Dr. AIX's POSTS — 27 December 2014

By

You can’t experience real high-resolution audio unless you can have three things: actual high-resolution audio recordings (which are extremely rare…there are less than 1000 in the world…none on PONO), a format that is capable of delivering real world fidelity, and a playback system that can match the fidelity of the recording format. Anything short of these measures means that you haven’t experienced high-resolution audio. It’s really pretty simple.

Despite the “High-Resolution Audio” hype that has been happening during the past year and the continuing push by various organizations and celebrities like Neil Young, HRA is a myth…at least as far as it’s promise to deliver the “soul of music” once again by bringing back the fidelity of the past. Frankly, I’m tired of the hyperbole, the interviews, the panels, and the ridiculous arguments about ultra fast sample rates and longer word lengths. The chances that you’ve actually experienced high-resolution audio are slim to none. Why? Because one or more of the critical three components listed above is lacking in your system.

Of course, it may not be important to your musical enjoyment. There’s hundreds of thousands of albums that deliver music to a standard that most people are happy with. When I play albums by Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, or Bruce Hornsby, I’m transported to musical nirvana. The music does what it’s supposed to do. Can I imagine a version of those same recordings that would be more engaging and sonically compelling? Absolutely, I can. If any one of these artists were to sit in my studio and experience my recordings of John Gorka or Jennifer Warnes, they would know instantly how limited the traditional record production process is. I’m convinced.

Let’s investigate the final step in the chain I introduced above: the playback system. I get emails from readers that rave about the sound of their systems. Some advocate for a particular set of headphones or believe that electrostatic speakers are the only way to achieve ultimate fidelity. Others are convinced that super tweeters are the answer to delivering sufficient linearity at high frequencies to make high-resolution audio a reality.

I was amused this morning by a video that featured the new Synergistic Research “Atomosphere” gizmo that “puts Radio Frequencies (RF)” into your listening space in order to improve the sound of your system. And sure enough the reviewer/host (a former reviewer for one of the big audio magazines), was able to “hear” the improvement between the three settings of the $2000 basic unit: Intimate, Holographic, and Grand Canyon. He heard what the designer wanted him to hear because he is being handsomely compensated for doing the feature piece and posting it on his website. There is no electrical connection between the audio playback system and the “Atomosphere” device. This one falls into the “snake oil” category of audiophile accessories. From what I could tell the entire Synergistic Research line of products are a bunch of hocus-pocus.

The headphones or speakers that you must have in order to experience real high-resolution audio have to be able to deliver the sound that was produced by the instruments and voices that were in the studio or on the stage when the musicians were performing. That means delivering frequencies beyond our traditional range of human hearing…more than 20 kHz. It’s been firmly established that instruments are capable of producing ultrasonic frequencies…meaningful amounts of ultrasonics come out of trumpets, radiate from cymbals, and strings. The JAS spec says let’s be safe and make sure that the transducers can handle up to 40 kHz…I’m good with that.

They also have to be able to handle the dynamic range of music. This has proven to be more challenging. This doesn’t mean louder. It means the range from the quietest sound to the loudest. In reality, that span is from about 30-40 dB SPL to over 120 dB! There aren’t many amplifiers or speakers or headphones that can manage that. But there are some.

Does you system or headphones rig measure up? Probably not. Is that a bad thing? No. It simply means that you’re not getting everything that can be captured and delivered with high-resolution PCM audio.

Remember, just three steps to audio nirvana. Stay tuned.

+++++++++++++++++++

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 $3500 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.

Forward this post to a friend and help us spread the word about HD-Audio Forward this post to a friend and help us spread the word about HD-Audio

Share

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.

(32) Readers Comments

  1. Hi, Mark. I agree with your post, except for the figure of 1000 hi-res recordings in the world. Do you mean those commercially available? I am a presenter for local radio station 3MBS in Melbourne, Australia. I recently listened to recordings of live concerts by my colleague John, a former recording engineer with the station. We listened to hi-res recordings replayed via a digital Nagra into DAC2 and top-level amplified speakers. I think our experience met all three of your criteria for true hi-res. i broadcast a lower resolution when using John’s recordings on the air. There must be many true hi-res recordings out there but they are not available commercially.

    Keep up the good work of combatting the hype and rubbish circulating in the audiosphere.

    Cheers

    Paul

    • Paul, I’ve come to this number after having asked the producers and engineers that are responsible for the vast majority of commercially released recordings that were made during the original sessions with high-resolution capable equipment. Your friend’s productions probably qualify but won’t find widespread distribution. The point is that virtually every selection that you find available at the usual download sites is standard resolution…not HD. The myth of high-resolution persists.

  2. Mark, please stop dumping on Pono. The Pono start-up and teething pains you so obviously resent will be overcome well before much time has passed. First of all, I have now read several reviews glowing over the sound of the player, better than the Sony and a rival for the more costly A&K.

    While the Pono Music Service needs improvement, it will eventually fulfill Neil Young’s hi-res promise; getting “inside info” from fired employees is not anything but a guarantee of retribution using you as the conduit.

    And until the Pono Service is happening, I will load up with HD Trax, and who knows, some of your stuff too. I actually have several of your early DVD-A discs and they are excellent. Pono is going to make it and quite likely hit big; why stand in the way of progress just because Pono AT THIS TIME doesn’t fit your very tight definition of hi-res? If there are so few actual hi-res recordings, why should anyone give a bleep at all about hi-res, including your work? Simultaneously promoting and criticizing seems a bit elitist to me. Happy New Year!

    • Audio enthusiasts deserve to be informed about the facts about this passion…and that includes Pono. I don’t resent it when companies and their spokesmen are honest and open about the trials and challenges of getting a new venture off the ground. However, when a reader tells me that his Neil Young signature Pono player is loaded up with three of Neil’s albums with audio at 44.1/16-bits instead of high-resolution 192 kHz/24-bit FLAC files that’s worth talking about. Neil should cease the marketing BS and get back to making music. Pono is not going to survive because they don’t offer what they claimed to be about. I’m disappointed and so should you be.

      The reality the world of high-resolution audio is a myth and should be ignored as it is being portrayed currently. There’s nothing to see or hear that we haven’t already had for many years. Do you really want to purchase another CD resolution copy of Harvest at a premium price?

      • Only if it sounds better. I wouldn’t make such assured prognostications of failure for Pono either, but you clearly have an axe to grind based on what appears to be the belief that Neil Young has deliberately duped his audience; what’s the hard evidence for that and similar proof that Pono will never offer 24/96. Give the whole thing a little time.

        • I have no axe to grind regarding Pono or Neil Young. My observations are based on what he promised and ultimately what he chose to do with the company…after removing the person that got the ball rolling with the KS effort. He proposed one thing and then accepted less…tell me what part of that isn’t true. I think Pono will offer false high-resolution audio just like the rest of the licensees of the major labels…they are already being posted on the Ponomusic site. Contrary to your belief that analog tape is higher resolution than a CD, transfers from the major labels are only coming online at a rate of about 10 per week. In spite of the containers being 192/24 PCM buckets, the fidelity of the source tapes are decidedly standard definition. Pono can’t launch a site with just a few thousand albums…thus the move to provide rips of CDs. And you know that CD can sound terrific. Pono made their decision to endorse CD fidelity as the dominant part of their catalog (over 99%)…what’s good about that?

  3. This article is superlative in its clarity! Well done! I look forward to an article that details what a realistic listening dynamic range might be, including the listening environment.

    I, for one, have spent most of my life keeping RF out of my environment wherever possible!

  4. There are hardly any speakers available in the market that can deliver frequencies up to 40 kHz (typical room response) and a SPL of >120 dB. The very few speakers which can do that are usually available only in the 5 and 6 digit price level. Ribbon tweeters, the Manger Sound Transducer, ion tweeters and a few dome super tweeters come to my mind.
    Especially the manufacturers of loudspeakers have to completely rethink and rebuilt their products if they want to comply with JAS-specs. Will they do that? I have doubts.

    • Jochen, you’d be surprise at the number of new speakers that meet the JAS specifications. How well they do it is an open question. The Sony speakers we used at the Research Study I worked on claim a frequency response from 5 Hz – 50 kHz…and they retail for $155 each.

  5. Where would you put or rate the recordings and equipment we all heard in London at the conference in 2007? Where would you put or rate the recordings and equipment today, as in what we’ve heard at AES October 2014 (and other places)? Where are we at in the HiRes world? Is there anything out there that fits the bill for 24-bit, 96/192-kHz, or 24-bit at 2.8224-MHz or 3.072-MHz?

    What about Dice and Dice II, and the maybe chip sets that Sergio Liberman makes, how do those fit in to HiRes?

    • The AES in 2007 had some really terrific playback system. I don’t remember the equipment that we used in my demo room…but I recall being impressed. I doubt whether they were actually delivering HD audio. At the recent AES, the quality was really good but PMCs in a large room weren’t stellar to me.

      There are a number of companies pushing the envelope…but in reality it’s the producers of the music that need to up their game.

  6. Yes,… the three requirements need to be fulfilled.
    No Edison wax cylinders up-conversions, unless it’s specified as a “transfer from” and a “transfer to”.

  7. * The main scourge of digital sound is rounding error. This can be avoided completely with the use of the decimal word.

    * The shorter the timing transients the airier, more tridimensional & more detailed becomes the sound. {DVD-Audio with its 192 kHz falls short of representing them correctly.}

    * The sample rate is limited to approx. 10 power 44 {hertz}. Upsampling is infinite & thus is the sole way to the ultimate sound resolution.

    * If a 16-bit sound is recorded at 96 kHz it can extract ~144 dB dynamic range {i.e. perceptibly higher than that of native DVD-Audio}. Sampling frequencies on the order of petahertz would be highly beneficial therefore.

    * To clear the sound from nonlinearity artifacts the listening room must provide a reverb delay of 0.9 second.

    • I simply can’t endorse your comments…a “decimal word”. Please.

  8. BRAVO and KUDOS to you Mark, the hucksters and snake oil peddlers must be called out for who they are! If only a small percentage of the time spent writing up the BS we read in Stereophile, Absolute Sound, high end marketing, etc, could be used to discuss and investigate how to effect real advances in High Fidelity we would have already made huge advances in the State Of The Art.
    I’ve been at this for 50 years or so and sometimes wonder how we ended up here.. The Video side of the market has it’s problems but no where’s near the Audio side. In the last 40 years we’ve got color, flat screens, HD, LEDs, OLEDs, 4D , and on and on.
    Besides digital recording and playback what have the hucksters really brought us, $3000.00 power cables.. I know I’m getting old and crabby but being outright lied to every day by the likes of Michael Femmer, Art Dudly, etc just makes me madder every day. I gave up writing letters to the editor at the BS clicks but they never get published so I gave up a lone time ago.
    Thanks for your honesty.

    • It never ceases to amaze me when people claim a $3000 power cord will transform you listening experience. It will never end.

      • Oh you need to spend at least $10,000! 🙂

        • I think you’re in the neighborhood…but just think you could spend this much just buying power cables, interconnects, and connectors!

  9. Hi, I’d like to donate but can’t find a link to do it. Please send a link and I’ll send a donation. I love your work!

    Don

  10. Figured it out already (How to donate) LOL. Regarding your work, It seems to me, in simple terms, that you are talking about accurately recording the musical event, not just what someone, to some degree or another, arbitrarily thinks we are capable of hearing/sensing. In other words, if there is measureable acoustic energy created by the instruments or voice, regardless of its dynamic range, frequency and/or audibility, we should fully record that, and reproduce the same accurately. It appears to me that if we do less at the recording or mastering stage we remove the ability forever, to accurately recreate the event regardless of any advances in playback. It seems so simple.

    It is my opinion that the weakest aspect, with presently available technology, is the playback end, primarily at the transducer. I would hate to think that we would arbitrarily limit ourselves, and future listeners, from the opportunity to ever realize future benefits in playback technology because we scrimped on the recording end or used a less than optimal technology simply on the basis of marketing needs. Keep up the good work! it is important.

    • Thanks Don!

  11. 120 dB SPL is very clearly in the ear plug territory. Almost instantly damaging to the ears. Why would somebody want that? Bigger DR = better sound is a misconception. Listening to music should be a comfortable experience and a massive dynamic range is definitely not comfortable. CD already has way more DR than is comfortable. 30 to 120 dB SPL is “only” 90 dB DR, which is attainable with 16/44, but totally unnecessary with real music.
    A reasonable goal is to have very loud but not painful peaks – lets say 100-105 dB – and no format induced noise. CD is perfectly capable of that. Decent speakers and headphones are also capable of that. And that’s already very loud with real music. Most people would probably get tired of that pretty soon and turn the knob down.

    • A transient of 120 dB SPL will not instantly damage your ears. Music has loud instantaneous level peaks that are part of the experience. If the live experience has those kinds of dynamics then I want them in my recordings. The point is CD do a great job for virtually all commercial recordings…but there is more to be had using high-resolution audio equipment. Turn the playback volume where you want your max peaks and then the quiet passages will be true.

      • Real music fortunately just doesn’t work like that. I dare you to take one of your own recordings, Mosaic for example, set the playback volume so that the peaks at the listening position would be 120 dB SPL and try to listen to that. The RMS SPL will be around 100-110 dB and that, if somehow bearable, will sound totally wrong, overwhelmingly too loud and annoying. And probably also massively distorted, because real domestic speakers/amplifiers/headphones are not really meant to do anything like that. And what’s most important – it still won’t matter, if the end format is 24/96 or 16/44.1. Both will sound the same – too loud and wrong. 15-20 dB of REAL musical dynamic range is probably the sweet spot for music – and your own recordings are right on the money. They sound wonderful at normal listening level.

  12. According to the PONO website, the Neil Young Limited Edition player is preloaded with:

    Storytone – 192 kHz/24-bit
    Harvest – 192 kHz/24-bit

    Are you saying that these are NOT high resolution files?

    This is just one example of the files loaded on LE players, many of them 192/24. The store itself is still in the BETA stage and is not loaded with much hires at this time. When it goes “live” I expect much more material at 24 bit resolution, including Neil’s first 14 albums according to a posting on Thrashers Wheat, a Neil Young website. Here’s the list:
    Neil Young [PONO] {192/24bit}
    Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere [PONO] {192kHz/24bit}
    After The Gold Rush [PONO] {192/24bit}
    Harvest [PONO] {192kHz/24bit}
    Time Fades Away [PONO] {192/24bit}
    On The Beach [PONO] {176.4kHz} {24bit}
    Tonight’s The Night [PONO] {192/24bit}
    Zuma [PONO] {192/24bit}
    American Stars ‘N Bars [PONO] {176.4k/24bit}
    Comes A Time [PONO] {192/24bit}
    Rust Never Sleeps [PONO] {192/24bit}
    Live Rust [PONO] {192/24bit}
    Hawks & Doves [PONO] {176.4/24bit}
    re-ac-tor [PONO] {176.4kHz/24bit}

    Again – are you saying NO HIGH RESOLUTION files are available?

    • That’s what I’m saying. The reader that emailed me told me his “Neil Young” Pono player had standard CD quality albums on it. I’m not surprised as 99.9% of the available materials on the site is standard CD quality ripped from digital masters. The reality is that Pono is a very good portable stereo audio player…nothing close to a very good domestic player…but very good when you’re traveling. It is capable of playing 192 kHz/24-bit FLAC files. But many, if not most, of the albums you list above were not recorded at 192 kHz/24-bit PCM. If they were captured using 24-track analog tape, mixed to analog machines, and mastered to meet the requirements of the time, having them in a 192 kHz/24-bit digital FLAC file doesn’t make them high-resolution. They are as good as the source files and no better. So we can purchase “master quality” and revel in the fact we’re hearing those albums as good as they will ever be (until some fancy DSP coders figures out how to synthesize HD in place of the existing fidelity…it will happen).

      You and thousands of other customers can believe in Master Studio Quality but they are not high-resolution if you accept my definition. By others watered down definitions, you might be convinced that they are high-res…like the DEG, CES and NARAS definition.

  13. I salute you too…
    …for this clear statement.
    This is one of the most important post, I have read from you.
    Properly read it could save a lot of people from spending useless money.

    I – for my part – will stick to the equipment, that I already have at home and to the CD-resolution —- and stop dreaming of how the highpraised/highpriced highres files and fancy gear could make me muuuch happier.
    I am slowly recovering my joy of just listening to what I already have!

    Thanks for teaching me that, what I have to look for, is true quality of recording.

  14. Dr.
    As I have said in other comments, I have been reading you daily and enjoy it very much. I have learned a great deal over the years?(seems like it) and have had many thoughts confirmed. Today I felt a need to chime in. In all that is presented to us, on this post and the oceans other sources of info, what is needed are basic goals, what is “it” that we are actually trying to achieve. My quest is to hear the most life like reproduction of a session as is possible in my listening space. So when I hear you drill down and focus on what is in essence the basics on what is needed to reach my goal I get excited. To me after reading and gaining an understanding of what is available, word lengths and bit depths, there is a point where more is not necessarily an improvement. And dumping a cup of coffee into a five gallon pail isn’t going to yield you more coffee ether. So when I add to my source files I will pay more for high res if the possibility of it actually, in a few words, be in the new reference category of “JAS”, as you have previously explained.
    I got into music and reproducing sound in the early seventy’s. My best friends Dad worked at Superscope, which at the time was the parent company of Marantz. There were two or three different systems in his house at any one given time. We ended up with a Marantz 4400 and 4 JBL L100’s. I mention that because of the speakers, extremely efficient, because there were still a lot of tube amps out their at that time so the speakers needed to be able to put out something at low wattage. I saw as transistorized outputs replaced tubes in amps, speakers become less efficient. Transistors are much less expensive to produce than efficient transducers. So I learned at a young age that there are a lot of people trying new ways to get me to part with my hard earned cash, hence a power cable that would set me back almost a weeks wage, $3000. (attempt at humor) All that to say thank you for your honesty, and integrity in helping give an insiders view of what is happening in the recording industry. And now, as from the very beginning, BUYER BEWARE
    JBS

    • Brian, the world of high-resolution audio is going to be falsely marketed in the hopes of getting more of your dollars. The reality is that CDs can sound great if the producers and engineers and artists and labels will leave some fidelity in the works the release. It’s not going to happen. There are some gems to be found but they are rare.

  15. The only type of fidelity the producers and engineers might be able to leave on a CD is abbreviated DDD .

  16. It’s garbage like this Synergistic Research “Atomosphere”, and other enhancement devices like the Tice Clock and frozen CD, etc. that turned me off regarding Stereophile and the similar “high end” audio magazines. Since there is no hope that the editors of such magazines will deal with Hokus Pokus because of the fear of losing advertising revenue, the only way I had to protest was to cancel my subscription.

    • I just loved the line in the video by the head of SR about using his Atmosphere device in his mountain home. If selling snake oil would get me a home in the mountains, I might start a bunch of bogus products as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

9 + seventeen =