Dr. AIX's POSTS — 19 June 2014

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I can only assume that the DEG, CEA, The Recording Academy and major labels are going to “voluntarily” start using the new Master Quality “descriptors” that they outlined in their recent press release. The labels and the engineering staff working at their master facilities are going to begin requesting additional “provenance” information from their suppliers (the labels inside of their label groups) AND passing that information along to the licensors that make “high-resolution” audio available. This is definitely a step in the right direction. The more information we can get regarding the production process for an album/track the better, right?

It all depends. I’ve already pointed out the problems with trying to lock down the production process. The four descriptors (you can review them in the previous post by clicking here) encompass every recording made from the dawn of audio recording without any segmentation or qualification prior to being lumped together under the high-resolution umbrella. The definition contributes nothing to our knowledge base if the only thing we’re going to be told is whether a track is MQ-P, MQ-A, MQ-C or MQ-D. Once again the decision makers are focused on the end of the production pipeline and not on the original steps that happened during the tracking, mixing and mastering sessions.

But leaving that behind, let’s accept that anything new that is made available by the major labels includes one of the four descriptors. This is a new piece of metadata that has to be added to the standard information that we get about an album or track. Things like the title, the artist, the year, the label, the cover art etc. HDtracks and the other licensors are going to have to beef up their databases to include the “provenance” information and that information will have to come from the labels. How hard do you think the labels are going to work at getting us accurate information? Remember the confusion surrounding the tracks that I downloaded from Qobuz.com?

The samples that they so proudly offered as examples of high-resolution audio and extended frequency response were nothing of the kind. And the email that I received from the head people there talked about how they were just the delivery end of the process and couldn’t really speak to the quality of the files that they were offering. But, they bragged about the team of quality assurance audio engineers that they have on staff to make sure that everything is as the suppliers say it is. Baloney! That they missed the boat on the very first files that new customers are likely to encounter says a lot about how tight their QA process is.

So we’re in for a rough ride. The labels will make some attempts to provide the descriptor information about the albums that they deliver…but I seriously doubt that it will really help. We’re going to remain in the dark. The labels are going to continue to claim that everything they issue is high-resolution even if it isn’t and the retailers are going to claim the higher ground by passing the buck back to their supplier if the provenance of a track is challenged.

The bottom line is that the future of music delivery is slowly moving back to the fidelity of CDs, which can be tremendous if the labels want them to be. Sadly they don’t. New releases are still prepared, marketed and sold just like they have been for decades.

The world of real high-resolution audio will continue to be a niche market for the truly dedicated audio enthusiast. And even those of us that want the best of the best, are continually being mislead by spin, marketing babble and even fraudulent claims.

What we need is metadata about the metadata…would that be metametadata?

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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.

(11) Readers Comments

  1. “…would that be metametadata?”

    No, Mark, that would be the NSA (and allied “intelligence” (sic) agencies!).

    Don’t give up the fight, though. You’re doing yeoman’s work.

  2. Mark, we have the tools to make that metametada badly needed for Hi-rez and classical but you also need the music labels to offer it and media players to support the extended fields for it. It’s a combined effort, but we’ve achieved it with some small audiophile labels and our Sonata and aria music servers.

    • I know Juan…I’m planning a post all about the conversion that I did on my BDP-105 into the Aria Server.

      • That would be great, Mark. I have a 105 and was wondering, when I saw your earlier post about it, just how you did it.

  3. Mark,
    When you coined the word: metametadata, I could not help but hear the music from Disney’s Lion King ricocheting around in my mind – “hakuna metata.” “No worries for the rest of your days. It’s a problem free philosophy.” Visions of an audio world where HRA or HD Audio will be easy for us consumers. I really want the best of the best, like you do. You are fighting the good fight. Keep it up! Us readers really appreciate your efforts.
    Jack.

    • Ditto regarding the good fight!! Keep the sonic guns aimed high!

  4. In keeping with the overall theme of these articles, one would assume the new metadata would be called HDmetadata. Not much more there but certainly reads more impressive!

  5. Giving the example on your future website may start a trend.

    • The new website is coming along…although too slowly. It will have many filters including the metadata for high-resolution and provenance.

  6. I find your last sentence here extremely significant – “The world of real high-resolution audio will continue to be a niche market for the truly dedicated audio enthusiast. And even those of us that want the best of the best, are continually being mislead by spin, marketing babble and even fraudulent claims.” -, because the “niche” you describe is of course not homogenous. I honestly think that most of “the truly dedicated audio enthusiast” are the ones that would still claim analog recordings to be HRA, and a large portion of them that analog is somehow superior to digital.

    At Audio Stream (http://www.audiostream.com/content/high-resolution-audio-we-have-contradictory-definition) there has been a discussion regarding the recently published definition of HRA. While the Audio Stream host, Michael Lavorgna, finds the definition contradictory from the perspective of the MQ-C descriptor being included as it obviously represents CD audio and as CDs are obviously not “mastered from better than CD quality music sources”, as stated by the definition. But when a reader commented in favor of including MQ-A as another obvious descriptor at odds with the definition, the response from Lavorgna was that “Arguing that MQ-A are not really HRA is like arguing that the sky’s not really blue”. The discussion goes on from there, and the last comment from the host is a quote from renowned engineer Barry Diament: “I would wholeheartedly disagree with anyone asserting that a properly mastered CD captures everything from the analog tape. To my ears, it isn’t even close. I’ll add that in my experience, a properly mastered 24/96 digital encoding *still* won’t capture everything there is on a well recorded analog tape. In my experience, it is going to take a well made 24/192 digital capture to get everything a good analog tape can contain (okay, 24/176.4 will do too). I think some of the assertions are due to what I see as the mistaken equivocation of signal-to-noise ratio with dynamic range. Many instrumental harmonics and many spatial cues are way down in level (20-40 dB) from the loudest sounds in a recording. While these are within the specified range of CD, sounds that are 40 dB down in level will be encoded using approximately 8 or 9 bits of the CD’s 16. As a result, I don’t find it surprising that instrumental harmonics sound thinned and bleached on most CDs and spatial cues, at least the subtler ones, are largely eradicated. With analog, even if these are down in the tape hiss, they are still there to be heard.”

    The reader (zakir) also links to some of your posts regarding the whole analog vs digital topic, but there appears to be little resonance to them and any objective data offered by the Audio Stream host to support that analog is HRA, other than the personal opinion of Barry Diament.

    I believe that this is a perfect example that “even those of us that want the best of the best, are continually being mislead by spin, marketing babble and even fraudulent claims.” It is also an example of the influence that those who write columns and blogs at big magazines like Stereophile can have over a large amount of those dedicated audio enthusiasts.

    In the case of meta data, I believe the reader at Audio Stream made a good point as he aluded to consumer rights being the bigger issue behind the HRA topic, and that what is required are accurate labels that will represent products for what they really are and be priced accordingly.

    Your honest efforts to set things straight on the whole HRA BS are much appreciated, keep it up.

    THX

    • I disagree with Barry and Michael on the analog tape thing. They can like or even prefer the sound, but the specifications speak for themselves. I read some of the comments but one caught my attention. Michael states that the MQ-A descriptor applies to analog tape…he’s incorrect. The press release simply states “analog source”…so cassettes and everything else can be in the high-resolution audio club.

      We all have to understand that everyone in the audiophile business has a point of view and agenda. I haven’t ask Michael but I guess if he was forced to examine the specifications of my Nagra IV-S, he might recognize that HD Digital can capture a more accurate representation of the sound. Whether he or Barry prefer that to analog…it’s their preference.

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