If you’re trying to show off a new piece of hardware or confirm that high-resolution music is “not irrelevant”, what source material should you use? Imagine you work at a high-end audio shop or even at a Magnolia area inside a Best Buy store and have one shot at playing a track that will impress a potential customer, which CD would you pull out of your carrying case? Or perhaps you’re getting ready to release a new portable high-resolution player or Smartphone and want to bundle some examples of high-resolution audio files…again what choices do you have to make that perfect first impression?
Many years ago, I worked with some friends at Creative Labs, the maker of sound cards and computer peripherals. They made the original SoundBlaster cards. And they sold millions of them. Whenever the PC platform improved, Creative would upgrade their cards moving from 8-bits to 16-bits to 24-bits within the span of 5 years or so. One of their sound cards was the Audigy II card. It was notable because it could decode MLP (Meridian Lossless Packing), the format used to get 6 channels of full range high-resolution audio on a DVD-Audio disc. The Creative folks wanted to bundle a DVD-Audio disc of real high-resolution music inside the Audigy II box.
Figure 1 – The Creative Labs AIX bundle DVD-Audio disc for the Audigy II card.
You can imagine how pleased I was to be the sole supplier of the content that was included on that sampler. They could have reached out to the major labels but the price of each disc would be too expensive AND the hassle factor with labels and artists would have been unmanageable. My stuff was cheap, easy and, most importantly of all, it was really high-resolution.
A reader pointed me in the direction of the Audiogon/Chesky Sampler, a collaboration that seeks to impress with a collection of Chesky tracks. There are about 15 tracks. Half of them are prepared using Binaural+ processing (a binaural methodology) and the other half are other high-resolution tracks. The sampler is available for just under $5, so I downloaded the tracks at 192 kHz//24-bits (they are also offered at 96/24 and 44.1/16).
Now I know David and his brother Norman and know that they’ve built a terrific reputation for high-quality recordings…heck, they’ve been nominated for Grammys and I haven’t so I tread lightly here. But in looking at these tracks (I auditioned and plotted all of them), I have to wonder why these are regarded as wonderful examples of high-resolution content? Take a look at the spectrograms of a couple of the tracks (one binaural and one regular):
Figure 2 – St. Louis Blues Binaural+ track from Audiogon/Chesky sampler. [Click to enlarge]
Figure 3 – Full Moon over Istanbul track from Audiogon/Chesky sampler. [Click to enlarge]
If you’ve been following the posts on this site for any time at all, you know that I’ve referred to the “purple haze” on occasion. This is the telltale high frequency noise that happens with 1-bit DSD encoding. In the “St. Louis Blues” track, the level of noise in the ultrasonic range is so loud that it registers a “red” amplitude. Do you really want you electronics and speakers to get this noise? You might notice as well that there are 19 clipped samples in this “demo” track.
The rest of the tracks are about the same…ultrasonic noise indicative of 1-bit DSD recording and some low pass filtering. It’s hard to understand why these tracks would be selected for a demo collection.
And then there are a couple of tracks that I offloaded from a portable high-resolution player. Take a look at these:
Figure 4 – A classical track available in the HD-Audio area of a portable player. [Click to enlarge]
The same ultrasonic noise is very apparent. The track’s volume is quite low, there’s limited dynamic range and the sound of the track is very distant and diffuse. I would shy away from using a track like this to show off the fidelity of my new device.
Here’s a pop tune from the same device.
Figure 5 – A song by a major rock star featuring another female star. [Click to enlarge]
This one is notable because it’s CD spec…not high-resolution at all…even by the lukewarm standards/definitions that are emerging from various committees. It is also heavily mastered…just look at the peaks in the amplitude display. I understand that including a “name” artist on the device is important but with the money that being spent on promotion and such, creating a real high-resolution audio track of a major artist would not be that difficult.
So how are we supposed to get excited when we hear this new “revolutionary” high-resolution audio played back on innovative new hardware platforms when the material that is chosen to show off the new gear doesn’t meet the standards of the new devices?
In the FTP site, there are spectrograms of each of the samples. Take a listen AND take a look…I believe that AIX Records’ PCM recordings of jazz, vocal, classical and acoustic guitars would make much better demo materials than the stuff that I’m seeing and hearing.
I’m not saying that my tracks are flawless…I know of a few clipped samples and some errant “banding” from HVAC systems in the recording room…but they do stand up against any samples I’ve checked lately.