Dr. AIX's POSTS — 30 September 2015

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It’s really very simple. Any recording that was recorded at the time the musicians were present using equipment that doesn’t exceed “CD quality” or 16-bits of dynamic range can’t be called “hi-res music”. This includes any and all recordings that were made using analog tape machines. They simply don’t have the specifications to meet the definition for high-res music as specified in the 2014 press release from the DEG, CEA, NARAS, and major labels. Don’t misunderstand me…this is about the specifications and not about whether analog sourced recordings sound good (of course, they can and do). It also has to do with logos, power and influence, and money…mostly about money.

The major labels don’t have any high-resolution content. But that hasn’t stopped them from contributing thousands of their older standard-res albums to the various high-resolution download sites that we’re all familiar with. At last count, they’ve converted about 5000 albums from analog tapes to high-resolution digital bit buckets. And when they list the specifications of a “hi-res” album they conveniently forget to include the provenance of the album and the date of the original release. Why? Knowing when a recording was made and the original release date provides the best clue for understanding the potential fidelity of a project.

The labels have promised to do their best to give the retailers and customers accurate and comprehensive data about the albums that they are making available in “hi-res”. But using the date of the transfer to hi-res digital bit buckets rather than the original release date doesn’t instill much confidence in their promises. I can get more accurate information using Google and Wikipedia than the information they provide.

If you were launching a website dedicated to listing high-resolution music and asked experts familiar with the label’s current “hi-res” music catalogs to recommend the very best examples of this exciting new format, what would you expect to find on the list? Wouldn’t you think that the producers/labels would want to feature recordings that met their own definition of high-resolution…meaning better than CD? Probably. But that’s not what they’re recommending.

What would you think if a 2015 re-release of an album showed up on the list featuring recordings from 1969-1973 from a major artist on a major label? Looking further at the accompanying information you notice that the “Resolution” is stated as 96/24 or 192/24. I don’t know what you would think, but I would think the people preparing the list don’t have a clue about recording provenance. And they certainly don’t know that transferring an old analog recording to a 96 or 192 kHz / 24-bit digital bucket is a complete waste of digital storage. However, they do know that they can license and sell their new standard-res transfers to unsuspecting customers as “hi-res” music and pocket a chunk of change. And we’re letting them get away with this charade by continuing to support it.

Remember we’re trying to convince music fans that high-resolution audio and music is worth the time, trouble, and expense. Demonstrating or recommending a recording that doesn’t benefit from conversion to high-resolution PCM digital specs is wrongheaded and will only disappoint retailers and consumers. Believe it or not, this is the message that is headed your way. Brace yourself.

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The Kickstarter Campaign continues to engage music lovers interested in getting no nonsense information about getting better sound. We’re still ranked near the top of the non fiction publications chart over at KS and last night we topped 500 backers. The campaign has reached 166% of the original funding goal…and thank you for that support! But if you’ve been holding off becoming a backer, maybe now is the time to step up. I added a stretch goal that will see every backer receive the new 2016 AIX Records sampler (as downloadable files) if the campaign reaches 200% of the original funding goal…and that level is within reach. Please consider clicking over to the Kickstarter page and selecting a reward. Thanks very much for your support. Click here.

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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.

(30) Readers Comments

  1. you said that major labels don’t have any hi res material , at least it wasn’t recorded that way.
    I have no doubt that’s true with popular music. But what about classical .
    Many recordings are being released on CD that are also available as 24 bit 96 k downloads.
    Are classical labels recording in high resolution for new recordings?

    • A lot of the classical recordings are transfers from older recordings too. Although, it’s true that classical and jazz are leading the way with real high-resolution stuff. These labels are the small ones…or the small divisions of the big labels.

  2. Hi Mark,

    I was thinking that in the era of KS, it wouldn’t be far fetched to develop an App that could analyze the content of 24Bit downloads, and determine if there’s any information above CD quality to justify putting it in a larger bit bucket.

    Another important issue perspective is of course the price of high-resolution downloads. Recording in 192 kHz / 24Bits doesn’t cost more than recording in 96, 88.2 or 48 kHz / 24Bits, and neither does it cost more to record in 256fs or 128fs vs 64fs DSD. Nevertheless, and although it is an even more obvious fallacy than that of putting analogue recordings from the 70s of the past century in 24 bit buckets and calling them High-Resolution, this market criteria is applied by all those who sell high resolution downloads.

    There is no benefit in Quad DSD or 192 kHz, in relation to 64fs and 96 kHz, not even if you’re a bat. There’s no audible content whatsoever being recorded that calls for 176.4 or 192 kHz, nor can we benefit from it. Despite that simple fact, we have to pay more simply because of the size of the bitbuckets, even if they don’t contain anything of value to us, audio reproduction or the joy of music. I’m sure there’s a certain joy in owning the largest and most expensive files, but it doesn’t have anything to do with audio quality or the joy of listening to music.

    I can understand that a binaural recording could perhaps justifiably cost more, because the head and torso simulators all sell for above 25K, but they wouldn’t qualify as HRA, as the microphone capsules used in them don’t meet HRA specs. Nevertheless, the binaural recordings sold by Native DSD, are more expensive and can also be had in 2 or 3 resolution/prices that mean zip. This scaled pricing scheme makes the whole HRA marketing BS even more evident.

    All in all, HRA downloads shouldn’t cost more than CDs, and the reasons are quite obvious. Nevertheless, more bits equals more money, and even the reviewers that pride themselves of having the ability to hear the difference between CDs and HRA downloads that have been recorded back in the 60s and 70s, also claim to hear the difference between 96 kHz and 192 kHz downloads. And they do so on playback systems that aren’t even capable of rendering HRA in the first place. Those individuals are of a more disgusting kind, as they only squeeze a couple of blood drops out of the scam by promoting it, and are even less than middlemen. And they of course fiercely defend their amazing and uncontested hearing abilities against proper scientific tests and physics, and all ultimately resorting to the more desperate than plausible argument, that what they hear is what really matters, and that experience can’t be contested. This is as far as they have to retreat once confronted, and of course with all the drama such an unsustainable position entails.

    Anyhow, there are so many ridiculous inaccuracies and plain lies behind the high resolution scam, that it will be a small wonder if HRA manages to deliver the promised standards one day, and even more so if the deceived consumers will be able to tell the real thing from another false alarm.

    Cheers!

    • This could be done…in fact, I’m going to keep pushing on the HRADB.com site…as soon as I get some time.

    • The majority of what you said is simply ridiculous. It actually sounds like you have a chip on your shoulder against individuals who can hear the differences you mentioned. I am one of those people, someone who has actually been around real music in a real space for at least 30 years of my life. I made a living as a musician. Played in bands in my twenties and symphonies/orchestras in my 30s and 40s before eventually retiring and becoming a studio engineer. I shared the company of thousands of musicians some famous, some infamous, many long forgotten. I have seen thousands of performances of musicians you’ve probably only heard on a CD. Where is your expertise?

      The point being is that I can hear the differences, and for me they are night and day. If you have any idea of what instruments and vocals sound like in “real time” then you would understand how horrible CDs are, especially the ones from the 80s and 90s. I personally would much rather take those analog recordings transferred to Hi Res over the best mastered CDs with their disgusting midrange and mediocre low level detail. Not to mention all of the odd order distortions they carry.

      While I do not agree with AIX on many of his ideals regarding Analog Recordings, I can agree that Hi Res is a scam that the labels are promoting. True Hi Res recordings sound fine, but only with proper implementation. As and engineer, I personally do not care for Digital Recordings and still record to Analog tape as I feel that Analog offers much more of a realism for vocals and instrumentation, and a full spectrum of sound. This is something that Digital will NEVER be able to imitate. Remember that’s what Digital is. Just an imitation, and not a very good one if you ask me.

      • I’m glad you’ve heard real instruments and been an active musician…you’re rare among audio enthusiasts. And I could list my credentials here and establish my own credibility as well but I’ll spare everyone the read. CDs can sound incredible…in fact, they can produce better dynamic range than analog tape. If you prefer the sound of analog tape, that’s perfectly OK with me. Lots of people do. IF you haven’t heard my digital recordings on a great system, you might want to download some of the samples from the FTP site. I just can’t buy into your idea that “Digital will NEVER be able to imitate” the realism of vocals and instrumentation with a full spectrum of sound. It already can and does. Digital eclipses any analog format in terms of sound accuracy. Period.

        • Mark, I actually would be interested in seeing your credentials. I believe I read on here once that you played acoustic guitar? So did I. For 20 years. I started playing in bands at the age of 15. Can, with your eyes closed, hear the difference between a Guild, Martin or a Gibson? I can, but not by Redbook CD. If you can then you are truly something! I have yet to meet someone who can… The instrumental timbre is simply insufficient. This is the point that I”m trying to get across.

          Before I was 13 years old I had already heard a total of 200 live music acts. I started playing guitar at 12. I played in bands until I was in my late 30’s. I’ve literally heard thousands of live acts; sitting in front of me, on a stage, in their houses etc. Jimi Hendrix? Seen him live 4 times. The Who, Janis Joplin, Free, Genesis, The Allman Brothers… and hundreds more that you’ve probably only heard on a CD or record. Do you honestly feel that Redbook CD can reproduce a realistic representation of those respective artists sound? Based off my experience with REAL instruments, acoustic and electric, in a real space, amplified and unamplified, digital has yet to reproduce these instruments with the same accuracy as analog. Hi Res PCM and DSD sourced from analog tape are getting closer, but still are not comparable.

          I noticed that you took some excerpts from my previous rant and put them in another post. My associates and I had a great laugh over that. It looks like I owe them some money! They actually said you would do that. Apparently I bet otherwise. Yes I am an “engineer” lmao I have over two decades experience recording sound with the big kids. I’ve smoked cigarettes in session with George Marino at the original Sterling Sound, pushed faders with Jack Joseph Puig at Ocean Way, tested drums through a classic Neve console in every room in Bearsville. I’ve heard and spent a ton of money on almost every permutation of digital since the DAT tape deck (a complete POS by the way) I still record to analog tape not because I prefer the coloration but because of the realism that it provides within that crucial midrange. The middle on digital recordings sounds hollow. Instrumental textures are still insufficient compared to analog. Regarding dynamics… I don’t think you understand how that works in real life. CDs also fail at this, but I’ll save that explanation for another day.

          This is the end of my rant by the way. To summarize what I’ve said (I’m sure you’ll skip the parts you don’t want to see) Digital, compared to the tube/analog paradigm, is a huge failure for sound reproduction. Oh and Period.

          • Your personal preferences are just fine…where you step over my line is claiming your opinions as absolute truths. Other qualified individuals feel otherwise.

          • That’s nice Mark. Anyhow I would interested in seeing your experience with live instruments. If you would like to send it through email (instead of posting it here) that would be great. I’ll be sure to test your material at my studio tomorrow. I’ve heard nothing but good things about your recordings.

          • Brad, I’ve been a musician, composer, and audio engineer for 40 years or more. Like you…I played in several band as a teenager and became a professional guitar player when I moved to California…to be a rock star. That didn’t work out as planned so I continued my education (UCLA, CSUN, Cal Arts) in music and tech (computer science). During my years of playing and engineering, I’ve probably recorded 2500 live recitals and performances including the LA Phil, the Cal Art Contemporary Music Festival for numerous years, the Olympic Arts Festival in 1984, as well as 200 albums (in both analog and digital formats). I spent 13 years as a mastering engineer working on hundreds of albums for Bad Company, The Allman Brothers, and lots of independent bands. I worked with Virgin Records on The Rolling Stones “Stripped” enhanced CD and well over 200 music DVDs.

            I composed dozens of chamber works and two symphonies…working with the players during rehearsals and even conducted a number of my compositions. I know what live instruments sound like…it’s been the core of my entire career as a player, composer, and engineer.

            Analog is a format. It’s fine if you find it delivers a sonic presentation you prefer…T Bone Burnett and others would agree with you. But there’s plenty of other equally qualified listeners that prefer the sound of digital…both have their place. We just happen to like one over the other.

  3. Hello Mark
    Back in the 80’s when compact disc’s first arrived, I started to buy cd’s of music I already had on vinyl. I’m sure most people did. Depending on your system, some sounded better than others and some were an improvement over the LP. If I’m reading you correctly, analog tape to cd is more than enough to capture all that is available on the tape. Unfortunately in the late nineties’, the “re-mastered” cd’s began to appear and I bought in. What a disappointment they were. Keep up the good work.

    Robert Buckner

    • There are some frequencies that might benefit from high-res digital transfers of analog tape…but not most.

  4. Hi Mark, Great campaign. I understand there’s no point in upsampling, and genuine hi-res recording will be swamped in the dross, but I thought an analogue master tape including all the recording and mastering equipment and choices, however limiting, is a true unique wave form no different from a live performance event (except that it includes recording equipment and engineering in the performance as it were), and would be captured better at higher bit rate, in the same way a hi res live recording. Why is it called resolution at all if it is only dynamic range that counts? Is there no such thing as micro dynamics? Are the present CD transfers of all the great Jazz studio sessions the best we can ever get? Why then do 2nd and 3rd or more generations of tape transfers sound so much better? Thanks and best wishes, martin (I just transferred 10yrs of live analogue tape recordings of ruined piano to 24/96. If these are down sampled are they just as good?)

    • It’s not only dynamics but also frequency response and bunch of other specifications that benefit from PCM digital. There is no such thing as “micro dynamics”, that’s a reviewer word just like “low level detail”. Every copy of an analog tape decreases the dynamic range by 3 dB…I don’t think they sound better if being more accurate to the original session is important. You don’t lose anything when you make a digital copy.

  5. “Demonstrating or recommending a recording that doesn’t benefit from conversion to high-resolution PCM digital specs is wrongheaded and will only disappoint retailers and consumers.”

    Mark, You know that I couldn’t agree with you more!
    BUT, Only yesterday you devoted the whole blog post to the Beatles reissues and was all jazzed up about being first on the list to get it. For Shame on you. This is music you already own how many times over?
    How much $ do you think the label will pry out of your pocket for this new “SUPER* reissue?
    Don’t do it, live by your own recommendation and tell them to stick this 1963 analog to digital conversion.
    It’s like a drug, Just Say NO

    • Come on Sal! I didn’t say the Beatles project were high-res. Analog sources can sound incredible. I’m looking forward to the 5.1 surround mixes and the videos.

  6. I was looking forward to Marks interview with Leo Laporte on Triangulation on Monday Sept 28 15, what happened? All I could think was Neil Young was on the same show promoting Pono and Leo’s support of Pono weeks back. So maybe because of conflict this interview couldn’t happen. I don’t know.

    • I don’t know when they’re going to broadcast my session with Leo…hopefully prior to the end of the KS campaign.

  7. For analog recordings being re-released in 5.1 the important thing is the mix and the mastering. I buy these in 96/24 when available because I figure that it can’t hurt. However I would still buy them in 16 bit audio if that is all that is available.

    • You’ve got the right idea.

  8. Dear Dr. AIX

    Regarding Hi Res audio my opinion is that although we buy equipment to cater 24 bit 96 / 192 k files, all the materiel I have ever found is up-sampled. Not real HD files.

    I made one file by myself using tascam DR 100 MII. (24 bit 96K)
    it sounds far better than every file I have downloaded.
    it is far sensible to make available real HD samples than trying to convince fans by articles.
    I feel that HI RES promoters should first make available few very high quality real HD files (not up-sampled) to download free of charge.

    Kind Regards,
    Ananda.

    • I hope you’ve had a chance to audition some of my recordings.

  9. Is it really the case that the major labels do’t have any high res music? I was under the impression that at least some of the new releases (not the reissues) by labels, like Decca, DG and Warner (particularly those you can download at 96/24) are high resolution.

    • Very few…they may record at 96 kHz/24-bits but they are heavily processed and then mastered, which effectively makes them no better than CD res.

      • I am thinking of classical recordings (both orchestral and chamber) purchased via qobuz or hd tracks. Are you suggesting I am wasting my money downloading the 24/96 versions instead of the cd editions?

        • Yes, most of the source files are not worthy of 96 24.

  10. If what you are saying is absolutely accurate, then why do 96/24 flac downloads of old records sound a lot better than the LPs did? (For example, the Pavarotti “Turandot.”) This is the part I don’t really get. My 50 years of listening experience tell me that there was more room ambience, more overtones, richer color — more sheer auditory information — in the original studio master tapes than we ever got to hear on the commercially mixed-down LPs, much less on CDs that degraded and limited the sound further. And in a 96/24 remastering from the original studio tapes, you finally get to hear all that additional information.

    Yet if I understand you properly, you seem to be saying that the additional information doesn’t really exist.

    We need to better understand what remixing decades-old tapes is all about, and how much difference that can make.

    • It’s certainly possible to produce recordings from older tapes or masters that sound different or better than previous vinyl LP or CD versions. This is due to mastering and the equipment used. I would transfer analog masters at 96 kHz/24 bits because I’d know that I didn’t lose any fidelity. But most masters don’t eclipse CD standards and don’t improve from higher sample rates and longer words.

  11. What sources do the record companies usually use for their “Hi-Res” transfers they later give to companies like HDTracks, PONO etc.? Do they transfer the actual two track master tape or a digital copy of that tape? If they use a digital copy, which resolution does that have most of the time? Is it possible they even copy from Sony’s PCM 1600, 1610 or 1630 systems?

    • For the albums that do exist in some form of analog tape (the master, master copy, or duping master), they are transferred to high-resolution digital. This doesn’t alter the fidelity unless they are remastered, which sometimes happens. For albums that were made using standard-resolution digital, they use the Sony 1630. These machines are still around and in widespread use in mastering facilities.

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