Title: Digital Audio Essentials: A Comprehensive Guide to Creating, Recording, Editing, and Sharing Music and Other Audio
Author: Bruce Fries, Marty Fries
Published: May 2005
Reviewed by: Dougie Nisbet
Review date: October 2006
This book presents itself an interesting challenge in that it attempts to present a comprehensive guide to digital audio in a book that isn’t the size of a brick. The authors do this successfully and the book is a worthwhile read.
The narrative is nicely pitched and soon settles down comfortably somewhere between a Dummies Guide and a dry reference book. The authors use simple elegant language to get across their message without sounding condescending or trivialising. They do not fall into the trap of presenting pages of space-wasting screen dumps and where they are used they are used sparingly and sensibly.
The book’s great strength is in astutely judging how much detail to delve into each subject. It does this in such a manner that each section can be read in as little or as much depth as desired, without any feeling that the narrative flow has been interrupted or that by skimming a particular section it will cause problems later. It is a well-paced book in the category of an enjoyable cover-to-cover read rather than a dry reference work.
The authors often refer to subjects that will be covered in more detail later in the book, rather than simply cross-referencing. This strikes a nice balance; you don’t feel compelled to jump forward to the referenced text that will be reached in due course anyway. This gives a good feeling of narrative flow.
Advice is always practical. For example, on ‘Purchasing’ the book explains the importance of satisfying your own functional requirements and the diminishing returns of extra expenditure. Chapter 2 gives very good advice on how to choose hardware sensibly and how to go about intelligent cost-effective upgrades without getting sucked into impulse buys based on faster processors and higher clock-cycles.
The section on Minimizing Noise (chapter 4, page 61) is well explained and practical.
I found Chapter 8 a bit of a stumble. An abrubt blast of technical talk that could be quite challenging if the reader did not have some background experience of audio. However, as befits the style of the book, you can re-read or skim as desired without spoiling the overall narrative flow of the book.
The explanation of Digital Rights Management and file formats is well discussed and illuminating.
There is some repetition throughout the book but this tends to be more useful that irritating as it helps consolidate earlier explained material.
On page 160 Linux is mentioned in the discussion of formats, but barely mentioned elsewhere where a brief reference could be useful. There is a slight inconsistency here as the authors make clear that the book is geared towards Mac and Windows XP platforms, so it seems a bit pointless making the Linux reference at all. But since it has been mentioned, there are several opportunities in the book where a short reference could be made to Linux without any need to go into detail that would allow the reader to explore further if required. For example, it would take negligable space to mention in passing that there is a sizeable range of media players available on Linux.
The discussion on Perceptual Encoding in Chapter 10 is very interesting and clearly explained.
I found the section on Equalization (page 237) quite hard work. Perhaps too much was crammed in here in too short a space, and a longer, gentler explanation would have worked better. However I’m sure a few re-reads would have helped too.
In the section on Noise Reduction and recording from vinyl, I feel the authors should have made the point in passing that in many cases it is worth checking to see if the piece of work is already available as a digitally remastered CD. Even the most enthusiastic hobbyist may find that the time required and quality achieved from transferring vinyl to digital is not worth the effort when a professionally produced CD can be bought for a modest sum.
The book is full of interesting nuggets of information just waiting to be stumbled upon. I was intrigued to read about the lifetime of recorded versus unrecorded CD-Rs (p. 281), something that would never have occurred to me.
The wrapping up of the book with an in-depth explanation of internet streaming radio was of little interest to me and was the only part of the book that I felt was covered in too much detail. I was left wondering who the target audience was.
On page 18, chapter 2, it might be worth mentioning that RAM upgrades can be limited by the BIOS or OS even if there are free slots.
The section on ripping (chapter 4, page 49) makes no mention of the perils of Copy Protected CDs. For a book that is generally very good at warning the reader of the pitfalls and legalities of ripping, this should be included.
The explanation on spyware (chapter 5, page 95) mentions always clicking on the ‘No’ button on intrusive pop-up windows. With an increasing number of adverts now masquerading as pop-up windows with dialogues, where the whole pop-up is a clickable link, it would be safer to click on the “X” in the top-right hand corner of the window, or even close down the browser entirely.
Normally the US bias is not an issue. However there are times where the authors could give a nod to other countries and terminologies. For example, in the section on Broadcast Radio (chapter 6, page 99) it would be helpful to explain if or where the acronyms differed from other English speaking countries. The section on Broadcast Radio should certainly mention the excellent advert-free streaming and “Listen-Again” services available from the BBC RadioPlayer website.
The introduction to the book states clearly that it is written with the Windows and MAC user primarily in mind, so it is churlish to complain that there are no references to other operating systems. However it wouldn’t take much more space to mention that software such as RealPlayer is also available for Linux (chapter 6, page 103)
A nicely balanced book that can be read cover-to-cover as well as being retained as a reference work.