Dr. AIX's POSTS NEWS — 11 April 2014

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According to Robert Hutton, an online blogger, Apple is planning a major upgrade to iTunes that will put all other high-resolution audio download sites out of business. Here’s a quote from his blog (you can read the whole piece at Led Zeppelin and the Future of Hi-Res Audio Downloads):

“In two months or so – beginning of June – the first three Led Zeppelin remasters will be available. They are essentially available on iTunes in low-res form already.

For several years, Apple has been insisting that labels provide files for iTunes in 24-bit format – preferably 96k or 192k sampling rate. So they have undeniably the biggest catalog of hi-res audio in the world.

And the Led Zeppelin remasters in high resolution will be the kick off event – to coincide with Led Zep in hi-res, Apple will flip the switch and launch their hi-res store via iTunes – and apparently, it will be priced a buck above the typical current file prices.

That’s right – Apple will launch hi-res iTunes in two months.”

The rumors say that the cost of a “so-called” high-resolution audio download from iTunes will cost you around a dollar more than the current prices…somewhat near or just over $2.00 per track.

Robert’s correct that Apple has been urging the record labels to deliver their masters as 96 kHz/24-bit uncompressed PCM files. And I’ve been in meetings with the folks from the labels where they explained that more and more of their new artists are getting on board with the new specs. They also tell me that the older transfers are being revisited and remastered at higher sampling rates and using longer words.

However, nothing in the 96 kHz/24-bit files actually adds anything to the over compressed and vintage tracks that are touted as “Mastered for iTunes”. And old recording is still going to be an old recording and bound by the fidelity of the third generation EQ’d master.

I heard today that the project that was produced in the studio for one of the major labels and which was sent back to the mastering room twice is getting reworked by another mixer and will be remastered again. Why? Because the singer wants the project to be louder still. The final track will undoubtedly be output at 96 kHz/24-bits to match the new requirements of iTunes. It might even be available as a “high-resolution” download in ALAC format for those looking for better fidelity. Doesn’t anyone at the major labels or Apple understand that the fidelity has already been engineered out of the files long before iTunes makes them available?

It’s possible that Apple will jump on the “high-resolution audio” bandwagon. The Pono initiative and other less visible efforts are slowly turning the tide…but it’ll all be a myth. Apple’s devices don’t support high-resolution sample rate and longer words. So what’s the point? They’ll crank up their marketing machine and try to make everyone believe that the old standard definition stuff is now the new high-resolution stuff. When nobody can tell the difference…we’ll all settle back into the sound quality of the 1960s and 1970s.

This is exactly the same strategy the UMG is using for the “High Fidelity Pure Audio” Blu-ray titles that they’ve been pushing. Same old standard definition in a new container. Boring.

Apple’s iTunes thinks they’re going High Res, but they can’t without the producers, artists and labels giving them HD audio…and that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

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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.

(23) Readers Comments

  1. I’d like to remind everyone that NONE of current apple mobile devices can do 24bit natively. For android, literally only three smartphones (Note 3, LG G2, Galaxy S5) can do 24bit.

    Also no way this can be patched by software since hardware limit.

    Another also, all of apple computer’s optical output can only does 24/96. It does not go 24/192 unlike well-made PCs.

    And thank for sharing your story, doctor. I found very disturbing that an album going back and forth to mastering room for a sole reason: making them ‘louder’.

    More and more thinking about it, I think bringing higher quality music to restore the value of the music…. the ship has already sailed at this point if even the artists themselves do not respect their own music.

    • Very good points and one that I was going to make…Apple might like to think it is delivering high-resolution music but they have no portable devices that will be able to deliver it. I don’t have any problem with their optical 96/24 capabilities…I believe that sufficient.

      It’s going to take a real shake up to bring high-end audio beyond the audiophile labels…

      • I actually read the Robert Hutton’s article and I found out those hi-res itunes files will have watermark to prevent piracy.

        Yes, watermark, you heard it right. One of the prime reasons why dvd-audio died so quickly and they still have not gotten a clue.

        That’s it. I don’t have any interest in itunes. What’s the point of having high-res files that technically inferior to normal-non-watermarked files while paying higher price?

        • Got it.

    • My Nexus 5 plays 24bit FLAC files without any issues using the native Google Play Music App.

      • Yes, Ran, the Nexus 5 will play 24-bit files but its hardware is not really capable of >16-bit dynamic range output.

    • Actually they can play 24-bit audio but only up to a 48khz sample rate.

    • You guys are wrong. iPods can play 24 Bit audio at 48Khz in ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec).

  2. Forgive me for being ignorant can iTunes media only be played back via iTunes?

    • Good question…I believe that it is possible to play iTunes tracks on other music platforms.

      • Would make the whole project pretty much useless unless you can.

  3. “So what’s the point? They’ll crank up their marketing machine and try to make everyone believe that the old standard definition stuff is now the new high-resolution stuff. When nobody can tell the difference…we’ll all settle back into the sound quality of the 1960s and 1970s.”

    Because they’re going to crank up their marketing machine AND they’re going to remaster all the ancient recordings, and I predict they’ll spread essentially an “enhancer” plug-in all over it — in other words, they’ll boost the BASS, boost the high treble, and add a touch of reverb to make the sound more “lively” and give it more “depth.” Plus, they’ll wring even the tiniest drip of dynamics left out of the recording so there will be only a .1 decibel difference between the loudest and softest notes so the remaster will have MASSIVE IMPACT. People will attribute the sizzling highs, the gut-rattling lows, and the extra-lively and in-your-face sound to the extra resolution, not to the remaster, and so, bazinga!, you’ve got millions of fresh devotees to hi-rez [sic] music. People are sheeple. I predict this will be very successful for Apple and will make people even more ignorant of and less appreciative of great sound.

    • They won’t be remastering all the old recordings…that job would fall to the folks at the labels and they’re not going to do it unless there’s a lot of interest. Maybe Apple’s faux high-resolution will prompt them, we’ll see.

      • Which is the one of the main points of the Pono project; Neil Young and John Hamm have detailed in various interviews the following;
        Pono will deliver “The Master Recording” in FLAC at the highest resolution available, whatever that may be. ie before it is masteted down for CD or for mp3 output. They then further promise that if a higher resolution master ever becomes available after you have bought it, you get the higher res for free. Buy it once, own it forever.

        • I’ve read the interviews as well but as we’ve seen the “Master Recording” can be a number of different things. The only “masters” that the labels are making available to sites like HDTracks, HighResAudio, SuperHiRez and soon Ponomusic come from an existing collection of “High-Resolution” masters that the labels have done in their own studios. These are then distributed to the various site. The sites are not allowed to modify them in any way or they risk being in breech of the contracts. I’ve got the same deals sitting on my deck and have decided that the “masters” that they are providing are lacking. There are clipped samples, overprocessed dynamics etc. I don’t believe that these are fundamentally better than the copies we already have.

  4. Except videos, any players or hardware that support alac and aac (not protected by Fairplay drm) can play files you’ve obtained from iTunes.

    It is not an ideal audiophile player anyway since bitperfect playback is quite tricky as far as I know.

  5. iTunes will not play Hi Res, but any Hi Res file in Flac will play without problem in an iPad or iPhone, up to 24/192, tru a DAC, of course. The app is called Flac Player.

    • iTunes CAN play HiRes files if you switch the sample rate in the Audio/MIDI setup application.

      • That is true. I was only talking about iOS devices.

  6. I can’t complain about the artist wanting it louder – it’s his art! Obviously the creation is dependent on little dynamic range. That’s fine by me – if it sounds lousy, I won’t buy it. It does bother me when the business folks make these decisions. Watermarking? Loser! How many times do we go through copy protection?

    • Usually, it’s not the artist deciding how loud their products should be…it’s the management and label. Sad.

  7. I predominately use iTunes in my home listening room — DAC to audiophile stack w/quality speakers.

    It was just more convenient for me when I started into digital music years ago. At that time I ripped everything into 320kb, knowing that at some point I would have better choices in media, technology (in 2002 40GB disks cost roughly $150) and overall digital to analog was expensive if you went to an outboard DAC.

    Today, you can buy a 2 terabyte drive for $110, you can get a great DAC for $500 and your media choices have improved.

    All I am saying is that it looks like the time is ripe for a broad switch-over for the mass market. Once Apple have enough high res media, I would expect the iDEVICES to get a resolution boost. …And by the way, just like hard disk drive storage, the storage on iPods and iPhones has exploded while the price has fallen making this all possible.

    • It is time to abandon MP3 and other lossy encoding schemes. But more important is to cajole the artist, producers, engineers and labels to release content that contains more fidelity.

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