Dr. AIX's POSTS — 29 April 2014


Have you noticed it? I certainly have. There is an increasing tendency to market better sounding music and even high-resolution audio by saying the fidelity is “as the artists intended”. The implication is that we should be happy if we get a copy of their music in whatever uncompressed format because it represents the sound that the artist approved and therefore is as good as it can possibly be.

I’ve heard this for a while in various places. Some of the conference calls on “high-resolution audio” that I’ve been participating in have discussed this notion. There has been a shift from actually identifying the potential quality of the final delivered audio to simply saying, “this is how the artist wants their record to sound so you consumers should love it”. There is some proposed language floating around that includes this very reference.

And just this morning, I happened on a press release from Harman talking about the inclusion of their new “Clari-Fi” technology in new 2015 Lexus NX automobile (I’ll do a proper post on their process soon). In the Press Release they said:

“The audio industry has experienced a dramatic shift from vinyl LPs and CDs to compressed, digital files enabling the sharing of music across a variety of mobile devices as well as streaming music services increasingly accessed found in today’s vehicles. The compression process has made audio more mobile than ever, but at the price of audio quality. Compressing audio files can discard up to 90 percent of the original audio content captured in the studio. As a result, consumers cannot experience music in the way the artist originally intended. Clari-Fi transforms the listening experience back to a pre-compression era, by addressing this deterioration of audio quality by restoring what has been lost, to deliver a rich, uncompromised listening experience from any compressed music source.”

I would quibble with some of the details of the preceding statement (90% loss and restoring things back to the “pre-compression era”) and I seriously doubt that the “Clari-fi” algorithms are able to restore the music to its original fidelity but I have to check it out first.

Just what do the artists want? Do you really think that they want the best sounding album? Or perhaps they want their release to sound like all of the other hit records out there so that it will be competitive and successful? In the end, I think it’s all about maintaining their careers in the music business…aka making money. And for relatively new artists that means going with the flow.

For established artists like Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, Neil Young or Steely Dan, the music business is much, much different. They’ve already made their stake and depend less on record sales than on touring revenue. If you can fill a 3000-10,000 seat venue and charge $100-$400 per ticket, the gravy train is very lucrative and long lasting. But then there are guys making new recordings, so maybe the fidelity thing is less important. In the case of Neil Young, he’s a huge fan of better sound quality but I’m not yet convinced that he knows what updated production techniques might be able to offer for his music. There is a level of fidelity that even Neil Young hasn’t experienced.

This whole “artists intent” thing is a smoke screen that will only add to the confusion about what is and what isn’t high-resolution music. How are we supposed to know if the artists really signed off on the tracks that we purchase as “high-resolution” tracks? My experience is that the raw mixes represent what the artists want but any subsequent (and often repeated) mastering, processing and encoding is outside their field of vision. And that’s where the life is sucked out. This is where the management and the record company come in and say…”Forget about your artistic intent! Do you want a hit record or not?”

What would you choose…money or better sound?

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About Author


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.

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