If At First You Don’t Succeed


By Steve Oppenheimer

(November 2002)

As the great W. C. Fields put it, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, and try again. Then give up. There’s no use being a damned fool about it.” Any creative artist knows that sometimes what seems to be a fine idea just doesn’t work out. If you’re lucky, while struggling to realize your original idea, you discover another idea that works better. In that case, there is no shame in putting aside the first idea and pursuing the new one. There’s no use being a damned fool about it.

This month’s cover story, “Bridging the Gap” (see p. 38), is a good example of Fields’s point. Initially, author Michael Cooper and I had planned to do a roundup of 96 kHz digital-to-analog converters. We looked at the available DACs designed for audio production, narrowed the field to a manageable number of products, and started accumulating test units.

Before long, though, I started fielding phone calls from a vexed Cooper, who was having a devil of a time coming up with a reliable, low-jitter, multitrack system in which products from different manufacturers interfaced properly, supported a large number of tracks at 24/96, and operated as smoothly and simply as they would in a lower-resolution system. Cooper attempted to get answers from a number of engineers and tech-support folks who worked with high-resolution audio. He found some answers, but many issues remained unresolved.

Eventually, Cooper started questioning whether he could — or should — complete the project as planned. Although he was well aware of new, high-resolution delivery media and understood the advantages of archiving a high-resolution original for future releases, he also knew that most projects are still being mastered for delivery on 16-bit, 44.1 kHz CDs. He wondered whether going to 96 kHz at this time was really worthwhile.

As he continued to test converters and discuss the issues with converter-design engineers, mastering engineers, and others, Cooper learned more about the trials and tribulations of 24-bit, 96 kHz production and how to overcome them. But many issues remained, and conducting meaningful comparative tests of high-resolution DACs was still a formidable challenge.

At last, Cooper called me up and told me that he had learned far more about the issues surrounding migrating to 24/96 than he had about which 24/96 converters performed best. Perhaps, he mused, the problems, solutions, and underlying issues were the real story. After some back and forth discussions to develop the idea, I gave him the green light. The result was “Bridging the Gap,” yet another fine Michael Cooper effort.

The studio world is inexorably moving to 24/96, and a roundup of high-resolution DACs is still very much of interest. But it’s wise to figure out how to make a high-resolution system work properly before leaping into acquisition mode, and you need to know you’re ready to make that leap. Otherwise, you may be setting yourself up for expensive frustration, and there’s no use being a damned fool about it.