Dr. AIX's POSTS — 07 January 2015

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A good night’s sleep thanks to plenty of fluids and the ear plugs I found in my shaving kit, which reduced the sound of the blasting heating unit into submission. I’m feeling almost normal so far…and decided to write today’s post ahead of time. There’s still so much to say about yesterday.

The perimeter of the Bellini Ballroom is filled with the vendors that bought into the CES “Marketplace” program. These include AIX Records/iTrax, Acoustic Sounds, HDTracks and Auro Technologies, the people behind Auro3D a spatial audio processing technology for movie soundtracks. However, the ballroom is really a presentation space. The DEG and CEA are holding six panels on various aspects of the HRA business. And that doesn’t include the press event that was held by Neil Young yesterday. It almost feels like the companies that bought into the program are the sponsors for a series of sessions…during which no one is visiting the booths. It’s a little strange. The events bring people into the room but when they happen the room shuts down.

The first session yesterday was all about portable high-resolution devices. Rob Sabin moderated the session, which included Owen Kwon from Astell & Kern, Alex Rosson from Audeze, Claude Schmidt from Sony, and Steve Silberman from Audioquest. They talked about their products and the evolution of the market for high-resolution portable players. It would have been a perfect session for a Pono representative to but for some curious reason they didn’t accept the invitation (I know they were asked to participate). When it came time for questions from the audience, things got interesting. A gentleman asked how the devices could possibly reproduc high-resolution or high-fidelity music when the music that’s being played lacks any fidelity due to the loudness wars…the over use of compression during the final stages of production. I was surprised to hear Steve from Audioquest push back and say that “there are many artists that don’t allow their music to be compressed or use minimal amounts of compression”. He mentioned a couple of artists (I’m sorry I didn’t recognize them) but I think he’s dreaming when he thinks that the production teams at ALL of the major labels (and smaller labels too) don’t crush their masters. They all want to be as loud as the next guy…lest they be perceived as lacking. Remember the Harman “The Distortion or Sound” video? The artists thought they were delivering recordings full of fidelity only to find the files as delivered to consumers were crushed.

The next panel was about high-resolution audio creators moderated by the NARAS Producers and Engineers Wing head Maureen Droney, a former audio engineer herself. The members of the panel included Robert Friedrich or Five Four Productions, Leslie Ann Jones from Skywalker Ranch Post, independent engineer Ryan Ulyate (the engineer for Tom Petty over the past 10 years or so), and myself. We talked about how we got into high-resolution recording and what work flows we use to accomplish our projects. I was not surprised when Ryan said that he’s been involved with high-resolution audio since the 70s. He recorded his projects using 24-track, 2-inch analog tape since then (that was the standard format at the time) and said that a 2-track analog master can “sound amazing”. I agree that we have thrilled and enjoyed lots of great music made using analog tape machines…after all it was the only format we had. Digital didn’t happen until later and high-resolution digital in a fairly recent development. Ryan is among those…and he’s not alone…that consider analog tape to be a high-resolution audio format. I don’t. Is high-resolution digital merely an extension or equal to the analog methods we used in the 70s? Haven’t our new high-resolution PCM digital tools improved the specs and fidelity of recordings? Audio professionals debate this regularly. If something sounds great then it must be high-resolution. Not necessarily. The 10-12 bits of dynamic range and the other problems with analog tape (print through, wow and flutter, scrape flutter, distortion etc) exclude it from being considered a high-resolution format.

There was no time for questions at the end of our panel…I thought that was unfortunate. However, following the session, Robert Friedrich, a staunch DSD advocate, came over to me and asked me whether I remembered a visit that Tom Osborn made to my studio (it was located in my garage at the time) back in the late 80s. Tom Osborn was a member of the music faculty at Pepperdine University in Malibu and the director of the Youth Orchestra at CSUN. I recorded all of their concerts and they actually performed my second orchestra composition “…one”. Robert asked because he came along with Tom as a young member of the orchestra to the studio. He had expressed an interest in audio recording and Dr. Osborn let him tag along. Honestly, I don’t remember the visit but I think it was very nice that Robert did and wanted to express his thanks all these years later. He’s had a very successful career in audio recording and does very good work. It was the nicest moment of the show for me…better than shaking hands with Neil Young and chatting briefly.

I’m going to do an interview with Robert for a future post. I asked him whether he thought that DSD has a place in the world of commercial audio recording and production and he laughed…”no way DSD could do what Ryan or other studio engineers need.” Robert and his associates record in a very unique way…all the microphones are mixed live and captured to 2-track DSD…. no edits, no processing, and no additional mastering. That’s real DSD and very few people do it.

Neil and his entourage came in after they cleared the room for security. I’ll talk about that tomorrow. Got to run.

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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.

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