Dr. AIX's POSTS — 27 September 2014

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Sony Music Entertainment held a press event last evening here in New York at Avatar studios featuring Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. The purpose was to highlight Sony’s continued promotion of HRA, the introduction of their new high-resolution “Digital Walkman”, and to promote “Cheek to Cheek”, the Columbia Records collaboration between the 88-year old star and the younger 28 year old singer…a record across generations. I really wish I could have been there because it sounds like the executives, engineer, and artists have created something really special.

It was a listening party for “Cheek to Cheek”, which was recorded “old school”. Danny and Dae Bennett engineered and produced the album without overdubbing and without using autotune. According to Dae, “What you hear is exactly as it was recorded live.” This is a welcome variant from the usual production methods used to make new commercial recordings. From the information that I read, it doesn’t say whether the band was also part of the “live” recording but I would assume so seeing the video of “Anything Goes”. The video shows both artists singing in the same room but the band is not present. It’s the way I’ve been making records for 15 years… with everyone in the same room singing and playing as an ensemble.

The recording was made at 96 kHz/24-bit PCM…not Sony’s own DSD format, a fact that I found somewhat surprising but encouraging. Engineer Dae Bennett said, “It’s great to hear that spectrum”, referring to the dynamic range of the 96/24 PCM recording vs. MP3. I look forward to getting my ears on the high-resolution audio files and hearing for myself just how much compression was used on the vocals and whether the mastering engineer was allow to let the dynamic range of the original mixes persist through to the version that consumers will be able to purchase. The audio on the Vimeo video is definitely compressed…but I’ll wait until I can download the H-Res files.

Sony is one of the biggest proponents of HRA. They introduced a large number of exciting pieces of equipment including the HAP-Z1ES hard drive music server and the less expensive HAP-S1, which I will review shortly. They also are reviving the “walkman” product category with the NWZ-A17, a high-resolution portable player capable of playing HRA material (the “Cheek to Cheek” record comes preloaded using up 1.4 GB) at 192/96 kHz/24-bits from its internal 200 GB storage capacity.

They are also the originators of the Hi-Res Audio logo that I discussed last week. Sony gave the logo to the JAS in the hopes that it would be adopted industry wide…with the attendant specifications. Those specs eclipse the definition of HRA as presented by the DEG, CEA, NARAS, and the labels. We’ll see how that plays out.

The Sony NWZ-A17 could be very bad news for the Pono music player and other high-end portable devices. It sells for $100 less than Neil’s unit and with Sony’s marketing machine, reputation, and desire to dominate the HRA segment, things could get interesting.

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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. Your recent blogs on the JAS HD Audio requirements particularly those concerning replay equipment prompted me to check the specifications of my own gear. It turns out that my power amp has a sensivity of 10hz – 20khz and my speakers 20hz – 22khz. My dac is the Benchmark dac2. Does this mean I will gain no benefit from HD Audio recordings (24 bit/96-192khz) apart from the fact that some, yours especially, will have been properly produced and mastered?
    As I’m not about to change my gear any time soon and, if, as I suspect this applies to a large percentage of music buyers and certainly to most of the equipment currently for sale, then, surely, the whole Hd Audio hype is an even bigger con than the scams (re-marketing of old recordings as something they aren’t) that you have exposed.
    Jim

    • You’re going to get great sound out the gear that you have. The specs of HD-Audio are very demanding and will only be delivered by a new generation of gear…and that’s OK. HD is very hard to produce and it will be difficult to achieve as well. Think of of it as the equivalent of moving from a very nice sports car to a hand made Ferrari. It’s not going to be for everyone nor appreciate by everyone. The content, software, hardware and speakers all have to step up.

  2. I recently picked up the Sony STR-DN1050 A/V receiver which supports just about every HRA audio format and I couldn’t be happier – I’m sure the DACs aren’t quite as good as the HAP-S1 but it was a cheap ticket into the HRA game (as a college student on a budget cost was a concern for me). Full disclosure: I work for Sony Pictures and received a 25% discount which clinched it for me as the Pioneer VSX-1124-k spec’d similarly was also tempting. If Apple makes their 24-96 files available I may be filing for bankruptcy.

  3. “From the information that I read, it doesn’t say whether the band was also part of the “live” recording but I would assume so seeing the video of “Anything Goes”. The video shows both artists singing in the same room but the band is not present. It’s the way I’ve been making records for 15 years… with everyone in the same room singing and playing as an ensemble.”

    Mark,
    Sorry but I don’t understand the above comment unless there’s a typo somewhere.
    You say the video shows the two vocalists in the room but none of the musicians. Then you say its the same way you record with. “with everyone in the same room singing and playing as an ensemble.”? How do you record, with everyone playing in the room at the same time or some other way?
    TIA,
    Sal

    • I should have been more clear. The Bennett/Lady Gaga sessions were done in a commercial recoding facility. They separated the musicians from the singers but still recorded everyone at the same time. It is typical to isolate drums and other instruments from vocals. My own recording have everyone on the stage of a large auditorium…

  4. Don’t hold your breath, the CD at least has an average crest factor of only 9.5dB. Not as bad as most, but not brilliant either….

    • That’s disappointing. I did hear a track yesterday at the New York Audio Show and it sounded very good but was compressed.

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