Presentation, marketing, style, slick photos, and turning a clever phrase really do rule the audiophile marketplace. On the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday (and I wish you all a very pleasant one!), I’m mulling over a couple of things that passed my way this week. The first was an email I received from a reader asking whether he should purchase a particular album prepared by the 2xHD company and available through Naxos. I’ve written about their methods and claims previously (click here to read the prior article). I have no doubt that they are doing very good work bringing archived products to customers interested in “hi-res remasters”.
That’s what they call them. Until I went back and revisited their website (which I think is new), I hadn’t heard of this terminology. The message under the High Def Music tab includes a lot of marketing spin…and reference to “the most musical high resolution standard available”, which turns out to be the name of their company, 2xHD. This sort of reminds me of the competing claims issued by exercise companies about their “5-minute” abs workouts vs. another company that tops that by making their workouts only 4-minutes long. I saw an ad for a 30″ ab workout the other day. Maybe I should start another company called 4xHD?
“Not all hi-res remasters are created equal.” Obviously, the company isn’t in the high-resolution music business. They admit this when they describe what they do as creating “hi-res remasters”. They’re taking older analog master tapes and some hi-res digital files and remastering them using very high-end equipment (tubes, dCS converters, Telefunken and Nagra decks, Pyramix DXD/DSD DAW, and Kronos turntables)…and a very convoluted process that “enables us to dig deep in original recordings, to bring out all hidden information, without altering the music in any way. We uncover nuances, warmth, depth of field, and even the air around the musicians.”
“Once you hear HD, you can’t go back to MP3.”
The process involves a lot of transfers and conversions, which we know degrade the fidelity of the music at each turn. Here’s how they describe their “unique process”:
“Recorded in 96 kHz / 24-bit
*Mastered in PCM 352.8 kHz / 24-bit, 192 kHz / 24-bit, 96 kHz / 24-bit and DSD 5.6448 MHz, 2.8224 MHz
This album was mastered using our 2xHD proprietary system. In order to achieve the most accurate reproduction of the original recording we tailor our process specifically for each project, using a selection from our pool of state-of-the-art audiophile components and connectors. The process begins with a transfer to analog from the original 24bits/96kHz resolution master, using cutting edge D/A converters. The analog signal is then sent through a hi-end tube pre-amplifier before being recorded directly in DXD using the dCS905 A/D and the dCS Vivaldi Clock. All connections used in the process are made of OCC silver cable.
DSD and 192kHz/24Bit versions are separately generated, directly from the analog signal.”
A reader asked what I make of this explanation. Let me offer some commentary and I think you can come to your own conclusion.
A project (a Naxos recording) was original captured using PCM at 96 kHz/24-bits. To “improve” the fidelity of that original hi-res music master, 2xHD’s engineers transfers that hi-res file using very good converters (probably the dCS units) to analog tape (which adds noise, flutter etc.) prior to passing the signal through some additional tube equipment before being re-recorded to DXD at 352.8 kHz/24-bits (which is actually PCM once again but without the anti-aliasing filters). They say that they aren’t modifying the sound…so there’s actually no remastering going on. Unless you regard going through all of these formats is equivalent to “remastering”. As a master engineer for 16 years, I don’t consider their convoluted path to be mastering.
The DXD file is then used to generate, “the most popular download HD formats – 24Bits/96kHz, 24Bits/88.2kHz or 24Bits/48kHz. 2xHD also offers 24Bits/176.4kHz or 24Bits/192kHz, as well as DSD and DSD 2 formats for high end download websites.”
“A higher resolution transfer leads to a more open sound and the feeling that there is no ceiling because there is less digital filter.”
Would it surprise you to learn that the best version of the file is the one that Naxos originally recorded? Yep, that version has the most fidelity, the highest dynamic range, the most accurate speed, the best frequency response, and the best internal sample timing.
I found several of the 2xHD Naxos albums on my own iTrax.com website…the original 96 kHz/24-bit files. These files have not suffered through the 2xHD standard process.
I recommended that the reader not purchase the “hi-res remastered” version of the album under consideration. If he wants a bona fide high-res version, download the original.
It occurs to me that I could take my entire catalog of 96 khZ/24-bit masters and copy them to analog tape and then make them available at “any of the popular download formats…including DSD. Are they more valuable when they’ve been sent through a “unique” process? They will sound different.