Dr. AIX's POSTS — 22 July 2015

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There are problems with the emerging “high-res” audio/music marketplace. I think anyone in the game acknowledges that there’s push back, confusion, and other problems confronting every aspect of so-called “high-res”. I just noticed an article over at Sound and Vision titled, “Five Portable Hi-Res DACs Compared”. The author is kind enough to list the audio files that he auditioned to judge the competing DACs and listed the following as “Test Tracks Hi-Res”:

• Donald Fagen: “Maxine,” The Nightfly (FLAC 48/24)
• Nataly Dawn: “How I Knew Her,” How I Knew Her (FLAC 88.2/24)
• Deep Purple: “Smoke on the Water,” Machine Head (FLAC 96/24)
• Saint-Saëns: Maestoso, Allegro, Symphony No. 3; Boston Symphony Orchestra, Charles Munch (FLAC 192/24)

With the single possible exception of the Nataly Dawn tune, ALL of the rest of these tracks are not high-resolution! So even a writer at Sound and Vision isn’t hip to the realities of acquiring real audiophile quality high-res music tracks. The two pop/rock tracks were recorded on analog multitracks and the classical selection was recorded in 1956! It would have been refreshing to see at least one new audiophile recording included in the list.

So there are problems…

Number 3 in my list of things that the powers that be should be considering is pricing. I firmly believe that most of the so-called “high-res” music downloads should cost no more than the CD spec version. If the audiophiles that shop at HDtracks and PonoMusic have a hard time hearing any differences in fidelity between HD vs. CD, then why should the cost of the “hi-res” downloads be so much higher than the CDs?

Just moments ago, I went to Amazon to learn a little about the Nataly Dawn record. I was surprised to see the prices associated with the various versions…including MP3, CD and even vinyl LP. Here’s the actual screen with the prices:

150722_nataly_dawn

Figure 1 – A screen capture of Nataly Dawn’s album on Amazon…notice the prices!

The lossy MP3 file is priced at just under $10. The CD is about half of that ($4.45) and the vinyl LP is almost $30! The best fidelity of the bunch is the cheapest. If you want a used CD, you can spend less than a dollar. It’s crazy.

But no crazier than the pricing for “high-res music”. Prices range from under $20 to almost $50 for an album of so-called “high-res” music. It’s impossible to justify charging more for DSD files of PCM transfers…but plenty of sites do it. Why? Because they can and DSD lovers will appreciate the “warm” analog like sound. I recognize that asking companies to equalize their prices goes against the spirit of business but something’s got to change.

For those reselling the past in “high-res” bit buckets that have been transferred from standard-definition analog tapes from 40-50 years ago, the price should reflect the price of that same content in standard-definition. Why can’t ProStudioMasters or SuperHiRez sell the major label albums at $10.98 or $14.98? Because the licensing deals won’t allow it. There are minimums that have to be met. I mentioned it the other day…anytime you see a discount from one of the big high-res download sites; the discount percentage is coming from their hide not the licensor.

The big record labels are gouging their licensees and they in turn price the “hi-res” content much higher than it should cost. I have no problem with audiophile labels like my own AIX, 2L, Blue Coast or Pentatone charging more for new recordings that actually are high-res music, but even there the pricing is higher than it should be.

The “high-res” music folks should bring the prices down. Since we’re not getting premium sound or better sound, what’s the reason for the higher prices? It’s all about greed…not on the part of the retailer but on the part of the labels that set the prices and minimum guarantees.

Market adoption of “high-res transfers”, as I call them, and the growth of high-res music would be a lot higher if they didn’t cost so much. But then again, if someone pays $1000 for a power cord…I’m just saying.

Part 4: Provide accurate provenance for each album and track…even if it’s of a general nature (i.e. This album was recorded on analog equipment).

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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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