Recently I’ve spent several weeks searching for the best tango sound. This meant many hours figuring out how to get high fidelity tango music. It took me back to the time when I was a young audiophile in my 20s. At that time people were moving from vinyl records to CDs. A budget priced audiophile hifi system comprised of a turntable, CD player, a tape deck, an amplifier (brands like Yamaha, NAD or Pioneer) and a pair of speakers (mine were Mordaunt Shorts).
These days you can find these items gathering dust in second hand hi-fi stores. The days of much of this equipment are well over because nowadays the primary source of music is the computer and this completely changes how we approach high fidelity music reproduction.
While some Tango audiophiles and DJs occasionally use records the simple fact is that most tango music is reproduced from a digital audio file. So while we can still use a vintage amplifier and speakers on the output end, on the input end the source is the music player on your computer. That means that there are completely new sets of variables facing the tango DJ concerning the format of the music file, the software used to play the music, and the conversion of the music from digital to analogue form.
The first question concerns the format of the file. Computers play music differently from records or CDs because the equipment is different. Music in digital form has advantages in that it is possible to record more information than what is possible on record or CD. While CDs go up to 16bit/41kHz in resolution, computer audio files that can be 24bit/96kHz or more. So if the transfer from shellac or vinyl record is done properly then all of that information can be captured on a high resolution audio file.
The next decision concerns what music player software to use to reproduce the music in digital form. This includes the music player and additional filter software. The main problem with music reproduced on a computer is that, even when the audio player on the computer is ‘high fidelity’ the sound can be too ‘flat’ or lack some of the ‘warmth’ of music reproduced from records on analogue equipment such as tube amplifiers.
The good news is that the digital format can actually help us to reproduce the beautiful vintage sound that would approximate the equipment at the time of the Golden Era of tango. EQ and Preamp filtering software actually allows us to reproduce the sound quality of vintage equipment such as tube amplifiers that were in use at the time when the music was originally recorded.
Once we have decided on the format of the music file, the audio player, and the EQ/Preamp filters that give us a desirable sound quality, the next stage is the digital-analogue converter. This turns the digital signal into an analogue form that can be received by the amplifier and then the speaker. Whereas two decades ago we had an assortment of input devices such as turntables, CD players and tape decks, this is now replaced by software on your computer and the DA converter.
So in terms of hardware, most of the investment then goes into the DA converter, amplifier and speakers. These can affect the quality of the sound significantly. However, if the source of the music in terms of the original audio file, the music player app and the filters does not deliver a quality sound, the output hardware is unlikely to improve it. Ideally, the great quality vintage sound is delivered to a capable amp/speaker combination that creates a beautiful vintage tango experience. Typically, the tango DJ has the most control over the early stages of the process, whereas the amplification and speaker part depends on the venue. However, it is rare that the venue equipment makes the most difference, whereas a poor source at the computer end is more often at fault.