I don’t believe that recording to analog tape (especially during the heyday of 24-track multitrack recording) delivers specifications that can be considered high-definition or high-resolution. However, I do admit that when Dolby SR (Spectral Recording) came around in the mid 1980’s, the noise floor of professional recordings did improve significantly. There are also some very exotic analog reel-to-reel machines around today that deliver amazing specifications. These guys are putting 2.0 channel stereo on 1-inch tape machines and running them at 30 ips. But in the real world, nobody has access to those “rocket ship” tweaked out machines.
So if analog tape recording is the line in the sand for me, how is it that many if not most high-resolution download sites are selling projects that come from analog tape masters for $20-30 and calling them “high-resolution downloads” or “HD” tracks? They’re standard resolution…sometimes wonderful…but not the same as a newly minted high-resolution track made with real HD capable equipment?
Herbie Hancock was part of the Sony press event in New York back on the 4th of September. They announced their new HDD based music servers, a receiver and a portable player that can deliver high-resolution audio in PCM or DSD formats. Herbie stood in front of the assembled press and attendees and waxed poetic on the virtues of “high-resolution audio”. Check it out, it’s worth watching.
Figure1 – Here’s the video of Herbie Hancock at the Sony Press event.
Herbie Hancock is a very well know musician. He’s won multiple Grammy Awards, worked with major artists including Miles Davis and is a very knowledgeable guy. I don’t doubt for one second his expressions of amazement when he describes the openness, the warmth and depth of the high-resolution version of one of his CDs and the original CD itself (He didn’t identify which disc he was talking about but they are lots of Herbie’s albums available at various high-resolution download sites).
I’ve met Herbie on several occasions and even been to his home (although I haven’t actually worked with him). He’s a very nice guy and knows a great deal about music and high-end sound. He cares about getting the best sound possible. I actually emailed to him the other day because I want to try to get him to listen to a piano recording of mine. We’ll see if he responds…he’s a very busy man and I sincerely doubt that he will be curious enough to contact me. Oh well.
If he did contact me, I would love to play some of the tracks that I recorded with a mutual friend and amazing musician by the name of Bryan Pezzone. I would certainly send him a copy of the Blu-ray that we made together few years ago. Bryan told me when he heard his playing back at my studio (full 5.1 surround sound) that it was the very first time that he heard the sound of his music making the way that he heard it when he was playing it. That’s quite a compliment. I’m sure Herbie would feel the same way.
I would also explain that it’s one thing to re-master or upgrade an older standard definition recording to DSD or better yet HD-PCM but that the fundamental fidelity will remain that same as the original tape. Yes, it could have slightly great depth and warmth through some processing. It could feel more euphonious. But the dynamic range, frequency response and basic sound will be as it was when he heard he mastered tracks in his studio many years ago.
We need to have a SPARS type code that identifies the provenance of a track. The new iTrax.com design that I’m working on will provide extensive information on the production path of every track that I offer for download. I’m even planning to display the spectragraphs of all of the music available through the site. Then I’ll allow you select how big a bit bucket you want place an older Herbie Hancock album in.
I believe that if you know what you’re buying BEFORE you buy it, you really can’t complain about the ultimate fidelity. Heck, I may offer snippets in real HD-Audio for download so that you can check the quality for yourself.
Work continues…stay tuned.