Dr. AIX's POSTS — 09 October 2014

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Today is the anniversary of John Lennon’s birthday. He was born on October 9, 1940 and would have been 74 years old today. In honor of this special occasion, Capitol/UMe is making available newly remastered “HD” digital audio files in a variety of sample rates and word lengths. The headline on Yahoo’s site reads, “John Lennon Studio Albums and Collections Debut in High Definition Digital Audio, Beginning with Today’s Release of ‘Imagine’ and ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll’. The downloads will be available as 96 kHz/24-bit PCM downloads from the usual HRA sites including HDtracks.

Curiously, I read that the remasters were sourced from John Lennon’s original mixes. I’m not sure what that means and there was no further information on any of the news sites that I read. One could surmise that the 2-channel flat stereo mixes (before the previous mastering was done) were transferred to digital at 96 kHz/24-bits (why not go all the way and do 192 kHz conversions?) and then “digitally remastered”. This is what Pono is saying that they won’t do…but the major labels are. And I think it’s great. Going back to the best possible master and making new transfers and carefully remastering the tracks with high-resolution, audiophile sensibilities in mind is the way to go. Are they really High-Resolution Audio? No, not really. But they can claim to be the best available presentation or the “Master Quality”. For any album that was recorded on analog tape and mixed to analog tape, this is the best that we can hope for.

I also noticed a brief article about this news on the AudioStream website (check it out by clicking here) with a image from the “Imagine” album complete with the JAS (Japan Audio Society) High-Res Audio logo added in the lower right hand corner of the artwork. I don’t know whether Michael Lavorgna or someone else at Audiostream placed the logo there, but it’s clearly misplaced…at least according to the specifications laid out by the JAS. The chart that I published in my article about the use of the logo rules out any analog master being categorized as worthy of the JAS logo. You can read that article here.

The albums will be available through iTunes. But contrary to the announcement I read, they won’t be available at 96 kHz/24-bits. The labels do deliver in this format to iTunes but Apple simply uses the “higher resolution” source files as input to their machine…which spits out AAC files with the “Mastered for iTunes” identifier.

Other albums will be released at 44.1 kHz/24-bits. The “Gimme Some Truth” 72-track set will be limited to the CD sampling rate but raise the word length from 16 to 24-bits. Like that will make a difference. I suppose the mastering engineers working with all of this material output their new masters at 24-bits because it’s easy and matters to the marketing folks. But given that the original recording doesn’t have dynamic range or a noise floor that requires or would benefit from 24-bits…why bother? It’s OK to archive in 24-bits and maybe, just maybe, the filters in the 24-bit DACs will “sound better” at that spec, but in reality you won’t be able to tell a difference.

This is current state of the art in HRA…although most of the press announcements I read called it “High Definition”. What hope do we have when nobody agrees on something as simple as the name?

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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.

(10) Readers Comments

  1. All of this can be looked at two ways: Slow, steady progress towards raising the median level of publicly available sound quality (and the constant rumors of both Apple and Sonos doing some form of sonic upgrade are indicative of this), or keep finding holes in the cheese, with an evident extra poke at Pono anytime the chance to do so arises. You seem to prefer to comment on the failings rather than note the progress. The proverbial glass is half-empty for you, half-full for others. I prefer the positive ; it may take a couple of years for things to mature, but ultimately anyone who wants will have relatively easy access to clean sound. What’s wrong w/ that? Best, Craig

    Glad to also know that my comments are not the longest either.

    • How is this slow and steady progress towards raising the median level of audio fidelity. We’re getting the same thing that we’ve had for decades under a new banner. Even if Apple and Sonos and Tidal and Deezer and Pono and the rest of them issue every disc or album in CD spec fidelity…we’re at exactly the same place that we’ve been for decades. However, in reality the fidelity is worse because of the loudness wars.

      I accept that most of my comments point the silliness of so-called “high-resolution” marketplace and the false marketing. But just as you want me to stand down, I get comments and emails thanking me for telling it like it is. I just shared some of my tracks with a couple of young, Berklee School of Music engineer/musician/producers…they had no idea that music could be that rich, deep, and clear. That’s what I want for everyone.

  2. Dr Waldrep, please clarify a point in your post. It indirectly concerns money. Several companies record well on tape then “manipulate” or not at 96/24 or DSD 128. They then sell files at 96/24 or DSD at $20 for an album or $15 for 44.1/16. I buy the 44.1/16 in this situation. I’m happy to spend more for 96/24, but I don’t understand why.

    I believe its best to work with 24 bit files, because that prevents rounding errors, (eg degradation) etc., but when the final product is ready…. you don’t get something for nothing: 44.1/16 is as good as a ADC on a tape can actually deliver.

    • Recording on analog tape and then transferring to 96/24 or DSD (at any multiple) is a creative decision that some engineers employ. T Bone Burnett does this and he’s an in demand producer/musician/engineer. He’s not alone. You get no benefit from buying a 96/24 file made from an analog tape transfer. Save your money for tracks from those of us making new recordings at 96/24. The rest is just marketing spin.

  3. Original mixes means the new mixes Yoko Ono made for the 2000-2004 CD releases won’t be used. I suspect the high-resolution releases are from the masters that were made for the 2010 CD releases, hopefully with less compression, but the DR database website shows that the Blu-ray HFPA release from earlier this year has the same dynamic range as the 2010 CD.

    While I agree with your comments about 24-bits not adding any fidelity, I do think the higher sampling rate does provide benefits just because the DAC filter creates less phase distortion.

    • Thanks for the added information. Increasing the sampling rate might make a very slight difference…but I’m not people would recognize any change.

      • Are these the same people who think satellite radio and HD radio are CD quality?

  4. As always, I read your articles with interest and learn from them. I was asked a question yesterday which I couldn’t answer. I hope you can help. When I purchase a hi res download they are approx 150% more expensive than a 320mp3. Where is the extra cost to the producer of the download, I was asked.

    • The added cost is the cost of the licensing fees charged by the labels that are making the materials available to HDtracks or the other sites. They regard these tracks as worthy of premium prices when in fact, most of the time they only the same fidelity as previous versions.

  5. You mentioned in this article that the Hi-Res Logo on John Lennon is misplaced according to JAS.

    I assume that the Hi-Res Logo should be placed on the right top corner, I’m I right ?

    I have been searching for the specifications laid out by JAS and I can’t find them anywhere.

    Could you direct me to these specifications ?

    Thanks.

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