In early April, I received a phone call from an AP reporter named Ryan Nakashima. He told me that he had been assigned the task of writing a story on the merits of “so-called” high-resolution audio and wondered if I could make myself available for an interview. I was glad to spend an afternoon with him in the studio explaining high-resolution audio in general and demonstrate the misrepresentation of most tracks on sites that offer high-resolution music.
The article came out this morning and it’s worth a read. You can check it out by clicking here. It’s well researched. Ryan took a great deal of time to investigate various claims and counter claims regarding high-resolution audio. He talked to a PonoMusic customer that had downloaded Bob Dylan’s “Shadows In The Night” and also owned the CD version. To his amazement, they sounded identical and he pressed the Pono site for a refund.
You can guess what satisfaction he got from Pono and their Vice President of Content Acquisition Bruce Botnick who is also a very highly regarded audio engineer (he worked extensively with the Doors). According to the article, which quotes Bruce, purchasing a “high-resolution audio” download from the PonoMusic site is “a case of “buyer beware”. Until the provenance of each and every track can be researched and verified, customers may want to stay on the sidelines when it comes to older analog recordings remastered to large bit buckets. Especially when it comes to PonoMusic because virtually all of their catalog comes from ripped CDs…not too hard to figure out what the provenance of those files are.
The major labels and download sites could easily put an end to the many articles that express doubts about their newly issued “hi-res” files. All they have to do is properly identify the production path for each album as it travels from the tape vault to a 192 kHz/24-bit PCM WAV or FLAC file. It may be challenging but it’s not impossible. For example, anything recorded prior to digital audio was likely done on analog tape…just say so.
I’m going to write about my experience at the 25th Anniversary celebration of Sony Music Entertainment’s Legacy Recordings last Wednesday evening in New York City. It was a wonderful experience and deserving of multiple posts thanks to the very engaging presentations by their engineers and John Jackson of Legacy Recordings. But I thought I would share a brief comment here because so much of the material that is being issued as high-resolution music comes through the detailed processes that engineers Mark Wilder, Vic Anesini, and Matt Cavaluzzo do at Battery Studios. These guys and the facility have the expertise and equipment to produce the very finest versions of classic albums. We got the chance to hear a lot of tracks as they make their way through the process. And they sounded amazing! I was especially impressed with the original 3-track of “Take 5” by Dave Brubeck and “The Sounds of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel.
Figure 1 – A visit to Battery Studios listening to Roger Waters “Amused To Death” with Matt Cavaluzzo at the console.
And Legacy Recordings’ John Jackson described the end result as “high-resolution transfers”. I love it! This just might be the right way to describe all of the reissued standard-resolution tracks that dominate the music retailers. They sell “high-res transfers”, which are distinctly different from “high-resolution sources” or “high-resolution music” releases such as the new James Taylor project or my own stuff, which originate as high-resolution projects. I’ll talk a lot more about this idea as I get time. I spent some time on the plane last evening crafting a logo that might work to identify the work that is being done in the mastering rooms at all three major labels. The work is meticulous and the output “hi-res transfers”.
The AP article is really good. When highly regarded engineer/producers like Giles Martin say, “You can’t upscale audio. There’s a compromise in having huge high-res files that don’t sound any different than other ones,” it puts some credibility back in the business of better quality music.
I’m encouraged by some of the new developments. Transparency, information, education, demos, and guidelines for engineers and producers might be able to get the high-res initiative back on track. I said might.