Dr. AIX's POSTS — 15 February 2015

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Sony is leading the pack when it comes to the marketing and delivery of high-resolution components. It’s their original logo that is showing up whenever HRA is mentioned. I dialed into the NHK nightly news a couple of days ago and a correspondent was talking about the new flagship high-resolution audio player from Sony, the Walkman NW-ZX2. High-resolution audio has actually made into the mainstream…or at least the words have. I’ll try get my hands on one of the new Walkman NW-ZX2 devices sometime in the near future. But for now, I’m happy to have received a Sony NWZ-A17 high-resolution audio player.

It was at the last fall’s HiFi Show in Brooklyn that I first laid my hands on the less expensive portable high-res player from Sony. These units go for $300…a far cry from the $1000 you’ll have to spend to get the heftier Z2. I listened to the Sony NWZ-A17 for a while at the Sony table. It sounded really good but didn’t blow me away. The unfortunate part of demoing high-resolution audio is the lack of real high-resolution audio that used as demo material. Why do makers of these devices insist on using “classic” tracks from 30-50 years ago?

Getting sample tracks to bundle with a new player is a financial and licensing challenge. It can be very expensive to secure the rights to the master from the record company, get approval from the artist, and then pay the mechanical royalties to the publishers. I can understand why hardware makers don’t provide a lot of music pre-loaded on the portable players. And who knows whether the purchaser is going to like the music and/or artists that do find their way into the onboard memory. It’s always a risky proposition.

The portable device that Sony sent me (and yes I will doing a thorough review in a future post very soon) came with four bundled high-resolution tracks (actually standard definition stuff in big bit buckets). There were four other MP3 tunes. The four HR tunes are: “Snowflake” by Lara Ruggles, “Don’t Drift Too Far” by Elephant Revival, “Blue Rondo la Turk” from the classic Dave Brubeck Quartet album Time Out, and “Watermelon Man” by Herbie Hancock from Headhunters. I off loaded all of the high-resolution tracks and opened them in Adobe Audition to check out the dynamic range and frequency response.

The plot below shows the four tunes.

150215_spectra_sony_portable

Figure 1 – The spectra of the four high-resolution tunes on the NWZ-A17 player. [Click to enlarge]

Notice that none of these “so-called” high-resolution tracks actually exhibit the kind of attributes that real HD-Audio do. The tracks sound really good though my Sennheiser 280 phones but they aren’t anything amazing. At the Brooklyn show, I asked if I could load a few of my tracks onto the device. I added John Gorka’s “Let Them In” and “Mosaic” by Laurence Juber. These sounded dramatically different than the usual demo fare. If you’ve got one chance to blow someone away with amazing sound, why not select the very best sounding files you can. I’d be thrilled to make a variety of tracks available to Sony or anyone else that is making a high-resolution player.

If we can’t blow people away at first listen then why bother?

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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.

(14) Readers Comments

  1. Hi, you say the above graph doesn’t exhibit the kind of attributes real HD does. Can you be more specific? Do you have an example of a real hi-res track’s spectra to compare them with – or at least describe what it is about the graph that makes it *not* hi-res?

  2. I think you should try much harder to directly persuade hi-res player makers of the merits of preloading some of your true hi-res tracks onto their players in order to “blow away” listeners. This is in the interest of truly converting a vast group of potential consumers, which means greater profits. As it is now listeners may well say why bother.

    • You’re right….but I find that they want celebrity artists. I will reach out to more companies and offer to load up their devices for demo purposes. I did this for the former CEO of Sprint and he was knocked out.

      • Did you ever try to get your recordings to pono, maybe at least a sampler first so the pono community cd start to compare real highres files with the fake ones offered in the pono store?

        • I haven’t offered my tracks to any other digital music store…yet. Perhaps I should rethink that. Again, it’s about associating with an organization that isn’t playing straight with their offerings.

  3. Can you post the spectra of the Gorka and Joubert tracks? Thanks

    • I’ll be posting them with today’s article.

  4. You are absolutely right Mark.
    Perhaps you could attract a few well known artists who either are near the term of their record contract or even mega musicians who seem to be forgotten by the public theses days (like Herbie Hancock used for background by a mediocre band at the Grammy Awards). You could then record HR tracks for demo purposes with the rights ready to be released.

    • He does have Mark Chesnutt’s – Your Room in his catalog. Recording is available in everything from 2 channel 24/96 HD simple stereo download, to 5.1 HD with 3D video of the live recording being done in the studio.

      “Mark Nelson Chesnutt (born September 6, 1963 in Beaumont, Texas) is an American country music singer. He recorded and released his first album, Doing My Country Thing, in the late-1980s on private independent record label, Axbar Records, with the vinyl album version now a collector’s item. His national debut came in 1990 with the single, Too Cold at Home, the debut single from his second album which was also titled Too Cold at Home.
      Chesnutt has charted more than thirty singles on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Songs charts, including eight No. 1 singles.[1] He released eleven studio albums and a Greatest Hits package. His first three albums — Too Cold at Home (1990), Longnecks & Short Stories (1992), and Almost Goodbye (1993) — and his 1996 Greatest Hits album have all achieved RIAA platinum certification in the United States, while 1994’s What a Way to Live was certified gold. His album, Rollin’ with the Flow, was released on June 24, 2008. Its title track and lead-off single was a cover of Charlie Rich’s hit single from 1977. His latest album, Live From The Big D was released on his newly formed record label Nada Dinero Records on March 6, 2012.[citation needed]”

      They aren’t much bigger starts then that.
      But we do need more of the same Mark. 😉

  5. A question regarding CD’s. Some cd’s cost $8.00 – $20.00. There are some special, often Japanese releases that cost up to $ 80.00. Do the expensive CD’s sound better, or is this just hype?

    • A Redbook CD is a Redbook CD. You can make them meet the spec more rigidly or loosely…but you still meet a spec that is 44.1 kHz/16-bits. There is a built maximum quality…not reason to spend more.

      • I believe the mix of the master may make a difference in the higher priced CD’s. I know German pressings of many of my vinyls blow California cuttings out the door (and yes, they cost more!).

  6. i would like to hear more of your thoughts about the sony walkman nw-zx-2 if you already did this then i have been in my cave to long but i still would like to hear your thoughts thanks d.a.m.

    • I’ll reach out to my Sony friends and see if I can convince them to send me a unit to review.

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