It didn’t come as a surprise when Sony announced some very exciting new hardware and a new website that is focused on high-resolution audio (HRA) last Wednesday at the Time Warner Building in New York. It was several months ago that I was approached by Sony about the possibility of associating iTrax.com, my high-definition audio download site, with their new site. After all, if you’re going to launch a series of new music servers that boast high-resolution specs and capabilities then you want to make sure that there’s some high-resolution content available to play in them.
This is a huge development for iTrax.com. The Sony site has direct links to four music services. In addition to iTrax.com, there’s HDTracks.com, SuperHiRez.com and Blue Coast Records. The content that is available from these sites is a mixed bag of qualities, artists and genres.
As you might expect, it’s up to the purchasers of the so-called “high-resolution” tracks from these sites to inform themselves about the “provenance” or the audio productions. As I’ve discussed at length, the likelihood that anyone will notice a dramatic difference in the sound of a “high-resolution” version of a particular track and the standard CD version that they’ve ripped. It’s not going to happen.
I’m reasonably confident that the real high-definition audio files that are available from iTrax.com (especially the ones that come from AIX Records) WILL demonstrate the a new level of fidelity but I’m not so sure about the others. Sure the tracks will be as good as the originals and maybe a little bit better but the real question is will that be enough to drive consumers to “high-resolution” hardware and software.
Most of the readers of this site know the realities of HDTracks. While they are undoubtedly the biggest “HD” digital music site and the have releases from many of the biggest labels, you never really know how good the fidelity is going to be of any particular track. The tracks are virtually all standard definition tracks (SD Tracks?) put into higher specification buckets at double the cost.
Blue Coast Records is Cookie Morenco’s label. She’s strives to produce really high quality records of acoustic sources for release on SACD and now DSD downloads. She’s been a pioneer in the world high-end music production for many years. Cookie and I have a great deal in common and I consider her a friend in this business.
But we have very different opinions on the best way to produce a great sounding record. Cookie records to multitrack analog tape, mixes and processes the tracks in the analog domain (with the exception of PCM digital reverberation) and then transfers the final stereo mixes to DSD 64 for release on SACD and downloads. Her roster of artists is not dissimilar to those of AIX Records…some celebrities amidst wonderful less welll-know artists.
So Sony has essentially hit the RESET button on the high-resolution audio business with their new hardware (I’ll talk about those tomorrow including the very exciting new HD Walkman!). It’s up the the labels to make available content that really shows off the new capabilities…if they don’t HRA may fade into the sunset again.