Dr. AIX's POSTS — 21 November 2013

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What would you think if you purchased a track from a provider of HD digital downloads in both 96 kHz and 192 kHz, played them both and they sounded only slightly different…a little more bass in one and little less detail in the other? Let’s say that the recording was done in the mid 1980s, meaning that it was produced using an analog multitrack tape machine. It also means that the dynamic range and frequency response will be commensurate with the specs of an analog production path…possible very good but not equal to either 96 kHz or 192 kHz at 24-bits.

You made the purchase at both sample rates to see for yourself if high-resolution tracks are actually real or just a marketing ploy. After extended solo listening sessions and others involving a variety of audiophile friends and family, no one could nail any differences between the two. What do you do?

Write to customer support at the website and ask what’s up with the “so-called” high-resolution tracks? Maybe the same files were mistakenly slotted into the 96 and 192 versions. Wouldn’t you hope that you could get a straight answer about the provenance of the tracks and maybe an explanation that they’re actually sonically the same. What you wouldn’t expect is for the company representative to tell you that your audio setup isn’t “high-end” enough for you or your friends to hear the “atmospheric space” that is uniquely produced by the 192 kHz/24-bit version of the file. Here’s the actual response from the company:

“The 24/192 is only going to reveal its potential with an ultra-high end system. Those higher frequencies will be transformed into atmospheric space, and (especially when amplified at a high volume) the difference will be discernible.”

So if you can’t hear any differences between the same pieces at different sampling rates…it’s your fault for not spending enough money on your system! The customer support person is telling you that you need a serious upgrade to your amplifier and speakers AND you need to turn it up really loud to enjoy the higher rate file. Huh?

This is exactly what happened to one of my readers. He purchased a very well known album from a very well known artist (one of the biggest jazz performers of all time!) at both sample rates. When he wrote to the company, the above response suggested that 192 kHz HD tracks require “ultra high-end” equipment and the customer’s current system doesn’t measure up. This is exactly why the emerging world of high-resolution audio is getting a bad reputation.

All the support person had to say was that the materials that they were supplied by the label were uploaded without alteration. They are the best that you’re likely to hear, but doing a transfer at 192 kHz doesn’t necessarily mean that there is music in the single additional octave that you get at that rate (never mind that your speakers can’t produce anything that high).

Look at the spectragram that I did of a track from the album.

hd-tracks_tutu_spectra

Figure 1 – The spectragram of a “high-resolution audio” track at both 96 kHz and 192 kHz. There are differences between them…and it seems that the 96 kHz transfer is actually “better” than the192 kHz version in many ways. Neither one has any musical content higher than 30-35 kHz…so 96 kHz is more than enough. [Click to enlarge]

I looked on the download site for information that might provide more information about the equipment specifications required to enjoy 192 kHz high-resolution audio tracks and get the “atmospheric space” that is supposed to be there. There was nothing.

The marketing “shuck and jive” associated with high-resolution audio has got to stop, in my opinion. All providers of high-resolution audio should adopt a common code of conduct…when I grew up, it was called telling the truth. We need to identify the production provenance and be honest about the expectations that any particular format and production path can provide. It’s not true that 192 kHz PCM audio can give you a better listening experience…and only if you have a very high-end system AND you play the files back very loud.

Let’s move on.

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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.

(3) Readers Comments

  1. Reminds me of the salespeople in those High End shops in the late 80’s and early 90’s. If you didn’t fall on your knees when they played one of their ‘High End’ LP’s on their $50,000 record player you were considered a lower species unworthy of even been asked what you wanted. Up until 15 years ago I thought it was me, who didn’t get it. I never thought of LP’s as the ultimate format.
    When I went to the IFA in Berlin in 1997 Chesky played a prototype of their DVD-Audio version of Livingston Taylor’s “Isn’t she lovely” in 96-24, which was also recorded in 96-24. The system was one of those $350,000 units. I sat there for 1/2 hour with my mouth open. That’s what I am talking about I was thinking. This is what I want. Forget all those records with all the noise (atmosphere in High Ender’s world) and the other restrictions of the LP medium.
    Too bad that the guys selling real or fake HD kept their stupid and arrogant attitudes.

  2. As a potential customer for this company (unnamed, but I think I know who it is and bought a couple albums from them if I am right) is that, if they are making the claim as to 96 vs 192, they should make it UP FRONT, BEFORE you purchase the tracks. Most listeners do not have stratospherically “deep end” systems and if they aren’t going to hear a difference, and the vendor KNOWS THIS, they are ripping off the end user by taking the extra money. Even if you believe the claim, the ethics are lacking. Not to mention that most of those “deep end” systems are owned by middle aged men who couldn’t hear 20kHz if their life depended on it… I guess “caveat emptor” is the business model.

    Along similar lines, “some” purveryor of “HD” tracks recently announced the “ultimate remaster” of Miles’ “Kind of Blue”, which was recorded on three track analog tape without even NR in 1959. I would assume everything said here would most likely go double for that one. My Columbia Legacy 20-bit remaster sounds pretty respectable to me; in fact, I might go listen to it right now… In any event, I’m not dropping the $18-25 to buy it yet again.

  3. Yes, this is the typical retort whenever someone honestly claims they can hear no difference between a CD, DSD SACD, PCM Blu-ray, or whatever. “Oh, your equipment sux. You’ve got to spend $$,$$$.$$ to feel the difference.” Or sometimes the reply is that you need your hearing checked. All bullocks.

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