Dr. AIX's POSTS — 10 July 2015

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I read my fair share of comments associated with high-end audio posting around the web. In searching for something else, I bumped into an article written by Dan Raile back in January for Billboard’s online site (you can read the piece by clicking here). The headline reads ‘High-Definition’ Music Explained: Can You Really Tell the Difference? Never mind that the author never explained what HD-Music (and I wonder why he decided to call it ‘high-def’ music…but I won’t go there), his subtitle say it all, “Delusion? Bliss? Waste of money? Sound investment? A look at what exactly high-definition audio is, and whether it matters.”

The first part of the article focused on the Sony NW-ZX2 Walkman, the one that retails for $1200. And the photo that they decided to use (or did Sony send them the image?) shows a close up of the player with the DSEE HX signal processing turned on during “So Good” by Michael Jackson. As you may remember (I did a thorough analysis of the DSEE technology some months ago), DSEE is a process by which the fidelity that is removed from an MP3 file is supposedly restored. I didn’t find the process compelling when I checked it out but I have to wonder why would a Sony or Billboard magazine use a photo that shows the DSEE process? The audiophile world isn’t going to be loading up a $1200 player with MP3 files and then trying to bring them up to CD standards. Very curious.

But it was the comments that I found most compelling. They presented a very familiar debate between believers and non-believers. There are the anti-technical folks that just want their music to sound great. Never mind that “great” is unquantifiable unless you talk about dynamics and timbral balance etc. All that matters to a large number of audiophiles is whether they believe it sounds better than something else.

Fair enough…people should gravitate to the formats and music that work best for them. But specifications do a role to play in the description of fidelity. If the format in question can’t deliver accurate sound, I would want to know.

In the case of Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, my somewhat educated guess is that he doesn’t really care about high-resolution audio. He would fall in with the non-believers. All that matters to him is whether the tunes that his band has recorded and released sound a certain way. Do you think that he’s in search of wide dynamics and extended frequency range? No. He’s all about working on vintage equipment, using analog recorders and processors, and achieving that “classic” commercial rock sound. If Sony convinced him to release his albums in 192 kHz/24-bit PCM bit buckets, Foo Fighter fans win. They will be able to experience the sound as the “artist intended”. The “sound” of the original release from all those years ago is what Dave wants to preserve. He’s not looking to revisit their catalog and reimagine them as high-dynamic range audio or in 5.1 surround sound. Although, I think it would be great fun to experiment with his multitracks and see what could be done.

It won’t be possible for average Foo Fighter fans to tell the difference between the original CDs and the new high-resolution audio downloads. I would hope that Sony and other CE manufacturers would seek out bands and albums that will show off high-res.

I got a call today from a sales rep for a major CE brand. He’s getting ready to hit the road and share their new high-resolution server with his dealer network. He heard some of my recordings in NYC at the CE Week event and wanted to grab a half dozen to share. He lives on the front line of retailing high-end audio. He told me that the dealers have no clue what high-resolution audio/music is, how to explain it, what to demo, and whether it’s even worth the effort. I gave him a copy of the iTrax/Sprint 18-track sampler and told him to play “Mujaka”, “Lowlands”, “Lone Star” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” and see whether his dealers will hear any improvement over their standard demo fare.

I’ll give you a full report…

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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.

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