Dr. AIX's POSTS HD-AUDIO — 26 August 2014

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Yesterday, I started a discussion about the specifics of a statement made by an admitted non-engineer and non-computer geek who happens to be the founder and head of Montana-based Baetis audio, John Mingo. I wanted to follow up on his comments and expand on the notion of empiricism over science as it relates to digital audio and our audiophile passions.

First, I should emphasis that entrepreneurs that start companies don’t have to be engineers or computer scientists to be successful. But they should know and recognize the limits of their knowledge and get the geeks in their organizations to speak during interviews when it comes to issues of technology or specifications. We all know that there is way too much pseudo-science in the audio marketplace. I think it should be challenged at every turn lest inaccurate and just plain wrong concepts get elevated to facts. There are opinions and then there are facts…the audiophile world oscillates between these poles.

Here’s what John said that got me rolling on this topic, “the very best quality audio can only be found on blu-ray discs — in the form of 48/32, 96/32, and 96/24 concerts. Furthermore, the ear and the eye work together — the sound is improved by listening to the music while watching the players. This is NOT just psychological but a natural part of the body’s functions. Essentially, the sound of a concert, especially that of a small ensemble, SOUNDS far better when you can watch the players play. And listening to the sound on a truly good 2-channel setup is far better than on even a very good 5.1 channel setup. Unfortunately, you simply CANNOT get 48/32 files or 96/24 files unless you either download them from a website, rip them from a blu-ray disc, or play the blu-ray on a player.”

I wrote yesterday about the fact that Blu-ray discs cannot accommodate audio digital words 32-bits long. Where did this misinformation come from and why didn’t the interviewers check the statement prior to publication? John then goes on to claim that “sound is improved by listening to the music while watching the players”. I should be all over this idea since I’m the only record producer and label that includes HD-Video of the performers playing and singing with my Blu-ray releases. But it’s just an opinion and not a fact. People may prefer one way of listening over another…that’s why I include the videos AND multiple mixes. It’s true that music can be a visual art as well but it’s not in all cases. Just talk to the EDM community. How exciting is it to watch a person sit at a computer and trigger samples? And there are plenty of audiophiles that insist that music with the video “distraction” is a much better experience. Who cares? You can have it either way on my discs.

But John really gets my goat when he emphatically states, “And listening to the sound on a truly good 2-channel setup is far better than on even a very good 5.1 channel setup.” You may agree with this claim…but I hope you also agree that this is a matter of opinion not a fact. I find those that come to my studio or demos express a preference for the 5.1 surround mixes. When I switch to a straight stereo presentation after listening to an aggressive mix, most listeners feel the life has been drained out the tunes. My favorite email to this point came from a member of the now defunct Bay Area Audio Society. You can read the comments from a member of their organization after listening to my aggressive 5.1 surround music mixes.

To be continued…

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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.

(20) Readers Comments

  1. Mark… it’s really tough to have to continually defend the “faith” and highlight the flaws and errors in the arguments and opinions of the non-believers. Hang in there, man. Of course, on the other hand, perhaps you might stop and consider that the “I’m right and the rest of the world is wrong” philosophy is really sort of off-putting and possibly defeats your good intentions. I have no doubt that, given your multiple degrees and experience, your views are extremely credible but you might consider placing more emphasis the positive and be a little more tolerant of those lesser-beings. In the way of full disclosure, I own an Baetis media computer and I think that it’s pretty terrific – it even plays downloaded hi-res files!

    • Ron…I know I’m like a broken record and I really do try to be conscious of having a “I’m right and the rest of the world is wrong” attitude. I apologize if it tends towards the negative to often. But when I read reviews and interviews and statements from people that really shouldn’t be putting themselves up authorities, I feel obligated to offer the counter position. Why would some say that “blu-ray discs are the ONLY way to get great audio”? And then state specs that are absolutely false? They probably make a nice piece of hardware…but they’re not delivering anything you couldn’t build by visiting Fry’s and spending a few hundreds of dollars. I think the world of audiophiles should know that.

  2. Sometimes I prefer listening to music without seeing the performers. Notice that not everyone at Carnegie Hall has their eyes rivited on the stage. Sometimes it is an enhancement to have the visual connection, and sometimes a distraction. So the person who made this statement is overgeneralizing perhaps from his own experience to claim a universal truth. Regarding the limitations of Blu-Ray, it is surprising that people who work in the field can make such seriously inaccurate statements as the ones you quoted.

  3. Gee, I attended a sensational concert Friday night at the St. Martin’s In The Field Church in London consisting of a Mozart, Bach and Vivaldi. Every time I closed my eyes and listened to the music roll over me in all of its splendor, I failed to notice any change in what I heard with my eyes open watching the musicians some of whom were only 4 feet in front of me. To say that you hear music better while watching the performance is sheer nonsense. In fact, I would argue the opposite, in that you concentrate more intently on the music with your eyes closed. Sort of like listening in the dark late at night, which I always enjoy. As for 2 channel vs. 5..1, I enjoy them both. I only have a 5.1 set up in my HT room. I do listen to more music with my 2 channel system, principally because my speakers in the 2 channel room are significantly better than in my HT room.

    • I’m with you.

    • Joe – I also find that late night in the dark listening works best for me. For me, all things equal, a good 5.1 mix is better than a good stereo mix.

  4. I’m pretty sure that you can extract 32 bits from a blu-ray if you use a green marker around the perimeter of the disc.

  5. Just an opinion, but … MTV very definitely did NOT improve the quality of popular music recordings and CMT very definitely did NOT improve the quality of country music recordings.

    It had to be said.

    I could say more, but it would just be more opinion.

  6. Mark: I’m afraid that this entire discussion is about some Audiogon person saying I said something, which I may have 18-24 months ago. Back then, JRiver was mistakenly citing the native file of a ripped Blu-ray as 48/32 or 96/32. We since learned that the files were ONLY 48/24 or 96/24 specially encoded PCM. Our website was changed back then. More recently, I found out that our website still had the wrong language in two places and should be changed in the next couple of days. In particular, we now say “Some of the best 96/24 music can be found on Blu-rays.” The word “mainly” is gone. Do you disagree with that? We are empiricists but at the same time we try to read most of the good stuff out there written by engineers. That’s what gives us the ideas to improve our computers. But it was the engineers that convinced the industry that “USB is the best way for digital audio out of a computer” and boy is that ever wrong given our a/b comparisons. BTW, my own opinion — you are correct in calling it that — is that a truly great 2 channel system playing a downmixed multi-channel hi-def file, DOES sound better than most of the crappy multi-channel systems that many “audiophiles” have. We use two reference systems in testing each change we make in our computers — and my favorite is the multi-channel room for playing rips of multi-channel classical music, especially MCh DSD. When it comes to playing jazz and pop, I still prefer our two channel room. Of course, even we non-engineers know that room construction and physical acoustical treatment matter. Best, John Mingo. PS: I was alerted to this site by a client of ours; I have long since stopped reading most of the stuff on these sites and do not intend to comment further. You therefore have the last word regarding your opinion.

    • I can find no evidence of a JRiver admin or moderator making the mistake you mention on the JRiver website. Plenty of references to decoding dts and other lossy formats to 32 bit floating point for internal processing, but that’s completely different topic.

      I searched extensively. JRiver deletes nothing that meets basic decency guidelines. Got a link to the JRiver post(s) you are referring to that mentions JRiver’s belief that a “native file of a ripped Blu-ray as 48/32 or 96/32”?

    • John – We’ve all said things in error and would like to have them back but it doesn’t work that way on the internet. However, don’t get upset when you get called out on it. Heck, you previously said “And listening to the sound on a truly good 2-channel setup is far better than on even a very good 5.1 channel setup”. That’s very different from “a truly great 2 channel system playing a downmixed multi-channel hi-def file, DOES sound better than most of the crappy multi-channel systems that many “audiophiles” have”. I agree with that. Too bad you’re not listening….

  7. Well..as to the visuals modifying audio perception, back in the old days when film sound designers worked in production from a black and white “work print”, they discovered that their tracks sounded something like 3dB louder when they saw the film in color. Not well documented, but well known.

    But, I think I’ll just send John a tube of Electret Cream for his Audio Wounds, and include a get-well card written in 32-bit ASCII characters (in other words, blank).

  8. I was caught up short by the title of this article. There is no conflict between science and empiricism. Rather, basing our understanding of the world on knowledge gained empirically is what brought science forward from Aristotle.

    For a better understanding of the term, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empiricism

    If others are misusing this terminology, you do not need to join them.

    • Here’s what wiki says…”the theory that all knowledge is derived from sense-experience. Stimulated by the rise of experimental science, it developed in the 17th and 18th centuries, expounded in particular by John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume.” As applied to high-end audio, it translates IMHO to just listen…that’s all you need to evaluate a particular component or recording or whatever. I don’t see any misuse of the term.

      • This may not be the best forum for a discussion of epistemology, but I will add my comment. A quote from the first paragraph of the wiki article provides a better summary of the core tenet of the type of empiricism expounded by John Locke “empiricism emphasizes the role of experience and evidence, especially sensory experience, in the formation of ideas, over the notion of innate ideas or traditions”. When you measure something, such as the sound produced by a speaker, you are an empiricist.

        • I understand the scientific method as described in your comments. I borrowed the “empiricism wins the day” from an online review. The message that I was trying to get across is that simply listening and observing isn’t enough. Theory and specifications, measurements, and graphics should be a major component of evaluating a particular piece of music or equipment.

  9. I would advance that visual info tend to interfere with attentive music listening. Please do not drive while really getting into the music.

    • Good point. IN fact, I don’t generally listen to music in the car even though I have an Acura with a DVD-Audio 5.1 surround sound system in it.

  10. The best way IMO to listen to and judge sound is with your eyes closed. Visual cues are a distraction if your goal is strictly experiencing sound. Watching musicians most of the time is boring. They saw, they blow, they strike, they pluck and the conductor waves his arms. So what? Of course if you are at a ballet or opera that’s a different story. However, there are times when watching can be very enhancing to experiencing a performance, even one that is seen on a screen and not live. Watching virtuoso violinists and pianists move their hands at speed so blindingly fast it’s a blur and yet hitting every note correctly brings home the difficulty of the feat and their amazing skill and talent. Here’s an example I enjoy seeing and hearing even on my smart phone through its little speaker, even though I also have the CD of this performance. See if you don’t agree. This spectacular performance of this piece is by far the best I’ve ever heard. BTW, the videography IMO is awful.

    Watch the video.

    • Throughout the history of music, performances have been visual experiences as well as sonic ones. I love watching musicians play…they express themselves physically in all sorts of interesting ways. I’m a guitar player and watching Laurence Juber or Albert Lee is transfixing. That’s part of the reason I spend so music effort videotaping the sessions I record.

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