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As seen in Penthouse, May 1988:


by Mark Fleischmann

Cab Calloway blasts out of ceiling mounted speakers in a mid-Manhattan studio while dozens of audiophiles listen intently. What's captured their ears is not the latest digital-whiz recording, but a scratchy 78 from the swing era. Thanks to a new system called Trusonic, the music has an extra spark.

The brainchild of Shelton Leigh Palmer, Trusonic is a computer-assisted digital-transfer process for removing noise and restoring musical information in old recordings. At the heart of the system is an IBM-compatible computer program that analyzes soundwaves. In each interval of a thousandth of a second, the program makes decisions about what should stay (music) and what should go (noise). "It knows the difference between room ambience and record grooves," says Palmer. "It kills surface noise, pops and clicks, and enriches the overall sound."

Killing disc-generated noise is necessary for two reasons. First, in the days before tape, most recordings were made on fragile acetate discs. Second, remastering engineers often must resort to sources other than the original time-ravaged acetate or tape; they must go to "stampers" (metal parts used to press records) or to factory copies of the discs.

Palmer and his musical consultant Steve A'Acquisto did comparison tests for the assembled audio aristocracy. First they played reissues on CD or LP. Then they played old 78s of the same recordings with and without Trusonic processing.

In most cases the Trusonic version sounded cleaner than the unprocessed 78 and more vibrant than the reissue. Loud volume peaks -- on voices, on massed brass -- came through without halos of distortion. We suddenly became aware of musicians playing, sending a message from the past.

At least one knowledgable listener came away impressed enough to arrange further demos. Dennis Drake, chief engineer for PolyGram and veteran of many a digital-remastering session, calls Trusonic "a powerful tool. They have the technology. It remains to be seen how well they can use it."

Ironically, plain old human elbow grease may count in Palmer's favor as he and his associate, Clayton P. Knowles Jr., take orders for Trusonic mastering jobs. Says D'Acquisto, the problem with many remasterings is that they're done too quickly by people who don't care. "They say, 'Oh shit. I have to work on this old stuff again.' But to me, it's audio archaeology."

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