Dr. AIX's POSTS — 19 September 2015

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Robert Margouleff, my famous, Grammy winning engineer friend, came by this afternoon for a few hours. We’re working on creating some demos of headphone surround processed classic recordings for potential clients. He managed to secure a few tunes from another engineer (the person that mixed the 5.1 surround versions for DVD-Audio release) friend and we took a first stab at remastering and reformatting a few tracks in the studio. After a while, we had the entire signal path working.

But we both realized that these tracks sounded less than ideal and would require a bunch of work to get them up to audiophile standards. What was wrong? The two tunes by Frank Sinatra sounded a little thin and lacking in warmth. The Who’s “Tommy” was nice and punchy but isn’t really a bona fide 5.1 surround track. All of the tracks that we listened to seemed to be “extractions” or conversions from stereo to 5.1 surround versions. I can only guess that this was the only option available to the mixer. The multitrack masters may not exist or the logistics of actually remixing the tracks from scratch would have been prohibitively expensive and require artist approval. And without a sufficiently large market, the numbers just wouldn’t pencil out.

The down and dirty way to create a “5.1 surround mix is to take the left and right front channel, add some delay and reverb, and swing them around to the left and right surround. This method results in what I call a “5.1 stereo mix” because the distribution of the instrumental and vocals are exactly the same as they were in the stereo blend…but they aren’t locked to the front wall. I recognize the problem and even contributed to it back in the heyday of 5.1 DVD-Audio releases.

Immergent Records had us prepare a whole bunch of their releases using a similar process…just repeat the left and right fronts with some processing and put them in the rear speakers. Then slap a label on the disc saying it has a 5.1 surround mix and you’re done. Needless to say, the company is no longer in business. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that Ministry in “5.1 stereo surround” didn’t really work.

If you can deliver the real deal, then don’t proceed with the project. Or at least tell the unsuspecting customers that the product they’re purchasing wasn’t actually remixed from the multitracks into surround. It would be the same as telling customers of PonoMusic that 99% of their “hi-res” releases are actually CD quality…not hi-res. Honesty doesn’t seem to be a quality that marketing people have in abundance…it’s bad for commerce.

After Robert left, I spend some time listening to a bunch of music with a couple of audio enthusiasts from San Diego.

They are big fans of analog tape and have extensive, high buck systems for stereo and surround sound. They wanted to come by and verify the sound of the analog tapes that I finished transferring some weeks ago. And as long as they were here, why not treat them to some of the recordings I’ve assembled on the new Ultra High-Res Sampler. The one that I’ve been working on for over 8 months. The one that doesn’t seem to want to mux successfully in the authoring tool.

What would a couple of analog fans think of my AIX Records high-resolution music releases? They loved them…a great performance on a great system can turn your head around.

I played the master tapes of Christian Jacob on my lowly Nagra IV-S with QGB large reel adaptor. One of the gentlemen mentioned he owns a Nagra IV-S and QGB…and a Nagra I machine (one the truly amazing pieces of tape recording technology), and a Studer A820. He’s collecting professional equipment to use in his own playback setup. Amazing.

It was an afternoon of listening. Unfortunately, it’s not something that I do often enough.

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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.

(10) Readers Comments

  1. Mark, when will the Christian Jacob recording be up on itrax?

    • Joe, I’ve been absolutely crazy with the Kickstarter campaign. I’ll see if I can post it in a week or so.

  2. Hi Mark, I just got into some new headphones as another way to appreciate my music sources – some of them in higher resolution. I am interested in your ideas concerning surround sound for headphones. I know you tested out DTS Headphone X a few weeks ago and much much earlier the Smyth Realizer A8. Are there other ways to format headphone audio to simulate surround? Please compare the DTS and Smyth systems for us. Thanks.

    • This deserves a whole article two. There are at least 6 different systems that I know of. The Smyth is by far the best because it’s custom. But others are doing some interesting things here too. Stay tuned.

    • This afternoon I found Darin Fong’s Audio Website: Out Of Your Head. It uses concepts from the Smyth Realizer, but with some different twists. I listened to the demo on the web site with my Sennheiser HD 800s. Amazing! Full 7.1 surround effects. Great music and movie samples.

      • Darin does some interesting things…he even sells settings for my room.

  3. I don’t work in the recording industry, but follow Mark’s posts because I’m interested in the science and technology, and especially in the frequent objective/subjective disparity relating to audio kit and tweaks etc. Thus I have no first hand knowledge of why some recording kit or audio equipment is favoured (or otherwise). But today’s reference to the Studer A820 got me thinking – what exactly is a Studer A820 and just why is it so revered ? Fortunately The Audio Archive came up trumps at

    Studer A820

    Keep up the good work Mark ! I never fail to learn something and in the process often get diverted down numerous other fascinating internet alleys!

    • Studer analog tape machines are what Porsche is to Ford…fabulous machines for capturing and reproducing sound.

      • I know you are busy, Mark!
        But what is it, that makes these machines so special?
        A Ford can take you from A to B just as the Porche.
        Is it the longlivety/’built to last’, the handling etc, or do they have a ‘special flavour’, that you can ‘hear’ in the recording?

        • The alignment process, the smoothness and accuracy of the transport, the electronics (especially when tweaked), and the build quality. Nagra is the same way.

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