Dr. AIX's POSTS — 15 September 2014

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Pono’s Executive Summary incorrectly identifies the “Problem” with current music delivery in the same way that Harman’s film “The Distortion of Sound”. I’d like to take today and parse a relevant part of their Executive Summary.

“Music is fundamentally analog. It’s made up of sound waves that travel through air and hit our eardrums, generating signals processed by our brain and recognized as music. Music has a quality that other sounds don’t, it can connect with our spirits in a way other sounds can’t. But this connection is made only when we can hear all of the sound that was originally created and only when we listen to it as it was meant to be heard.”

All sound is analog. It doesn’t matter whether it’s music, spoken words, a love poem, or cacophony. It doesn’t matter whether it’s processed and stored in analog or digital form. What gets to your ears is always analog and has always has been. There is nothing in an analog recording that contains any more of the “originally created” sound than a high-resolution digital recording. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite…a PCM digital recording eclipses all analog formats in terms of frequency response, dynamic range and distortion. It’s just more accurate, if that’s what you want.

If you believe what the Pono statement says, we should be able to make a connection to music recorded in the 20s, 30s, or 40s. Does the limited fidelity of a lacquer disc recorded by Charlie Christian or Robert Johnson fail to make the connection because it lacks some of the original sound? I don’t think so.

I don’t know what it means to say listen to a piece of music the way it was “meant to be heard.” The flat mixed master is what leaves the mixing studio. Is that flat master the definitive version? It generally has more dynamic range and fidelity than a commercially mastered version. I think if you played Neil Young’s mixes through a great system that he would love them…if you played the re-mastered versions after they are made radio friendly, I’m not so sure.

“Prior to the digital revolution, music was recorded, mixed, mastered, sold and played back on analog devices. Because every stage of this process was analog, the essence of the original music was preserved, allowing the listener to hear music the way it was recorded by the artist and to experience music the way the artist intended.”

The music production industry, just like the film industry, has moved from exclusively analog production to a production path dominated by digital processes. Would it be appropriate or correct to state, “Because every stage of a film production was analog, the essence of the original film was preserved”? I doubt it. The use of analog film or analog tape is a creative decision not one that guarantees that the essence of the creative effort thrives. The artists that use analog are happy (for a particular “analog” sound) and so are bands/musicians that use high-resolution digital. Analog and digital methods are creative tools that are used by craftsmen to realize their own particular vision. There is nothing inherent in analog productions that makes them any better than digital ones and allows, “the listener to hear music the way it was recorded by the artist and to experience music the way the artist intended.”

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.

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