HD-AUDIO — 16 July 2015

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I received an email from my friend Alan Kanter that was published in LA Weekly about the relative merits of Vinyl LPs and digital recordings…specifically CD standard stuff. The article was written by Chris Kornelis and published on Tuesday January 27, 2015. Here’s a link to the lengthy article. It may be long but it is well worth the read.

It’s especially relevant because Michael Fremer ranted without mercy about an article by Mario Aguilar over at Gizmodo and a response that he wanted published. Michael Fremer, for those of you who aren’t familiar with his passion and his writing, is a reviewer for Stereophile and a staunch vinylophile. You can read his rant yourself here but basically he lashes into Mario because he criticizes the Pono device and Neil Young for selling snake oil. I read the article and have actually been in touch with Mario (he wrote to me after my comments and article on the same topic) and I agree with a lot of what he said…however, he based his negative assessment on totally incorrect reasoning. It’s one thing to deliver a critical review but it’s another to do so on erroneous information and dubious facts. But I’ve already posted about that. Today is about the silliness of Michael’s retort.

The article in the LA Weekly contains a lot of quotes from intelligent, working professional audio engineers…including Grammy winners, educators, and inventors. The essential message is pretty much the same line that I’ve been saying for years. Michael and all of his vinylophile friends…and recognize that there are a lot of them…need to understand the facts about their vaunted format. It is an absolute fact that a PCM digital recording, even at CD specifications, can outperform a vinyl LP in every aspect of sound, accuracy of reproduction, dynamic range, and stereo imaging.

Michael referenced my recordings and the comparison of high-resolution files vs. CD down conversions. He bragged about being able to pick the high-resolution file 75% of the time. These were recordings that have extended frequency response, no mastering, and lots of dynamic range. Mr. Fremer wrote the follow about an epiphany moment in the Meridian demo room at CES.

“We were played Bob Dylan singing “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” transferred using this technology directly front the analog master tape and FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER I heard a digital file that challenged the resolution and spaciousness of an LP (which has a frequency response from 16 Hz well into the 40 kHz range). Here’s a link to the lengthy article.

[NOTE: Vinyl LP masters are usually cut from second or third generation analog tape…it’s a very rare vinyl LP that delivers appropriate levels at 16 Hz up to 40 kHz]

To Be Continued…

And yes, I am in Montana…with Doctor permission.

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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.

(9) Readers Comments

  1. How did I miss this post until now? Not sure, but would like to comment that although, I greatly respect Michael Fremer and his knowledge of musical catalog, I am fast becoming tired of his relentless and increasingly less balanced vinyl crusade which, as you point out Mark, doesn’t have science on its side. I know Michael would retort that he doesn’t care about such things and if it sounds better it is better, but for me he goes too far in his dismissal of the CD which, when I think back over my 30 years of hi-fi as an all consuming passion, has actually given me more moments of sonic epiphany than any all other formats put together.

    Sure vinyl can sound great, but in my long experience it can also plunge the depths if your equipment isn’t tip top or you don’t happen to have a great pressing. All this before one considers the technical limitations such as worse sound as the grooves compress near the centre of the record and the lower bass registers having to be in mono.

    While it may not be perfect, for me the good old silver disc format has far fewer compromises than any other popular medium and, even better, enables you to make a lossless back up of your music collection, ready for all current and future developments in DAC technology that have now consigned the shortcomings of CD to history, unless you’re Michael Fremer and stuck in a late 80s mindset, of course.

  2. Im not convinced, Sorry!!! When I was in college, my business professor bet me $20.00 there was no difference between Coke & Pepsi. I threw down my $20.00 and said blind fold me & put a pillow case over my head. Give me a regular coke & regular Pepsi, in CANS, and I will spot the coke from the Pepsi ten out of ten times (provided you let me rinse and gimme me one minute between testing). We agreed and I went 10 for 10 and got my $20.00. How did I do it? The secret ingredient in coke (x7) is Chocolate and the secret ingredient in Pepsi is Tea.

    Julian Herch declares there is no difference between amps & preamps, all things being equal because electricity in and of itself does not affect sound. This is NOT TRUE!!! I auditioned 12 PreAmps under $1,500.00 and went with my Acurus RL11

    I played a 180 gram LP Sweet Jane Cowboy Junkies against both a CD and an AIFF HD download and the vinyl blew it away. Sound reproduction is a mechanical process reliant upon amps, Front ends and speakers and wall reflections. Digital reproduction has come along way from 16/44.4kb sound reproduction however it’s not up to LP quality (heard, not measured!!!). I believe this is due to the fact that a needle can extract 400kb per channel and Red Book CDs can’t do that yet. Yes, LPs suffer from bad stamping, warping, dust and worn out grooves; then again, LPs don’t suffer from Dithering, CD Rot, skipping and Digital Dark ages (potentially).

    My gear is Class B mid nineties as is my hearing but everyone raves when it’s played for them. I now rarely play LPs or CDs—I almost always AIFF it to HD. I had a guy call me crazy that I cold hear the difference between an AIFF file and an MP3 squished file, forget about an AIFF and an Apple Lossless file. I envy his poor hearing—he can expotentiously store more songs than I can. Then again, mine sound better!!!

    • You don’t to be convinced…of course, you are welcome to enjoy whatever formats and recording you want. When a particular recording “blows you away”, it means that you’re personal preferences have been more closely met with that recording. Everyone have their own set of preferences. I prefer clean, high-resolution, surround PCM digital recordings…I’ve never heard tracks that are more musical, emotional, and accurate than my own.

      Right now I’m transferring an analog recording I made with Christian Jacob. I have a number of customers that want an analog copy of an analog tape. I’m sure they will be very happy. I prefer the cleaner 96 kHz/24-bit PCM version.

      But there’s no disputing the fact that high-resolution PCM digital inherently has more dynamic range, greater frequency range, and less distortion than any analog format, period. You’re right that LPs don’t suffer from dithering, CD rot, skipping, and digital dark ages (although I’m not sure how my high-resolution PCM files suffer from these things either). Dithering is required in PCM digital and is actually a good thing…just like using the RIAA curve when mastering a vinyl LP is required (and which is much more audible). My files don’t have CD rot since they aren’t CDs, and they don’t drop out.

      Go ahead and like what you like…but don’t dump on PCM digital until you’ve taken the time to listen to some of mine in your system.

    • ArmyDicked – While LPs may not suffer from a Digital Dark Age risk they certainly suffer from a Technical Dark Age risk. All of the technology required to turn that vinyl disk into sound is susceptible to the same type of loss of technical knowledge and capability that the Digital Dark Age refers to. Unless you can hear the music on your disks just by looking at them, they are at risk.

  3. First of all I don’t give the time of day to any man who demagnetizes plastic phonograph records. I looked up the properties of polyvinylchloride and lo and behold it does exhibit to a very small degree, properties of all three kinds of magnetism, ferromagnetic, diamagnetic, and paramagnetic. But it is very small and it isn’t clear why it would matter even if it were much greater.

    More disappointing was John Atkinson apparently believing in this. Not only that but he never bothered to take the thing into his lab and make any before and after measurements to see if what he claimed to hear was not only real but due to demagnetizing the record. You can see his explanation below here starting at about 30:00

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mEsuKqj5wA

    The difference might have been attributable to him being at another spot in the hallway or Fremer may have damaged the magnets in the phonograph cartridge with his demagnetizer. Who knows? I think Atkinson asked his question backwards. It should have been where does the silliness end and the science begin? And the answer is for audiophiles, it doesn’t.

    Are the capabilities of RBCD better than vinyl? There is no doubt of it. It is superior in all audible respects by a wide margin. That is not an opinion, it’s a fact. It is also adequate for all acoustic music. It is not only proven by measurements but by the fact that you can dub a CD from a vinyl and even with uncalibrated consumer type equipment you can invariably get copies that are indistinguishable or at worst nearly indistinguishable from the original. You cannot do that in the other direction. Does that mean that all CDs sound better than all vinyls? No. Even for the same recording there are many reasons why the vinyl might be more pleasing or even superior but it has nothing to do with the limitations and capabilities of the technologies. They are beyond dispute.

    What about High resolution audio? Here’s are some authoritative quotes; “The honest truth is that at the end of the day if I played a 44.1,16 bit recording in here and I played my 96K 24 bit originals none of you could tell the difference. My friends in the mastering community can’t tell the difference.” “Guitar Noir is one of our best selling albums….notice that the full scale of 96 24 goes up to 46 khz. …there are frequency components that actually exceed 20 khz. But Mark you said earlier we don’t hear that. I don’t care. My definition of fidelity means that if it’s coming out of…..I’d like to capture it ….maybe, just maybe there is something going on in our brains…..” “Folks, we’re deluding ourselves….compact discs, this is our reference folks, this is our standard definition audio. It’s not hi rez, it sounds wonderful and anybody sits there and says oh yea, they can instantly hear the difference between a CD and a hi rez file they’re crackers, it’s not easy to do. We did tests. They played them through headphones, they played my 96K 24….downconverted from 96.4 to 44.1. Well guess what, every recording that they used as a test…”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5S_DI99wd8

    I’d listen to this guy. He seems to know what he’s talking about. The difference between RBCD and hi rez is very subtle and there are only a few thousand hi rez recordings available.

    I have no dog in this fight. I’m not in the biz. I’ve got about 3000 vinyls and 3000 cds, in very round numbers. I also have turntables that I like very much to play the vinyls on and lots of CD players. But I rarely listen to vinyl. For one thing it’s a PITA. And there’s no remote control. I also appreciate the lack of pops and clicks especially on soft music. CDs that I bought over 25 years ago sound like brand new. They never seem to wear out. Okay, I’m sold, RBCD is it for me. (it was from the first time I heard one but I had to wait until they got the steely sound out of violins before I bought one.)

    One last thing about Fremer. He says every stylus should be adjusted to an angle of 92 degrees. This is WRONG WRONG WRONG! It should be 23.5 degrees to compensate for the tilt of the earth’s axis and align it perpendicular to the orbital plane around the sun.. After all, if you’re gonna be crackers, why not go all the way?

    • Mark, you’ve got way too much time on your hands to do all this research.

  4. The strangest thing has happened. After a lifetime of listening to live musical performances some of it by the world’s greatest artists like Heifetz, Segovia, Elman, attending so many concerts, having experimented successfully with my own invented radical ideas, owning and listening to thousands of recordings, for reasons unknown I’ve suddenly lost all interest in it. I’ll occasionally browse and even offer a comment or two now and then on the internet but for me it’s over. Will I ever rekindle my interest? I don’t know but I’ve got a lot of other things I now find are much more interesting to think about.

    “Folks, we’re deluding ourselves….compact discs, this is our reference folks, this is our standard definition audio. It’s not hi rez, it sounds wonderful and anybody sits there and says oh yea, they can instantly hear the difference between a CD and a hi rez file they’re crackers,” That’s good enough for me. It is in complete agreement with what I was taught in engineering school.

    Can adding more than you need lead to problems? Yes. A simple example is the way FM and other analog tuners are aligned. Make the bandwidth too large and you run into serious aliasing problems with adjacent channel interference, terrible distortion in the signal you want and need to be clear. In emergency communications systems it can be a matter of life and death when intelligibility has been compromised for an uninformed need to increase bandwidth.

    Do various schemes like Hi Rez, MQA, DSD, and other performance extenders in the usual sense address the real shortcomings of this technology? IMO no, they’re firing all their ammo in the wrong direction hoping for small incremental improvements. Among them they can’t even agree there which one is better.

  5. Today I read this article:

    Click here for article link.

    The mastering engineer says that a flat copy of an analogue tape made with a SONY 3324 sounded so much worse than the original analogue tape it was made from.

    In the end both men conclude that it is indeed a pity that almost all classical music nowadays is recorded digitally.

    What to make of it?

    • I’m a huge fan of Simon and Garfunkel and have the highest respect for the work of Roy Halee. However, I also recognize that he and lots of other Grammy-winning audio engineers know and love the sound of analog tape. After all, that’s all we had to work prior to the introduction of digital recording in the 80s. The SONY 3324 was a 44.1 kHz/16-bit early DASH machine and no doubt left the sound of their transfers lacking. I seriously doubt they would complain about the sound of today’s state-of-the-art 96 kHz/24-bit PCM transfers. They probably still prefer the “sound” of analog but the sound of a good high-resolution PCM digital transfer would be sonically identical.

      As for classical music, they need to open up their ears and get a clue about dynamic range and 24-bit PCM recording. Analog tape doesn’t even come close to meeting the requirements of classical music.

      Look everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Personal taste and experiences vary. I doubt very much whether Roy would regard my recordings…classical or otherwise…as lacking. Robert Margouleff, the Grammy-winning engineer, worked extensively with Stevie Wonder using analog tape and he cherishes my recordings.

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