Dr. AIX's POSTS — 30 September 2014

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On first listen, I liked the tunes. Nothing really stood out as a single but these are solid rock tunes that should satisfy Tom Petty fans.

Sunday morning, Ryan stopped by the AIX Records table and we played the disc in my Oppo through the Smyth Realiser. Initially, I presented the internal musical loop provided by Symth. I soloed each of the “virtual” speakers and he immediately picked up on the “over the shoulder” presentation of the left and right speakers. Then I played the disc and let him cruise through a number of the tracks. The sound was definitely coming from out of his head but he commented, “It doesn’t sound that different than the stereo mix”.

I put the headphones on and listened for a few minutes and had to agree. The sound of his 5.1 mixes didn’t actually spread the sound of the individual instruments around the speaker array. I’m sure he worked the stereo mix before crafting the surround mix because it’s very similar in overall sound and localization of instruments. The drums are spread across the front as they traditionally are in the stereo mix…and they remain spread across the front of the surround mix. It seems as though they are pulled off the front wall but only by a small amount. The rest of the mix is likewise less aggressive in the use of space than I would done but there are no “traditional” surround mixing formulas in place, which means every mixing engineer is free to do whatever they want with the additional channels.

If you’re expecting to be immersed in a well defined, new presentation of the tracks in the 5.1 versions, you’ll be disappointed. I know I prefer aggressive surround mixes and felt let down by the 5.1 that heard through the phones. Again, I can’t wait until I crank up the project in my own room…although I don’t honestly think it will change that much.

The producer’s note doesn’t really satisfy my requirements for “full and accurate disclosure” with regards to the information about high-resolution audio. The mention of “256 times more resolution that a CD” is the first bump I ran into. Yes, moving from 16-bits to 24-bits offers 8-more bits or 256 times more amplitude values per sample but you only get the “full dynamic range, from the softest to the loudest sounds” if they are actually present in the music. The Tom Petty songs don’t have more than 16-bits worth of dynamic range…I doubt whether they exceed 4-bits.

This specification is already sticky enough without confusing the issue further with irrelevant numbers and comparison etc. I’m comfortable allowing artists, engineers, and producers to do anything they want within the high-resolution format…even ignore the benefits if they so choose. They can still call it high-resolution because the adopted the specifications but for creative reasons moved on.

The Tom Petty record was recorded at 48 kHz/24-bit on Ryan’s Pro Tools rig after it had digitally traversed from the “stage” area where they like to play to the control room according to Ryan. I asked him specifically about this because I wanted to know why he wouldn’t have chosen 96 kHz.

Welcome to confusing world of non-audiophile high-resolution audio recordings.

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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.

(12) Readers Comments

  1. Mark,
    ther is an interesting fact about this record: the dynamic range measurements differ greatly between the CD release and the Blu-ray-Audio release! (See the dynamic range database.

    So while you note that the 16 bits of the CD would be enough for the dynamic range of the Blu-ray release, the actual CD is much worse. I have no idea why, except that maybe the studio “compromised” to release a “radio-compatible” version with cranked up loudness on CD and wanted to give the “audiophiles” something with better sonics. Or the CD is deliberately made worse than it has to be, so that you can sell the “audiophile” version for a higher price to the niche market?

    I guess we’ll never know.

    Best regards,
    Oliver

    • Oops, seems I have made a mess with the link. Sorry about that, but it’s still clickable at least…

    • I can ask the engineer and get his thoughts.

    • Thanks for the comment Oliver, as an owner of the bluray, I have been very curious how it compares to the CD release. I got the same DR values as the dynamic range database link you provided. Now I may have to get my hands on the CD release to see for myself!

      • Hi Todd,
        I own the Blu-ray and picked it over the CD mainly for the surround mix. I was surrpised to see such a big difference in the Dynamic Range Database. Most releases show exactly the same measurement for the CD and “High Resolution” versions.
        Since I do not own the CD I cannot compare them myself, but I would imagine that such a difference in dynamic range should be very noticable.
        Best regards,
        Oliver

  2. It’s understandable that you like heated up surround mixes, and for movies, full immersion is 100% appropriate. Yes, the now rare “Gaudeamus” 5.1 SACD sounds best in multi-channel, and multi-track pop recordings with lots of out of phase info can be easily steered into interesting surround mixes. But to a person, 100%, I have met only vociferous objections from experienced listeners when any natural acoustic instrument is panned between front and surround channels. In real life, the performers are in front of them, and thus the objections .Many find it very distracting. Your thoughts?Thanks.

    • On the contrary Craig, virtually everyone I play a stereo vs surround mix to in my studio prefers the surround. And not only that, they choose the “stage” perspective mix over the milder “audience” perspective mix. Given a chance to get used to the new paradigm, even hardcore audiophiles will come around. Years ago I gave a presentation to the Bay Area Audio Society. I played my surround mixes and discussed what I did and why. At the end I handed a copy of my High-Resolution Audio Experience disc to all of the attendees. One gentleman wrote me a very nice note and posted his thoughts about the surround mixes on their site. Essentially he said what you and your associates said…that the sound of music belongs in front of you and it is too strange to place instruments to the side or even behind your listening position. But he listened to almost an hour of my sample in “stage” 5.1 surround before returning to the “audience” perspective 5.1 mix (not even the stereo mix) and wrote that the sound suddenly felt as flat as a painting on the wall. Whereas before he could identify the exact position of every instrument and voice, the frontal mix was far less engaging and interesting. It’s just a matter of getting used to something new.

      I find that about 85% of everyone who takes a listen to the stereo, audience and stage mixes on my albums prefers the most aggressive mix. As a musician myself, it is common to sit amongst the musicians and enjoy a performance…not unusual at all.

    • I would agree with your statement in part, in that I dislike active panning between front or surround for a musical performance, it is distracting. For instance, I couldn’t get into the Beatles DVD-audio 5.1 mix.

      However, you might have to lower your 100% to 99.9% since I quite enjoy Mark’s use of the surround channels in his 5.1 mixes. For one, I like the music tracks to be up-close very assertive, and two, using the surround channels allows the soundstage to broaden. And if done right, it gives the soundstage much more depth. For instance, I can place the bass guitar (or any other instrument) in a particular location with offset relative to the center soundstage. If the speaker setup is correct and the mix is done properly, then the effect is seamless and there is very little conscious thoguht “oh that came from the front speaker or that came from the surround”. Unfortunately, most 5.1 mixes are not done with enough effort. I own the Hypnotic Eye Bluray. I am a big TP fan and mostly bought it for the stereo mix as it represented the “best I could get”. I did listen to the 5.1 mix and felt it wasn’t that captivating…I’ll stick to the stereo mix.

      • I’m one of those who prefer the presentation of recorded music as if it were in front of me – that’s how I experience music when I go to a gig. I wouldn’t stand next to the stage only to turn at an odd angle to the musicians. I find instruments (particularly dynamic instruments such as drums) placed at the extremes to be distracting and take away from the musical experience.

        • It’s all a matter of taste…all I can tell you is it’s pretty fun to hear stuff all around you. Recordings don’t have to be bound by the same limits as live gigs.

      • Hi Todd, Happy to chat w/ you as Mark hears enough from me already. “Fun listening” is one thing, and “accurate reproduction of natural acoustic events” is another. Yes, if you get used to sound swirling all around you, a return to plain vanilla stereo might seem less dimensional, although a proper stereo soundstage does not lack dimension by any means. Until the recording industry adopts what Mark calls, “the new paradigm,” the universal music playback format is stereo. The key thing is always , ” What did the artist intend for you to hear.” If they expressed themselves in stereo, you would be wise to play it the way it was recorded. Mark has carved out his own territory of mixing style perspective, and that’s fine, that’s one of the distinguishing characteristics of AIX. But when I play my CD of Johnny Cash sitting on a stool in his living room playing and singing, stereo playback puts him right in my room. Oh, I forgot, what about the “under the stool mix?” No pun intended.

        • Craig, stereo is still king and will remain so for many years to come. Just the way that mono was king for longer than stereo has reigned. Surround music mixes are well know or even well done most of the time and the artists simply haven’t been shown what’s possible. I’m readying a full post on the issue.

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