Dr. AIX's POSTS — 27 July 2015

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High-Resolution Music needs a website. If you go looking for a central location dedicated to providing accurate information, audio demos, testimonials, tech information, interviews…minus the spin and hyperbole, you’ll have a very hard time finding a reliable source. The sites that do exist are either highly commercialized typical magazines, collections of “curated” semi-related articles, or propaganda sites developed to skew the facts of the topic.

What curious consumers want and need is a single site that offers the facts about high-res without the spin. Unfortunately, that site has not yet been constructed (This site does its part but is not meant to be comprehensive). If I was tasked with preparing the specification document for a site called “HiResMusicDemystified.com”, this is what I would include:

1. The site will have a section on what is and what isn’t high-res music. The definitions currently circulating in articles and on websites would be explained and discussed. A backgrounder on the evolution of the term high-res as it applies to audio and music would also be helpful.
2. There would be a technical section explaining the basics of digital sampling technology. FAQ and Glossary sections would cover the basic processes (ADC and DAC) and provide clear and concise definitions of most associated terms (from aliasing to zenith and everything in between).
3. Graphs and charts would illustrate the frequency and dynamic ranges of various formats and playback systems. This would be very helpful in establishing a baseline level of fidelity. The capabilities of each format could be compared and examined.
4. An in depth exploration of the recording methods used over the years and the reasons why fidelity has waned and the “loudness” wars have come to dominate commercial recordings. The practical realities of high-res audio/music could be discussed. Does heavily compressed pop music benefit from using 24-bits?
5. There should be a section explaining data compression vs. audio compression and the effects of both on the fidelity of music. The fact that major organizations and companies have confused these two concepts makes it clear that a careful explanation is needed.
6. The concept of recording “provenance” needs to be discussed and an infographic developed that illustrates how different production paths produce different audio experiences.
7. Audio examples should be included on the site. These should be real high-resolution recordings not rehashed versions of standard-definition tracks from yesteryear. It might also be cool to present some examples of immersive surround mixes presented via headphones.
8. There should be technical articles by respected audiologists, audio engineers, record producers, musicians, and equipment designers (both analog and digital). The articles should not be commercials for specific recordings or equipment, but should provide readers with unbiased information.
9. There should be listing of resources for both hardware and content…what will interested visitors need to acquire to appreciate high-res music.
10. The site needs to regularly updated with the latest news, articles, artwork etc. A static site is certain death. Some of the existing sites don’t have a single comment…I seriously doubt whether anyone is actually visiting them.

The marketing effort behind “high-resolution” music has been haphazard and unfocused. There needs to be a concentrated, coordinated effort on the part of all interested parties to make better quality music happen with accurate information. So far, I’d give the effort a C.

Part 9: Start small and expand the audience. Hi-res music is not going to get a “buzz” if we can’t sell it first to avid music lovers.

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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.

(15) Readers Comments

  1. Mark, I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: please contrast “data compression” with “volume compression.” The historic term “audio compression” is not explicit enough to get the point across. To those not in the business, it could potentially refer to frequency range (or even running time), not just volume level.

    A simple mention of the “loudness war” in conjunction with “volume compression” would make the point inescapable – while the ambiguous term “audio compression” leaves the lingering question of “what aspect of the audio is being compressed?”

    Don’t risk misunderstanding when you can unpack the concept by simply saying “volume compression.”

    Phil

    • Phil…I heard your plea the last time I presented this idea. As an audio engineer, “audio compression” is what we call it and I’m content that it is sufficiently descriptive and specific to separate it from “data compression”. There are lots of online posts and forum comments that refer to audio compression, and the general readership seems to know what the author is talking about. I’m against replacing a common term with something that is not part of the common jargon.

      “Audio compression” automatically reduces the amplitude of a signal by specific ratios (and has other adjustments for attack, release, knee etc). It works on any signal and is available to professional audio engineers. I think most people think of “volume” as something that adjusts the loudness of your playback system as with a PreAmp or Receiver. How would people not be confused by associating the idea of compression with that concept of volume?

      I’m sticking with “audio” vs. “data” compression.

    • Phil, you are right that most people do not understand what audio compression is, but just changing audio to volume will not help improve that understanding. One approach in a non-technical format could be to add a description of audio compression to the first use of the term.

      For example: Audio compression, also known as dynamic range destruction, reduces dynamic range, one of the essential aspects of music.

      • Dynamics processing can be both a creative tool AND a bad thing if full fidelity is a goal. In the audiophile world, getting real world dynamics is helpful…but the Foo Fighters need audio or dynamic range compression to achieve their sound.

    • But Mark, “HiResMusicDemystified.com” is primarily a site for ‘curious consumers’, not audio engineers. ‘Dynamic-range compression’ is an alternative term to consider: it’s in fairly common use and it’s unambiguous, though it’s a bit of a mouthful, and unfortunately, its initialism clashes with that of ‘digital room correction’—doh! Cheers, Bob.

      • My target is both the audio engineers and producers as well as consumers. The more we know the better.

  2. Hi Mark,

    I like this suggestion, and I’m sure you could get someone like John Siau to co-write it as a Wikipedia page. John’s application notes at the Benchmark website have also covered most of the topics extensively and with exemplary clarity.

    The big problem is of course getting the big organizations behind it, who have been the cause of the problem in the first place, by issuing and promoting inaccurate and misleading definitions and deligitimizing their own authority in the process.

    That is finally the question: Who’s to validate and decide whose voice, expertise, definitions and arguments are valid and/or at least representative? There would have to be a certain consensus and that’s what the science is ultimately for, but that’s exactly what’s missing. The only authoritative and more or less partial organization that immediately comes to mind is the AES, but is certainly not a homogenous body of opinions and only raises the same question again.

    No matter how clear things can be from a scientific, technical, mathematical, etc., point of view, there has to be some guarantees offered and and authority or/and even normative instance that decided certain limits regarding who are the experts, authorities, engineers, etc., that are trustworthy and knowledgeable, and thus provide valid info to consumers.

    I think the series of articles recently published by John Siau regarding digital audio and high-resolution audio are all exemplary, and are certainly the go to readings for anyone who is interested. On the other hand we have the neutrality issue, and it can’t be that unilateral and simply come from one single manufacturer. And again, the question: who are the ideal partners, how many should they be, what part or role does each one specifically represent, etc?

    Just some random thoughts, but you get the gist.

    Cheers!

    • John is an excellent writer…I read his articles as well. It is problematic to have a company or individual associated with a site such as I proposed. But there should be an editorial board that can edit and control the message to ensure that craziness is avoided.

  3. Es muy dificil que los grandes comerciantes de la música estén dispuestos a clarificar el tema de La Alta Definición de Audio. La inversión en un nuevo formato como éste es mas costosa que volver a sacar las antiguas grabaciones de cinta remasterizadas. Si la gente vuelve al vinilo es por el descontento que le ofrece algunas grabaciones de cd y no cuento las de mp3. Pero si la aparición de HRA no se hace con honradez volverá a ser un fracaso.Saludos Mark y gracias por tu esfuerzo.
    Ayer ofrecí una escucha en mi casa de tus grabaciones y otras muy buenas en multicanal. La persona quedó entusiasmada y desconocía todo este tema.

    • Gracias Federico.

  4. Such a web site is a great idea for a PhD thesis! But then, as you say Mark, it would need to be alive. An institution of higher knowledge could assure the livelihood of this worthwhile initiative.

    • I’m working on a document that will spell out a lot of the issues. Maybe it could be added to this site.

  5. “C” for commercialized.

  6. I thought a recent email to Monster might interest you. I sent this after seeing one of their on-line ads.

    I saw, and clicked on your ad for Multi-Room Streaming Speakers. Your web site defines them as “Ultra High Definition…” I think you’re confused. Ultra High Definition or UHD is the name given to 4K video. I’ve never seen it applied to an audio product. I HAVE heard Hi-res applied to audio and it refers to digital music sampled at rates of 88kHz or greater with 24 bit word lengths. More troubling than your incorrect use of the term UHD is your list of streaming services. Non of them stream Hi-res audio. Most stream compressed MP3 files. A few stream CD quality but require extra money for that service. I have seen Monster’s credibility questioned on various internet blog sites. I’m afraid that I too must question your credibility, as this ad is obviously designed to take advantage of uninformed consumers.

    A music source may be classified as Hi-res. A DAC or streaming device may be classified as Hi-res capable. I do not believe that classifying a speaker as Hi-res is possible. The term ‘High Definition’ is generally not an acceptable term to apply to audio products.

    • Thanks Butch…Monster has been a marketing juggernaut since they developed the category of higher cost cables. I know both the head monster Noel Lee and his son Kevin through my work at the CEA board.They did apply for a trademark using Ultra High Definition Audio…but you’re right they have no clue about how it should be applied.

      The JAS does have designations for Hi-Res speakers…that go to 40 kHz.

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