Dr. AIX's POSTS — 11 December 2013

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In one corner is the HFPAG (High Fidelity Pure Audio Group), the people behind the “new format” Blu-rays that don’t have video but instead rave about the great quality of their audio. And in the other corner, the folks behind the Pure Audio Blu-ray disc format (which is not really a format at all…just a clever way of using the built-in capabilities of the regular Blu-ray format) as developed by MSM Studios in Germany and support by 2L, Gimell Records and Sono Luminus. Apparently, there’s even a third corner in the battle populated by NAXOS, one of the largest classical music labels and distributors in the world. They have issued a number of basic Blu-ray discs with high-resolution audio. In fact, they are my distributor. They called me a few years ago because AIX Records also produces and releases high-resolution music on Blu-rays (but our have HD-Video).

I’ve written about the new UMG and Dolby High Fidelity Pure Audio Blu-ray discs (Read the article here and find absolutely no compelling reason to spend $30 on old tracks in a shiny new wrapper. The comments on the fidelity that I’ve read are pretty poor. Here’s one from a FB post:

“No source information and no mastering information, it’s clear they’re just using whatever the most recent master they have access to and sonics be damned. The new “Layla” disc is horrendously compressed (dynamic range compression) just like the Nirvana Nevermind was. In fact the new High Fidelity Pure Audio release of “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” scores worse on the dynamic range meter than any other release of this title.”

Taking an overly compressed master and issuing it on a Blu-ray disc at 192/24-bits is a complete waste of space and effort. Now if there was a surround mix without the heavy mastering, I might be tempted.

The current debate is about two different groups trying to claim the same territory. Who gets to stake their claim on the new Blu-ray format for music only discs? Is it the people in Germany who want to collect a license fee for an “almost” technology, a protocol for using the colored buttons on your Blu-ray player and a bunch of logos? Or perhaps you’re leaning to the new kid on the block, the UMG people and their High Fidelity Pure Audio releases?

The German Pure Audio Group just sent me their specifications and packaging requirements. Their protocol features “screenless navigation” creating a CD-like user experience. The discs will automatically begin to play when put into a player, you can select individual tracks by pressing the number keys on the remote control and you can switch between the audio presentations using the colored buttons. The RED button plays the 5.1 or 5.0 mix and the YELLOW button reverts to stereo.

All of that is pretty cool, right? But I can do the same things using the standard Blu-ray authoring tools that movie BD producers use. I’ve done it. Several of my Blu-ray releases use the colored buttons. In fact, I had to use ALL four of the buttons because I put multiple 5.1 mixes on our releases.

The UMG and Naxos titles do require a video monitor in order to navigate through the tracks and to the alternative mixes. And I highly recommend using a video display with my Blu-ray disc…especially since they include HD-Video of the music making. I personally see no issue with having a monitor hooked up to your Blu-ray player…it is after all a movie format.

It’s unfortunate that UMG decided to appropriate the Pure Audio Blu-ray name. But I think both initiatives are misguided. Why would anyone be interested in using a disc to access high-resolution music when you can simply download the tracks from sites like iTrax.com (I make available all of the 2L catalog in stereo and surround!) and others.

When another writer laments the fact that UMG and Naxos aren’t using the Blu-ray format to its full potential, I have to laugh. As the producer of almost 30 Blu-ray titles that have HD-Video and lots of bonus features on them, I have to ask who’s not using the full potential of the format?

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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.

(4) Readers Comments

  1. I wanted to say something for a couple of weeks, but the subject was not right. It might fit today. I know, you don’t consider old analog as HD recordings. But what I have to say is that I really appreciate all those DVD-A releases, because obviously (maybe not) they went back to the original multi-track masters and created the 5.1 mix. Call me an ignorant, but to me it seems that we came closer to the master recordings than ever before. I just was able to get my hands on Honky Chateau and even though it is an old fellow from 1974 it sounds fabulous in 5.1. All these recordings might not be HD in YOUR definition, but honestly, after listening to so many records in my life in LP and then 16/44.1 format, it is like a brand new world to be able to listen to so many of my favorites in (lets say) better Definition than before. It might not be High Definition per se, but compared to the old versions it is so much better than before that I don’t really care, if it is considered HD or not.

    Cheers from Las Vegas

    • Frank I agree completely…going back to the source closest to the artists intent is the best that we can hope for. They may not qualify as HD, but that doesn’t matter. It’s the “Studio Flat Master” and that’s the best that exists.

  2. For me, the ability to access the music on a Blu-ray disc without having to use a video monitor to navigate is a key requirement. My primary music system is also my home theater system, and the video monitor for this system is a front projector with a 120″ screen. I don’t want to have to turn the projector on just to listen to music. Also, what about the visually impaired? Do you want to deny them the ability to listen to Blu-ray media?

    The difficulty in navigating many early DVD-Audio discs without a video monitor reduced my initial enthusiasm for the DVD-Audio format, and I am finding the same problem with some of the Blu-ray formats. At this point, I just prefer to have the files on my media server. That way I can easily control everything from any PC, tablet or smart phone. Also, more 7.1 music media would be nice.

    My primary 7.1 HT/Music system:
    Anthem Statement D2V
    Krell Amplifiers
    B&W 800 Speakers (no subwoofer for music)
    OPPO-103D (Primarily used as DLNA Renderer for music)
    Synology DS1812+ Server

    • Mark,

      I have no argument with you on this In fact, in my main studio I have a projector and a 146″ screen. I don’t fire it up just to play music from my Blu-ray discs. But I do have a $70 small LED screen attached to the secondary HDMI output to see the screen. It can work both ways.

      I just don’t see the reason for the whole Pure Audio Blu-ray thing…especially since the music is available at the same or better quality in previous versions.

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