very little about the topic.

  4. The key was to provide zero wear and tear, and potentially pick up more detail than would be available through mechanical vibrations (either moving coil or magnet). One of the biggest problems with vinyl is that they degrade constantly, regardless of what you do.