Dr. AIX's POSTS — 28 July 2015

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There are high-res proponents that believe that better audio fidelity will cause average consumers to upgrade their playback systems and the content that they play through them. I’m not one of them. High-res music will remain a niche market and grab only a very limited segment of the music industry…certainly less than 5%. In spite of the increased attention that Neil Young and Pono brought to better quality music, it remains a very small portion of music sales. If sales of vinyl LPs have “exploded” to 3% of the music industry market, then we shouldn’t expect “hi-res” to do much better. And this includes all of the music that is marketed and sold as “high-res” even though it’s not (Tidal, PonoMusic, and the rest…).

So let’s get real and recognize that most people aren’t audiophiles, most mainstream press don’t understand the appeal of expensive and exotic audio gear, and even audiophile reviewers often fail to understand or accept the scientific basis of music recording and reproduction. The irrational passion for DSD being exhibit “A”.

My recommendation for the organizations and labels would be to narrow their marketing focus. The only way that “the masses” are going to open up to better quality audio (not to mention real high-resolution audio/music) is by word of mouth. I would venture that most people know someone that is “into” their sound system and appreciate the benefits of a well-produced album. I’m that person in my close circle of friends. I’m not only “into” better sound but I’ve dedicated my life to achieving better fidelity in the records that I’ve produced but also been a strong advocate for enhancing our music experiences. Can you imagine my disappointment when one of my closest friends cheers about his “sound bar”? (You know who you are Jim.)

My FB page includes a large number of old high school friends and family. They think I come from another planet. How could listening to music be that important…it’s just music. I’m sure they think I have no life because I don’t post pictures of my breakfast, share political stuff, etc. That’s just me.

IMHO “high-res” music will catch on when music fans, artists, producers, engineers, and labels realize that music can be improved…not by a huge amount but enough to make it worth selecting the higher octane version over the standard issue track. If it doesn’t cost more then why not? This core group will tell their friends and they will engage their twitter feeds and other social media outlets with the news. It may not go viral like the guy shoving his cat across the room with a broom but it can expand well beyond the base of audiophiles.

If there is any doubt about the veracity or benefits of “high-res” music among those that should be most in tune with it, then there’s absolutely no hope that it will become popular among the masses. This is where we are now.

Part 10: Be honest about everything associated with “high-res” music. Audio enthusiasts are smart…they appreciate being told the truth.

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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.

(14) Readers Comments

  1. Let’s pretend that tomorrow Apple’s complete iTunes library is magically transformed to “true high resolution” – with the same file sizes.

    99% of iTunes users wouldn’t care less nor be able to hear any discernible difference through their headphones or systems at home….

    Sad.

    🙁

    • Apple doesn’t have the power to make that change. Yes, they have been requiring labels to supply 96 kHz/24-bit PCM files to iTunes…by these masters are more faux high-res. Most people certainly wont’ be able to tell the difference. But I think if the artists, engineers and producers make records with more fidelity…it might make a dent in the all loud all the time marketplace.

  2. The masses will never endure the entry price or seclusion of yesterday’s “static” room systems. Much as we all cherish our special place, HR audio had better find its way to autos and headsets. The virtues of “live” will be the domain of concert venues. Emulating such has moved far more distant than years past, many years !

    • The hardware…both domestic and mobile…is much better than it has ever been. The methods of productions are behind the times.

  3. Mark
    I have enjoyed your commentaries very much and have learned a lot. You have posted a lot about how many people hear music as background. I have found the same to be true; it drives me crazy and hurts my ears to hear poor sound in public places (and I can tell the difference of an MP3 and a CD on my system). As technology and the industry evolve, would you comment about improvements in various parts of the sound reproduction chain, source units, amplifiers, loudspeakers, etc. might have the biggest impact on hearing a high res sound? What are the parts of the “chain” worth the investment and what parts will remain stable?

    • I will be talking about this very thing in a post very soon.

  4. I read & enjoy your message everyday. I listen to & enjoy ‘hi res’ PCM’ even if it’s technically from a standard res source. I also enjoy DSD & like it’s sound. I really don’t understand your daily attack on DSD & you are hurting your position with a lot of serious listeners with the repetition of your negative view.

    Many of us will never be able to afford a full blown multichannel surround system like you avocate. So we will continue to do the best we can with the best sounding 2 channel we can afford, be it PCM, DSD or good old LP’s.

    For my part I don’t duplicate existing ‘software’ with the ‘next best thing’ regardless of format. I fill in music I like & don’t have with mostly downloads. I do hope ‘hi rez’ pricing falls in line with 16/24 pricing. I can hear a difference with 24/48, 24/96 and DSD but not double or triple the price justification differentation.

    • The only reason to purchase a DSD product is if the material is ONLY available on an SACD or as a DSD file. The technology does a great job for archiving analog tapes or as a capture method for analog manipulation (a la Cookie and BlueCoast Records) in order to achieve very good standard-resolution fidelity. But it’s a diversion and should be abandoned in favor of high resolution PCM.

      You can get a good surround system for an automobile or your home for less than $5000. It’s a huge leap up in listening to music.

  5. I’ve been reading all your posts daily for a long time Mark. This one resonates. It will be a long, slow ride before any real numbers get on this particular musical ride and your suggestions of focusing the efforts to accomplish this are sensible and important. Good luck!

    • Thanks Jim…a baby crawls, then walks and then runs.

  6. My children, both in their 20s, listen to music and other content constantly. There is always an ear bud stuck in their ears. Can they tell the difference between a poorly rendered file and a good high quality 320 mp3 or flac? Absolutely. Can they tell the difference in quality between the cheap Apple supplied ear buds and the high quality Klipsch or thinksound units I bought them a few years ago? Absolutely.

    However, given all that, when those ear phones break or they are out shopping for something new (assuming they don’t just reach out to dad to help them), will they seek out a similar quality level, or will they opt for convenience and just pop into the closest big box store for a replacement pair? I hope to know the answer but can never really say if the convenience outweighs the benefit of taking a bit more time to look for something good. Will they at any point, even though they appreciate and hear the sound differences, strive to upgrade even further the quality level of their products, I can probably say with 100% accuracy the answer would be no.

    My kids at least do not care to have the latest celebrity endorsed products, which is fine with me, they rely on dad to direct them a bit, but only to a certain price point I’m sure. Beyond that, the philosophy of “good enough” instead of “the best” would apply.

    To your point though, they have told friends of the products they have (when a friend would listen to something on their ear buds and say “these sound great”) but then whether those others went out and sought those products out or not, I can’t answer that.

    So it is a conundrum the industry finds itself in, if even, for the masses, most people seem to not care, if the noise is in the background that, for them, is good enough. I did a poll on my Facebook page some time back, about whether people cared about Apple Music or Spotify or Tidal and the quality levels. With only one exception, out of hundreds of views of my post, did anyone say anything other than “the free levels are fine with me” Sigh.

    Keep up the fight!!

    Larry

    • Thanks Larry. I appreciate you taking the time to share your experience and kudos to you and the kids. My musician son is the only dedicated audio enthusiast. The others are looking for background sound and convenience.

  7. Hey,
    I see the fancy, hot topic term DSD here and being quite educated about this format I’d like to ask you Mark what do you think about the fact that the DSD capable DAC could do less filtering stages and than could be implemented in hardware easier than PCM DAC and then as follows produce better analogue signal at the end with better S/N ratio?

    If this is not true, what so much buzz about DSD itself for the consumer format? I don’t have DSD DAC, just PCM and I am happy with the sound, but also see many discussion pushing to convince consumers that DSD is better sounding than PCM – why, because of the fact I’ve mentioned here?

    Quite the same discussion is around the best interface for transferring your bit stream to the DAC – USB vs. Eth vs. TOSLINK, Coax etc. For me USB has never been the audio interface for Pro Audio users, am I right?

    • DSD is a clever technology and provides some advantages for the archiving of older analog masters but it is not a usable production tool because engineers can’t even do a fade in 1-bit without converting to PCM. The so-called advantages or DSD being more “analog” are marketing spin and nothing more. The buzz is there because of the money and influence of the audiophile press and large consumer electronics companies. It has been shown that DSD is indistinguishable from PCM when similar resolution are used and compared. And despite numerous tests and evaluations, using an expensive digital cable makes no difference to the bits coming out of the cable and into the DAC.

      In pro audio we use, MADI, AES-EBU and SDIF.

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