Dr. AIX's POSTS — 23 December 2014

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The Meyer and Moran AES paper was published in 2007. The high-resolution era was well under way having been launched in 2000 with the arrival of SACD and DVD-Audio. I have a pdf of their paper, “Audibility of a CD-Standard A/D/A Loop Inserted into High-Resolution Audio Playback” on the screen in front of me and I have read it carefully more than once.

The abstract states the purpose of their study:

“Claims both published and anecdotal are regularly made for audibly superior sound quality for two-channel audio encoded with longer word lengths and/or at higher sampling rates than the 16-bit/44.1-kHz CD standard. The authors report on a series of double-blind tests comparing the analog output of high-resolution players playing high-resolution recordings with the same signal passed through a 16-bit/44.1-kHz “bottleneck.” The tests were conducted for over a year using different systems and a variety of subjects. The systems included expensive professional monitors and one high-end system with electrostatic loudspeakers and expensive components and cables. The subjects included professional recording engineers, students in a university recording program, and dedicated audiophiles. The test results show that the CD-quality A/D/A loop was undetectable at normal-to-loud listening levels, by any of the subjects, on any of the playback systems. The noise of the CD-quality loop was audible only at very elevated levels.”

The bold text in the abstract is at the center of my criticism. It clearly states that the authors believed they played “high-resolution recordings”. They didn’t. They played what the members of their audiophile organization brought to the listening sessions. And what they brought were SACDs and DVD-Audio (only one of the discs was a DVD-Audio title) discs of older analog recordings or commercial DSD 64 recordings. It’s no wonder the participants didn’t detect any differences between the high-resolution and CD spec versions. They were the same fidelity. There weren’t any sonic differences.

And now one of the authors wants us to believe that they were actually researching something else. In his statement from another forum (posted yesterday) he describes high-resolution audio “with longer word lengths and/or at higher sampling rates than the 16-bit/44.1-kHz CD standard”. He argues that the central thesis of hi-res advocates was that “hi-res formats that for the first time…got digital right”. That wasn’t my read on the reasoning behind high-resolution.

E. Brad Moran wrote, “This whole discussion has been hijacked, Fox-News-style, by people who were forced to abandon their original claims and have been driven into a small corner of the territory they formerly occupied.” I beg to differ.

Contrary to Mr. Moran’s comment, I’m still holding on to my original claims. I wrote about the lack of high-resolution sources being used in the study to his collaborator right after the study was published back 2007. David Meyer and I had several back and forth emails about the content. Nothing has changed for me. Why do you think they subsequently released the names of the albums that they used in the study…because I asked about them. I believe it’s critically important that they used real high-resolution recordings.

Mr. Moran then mentions that the real reason for high-resolution formats was not for better dynamic range and accuracy at the highest frequency range but rather, “we were supposed to experience for the first time true timbres; accurate and consistent placement of sources within the stereo image; reverb with accurate bloom and depth, and so on. The harshness supposedly inherent in then-current PCM hardware, laid at the feet of digital filters, jittery playback or whatever, was now banished; the ‘digital glare’ was gone at last.”

I don’t know where he got the true timbres, accurate placement in stereo, and blooming reverb ideas. It sounds like he’s been reading the latest issues of the audiophile mags. As one of the first…if not the first…strong advocate of “real high-resolution” audio, I know I was interested in reaching the capabilities of human hearing with a recording and distribution format. That meant avoiding compressors and limiters and getting extended high frequency response. It meant using high-resolution from the moment of the original source recording.

To be continued.

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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.

(9) Readers Comments

  1. I seem to ‘get’ what he is saying better than you do, Mark.

    The audiophiles who came to the sessions were convinced, as were many others, that those very SACDs that they tested with, sounded very obviously better than CD. Now, maybe they were right, but after the experiment it was shown that the better sound was not due to better-than-16/44 resolution. They might be better sounding for other reasons, but not because they are freed from 16/44 constraints. Can you at least acknowledge that the SACDs used were SACDs that SACD users thought were ‘miles better, obviously better, not even close’ to CD sound, and that THOSE SACDs were demonstrated to be no worse sounding when made CD-standard?

    So, the claims for the SACDs that were in wide usage at that time were addressed by the paper’s findings.

    Finally, if Meyer is saying in his latest comment that one of the SACDs in the experiment definitely does meet your requirement for more signal than CD can handle, then I wonder why the original research didn’t clearly show two distinct sets of results: positive differentiation for that disc, and negative for the others?

    Regarding the bold bit in your article today, your current definition of ‘high resolution recordings’ did not exist in 2006, so he is allowed to use the term freely in that paper. In this case, probably to mean recordings that were considered to be audiophile standard and that audiophiles were happy to use as ‘demo tracks’. And that is true.

    • I’m pretty sure that the members of the BAS or the authors of the study thought that they were getting high-resolution audio…no matter how they defined it. The exchange I had with David Moran at the time was more along the lines of…”of course, we played high-resolution products, the labels that released them created them as high-resolution audio releases.” They all thought and the vast majority of audiophiles and even professional engineers today think that high resolution delivery formats are what makes all the difference. And yes, Meyer and Moran showed that SACDs were indistinguishable from CD spec downconversions. But that’s not what they wrote in their paper.

      My definition did exist in 2001…I wrote and spoke about it regularly. I railed against the same things back then to NARAS and lots of others.

  2. Purely unscientific but I have found SACD’s I have for which I also have the CD’s seem to sound “better” than the CD.

    I have never been sure but after some research and reviewing an article on how the Beatles Love album was mixed, I wonder if it’s because the CD is from some 3rd or more generation from the original master tape but the SACD or DVD is from a first generation master tape, digitized and then mixed digitally so there is no generation loss.

    I guess good test of that theory would be to compare the CD layer of a SACD from an analogue master to an original CD from the tape recording. If my theory is correct, you should hear a difference there also.

    • The reason that they sound difference is due to the production path of each product…not because of the format. If you start with the exact same master and make a CD and an SACD at precisely the same level…you would not be able to tell them apart.

      • That was the point I was trying to make, albeit not clearly. I have a couple of SACD’s (stereo only) that have both a Redbook layer and the SACD layer. Theoretically if they were mastered the same and the only difference is 44.1/16 versus DSD then they should sound pretty much the same or you could not tell the difference. If one is 5.1 then that is going to make comparisons a bit more difficult.

        Will check it out tonight when the house is quieter 🙂

        • I also believe some of my SACD sound better than all of my CDs. Of course I accept that my prejudices may influence my conclusions. Would it be possible Mark to know, from the producer of the best mass public audio product out there (Giles Martin), how “Love” was achieved?

          • It is certainly possible that the SACD that you have sound better or different than the CD in your collection. As for the “Love” DVD-Audio release…which I cherish as well…I haven’t looked online for information but I suspect that Giles was interviewed about it.

          • Thanks for the link…very helpful.

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