Dr. AIX's POSTS — 30 December 2014

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We’ve almost reached the end of 2014. As we consider what the New Year might bring to our high-end musical lives, I thought it might be fun to take a look back at 2014 and the emergence of high-resolution audio. Honestly, I thought 2014 was going to be the year that high-resolution music was going to finally get its chance in the spotlight. I gave seminars/sessions at every trade show I attended about how 2014 was going to be the year. Well, it didn’t turn out to be true. There was lots of talk about high-resolution, we got a logo (sort of), and a definition (useless as it was), but at the end of the year…we didn’t really get much clarity. Here are 5 things that happened in the high-resolution audio world that make it to my end of year list.

1. High-Resolution Audio is still stuck in a quagmire. It’s not like high-definition video or ultra HD-Video because it’s hard to quantify and qualify…and even when we try with specifications and listening tests…we fail to make points and convince the skeptics. The masses just don’t care, they can’t hear it, and what they’ve got is simply good enough.

2. Pono and Neil Young had a chance but stumbled and lost their focus. What started as the right idea…that better audio fidelity could get people excited about music again…turned into a money grab and complete loss of integrity. Neil promised to provide high-resolution audio that would allow use to “rediscover the soul of music” and ended up supplying 2 million CD rips (on their way to 20 million) for his one trick pony device. And now they’re talking about putting his electronics in automobiles? We’ve had better sound in cars for over ten years…including the capability to play high-resolution surround!

3. The DEG, CEA, NARAS, and the major labels worked through the maze of competing opinions regarding what is and what isn’t high-resolution audio and announced via a press release in June that virtually every recording ever made qualifies as high-res audio. Big surprise there. If they had actually established a meaningful definition, it would have put an end to the high-resolution gravy train that WB, SONY, and Universal have been enjoying since they opened up their vaults and started giving us rehashes of old masters in big digital bit buckets. Not mention that the JAS logo that the CEA is going to be pushing has a set of qualifications that are at odds with their own definition. Talk about confused.

4. The unending parade of new and innovative hardware capable of delivering the “nuances” and all of the “low level details” continued. Hardware folks are stuck between a rock and hard place because there’s just nowhere else they can go with existing specifications. There are now DACs featuring 384 kHz/32-bits (never mind that no one is making and releasing things at this rate and that it doesn’t improve the fidelity even it they did…just wait for 768 or 1536 kHz!) and quad rate DSD. I read about a poll started over at CA that wants Benchmark to upgrade their DAC2 HGC to include new high-rate PCM and multiple rate DSD. Why would a manufacturer of one of the best sounding DACs on the planet retool/upgrade their converters when there would be no improvement? I guess they could take the road chosen by PS Audio and release a revolutionary high-end component that dictates that every source input be converted to DSD (as if the ultrasonic noise will get rid of the harshness of digital).

5. The year finished off with an interesting technology from Meridian…their MQA technology. And they’ve managed to get some traction with several equipment makers, labels, and streaming companies. I think that MQA just might allow streaming of my content, which would be a good thing since streaming is going to overrun downloads. But audio enthusiasts need to realize that MQA isn’t going to improve fidelity contrary to the observations of some of the high-end editors and writers. It’s going to preserve what we already have in less memory and bandwidth.

Tomorrow I’ll take a look into my HRA crystal ball and make some predictions for 2015.

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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. I’m not sure things are all that much clearer on the video side. A lot of people bought HDTVs, because they wanted the wide aspect ratio and/or they were upgrading to a flat-panel. Much of the content that people have been watching on their HDTVs in the years since their introduction has been standard definition broadcasts or DVDs. Even so-called HD cable and satellite channels have significant compression applied, and HD streaming ranges from passable to awful. Consumers seem tolerant of fairly low standards in everything.

    • I’m sure the same kind of confusion exists on the video side, but I know my wife can tell the difference between HD and SD programming. She can’t tell the difference between a CD and HD-Audio file.

      • That’s actually part of my point, although I didn’t stated well. Even though Joe, or Jane, Consumer might not have trouble telling the difference between SD and “real” HD programming, or between streamed so-called HD and a Blu-ray, everything gets labeled as HD.

  2. Unfortunately it’s here already. A quote from a UK based supplier recent preannouncement of their new DAC:


    Importantly the MX DAC has inputs for DSD64 and 128. It has the standard range of inputs 2 x optical (up to 24 bit 96 kHz), 2 x COAX (up to 24 bit 192 kHz) and USB up to 24 bit 192 kHz asynchronous. It has both single ended and balanced outputs.

    The MX DAC operates in the DSD domain. All PCM inputs are converted in to DSD and then processed in the DSD domain. This results in far improved sound quality.’

    Back to the future MASH times…..lol lol

    • Another ridiculous product that says “do it my way or take the highway”. The DSD juggernaut is getting the attention of writers and customers. The imagined “far improved sound” is a myth.

  3. A.S. High-definition video is also stuck in a quagmire: it still is lossy-compressed {suffers from Gibbs effect artifacts} which means that it is not ‘raw’, not 64 bits per pixel {lacks 48-bit colour}, and, more interestingly, is no natural 3D just because it is recorded at too low FPS {frames per second} since a human detects gaps of 2 microseconds between, this time, frames. Motorola ‘s NED was the most advanced display technology but now it is dead . . .

    So, how does the Upsampled CD format manage to deliver to each listener such uncommon for HD audio things as ambient atmosphere to be capable of perceiving record studio premises’ strangely quiet background, instruments floating in the air, hyperphenomenal attack, very definite location of vocals to the point you can clearly get that singer stands at an angle, excellent middle, an overall analog performance. These all are due to better impulse response so that the Upsampling is capable of complete recreation the benefits of original sound wave right from the CDDA format audio . . .

    MQA uses extrapolation, that is inverted interpolation, and thus is the same as Upsampling, hence, that really does improve fidelity.

    A DAC of ESS is already 1.536 MHz / 32 bits .

    The best DAC/amplifier on the planet is TacT Audio T-2 {apropos, it does not have negative feedback at all, and some peoples it is due to this & the fully digital chain the amp sounded much like a live performance, they couldn’t guess it eventually upsampled the signal right up to 400 kHz thereby improving on timing transient response}.

    • MQA wasn’t designed to improve fidelity and in fact, doesn’t…according to Robert Stuart, the man who invented it. And I’ll stick with my Benchmark DAC2 HGC, thanks.

      • If you read this moderately detailed explanation of MQA from Stereophile and the associated comments, it seems that MQA is also intended to improve fidelity. Basically, in the cases where the analog-to-digital converter is known, MQA can account for problems in the time domain by applying an algorithm specific to that ADC. It’s certainly an interesting idea.

        • Any half reasonable person woud stop reading that Stereophile article (which, I admit, is of much better qualty than other MQA articlles that have seen the light of day) being convinced that MQA is mostly a solution looking for a problem (and money for its inventors) just by looking at that graph in the first page.

          • Just to add that it has been clear all along, by reading between the line, that Meridian has been advocating sampling at 192kHz. To me this just means that they are creating a problem (the huge bandwidth this requires) in order to offer a solution for it. Looking at their diagram, which I assume to be accurate, and the wording (i.e. ‘1) That a sample rate of >96kHz is required to encode all of the music information in this recording’) in Stereophile makes me consolidate my view.

            If one looks carefully at their diagram one can see that there is 0 signal at more than 55kHz (a fact which they acknowledge) and the signal that does exist between 48kHz and 55kHz is, in my opinion, unworthy of any consideration, given the frequency and amplitude (< -100dB) of it.

          • PS2 In case what I’m saying is still not clear. I believe that what Meridian are proposing can be summed as follows:
            1. We are bats so freqs higher than 48kHz matter
            2. We are extremely sensitive bats so signals weaker than -100dB can be distinguished in the context of a music signal
            3. No music signal exists at freqs >55kHz
            4. Let’s capture all frequencies up to 96kHz
            5. We know that most of what we have captured is junk so let’s find a clever way of throwing out most and keep what is relevant for extremely sensitive music loving bats.
            6. Let’s make loads of money in the process.

          • I’m good with the top being 96 kHz…maybe 192 kHz if pushed and I had the right equipment. PCM done well at 96/24 is more than enough to solve the bandwidth issue, the filter issue, and the memory space issue. The Meridian people are on a quest to make streaming of high-resolution possible and they might just be able to pull it off. The best thing about MQA is that DSD is out.

          • I’m reserving judgement. I’m hoping to hear from Robert Stuart soon about my files and further details. What I can’t grasp is the continuing talk of “improved” fidelity thanks to the MQA technology. That’s more of the fluff that the big magazines love to spout.

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