Rob Sabin, editor of Sound & Vision, wrote an “Editor’s Eye” post at their website yesterday titled “Why Hi-Res Audio Will Succeed”. I’ve known Rob for a number of years. He was in attendance at the CE Week events that we coordinated last June and he heard the high-end surround sound demo system that NAD, PSB, and AIX Records assembled. He was more involved in the high-definition TV shoot out portion of the program so we didn’t get a chance to chat.
He was also the primary contact for the CEA/CTA “Guide To Hi-Res Audio” and was largely responsible for pulling together the writers that contributed to the piece. I wrote several email to him offering my expertise but I didn’t hear back. He’s a long time writer and editor on all topics associated with video and audio. But he’s dead wrong about the prospects for Hi-Res Audio. In its current form and contrary to his predictions, Hi-Res Audio is doomed to failure. In fact, it’s already failed.
Rob points out that revving up the promotion of HRA through the partnership with the CEA/CTA might seem a “questionable affiliation” given that his online collection of websites feature products manufactured by the very people that will benefit from hyping Hi-Res Audio (the hardware meaning of the term). He states that he was “quick to sign up as the expert editorial voice for the project” in order to educate the public.
Rob claims to be able to hear the “the difference hi-res can make, especially in comparison to the stripped-down MP3 and AAC libraries or anemic streaming services the majority of consumers use today as their primary music source.” I would sure like to get more details about his experience with hi-res audio if he’s playing standard-res tunes through new hi-res audio gear. Others has routinely demonstrated that there is no audible difference.
The Guide that he and the CTA are so proud of is nothing but marketing spin, contains numerous factual errors, and continues the promotion of standard-resolution music transfers as something exciting and worthy of your dollars. The intent was, “… to remain more marketing focused”.
I won’t bother to get into the details of his irrational justification for HRA. All of the usual hyperbole is present in his pronouncements, “…we stand to bring a truly engaging and powerful music listening experience to many more people than with any development that’s preceded it, and to finally deliver to end users the full impact of what musicians and recording engineers are creating in their studios.”
What about the fact that the “music listening experience” of Hi-Res Music is old technology repackaged in “higher” resolution bit buckets that have no effect on the fidelity of the older masters?
Hi-Res Audio and Music have already failed. The mass market is rapidly abandoning physical media AND digital music downloads are losing out to streaming services. There is no market for real Hi-Res Music because there isn’t any supply. And he’s wrong when he compares the continuing refinement of video with the march to more and more pixels, better contrast ratios, deeper blacks, and even 3D. Audio’s march through generations of technology flat lined ten years ago and has reached a point where the fidelity of the delivery hardware exceeds the fidelity of the music. How can he defend his claim that, “…HRA is taking advantage of faster and wider Internet pipeline, along with cheaper processing and memory chips in our devices, to deliver better-than-CD-quality digital audio to audiophiles and mass market music lovers alike.” The music sources being distributed through this improved “high-tech” environment are oldies. The fidelity doesn’t improve by taking a newly remastered version of a 60s classic and transferring it to 192 kHz/24-bit PCM.
And the music industry isn’t waking up to the potential of HRA. They remain blissfully asleep as their businesses circle down the toilet. Engineers, producers, and labels continue to release over-processed, heavily mastered, and sonically neutered productions that satisfy the younger demographic. But they lack the fidelity that many of us enjoyed 30 years ago.
The only thing that’s inevitable about HRA music is that hardware and content companies will continue to spew falsehoods in the hopes that they can profit from selling the same stuff to unwitting consumers one more time. In all honesty, we’ve reached the end of line in advances in musical fidelity. The article closes by saying that HRA will become “the de facto standard for downloads and streaming”. The blue hi-res indicator light might illuminate on your Pono player but the experience is solidly stuck in the standard-res past.