Dr. AIX's POSTS — 25 September 2015

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Here’s the content of an email I received from a very well known mastering engineer and author of several very well know books on the subject. We’ve known each other for a long time and both serve on the AES high-resolution technical committee.

“Personally I think you are being too nice, too diplomatic in your reports I’ve seen on Computer Audiophile.

I think a null test between the analog outputs of the two Benchmark DACs would prove nothing. Because even if you bring those back in through sample matched ADCs and match the results to a sample in a DAW for a null — if there is even one one hundredth of a dB in difference in level they will not cancel.

I think this is one of those premises that you cannot prove either way. I’m with you and Dave Collins that this is snake oil. There is no jitter in a USB connection as it is not a clocked system.

As for your two companions who claim to have heard a difference, sadly no one can prove a negative or a positive. An ABX test on such potentially subtle differences would be very difficult to control and usually results in a statistical negative for differences we know exist. So if your friends fail the blind test it doesn’t prove anything either way in my opinion.

The best we can say is that experts think it’s snake oil, there’s nothing measurable besides. If there were something measurable then we could fairly argue if it’s audible but when it’s probably voodoo and immeasurable besides ‘let them come back with measurements and then we can talk. Case closed for the moment’.

You can quote me on that. Thanks.”

Everyone is entitled their opinion and knowledgeable people will disagree, but there are real challenges in trying to demonstrate the “benefits” of certain audiophile accessories.

Others like to hammer away on issues of personal taste. There’s a guy over at Computer Audiophile that posted this some time ago:

“I have several of Mark Waldrep’s Sampler DVDs, and I think that he is probably a competent and knowledgeable mastering engineer, but a lousy recording engineer. Most of his miking techniques are, to my tastes, completely incompetent. He tends to close-mike everything and he mikes pianos by putting stereo microphones inside the piano! This yields, on playback, pianos that are as wide as the room with the bass end of the keyboard on the left, Middle C in the center, and the treble-end of the keyboard on the far right! He does a similar thing with drum-kits. Part of the kit is on the left, part is in the center and another part on the right. There might be some people who like this sort of thing, and likely, most are probably indifferent to it to the point of not even noticing, but to me it completely destroys the illusion that I’m listening to music. When I first played his samplers, I was appalled! Waldrep asked me the next day at the show what I thought of the samplers, and I couldn’t even come up with the simplest platitude, so I lied and told him that I hadn’t had a chance to listen yet.”

This one is troubling for a few reasons. First, he admits that his tastes are different than mine…yet I’m incompetent because mine are at odds with his. Major reviewers and the artists that I record have lauded my recording approach. Christian Jacob, a supremely talented pianist and music director for Tierney Sutton, sought me out because of the reputation I have in making the instrument sound so real. He loved the work I did for him. So I’m pretty comfortable with George’s opinion being the odd one out. He might want to try switching from the 5.1 “stage mix to something more traditional like the 2.0 channel stereo one.

When the senior editor of TAS calls my recordings “simply the most realistic” he’s ever heard and that I know what I’m doing…it’s not hard to dismiss the comments from a reader over at CA. That he would lie to my face about his opinion yet spew all over the CA forum is pretty telling. If you don’t like my recording, then just say so. I can take it. If you’re given to lying, then you’ve lost me anyway.

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The Kickstarter campaign is going very well. We’ve topped 400 backers…next stop 500. I’ve added a stretch goal and a couple of new rewards. Stop by and check it out. Music and Audio Guide KS page

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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.

(19) Readers Comments

  1. Mark, I love your abilities and your willingness to share same. Not that you care or something but U are losing me by being caught up in that money grubbin Kickstarter thing. Ahhh, the more things change, the more things remain the same. Ya know the ole if ya wanna know the future read history bit. How disappointing. Reality can be that way.

    Sincerely,
    Walt Prill

    • Walt, as you know I spend over an hour of my day…every day regardless of vacations or illness…writing my daily post. I do this because I believe that getting the truth about audio out to my readers is important and to share my expertise and opinions. Your comment that writing and distributing a comprehensive book and custom made Blu-ray disc out via Kickstarter is “money grubbin” and the implication that I’m doing it because of greed or exploitation is troubling…very troubling. It’s unfair, untrue, and hurtful.

      I find nothing wrong or inappropriate with asking readers and fellow audio enthusiasts to back the writing, licesning, production, printing, replication, and fulfillment of a 400-500 page book and accompanying Blu-ray disc. This production wouldn’t happen without the generous support of the 400 plus backers that are excited to get the book. Publishers are not interested in narrow cast books like this.

      It has taken a lifetime of education, hard work, and experience to get to the place where I am ready to author a book. I’m at my studio 7 days a weeks working, researching, writing, and exploring new opportunities…and I’ve been spending every day at the studio for decades (just ask my family). I admit I enjoy doing what I do…and I enjoy the reaction of people that sit in the studio for the first time and hear the magic of a wonderful piece of music well recorded, but in order to make this business function and send three kids to college etc., it has demanded every bit of my time.

      AIX Records is a labor of love. It is not profitable…never has been. My production company has maintained itself with DVD and Blu-ray production since I founded it in 1989 but I’m not getting rich or even getting by on the money from the business alone. My teaching (another full time commitment) fills in the gaps and makes sure that I won’t be on the street if and when I retire.

      I’m looking forward to writing the book and preparing the Blu-ray and files. I’m especially looking forward to interviewing some of my friends (Bob Stuart, Ken Caillat, Robert Margouleff, Bob Hodas and others) for the project. I will deliver the promised book on time next spring and am confident that those who chose to back this campaign will not see it as a “money grubbin” ploy.

      Obviously, you touched a nerve here. I’m sorry you doubt my motivations. I assure you and everyone else that money is not the reason for doing this.

  2. Mark….. experience tells me that CA typos ( make that fanboys) are sheep following the few narcissistic bullies who challenge any variance to their self appointed forum standings. Adversaries are unwelcome, pseudo voodoo prevails. It’s laughable how social media (forums) paralyses otherwise intelligent thinking folks.
    Great work Mark, and wish you further advances with the KS program. Hopefully the seeds to new understanding.

    • I don’t spend a lot of time at CA although I know and like Chris Connaker. The vibe is decidedly unfriendly to individuals that express alternate facts and opinions.

  3. “An ABX test on such potentially subtle differences would be very difficult to control and usually results in a statistical negative for differences we know exist. So if your friends fail the blind test it doesn’t prove anything either way in my opinion.”

    Sorry but I will never agree with this persons point of view. I will make any reasonable adjustments to the ABX test the “golden ears” request. They can listen to each sample for 1 hour, 6 hours, or 6 days each, whatever. Until they will submit to reasonable listening tests and can PROVE their claims for the differences they hear, those claims will forever remain exactly what they are, just one persons opinion.

    “for differences we know exist”? Who says, how do you “know” they exist if you can’t prove it scientifically in any recognized way? Pure subjective baloney IMHO.

    It is absolutely shameful the way George Graves and a few others at Computer Audiophile take every opportunity to slam Mark on his choices of miking techniques. As Mark already mentioned his work has been critically acclaimed in numerous high end reviews and AFAIK George has not been able to build a successful mastering and recording company / label off his work. As such he has not a leg to stand on with his constant criticisms of Marks work.

    • Sal, the “very subtle” differences that my audiophile friends thought they heard could not survive an ABX test. The device didn’t produce any change to the bits, the clock and jitter were established in the DAC…and there for there was not change in the sound…at least to these professional ears.

      • I know Mark, but “very subtle” or fairly obvious, if someone says they hear something they need to be able to back it up with proof to be accepted as fact.
        Some people hear voices but sadly many times it turns out to be paranoia. 🙁

        • I need the proof too. I was there and heard no difference…”subtle” of otherwise.

  4. It seem that it is me who was “being too nice” by not telling you that I thought your recordings, for the most part, stank when you asked me what I thought. I was brought-up to believe that you don’t slam someone’s work or their possessions to their face, and that if asked, you always find some way to make a polite platitude or say something nice, even if it’s a white lie. To me, it’s just courtesy.

    You say that you have been praised for making realistic recordings. Well, I have to ask (now that the cat is out of the bag) how anyone can think that a room-wide piano or drum set is realistic? I’ve recorded plenty of both (I record for a hobby. It’s not my business, but I do charge for my services. But my criticism was aimed at your work from the standpoint of a LISTENER, not as a recording engineer; either professional or amateur. This person Sal, above, who says: “George has not been able to build a successful mastering and recording company / label off his work…” is misrepresenting me. I’ve never tried to build either a successful or an unsuccessful recording business, I do it because I enjoy it. But I have been praised by my “clients” for making REAL stereo recordings that sound like real musicians playing in real space without 10-foot wide pianos miked so close that they sound like the listener is inside the piano with the strings! I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Mr. Waldrep, but pianos (like most musical instruments), heard from the perspective of an audience, don’t sound the same as they do when one is right on top of them. To my tastes, that perspective is wrong and not the way the music was intended to be heard. I can understand why a pianist might like your approach. From his perspective, the instrument is always up-close and personal, and dominates his field of hearing. That’s what your piano recordings sound like, so any pianist is bound to be pleased when listening to your miking technique.

    • Thanks for coming by Real HD-Audio George. Your opinion of my productions and recording skills is at odds with the editors at Stereophile and The Absolute Sound and most other listeners…my favorite quote by Andrew Quint raves about the sound of my productions as “quite simply the most realistic and involving instance of recorded sound I can recall, from any source format. Mark Waldrep knows what he’s doing.” That’s a far cry from your opinion that they “stank”. I’ve had plenty of polite conversations with people that have different aesthetics or tastes than my own…without lying or issuing polite platitudes. Next time we meet, let’s try that approach.

      You seem to believe that your way of recording and reproducing pianos and drum kits is the only way to capture them. Perhaps, another approach can be equally successful without trying to sound REAL? If you have heard my recordings, you might know that they are unique in presenting several different perspectives of the same performance. If the narrow, traditional stereo perspective is more to your taste, then all you have to do is press the AUDIO button on the remote and presto, you have what you prefer. Others might be more adventurous and opt for the “audience” or “stage” perspective. Most of the feedback I get from surround music fans tilts towards the most aggressive mixes. My goal isn’t limited to recreating a REAL stereo presentation…I’m using technology to expand the musical intent beyond the limits of an acoustic live performance.

      I wrote an entire post on the concept of recording a piano with stereo pairs inside the instrument. You can read it, if you’re interested here.

      My approach results in the sound of the instrument coming from the location of your speakers rather than from 10-15 behind the speakers. I prefer to be closer to the instrument. If you and others prefer to be more removed from the sound, that’s your choice. But making conscious creative and engineering choices doesn’t make my recordings wrong or make me “incompetent”. There are lots of recordings that don’t meet my personal tastes but I wouldn’t then blame the engineer for having a lack of skills. You admit to having different tastes…let’s just leave it at that.

      By the way, it’s either Mark or Dr. Waldrep…not Mr. Cheers.

      • “Perhaps, another approach can be equally successful without trying to sound REAL?”

        There you have it. What’s the point of “high-fidelity” is it’s not to sound real?

        George Graves

        • According to this rather narrow view of the recording art, the goal of every production is to capture and reproduce the sound of a live performance. What about all of those incredible recordings that were created and realized in the studio environment one part or track at a time. This would include everything by The Beatles, Peter Gabriel, and U2. Producing albums is much more than trying to recreate reality. The point of high-fidelity is to us technology to bring the magic of music to music lovers in any way that satisfies them. You comments remind me of Robert Harley’s comments about my surround recordings (in his book in the chapter of surround sound)…there is only one way and it’s his (or your) way. If others revel in the sound of immersive surround, who are you to impose your “personal taste” on them and criticize the producer of those recordings? We can certainly disagree on issues of personal tastes but I simply won’t accept that there is only one way to make a great recording.

        • George – I always thought high fidelity was about the quality of the reproduction, not about the allowed source material. For music, does your concept of high fidelity only allow acoustic instruments and unamplified voice? Doesn’t allowing anything else make it unreal?
          When “Silver Apples of the Moon” came out in 1968, I remember the excitement of hearing something entirely new, something that was never intended to be in a concert hall. That is what high fidelity is about, not just recreating the old, but creating something new.

    • A person of honor never says things behind someones back that he won’t say to his face. George you post your negative comments on Marks work in threads on CA at every opportunity.
      I’ll probably get banned but I posted my thoughts on this issue at CA., Sorry Mark, don’t want to stir up a mess but BS is BS and he deserves being called out on this.
      http://www.computeraudiophile.com/f8-general-forum/aix-records-and-g-graves-25935/

      • Sal, it doesn’t bother that George spreads his opinions at CA or here…as long as he acknowledges that they aren’t positions of hard facts. He’s an amateur recording enthusiast and makes recordings that please him and his clients. No problem. But like so many others, he’s taken his personal tastes as absolutes and then attacks others for having different tastes. Not cool.

        Interestingly, I did find the following statement at CA “explaining” a couple of miking techniques. “Second best, and what I generally use, is a variation on the XY miking scheme, in which two cardioid mikes are used on a stereo “T” bar about 7″ inches apart and 90 degrees from one another or I use a true stereo microphone.”

        This method of stereo miking is not “a variation of XY”. XY requires the two capsules to be at exactly the same point in space to exclude phase differences. The method he describes is ORTF, which does separate the mics on a stereo bar and points them apart by about 110 degrees. I teach my recording students all of the stereo miking techniques in my “Beginning Audio Recording” course.

        • As I figured, last night I posted a very polite thread calling George out on his statements but as of now the thread has been deleted. Dave’s post above is 100% correct in that “Adversaries are unwelcome, pseudo voodoo prevails.”

      • If by “every opportunity” you mean twice, I’ll cop to that.

        George Graves

  5. George, you can think that you like a different perspective in how a recording should sound, but that it a far thing from saying something stank. Geez. You like hearing the sound of the hall, I enjoy that to. Different engineers have different perspectives. I happen to think that Mark’s as well as someone like Todd Garfinkle or Jonas Sacks are all very enjoyable and valid. However, what is better or more real? The sound from the first row, mid hall or the back? For me, that is a matter of personal taste. Now, as for class, that is a whole other matter.

    • Thanks Joe.

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