Dr. AIX's POSTS — 13 December 2014

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It’s completely out of control! All you have to do is look around the web and everyone is bragging about the ever higher sampling rates and the incredible improvement in fidelity that the produce. I’ve had numerous conversations with design engineers that are so proud of the fact that they’ve created the ultimate DAC, which includes sample rates up to 384 and even 768 kHz. And they claim that they hear more “low level detail” and “polished bass notes”.

A press release this week alerted me to the new line of SACD/CDs that Mobile Fidelity is launching at the upcoming CES show. The “CES 2015 MEDIA ALERT” announces the debut of their proprietary digital mastering technology called “GAIN HD with 4X DSD”, which is described as:

“The GAIN HD mastering process utilizes 4X DSD direct-to-1X DSD conversion for the high-resolution SACD layer and 4X DSD direct-to-CD conversion for the CD layer. This newly implemented mastering chain achieves a higher level of musical accuracy, resolution and fidelity from MFSL’s ULTRADISC UHR Hybrid SACD series.

The GAIN HD 4X DSD process delivers a subtle but significant improvement in low-level detail, ambient information and “air”, and perhaps most importantly, a relaxed ease in the musical presentation that simply sounds less “reproduced” and more natural and involving.”

I just love the “subtle but significant” wording. The translation is “you won’t hear any difference but you won’t admit it to your friends”.

Their signal path includes playing back the master analog tape into a Digital Audio Workstation capable of capturing Quad DSD (aka DSD 256). And then they “re-master” their new capture of the standard resolution transfer using DXD (a high-sampling rate version of PCM) before converting that back to DSD 64 for pressing on a SA-CD. For future reference, anytime you read that some process of another provides “improvements in low-level detail, ambient information and air”…avoid that product, accessory, tweak, release, and company. I’m actually somewhat surprised that MoFi has chosen to confuse things with pointless jargon, new names for the same old stuff, and hyperbole.

MoFi does a great job of re-releasing the analog masters of yesteryear but there’s only so much fidelity to be found in third generation analog tapes regardless of how many ULTRAs you use to describe the process.

MoFi is clearly not the only one spinning things out of reality. The trend towards higher and higher sampling rates has got to stop…but it won’t because audio enthusiasts falsely believe that a sampling rate higher than 96 kHz will actually improve the quality of a recording. I might get to 192 kHz if pressed but my whole studio operates at 96 kHz, so my motivation is obviously diminished.

A knowledgeable reader sent me a very informative email that I will rewrite and share soon (the English is a little challenging but the message is clear). It contained a link to Dan Lavry’s article on sample rates and how much is enough. I have read this before but thought I would share it today. You can read it by clicking here.

The chase for ever-higher sampling rates is pointless. We could get a lot more out of the formats that we already have if the engineers and producers would make recordings that have some fidelity left in them. There is absolutely no reason to record at Quad DSD or 384 kHz PCM.

See you tomorrow.

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I’m still looking to raise the $3700 needed to fund a booth at the 2015 International CES. I’ve received some very generous contributions but still need to raise additional funds (I’ve received about $2300 so far). Please consider contributing any amount. I write these posts everyday in the hopes that readers will benefit from my network, knowledge and experience. I hope you consider them worth a few dollars. You can get additional information at my post of December 2, 2014. Thanks.

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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. Well, I guess we’ll have to get a listen to one of the new-process MoFi discs. If they sound fabulous, then their process is justified. If not… As I’ve said before, if hamsters running the wheel made the best sound, I’d be a hamster guy. With so many differing technical currents flowing, it will be up to the ears to determine who’s blowing smoke and who is doing audibly great work. Best, Craig

    • The same quality of sound would be delivered by using 96 kHz/24-bit PCM. The hype and jargon is just hocus pocus. They make great transfers…I just wish they’d transfer to a format that is worth it.

    • Only if that “fabulous sound” can be proven in a serious A-B -X test by a large number of listeners.
      Other wise we fall back to that same black hole of snake oil peddlers that drive high end audio sales now.

      If you buy a set of $3000 a meter power cables,
      1. You don’t want to look foolish for being hoodwinked into the purchase by marketing, reviews, etc.
      2. Even if 100 others say they didn’t make a bit of difference, if you say they made a BIG improvement in the sound of your system, you will claim your hearing is better, or your system is better, or some other nonsense that can’t be dis-proven since you will refuse a A-B-X test with claims A-B-X tests aren’t reliable.

      It’s an outright shame the snake-pit of vipers high end audio has turned into.

      • To be honest, I think Hi-Fi’s been like this for a long time (since the early eighties) with subjectivism bringing all sorts of idiotic products which “enhanced the listening experience; I believe some interconnect manufacturers still claim cable directionality.

        What most audiophiles who buy into cable directionality, etc, seem not to realise is that manufacturers use sound engineering principles to create their products. Yes, some manufacturers (not wishing to Naim names) do pander to the subjectivists by claiming to e.g. shake their umbilical interconnects x number of times as it “improves the sound”, but their products are built using long established engineering techniques.

    • I’ll be posting about this…and the creeping number of 352.8 kHz and 384 kHz recordings getting onto download sites. It’s nuts.

  2. The industry is just taking advantage of the public’s misunderstanding of how sampling and digital conversion works. The industry’s very unfortunate (or very cunning, depending on one’s point of view) choice of the word ‘resolution’ to represent fidelity to the ‘original analog sound’ has contributed a lot also. If more pixels provide greater resolution in a digital image, why wouldn’t more samples provide higher ‘resolution’ to an audio clip? Regardless of the scientific falsity of this statement, this misconception is here to stay and the press have contributed immensely to this. I’m waiting for all the bits to catch up… So we do need MQA after all…

    With regards to DAC internal processing, oversampling ( I prefer this word to upsampling in this case) often simplifies or mitigates quite a few engineering problems so, in my opinion, this trend shouldn’t be readily dismissed.

    • It’s unfortunate that our hobby is so filled with nonsense.

  3. Hi Mark, may I suggest you have that follow-up call with Bob Stuart?

    • I had hoped to talk to him last week. I know he’s very busy but I’ll send him an email.

  4. The Lavry paper’s a good read – I’d already posted a link on this site to the his first paper (and reproduced his work in Mathcad) but hadn’t seen this paper; thanks for the link.

  5. Hi Mark,

    are you sure Mofi uses DXD?

    I found an old article by Steve Guttenberg which says the contrary:

    “The analog master is also used for MoFi’s SACDs and CDs. That means MoFi’s analog sourced SACDs are totally PCM-free, which is extremely rare. Most SACDs on the market have at least some PCM digital in them, which means they’re not really delivering the format’s true potential. MoFi SACDs are the real deal, pure SACD–using Direct Stream Digital DSD coding.”

    http://www.cnet.com/news/mofi-remasters-perfects-lp-sound/

    Well, maybe Mofi did change the way they remaster after 2010? Or they don’t consider DXD to be PCM?

    • There may be a couple of things going on here. First, I should state that I don’t know for a fact that MoFi is using the Merging Technologies DAW…but since it’s the only one that can capture at DSD 256, I feel like I’m on pretty solid ground. I could call John Wood at MoFi (he used to work for me) and find out for sure. Another reason might be because MoFi and plenty of others insist on thinking of DXD as some flavor of DSD instead of what it really is.

      I’m pretty sure that MoFi is not operating the same way they did in 2010.

  6. Talking about different fidelities, it all depends on what you play it on, what you amplifier it with, and more importantly what you use as speakers! 320 mp3 sound good enough on a good system. I suppose if you spend a fortune on your system you need the best even if you don’t rquire it!

    • Good point…yes it does.

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