Despite the best efforts of many talented individuals and inspired companies, my heart of heart knows that high-resolution audio will not make it into the mainstream given the current path of promotion and production. Heck, I’m pretty convinced that it won’t even find a place at the audiophile table. Here are 5 reasons (there are probably many more) why high-resolution audio will quite likely die a quiet and undistinguished death in 2014:
1. There’s no agreement on what is and what isn’t High-Resolution Audio. Consumers, audio writers, audio engineers, artists, high-resolution download sites and audiophiles can’t agree on a definition for high-resolution audio. Anything with numbers larger than 44.1 kHz and 16-bit words or the letters DSD qualifies as High-Res. Many consumers believe that it’s anything “better than MP3 quality”. Die-hard analog advocates claim that analog tape or vinyl LPs are the bars against which all other audio formats should be measured. Most of the high-resolution digital music download sites tout their offerings as high-resolution tracks, when in fact they are merely standard definition recordings transferred to large bit buckets and sold for aggressive prices. Still others don’t want to rock the boat and want everything to be marketed as “HRA” if the proprietors of the products say they’re high-definition.
2. Artists, audio engineers and producers of commercial recordings don’t know what high-resolution audio is (although many will claim that they do) AND even if they did, they wouldn’t be allowed to deliver high-resolution masters to the record companies (maybe in numbers only). The mainstream record business is not interested in the audiophile lunatic fringe or advancing fidelity. They want to deliver commodity recordings that will light up the charts just like the last hit records that they produced. Louder is always better…and that’s a fact that’s not going to be changing anytime soon.
3. Personal and professional recording studios don’t have the capability to record and release high-resolution recordings because the equipment that they use can’t handle the high sample rates and longer words. It’s easier for a Pro Tools owner to keep doing what they’ve always done. Why would someone push the very limits of their system when no one cares? With the myriad plugins that are used in every commercial recording, there’s no way to run at 192 or even 96 kHz and keep thing running smoothly.
4. The truth cannot be told or someone’s feelings will get hurt. I get the chance to present at most of the audio trade shows that are spread across the calendar and the continent. For one of the upcoming events, I recently submitted a proposal for a seminar entitled, “High-Resolution Audio Downloads: Time for Truth and Honesty”. The accompanying abstract stated:
There are a lot of websites that claim to deliver “high-resolution audio” music and the renewed interested in better fidelity has prompted more to enter this narrow marketplace. Unfortunately, not all music downloads have better fidelity than the recording formats of the past…yet eager audiophiles are paying premium dollars for 192 kHz/24-bit PCM files or 5.6 MHz DSD downloads. Presented by high-resolution audio pioneer and authority Dr. Mark Waldrep (AES, NARAS and CEA, AIX Records, iTrax and blogger at RealHD-Audio.com), this seminar will reveal the truth behind the marketing spin and overhyped advertising. Learn how you can determine the quality of a download before you spend $30 on a poor transfer of the wrong master analog tape. Get accurate information on the production realities behind “so-called” high-resolution downloads and the importance of provenance and production formats. The truth about High-Resolution Downloads will surprise you and make you think twice before you reach for your credit card.
I was asked to kindly pick another topic because the organizer didn’t want to offend any vendors that might be part of the problem and not the solution. It’s starting to feel a little like an episode of The X Files.
5. The focus is almost entirely on the hardware and not the content. There are already portable players and some smart phones that have high-resolution DACs capable of 96/192 kHz/24-bit PCM or DSD at 64 or 128. And everyone in the audiophile community knows about the $20K Reference quality DACs that will playback 384 kHz 32-bit audio files…even though there aren’t any recordings that have been made at that ridiculous specification. We as music lovers have to demand that the artists, engineers, producers AND labels embrace a strategy that will produce better fidelity at the source. You can’t reproduce high-resolution audio with a 192 kHz / 24-bit DAC if your soundfiles don’t measure up to that standard. There are some labels that are doing the right thing…2L in Norway, MA Recordings and of course AIX Records but we’re in the minority.
When UMG and others put out High Fidelity Blu-ray Discs of older standard definition recordings, charge $30 dollars for the same quality that we had years ago and proclaim the dawn of a new age in audio fidelity, I get discouraged. They’re only contributing to the misinformation.
Sorry if I sound like a pessimist today. I’m not giving up…as Agent Mulder always said, “The Truth is Out There”.