Dr. AIX's POSTS β€” 22 January 2015


Audiophiles tend to be older. Our music preferences are distinctly different than the younger folks and our association with music is different. And we’re the ones that are in the cross hairs of the hardware and software companies that are trying to convince us that high-resolution audio is somehow going to rock out world. We’ve got the money, the interest, and the time to assemble a great audio system and accumulate plenty of software. How does it feel to be the target of so much marketing?

My children are consumers of music…except for my oldest son, the math metal musicians and band guy. They are content with low quality streaming. I’ve dragged them into the studio and made them listen to some of my recordings and they are dutifully impressed but it’s not something that they would spend excess time or money on. I get it. Music is a commodity these days. It used to be a driving force for many of us…and for many it still is. We long for the fidelity and emotional response of the vinyl LPs that we purchased and attentively listened to. It was almost ritualistic. A new record arrives and a dedicated hour or so of undisturbed time was needed to engage with the new tunes and sounds.

There is an article over at the Billboard website that examines whether there is a difference between listeners/subscribers of standard fidelity streaming services and the new “high-def” streaming services. You can read the piece at Billboard article. I think they’re on to something.

The “high-definition” streaming service Tidal released some information on the most popular tunes streamed at CD spec fidelity (notice that Billboard magazine and lots of others are using the term high-def audio…wouldn’t you think that we could use the same terms and acronym by now?). The premium level customers…about a half a million of them according to the company…prefer music that is reflected in the following list:

1. “The Endless River” by Pink Floyd
2. “x” by Ed Sheeran
3. “Guitar in the Space Age” by Bill Frisell
4. “Black Messiah” by D’Angelo and The Vanguard
5. “The Inevitable End” by Royksopp
6. “Seeds” by TV on the Radio
7. “Kiasmos” by Kiasmos
8. “Sonic Highways” by Foo Fighters
9. “Casting Nets” by Distance, Sky & Light
10. “Interstellar: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” by Hans Zimmer

Bill Frisell? I know who he is because I’m a guitarist but does the rest of the streaming community know who is? I’m impressed.

The list available from Spotify tilts towards the contemporary pop music charts:

1. “x” by Ed Sheeran
2. “In the Lonely Hour” by Sam Smith
3. “The New Classic” by Iggy Azalea
4. “G I R L” by Pharrell
5. “My Evening” by Ariana Grande

The conclusion drawn by the author of the article and one that seems intuitively correct, is that “high-definition” subscribers are tapping into the audio enthusiast market. That’s us. And the hardware and labels are well aware of our passion and interest…and our willingness to by into the latest development in order to meet our music needs. That’s why there’s a large market for crazy expensive cables, power cords, isolation platforms and the rest of it.

It’s time to verify before you purchase. HRA is a sales pitch as much as it’s anything about fidelity.

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


About Author


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.

(24) Readers Comments

  1. I gave a presentation today to a group of aspiring recording/music industry college students. Their professor, a recording engineer, came to my shop on a prior visit to discuss the “state of the industry” and we had a great discussion on the subject . Afterwards he asked if he could bring his students in to experience a real high resolution music experience and for me to share my insight.
    I’m passionate about music and can say that I have always appreciated engineering skills and production as much as I appreciate the artist. Though I belong to an extremely small faction of people interested in the betterment of sound reproduction, I have to say that I am in disagreement on the statement that audiophiles tend to be older! The appreciation of better sound quality is primarily based on education. Regardless of preference of genre, young and old still are perceptive to understanding and appreciating better sound. I played AIX clips. I played Redbook CD clips, I played vinyl, I played perceived 24/96 clips and Tidal streaming clips. They all sounded good! Played through a relatively well designed audio system but not so esoteric that discussions were necessary to explain hair splitting observations on minute nuances. The students under all circumstances were able to appreciate good sound and why it sounded good. So my point is not to differentiate between young and old listening preferences, but to reflect on the context of the Billboard article in saying that popularity of streaming services like Tidal provide a rather enticing argument that discovering well recorded music can simply be explored through a well designed interface (GUI) that points you to artists who appreciate good recording methods.

    • Thanks Matt…sound like an interesting evening. I’ve certainly experienced similar reactions when giving demonstrations to my students at my studio during field trips. However, these same students don’t go to the audiophile trade shows, don’t follow the trends in high-resolution audio, and are completely content with the sound of their Beats headphones and iPods. And these are audio students. I’m certainly not saying that young people can’t appreciate or perceive great sound…but they don’t aggressively seek it out, pay for it, and spread the word to their friends.

  2. I think you hit on the crux of the matter when you described an intro to a new LP. It was all about the time we had to fully appreciate the content on 35-50 minutes of vinyl, with nothing intruding. I don’t think I was in a minority to have only middling quality gear but was lucky to be at a time when the source material was pretty high quality. Last time I had that experience was in my early 30s, then came that great ‘responsible’ period of life, in lock step with the CD wave. Now I am at a stage where, once more, I have time on my hands, but part of that equation is that I spend about half the year away from my audio gear. I do have, on this leg of the journey, my Pono loaded with about 300 albums, 3 of them yours Mark, good cans and that elusive piece of the puzzle, time. Amadeus and Miriam, ‘Senegal Fast Food’, CD quality is playing at the moment and thrust his Pono, it sounds grand. My own kids are 24 & 21 and though they acknowledge the quality of this sound, they are not interested in perusing it. Go figure.

  3. Bill Frisell is in the list partially because Tidal highlighted this song and his recent album in their editor’s picks. As are most of the the other tracks listed. Tidal pushes tracks and albums under numerous different catagories.

    • Thanks, I figured it had to be some some of highlighting and promotion. He certainly deserves it.

  4. I guess I’m really out of the mainstream. Of all the music mentioned above I am only familiar with Pink Floyd and Bill Frisell, of course I purchased the 96/24 of Endless River at HDTracks the day it came out.
    I guess part of the reason I’m not familiar with the others is that I’ve been more of a Country music fan for the last 20 years, rock today just doesn’t reach me.

    I wonder if your younger children believe their older brother deserves to earn a profit for the work he puts into his art. Or you for the work you put into your productions.
    Or do they believe as I’ve heard expressed here a number of times the last few days that the music should just be distributed via free channels. Won stated yesterday that today’s youth get most of their music from youtube.

    • Music for most people is the background soundtrack to life. Great music, great recordings, and great experiences are a passion for only a very small percentage of the population.

      • Then I guess they deserve what they’re getting, computer generated-synthesized-overdubbed garbage produced by people that have no idea how to play a real instrument.

        • Did you mean the Art of Noise ?

  5. I’ve been a subscriber to TidalHiFi for a few months now (since they offered it in the US).

    The tracks on the list look familiar. Oh yeah, they’re the tracks that the Tidal app highlights on the home screen.

    I’ve listened to most of them myself, even though I’d never heard of most of the artists (although Bill Frisell is great, and the “Guitar in the Space Age” album is especially wonderful!). I didn’t like most of the tracks from the home screen.

    I’m right in the target demographic too–53 year old male with disposable income, who spends a good chunk on audio equipment.

    I think many Tidal subscribers are like me–willing to try something new that the editors recommend. That doesn’t mean they liked it. I don’t think we should conclude that 50-year old guys now like Royksopp. Nor are we all classical listeners (I know I’m not). I think we can conclude that Tidal subscribers are unlikely to listen to Iggy Azalea though.

    Tidal subscribers are probably an eclectic bunch, willing to explore, and it would be hard to classify our musical tastes. Except to say we appreciate high quality recordings.


  6. I feel that the choice of so called high resolution music is really limited, what I like to listen to I cannot access on any hi def. websites. I subscribe to Spotify and Qobuz I know that Spotify streams at 320kps and Qobuz at CD quality but at present these are the choices if you want to stream music at a reasonable price for the consumer . I do not know what damage websites like these do to the music industry i.e.do they exploit or restrict artists in any way as it has been stated that consumers are getting music on the cheap, anyway back to the point listening to high def is subjective what are we really going to hear, sometimes I cannot tell the difference between mp3 and cd quality so from a layman’s point of view in must be in the recording process. I have listened to 24 bit recording via usb and the quality is slightly better over cd but not greatly. I really enjoy listening to Jamie Sieber beautiful music totally relaxes body and soul…regards Gary.

  7. According to Wikipedia, The Endless River Blu-ray has 24/96 stereo and surround. That might be worth checking out. That maybe the only one on the list with a better than CD quality version even available. I’ve looked for previous Bill Frisell albums in HD, but haven’t found them. I don’t really know much about any of the other artists.

    The greatest quantity of true HD music is classical, and, to the best of my knowledge, Naxos has the first streaming site with better than CD quality. Unfortunately, since they are using Orastream’s variable bit rate algorithm, your connection speed may preclude you from getting the full resolution. I think that the Classical HD app from Orastream was limited to CD resolution, and I never even got that high on a fast connection.

    • The new Pink Floyd album was recorded on analog tape and is thus not…in my definition…a high-resolution audio track no matter that they put out at 96/24.

      • I did buy the Blu Ray Audio.
        Not beause of the 24/96, but because of the surround mix.
        Only way to get it.

      • It might not be real high resolution, but at least it has the potential to have greater fidelity than CD.

        • That’s the key word…the potential.

      • Figured as much but Pink Floyd has always created the best sounding productions in rock music. Combine that with the fact that David Gilmour is one of the greatest guitar players ever, and this was probably our last chance to hear new music from Richard Wright (RIP) this album is guaranteed to sell huge and is a gift to the rock music world.

        Have you heard the album David Gilmour did with The Orb (Metalic Spheres). Don’t know how it was recorded but it sounds great and actually has some dynamic range.

        • I haven’t heard it. I have always loved Pink Floyd for the music and the production…and for the guitar playing.

      • Analog tape? From the Wikipedia article, it looked like much of the material came from digital tapes of sessions in the early 90s – so no better than 48 kHz. I thought maybe the newer material was done in 24/96.

        Here’s hoping that the 90s stuff was on analog tape, since dynamic range above 60 dB wouldn’t be used, and digital of that era loses out to tape on frequency and impulse response.

        I would think you’d be interested in what they did with surround.

        • I agree…analog tape would be preferable to standard resolution digital of that era. I’m a big fan of surround but there wasn’t a lot of remixing going on for SACD or DVD-Audio. I think there’s about 1000 surround music titles out there.

        • Thought I’d add a few interesting details to Endless River Bluray discussion. While I can’t answer the question of whether most of the source material was derived from analog or digital recordings, I bought a copy of the disc and looked at the spectrograms from the 96/24 stereo LPCM mix. Most contain ultrasonics, and interestingly, several tracks have reasonable intensities extending to just over 40 kHz.

  8. The main reason why there is a discernible aurally difference between 96/24 and 44.1/16 is that the former has a somewhat thinner quantization noise layer across the audible band, but people somehow connect this with overall extended frequency range, which is really not the case. When 96/24 is properly dithered & 9th order noise shaper is applied, and then oversampled hugely, it might sound far better.

    Oversampling ADC with no anti-aliasing filter must be capturing sound at no worse than ~ THz / {?} decits / mono to allow for very good impulse response while keeping uncorrelated noise high enough .

  9. Love Pink Floyd. Have as many of their albums in 5.1 as they have released. The endless river is not up to par with any of the others. Not in terms of fidelity but in terms of enjoyment. It sounds to me like and endless warm up session for the musicians prior to actually recording an interesting album with distinct tracks. The lack of vocals on all but one song make it even worse. Just sayin…..

    • With David Gilmour on guitar and Rodger Wright on keyboards who needs vocals. πŸ™‚
      Just sayin….

Leave a Reply

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

5 × four =