Digital Audio Essentials
Author(s): Bruce Fries and Marty Fries
List price
Publisher: O’Reilly Publishing
ISBN-10: 0596008562

TheoreticallyCorrect rating: 5 (out of 5)

A perfect primer and an excellent review book ...


I’ve made a spot on my bookshelf for Digital Audio Essentials from O’Reilly Publishing.

Bruce and Marty Fries are authors par excellance. Rarely will you encounter the fine points of audio so eloquently expressed. I’ve read several books about digital audio. Typically, as the author attempts an awkward explanation I find myself thinking, “Boy, if I didn’t already fully understand that concept, I’d be totally stumped!” There's none of that in this book! It's a perfect primer and an excellent book for anyone wanting to brush up, or cover details previously studied.

Although I have several years of experience with analog and digital audio, I gained many insights from this book. It provided countless clarifications, a host of resources, and it resolved many of my “never fully answered” questions!

O’Reilly’s Digital Audio Essentials should prove helpful for beginners too; however it’s a probably a better fit for those already at an intermediate level with audio. At times the authors use lots of music/audio vocabulary, so Digital Audio Essentials might be a bit of a stretch for complete beginners. Otherwise I found it perfectly paced: it presents topics in an orderly and logical manner, it escorts you to considerable depths, and most terminology is clearly defined when introduced.

The book reveals facts oft’ overlooked ... and I especially like its knack for clairvoyantly addressing questions that arise in the back of your mind. For instance, when it says, ‘Never attempt to remove dust from a vinyl LP with a dry brush,’ it explains that rubbing a dry brush on your LP charges the vinyl with enough static electricity to suck the dust right back to its surface—with a grip tighter than before — and to make matters worse, previously disinterested airborne dust now finds your LP distinctly attractive!

Digital Audio Essentials is 340 pages in all. I’ve read several chapters fully and browsed most of the others.

Music digitization is a topic of continuing interest for many people. To help convey the quality and depth of Digital Audio Essentials, I’ll provide summary of chapter 14, which is all about digitizing.

Digitizing Your Records and Tapes contains 23 pages of articulate and up-to-date audio wisdom. It’s packed with information vital for anyone new to digitizing music; this information is equally valuable to those interested in improving their workflow and the quality of their audio projects.

It begins with an interesting, detailed, historical account of the evolution of analog recording: i.e. Edison’s cylinders, the Gramophone turntable, shellac and vinyl records, and tape. It discusses the original analog audio format wars (yes, those began long before VHS vs. BetaMax) and it chronicles the eventual rise of the 33 RPM LP ... and the once ubiquitous cassette.

The remaining 20 pages cover various digitizing topics. There’s lots of thoughtful, sage advice and a list of things to know. Tips on preparing for analog recording: cleaning vinyl, choosing of turntable and stylus, demagnetizing tape playback heads. There also a discussion of noise reduction (when to apply) and a survey of methods for saving your work as individual tracks.

To avoid redundancy, the authors refer the reader to chapters 9 11 and 13, Digital Audio Format, Recording and Ripping, and Editing Audio. These provide a detailed introduction to hard disk recording, audio interfaces, editing principles, and editing software.

Other chapters include: an overview of music on computers, software audio players, music on the web, Internet radio, podcasts, etc. There’s a three chapter section that introduces audio terminology and concepts, file formats, and there’s a four chapter section on capturing and editing audio. (Chapter 14, jusst reviewed, is one of those.

This book is so good I almost hate to point out a couple of issues, but I found three in chapter 14.

1) The reader is told that they must remain nearby and attentive when recording from vinyl, so they can manually stop Peak — otherwise it will haplessly fill your entire hard drive with the sound the phonograph needle endlessly orbiting the LP’s final groove. (Peak is made by

Actually, Peak has a built-in timer. Just set it for the play time of your analog recording ... plus a minute extra so it doesn’t accidentally cut off too early. Then you can start recording and attend to other affairs. When you return, Peak will have captured a complete side of the recording and stepped automatically out of record mode.

For the record (pun retained), you may traumatize your stylus if you leave it circling the LP’s the final groove for long ... I heard this is the case So after all, perhaps it’s wise to stay nearby when recording from vinyl. However, when digitizing cassettes and the like with Peak, there’s no need to baby-sit. Set the timer and go.

2) The authors advise us to record an entire side of an LP or cassette into a single audio file. I agree, this far more convenient than performing a “record-stop-save” scenario for each song. Plus there are significant advantages in keeping “album related” audio within a single file. For one, it’s easy to apply operations to all tracks! You can more easily “master” your material because you can switch between tracks and audition them.

A “digitized album side” is a large audio file that contains several individual songs. However, if burned to a CD, or played in iTunes, it will behave like a single track that contains several songs. The book acknowledges this and provides a number of methods for manually splitting the file into “regions.” It mentions automatic splitting methods as well.

However the authors erroneously state that, if you want individual tracks, you must save each region to a separate file. This approach works, that’s true, but it’s time consuming, and it overlooks a great feature in Peak called PlayLists.

A Peak playlist is simply a collection of regions.

You can burn CDs directly from Peak’s PlayList window. Additionally you can customize the playback order of the regions you’ve defined, omit various regions, setgain, and set gaps between tracks. Using V-Box (a provided plug-in) you can add effects such as equalization, reverb, and noise reduction ... all on a “per track” basis!

Then you can burn your play list directly to a CD, with effects if you wish. Alternately, with a single click you can export a series of individual files to the audio file format of your choice: Wav, AIFF, MP3. You can also save to JAM image file. You can always “bounce” the effects to make them permanent.

Yet none of these actions effect your original digital recording! In digital audio terms, this is called non destructive manipulation. Therein lies the beauty of Playlists — they handle all these effects and choices on the fly. And you can create multiple Playlists that you can use with a single audio document, essentially remastering the original.

3) The only other omission I encountered pertained to stereo system hookup. On stereo systems or music players without “line out” or “record out,” you can run a cable from the headphone jack to the input of your audio interface or sound card. Granted, this routes the signal through the headphone amp, which may generate some noise, so if you have a line-level output or “record out,” use it. In a pinch remember that you can tap the signal from any headphone jack. If the signal is too hot, simply lower your stereo system’s or audio player’s volume, or lower the input volume on your audio interface.

4) Assuredly, Recording and Ripping (Chapter 11) was an overly ambitious undertaking, resulting in fairly a weak presentation. But then, how could anyone do justice to such a broad topic in just 13 pages? I don’t doubt the author’s opinions, rather I wish they’d provided a few more scenarios. That would have added a sense of the vast range of possibilities.  On the other hand Chapter 13, Editing Audio, is a shining example of how much ground good authors can quickly cover.

I highly recommend this title for its overall clarity, its friendly non-nonsense tone, and the wealth of information presented.

John Blasquez




Page last updated: 08-29-2007