Dr. AIX's POSTS — 24 October 2013

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I attended a meeting on Tuesday morning of the Audio Board of the Consumer Electronics Association. Thanks to Ray Kimber of Kimber Cables, I’ve been part of this group for about 5 years or so. The board is made up of representatives from consumer electronics companies, chip manufacturers and a few others. I believe that I’m the only board member that produces content…the raw materials that the others process and playback. As a result sometimes I’m the outsider of the group and other times it makes me special. The board has regular conference calls and one or twice a year we manage to get together in person. Tuesday’s board meeting provided an opportunity to meet face to face during the CEA Industry Forum. I didn’t have time to do the whole three days, but I’m glad that the Forum was in Los Angeles and that I had the time on Tuesday to attend.

Of the major items on the agenda was a presentation and discussion of the High-Resolution Audio initiative that the DEG (Digital Entertainment Group) and the CEA are planning for the 2014 CES Show. Marc Finer, a veteran of the consumer electronics industry and a friend, displayed his power point deck all about HRA. Yep, HRA is the name for the next generation of audio fidelity chosen by the DEG and others. Visitors to this web site might properly assume that I prefer HD-Audio. In fact, I have written about the naming and branding issue previously ().

Do you think HRA is the right moniker for the next level of audio fidelity? I would have preferred to stick with HD but my vote doesn’t really count for much in the face of the CEA, SONY and others. But a quick look around the web and one quickly realizes that there are lots of technology companies and websites that haven’t really gotten the message.

HDTracks, the biggest provider of so-called “high-resolution” music downloads uses a tag line that states, “The Ultimate Site for High-Res Music Downloads”, so they’ve got both “HD” and “high-resolution” covered at least in their branding. There are several new sites that lean towards the HRA branding. The new ProStudioMasters.com site refers to “high-resolution” audio throughout the site’s pages but it seems most of the content is standard definition having been recorded on analog tape. Acoustic Sounds new site, SuperHiRez.com skews things in another direction. They’re pitching HiRez files that come from older analog masters…and they spell resolution with a “z”.

DTS’s codec for Blu-ray discs is called “DTS-HD”, which is described as a high-resolution audio format. Intel’s Azalia program refers to the specification released by the company over a decade ago for delivering High-Definition Audio (I provided Intel 30,000 DVD-Audio discs for that effort). I still vote for HD-Audio.

I’ve been trying for years to get a reasonable definition of what is and what isn’t a high-resolution or high-definition audio file and practically speaking don’t see any chance of that happening in the new DEG and CEA initiatives. Whatever it is that we’re trying to market it will fall under the HRA umbrella. Consumers will have no additional information on the provenance, which master was used in the transfer to digital, whether the master was equalized or not and whether the digital version of the product they purchase for $20-30 or more has been subjected to some fancy algorithm that “improves” the fidelity of the music.

The new iTrax.com site will include all of this information. I’m working very hard to secure new label relationships that will expand our catalog. My plan is to include standard definition recordings AND to clearly identify them for what they are. Stand by.

When the meeting was over, Leslie Ann Jones (a prominent audio engineer, leader in the NARAS Producers and Director of Music Recording and Scoring at Skywalker Sound) came over to me. It’s been a while since we’ve chatted but we had good conversation about some of these issues. We’ve been friends for a very long time and I look forward to pushing an agenda of my own that might…just might…result in some clarity in the messaging of HRA. Time will tell.

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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.

(6) Readers Comments

  1. I am disappointed to hear that your fellow board members do not realize that they will face an uphill battle to introduce yet another moniker in the already crowded, and confusing, world of audio quality definition. I completely agree with you that the term “HD Audio” has a far greater chance of quickly becoming part of everyday conversation and that there will immediately be general understanding of what it means. The definition, no pun intended, of what constitutes HD Audio is another matter though today anything that is a CD quality could be considered due to the substantial consumption of low bandwidth streaming and content distribution services by the vast majority of audio listeners.

    Leverage the general public’s understanding of an already established term, HD, and add audio to it, then you can focus on the definition, along points on a scale, of the term. I also suggest at the high end you use the term “Ultra HD” as that is logically understood as being better than HD.

    Best wishes in your continuing quest to tantalize our auditory senses with the best that we can hear.

  2. A few months ago, I downloaded Crosby, Stills, and Nash and Tea for the Tillerman by Cat Stevens from HD-Tracks. These had been favorites for decades and my record albums were long-since gone, plus there were some very nice reviews of the downloads, so I got them in FLAC files.

    The music sounds ‘fine’ in the sense of good, but nothing spectacular or exceptional to my aged ears. I enjoy playing them but actually I was a tad disappointed in the sound overall. It is unlikely that I will do that experiment again with HD-Tracks unless they put out a great compilation of Moody Blues tunes, in that case, I could be swayed.

    Thanks for your daily updates, I feel that I am broadening my horizons by bits and hertz.

  3. Humble suggestions Dr AIX,

    Let them use HRA as a “grab bag” denomination and use HDRA for yours (High Definition Recorded Audio), since the actual music played by musicians is recorded in HD.

    I have seen a great concert yesterday evening : Eric Burdon and the “Nouveau” Animals, at the Palais Montcalm in Québec City. Good feelings from a long passed era. The men is almost better than ever. Even his new music is very good.
    It made me wonder: Is there anybody out there traveling with a mobile attempting to achieve the best 96/24 PCM copy of those studio masters (direct from the performance) hidden inside these secret vaults ?

    Édouard Trépanier

    • Not that I’m aware of.

  4. Perhaps they didn’t want any confusion with HD radio which, as we all know, has nothing to do with high-definition.

    • It’s certainly possible that HD-Radio already grabbed some of the “HD” illusion. Very troubling. I haven’t given up yet but there are actually more important things to think about..

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