At last we’ve arrived at the end of my list of ten things that industry organizations, record labels, download sites, and celebrities should do to enhance that chances that “high-res” audio/music will not only survive but also flourish. And it’s very basic…tell the truth. Audiophiles are a very passionate bunch. And in spite of having a reputation of being easily swayed by products that could graciously be called “audiophile tweaks”, the audiophiles that I know are dedicated to their hobby and only want the very best sound they can achieve within their limited means. They deserve to be told the truth about “hi-res” audio/music…as well as other aspects of high-end audio.
If I’m suggesting that the interested parties give us the straight scoop going forward, then there must have been a few falsehoods, exaggerations, or outright lies issued in the promotion of “hi-res” audio/music. Here’s my list of the most important things to know about high-resolution audio/music:
1. There are only about 1500 real high-resolution music productions according to my definition of “high-res”, meaning recording that have been produced using at least 88.2 kHz/24-bit PCM or DSD 128 at the time of the original sessions. Just today I received and email from an engineer that wanted to know if he should upconvert a 48/24 project to 96 kHz to meet the contractual commitments between the label and the artist. I told him no. You can’t hide the truth from those willing to do a little investigating…analyze the work with a spectrograph. The fidelity of his 48/24 project could be amazing…but lying about it would damage the credibility of the artist, production team, label, and distributor. There are no secrets in high-resolution audio.
2. There are only about 10-15,000 “hi-res transfers” in the music for download universe. The stuff pitched as “ultimate high-res” tracks or “tunes that restore the soul of the music” are actually transfers of analog masters. And analog master reel-to-reel tapes may or may not possess more information (frequency response and dynamic range) than a well-done CD of the same master tapes. A standard CD is capable of far exceeding the dynamic range of analog tape and vinyl LPs…but analog tape can have frequencies…musical partials…higher than 20 kHz. I can’t guess how many albums offered on HDtracks or the others hi-res download sites have ultrasonic frequencies but I can assure you that any sonic improvements a hi-res file has over the CD version is subtle and requires you to have a very top notch playback system. The majority of so-called “high-res” downloads being offered should really be called, “the best digital version of the source currently available”. All of you PonoMusic fans might recognize this wording. While not actually telling you a lie, it is deliberately misleading to group ripped CDs in with the “hi-res transfers”.
3. High-resolution audio/music (both high-res PCM and double or quad DSD) offers a marginal improvement in fidelity. If moving the bar only slightly is worth the expense and trouble, then by all means keep buying your favorite music in your favorite format. But don’t expect any perceived enhancement to “blow you away”. I know that audio enthusiasts can be “blown away” when listening to new real high-res productions.
4. There are very few new audio productions being released by the major labels that qualify as “hi-res”. I’m planning to create a poll that asks my engineer friends what percentage of new commercial/urban/rock/country releases were recorded at 48 kHz /24-bit PCM. There are some…but I would bet a few bucks that it’s not more than 20-30%. I’ve been mixing a project that was recorded by a Grammy-winning engineer in 5.1 over the past week or so. The native format is 44.1 kHz/24-bit PCM. This should not come as a surprise.
So there you have it. I’ll post all 10 of my suggestions tomorrow…who knows I may even create a podcast or YouTube video to gather the items in a single place.