Is there a conspiracy for or against high-resolution audio and music? There are certainly a large number of interested parties that spew a lot of promotional materials in the fray regarding HRA. Maybe there’s a secret organization that is manipulating all things related to better music fidelity that’s working to advance a false agenda. This assembly of “experts” wants to maximize sales and profits by convincing the audio buying public that any uncompressed music track from any era with high-res specs is worth purchasing again. Come to think of it, I think I was a member of that group…and as of tomorrow, the first day of 2016, they can continue their misguided ways without learning the facts from me. I don’t know whether to be depressed about it or liberated.
But there is a counter argument professed by mastering guru Bob Katz. As I mentioned in a post about his appearance on Home Theater Geeks a few days ago (you can read the piece by clicking here), Bob has a bone to pick with the likes of HDtracks and other “so-called” hi-res music download sites because they have refused to offer a few of his productions as high-res music. He referred to the analytical approach used by the QA engineers at HDtracks as “the HRA Mafia”.
So what is it that HDtracks is doing that rejects some of Bob’s productions from their site? Well, you can go to the HDtracks site and read a page titled, “HDtracks Quality Commitment” and read up on their process of validating source files submitted to them for sale as high-res music.
The opening statement pretty much says it all:
“While other digital music stores may sell millions of tracks, it’s hard to be sure you’re getting the quality you expect. With HDtracks, you can be sure any title you purchase is at the advertised quality. We employ a team consisting of engineers, musicologists & music industry veterans that verify every hi-res title in our store has true 24-bit activity and proper frequency cut-off. HDtracks does not accept lower resolution files simply converted to a higher sample rate, and in these cases the native recording resolutions are requested. In the few exceptional cases where an album was mastered at a higher resolution than the multi-tracking or mixing, HDtracks clearly notes this in detail directly on the album page to the best of our ability to ensure transparency to our customers.”
It’s hard not to notice the not so subtle jab at PonoMusic, which claims to have the “largest high-resolution music catalog” but in reality offers 99.9% standard-resolution ripped CDs. But what about HDtracks? Are their claims to a higher standard valid?
The quality page on their website spells out their process in great detail. The first step is to “verify 24 active bits” using a software tool from Stillwell Audio called Bitter, which is described as a “Bitscope & Intersample Clip Monitor”. It’s available from their site for free (click here to get the tool.)
Figure 1 – The Bitter tool from Stillwell Audio allows you to verify the number of active bits in a digital audio file.
The tool allows you to verify that an audio file is actually using all 24-bits. If a file were originally recorded at 16 bits and then upconverted to 24-bits, the Bitter tool would report that processing. HDtracks’ QA team would fail that particular file as not high-resolution. And I would agree with them…it’s not a high-resolution audio recording.
I’ll continue with the email that Bob sent me regarding his take tomorrow.
For now Happy New Year! And thanks for a very productive year.