Dr. AIX's POSTS — 13 November 2015

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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…

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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.

(35) Readers Comments

  1. A.S. Mark, since it is very well-known that any CD recording can be easily turned into Hi-Rez, why should one bother to purchase your sound tracks?

    * Hi-Res Audio … offering … greater sound clarity and detail than MP3s

    An MP3 upsampled to 192 kHz will sound with as much clarity & detail as 192 kHz recorded audio has !

    • Jay…the statements you make are so nonsensical that I usually don’t respond. This is another one of those comments.

      • All this bases itself on pure experience. I find your statements nonsensical, if anything.

        • Mark, Jay’s comments have NEVER made any sense. He’s obviously a troll.

          • I know…but I try to polite and accommodating to everyone that comments.

          • Why even approve them for publication. They are an insult not only to you but to the readers as well. He makes no argument that can even be addressed, he only makes ridiculous nonsensical attacks that have no validity no matter what a readers position is on HDA. Ban him.

          • You will not see any additional posts by Jay.

  2. Do what you can Mark, don’t let them muzzle the real facts.

    “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”

    That was Neil Young’s marketing spin for the Pono headstarter IIRC.
    I detect a attempt by the CEA/CTA to appease and include the “analog is God” crowd in the undercurrent of this marketing approach. They’ve run like roaches in the light from the real fact that the only TRUE HDA recording are those that came off the mic’s and went straight to a modern ADC never seeing the analog state until playback.
    Going back to the best of the analog masters and converting them to a 24/196 file will offer the public the best possible reproduction of that old recording but it still will NEVER be a High Definition product. The greatest of the analog recorders can offer a very good sound quality but just like the vinyl LP, the measurements of the medias capabilities and weaknesses reveal that they are NOT in the same ball park as modern digital. The subjectives can make all the claims of the superior sound quality they hear from analog they want, but the facts and measurements of the advances in digital technology we’ve made in the last few decades can not be ignored and I refuse to be PC on the subject.
    Truth is Truth and BS is BS.

  3. To see a so-called professional organisation deliberately fudge the facts is a disgrace and it makes them no better than the snake oil merchants that exist in the hi-end audio market.

    • Cormac, this is less about the organization and more about the individuals and the companies they represent. The CEA/CTA is a member dependent organization that can’t afford to do anything that would diminish the business of their member companies. As I experienced the process from the inside, the process was led by another organization and their point person. The CEA audio board simply followed the path of least resistance…and most profits. They got what they wanted and I’m sure they will do very well with their campaign.

  4. Just look at politics. Politicians who tell a truth that special interest groups don’t want, get unfunded or knocked out.

    • You’re absolutely right…and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. But I was. Even without my involvement they produce and support contradictory positions.

  5. Nope, could not leave that wood alone , I had to prod it with a stick and comment
    😉

  6. Disgusting – really disgusting! I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read the Sound and Vision piece. It follows the same old marketing approach we have had for years – say it often enough and they will believe it (and spend incredible amounts of money buying the products)! You will notice they never offer any credible data or ABX testing results to support their claims. The question is – is it too late to reverse this now that a such a seemingly credible organization has put their stamp of approval on such a misguided specification?

    How can we mount a campaign to restore some truth into the discussion of High Quality Audio, and the education of the music loving public? One would think that visiting the many forums and introducing the real evidence would eventually make an impact. But then I read the typical responses when this is tried and it is obvious that most minds are tightly closed and seem to believe (or want to believe) that the answer has to be expensive and consist of the highest possible sampling rate and bit depth stamped on the label. The reason I care is that I have spent a whole lot of time and money chasing the “holy grail” of high quality music reproduction before I realized that product specifications, in most cases, are not the answer. Above SACD more money spent = little if any increase in quality of the music I listened to. So I switched my research to better understand how digital music is produced and then reproduced at the listening end. The light came on! So I would like to help prevent another generation (this one may be too far gone) from going through the same frustrating/expensive process I have, and instead concentrate on finding recordings that have been produced from high quality masters at 24/48k or 24/96k. Then try them out as stereo or multi channel , legacy or object, to see which they like best and have fun with that rather that chasing the holy grail promised by product vendors.

    Where do we go from here? Your ideas or suggestions would be appreciated.

    • Sound and Vision was hired by the CEA Audio Board…and the board got what it wanted. They have a set of polite, uninformed fluff articles with nice images but no facts. The use of the fabled “stairstep” graphic showing the difference between MP3 audio, 16 and 24-bits, and the analog original is complete and utter nonsense…but there it is in the guide.

      • They included a stairstep graphic, but they were very careful to not state that this graphic represented the output of a DAC. The text immediately preceding the graphic is about the digital data input to the DAC. The text after the graphic is about the DAC and states “it’s necessary to pass this data through a digital-to-analog converter to reconstruct the original waveform.” They are trying to have their cake and eat it too. They get to both include the stairstep graphic and to say the DAC will reconstruct the original signal.

        Even accepting that the stairstep graphic shown is for the input to the DAC, there still is a problem with the mp3 graph. The mp3 graph exaggerates and misrepresents the difference between mp3 and 16-bit, and the mp3 graph only shows 9 complete cycles while the other graphs show 10 complete cycles for the same time period. Why doesn’t the mp3 graph represent the same frequency as the original signal?

        • Good points…but wouldn’t it have been easier to create an accurate graphic to avoid the confusion?

          • They could have avoided causing confusion by creating a graphic that showed both the digital input and the analog output, but in this case confusion appears to be the goal of the graphic.

          • They first have to accurately define the meaning of Hi-Res with regards to music production and reproduction.

    • “… The nature of man is such that, he loves a lie, therefore, he shall believe a lie.” The book of Proverbs.

  7. At the end of the ‘Guide to…’ there is a section on ‘Highres and the art of provenance.
    Almost anything, written and quoted there, simply contradicts the definition of highres from the previous sections – and makes the promise of finding a lot of ‘highres music’ in the recommended fileshops absurd.
    But most readers probably won’t read the whole article and won’t notice that!

    • I insisted that the topic of provenance be included in the guide…after all, I was the one that initiated using the term over 10 years ago. Funny that the author quoted a number of individuals about the concept but didn’t bother checking with me…although he and I know each other. The whole idea of provenance is to establish expectations around particular pieces of music. The value of the “Guide to Hi-Res Audio” is just a notch above zero…too bad they had a great opportunity.

  8. Enjoy reading your posts, Mark, even if sometimes I don’t understand all that’s being discussed. Not being an engineer I don’t have any clue about mixing, mastering, mic placement, compression, etc. but I do know
    I enjoy listening to music that sounds good and is produced well. I wanted to say thanks for giving a shout out to Steven Wilson. He’s one of the most talented musicians out there today, and the production quality of his albums is without peer, in my humble opinion…and that includes his remixes/remasters of older, non “hi-res” albums by Jethro Tull, Yes, etc. Glad to see that he’s on your radar. The 96/24 5.1 mix of his latest album “Hand. Cannot. Erase.” is a sonic masterpiece, and I hope the people who vote for the Grammy’s give him the kudos he deserves this year in the Surround Sound category.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Thanks Keith. I’m a member of the Grammy organization and I wouldn’t bet on any recognition for Steve…they committee usually looks to the highest celebrity value. We’ll see.

  9. Mark,

    When there’s deliberate misrepresentation of scientific facts, digital technology as well as when the work of serious scientists and engineers is at stake, not to mention academics and educators like yourself, there’s no need to just seek allies within the industry; there’s a whole bunch of professionals – aside from tech savvy, informed and educated consumers – who will simply not stand for this kind of abusive practices and who will definitely support you or put their name on an open letter or even more.

    Cheers!

  10. But you very well know, Mark, that if the ‘idea of provenance’ had gotten first priority, there would be a lot of music file merchants, who would not be able to sell their socalled highres products for an extra money.

    • The download sites are not the bad guys…well at least most of them. The Cheskys started the whole thing with the major labels and they get what they get from them. It’s when Ponomusic showed up that the whole thing went into the toilet. I disagree with the naming of standard-res music as hi-res music when placed in a new high-res delivery container but they won’t change now or they would lose out to their competitors.

  11. Dr. Aix, the guide is not so bad for consumers. What is amiss is your “strict” definition that HiRes must come from a “native digital” HiRes recording. This is nonsensical as anyone that has listen to Analog Tape Masters know they actually sound as good as HiRes native recordings or even perhaps a little better. I am glad to see the guide somewhat indirectly agrees with this assessment. You need to stop barking up the wrong tree and get onboard with the HiRes listening revolution instead of acting like Dr. Sheldon Cooper saying it’s not native digital therefore it can’t be HiRes. There is way too much focus on the numbers these days and way too little focus on the sonic listening experience.

    How does CTA define Hi-Res Audio?
    To ensure consistency, Consumer Technology Association (CTA)®, Digital Entertainment Group (DEG), the Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing and various music labels have joined together to create a technical definition of Hi-Res Audio. According to CTA:

    “High-Resolution Audio is lossless audio that is capable of reproducing the full range of sound from recordings that have been mastered from better than CD quality music sources.”

    • This site and my viewpoint may not be the best fit for you. If the subjective feel good analysis you favor is what counts than analog is great. As far as dynamics and frequency extension and just about every other parameter for measuring accuracy in sound, then high-res digital comes out ahead. I believe the designation is important and not “barking up the wrong tree”. Elevating everything that has every been recorded to high-res if it’s transferred to 96 kHz/24-bits is incorrect.

      • “Elevating everything that has every been recorded to high-res if it’s transferred to 96 kHz/24-bits is incorrect.”

        On that we can definitely agree. But ruling out “all’ Analog Master Tape Recordings an not being HiRes is just as egregious an error.

        HiFidelity is HiFidelity whether analog or digital source. That’s all I’m saying. The numbers do not tell the whole story of all that goes into HiFidelity Recording & Reproduction. If they did, CD would not be dying. But if you want to get into the numbers I am more than willing to accept the challenge, just be sure to include in the discussion digital clipping, quantization noise, jitter, dithering, aliasing, brick wall filtering, etc. and not focus exclusively on dynamic range, frequency response, and wow & flutter.

        • OK I won’t rule out all analog reel to reel recordings. The esoteric machines that are custom built such as the 2″ two-track machine running at 30 ips can approach 96 kHz/24-bit fidelity. But the vast majority of archived master tapes are 15 ips 2-track stereo on 1/4″ tape. And I regard these tapes as wonderful but not high-resolution by my definition, which is to say that they don’t meet or exceed the capabilities of human hearing. You’re welcome to disagree and have your own definition. You’re welcome to like the sound of analog tape over digital…many people do. That doesn’t elevate the specifications or change the rather straightforward realities of analog tape recording and reproduction. I don’t really want to argue your personal preferences…we disagree on the definition. Fine.

          • Ok fine but it’s not really personal preference as I listen to HiRes Digital FLAC, Audiophile Vinyl, and 1/4 & 1/2″ 2-Track 15ips Analog Tape. I do admit analog tape has its “sonic preferences” as I feel (yes, somewhat subjectively) that it best represents the sonic reproduction of music for human hearing. It probably has something to do with the high fidelity representation of the harmonic content, something which by the way we are not specifying well except at low level single tone frequencies. How they are all combining, changing, and interacting, now that’s a fascinating topic. I wish you would spend some time experimenting, focusing on, discovering and measuring the “unknown parameters” or currently unmeasured parameters of what makes sound recording and reproduction really tick at the highest levels. Now that would be something of high interest to all. Instead of just saying I’m HiRes you’re LoRes the specifications tell me so. Anyone with half an ear can tell you analog tape adds life and vitality to the sometimes sharp clean but clinically cold digital sound.

            I can see we will probably have to agree to not agree on your HiRes definition.

            “And I regard these tapes as wonderful but not high-resolution by my definition, which is to say that they don’t meet or exceed the capabilities of human hearing. ”

            Why? Because I sincerely doubt you listen to music at near the threshold of pain or that you record at max level or that you can even hear a 20KHz tone at any level. Thus for all practical purposes “some” of these 1/4-1/2″ 2-Track 15ips Analog Tape Masters reproduce the musical sound to as good or better level of sonic fidelity than HiRes Digital at any of the current technological levels. Take Care. Analog Man signing out …

          • Very little push back from me. I agree that there are lots of analog recordings that I would prefer to listen to over plenty of PCM digital recordings…but I think that has more to do with the production process than the format.

            A statement like, “Anyone with half an ear can tell you analog tape adds life and vitality to the sometimes sharp clean but clinically cold digital sound” perpetuates the myths associated with both formats. PCM is not “clinically cold digital sound”…perhaps you’ve experienced this but I believe I have more than half and ear and would put my extremely clear, transparent, noiseless, digital tracks against a the “life and vitality” of analog tape any day of the week. Go with you preferences but avoid feeding the myths that others have spouted for many years.

          • Many myths, not all, but more than a few have roots and anchors in truth and reality. This is not feeding a myth but is telling of one’s own personal listening recording & reproduction experience. I do not have a dog in this fight I enjoy the benefits of both formats. We should all be coming together to push the state of the art in both domains to achieve the highest fidelity recordings possible. To be precise, I said “the sometimes sharp clean but clinically cold”. Sometimes does not mean all the time. You might be surprised but my preferred listening mode is to monitor the play head while recording HiRes FLAC onto 1/4″ 2-Track @ 15ips Tape. To my listening ears it gives the most fire, vitality, and life to the music. Many others have discovered and reported on this, so it is more than a mythical preference. But to each his own. It is good to have choices, good choices. Good lick with the book. I hope there is a chapter on HiRes Analog Tape.

          • Thanks. I’m sure I’ll be writing about analog tape…but IMHO it’s an oxymoron to say “hi-res analog tape” given my definition of what qualifies as high-res. Analog tape is great but just doesn’t reach the specs I require.

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