There was another Northern California “High Definition Music” download effort launched about 7 years ago called MusicGiants.com. You might remember them at the various tradeshows with their Airstream trailer and heavy promotions into the custom installer/home theater marketplace. They were the first to secure licenses with the major labels for a large amount of “classic” commercial music and make it available as “high definition music”.
MusicGiants also had an audiophile server called the MusicVault that I saw on a couple of occasions but their primary focus was on their high-definition music download site. I don’t think their hardware ever saw the light of day. The content was diverse (everything from CCR to the Beach Boys) and extensive. I would guess that they had over 3000 albums on the site at the peak. Their operation included the actual transfer and remastering of the masters licensed from the labels.
That’s a very different model than the current supply chain. These days the labels and their own studios are doing any transfers and needed production work on the “masters” and then making it available to ALL of the companies currently in the high-resolution digital music download business. It’s a rare event when a company like HDtracks secures a master (usually a safety copy) and pays to have a special transfer done as they did with Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue”. They employed the services of Jamie Howarth to do his “Plangent” processing to the transfer. But the Chesky brothers and HDtracks don’t “own” the transfer that they paid for. They have the right to exclusively offer their new digital version for a few months and then it will revert back to the label for distribution to everyone else.
MusicGiants took the responsibility for the fidelity of their masters on themselves. And the results were marginal. They simply didn’t have the equipment or expertise to do state-of-the-art transfers and restoration on thousands of albums. They didn’t have the bandwidth and they didn’t really care. They weren’t selling their HD music downloads to audiophiles. Their target market was home theater owners and music servers. It was all about convenience and quantity.
I talked with them at length over many months. Elliot Mazer, who just happens to have been one of the engineers that worked extensively with Neil Young, was associated with them. Elliot is a strong advocate for analog recording. He’s a terrific engineer and has had a very distinguished career in audio. He and I had some conversations about recording and the need to clearly identify the MG tracks as something other than “high-definition music” for the very same reasons that we’ve been talking about the definition lately. He and the principals at MG didn’t agree.
I asked him and the others at MusicGiants, if a 1967 transfer of a Beach Boys album is high-definition when transferred at 96 kHz/24-bits, then what are my tracks that were sourced at 96 kHz/24-bits? The answer? “Well, we’ll have to have another designation for your recordings. How about Super High Definition?” they suggested. The emerging world of high-resolution audio was complicated enough without adding new categories. And the same is pretty much true today.
MusicGiants failed. Maybe it was too early to start a high-quality download site back in 2007 or some other aspect of their business model was flawed. If Kickstarter had been around at the time, the outcome might have been different.
I was encouraged that Robert Harley of The Absolute Sound magazine called MG out on the whole “high-definition music” definition. He wrote that the transfers of older analog masters to large PCM containers didn’t elevate the tracks to HD status or Ultra High-Resolution. I’m looking forward to seeing what the audiophile publications have to say about Pono.