Dr. AIX's POSTS — 24 January 2015

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I skipped Charlie’s agility training class this morning and headed to the Anaheim Convention Center to attend the National Association of Music Merchants annual gathering. The NAMM is not open to the public but it seems anyone that wants to get in can get credentials some way or another. I wasn’t inside more than 10 minutes before a group of my students came over and wanted to share their thoughts on the new gear and software. In fact, I spent quite a bit of time chatting with students…some current and a bunch of others that have graduated and gone on to jobs in the industry. It was actually very nice to spend a few minutes with them…and I was quite impressed that most are doing something in the audio engineering area.

The high tech section of the convention center (where all of the electronics, software, gadgets, analog synths etc) is where I like to hang out. I ran into my friend John Siau form Benchmark. We chatted a while about the kind of system that’s needed to really appreciate high-resolution audio. According to John, there aren’t too many amplifiers that can deliver more than 96 dB or dynamic range. Of course, there are very many recordings that require that much but that’s the whole point of high-resolution audio…it’s rare, it’s special, and it’s hard to do! I’m trying to sort out what equipment companies I want to partner with for the AXPONA 2015 show in Chicago. I want to assemble an ideal system…one that can actually deliver the magic that’s in my recordings. I’ve identified some of the companies/partners but haven’t yet nailed down the amplifiers and speakers, which are obviously critical to the overall sound. Benchmark’s new AHB2 amplifier is a strong, very strong contender.

At 1 pm, I headed upstairs to the “Hot Zone” to sit in on Cookie Marenco’s panel entitled, “The High Resolution Movement”. I’m not sure it was a panel. Usually, a panel consists of several experts/individuals addressing a common topic. In this case, Cookie’s talked about how great DSD is, how many hits she’s getting on her website, how music is underpriced (she charges $4-6 to download a single track…ouch!), and even did a live recording of an acoustic duo using a portable PCM D100 recorder. Her panel mate, Matty, asked a few questions about two thirds of the way through the panel. He asked whether people could tell the difference between standard resolution audio and audio at 192 kHz. Cookie assured the audience that she could teach everyone in the audience to “hear” the difference that 192 kHz sampling makes…I would challenge that since there have been no studies that have shown that.

Matty also asked how Cookie would convince the unwashed masses about the advantages of high-resolution audio. Her reply was pretty much the usual, “there’s just more there there”. More width, more frequency range, more spread etc. This from someone that uses analog tape or DSD 64 to record, PCM 16-bit reverb during mixing, and an old analog mixing console. I have to acknowledge that Cookie makes very nice sounding recordings. But they’re not high-resolution audio.

I gave my card to Matty and insisted that he ping me. The one sided story that he got from his panel of one…needs a balanced rebuttal from someone like me. It was interesting to hear Cookie acknowledge me as the “guy who writes the daily blog about PCM”. I’m not sure she’s been following my posts or she would know I talk about a lot of different things.

Then I hung around for the next session, “Birth of a Record: Don Was and Ed Cherney”. I know both of these guys and wanted to hear what they had to say about Bonnie Raitt’s groundbreaking “Nick of Time” album, which is a true masterpiece.

I’ll talk about that tomorrow.

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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.

(13) Readers Comments

  1. First of all, while I do enjoy Bonnie Raitt, I had to demo with that first track so many times if I never… Sonics-wise, it’s ok but masterpiece, hold on a minute.

    More to the point, if “true” hi-res is the sonic equivalent of an oasis in the desert, then guess what? Not many folks will be making the trip; how is this good, pray tell?

    Most of the comments I have ever written have asked that you look at the bigger picture of better sound for everyman instead of great sound for the few, and the relationship between the two. I don’t believe you have ever responded in specific consideration to these queries or paths.

    It seems like you actually think that being a tiny oasis in a huge desert is a good state of affairs, and that folks who are looking at the much bigger picture,(guess who?), are polluting your little waterhole. Whether it’s gear or software, dumping on someone else’s stuff in order to sell yours has always been seen as a low blow that infers insecurity and little else. Again, please stop crapping on Pono. It’s going to succeed, and I hope you do too.

    • Craig, Pono and PonoMusic are doomed to failure. They’re out of money, out of ideas, trading on Neil’s celebrity status, have built the perfect yesterday technology…and they continue to lie about their realities. There’s no way they can continue to sell CD res as High-Resolution for premium dollars. There certainly aren’t going to get any of my money.

      “Nick of Time” is a musical and sonic tour-de-force and deserves all of the accolades that have been written about it. Beautiful appropriate songs sung from the heart, simple arrangements, and a straightforward sonic palette with solid fidelity.

      I have answered you so many times I’ve lost count. You and I agree that CD spec audio can deliver terrific sound. We disagree that it should be called high-resolution…it’s clearly not but that shouldn’t and doesn’t diminish it importance in the delivery of music to the masses. However, high-resolution audio is like McLaren or Ferrari automobiles. It’s for those who really want the best, can afford it, recognize it, will work for it, and truly appreciate it. This is not meant for the masses. No not many people will be making the trip…and that’s perfectly ok with me.

      The bigger picture doesn’t mean I have to compromise. It doesn’t mean I have to lower the standards in order to be more inclusive. As a professor, there are times the dean or department head has actually said to me, “let’s just give this student a passing grade so we can be rid of him or her.” Not on my watch, you have to meet the standard or you keep trying. No one gets a pass…not Neil Young, not Tidal/Deezer, and companies that keep marketing their stuff as high-resolution when it’s not.

      Sometimes the truth is hard to take. Reviewing equipment or software isn’t a guarantee of positive feedback. There’s plenty of stinkers out there.

      • “high-resolution audio is like McLaren or Ferrari automobiles”

        Then, something like Cadillac Sixteen is needed. Or rather that race car I had proposed for FormulaOne, which would be the fastest car ever.

        Are your recordings capable of infrasonics ?

    • Craig,
      You just don’t seem to get it. Mark is trying to bring to the consumer something better than what has been done in the past. If your satisfied with what the mass market distributors offer that’s fine, but why slam Mark for trying to give you something better.
      The main problem with Pono is just that they are claiming to be bringing something to market that’s better than mass market when that is just a PR lie. You’ve been able to get what Pono offers for a long time now from retailers like HDTracks, Acoustic Sounds, and quite a few more. Doing high sampling rate recordings of old analog tapes does not make a High Definition recording. Think of doing this with a old Edison Cylinder recording, is the outcome going to magically turn into a beautiful sounding modern recording? No, it’s just going to be a very accurate reproduction of a very ugly sounding wax cylinder recording.

      As for Nick of Time your entitled to your opinion but,
      “Nick of Time topped the Billboard 200 chart, selling five million copies, and won three Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year, which was presented to its producer, Don Was. In 2003, the album was ranked number 229 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.”
      I guess there were more than a few people that really liked it, myself included.

  2. Hi MArk… one suggestion for your Axponna sound system if available would be a JBL M2 system (includes amps) which would leave a preamp , DAC and your music.
    There are others > Just my 2cents worth

    • I’ve already reached out to my friends at Harman. It’s a big ask to get a full 5.1 channel system from any high end company. Thanks. The preamp/DAC will be the SP-3 by Bryston (the best multichannel DAC available IMHO) coming HDMA from an Oppo BDP-95 player.

  3. As a life long resident of the Philadelphia area, I was thrilled when Bonnie Raitt hit it big nationally. She had some great albums before Nick of Time and always played to sold out shows here long before she made it big, from small dives (which is where she really shined) to large outdoor summer venu4es. She always put on a great show. Still does.

    • I say Bonnie is 1971 at the Masonic Auditorium with Freebo on bass. It was a great show. “Nick of Time” was never expected to do well, had a very small budget ($120,000), and was done as a courtesy to Bonnie. The record is a gem and brings together the production talents or Dan Was, the engineering talents of Ed Cherney, and the sensibility and talent of Bonnie.

  4. “I know both of these guys and wanted to hear what they had to say about Bonnie Raitt’s groundbreaking “Nick of Time” album, which is a true masterpiece.
    I’ll talk about that tomorrow.

    Can’t wait to hear about it. I have no idea how many times I’ve listened to that CD since it was originally released. Thank goodness for CD’s, the needle would have plumb wore threw a couple LP’s years ago.
    Cued it up in my server about 2:00 am last night after this post got me thinking about it and fell asleep listening to it.
    They just don’t make music like that any more.

    • You’re right. They (the major artists and labels) don’t make records like that anymore. However, there are producers and engineers that do produce projects with similar aesthetics. Cookie’s recordings are among them, I count my own in this group, and certainly many other unknown artists have truly wonderful recordings.

      • Your right, I guess I’ve just reached that point in life where I’m just stuck in the past. Only new music I listen to any more is Country, Give me more like that beautiul sounding Mark Chestnutt project you did please. 🙂

        Right now I’m on the search to complete my collection of Frank Sinatra – The Capitol Years. A 21 CD set of everything Sinatra recorded under the Capitol label 1953 – 1961. This set was released in 1998 in the UK by EMI, They went back to the vaults and remastered the original tapes in 20 bit digital. Amazing how good some of the later albums actually sound, not SOTA for sure but very pleasing to listen to. Only short about 5 CD’s from the set now, not many folks broke up the original box sets which I’ve seen going for around $700, beyond my means. Besides I’m not a collector, I’m just ripping them and passing them on.

  5. A.S. I intend to create the highly advanced synthesizer: authentic resynthesis by means of NASA’s 80-petaflops 20-watt ZISC processor + 160 resynators aiming to totally re-establish ‘Experimental’ music .

    Sound must be captured at far larger bit depth words & far higher sampling rates to both better reduce quantization error, in tandem with necessary noise-shaped dither, & attenuate uncorrelated noise {since no anti-alias filtering is applied} + extreme oversampling to reconstruct impulse response ‘s original shape thus making digital music analog-sounding. That’s it. Good luck at the fronts.

    If you want best amplifier: Tact Audio T-2 or Valvet E1r .

    P.S. If music sells, it imports nothing.

  6. Seems that there was a DVD-A version of ‘Nick of Time’ with a surround mix and more.
    But alas, it is out of print!
    Why are all the goodies so rare ;-(

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