Dr. AIX's POSTS — 16 September 2015

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I’d never heard of an audio website called Australian HiFi (click here) or the editor Greg Borrowman but after getting a link from a friend today, I’m happy to have read his Editor’s blog. It’s titled, “When is ‘Hi-Res” not ‘Hi-Res’?” And guess what, it reads like one of my posts. Greg must have some engineering experience because he correctly describes how the marketing types and others are so wrong about what is and what isn’t high-resolution.

From my viewpoint, any recorded piece of music can be classified as high-resolution AND be true to the definitions that have emerged from the DEG, CEA, NARAS, and the labels. But there are actually real facts…technical reasons…why their fantasy can’t hold. Yes, they’re going to continue to blow smoke our way, but in the long run the business of selling hype over substance will fail. Just read how Greg tells it.

His opening statements pretty much sum it up:

“I hate to break it to you fans, but Johnnie Ray is dead, and most so-called ‘hi-res’ tracks are not ‘hi-res’ at all, but rather a complete waste of your money and Internet bandwidth. First you have to define ‘hi-res’ and the problem is that none of the definitions I’ve seen is up to the job. They all fail to recognise that in order to be classified as a ‘high-res’ file the music performed by the musicians that is contained in that file MUST have been originally recorded digitally with a machine generating a 24-bit word every 48-thousandth of a second. That rules out every analogue recording ever made, and every multi-track digital recording made before 1996. So if the supposedly ‘hi-res’ music track you’re listening to was recorded prior to 1996 (and was recorded multi-track) it’s not hi-res. End of story.”

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I pump the specs up to 96 kHz but the essential point is clear. You cannot elevate a previously recorded standard definition track or album to high-res. They have to be new recordings.

Why is this simple concept so hard for the powers that be to accept? It doesn’t diminish the amazing productions that were done on analog tape or standard resolution digital. It simply means that the specifications of the delivery container have little or nothing to do with the source fidelity. Greg used an analogy that made me smile.

“One analogy of why upsampling is a complete waste of money involves food. Imagine you have just been served a large steak on a rather small plate. If you slide that steak onto a larger plate in order to make it easier to eat, do you really think it’s going to taste any different? But that’s exactly what upsampling does. It takes a piece of music and slides it onto a larger plate.”

So be prepared to ignore the marketing messages that will undoubtedly be spewing forth this fall as we approach the holiday season. There’s going to be a whole bunch of great sounding new “hi-res audio” hardware but virtually no “hi-res music” to play in it. Thanks Greg…you made my day.

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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. Great to read another supportive writer Mark, thanks for passing on his well-written message. Btw, I think you meant “You canNOT elevate a previously recorded standard definition track or album to hi-res” in the fourth paragraph, didn’t you?
    Brault…

    • Thanks for the error catch…I fixed the word.

  2. Leave it to a “Bloke” for some real life analogies ! Greg paints “red” all over the industry, now that’s worth a “thousand words”. Steak anyone ?

  3. AMEN, Another voice of reason!

  4. Mark,

    I’ve written direct emails to you before imploring you to proofread your daily newsletters but you’ve obviously chosen to ignore me.
    I want you to know I really enjoy your daily newsletters even though they regularly contain spelling and grammar errors. I can almost always decipher what I think you meant but errors are so common that it’s just extremely annoying. I also know you’re very busy and these errors are probably the result of not proofreading to save time but maybe you could hire someone to proofread prior to posting and emailing your excellent newsletter each morning. I don’t consider myself anally retentive,or a nut and I’m not an English teacher.
    Your latest gaffe occurred in today’s newsletter when you wrote:”You can elevate a previously recorded standard definition track or album to high-res. They have to be new recordings.” I want to make sure you’re aware that you wrote “can” instead of “cannot” and conveyed the exact opposite of what you intended.

    Thank you for educating me on true hi-resolution audio. I have several 24 bit/ 96khz PCM Flac files, recorded directly to digital at the same rate, and the improvement in sound quality is spectacular on my system (PC running JRiver software. connected to a Synology NAS. with signals sent to an Oppo 105, outputted through very good electronics to Magnepan speakers combined with 4 subwoofers.) I’m a big fan of yours and just want your excellent messages to be absolutely clear.

    • I acknowledge that there are occasional spelling and grammar errors in the posts. I use a spell check on each post and then I re-read each from from top to bottom. Running a company, being a full time university professor, and gearing up for a Kickstarter campaign takes a serious amount of time and attention. If there are some missed errors, I apologize…however, I think the points are made.

  5. Yeah, I discovered Australian Hi-Fi a while back when looking for reviews on JBL. I found their write-up to be refreshingly honest, objective and technically educated… So not surprised they know (and write) what Hi-Res really is …and is-not… Great stuff 🙂

  6. Mark, what is the magical 1996 recording scene which the author refers. Science ?

    • He’s referring to the Pat Methany recording called “Quartet”, which was the first digital recording made using 24-bit converters and an all digital signal path.

  7. It’s too bad that we must go across oceans to Australia to find another truth teller about hi-res like you. Maybe one day someone else in the U.S. audio and music industry will break ranks and accurately describe hi-res.

    The problem is that the industry is trying to rebrand the millions of 44.1kHz/16bit CD’s in inventory as the first level of hi-res under the guise that in comparison to lossy then these CD’s are better and therefore hi-res. Alas, semantic gymnastics driven by profit motive.

    • I wouldn’t bet on it. The organizations that I belong too are completely blinded by the chance to make quick money through misleading marketing and false deliveries.

  8. Mark,

    I would like to hear your comments on the article by John E. Johnson at Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity: http://hometheaterhifi.com/editorial/blogs/jj-s-now-and-then-blog-dac-linearity-and-perceived-audio-detail/

    Thanks!

  9. To quote a famous line: ‘Thank ya, thank ya, thank ya!’
    Australian HiFi is proof you’re not alone in your crusade. However, you (we?) are up against powerful marketing machines. As long as Hi-res audio keeps making it into the news there is a chance more and more people will hear the message.
    A famous political figure here once said: ‘Talk about it, good or bad just talk about it’.

    As for your typos, I understand and can ‘read around’ them. There is so much info in your blog, the message is more important than the ‘medium’ so to speak.

    Thank you again for the info.

    Regards
    JC

  10. I can understand that no digital recording made with anything < 24b and 48Khz cannot be called high res.

    But I don't understand why "every analog recording" cannot be converted into high res. I guess it's because the old analog equipment's dynamic range is at best 60-70dB and so doesn't need more than 10-12 bits?

    Don't at least some of those analog recordings have actual content above 22Khz?

    So what would be 12b/48Khz? Medium res?

    • Standard-res works for me.

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