Dr. AIX's POSTS — 13 February 2015

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Onkyo, the Japanese consumer electronics giant, was the first company to offer “high-resolution” audio downloads in Japan. They introduced e-Onkyo in 2005 (two years ahead of iTrax, the first high-res site in the US) as the “world’s first high-resolution music store”. I can remember talking to several people about offering my tracks through e-Onkyo, although ultimately I declined because they weren’t really providing high-resolution audio…according to my definition. And it seems they’re still providing a confused mess of tracks in all sort of formats and specifications. It’s almost impossible to tell which are really high-res because everything on the site has “Hi-Res” pinned to the corner of the album cover.

Their February 9, 2015 press release announces their plans to expand the e-Onkyo site to the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany. The new sites will be rebranded onkyomusic and “aim to be the largest high-resolution music download store”. Watch out Neil, here comes a well-established company ready to compete with Ponomusic with “hundreds of thousands of 24-bit/44.1kHz up to 192kHz hi-res tracks and millions of CD-quality 16-bit FLAC” files.

“The comprehensive selection of content on the site, sourced from 7digitals catalogue of the worlds leading record companies, currently includes over hundreds of thousands of 24-bit/44.1kHz up to 192kHz hi-res tracks (available in FLAC) and millions of 16-bit/44.1kHz CD quality files. The rapidly growing catalogue ensures the service offers users a best in class experience.

Tracks and albums will be sold a la carte at competitive prices and in local currency a hi-res album will cost the equivalent of $15-$20 while individual tracks will be around $3-$4 per song.”

Here we go again. The company 7digital aggregates millions of tracks (similar to Omnifone in the UK, the source behind Ponomusic) by ripping CDs and pushes them up to the e-Onkyo servers. At least, onkyomusic is not calling them “high-resolution” like Ponomusic and Tidal and others. However, consumers should still be wary of spending $3-4 dollars on tracks that may or may not be sonically better than what you already have.

For example, saying that you’ve got files at “24-bits/44.1” shouldn’t cause anyone to reach for their wallet. Why? Because delivering commercial music tracks…any commercial pop or rock recording…using 24-bits is a complete waste of money. Using 24-bit for recording and capture makes sense but delivering the new transfers in 24-bit buckets doesn’t improve the dynamic range at all. If you were to analyze the number of bits that are actually being used in virtually all tracks you get from iTunes or e-Onkyo, none will extend to 24-bits, most will not exceed 10-12 bits (until you get to the fade out), and most will hover around 6-8 bits. That’s the hard truth…heavy mastering and radio friendly compression removes most of the dynamics. The only reason to have long word lengths is when you have large shifts in amplitude…and commercial records don’t.

The arrival of onkyomusic in the US will simply mean that the same catalog of roughly 10,000 newly transferred and remastered albums from the majors will be available at yet another site. You might think that with more competition, the prices on the sites offering the same “high-resolution” sites would start to drop. This isn’t going to happen. The licenses that the major labels inflict on the web providers require them to maintain the high prices. It’s going to get harder for PonoMusic, ProStudioMasters, SuperHiRez and the grandfather of all high-resolution download sites, HDtracks, to squeeze success out of the limited number of customers that will drop $25 for an new “high-res” version of an old album.

Onkyo is coming to America with essentially the same catalog, and same pricing that we already have. No real news here.

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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.

(16) Readers Comments

  1. Seeing as the files they offer are basically the same as Chesky Bros HDTracks and a couple of other US based companys, l will say what I always say in these situations.
    NEVER FORGET, SUNDAY, DECEMBER 7 1941, A DAY THAT WILL LIVE IN INFAMY
    If your American, please, whenever possible, BUY AMERICAN.

    • They will be the same files for the most part…but Onkyo will have some other Japanese labels.

      • Mark,

        Sal is entitled to his opinion about World War 2 but I would have thought your audio blog is not the place to vent. It also insults your Japanese readers. Your non-response was disappointing.

        • Victor…honestly, I quickly read Sal’s comment and clicked approve. You’re correct that I should have edited his comment or responded directly to him. This is not the place to be discussing things of that nature.

  2. Hello Mark,
    there is one thing that Onkyo will make different – they will use Meridian MQA.

    • I wasn’t aware that they are doing streaming.

  3. To be honest I stopped downloading “high resolution” tracks about a year ago. I put together a system good enough to give me excellent insight into the recording, and thus the music, and have no need for anything “better”. I’m now listening to music at a level of quality I’ve never previously had and well recorded music comes across fabulously.

    • Red Book CDs and a reasonable quality system will provide musical heaven for 99% of the market.

  4. Mark,
    I think you are not quite correct in implying that moving from 16bits to 24bits does have an effect in the same way as moving from 44.1K to 48K and 96K, even on transcription of old analog tapes. It is not only about maximum possible dynamic range but also about the step resolution size. I liken it to trying to draw a shape on graph paper following the lines only. If you want to draw a 3″ circle (I will use inches as you are American) on 1″ graph paper the best you can do is a cross. If the shape that you wanted was an octagon, it too would be a cross. Now if we increase the number of vertical lines to 0.1″ (increase in frequency) we can draw a circle or a distorted octagon or a cross. If the number of lines horizontally is increased instead of vertically(increase in bit depth) we can still draw the shapes better. It may be that the more lines results in a larger piece of paper but it does not mean that the shapes are not easier to identity.
    I agree that the provenance and previous processing is going to have a bigger effect but increasing the sample rate or sample resolution will make a difference.
    I personally have given up on HDtracks as a rip off. I purchased the Eagles albums remastered and provided at 96K. The re-mastering had completely destroyed them. The “loudness wars” got in the way and they had be compresses and there numerous occasions where they are completely overloaded. They were a complete waste of money. I do not listen to them but go back to the original CD versions.
    Keep up the blogs!

    • Hugh, I’ve written about this common mistake with regards to bit depth. Adding additional bits doesn’t increase the density of the horizontal resolution…it extends the amplitude values (and thus allows a lower noise floor). There is no benefit from playing back 24-bit audio if there is no dynamic range in a selection that requires it.

  5. If you take an analog signal that varies between -10 V and +10 V – perhaps from a microphone preamp –, you could choose to digitize it at 16 bits or 24 bits. The quantization levels are evenly distributed across the entire range in either case. So, the visual equivalent of increasing bit depth is, indeed, adding more horizontal lines to the graph paper (if we are taking the usual convention of displaying amplitude vertically and time horizontally).

    What many people fail to recognize is that noise isn’t confined around 0 V. The graphical equivalent of noise could be thought of as the line representing the signal being a little fuzzy. That is, if the signal is up around 5 V, the ADC will record of value of 5 V plus or minus the noise level. So, increasing the bit depth on a noisy signal is just more precisely measuring random noise. Since dither is pseudorandom noise, there should be little, or no, perceptual difference between measuring noise with 24-bit accuracy, or replacing it with dither in a 16-bit system.

    • Andrea, you and I have been through this debate previously. Your description is fundamentally different than plotting horizontal lines in a battleship grid and then increasing their density as you increase the word length. This view is incorrect and fails to describe the lowering of the noise level…and thus the improvement in dynamic range.

  6. Yes, we have been over this before, and I have tried, by examples and analogies, to explain to you that increasing bit depth does, in fact, divide the same voltage amplitude range into more, evenly spaced, discrete levels. That is exactly why the measurement system has increased dynamic range.

    This topic is covered in the first chapter of any book on digital signal processing. Here is a quick and easy webpage that treats the topic. And, here is another document that is music related.

    If you want to draw the waveform on a piece of graph paper, with time along the horizontal axis and amplitude plotted vertically, increasing the bit depth means increasing the density of the horizontal lines. Where I think that many people get confused – and perhaps this applies to you as well – is in equating those horizontal lines on the graph paper with lines of pixels in an image. These are not the same, as you only get to record one value for each time segment.

    • Andrea…thanks for the links and comments. We want to avoid the pixel analogy, that gets people thinking in the wrong direction. I understand your points…and I think we are only disagreeing on the way things are represented. In my representation the amplitude is not a fuzzy waveform but a steady state (if dither is applied) at the baseline of the amplitude. In thinking about things this way, the horizontal lines are equidistant and extend further in the vertical direction as more bits are added to the word length.

  7. And, since this is your website, you obviously get the last word. I just hope that you, and your readers, will follow the links, and give them adequate consideration. I would like to see your mission to educate the public on HD or HR audio be both successful and accurate.

    • My goal is to provide accurate information…if I’m wrong, I’ll gladly adjust and present things as they should be.

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