Dr. AIX's POSTS — 02 June 2015

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What’s the best way to get convince someone there are real benefits to high-resolution audio? Is it a well-designed infographic that has specifications and bright colors tied to the various audio formats, their specifications, and production types? Maybe a video communicates the message better…or a panel discussion with a group of acknowledged experts contributing a few minutes to the topic.

I’m convinced that all it takes is a compelling audio demonstration…with the right content. AIX Records and our partners (Dolby Labs, Oppo, Benchmark, DH Labs, JVC, and Harman) assembled the finest high-resolution audio system ever for attendees of the AXPONA 2015 show…that worked. But only about a thousand people got the chance to hear it (and many of those people came back two or even three times!).

AIX Records is distributed by NAXOS. The company takes great pride in making available thousands of self produced classical albums and others by independent labels such as mine. They’ve been actively distributing “High Definition” music for at least 10 years. And they are very good at sharing the “provenance” of their products. The release titles on Blu-ray discs with a “DISC INFO” box on the back of the printed sleeve. I do the same with my titles…however, most companies don’t. The NAXOS box says, “AUDIO Recorded and edited in HIGH DEFINITION 24-bits, 96 kHz PCM Surround – Presented in HIGH DEFINITION 24-bit, 96 kHz.” This is very helpful to potential customers. My hat is off to the production people at NAXOS.

So I was particularly interested in what today’s email newsletter had to say. The subject line tipped off the content of the document. It reads, “Digital Newsletter: HD Audio & Upsampling”.

For starters, I don’t why the people at NAXOS haven’t gotten the memo on what the industry has decided to call new “higher fidelity” audio albums. I fought hard for HD-Audio…but I lost that fight. The industry is not entirely on board with HRA or High-Resolution Audio, but that’s what the big boys decided to call it so we need to get with the “consistent message” agenda.

I read the few pages of the document as soon as it arrived. The opening paragraph states:

“Dear Labels,

HD audio continues to be a significant growth area for classical music. As such we want to provide some background and insight into this digital format. Consumers of High Definition audio tend to be audiophiles with substantial audio and technical expertise. They listen to, and often analyze the files they recently purchase to assess the quality.

It is of utmost importance that our labels do not send us up-sampled audio files. We have had several complaints from HD sites receiving claims of up sampling from their customers. This, of course, is concerning to us and problematic for our business.

The objective of this newsletter is to not only bring awareness to High Definition audio but what upsampling is and why it is discouraged among the audiophile community.”

Wow. Maybe there is hope for real high-resolution audio releases. If a company as large as NAXOS is reaching out to its content providers and telling them what’s what with regards to HD-Audio, then maybe more people should be complaining to other labels.

However, as I read on and reviewed the illustrations that were included in the newsletter, I felt my elation begin to diminish. A large portion of the document contained inaccurate information. What was supposed to inform and inspire NAXOS’ distribution partners is full of mistakes and misstatements. I wrote to the individuals that created the charts and text with the hope that I can contribute to a revised edition of the newsletter.

The chances are slim that they will respond. I know egos get in the way. No one likes to be told they’ve screwed up…including me. But it happens and we all need to accept it when it does.

More to follow…

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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.

(20) Readers Comments

  1. Hi Mark,
    The best possible way to get folks to appreciate (your) high res audio is one listen. I am an aged pensioner, I have been an amateur musician and have a minor qualification in live sound engineering. I like my music. I do a little recording for local groups etc. I have a very modest audio setup at home in the lounge room, not tens of thousands worth but moderate to high mid range stuff. My first listen to your tracks was on this computer of mine with a couple of near field monitors that I do some mixing on and edit my home movies. I was blown away just by the stereo files. Finally someone who “got it”. I was hooked. I have a number of your DVD and BlueRay disks and immerse myself in your glorious stage mixes in hi res surround. Often when my wife is out at choir practice and I can wind things up a bit. Just one listen was all it took for me. But getting to the masses is a formidable if not an impossible task given the type of music and the way it is produced that makes up the bulk of the profit of the big labels. I enjoy your emails but I really like your disks. When I listen to music I like to hear it as it sounds live. You’ve got it nailed precisely. More power to you.
    Regards,
    David

    • Thanks David…you’re right all it takes is one listen.

  2. Hello,
    Why are they calling it HD and or High Definition.
    It’s HRA. Are you saying the news letter was from NAXOS?
    Mark, I’m very convinced that this whole business of HRA as has been technically defined, you know the minimum bandwidths of 40 kHz from mic to speaker, etc coupled with the lack of enforceable conformity, provenance issues, etc., will never be what you and others would have hoped for.
    Of course, the main culprit here is money.
    The future of recorded music and the business of its distribution, and the systems used to hear it will probable progress towards the “dumb terminal” scenario.

    • You don’t have an edit button so, I wanted to mention- a little off topic, that I went to a couple of food trade conventions recently. Let’s pretend for a moment that its like AES or NAMM.
      Unbelievable-shocking! Standards, honesty in labeling, provenance? Laws the allow direct misrepresentations of what you the consumer thinks is actually good…forget about it. Its too far of tangibility.
      In fact, much or most of our entire market systems function this way so I suppose that when comparing truth and honesty in audio to other situations, we could relax a little and perhaps even enjoy recorded music.

      • I do recognize that the chances to get honesty and integrity back into the music industry is hopeless…but I persist.

    • It was from Naxos…and they do understand better than most labels and distributors what constitutes high-resolution audio. They just got the usual things wrong.

  3. Dynamic range? (off topic)
    I have had significant high frequency loss for most of my life, so treble is not a concern for me. I do appreciate good bass and realistic midrange. The thing most lacking for me in recorded music in the compressed dynamic range. Not just on pop music, but jazz and classical. Perhaps there is no home system that can reproduce the full symphony orchestra fortissimo, but live concerts are almost always heard through amplifiers and speakers, and most have wonderful dymamic range. Even the CD can do better DR than is put onto it usually.
    There seem to be no modern dynamic range expanders to “unprocess” my music, why is this.

    Best wishes

    • Expanders (I wrote a series of posts about dynamics processors) are capable of returning dynamics to their natural state because not everything in a recording is treated the same way.

      • Did you leave out a “not” in this response?

        • If you’re referring to the Naxos response…they DO get it but have some junior audio engineers doing the writing.

          • NOT capable… about expanders, he means, not Naxos.

          • This was in reference to “Expanders … are capable of returning dynamics to their natural state”. Wouldn’t you need to know exactly how something was compressed before you could try to expand it to its natural state?

    • IMO the full dynamic range of even the CD is practically unuseable in most everyday listening situations due to a combination of the ambient noise floor, the capability of the listening equipment and human auditory health reasons.

      I’m all for archival recordings for full dynamic range but until a method is introduced to control dynamic range at the consumption point, SOME dynamic range reduction will be required. That has nothing to do with overcompressing the dynamic range of popular music to 6dB min to max to make it sound ‘louder’ (loudness wars).

      What I’m saying applies to be able to listen to music in practical situations without reaching for the volume button every so often. There’s a fine but definite line distinguishing between these two issues, I believe.

      • I’ve never touched a compressor when preparing my files. If a segment gets quieter then so be it. If it gets louder then let’s use all 24-bits.

  4. Dr. Mark,
    Until folks can go to a store and actually “hear” HD Audio (on proper equipment) as they could go to a store and “see” HD video when it first came out, and then make up their mind to if the difference is worth it to them, only a small number of folks will know and appreciate what it is.

    YouTube or downloading tracks to be played back on PC speakers will not do it for them.
    It has to be experienced with the right equipment.

  5. Hello Mark,

    Perhaps you’re right that the best way of communicating the message of hi-res audio is thru demonstration.

    But I’m convinced that ill-chosen graphics have helped perpetuate a fundamental misunderstanding about how linear pulse code modulation actually works.

    Look at the graphic you cited in this post. Notice how the sample amplitude values are depicted there by a graphical representation of pulse amplitude modulation, in a so-called staircase graph?

    This picture leads many people to conclude that an ever higher sampling rate must always be better, because it will smooth out the level transitions between the steps. But this is completely false because the smoothing takes place in the reconstruction filter. It’s a case of an ill-chosen and misleading graphical representation of LPCM perpetuating a good deal of misunderstanding, in my opinion.

    Fred Thal
    ataudioeng.com

    • The continued use of stair steps…which I admit I’ve used in the past…is a problem.

  6. No, no, NOOOOOOOOOO! Not staircase graphics again! It’s hopeless… Virtually any piece of marketing or ‘simplified’ description of digital audio uses staircase graphics. From the so called ‘audiophile’ press to Sony and now Naxos… No amount of Nyquist-Shannon explanation will correct the generalized public perception created by these staircase graphs. Never will things be set right unless digital audio starts getting taught in primary school…

    • And btw, the term ‘resolution’ as used by the industry will prove IMO as much a culprit to continuing misunderstanding of what digital audio is as the staircase graphs. A higher sampled audio recording does NOT offer better ‘resolution’ than a lower sampled one. Higher frequency capture and potential for wider dynamic range do not consitute ‘resolution’. Not in the sense of the word as used in everyday English, not as used in physics (in optics for example) and not as used in digital imaging (from which most misunderstandings stem). My guess is that the industry chose the word IN PURPOSE to perpetuate this misunderstanding invoking comparisons with digital imaging because it suits the industry’s marketing purposes. The industry is to blame.

      • You’re right. The term resolution is a tough one.

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