Dr. AIX's POSTS NEWS — 12 June 2014

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Just a short time ago (2 pm EDT June 12, 2014), the press release on defining “high-resolution music” was made public. The title of the press release reads:

“DEG, CEA The Recording Academy® and Major Labels Reach Agreement on Definition for High Resolution Audio”. The subtext is “Project includes Descriptors for Master Quality Recordings”.

I’ll make the entire press release available on the FTP site so you can read it for yourselves.

The opening couple of paragraphs say it all:

DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, in cooperation with the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)® and The Recording Academy®, announced today the results of their efforts to create a formal definition for High Resolution Audio, in partnership with Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group.

The definition is accompanied by a series of descriptors for the Master Quality Recordings that are used to produce the hi-res files available to digital music retailers. These can be used on a voluntary basis to provide the latest and most accurate information to consumers.

The motivation for solidifying a “formal definition” for all parties is to “convey a clear message” about what is and what isn’t high-resolution audio. This is a laudable goal and as an insider to this process, I applaud the efforts of all involved. The mere fact that they produced a definition that received the support of the major labels, the NARAS, DEG and CEA folks may be a first. I personally see this as only a first step but more on that in another post.

Here’s the definition that they’ve agreed to:

High Resolution Audio is defined as “lossless audio that is capable of reproducing the full range of sound from recordings that have been mastered from better than CD quality music sources.”

[NOTE: I don’t know why the press release used quotes starting at the word “lossless” but they did.]

So the bottom line is this…any recording that’s “better” than a compact disc (44.1 kHz/16-bit PCM) is considered by these organizations and the labels as “high-resolution audio”. If either the sampling rate or the word lengths increase, then a recording is considered high-resolution. All you have to do is move the sample rate to 48 kHz and you qualify.

The piece goes on:

“In addition to this definition, four different Master Quality Recording categories have been designated, each of which describes a recording that has been made from the best quality music source currently available. All of these recordings will sound like the artists, producers and engineers originally intended.”

Master Quality Recording sources

The descriptors for the Master Quality Recording categories are as follows:

MQ-P
From a PCM master source 48 kHz/20 bit or higher; (typically 96/24 or 192/24 content)

MQ-A
From an analog master source

MQ-C
From a CD master source (44.1 kHz/16 bit content)

MQ-D
From a DSD/DSF master source (typically 2.8 or 5.6 MHz content)

These descriptors are an attempt to deal with the “provenance” issue and actually do make some sense…but there’s so much more to say. I’ll let you decide for yourself whether this definition and the accompanying “descriptors” are going to be enough to get you…and more importantly, the mass market…to continue to support HRA with purchases from high-end retailers.

The press release closes with:

“To further expand the High Resolution Audio initiative, The Recording Academy, the DEG and the CEA are sponsoring a special High Resolution Audio Listening Experience event, which will be held at Jungle City Studios in New York on Tuesday, June 24 from 6pm to 9pm during CE Week.”

I’m headed to NYC to participate in the June 24th event. I will have 10 minutes to demonstrate some of my favorite recordings and provide a quick comment on the world of high-resolution audio. I’m looking forward to it.

More coming…

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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.

(7) Readers Comments

  1. No surprise here. Majors have dictated what’s convenient for them, not to the users that will be fooled ,once again, buying the same albums for n times under well orchestrated marketing campaigns.

  2. Well, one must start somewhere, so as critical as I may be with what they’ve developed so far, I’m OK with it as a start but only if they publicly and privately are committed to refining the definition without any reluctance going forward.

    That stated, just addressing resolution without anything regarding best practices to eliminate the likes of harmful dynamic range compression makes the current definition fatally flawed and useless at best to identify the highest quality music. And if anyone counters that the core underlying issue is about resolution and not quality, I think I’d just chuckle in response.

  3. I can’t wait to hear what system you’ll be demonstrating on.

    • I honestly don’t know what it will be…but I’m confident it won’t be audiophile quality.

  4. It is foolish to ask for any better sound than “first gen.” Master tape audio of today or yesteryear is characterized by wide bandwidth, fully evident spatial qualities, wide dynamic range and an apparency of natural-ness on all acoustic sounds, most notably human voice quality. The popularity of old jazz recordings from the ’50’s is a good example; no, these are not squeaky clean, ultra-hyper fi recordings, but a hi-res transfer allows a “first gen” listening experience not available on any other medium save perhaps sacd.As long as what I’m hearing is essentially indistinguishably close to the master tape sound as described above, then that is hi-res playback as far as I am concerned, whether it’s a 1914 recording or 2014. The numbers game is just that, although I do ratify 24/96 as fully capable of providing the full original, master tape content if implemented properly, no need for bigger numbers, that’s for sure.

    • I might agree if we were getting “first gen” fidelity…but sadly we’re not. And I don’t agree with your assessment of “master tape audio”. Analog tape can be quite good but it doesn’t have wide dynamic range unless you think 8-10 bits is enough (and perhaps it is for certain types of music) and it suffers from a wide variety of distortions and inaccuracies…again if those things matter. If might be that these imperfections are what make analog tape of any generation (most of what you hear is 3rd or 4th gen) appealing.

      I simply can’t agree that a seriously flawed recording from 1914 in a 192 kHz/24-bit PCM bucket should be called “high resolution”…once again, unless you believe that a scratchy 78 RPM piece of lacquer producing 10 dB of dynamic range and bandwidth to 8 kHz has been “high-resolution” for all these years.

      Definitions in audio have to have some absolute value just like they do in film/video…otherwise why bother to have them at all?

  5. OK, Mark! First steps are always hard. But they’re first steps. Let’s push for the evolution of this super-basic definition.

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