Dr. AIX's POSTS — 02 August 2013

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I’ve just returned from a series of trips to the east coast. It’s really good to be back home. First, the trip to Detroit for the Jimmy Buffet/Jackson Browne concert, then the Capitol Audio Fest in Silver Spring, Maryland and finally a few days in Boston visiting my son (with my wife and daughter) who is entering his second year of graduate school at MIT. It was a mixture of business and fun…but great all around. I flew home yesterday and am back at my familiar computer screen catching up on things.

One of the emails I opened up this morning was from The Absolute Sound magazine which included a feature piece entitled, “2013 TAS Editor’s Choice Award Disc Players $2000-$10,000”. The list of units honored with recognition includes units that only play the CD format, a few that include the ability to play SACDs and one that extends the format list to Blu-ray as well. The description of that particular piece ends with the word “chameleonic”. Who writes this stuff?

In the world of optical disc playback, I wonder what the TAS writers would call a machine that plays every format of spinning disc that you can imagine (CD-Audio, CD-ROM, DVD-Audio, DVD-Video, DVD-ROM, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, BD-ROM) and includes music server computer file capabilities (USB Memory and eSata Hard Drives)? I know what I would call it…a true Hybrid Disc/Music Server. My Oppo BDP-95 and BDP-105 can do all of these things with stunning playback fidelity in both the audio and video domains…but it can’t make the list because it doesn’t cost enough!

I have used an Oppo BDP-95 as my front-end source machine of choice during every playback demo that I have given over the past 5 years or so. This includes the session with TAS Editor Andrew Quint, which he described as “quite simply the best reproduction of sound” that he had ever heard. And I will use it when AIX Records and partners set up the most expensive sound system ever assembled during the AXPONA show next April (more details coming…but the price tag will top $1,000,000). I wonder how many editors from TAS or other publications will take the time to listen to a surround system with a million dollar price tag?

I read through a number of the reviews and was dismayed for a couple of reasons. First, why would anyone purchase an expensive optical disc player that only plays a limited number of formats? In fact, most of the machines picked by the editors can only play compact discs, a format that is currently in free fall and shows no sign of having a parachute.

And secondly, what’s up with the language used to describe these players (or other audio products). Here are a few quotes:

“…a musically natural presentation capable of bloom, complex harmonics, excellent rhythmic pace, and deep authoritative bass that’s always easy and effortless sounding.”

“…plenty of boogie factor, superb clarity, sensuous mids, and lovely harmonic bloom.”

“…illuminating transparency of more expensive players, but it has admirable rhythmic drive, richly layered textures, and fine resolution.”

Do you understand audiophile speak? There must be a special writer’s school or a computer app that generates this stuff. Just what are “excellent rhythm pace”, “admirable rhythmic drive” or “lovely harmonic bloom”? I’m assuming that some audiophile readers are reading these descriptions and nodding their heads in agreement. But the writers are saying absolutely nothing about the actual quality of the sound.

I would fully expect that there are differences in the “sound” of these units but as I’ve stated in these posts before, if you reproduce sound from a Redbook CD, then you’re only going to get the potential of a 44.1 kHz/16-bit CD…nothing more (which admittedly is enough for 95% of the music you listen to). Any writer who says, “The resulting sound is exceptionally three-dimensional. The Isis also has an uncanny ability to retrieve low-level information that many players (and DACs) miss” is dreaming. Every compact disc player (even the $49 cheap models) ever constructed is retrieving the same words from the pits on the discs it plays. The electronics (both digital and analog) that deliver the reconstructed sound to the outputs can be crap or exquisite.

Don’t waste your money on a CD player. Get an Oppo BDP-105 with its Sabre ESS DACs and you’ll get a better machine AND you’ll have money to spend on content that actually delivers more than CDs can muster. Buying anything but a hybrid player in 2013 is a bad idea.

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About Author

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

(1) Reader Comment

  1. Welcome, Mark to the world of the audiophile, and of the audiophile press that sets the tone of audiophile discourse. I have been enduring the nonsense for decades.

    While I fully endorse your views expressed in your post, I really don’t suggest you get too immersed in it. It is enough to drive rational people to near-insanity. You have barely dipped your toe in it, I promise.

    But if you DO proceed on this topic, I will look forward to your posts with glee.

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