Dr. AIX's POSTS — 09 January 2015

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There is a lot happening in the world of HRA…and even being a member of the committees doesn’t mean that I get all of the most current information. For example, I didn’t realize that the CEA and MusizBiz organizations were developing a new info graphic to “clarify” the issues surrounding the high-resolution audio definition and marketing initiatives. During one of the two panels yesterday, a representative from the DEG said something that caught my attention. During a discussion about the JAS high-res audio logo, he talked about the “three categories” (back in June there were four “descriptors”). Somewhere along the way, we lost one. It was news to me. Either I missed that phone call or email or was deliberately cut out of the loop, I’m not certain. But things have changed as it concerns the logo. And the removal of one of the “descriptors” is a move in the right direction…it doesn’t get us to where we need to be, but it is a step. And it’s not good news for Pono.

Here’s the new info graphic:

150109_musicbiz_HRA_graphic

Figure 1 – The CEA/MuscBiz info graphic that gives the current definition of HRA.

Maybe this change is reflective of the blow back that happened back in June when many audio writers and related websites (including me), pointed out the glaring inconsistency in saying the HRA is “lossless audio that is better than a CD” and then include compact discs as sources. Many of us came away from that process disappointed. The DEG, CEA, NARAS, and the labels must have gone back and revised the definition to “solve” this problem. Unfortunately, they didn’t.

The remaining three categories are still aren’t going to elevate the fidelity of the files you and I purchase at the various download stores. From the graphic:

“In order to indicate when a file has been made from the best available source, three Master Quality Recording categories have been designated to indicate the file’s provenance:

MQ-P – From a PCM master source 48 kHz/20 bit or higher (typically 96/24 or 192/24)
MQ-A – From an analog master source
MQ-D – From a DSD/DSF master source (typically 2.8 or 5.6 MHz content)

Therefore, a 96 kHz/24-bit master file subjected to lossless compression would have an MQ-P designator.

A lossless file made from a CD rip of the same recording would not have any MQ designator, because the file is not made from the best source available.”

However, what if the “best source available is a 44.1 kHz/16-bit master? What then?

According to this breakdown, my native 96 kHZ/24-bit recordings when encoded to Dolby True HD, for example, would be real high-res audio with a an MQ-P indication as to the source.

It also means that the analog transfers that WB Records is doing at a rate of about 100 per month to new files that are 48 kHz/20-bits or better would also be HRA with an MQ-A designation. These are the 5000 files that HDtracks and PonoMusic have available as “high-resolution”.

A transfer of any recording made prior to the digital era, analog sources, put into a 48/20 or better bit bucket would also qualify…even an 1893 Edison cylinder of my great, great, grandmother made at the Chicago World Exhibition (does anybody else see this as a problem?).

Finally, any of the roughly 2.1 million CD rips now available on the PonoMusic website would not be considered HRA…or would they? The wording above is a little sketchy. “A lossless file made from a CD rip of the same recording would not have any MQ designator, because the file is not made from the best source available.” This simply says that, they couldn’t use the any of the MQ designators…it specifically doesn’t say that it’s not an HRA file. Although, virtually everything in the info graphic and that I know about this whole logo and definition effort says that PonoMusic catalog is NOT high-resolution audio in spite of Neil’s statement’s to the contrary.

And my perspective was affirmed when the same DEG representative stated, “compact discs are not high-res”. This coming from the movers and shakers in the world of HRA.

Now all they have to do is go back and take analog sources out of the HRA “categories” and things might really start to have some meaning.

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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.

(22) Readers Comments

  1. HRA, once a term that could have pointed the way to that ever-elusive “better sound,” has – even with the latest modifications – become a farce. The reason? The idea has been co-opted by marketers whose goal is simply to sell more rather than to carefully define and then educate. I don;t know if the word “sham” applies here
    but it’s damn close.

    • It’s not just close…it’s over the line.

  2. This is an awful lot to take in and absorb and in many ways in spite of its intentions it serves to cloud the issue further for me. I remember many of my LP’s having on them a list of equipment used by the band and the case of Frank Zappa he would mention his digital tape recording equipment..too…sorry cant remember which machine. Would it need to be stated that all equipment used in the making of this recording is 24/96k or has sufficient resolution in the transducers used to justify 24/96k? Why the need for the MQ designation? To me this is the outcome of large groups of very wealthy people and their lawyers saying well if we have to say the above then we admit that the equipment used on our other recordings is naff possibly? Or that if we have to say this then we will open ourselves up to costly litigation? It smells funny to me it smells of obfuscation rather than a new and wonderful era in recording fidelity..im being cynical. Take care Mark your emails are my daily read and love following the twists and turns. Colin

    • Thanks Colin…I was just surprised that this info graphic happened without me knowing anything about it.

  3. Retaining “analog sources” is the escape clause. But wait, how many CDs were sourced from such ? Added up, “better than CD” is meaningless, unless of course you’re building a case for sampling rates, which brings us back to Mr Young. So, two steps forward here, and one major step back ! One thing is clear, JAS remains an anomaly.

    • The whole thing is a mess. The analog sources is a major leak in the boat…but they won’t let go of this one or there won’t be anything left to call High-resolution.

  4. So is the thinking then to remove CD spec/rip because any potential “high resolution” content derived from the “best quality master” was permanently eliminated when it was mastered as Red Book? And that going back to the original analog master and going to 96/24 would then qualify for the logo as it has the potential to capture high resolution content (in contrast to Red Book)? I think I am ok with this because (1) hopefully the analog provenance would be faithfully reported and (2) the 96/24 transfer from analog would represent the best versions of these recordings.

    Of course, I think the 24 bit aspect of the high resolution format is useless for analog masters, but I think there are very high quality analog recordings that contain frequencies which are left out when mastered as the Red Book specification. While they don’t contain as much acoustic information as an original 96/24 master recording, I could be convinced that the 96/24 transfer from analog source could represent greater fidelity than a CD. Though from a consumer perspective, I wouldn’t spend double the price over the CD, unless of course you could convince me that it was an excellent master and the track was re-mastered without heavy dynamic range compression.

    • Todd, you’ve said it better than I could. Exactly.

  5. Good points, Mark. I can see why you would be very frustrated by this process. It seems to me these folks need to have two designations to resolve this semantic quandary:

    1. High Resolution Audio
    2. High Resolution Digital Transfer

    The problem with the current designation, as you pointed out, is that everything is conflated together. Thus, per their definition, a 96/24 digital transfer of a voice memo from my phone (or a 100 year old record) would constitute high resolution audio even if it’s not. In reality they should simply be designated high resolution digital transfers, even if the audio is as low resolution as it gets.

    I think your point that High Res Audio should not refer to the transfer but rather to the way the analog sound from voices and/or instruments are captured and digitized is correct. Therefore, an awesome transfer of Kind of Blue would be in category (2), because by this definition the original analog recording on tape is not high definition audio. But a modern recording in which the musician’s output goes into a DAC and creates at least a 88.2/24 would be category (1), because the resolution captured is, by definition, higher than anything that could have been captured on analog tape.

    • Got it…it takes both the source format AND the delivery container to determine what potential exists for a great sounding record.

  6. The only justification for the MQ-A category is MONEY
    Can’t imagine a HDA world without a Dark Side Of The Moon file. LOL

  7. So a 48/20 lossless file made from an (any) analog master is, by definition, ‘better’ than a 44/16 lossless file made from a 48/16 DAT master…. Something doesn’t sound right to me.

    • There are real problems here.

  8. Do you think defining MQ-A as being from an analog tape master source would suffice? You would know of adjectives to add to the noun tape better than me so that cassette tapes and other non-professional tape sources are excluded.

    Related issue? Did anyone notice that Bruce Spingsteen’s early catalog was released recently on HDtracks and others in a 24/96 format, but yet Nebraska, which was recorded at home with a non-professional tape recorder, was released only in a 24/192 format? What is the logic behind that!

    • The MQ-A category describes about 5000 albums from the major labels. There are another 5000 or so from the independent and smaller labels that fall into that category. In my world, they are standard resolution because the original analog tapes are not equal to even a CD in terms of dynamic range…although they might have some higher frequencies.

      As for Bruce, I could write to my friend Toby, who is his engineer. Curious, you’re right.

      • I would be very happy if what was on the analog master tape was digitized as is. It still would sound excellent compared to the mastering that is applied to a standard fidelity physical medium. I’ve heard vinyl that had been digitized to 24/88.2 or higher and it sounds much better than the CD release, and sometimes better than the HRA release, which many times is just the intended CD master before down-converting it (i.e., dynamic compression already applied). For those who may not know, vinyl requires its own mastering process that by necessity requires less dynamic compression or the stylus couldn’t stay in the groove. I’ve also heard digitized commercial reel-to-reel tapes from the 50’s and 60’s that sound better than the HRA releases of the same album. My point is there are excellent sounding analog masters out there and I’d like to know when these are being used.

        Please ask Toby about the Nebraska release. It would be interesting to know why a lo-fi recording got the ultra high-fi treatment.

  9. Interesting that Astell&Kern doesn’t seem to be on the manufacturers list. Any idea why? Looks like they left a space for them on the poster.

    • The companies on the poster were not contacted by the authors of the info graphic…curious.

  10. While I applaud your, and other, recording engineers’ efforts to maintain lifelike dynamic range in your recordings, we are all well aware that very few commercial recordings out there require the 10 to 12 bits rough equivalence of analog tape. A little math also shows that better than 70 dB of dynamic range is rarely necessary in a domestic listening environment, though I think approaching the question from that direction gives rise to a different sort of debate.

    I’ve measured LPs from the late 50s that have real frequency content a little above 22.05 kHz, and certainly above the 20 kHz that is the real top of the CDs frequency response when the antialiasing filter is considered. Likewise, you can download the 24/192 transcription of Miles Davis Kind of Blue from HDtracks, and see for yourself the harmonics of Davis Harmon-muted trumpet go past what a CD can capture.
    If we set aside the other issues with each system, and focus only on these two quantities that you spend most of your time writing about, the added bit depth is probably irrelevant to the vast majority of recordings, and analog tapes clearly better the CD for frequency response. Based on availability in the marketplace, standard resolution could seem to be defined as CDs or 250 6 kbps downloads. Analog tape is better ergo high-res.

    Would I rather have my favorite older recordings be made again with the same techniques, but better SNR and wider bandwidth? Probably, but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t ahead of recordings made in the late 70s, 80s, 90s, and even many made more recently.

    Finally, I’m not one to put analog tape at the top of the quality hierarchy. The numbers support going to 24/96 and somewhat above, as do my subjective impressions. As someone who spends more than half of my time listening to classical music, I’m also fortunate to find more recordings that meet even your strict definition of high-resolution than I can afford to buy.

    • Good points…but it seems to me accepting the pragmatic realities of analog tape’s 10-12 bits as a factor is pushing it to high-resolution status opens up a whole bunch of issues. If we actually look a the dynamic range of most pieces of music and the frequency response on a case by case, or track by track basis, we’re going to chase our tail forever.

      I’ve been completely consistent when advocating that high-resolution audio “meet or exceed” the capabilities of human hearing. It’s simple to understand, not so hard to accomplish, and actually moves the bar up.

      • The trouble is that even adopting your definition doesn’t help, if it’s only applying to the electronics and delivery format. A mastering engineer can crush the hell out of a 24/96 recording, and, as I understand it, it would still meet the JAS definition.

        As a consumer, I feel I could get much more direction from a rating scheme that analyzes what’s actually on the recording, rather than just the equipment used to make it. But, wait, I would also want to know if the performance was any good, and how the aesthetic choices in making the recording a line with my own preferences. For that, I’m back to music reviews from reliable sources, and just buying music to make my own judgments.

        Any of these logos are just marketing tools anyway.

        • I’m with you completely. We start with the hardware component. The signal path must have the potential to deliver the full fidelity or the artists intent, which might be far less generous to dynamics and other factors. I’m going to apply to use the logo for my download site and recordings. I’m curious how they will deal with a content holder.

          There are a lot of complexities involved with the definition….some technical, some musical, and many commercial.

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