Audio

This page was last modified on 10 March 2013

Recordings on YouTube

On 6 March 2011 I tried creating a uni-framed video with a soundtrack that comprised the actual audio I wished to publish, and uploaded it to YouTube. This method seemed quite satisfactory so I have adopted this method for future audio clips (and re-publication of old ones).

Please switch on Annotations to see a textual commentary as the clip progresses.

Introduction to the sound-effects

I am a musician, and am perhaps more inclined than some to recognise and enjoy some of the many sounds to be heard in everyday life. For instance, I find that memories need not just be represented by photographs: sound-recordings can instantly transport a person (whose eyes are closed, for best results!) to the situation where the recording was made. Several of you (mostly from “across the pond” in the USA) have written to me to comment on how my recordings of the London Underground brought memories of a not-so-recent visit to London flooding back to you.

As a young child I used to mess around with a beaten-up (1) Sony Cassette-Corder; at the suggestion—and with the guidance—of my brother I took it along when my parents went to use a large astronomical telescope on a mountain in California (which, being ancient, made many interesting and distinctive noises) for the last time. Pretty soon I was making various other home-made tapes, including covert recordings entitled Mealtimes with Granny (!) and such-like, which have proved surprisingly entertaining (and revealing!) in their own way, decades later.

One thing led to another, and in late April 1998 I bought a MiniDisc recorder with the specific aim of making better-quality recordings of the “Hastings” DEMU (see the Hastings Diesels Ltd website). My MD-recorder soon got used for recording many other types of sounds (see, for instance, my Concorde page!).

This page was created early on, as a place to share some of my earliest recordings that were made when my new “toy” was indeed new. The sound-clips section is very much in need of overhaul and updating of content, but I hope you will find something there to whet your appetite. There are now a couple of recordings on YouTube which may be more encouraging.

The nitty-gritty

All of these recordings were taken by me using a Sony MZ-R30 MiniDisc player/recorder, on Sony or Maxell 74-minute re-recordable MiniDiscs. For the majority of the recordings, I used a Sony stereo electret active microphone, the ECM-MS907 (which was spuriously and wrongly marketed as being “digital”); I’ve been extremely impressed with the quality of its work, and would heartily recommend it to anyone in spite its fairly high cost. For the first three of the old set of sound-clips, I was using a 1970s passive condenser mic, as my new mic took a long time to arrive (end of May 1998).

MiniDisc technology, into which I bought in 1998/9, was soon supplanted by the iPod, and subsequently made quite redundant by the advent of solid-state recording devices. You just wouldn’t choose to record—using a quietly-whirring machine!—onto a 74-minute magneto-optical disc (even with excellent jog-protection) in a non-PCM proprietary lossy format nowadays: not when you can record much greater amounts of data silently in PCM format onto internal flash memory or SD card whence it can be transferred straight to other computers! Solid State Sound looks like a good starting-point for investigating solid-state audio recording devices. Nowadays the ubiquitous iPhone will play many hours of CD-quality audio and, with the addition of a proper microphone it appears that it could record it well too.

In spite of the somewhat cumbersome means by which MiniDisc audio is extracted to computer, the quality of the MiniDisc recordings is very high— the YouTube-hosted recordings should demonstrate that. MiniDisc’s ATRAC lossy encoding is not noticeable to me (or perhaps the artefacts just haven’t been pointed out to me yet). The old set of recordings is of greatly reduced quality but this is entirely because of being down-sized very lossily to cater for the low bandwidths available in 1999.

The old set of sound-files originally assembled here was created one afternoon in 1999, and the content hadn’t been seriously worked on since until recently (see YouTube section). As the University of Kent’s PCs didn’t carry RealPlayer G2, far less RealEncoder, I used Mike Balsom’s computer (using RealProducer G2); so my thanks goes to him for that. All of the clips were encoded at 32.1kB/s (mono). Bleuuurghhh! I suppose it’s a snapshot of how consumer-grade computers were at the time that the above was considered quite normal…

Compilation CD-R

A few people have expressed an interest in having me make an audio cassette containing a wider selection of, for instance, Northern Line sounds or DEMU noises; since September 2003 I’ve been promising in principle to create a compilation CD-R (it could equally be made available on cassette or MD if required). It would be no trouble to make several like it—so email me if this tickles your fancy. (PS: There’s a dozen or so of you who are clamouring for this—please bear with me, these things happen on almost-geological timescales!)

Lots to do

Making progress…

Since creating this page I have recorded many fantastic noises (thunderstorm, DEMUs at East Croydon, Doleham and Ore; Hastings unit on tour; lots of good stuff from the Northern Line; Leyland Leopard coach in preservation; Lend-Lease rail-joints near Chilham in a 4-CIG; to name but a few).

I have also been slowly gathering knowledge, understanding, and (working!) equipment & software to allow me to get on with producing both this section of the website, and the compilation-CD:

In 1999 I purchased a Sony MDS-JE530 MiniDisc deck; in February 2004 I finally had a desktop computer that behaved itself (don’t ask); and in July 2004 I tracked down the (ludicrously expensive! 65 for a wire with a transducer on one end!) Edirol UA-1D optical-to-USB audio hookup lead, allowing me to take the optical output of my MiniDisc deck and feed it into my computer via USB. This helps guarantee that I’m producing the best quality (as there is no Digital-to-Analogue conversion and subsequent re-sampling to Digital). And in November 2006 I got a 250GB HDD to give me space on the desktop computer for the MiniDisc samples. However, still I lacked computing-power and available time/energy.

By 2011, I have no excuses (barring time/energy!): computing-power is amply sufficient (MacBook Pro); I have the Mac-compatible Cakewalk UA-1G USB audio interface (Roland’s successor to the UA-1D); there is well over a Terabyte of external HDD-storage at my disposal; and I use Audacity (the excellent free, open-source, cross-platform sound-editor). The rise to prominence of YouTube as a suitable means of publishing streams of audio/video material resolves issues surrounding bandwidth/quality.

We do now have the first such clips published, see above.

Plans for the future

The existing sound-clips will be re-sampled from the MiniDiscs at CD quality, and published via YouTube. Thus we can all be rid of RealPlayer (hurrah!).

Compilation CD-R

Once the clips are sampled, it’s a relatively minor matter of choosing & editing the clips required to assemble the relevant compilation. I remain committed to making progress with this project: it’s still just a question of time. Thanks for bearing with me; messages of support, or of change-of-address/lack-of-interest/death, et cetera, are always appreciated! <grin>

2007 April 23

Playing the (old) files

These old files are in RealAudio format; the free RealPlayer can be downloaded from http://www.real.com/player/.

I’m sorry: I’m well aware that RealPlayer is a ghastly application that few would choose to use. I wouldn’t wish to force listeners to use it but I’m afraid that, just for the time being, this is what there is! But one day soon this should change… I have some plans for the future of this page.

This page is hosted at the server, but the sound-files themselves remain hosted at Angelfire to avoid my having to pay for your bandwidth-usage. Therefore, to select and hear the sounds please go to the sounds media page hosted at Angelfire, where the sound-files are.

The (old) sound-clips

Please go to the sounds media page to select and listen to the sound-clips.

(1) – Well, it was once I’d got my grubby little hands on it!