Dr. AIX's POSTS — 19 September 2014

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It gets even better. Yesterday, I wrote about the JAS Hi-Res Audio logo program that the CEA is considering adopting. If they do, it seems to me that it will require a complete reexamination of the “definition” of high-resolution audio that was issued back in June by the a collective consisting of the DEG (Digital Entertainment Group), the CEA, NARAS, and the major labels. The minimum specifications laid down in the JAS document (which originated with Sony) conflict with the collective’s version on almost every point. How is it possible that the CEA can adopt a logo that conflicts with a previously agreed upon document.

For those that need a quick recap of the collective definition, here are the main points:

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.”

It is accompanied by 4 Master Quality Recording Categories:

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)

Now look again at the table assembled by Sony and which accompanies the JAS Hi-Res Logo offer:

140919_uk_jas_chart

Figure 1 – The UK version of the JAS minimum specification chart for using the high-resolution audio logo. [Click to enlarge]

Thanks to a reader for bringing this UK version to my attention. It differs from the one I posted yesterday by the addition of the Transducer (the Speakers/Headphones) row, which states that the minimum performance specification is 40 kHz.

The collective version tries to be all-inclusive and even a CD or a very old and very bad analog tape can be elevated to “high-resolution audio” status with a simple transfer (why say that we need to be better than a CD and then include CDs as a source?). Clearly, the collective version is seriously flawed and makes the Hi-Res Audio logo unobtainable for most of the content that the labels are making available to the various HRA download sites.

This is as it should be. An upward move in the fidelity of recorded music should be a real move…not an “everybody feels good” approach like the one produced by the CEA committee. High-Resolution Audio should be hard to accomplish, dramatic upon first hearing, and accept nothing less than the real thing. The record business has been selling standard definition music for many decades and should be offering “master quality” audio of their older masters. There’s a real market there. Who doesn’t want the very best that available of their favorite hits? But it’s another thing when you reach for the uncompromised quality of new recordings in real high-resolution.

Several comments made the point that a lot of professional equipment is going to fall below the minimums demanded by the JAS chart. That’s true…some equipment is going to have to upgraded. Although, microphones do extend into the ultrasonic range, they produce less output the higher the source frequency. The intervening equipment (analog or digital) already meets the standard but the “transducers (speakers and headphones)” are going to have a bit of hill to climb. Most speakers don’t get much past 20 kHz. To get the Hi-Res Audio logo, they’re going to have to include super tweeters or use innovative designs like the JBL M2 Studio Reference monitors. Again, this is all good.

Obviously, the focus of the JAS logo initiative is directed at the hardware manufacturers. Sony’s new hardware has the logo but you don’t see the logo on the Sony music site. Why not? Because the majority of the items in their catalog don’t qualify as high-resolution. Let’s look forward and convince the artists, engineers, and labels to strive for the same quality as the hardware companies. That would set us on the right path. We can have master quality files now in full resolution and look forward to real high-resolution audio in the future.

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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.

(15) Readers Comments

  1. DeJaVu , this is so remnant of the DVDA fiasco that I got caught up in with expensive equipment purchases that would play it but the software/recording industry never came to the party. I just don’t understand how these so called audio experts continually keep their heads stuck in the sand or are like a bunch of spoiled kids who would rather not get involved if it is not their way. I agree, the JAS has it right, are we looking again at the Beta VHS struggle again, we take less to get more. What’s wrong why do we always settle for less? Hopefully CEA may see the error in their ways and do the right thing so we can get the music at it’s fullest resolution from studio to ear.

    • It’s doubtful that the CEA will actually change anything. They are an organization that represents a lot of different companies and they want to be very inclusive. It doesn’t matter to them if the definition is skewed…they want members.

  2. Howdy Mark,

    Great post. Really appreciate the way you break it down. While it is encouraging to see the possibilities that a well defined description of hi-resolution audio could bring, I can’t help but think we continue to leave a critical factor out of the overall equation. I’m referring to the quality of the mastering and the use of dynamic range compression.

    Can hi-resolution audio really reach it’s potential unless we address the poor mastering quality first? It feels like we have jumped ahead and are trying to resolve issues in the wrong order.

    Often times poor mastering and the use of dynamic range compression is called “an artistic decision”. That may be true but it doesn’t mean it is a good decision and it doesn’t mean the fidelity of the recording can be rescued just because the entire chain meets a hi-rez specification. In other words…I’m not sure hi-rez matters a whole bunch when the project has had the life sucked out of in the mastering process.

    Mark…is there any hope here? Is there anything the industry could bolt on to the specification to set a minimum standard for mastering?

    Your thoughts?

    • Clay, you’ve put your finger on the most important issue confronting the acquisition of better audio. Will the producers, artists, engineers, and label people allow better sounding recording to be released. My personal feeling is that will keep doing what they’re currently doing. After all why would they change their standard operating procedure just to get few lunatic audiophiles excited about some high-fidelity new recordings. There are some real problems with better sounding records…radio, small speakers, bluetooth etc. The mastering guys want good sound as much as we do but they want to keep their customers too.

    • I agree with Mr. Carpenter completely, both in praise of Mark’s presentation here and about what’s missing.
      So many of the so-called tools of the trade were developed to accommodate the shortcomings of recording technology; compress the loudest so the softest isn’t lost in the noise. Close miking for the same reason, which led to multi-track recording. The adding of reverb to the recording to make it feel like music in an acoustic space. With today’s mikes and preamps, combined with the incredible dynamic range of a 24/192 recording, wouldn’t it be better to record the whole (acoustic) group simply, in a real reverberant space? While we’re at it, adding the new tool of Recursive Aural Crosstalk Elimination could let the engineer hear what was really on the simple stereo recording and cause him/her to add far less reverb than would be applied without listening through R.A.C.E. We’d all win by having more natural recordings to enjoy.

      Chesky has created some remarkable recordings with their dummy head lately. They have R.A.C.E. built in. If you want them to sound real, you need to be the right angle from the speakers for the correction to work. Your speakers must be extremely time accurate. And per my experiments, the speakers must be extremely dynamix, or themore distant miking can sound flat compared to mikes right at the instruments.

      Sorry for going on about this, but this whole thing about equipment recording 40k has never been about hearing things above our hearing range; it’s about keeping everything that is in our audible range perfectly time accurate. So if time and phase are so important, why are we still allowing stereo to have the massive time errors that hearing the wrong speaker with the wrong ear brings? It’s no wonder so many don’t appreciate the merits of high rez recordings…

      • The use of various recording methods is a complex decision based on the target market, the aesthetics of the artist/engineer/producer, the budget, the timeline, and the available equipment. There is no right way to make a recording. If someone want’s to use Garage Band and an SM-57 in the back seat of their car…well it’s not my thing…but OK. I got my Ph.D. playing around with binaural recording and can’t honestly say that I enjoy the sound of the Chesky stuff…although I understand it. And maybe sounding real isn’t everyone’s goal. It certainly wasn’t a goal for Sir George Martin and the Beatles or Peter Gabriel etc.

        The specs in the document I posted does relate to ultrasonics for your reasons and mine. It’s a qualifier…that can bring better phase (timing) to recordings and more of what was produced in front of the microphone back into the playback space.

  3. Probably approx. 90% of the loudspeakers in the market will fail to comply with these conditions. And probably approx. 75% of the amplifiers. Especially the tube amps (except OTL) with their bandwidth limiting output transformers.

    • I agree…the hope is that manufacturers will have to develop new and better technologies to get to real Hi-Res Audio. If they do then we all benefit. Getting the content folks to make recordings that take advantage of the new hardware is going to be the biggest problem.

  4. “High-Resolution Audio should be hard to accomplish, dramatic upon first hearing, and accept nothing less than the real thing.”

    “Let’s look forward and convince the artists, engineers, and labels to strive for the same quality as the hardware companies. That would set us on the right path.”

    These phrases have the right melody!

  5. Again a question, probably not closely related to this. I use an Ayre Dac, transmitting into an Anthem Logic D2v preamp & then an Anthem A5 amp. The D2V uses DSP & upsamples to 192/24. The D2V allows me to switch off DSP. The sound in the off position is bland at best. Between DSP, Upsampling & computer programs like Pure Music, I think I am enjoying ” colored ” music. I use the same setup with a Moon 340I integrated amp & J River in my office. It also uses DSP, sounds Quite good, but different. Do we ever get true sound, or just a coloration of it?

    • You have the option. There’s nothing wrong with coloring your sound…that’s what mastering engineers do.

  6. Shouldn’t those 40kHz microphones and transducers also have a +/- dB spec. Who cares if a device records or plays back from 1Hz to 40.001kHz if there is nothing to register?

    • Of course…there have to be real numbers applied.

  7. Why even bother then what are they representing it is sure not High Resolution Audio? If the CEA is not going to come up to or represent the true standard of minimum 96/24 this whole thing again is going to just shrivel on the vine. When I was introduced to true Hi-Res surround through DVDA and also AIX offerings I was truly into it for the long haul. Then Ipod came along and destroyed it all. This is so frustrating to be right on the brink of getting it right universally then to turn back from the edge to allow anything and call it High Resolution no this cannot be allowed ! I can only hope that someone will talk some sense to this CEA group and they listen and commit to at least the JAS standard and be united, what do they have to lose ? If this does not happen then we are just once again caught in the loop of two different style audio versions and we know where that is going to lead.

    • I’ve been trying to talk some sense into the CEA board for years. It’s challenging. I can’t even get professional engineers to agree on a definition.

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