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From Digital Pioneers, a thank you to the Recording Legends

Date: May 2020

dCS Legends

Ever since sound recording was invented in 1860 by a French printer called Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, there’s been a close and special relationship between technology and music. A decade later, for example, it was American inventor Thomas Edison who made the concept a more practical proposition with his ‘hill and dale’ groove cut into a wax cylinder, then as a spiral groove within a shellac disc. Magnetic recording tape arrived in 1929 when German inventor Fritz Pfleumer patented a system using oxide bonded to a strip of paper or film, then BASF mass produced it six years later. The microgroove LP arrived in 1948, then went stereo ten years after – and of course Compact Disc-based digital audio finally reached consumers in 1982.

All of these advances have progressively raised the bar in recording quality, and also slowly but surely made consumer music formats easier to use, longer lasting and more durable. For the first century of recorded music’s life, technologists battled with the rules of physics and chemistry to perfect analogue media that was able to store music recordings with ever less noise and wider bandwidth. Then in the past forty or so years, as the music world has slowly gone digital, the struggle has been for higher data rates – to produce digital converters that can encode and decode analogue musical waveforms with ever greater resolution. In this, dCS has played an historically important role.

When the company launched in 1987, Compact Disc was still in its infancy – and digital recording was a long way behind today’s technology. In 1989, dCS began supplying a number of studio pioneers with analogue-to-digital, and then digital-to-analogue, converters that ran at 24-bit resolution, rather than the industry-standard 16-bit. This increased resolution brought about a dramatically better signal-to-noise ratio and lower distortion – particularly at low signal levels where so much of the nuances of a recording are present.

Since then, dCS has constantly refined its products – and in the process set a number of technological firsts. For example, in the early nineties the company’s ADCs and DACs got 24/96 capability, then in 1996 the dCS 972 became the world’s first 24-bit, 96kHz-capable upsampler. A year later, the dCS 904 and 954 launched, updates of the 900 ADC and 950 DAC with world’s first 24/192 functionality. In 1999, the dCS 992 Master Clock arrived, again transforming high end digital audio by reducing jitter (time domain distortion) to vanishingly low levels. Twenty years later, practically all new hi-fi DACs have 24/192 functionality, upsampling and careful attention paid to clocking.

In other words, the company has been a technological pioneer in the field of digital recording and playback; its products have transformed the modern landscape by making superlative digital recordings possible. Reflecting this, dCS recently created on its Legends Awards to celebrate the role of leading content creators – the studio geniuses in the recording industry who have pushed forward the boundaries of sound quality. The year-long campaign is a way of saying “thank you” to these behind-the-scenes champions of sound quality.

The dCS Legends Award programme was conceived to acknowledge the outstanding efforts of luminaries like Bob Ludwig, Al Schmitt, Tony Faulkner, and Chuck Ainlay, Frank Filipetti, James Guthrie, Leslie Ann Jones, George Massenburg, John Newton, Elliot Scheiner, Mark Wilder, and the late Ed Cherney. It’s thought that by celebrating these industry professionals, dCS can inspire others to continue to raise their game by creating ultra high quality recordings – as well as thanking those who have pushed the industry forward over the past three or so decades.

At the first Legend Awards ceremony at the Audio Engineering Society (AES) Convention in New York, October 2019, Managing Director David Steven was there to present Bob Ludwig with a bespoke dCS Bartók network DAC. He adds that, “dCS is overwhelmed by the positive response that our Legends Award campaign has received from music professionals and enthusiasts alike. We have been working closely with the Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing to identify and tell the incredible stories behind a diverse group of legendary engineers, and plan to continue this effort through the remainder of this year”.

dCS feels that studio professionals – recording, mixing, and mastering engineers – who have strived throughout their careers to deliver the finest music listening experience, need greater recognition. They may not seek publicity but they do warrant it, thanks to the good that they have done, are doing and will do in future. Hopefully, it will help move us towards a world of true “studio quality” recordings that normal music fans can directly access and enjoy. In the past, huge technological limitations have held back the propagation of great sounding recorded music, but now we’re getting beyond this – thanks to the pioneering work of dCS Legend Award recipients.

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