Dr. AIX's POSTS — 26 July 2015

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When I first started to contemplate changing my professional focus from engineering audio projects and mastering CDs for other labels to launching my own high-resolution music label, I wasn’t too sure that the world would embrace the idea. I was excited by the arrival of DVD-Audio, a format with enhanced audio fidelity, surround music capability, and compatibility with DVD-Video hardware (excluding the ability to play MLP files). But would I be able to produce products that high-end audiophiles would purchase? The challenge was to apply 30 years of audio engineering experience to recordings made for a new format. The fidelity bar had been raised and I wanted to sail over it.

And that meant producing recordings that average consumers could hear and immediately realize were sonically better and more engaging than what they were used to. The music industry was given the chance to reinvent themselves when DVD-Audio and SACD were introduced. They recognized the opportunity the new “high-res” formats represented and they started looking through their vaults to find “classic” albums that could be the “killer app” of “high-res music”.

It was appropriate for the labels to seek out well-known recordings and recast them in surround. I can remember sitting in a studio with Mick Fleetwood and Lindsey Buckingham as they listened to “Rumours” in surround. They were knocked out…as was everyone else in the room except Jack Holzman, the executive at Warner Brothers in charge of new technologies and the founder of Elektra Records (His book “Follow the Music” chronicles the age of rock n roll). Jack didn’t get it.

But luckily his reluctance didn’t stop the format and the decision to re-release projects by The Doors, Fleetwood Mac, Queen, and more. A lot of effort was put into finding the source assets, creating the new mixes, consulting with the bands, and a lot of money was spent in the process. Queen’s “A Night At The Opera” was rumored to cost over $250,000…just for the surround mixes! But they didn’t sell.

Today, these early DVD-Audio discs are collectors’ items and much sought after by fans of surround music. But they didn’t propel the new formats to success.

AIX Records was started in 2000. I didn’t have a catalog of “classic” records to exploit in the new format. I had to produce entirely new recordings in high-resolution audio…96 kHz/24-bit PCM captures of musicians playing live. I had some strong opinions on how to create the “best sound” and I pulled out my wallet and went to work. And it worked!

When customers started hearing tracks like “Mujaka” from The Latin Jazz Trio or Jennifer Warnes singing “Darcy Farrow” with Jimmy Ibbotson from the “Nitty Gritty Surround” project, they were very impressed. The emails I received convinced me that I had succeeded in topping the new fidelity bar that DVD-Audio/SACD offered.

But the major labels, artists, engineers, and producers of mainstream music didn’t engage with the new formats. They never encouraged these folks to up their game…and they still haven’t. There are very few recordings made that take advantage of the new “high-res music” standards. The new James Taylor record “Before This World” is a welcome exception. The labels looked backwards to their vaults rather than producing new “hi-res music” albums for the future.

The repertoire that pretends to be “high-res music” on the various websites and has been almost universally slammed by the mainstream press lacks the “wow” factor to turn audio fans into new customers for high-res music. Why would anyone demo a 192 kHz/24-bit transfer of Neil Young’s “Harvest” and think knowledgeable music fans would spend their hard earned cash for yet another copy of that wonderful record just because it’s got a new logo on it?

Over the past 15 years, I’ve licensed a lot of tracks to companies that wanted to demo their systems with the best sounding albums they could find. Just recently, BenQ licensed 4 tracks to use with their Trevolo small speaker system. And Bose, Cadillac, Intel, Creative Labs, Porsche have also benefited from using my tracks.

Of course, no one will recognize my albums. And maybe no one will know who Carl Verheyen or Laurence Juber is. But I know there are a large number of customers that have grown to love these artists and others because they cherish the sound of the recordings.

Who doesn’t want to receive emails like these?

“That’s got to be the most incredible sound I’ve ever heard. I’m in the middle of your podcast on iTunes with Home Theater Geek. And this was on my Boston Acoustic PC speakers. Can’t wait to hear something like this on my Home Speaker with 5.1 surround sound, what ever it is your doing don’t stop!

Leroy from NJ, Jazz, Classical, New age fan.”

“Hi Mark…

I just wanted to email you and let you know how much I’ve been enjoying the BD’s and DVD that I’ve gotten from AIX Records. The music (both technically and musically) is AWESOME. Beautiful musicianship recorded through great equipment by master producers… how could it get better?

All in all, very impressive. Please keep up the great work. Rick S.”

When someone experiences a demo of “high-res music”, it has to blow him or her away within the first 30 seconds. If it doesn’t drop their jaw, then they’ll probably smile and move on. The promotion of “high-res music” needs to include some real “high-res music”.

Step 8: Set up a website dedicated to real “high-res music” with downloadable demos, testimonials, white papers, and system recommendations.

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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.

(4) Readers Comments

  1. Mark

    I agree with all your points and really appreciate all you are doing for hi res music. I have enjoyed and learned a lot from your blogs over the past few months so thank you for that. I have also spoken to you on the phone a few years ago and have purchased many of your products. The first time I listened to one of them I was permanently hooked and convinced on the benefits of hi res. I believe I was already hooked a few years earlier after listening to the Eagles Queen and Pink Floyd DVD-A and SACD releases but your recordings solidified it. I agree that experiencing it firsthand with real quality sources played on good surround sound systems is the only way to get people to really buy in.

    • Thanks Gregg!

  2. Hello Mark,

    Love all the efforts you keep making!

    I think we need to review our focus.

    Let’s use pictures / pantings as an example:

    I will buy the best scanner I can afford to digitize my old family pictures.

    I will buy the best camera I can afford to take family pictures.

    I have an artist proof of a Beach Boys’ album cover. I could of just bought the album or bought the original art work but I wanted something better / different in my price range.

    Also CDs were successful because because they were less of a hassle, just as DVDs are to VHS. Improving on good enough is hard.

    So what I am saying…….

    Charge more for the few of us who support it and keep it alive.

    Tell me what I buying.

    Enjoy the music.

    Accept we will never replace mp3s any time soon.

    Leave a great legacy of high quality music for generations to enjoy, which I have bought from you.

    • Thanks Tim…very nice.

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