Dr. AIX's POSTS — 25 November 2015

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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.

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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.

(18) Readers Comments

  1. This explanation of “hi-res remasters” is very helpful in cutting through all the marketing BS of vendors offering so called better quality hi-res music. I am not saying that some of this music might not actually be better than the original offering but the point the author is making is it is not actual hi-res music as advertised.

  2. Good expose of the “mastering” process Mark!

    Alas, I think they missed a step that could have really been a big hit with the audiophile magazine audiophiles:

    Original 24/96 recording –> DCS(?) DAC –> RIAA EQ –> **VINYL CUTTING LATHE**

    **VINYL LP** –> Awesome tube pre-amp –> DSD/DXD ADC –> Digital download

    Given that they’re already polluting the original 24/96 resolution with the analogue tape step, why not go all the way and cut a pristine vinyl master to truly capture the “full” potential of analogue sound?! 🙂

    Keep up the good work… Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Exactly…although I think Stockfish Records does that already. Happy Holidays.

  3. Dr. Mark, how do you hold your tongue so well? Nice balance of information with minimal sarcasm, I do really get it. And, I lament that the potential of actual Hi Res music is unlikely to be fulfilled in the near term as you have documented so well.

    But, please keep it up, I’m sure I’m not the only one out here that recognizes and appreciates your efforts (as evident by the Kickstarter Campaign)!

    • Thanks…I’ve given up being angry. But I am disappointed at the lack of integrity by just about everyone involved.

  4. “Are they more valuable?”
    Absolutely, you’ll have more man-hours involved, analog tape costs, digital equipment wear/tear, etc.

    “Will they sound different?”
    They darn well should after going thru all those format changes. Notice I say different, NOT better. How in the world could they sound better after going thru a beating like that, specially with the analog tape format change in there at some point. Do we even need to discuss the measurable degradation that analog stage will induce?

    This is just getting beyond ridiculous IMHO. I’ve had a couple lively discussions on one of the audiophile websites where a number of members recommend using methods such as this, thought minus the analog part, where they put a file thru numerous digital changes claiming the final product to have superior sound quality do to “better” final filtering. I usually don’t go too far in the discussion since I don’t have the technical background to discuss filtering but common sense tells me that the original digital file has the best chance for sound quality. Changing formats 3-4 times or more could only affect the sound quality in a negative way if any.

    But of course they will have no part in any controlled ABX-DBT tests of their beliefs. ABX-DBT are know to be too unreliable according to them and the only true test is to “Just Trust Your Ears” in sighted uncontrolled listening.
    BS!
    Happy Thanksgiving and God Bless you and yours.

  5. Let me get this straight. They start with a 24/96 recording, send it though a DAC, then record it on an analog tape, play the tape back into an ADC, then resample it back to a range of resolutions? One of which is 24/96, what it started at???

    And they reckon it’s an improvement? LOLOLOLOL

    Why even bother with the tape stage? Why not just go DAD? Or even D-D resampling?

    • You got it. This is their “unique” process that uncovers the subtle nuances of the tracks.

  6. Don’t forget to add that you can charge more once you put your files through all this processing!

    • Oh yeah! This is all about hocus pocus and the chance to make more money.

  7. Sounds more like a de-master!

    The sleight of ear due to suggestion from advertising, and how shockingly effective it still is has been leaving me a bit disconcerted.

    Reading through so many threads and posts as of late shows considerably more acceptance of status quo.

    “Why do I need to learn what the virtues of an incredibly great dry aged steak, or how to cook one properly every single time when a Big Mac and a Coke tastes fine?”

    I put a very fine set of headphones on the ears of a friends son so he could hear an open backed set of cans that are accurate, open and have excellent extension.

    His review?

    “Ahhh, they don’t have any punch, and don’t look cool like Beats!”

    Terrible

  8. Sounds to me like NAXOS lays the golden egg and they turn it into chocolate for the gullible. Good work if you can get it. Bad for business in the long run when the egg is found to be hollow.

  9. I just bought Jeff Lynne’s new ELO album, and I am so disappointed with the sound production. Maybe it’s just me, but to get this product from such an experienced musician just baffles me completely.

    • Whats wrong, you don’t like a album with a dynamic range of DR7 with a min of 5 max of 8.
      Click here.
      I was very disappointed, I expected more from Jeff.

  10. Here is some Information about the recording of

    David Bowie’s: “The Next Day”:

    Recorded at 48/24, mixed analog at 96/24.
    Tracks 9 and 12 are recorded at 44/24 mixed analog at 96/24.
    Tracks 5 and 14 are recorded/mixed at 48/24.

    Out of curiosity, what is the reason doing it like that?

    • The reason is that different tracks, different engineers, and different facilities were involved in the production. Most commercial recordings are now captured at 48/24…not 95 kHz/24. Mixing through an analog console and then capturing at 96/24 is a complete waste of digital bits. Is suspect the engineer believed that the higher sample rate would make the file “high-res” and suitable for inclusion in the available “hi-res” catalogs.

      This kind of diversity is not uncommon. Sting has a recent recording done in a variety of formats.

  11. It may not belong here, but I always wanted to know, why most (or all?) of the 2-track master tapes
    have to be mastered before they are transferred onto a CD? Why don’t they do a flat transfer without changing anything of the original tape source, so that one really could hear what the artists heard in the studio?

    • Great question. Final mastering (as well as all audio engineering) is an art…different engineers using different equipment will arrive at different sounds. In reality, original masters and even original masters don’t require mastering. I was a mastering engineer for 13 years and worked on hundreds of records…most needed help. I don’t master my own recordings and I know Steve Wilson doesn’t either. The industry norm is to smash the dynamics and hype the high and low end…that’s just the way it is.

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