Dr. AIX's POSTS — 29 June 2015

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Don’t you hate it when the comments for a particular thread are closed and you didn’t get the last word? I didn’t really want to get into a long discussion with a commentator over at the AP’s “bigstory” website about high-resolution audio but his comments are so full of misconceptions and outright falsehoods; I wanted to try to clarify things further. The AP article is titled, “Audio overkill? Some question benefits of ‘high-res’ music”…and I’m included as one of the skeptics. I analyzed a couple of downloads from the PonoMusic website and demonstrated to the author, Ryan Nakashima, that they lacked any sonic material that would cause a listener to “rediscover” the soul of the music (funny the article singles of Aretha Franklin…the queen of soul music). I talked about the article the other day…read it for yourself by clicking here. And be sure to read the comments. I spent way too much time responding to a couple of comments.

The gist of the thread has an industry authority writing at length “in terms they (readers) can understand” about how high-res files “offer the owners of big hi-fi systems the ability to turn up the volume higher than ever before at home, matching the level you would hear in the studio on the original master recording”. And there are a lot more assertions of dubious accuracy as the paragraphs spill down the page.

The first response to his comment starts with the word “Nonsense”. To which the original commentator continues with, “its not polite to call comments nonsense, particularly when you’re wrong”. The truth is he’s the one that’s got it wrong…very wrong. And I attempted to point out his misconceptions and get the facts straight, only get another round of his nonsense before the thread was closed. That’s why I’m taking today’s post to get the facts out.

His opening salvo includes the following, “…recording engineers are not audiophiles and don’t normally have audiophile quality systems at home”. Apparently, the reason that I don’t understand the points that he made is because I’m a recording engineer and there are differences between his “more marketing oriented point of view” and my own understanding of the formats and high-resolution.

He wants us to believe that high-resolution audio is all about its ability to increase the amplitude or “achieve higher levels with greater clarity” than CD spec version of the same recording. Nonsense.

“This level of performance is described as being ‘uncompressed’ while DVD’s, CDs, and vinyl LPs are known as ‘lossy’, they won’t play as loud as the Blu-ray.

I’m guessing that the author is referring to data compression because he mentions a type known as “lossy” (as opposed to “lossless”). There is also audio compression (and limiting) that audio engineers use to modify or “smooth” out dynamic variations on a specific track or entire program. Lossy and lossless are data compression types…like MP3, AAC, AC3, or MLP and DTS HD Master Audio. They don’t measure levels of performance. They are used to format audio to specific delivery requirements (like AC3 for DVD-Video discs and MLP for DVD-Audio discs).

A mastering engineer might use audio compression to reduce the amplitude of a selection of music headed for a vinyl LP release. This is done to achieve more volume and to decrease the track pitch (distance between the grooves). It has nothing to do with data compression. Vinyl LPs don’t use “lossy” compression. And neither to CDs…at least Redbook CD-Audio format discs. They use no compression at all…the audio is encoded using PCM at 44.1 and 16-bits. DVDs are a mixed bag. DVD-Video uses Dolby Digital or AC3, which is a “lossy” data reduction technique while the same disc could have high-resolution PCM (96/24) in stereo.

The same stereo 96 kHz/24-bit PCM track placed on a DVD or a Blu-ray disc will sound identical. If you turn up the volume of a Blu-ray sourced system, it’s not going to be louder than turning up a DVD. And the distortion and specs will be the same because they are exactly the same specs!

To be continued…

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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.

(17) Readers Comments

  1. Neil Young started PONO with the intention that the consumer be able to hear music as the artist intended. But the artist in most cases has nothing to do with the recording or mastering process. Fast forward… the new Young album with the two sons of Willie Nelson coming out called the Monsanto Years. Will Neil give us an album that is worthy of all the sonic hoopla he has been touting as the original purpose of PONO? Will fans be able to notice a difference? Stay tuned!

    • Neil and his team has produced some really terrific recordings…although I doubt he attended very many mastering sessions. The only big shot that came to one of my sessions was Paul Rogers of Bad Company. He was great…showed up for the entire project.

      • I am in the mood to listen to whatever you may recommend as being a great Young recording. I have always loved “Trans” and it is hated by critics I would love to hear an original master transfer on disc. I doubt if it would be profitable as it wasn’t well received. I think it paved the way for a lot of synthesizer music and was revolutionary.

        • I think his “Harvest” album is terrific!

        • Neil started Pono cause he wasn’t making enough money from his music to support his desired lifestyle.
          His best work was with CSN, Listen to Deja Vu

          • Neil Young is a great singer/songwriter…not a technology guru. I love CSNY but his best work was his own.

  2. I am afraid old Bob is exactly right. You are not an audiophile. If you don’t believe Bob, takes Bob’s test and send in the results. One of the questions involves how loud you can play various formats.

    http://www.essenceelectrostatic.com/so-you-think-youre-an-audiophile/

    If this fellow did start Mobile Fidelity he has helped give me many hours of musical enjoyment. Too bad he seems stuck on marketing, and pushes such garbage information. He is proud of his “award winning sales and marketing career”.

    Now he markets ESL speakers. I like those, but have real doubts his speaker can play 120 db. He claims 88 or 89 db sensitivity for those which I also have real doubts about though either could be true. Now if true, he also sells a Class D 200 watt amp. While his speakers at his stated sensitivity would need more like a 1000 watts to reach 120 db. So how can he ever actually reach this increased loudness Blu-ray music provides. (yes, I know that whole idea is all kinds of messed up). Of course I bet a saleman of his caliber won’t be the least bit bothered by such info.

    Good luck on the test Mark.

  3. http://www.ecoustics.com/articles/audiophile-quiz-questions-answers/

    Here is the page with answers to Bob’s audiophile quiz in case you want to cheat on it. Very entertaining. 🙂

    • I read through the questions and knew that it was seriously flawed. It’s a marketing piece in support of his products.

  4. Holy s#\t!
    “Recording engineers are not audiophiles”

    It is about time we recieved our due!

    Don’t know about you, but I have no Quantuum Dots as part of my room tuning, nor any cable elevators, $2,500 IEC cables plugged into the outboard gear or monitor amps, and while I can hear the difference between capacitors in the areas of a circuit where they can actually be heard (if you spend that kind of time figuring out how to hear the subtleties) I don’t “roll capacitors in my amps and speakers.

    Some people like to listen to music, others like to listen to and analyse equipment.

    Have at it!

  5. headstack wrote: “Some people like to listen to music, others like to listen to and analyse equipment.”

    Most magazine reviewers and self-confessed audiophiles would fall into the latter category. The problem with some “hi-fi” systems is that they can actually get in the way of the music. I’m especially thinking of those systems which have had their components tweaked, Marantz’s Ken Ishiwata’s mods come to mind.

  6. No matter what your equipment is it is all dependent on the last link in the chain. Your speakers. They can make or break the sound. They can either be harsh, warm, or neutral. They can have a wide or tight sound stage with or lacking depth and musical instrument placement. All determined by room acoustics such as hard walls or covered floors etc. Even height from the floors, their placement.. So much about audio is subjective. And whether they are ported, passive, or straight out acoustic reflex suspension determines all that. Then you have durability issues such as rubber or foam surrounds, paper or graphite, electrostatic etc. So really, your speakers say it all. Listen through headphones and you eliminate some of those but not all; Is it science (physics?), arty. or magic? It is all of that and then some, and still each individual is sensitive to certain frequencies, from male to female, from old to young. It can make your head explode if you think about it long enough.

  7. Rodrian Roadeye wrote: “No matter what your equipment is it is all dependent on the last link in the chain. Your speakers. They can make or break the sound. ”

    I’ll take the Linn perspective. It doesn’t matter how good or otherwise your system is, garbage in garbage out. In the ’80s Linn used to say it was the first link in the chain – the source – if that was mediocre then nothing could correct that (at the time they would, they were after a turntable manufacturer); I still agree with that premise.

    From Mark’s perspective the source is the recording, if that’s poor then nothing will make up for that. So I would say the recording, then the source, then the amplification, then the headphones/speaker – each is dependent on the previous. If the previous is poor, nothing can make up for that.

    • Obviously, there is a hierarchy of things that affect the overall fidelity and enjoyment of a recorded piece of music. Speakers are clearly one of the most important and the most difficult to get right. But I’m with Dave on this. The fidelity of the source determines the potential of your system. If it ain’t a great recording, you’re not going to get great sound reproduction.

      • Fact: you can’t get better sound than the first thing makes, and a high-quality source through a ‘pretty good’ speaker will sound noticeably better than a poor quality source played through a ‘best’ speaker. Nuts ‘n’ Bolts audio all the way.

        • Complete agreement here Craig!

    • GIGO was good advice in the days of LP, but these days the digital players have such high fidelity to the recorded signal, and at low cost, that it is just not good advice any more. It leads people to spend way more than necessary on the front end, which takes money away from the weakest links (not to mention the entirely missing links in many home systems like EQ, room treatment, room correction). Everyone has a hifi budget, and advising people to mis-allocate their money is poor advice.

      Good recordings are another matter and I agree with their preeminent importance, Mark, but Dave was not talking about that.

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