It’s finally arrived and what a complete disaster it is. I’m talking about the “Guide To Hi-Res Audio”, which was conceived by the CEA Audio Board (of which I’m a member until the end of the year) and executed by Sound & Vision magazine. The idea was to create a series of brochures that would explain Hi-Res Audio to retailers so that they could sell you on the “benefits” of this new and exciting development in music reproduction. But it turned out to be a piece of marketing fluff devoid of facts. You can check the first installment out by clicking here.
I participated in the phone calls, listened to the discussions, and at the last possible moment spent hours going through the documents…line by line…and correcting the mistakes and trying to make the discussion easy and truthful. Needless to say, the response from the CEA staff and other members of the board was not positive. My input was not welcomed.
Now that the “Guide to Hi-Res Audio” has been made public, I’d like to offer my review of each section. Part I is titled:
“FAQ: Understanding Hi-Res Audio and why you want it.”
The first and most fundamental question…and one that remains unanswered despite months of discussion, dozens of documents, and the present Guide…is “What is Hi-Res Audio?”
The guide describes Hi-Res Audio (HRA) as offering the highest digital sound quality including “greater sound clarity and detail than MP3s and other compressed digital audio formats. Typically, hi-res downloads are a minimum of 96-kHz/24-bit, with 192-kHz/24-bit becoming increasingly popular.”
The page on the web site show includes the JAS “Hi-Res Audio” logo…you know the one that is limited to hardware. Just this week another article discussed the successful adoption of the “Hi-Res Music” logo by the major “hi-res music” download sites. Make up your mind…it can’t be two things at the same time.
And stating that “hi-res downloads are a minimum of 96-kHz/24-bits” only describes the size of the delivery container. The critical question is how much fidelity exists in the source format…which is usually analog tape or even CDs!
HRA describes equipment…players, servers, DACs, amplifiers, components, and speakers that are supposed to meet the minimum requirements issued by the JAS. Consumer electronics companies…especially Sony…have been slapping the logo on their new hardware and bragging about the specifications of the new units.
To say that HRA hardware has the potential to provide “greater clarity and detail than MP3s and other compressed audio formats” isn’t saying much. Compact Discs have had that capability for over 20 years!
FAQ 2 asks, “What audible benefits does Hi-Res Audio provide?”
Remember that HRA pertains to hardware…so when the author answers this frequently asked question with, “Hi-Res Audio tracks capture the details, instrument and vocal timber and textures that listeners typically sacrifice when listening to MP3s, CDs or streamed Internet music and allows music to be heard as the artists originally intended”, he’s not doing anything to help clarify things. In fact, not having done the research to know that HRA is only for hardware makes any further reading iffy.
I know my spelling isn’t perfect, but do you trust someone who doesn’t know the difference between “timber” and “timbre”? In a widely published guide that has undergone months of preparation, this is embarrassing.
“Timber” is what you say when you’ve sawed through a tree trunk and it’s about to fall over…or the generic word for wood. “Timbre” is the tone color of a sound or individual instrument, which I think is what the author was trying to express. But he shouldn’t be talking about the timbre of instruments or voices and details when HRA doesn’t apply to music productions. And even if we accept that he meant to say Hi-Res Music (or perhaps in Panasonic’s world Hi-Res Sound), it’s still incorrect because CDs don’t sacrifice these attributes…compact discs do a great job of capturing the fidelity of virtually all archival recordings.
And don’t get me started on this “music as the artists originally intended”. Who came up with this marketing riff? Hi-res whatever doesn’t do anything to insure that we get what the artists wanted. The artists don’t approve the vast majority of new high-resolution transfers available on the “Hi-Res Music” sites. And new productions suffer at the hands of mastering engineers and record label executives…we’ll never be able to hear the original sources mixes except perhaps from purists like Steve Wilson (thank you Steve).
I feel compelled to comment and correct the “Guide to Hi-Res Audio” because I served on the board that conceived this document. I begged to be included in the writing and review process but that didn’t happen.
More to come…