About six months ago, a high-end audio record label, First Impression Music (FIM), told MAM-A that they wanted to work with a CD manufacturer that would keep the block error rates (BLER) on their titles way down. FIM was a blank disc customer of MAM-A, a company that manufactures silver and gold discs. The label inquired about whether MAM-A could replicate a disc as well, according to Lora Swenson, MAM-A’s sales manager.
FIM wanted to replicate Arne Domnerus Quintet's Jazz At the Pawnshop which is said to be the most reissued jazz recording of all time. The number one objective was to replicate the authenticity of the original recording made in Sweden in 1976. The digital recording was so clear it took out all of the background noise from the live performance. Perfect? Nope. For audio buffs, one of the attributes of the recording for years had been the hubbub of the patrons at tables , which is quite a bit louder and more immersive than heard on most live jazz recordings. "The better the reissue source and equipment on which it is played, the better the musicians on the standard are separated from the crowd sounds, and the more realistic presence they have," Swenson told EMedialive.
How did replication create the authenticity that FIM was looking to achieve? The traditional replication process can create uncertainty in several areas of quality control. Quality of equipment is unknown and there have been so many transfers of the music signal by the time the technical staff at the manufacturing plant is ready to replicate. FIM’s process is different.
The music file in the master engineer’s hard drive is uploaded to the computer of the glass-stamper machine directly via FTP (File Transfer Protocol), bit by bit, at no loss, eliminating two generations of transfer and lowering the jitter rate. FIM specifies that the average block error rate (BLER) of each disc is below 20. In fact, in most cases, the BLER is below 10. The Red Book industrial standard is 220. Therefore, the quality of FIM discs can reportedly excel normal CDs by 22 times. "We proved that slowing down the replication process, can really make a difference in the block error rates," said MAM-A’s Swenson.
Then there's the issue of aluminum versus gold and silver. FIM’s president, Winston Ma explains. The laser head of a CD player employs reflection to read the musical signal from the metal foil of the polycarbonate disc. It is well known that silver, followed closely by gold, yields the highest reflectivity among the metals. Aluminum is commonly used material because it is less expensive, but it is also less durable over time compared to pure gold and silver. In addition, 24k gold is an inert non-corrosive metal which will not oxidize over time, extending the CD’s lifetime. "Furthermore, gold, followed by silver, provides the ultimate in malleability, meaning the foil has a smoother surface and fewer pinholes, and thus more linear reading and less drop-out can be achieved."
"After our decades’ search for an ideal CD replication plant for FIM recordings, we are happy to say that, we were able to spot one, finally only in last year," Ma told Emedia. "MAM-A produces the best-quality CD products I have found--on par, if not better than, JVC’s which were widely known to be the best for decades. We constantly compare sound and quality control qualities of different suppliers. We have found MAM-A’s discs always sounding the best. On quality control, MAM-A is really very good. No one is perfect. MAM-A is one of the very rare manufacturers that can take comments seriously and make good of any possible defects immediately. I have never seen such quality services in my over 30 years of experience."
This first FIM project manufactured by MAM-A was a success. "Some reviewers actually thought this recording surpassed the sound quality of an SACD," said Swenson. While this was the first replication project for MAM-A, Swenson says the company open to doing more "special" projects. "MAM-A is in a good position to offer something different. We already have the targets here. A standard replicator that has aluminum targets is not going to invest in gold and silver targets because it is a big cash outlay, but we already have them on site to make recordable discs. So, it is very easy for us to switchover."
Perhaps the best news for replicators is that there are some people who actually care about sound quality and are not satisfied with what they hear on their MP3 players. Audiophiles rejoice!
Debbie Galante Block (debgalante at aol.com) is a freelance writer based in Mahopac, New York.