Dr. AIX's POSTS — 28 December 2014

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The second step in achieving true high-resolution audio playback is to acquire discs or files that are actually high-resolution. This seems like it should be simple, right? You go to Amazon or one of the high-res download sites, select a product that says “High-Resolution” somewhere in the marketing materials and presto, you’re good!

Sadly, no. There is no HRA police or even definitive list anywhere. There is a site called “Find HD Music” but they simply list all of the albums that are being made on the high-resolution digital music download sites. Qobuz, Promates, Ponomusic, HDTracks, ProStudioMasters, SuperHiRez, and HighResMusic and all of the others get most of their content from the big labels, small labels, or digital music aggregators. The Omni Music guys in the UK are the suppliers of all of the audio tracks that are going to be sold on Ponomusic, for example. And they are delivering standard CD rips and Pono is pitching them as high-resolution.

Do we have to trust that the retailers are really giving us true high-resolution audio? Actually we don’t. I’ve analyzed plenty of high-resolution audio files (including the recent downloads from Promates in high-rate PCM and 88.2) and posted lots of audio spectra on this site.

The German site HighResAudio even has a whole page dedicated to their guarantee titled High Resolution Audio – Fake or Not. You can read it in English here.

First, it’s important to realize that HighResAudio is a digital download store that has license agreements with the major labels. That means that the files they receive are coming from the catalogs of the majors as their mastering studios make their way through the analog tapes that are likely to sell to “high-resolution” customers. Knowing that, we know that the files are coming from standard definition sources…i.e. analog tapes. They are the best versions of those tapes but I have staunchly maintained from 2000 that they are only as good as the sources. And the sources are not high-resolution, unless you consider third generation analog tape as HD. I don’t.

The HighResAudio site description of high-resolution audio starts out on a confusing note:

“True, native High Resolution Audio Format means that during recording, the fine structures contained in the music signal are adequately resolved per unit of time. A true music signal recorded with microphones contains sensitive temporal information in the 45-50 kHz frequency range. For certain instruments (for example, trumpet with straight mute) and above all for percussive sounds, this range can be higher. The transfer of fine information is not possible with equipment which uses 22 kHz frequency bandwidth (CD) or 24 kHz bandwidth (the industry and radio standard).”

We’ve been talking about the relationship between frequency and time over the past few weeks. They are intimately related in digital audio systems but to say that there are “fine structures contained in the music signal” that can only be captured and reproduced using high-resolution is reaching a bit. If they’re referring to the ultrasonic frequencies as the “fine structures”, then it’s true that using a sample rate of at least 88.2 is required. But what about the “fine structures” associated with dynamics? Or the fact that most recording systems prior to high rate PCM didn’t record those frequencies.

Got to run…stay tuned.

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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 $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.

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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.

(14) Readers Comments

  1. Linnrecords is providing free downloads of a 24 track sampler album. The album can be downloaded as 192/24, 96/24 and 44.1/16 flac files, and also as 320k mp3 files. This is a good opportunity for anyone who wants to compare different sample rate downloads of the same source. These are all nice recordings, and I believe some of them even qualify as high resolution. Track 14, Bruckner Symphony 2, III. Scherzo, is one example of a high resolution file. Track 3 is an example of a mix of high resolution and less than high resolution sources.

    • This is a good opportunity to evaluate some other files…I recommend downloading them. I’ll do the same and do some analysis.

      • I’ve downloaded a lot from Linn. Interestingly, One of the best albums I’ve got from Linn was accidentally purchased as a CD, so I ripped it using DBPoweramp CD ripper: sounds absolutely fabulous. Linn are good at what they do recording wise (although the mids sound a we bit recessed on the above CD, could it be they mix on their somewhat forward speakers). Anyway, I’m suspicious (and have been for some time) that their HD downloads are SACD rips and not straight from the mastering suite; just my opinion BTW.

        • It wouldn’t surprise me.

      • One other note about the Linnrecords download files, The tracks were first made available one track per day in December prior to Christmas. These initial download files were not all re-sampled to 192/24. The maximum file resolutions were as follows:

        192/24 Tracks 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 18, 20, 22, 24 and bonus track 25
        96/24 Tracks 7, 11 and 16
        88/24 Tracks 13, 21 and 23
        48/24 Track 1
        44/24 Tracks 5, 15, 17 and 19

        I missed the daily download for track 9, but it appears to be 88/24.

        For the 192/24 album download Linnrecords notes “Please note that the original recordings incorporated in this compilation were made at a variety of different sample rates, depending on the technology available at the time of the recording. To facilitate playing this compilation as a complete album, all the tracks have been re-sampled to a standard 192kHz / 96kHz.”

        • I’m worried about the fact that they felt obligated to change the sampling rate to 192.

          • I don’t understand why Linnrecords re-sampled the tracks with lower sample rates to 192k. The albums these tracks are taken from are not offered at sample rates higher than the original recordings, and I don’t see how having tracks with different sample rates in a sampler album is a problem that must be facilitated. It seems to me that this re-sampling just introduces possible confusion, for instance, if after listening to the re-sampled to 192/24 track 5 “Many Rivers to Cross”, someone wants to purchase the album it came from, that person will then discover that the maximum sample rate available for the album is 44/24.

          • It’s crazy to resample stuff.

  2. I forgot to mention, the Linnrecords downloads are only “Available for free download until Tuesday 6th January 10:00GMT.”

  3. If I had (or had the money to buy) the ‘right gear’ for the playback, I would appreciate your recordings for their highres quality.
    Now I ‘only’ appreciate them for their superb recording/mastering qualities!
    And that is not bad either – imo.

  4. A bit more confusion! For Christmas, I have received « The Endless River » by Pink Floyd. The package contains a CD and a Blu-ray. In the notes, it says: Resolution: DVD: All audio in 48kHz/ 24 bit including stereo PCM, 5.1 Dolby Digital and 5.1 DTS. Then it says also: BLU-RAY: All audio in High Resolution 96kHz/24 bit including stereo PCM, 5.1 Dolby Digital and 5.1 DTS.

    1. There is no DVD in the package.
    2. Is it possible that a 1993 session be recorded digitally in Hi-Res?

    Finally, the quality is very good and the sound immersive, but as far as audio dynamics and frequency range are concerned, I don’t perceive any differences with my best CDs.

    • This is very confusing…and I can only guess what’s going on. My bet would be it’s another attempt to link in with high-resolution (much like the Tom Petty – Hypnotic Eye album) because they output everything at 96 kHz/24-bits. But you count on the fact that it wasn’t recorded that way in 1993.

    • I’m fascinated and will post today about this.

  5. So here are my observations.

    1. If there are a 1000 albums, probably more like a 1000 songs, produced in PCM 96/24, and

    2. Mark claims that most of us don’t have the speakers or room dynamics to appreciate true high resolution playback, then,

    3. What’s the point in chasing saddled unicorns, aka, high res. music?

    To use a video analogy, the recording industry, on the whole, is recording in 720p and a host of companies claim their product upscales the media to 4k. DSD, so-called synergistic wires, cleaners, RF producers (mentioned in Mark’s last post).

    The recording industry, on the whole, is interested in dB’s and sales. The gear salesmen will claim almost anything and add three or four zeros to their prices. The gear heads are interested in gear. The really dumb gear heads are suckers for all kinds of ‘magic’. Who’s interested in the art of high fidelity music playback – outside of present company? Frankly, I can’t think of another sector of economic life, outside maybe modern ‘art’ and the Jeff Koons types, where such unrealistic, non-rational practices happen!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Koons

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