Dr. AIX's POSTS — 10 February 2015

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I’m still exploring speaker options for the AXPONA demo room that will happen in April (I just confirmed my payment for the space) and for a rigorous study of high-resolution audio here at the studio. The suggestions I’ve received are all in consideration but I’m still trying to get the attention of my friends at JBL and at least a pair of the M2 Studio Reference Monitors. It’s a slim chance but I’m convinced that the technologies that they’ve developed and incorporated into these speakers can deliver the frequency range, low distortion, dispersion, and accuracy that my recordings require. And that other options will come up short.

The M2s have to be mated to the Crown I-Tech amplifiers (I use Crown amplifiers to drive my THX certified JBL array in the studio). There is DSP processing required by the M2s that the Crowns accomplish and then the digital signals are converted to analog and forwarded to the speakers (the crossover happens in the digital domain). The A-weighted output of the Crowns is impressive at 108 dB but is there a way to increase that spec using other amplifiers…notably the Benchmark AHB2s that can deliver 130 dB? I’m certainly not saying that JBL has slighted the performance of the M2 when coupled with the Crown amps, quite the contrary. I’ve experienced my recordings on the M2s on several occasions (at JBL, at Sprint, and at the CE Week Jungle City event in NYC) and can attest to the quality of the sound. I’ve been lusting after the M2s since I first heard about them. They really deliver.

I’ve learned that it is possible to load the processing signature of the M2s into the BSS Blu-800 signal processor (Harman owned) and use that device to output digital 96 kHz/24-bit signals to a set of Benchmark DAC2 HGC converters and then use the AHB2 amplifiers to their full potential. It’s not a trivial setup but it would actually enhance the performance of the JBL M2 to full “high-resolution” quality. I’m not sure something like this has even been done before…and I want to be the first.

It’s time to put up or shut up when it comes to high-resolution audio. Articles like that from Brent Butterworth call into question the validity of high-resolution. An article forwarded by a reader from Goldmund continues his apprehension in white paper form. You can read the paper by clicking here. He pushes the same agenda and cites some of the research that’s been done over the past 10 years, but he still misses the critical factor of recording provenance. He…and David Pogue…are listening to standard definition recordings. My hope is that by actually assembling a system that really does meet the highest performance standards that these guys and attendees, reviewers, audio professionals, and skeptics that visit AXPONA will leave convinced that HRA has merit.

At the recent NAMM show, Cookie Marenco of Blue Coast Records told the audience that she could teach anyone in attendance to “hear” high-resolution audio. In a recent article she penned for Positive Feedback Online she challenged David Pogue to come to San Francisco…to her studio…and get a dose of high-resolution audio. I’m not sure what Cookie would play (new DSD tracks or transfers from older analog tapes) and the capabilities of her monitoring system, but I am somewhat dubious about her claim. Or others that claim that it’s “easy” to tell the difference. That has certainly not been my experience. HRA is a step up…but its not a huge leap.

I’ll keep you posted on my quest. We’re going to have one incredible room at AXPONA. This year will be less about the cost of system and more about the delivery of real high-resolution audio. Book your travel to Chicago now.

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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.

(35) Readers Comments

  1. If it was not easy to hear the difference, then how could David Chesky ever have gotten HD Trax off the ground? Thanks.

    • Do you think that HDtracks has been successful because all of their customers are thrilled at the obvious improvement in the sound of the high-resolution versions of the albums they make available? The Chesky’s have been successful with HDtracks because they were first to make the deals with the major labels and the only site offering the mainstream catalog. The question of audible improvement of their tracks over previous versions has been at times challenged. It’s a subtle difference.

      • I should have made explicit in my comment that none of these three points necessarily require HRA. So I would tend to agree that the difference between CD quality and HRA is inaudible for most systems.

    • The only time I’ve noticed a difference in audio quality from HD Tracks is when the provenance or mastering of the album has been improved over my current version or when I was”upgrading” from a dated MP3 rip. I think we may forget there are still be a lot of these latter cases still in circulation that can benefit from a high quality lossless treatment. Also, people will always want to buy new digital music albums, and hd tracks often provides the best quality available for that matter. I think these three points are a major selling point.

      • That will certainly make a difference…and it’s probably worth the expense.

  2. Mark,

    Take a look at ELAC:

    http://www.elac.com/en/products/4Pi_series/4Pi_Plus_2/index.php

    You can easily add these twitters to your current speakers in order to get the desired 50kHz.

    • Thanks, I will.

  3. Nothing against the Benchmarks, but the Crown amps that are used in the M2 deliver more power. If you want extreme dynamics, you need a lot of power.

    • It’s not about power, it’s about delivering dynamic range.

      • I don’t understand, beyond a speaker ability to handle X amount of power before self destruction, it’s volume level is directly related to the power put in? Sensitivity + max rated input power = max SPL out = the speakers dynamic range, no?

        • Bump

  4. Have you seen the announcement for the Sony Xperia Z3 Smartphone which can handle hi-res audio?

    http://www.soundandvision.com/content/sonys-xperia-z3-smartphone-handles-hi-res

    Ken Pohlmann: “The Z3 supports playback of many file types: 3GPP, MP4, ADTS, AMR, DSF, DSDIFF, FLAC, Matroska, SMF, XMF, Mobile XMF, OTA, RTTTL, RTX, iMelody, MP3, WAV, OGG, and ASF, ALAC (decoder format). I specifically tested its hi-res capabilities with a number of different file resolutions. I was happy to see that the various formats I auditioned were supported and played. In particular, from a hi-res standpoint, the player played 96k and 192k WAV files, complete with the HD logo in the playlist. (No AIFF.)”

    • I’ll have to get a hold of one and compare it to the HTC Harman Kardon Edition phone that I got from Sprint.

  5. If it really takes the financial investment in equipment your talking about Mark to demo the superiority of HDA, I have serious doubts about the general public ever taking HDA to heart.

    • It can be done without spending a ton of money…but I agree that real HRA is not going to be a mass market thing.

  6. Hi Mark,

    What’s your current speaker shortlist for Axpona? Have you ever heard a pair of Linkwitz LX521? Could those be an interesting option?

    Cheers!

    • I’m talking to several companies…will provide some detail after I get some additional information.

  7. Scenario: I’m a music lover with an very average income (just below middle class level). I’ve spent years listening to mp3’s 256kb and lower. Those music files sounded good to me.
    Back in 2011, I went to Axpona in New York and I found myself in Mark Waldrep’s demo room. I was blown away with the music he was playing. My wife was also impressed. The speakers were Thiel’s in a 5.1 setup with an Oppo Blu-ray player, (I don’t remember the rest of the gear)
    I came home and turned on my system to listen to some music and was instantly disappointed.

    So Mr. Waldrep.. Someone like me who has heard real Hi-res music but is not rich, how can I enjoy music from AIX records without taking out a second or third mortgage just new speakers and that’s not including the rest fo the gear I may need?

    I would like for you to show us how ‘REGULAR’ people can get to listen to high-res audio, who are on a super, super tight budget..

    • Thanks Kevon…I’m rushing to class right now but will describe a cost aware system that can still blow you away.

    • Looking forward to Mark’s response to Kevon. I’m guessing it needs to be 5 satellites and a sub, maybe hard to beat 5x JBL LSR305 active satellites $150ea and an SVS 1000-series sub $500, running directly from a multichannel universal disc player with analog outputs like Oppo 103 $500.

      Total bill if you are in USA might be $1,750?

      • I sent Mark a reminder email this morning. ..
        Grant: I’m hoping what you said would bd enough cause I’m partially there.

        I’m use 3 lsr 308’s for LCR.. the oppo needs to come down in price $500 for the 103 is too much for 2015.. $250 – $300 is doable. .

        • Kevon, I haven’t forgotten about you. If you’re hip to the Oppo machines, that’s about the best value you can get for the money. They do come available in the used market…keep your eyes open.

        • (Mark, Sorry if this not appropriate for the site.)

          Kevon, FYI – I have a used Oppo BDP-83 that I would sell in that range. Works great – only parting with because I just bought an Oppo BDP-105D.

  8. I’d try to arrange pro professional courtesy loaner for these:
    http://www.elac.com/en/products/Line_500/FS_509_VX_JET/

  9. I have compared a couple of older recordings from HDTracks to CDs I have of the same title. Not many, just a handful. A couple sound pretty much the same. I doublt I could pick them out in a blind test. A couple sound better at 24/192, those being some Blue Note titles that sound significantly better than the CDS, namely Kenny Burrell’s Midnight Blue and John Coltrane’s Blue Train. These two obviously were from analog tape. They were from the finest source available. I am sure that that made all the difference in the world as well as the great mastering work rather that it being a 24/192 transfer. In any event, I have not heard these 2 titles sound better. My system only goes up to 30 khz.

  10. Could you give us some info on the upcoming surround system by DTS, DTS X. The DTS demo disc from the 2015 CES already has tracks encoded in DTS X.Thanks.

    • Will do…stay tuned.

  11. My only comment on the M2 JBL’s is that they are ported which is fundamentally flawed as an accurate speaker design approach. There is no way the sound coming from the back of the driver can be exactly in time with the front sound. In all my listening ported speakers have an enhanced mid/bass more or less. When compared to sealed there is no comparison for bass accuracy. When matching to subwoofers its essential all are sealed to gain a seamless sound and no enhancing of the bass frequencies.

    • They are ported…but from the front. Having heard them on several occasions, I can tell that I’ve never heard my recording sound better.

    • It’s not ported that’s the problem, it’s not having the bass properly EQ’d. If you are not in the habit of applying EQ, then your bass is not good and less bass will always sound better, hence sealed ‘seems’ better because it delivers less bass (since we are talking in broad generalizations).

      • Unless I’m mistaken, the M2s are ported…at the front bottom. No?

  12. Vented/ported is a red flag for me especially for a $20k “reference” system. They do it to reduce the size of the enclosure and I am sure minimize it well with EQ and other means but it is still a compromise. Also be aware that those Crown amps have fans and must be put in another room as recommended by the manual.

    • If the M2 utilizes a compromise approach…give me more. They sound better than anything I’ve ever experienced…with the possible exception of the 800D B&Ws that I’ve used several time. Not Thiel, Piega, Magico, MBL, Vanderstein, Wilson or anything I’ve heard come close. I have Crown amps and they are in the machine room. I won’t be using them at AXPONA>

    • I’ve only heard these speakers at the trade shows…they have a lot of money to spend on marketing. I see a lot of full page ads in the magazines.

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