Dr. AIX's POSTS — 26 March 2014

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I read it again this morning on the Audiostream site. In the interviews that Neil Young did with both Michael Lavorgna and Chris Connaker (of Computer Audiophile) he talks about using the various sample rates in the studio as if they were production tools. Here’s the wording in the Audiostream piece:

NY: I personally look forward to sampled records and hip-hop that suddenly realize hey we have a new thing to go with. Now we can be like lo-res for the beat and then we get to the hook we’ll go to high res. There’s all kinds of things you can use this for. You can have a 192 recording and play back that’s based on 16/44 for several of the instruments and then when you get to the hook it goes to 192. That can happen and be an effect, its part of the musical palette. Its part of the musical thing.”

And here’s essentially the same comment from CA:

NY: All we’re doing is saying, in the studio today make your digital music in whatever resolution you want to make it at. We’re going to say what it is on our player you’ll know. It will be there somewhere. People will learn when they listen to things. When it sounds great they’ll get curious. They’ll want to know what it is. Some of them may some of the may not. They’ll choose to take a look. A go, look at that, I love this, and it’s 192. It’s one of three things I have that are 192. All the others are lower res, some are 48, some are 96. They may, in their mind, go “oh shit” this is what it sounds like at 48, really great. I wonder what it would have sounded like at 192. The awareness of those differences and the palette musicians have to play with will change. Producers will now be able to use resolution as an effect. It can be super clear if you want that. Or, it can be dull if you don’t want that. Even within one recording you can go from low res to high res. You can use it as a tool. You can use it creatively. You can turn it on and off. The whole recording will have to be presented at it’s highest resolution. But if the chorus and the hook are at 192, and the rest of the song is at 44.1 or 48, something compatible, then it’s mixed at 192. The source was low res, the chorus was super high res, some of the vocals are really high res, some are dull. It’s a new way to play. A whole new thing. That kind of creativity in the studio is possibly a new tool for the hip hop and rap community.”

As an audio engineer, this kind of thinking is clearly outside of the box…and actually outside of any reality I can imagine. First, no one is going to use sample rates as some sort of “equalizer” to adjust the clarity of section or instrument. We have real equalizers and use microphone technique to accomplish that. There are production tools that let engineers adjust virtually every aspect of the sound coming from the musicians…and I would venture that changing the sample rate to a desired sonic effect is not going to be one of them.

Just how would this work? When a session is first started, the original setup of the Pro Tools session establishes the sample rate and word length (all PT sessions are done using PCM). The addition of loops, beats, live drums, basic rhythm tracks and everything else happens to a single session AND a single session can’t contain different sample rates or word lengths. It would be possible to use samples from lower fidelity parts and record them on the high-resolution session using sample rate conversion or more likely analog transfers.

I think Neil is off base with this one…and it makes we wonder whether he really knows much about sample rates and the actual “audible” differences between them. Could this be a case of “too old to rock ‘n roll”. Sample rates are not going to be used as “production tools”!

It would have been nice to have one of the interviewers ask him more about this. Didn’t happen.

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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.

(21) Readers Comments

  1. It’s curious that they referenced hip-hop and rap specifically. Maybe it’s because those genres frequently sample from other recordings when making an original recording? Maybe also because that is a huge market — one that probably cares least about increased fidelity?

    • In either case…it’s just a wrong way to think about it.

  2. Mark, I noticed something at my local record shop the other day and I have to share it with you.
    These (pseudo) HiRes recordings released recently have introduced a new member to their catalogue: “Never Mind The Bollocks”, by the Sex Pistols. Perhaps now we will be able to hear the induction roar of the lawn mower it was recorded on?

    • Best laugh I’ve had in a while. Thx.

  3. It seems that Mr. Young recently went from “everything analog” to “let’s play with sample rates”. Whatever really happens from now on in the studio, the man may not be too old to rock ‘n roll, since he now agrees that high res. has to be used at the recording session.

    • Hope springs eternal…although, he’s going to have to start doing urban and rap music.

  4. C’mon Mark, this is marketing 101. Of course what Neil is saying is impossible, but the mere conversation of a higher resolution recording mentioned by one the most respected artist in the world carries a lot of weight. It’s not for the engineers or even the labels to say he’s right or wrong. If he can sell records, they’re happy. Everybody wins. I think what’s important is that he’s bringing the conversation of higher resolution to the table. Regardless if it’s accurate, the fact is that a very large audience, for the first time, is hearing about bit rates and frequencies and how it relates to better sound!! In fact, his commitment to the concept of better resolution, in general, should be encouraging for those trying hard to make a standard for HRA even more important. Don’t be so hard on Neil, he’s trying to lay down a legacy for himself. You and the ones who see technical benefits of making a commitment to a standard should take this opportunity and shimmy up to his soap box, shake hands and kiss babies. It’s politics!!

    • Ok, I get it. And I should praise Neil and Pono for bringing attention to something that’s important to me…for 15 years and more. But I have to say it’s hard for me to hear something like this nonsense come out of his mouth, get reported with no comment and stay silent. Talk about great music and how it gets into your soul etc. But stay away from things you don’t know about. It’s was surprise that he mentions it in both interviews.

      • Forget about the nonsense coming out of his mouth. He’s is just the mouthpiece. I’m saying the opportunity for someone like yourself could take a mainstream artist, record in the standard that conveys your definition of HRA, and put that in front of the powers that be at Pono. Now, while the iron is hot and they’re caught up in a numbers game of misinformation that will bite them in the ass when it comes to the end users confusion of what they are actually purchasing. Make your quest be heard by the very people spouting the misinformation, because they have, to their credit, assembled possibly the largest collection of music lovers vested in the concept that better recordings are coming their way. Why can’t you be the one that sets the record straight? What better forum of people, made aware of HRA benefits over the last four weeks, compare to your years spent preaching to a combative few (ie. your CEA peers and other industry filibusters) to better understand the benefits of defining a standard.

        • I do have a line to Neil and his people…and you’re right he has gotten the “ears” of the front line adopters. My hesitation is that how will they describe the type of production that I’ve done for these past 15 years.

      • Perhaps you should rename your website MaxiPono Audio. Hits will go up 1000x.

  5. “Producers will now be able to use resolution as an effect. It can be super clear if you want that. Or, it can be dull if you don’t want that.”

    Ha ha HA! Thanks for the belly laugh, Mark. I think this rocket surgeon is imagining how some poprock producers have incorporated old-timey samples or effects into their music, effects that sound like ancient Victrola and such. Heck, even the Beatles indulged in a bit of this stuff. But switching between 44, 48, 96, and 192 would accomplish nothing even remotely comparable. Keep it coming, Mark — this stuff is pure comedy gold.

    • This was certainly a sharp turn to the left…wow!

  6. Surely this is nothing new. It was there in the days of analogue.

    I can remember cringing when listening to some expensively recorded and overdubbed LPs with a similar range of sound qualitiies. For example, in Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Tango in the Night’, the first track, Big Love, features a lo-fi mono drum riff starting at 00.10 that sounds as if it was dropped into the mix from a cassette recorder. It was jarring on the original LP, and the first CD version is little better. (I haven’t tried a more recent mastering, if there is one.)

    When it comes to the music business (the clue is in the name), anything that sells, goes.

    • There’s creative productions that use a variety of fidelity tricks and effects…but using sample rates to modify the “fidelity” or sound is ridiculous.

  7. Roderick said: When it comes to the music business, anything that sells, goes……

    So then Mark should lower himself and his work to the lowest common denominator just because “anything that sells, goes? I can’t agree with one word of that statement. Technology did not get to where it is today by producing crap and if it sells, it’s good enough. Get real.
    I love Neils music, but the things he is saying is just adding confusion to the technology and music. But perhaps the buzz works are all that matter with no technical understanding of what they mean or what they were intended for.

    • Gerald, I don’t think you’re taking the comment as I did. The music business is a business and as such is interested in selling whatever the hot new “sound” is. I heard a DJ say talking about a project this morning that was categorized as “lo-fi”…these guys are deliberately dumbing down their sound. And that’s ok. It’s part of their thing.

      The music industry doesn’t care about quality, they don’t care about surround sound, they only care if people are buying their releases. There are segments of the industry for everyone…including high-end guys like me.

      • Thank Mark.

        What I was trying to point out is that the music business has a long and inglorious history of selling material to the undiscerning produced at a quality well below the then state of the art. Think of Phil Spector’s highly compressed trademark ‘wall of sound’, the limited dynamic range of the early Beatles LPs, almost anything sold on 8-track cartridge, cassette tape, mini-disc, right up to present-day flirtation with lo-fi. If your normal listening source and environment is an MP3 player via ear-buds on noisy public transportation, then any of the above would suit your needs, in fact the more compression the better so that you don’t miss the quiet parts. Of course the industry can do better than this, and it behoves those of us who care about reproduced sound to vote with our wallets to ensure that it continues to do so.

  8. Now don’t get me wrong – I am a huge fan of NY and of course Crosby, Stills & Nash – who wouldn’t be? But I didn’t really understand what he was on about, especially in the 2nd quote. I suppose he might argue that when the King (Jimi Hendrix that is) used a bit of distortion it was crudding up the fidelity of his guitar in the same way as recording at a lower res. would. But sorry Neal I can’t agree.

  9. Maybe an odd analogy, but in film school I heard that a famous cinematographer was quoted as saying that cinematography was often the art of image degradation; to create mood, realism, etc., you would frequently do things to the shot that made them less that pristine. That said – one would achieve that with filters, smoke, lighting, focus, over and underexposure, and on and on, using 35mm. You probably wouldn’t shoot one shot in 35mm, one in 16mm, one in 65mm (for 70) and one in Super 8. (Unless, of course, you were shooting Natural Born Killers.)

    • It’s all part of the artistic vision of the artist and producer (or director in the film analogy). Not everything needs to be ultra high-resolution…grit and filtering have a place.

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