AUDIO SHOWS Dr. AIX's POSTS — 07 January 2016

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I haven’t made it to the Venetian Towers to check out the high-end audio vendors yet…it’s on my agenda for today. But I don’t think I have to stand in front of the new Sony PS-HX500 turntable to evaluate the “hi-res audio” capabilities of this new addition to the Sony line of HRA devices. However, I will make my way to their rooms in search of answers about how the “hi-res audio” logo found it’s way on to the front of the elegantly designed turntable.

But there it is. Recall that the logo was developed by Sony to assist in the promotion and “standardization” of their new high-resolution audio initiative. Then they gifted the logo to the Japan Audio Society in an attempt to extend its reach. Soon other companies began to use the logo on their hardware. Even some software companies like Qobuz, the French download site that offers “hi-res transfers” as downloads and streams, applied the logo to the recordings on their site.

The logo made it to the CEA Audio Board but was contrary to their HRA definition so a separate “hi-res music” logo and definition were created. They’re all contradictory and meaningless.

160107_sony_turntable

Figure 1 – The new Sony PS-HX500 “hi-res audio” turntable. Notice the logo in the front right corner of the device.

The requirements for using the JAS logo are hardly rigorous (not specifying any tolerances to their specs) but they do say that a device must be capable of recording and reproducing 40 kHz. Here’s the page from the JAS requirements document.

150518_JAS_requirements

Figure 2 – The requirements for using the JAS “Hi-Res Audio” logo.

Vinyl LPs played on a turntable…even the best turntable on the planet…don’t meet these requirements. So including the HRA logo on the device further diminishes the credibility of the whole “hi-res” initiative. If they powers behind the “hi-res audio and hi-res music” campaigns have any credibility left (and in my mind they don’t…just read the “Guide to Hi-Res Audio” that S&V created in conjunction with the CEA Audio Board), they ought to counsel their member companies to be consistent in their messaging.

The Sony PS-HX500 may be a reasonably priced turntable but it’s being marketed as a transfer station too. It can connect to a Mac or PC and convert the analog output via USB to a hard drive in either DSD or WAV format. I was unable to learn whether they are using SACD level DSD at 2.8224 MHz (DSD 64) or one of the higher rates. I suspect they stuck with 64 x times the 44.1 CD rate. But the PCM spec calls for 96 kHz/24-bits, which is a definite step above the noise ridden and unusable DSD 64 spec. I was surprised to read that Sony will offer “editing” software along with the PS HX500 so that users can modify their newly digitized vinyl collections.

But knowing that you can’t do any postproduction processing using native DSD, I wonder what conversions the software will do to the DSD conversions prior to converting back to DSD. Sticking with 96/24 PCM is far simpler, better sounding, and universally playable.

I’m headed to the show for several hours and will provide a complete report ASAP.

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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.

(34) Readers Comments

  1. Hi Mark,

    This is really beyond reasonable! The only manufacturer that has so far advanced a list of requirements, and thereby an implicit definition of HRA, is now subverting it at the first chance available of using it as means of profit!

    My educated guess will be the same as yours, they will most likely base the application of the JAS logo on the A/D capabilities of their new turntable, with which they are creating a new provenance fallacy. The part of the system that guarantees or vouches for the HRA capability of the component, is not based on the quality of the original recording material and the obvious technological and physical constraints of the medium, and thus as long as the output file landing on your computer is a 24/96 format, or 64/128/256, etc., DSD format (finally for archival purposes), they will claim that the turntable is compliant with the specs of the JAS logo.

    In other words, another deliberately deceptive marketing ploy, and now applied to start selling obsolete playback systems under an already questionable definition, which is henceforth rendered moot by its very own proponent.
    The fact that SONY doesn’t appear to remember that in 1982 CDs – digital audio – definitively replaced and bested Vinyl and Tape, and analogue, and that they are now included in the technical capabilities that bested CD audio quality, is just a ridiculous and abusive aberration.

    As I have mentioned in the past, you should use your authority as a recognized engineer and academic, to formally denounce this through other means. People have already denounced SONY for installing DRM malware on user’s computers through audio CDs in an attempt to illegitimately and illegally secure markets and profits. This clearly fraudulent attempt should receive no lesser attention and blowback.

    This simple example of the most blatant and abusive snake-oil and BS coming from a major manufacturer and industry giant, should be alarming and outrageous to consumers, and it should be a good starting point for so called audiophiles, to start reflecting of whose interests they are really out there to defend.

    I hope that you or somebody else with the necessary expertise and credibility takes action against these Japanese clowns, and that they we show them that they can’t own industry and dictate industry standards all at once, let alone abuse that initial and unacceptable conflict of interest to defraud consumers for profit.

    Cheers!

    • I’m doing what I can. I think a petition might be a good start. I have the contacts for the JAS, for SONY, and lots of other manufacturers. Maybe if enough audio consumers signed the petition, they might get a clue. Stay tuned.

  2. Just absolutely ridiculous. The known and proven measurable flaws in LP production and replay put the complete reproduction system miles away from ever qualifying as a High Resolution playback system. You can’t change the laws of physics and you can’t make a silk purse out of a sows ear.

  3. Link to Sony PS HX500 Info Page

    “Breathe new life into analog masterpieces with DSD. Just hook up the PS-HX500 turntable to your PC via USB, play a record, and capture every aspect of the vinyl with DSD 5.6 MHz native conversion. Archive your precious record collection in High-Resolution Audio to a music server, take it out for a walk with your Walkman®, or just sit back and enjoy it on the high quality turntable.”

    • Thanks Bill. I should have looked further for technical specs on the new Sony “hi-res audio” turntable. I’ll update the post with some additional information. The key is the inclusion of 5.6 DSD because DSD64 doesn’t qualify for hi-res audio status (due to the low frequency response…noise after 22 kHz). It’s hilarious that they spew the same nonsense about 1-bit DSD. “Unlike the conventional PCM format, a 1-bit DSD audio stream more closely represents the nature of an analog audio waveform. The result is all the advantages of digital audio, including a frequency response in excess of 100 kHz, and ample dynamic range, but with the natural sound of an analog recording.”

      How can a knowing company want to brag about 100 kHz frequency range and conveniently omit mentioning that the dynamic range of such a system would be 6 dB (from the 1-bit they allow)?

      • Mark- while the concept of archiving to digital as a way to preserve the art, especially for the consumer, Sony has stretched the facts on this one.

        Further, what am I supposed to do with the DSD file I create? Put it on a Sony Walkman or HAP-Z1ES- both limited media players. DSD is not ubiquitous like PCM. Putting LP Archived as DSD on a Walkman is silly, and the HAP-Z1ES holds about 20,000 songs before it becomes unstable (Tech Folks- it’s in the HAPZ1ES Manual).

        Still, for a hobby or a side project, converting loved LPs to PCM with the Sony player could be fun. Personally, I don’t have the time.

  4. In the specs it does support DSD128:

    Sony PS HX500 Specs

    The internal A/D converter supports native conversion from analog to DSD 2.8 MHz or 5.6 MHz digital.

    • Thanks…I should have dug deeper.

  5. So far I have found nothing that would tempt me for one moment to trade my Empire 698 with a Shure V 15 Type V MR cartridge for. I have a cartridge that extends out to 45 KHz, an Empire 4000 D/III CD4 type and to my ears it sounds identical to my Empire 999VE which only extends to 20 kHz.

    There are few turntables that have large individually matched journal bearings machined to 1/100,000 inch and few tonearms that are dynamically balanced and have sapphire bearings.

    I note as a point of interest that when Shure announced the end of production of the V15 type V MR the Library of Congress bought out all of their remaining stock. The hollow beryllium cantilever was just too expensive to manufacture.

    The hallmarks of a good cartridge among other things are low dynamic mass, high compliance, excellent shielding from stray electrical and magnetic fields. High output helps too because low output MC cartridges need an extra 10 db of gain that is very expensive to obtain with low noise. Their low compliance and high moving mass require much more tracking force which accelerates record wear.

    Sorry Sony, no interest.

    • I’m sure your rig sounds amazing…but you’re still limited by the vinyl LPs that you play. Virtually all of them are made from analog tape or even PCM digital (some from high-res sources). The real compromises of vinyl LPs and great turntables are of no interest to me when I can live without those compromises with high-res PCM digital for a fraction of the cost and without the practical problems.

      • Absolutely correct. The capabilities of LPs are simply inferior in any meaningful way compared to the capabilities of RBCD. However, in a direct comparison, a factory CD on the Delos Label of Carroll Rosenberger playing water music on a Bosendorfer piano, played on a Toshiba 24 bit 192 kHz DVD player sounded identical to my ears to the same vinyl played on the Empire 698 turntable using the Shure V15 type V MR. I was quite surprised at that.

        There are advantages to LPs that have nothing to do with its technology. For example, dynamic compression increases gain at the end of every musical phrase increasing apparent reverberation before the next phrase. This enhances the sound on conventional stereo sound systems. If you burn a CD from a vinyl it will capture this too.

        As for response of vinyl beyond 20 kHz, the stress imposed by most moving coil phonograph cartridges is so great that it will either exceed the elastic limit of the vinyl permanently deforming it or actually shave it off usually within a few plays. Empire 999VE was tested at 1/4 gram tracking a special test record having a 20 kHz sine wave. After 1000 plays the manufacturer claimed the output was down only 1 db. In practical use, no cartridge I’m familiar with can successfully track most records at 1/4 gram. Usually I set tracking force at about 3/4 to 1 gram. the multifaceted stylus used in some types like CD 4 cartridges similar to Shibata types reduces stress by increasing contact area. By contrast elliptical styli reduce contact area to reduce pinch effect distortion on the inner grooves. Phonograph cartridge non linear distortion is typically orders of magnitude higher than CD players, channel separation is clearly inferior especially at high frequencies and of course at low frequencies where the signal is monophonic for vinyl. It is to the credit of recording engineers that they made the inferior technology of LPs work as well as it did. Despite having about 3000 LPs and quite a number of turntables in my house I rarely listen to them. They are a PITA.

        I build my sound systems to my own ideas and they do not sound like those you can buy. I build them to please only myself. In my best sound system there is no turntable. Not only would acoustic feedback be a major problem but in that system, a pop or click sounds like a cannon shot.

        • Funny you mentioned Carol. I worked with her many years ago…a wonderful lady and performer. Having done a simultaneous recording of Christian Jacob (music director and pianist for Tierney Sutton and amazing jazz/classical musician in his own right) to both high-resolution 96/24 PCM and analog tape ultimately to vinyl, both the artist and I found the sound dramatically different. I don’t understand your statement that, “dynamic compression increases gain at the end of every musical phrase increasing apparent reverberation before the next phrase”. This makes no sense to me. I haven’t experienced it. The vinyl LP that we made didn’t use any dynamic compression nor did the high-res PCM version. Digital is perfectly able to produce accurate reverberation. In fact, it does a much better job because of the increased dynamic range of the format.

          The resurgence of vinyl LPs may have to do with the difference in mastering between a CD/iTunes version and a vinyl LP. The can sound great…maybe better than the equivalent CD because the CDs are dynamically squashed vs. the vinyl LPs. That doesn’t mean that the format is better…just that the production procedures are different.

          • Close miking, that is close compared to where the audience sits hears a far higher percentage of direct sound and early reflections than those in the audience hear. Regardless of the microphone pickup pattern excessive reverberation on the recording all coming from the same direction as the source, namely the loudspeaker would make the sound appear as though it was inside the Lincoln Tunnel and you were on the outside. The only method that can produce a comparable ratio of reflected to direct sound as a live listening experience at a large venue is binaural recording where the microphones are located in the audience seating area. But binaural recording fails because the field from headphones is the equivalent of two scalars, not the vector field of a live performance. Therefore as soon as the listener turns his head even slightly, his brain comes to the conclusion that the sound is emanating from inside his head because the source turns with him. The time difference change required to trigger the direction detecting function of the brain is of the order of two to five microseconds. It is one of the most important survival strategies higher animals including humans have. The failure of binaural recordings played through headphones has been long known going back to at least the 1960s and maybe a lot longer.

            Concert hall acoustics consist exclusively of reflections which constitute over 90% of what the audience hears. But close miking loses almost all of the middle and later reflections making uncompressed CDs sound “dry”. As LPs must compress dynamics to accommodate their inherently limited range, two methods are used, peak limiting and automatic gain increase of low level signals. The later therefore amplifies the softest sounds which includes the fading reverberation relative to the direct sounds. This is most apparent at the end of each musical phrase and appears to make the RT longer. This is the reason people say LPs have more of what they call “air” or “spatiality” than uncompressed CDs.

            The flaw in the technology that prevents LPs, tape, digital systems from recreating the live concert experience is not in the equipment performance but is inherent in the concept of the method itself. It simply cannot recreate anything remotely similar to the sound fields heard in the audience no matter how it is manipulated.

          • There’s more to miking than how far you are away from the source with the microphone. I have no problem at all balancing the sound of the hall (the reverberation) with the direct sound during mixing because I have a number of microphones placed around the hall. This provides me the ability to remix from different perspectives rather than lock down the POV with a minimal number of microphones. It also means that I can deliver the sound of the ensemble to the end listener taking into consideration the final distance from the speaker to the sweet spot.

            Binaural recording technique has a following and I’ve done many recordings using the method. It works pretty well for headphone delivery and with clever processing can even deliver through speakers. David Chesky has worked with Edgar Choueiri from Princeton on expanding the playability of Binarual with some degree of success. But I find it too distant sounding…along with most more traditional minimal orchestral miking techniques. And I recognize that I’m in the minority with regards to this method…except for soundtracks, which are recorded close up. I think Hollywood does it very well.

            The claim that an audience hears 90% reflected sound depends entirely on how far one sits from the ensemble AND whether you measure the amplitude of the sound or time components. The size of the venue and whether it is full of people are also large factors. Close miking produces more presence compared to traditional miking but there is still plenty of ambiance captured by close microphones. The resultant recordings are “drier” than using a Blumlein Stereo pair at the edge of the stage but when combined with a pair of omni mikes in the rear of the hall allows one to balance any way they want.

            Your assertion that using close miking and producing an uncompressed CD results in a “dry” sound is comparative not absolute. I have made and released hundreds of uncompressed CDs that sound wonderful..and have plenty of reverberation. They may be drier than you prefer but the trade off for presence works for me and plenty of my customers (as well as reviewers). It’s true that when mastering for vinyl LPs dynamic processing is often used. It depends entirely on the source recording and the genre of the music. For jazz and classical music compression is generally avoided unless absolutely necessary.

            Mark…my experience obviously varies from yours. Using dynamic compression or expansion are choices made by mastering engineers and producers for a variety of reasons. I’ve never heard someone say that vinyl LPs have more “air” or “spatiality”. I have read lots of reviewers and customers say they are “warmer”…which for me means that they lack clarity in the higher frequencies. I mastered hundreds of CDs and vinyl LPs during the 13 years I worked full time as a mastering engineer…when I wanted more air in a project, I didn’t use compression or expansion. I used EQ in the upper register (13-15 kHz).

            Finally, I don’t endorse the goal of recreating the “live concert experience”. I think current technology can come remarkably close but I prefer to produce projects that maximize the fidelity and musical enjoyment of a live performance. Although, I’ve had many reviewers and customers write to tell me that my recordings sound like the musicians are in the room with them. It works for me.

          • The best concert hall acoustics create sounds no electronic music reproducing system can come remotely close to matching. It imparts qualities to sound many music lovers find very pleasing, even compelling. It alters a lot about perceived sound. It creates a sense of envelopment, increases the sense of power by creating the perception of space and filling it up over time as reflections die out. It alters tonality and perceived dynamics. The concurrence of reflections of one note with direct and earlier arrivals of other notes and their reflections creates harmonies and dissonances lost to recordings. The dying out of reflections and the pause until just the right moment enhances the dramatic impact of orchestral crescendo. No known artificial method can recreate these effects.

            Many agree with the eminent acoustician Leo Beranek when he says that Boston Symphony Hall is the best room for listening to music in the United States and one of the two or three best in the world. Others include Grossesalle Musikverein in Vienna, Teatro de Colon in Buenos Aries, and Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. Beranek has written several technical papers comparing and trying to understand them that are free downloads on his web site. He’s also written a number of books.

            The fact that most of the sound heard almost anywhere in an audience is due to reflected sound is confirmed again and again by measurements and by my own experience. If nothing else the man with the four letter name audiophiles loved to hate even though he was a professor of electrical engineering at MIT ever was worth paying attention to, it was that he measured 89% reflected sound 16 feet from the performing stage at Boston Symphony Hall and his graph showed as expected that the further back you went in the hall, the higher the percentage of reflected sound got. When I was 13 years old, I heard a symphony orchestra tuning up for a concert in the park with no band shell and before the amplifiers were turned on. How weak, feeble, and tinny it sounded compared to what it sounded like indoors. BTW, wherever you are, that sound is always the first sound from an orchestra you will hear for every note. The rest is due to reflections. Until these reflections are understood and can be convincingly reproduced, no method or sound recording and reproduction will ever come close to the real thing. That includes binaural recordings.

            The “they are here” problem which most sound systems don’t come close to solving is very different and orders of magnitude easier to solve than the “you are there problem.” Ironically, the mathematical model is exactly the same only applied differently. The they are here problem relies on the same room acoustics for both the original and the reproduction. Atkinson explains how he tried and failed to demonstrate a solution in Home Theater Geeks episode 84 around 30 minutes into the interview. When his audience told him how he failed, he said he was perplexed by the reason. My experience is that audiophiles are usually poor critical listeners.

          • All of this assumes you want what real reverb does. I record in Zipper Hall because of the spectacular acoustics (better than Disney and almost as good as Little Bridges in Pomona). I use the real reverb in my recordings. Most audio you experience…even jazz and classical recordings…are augmented with artificial reverb machines, which can do amazing things.

  6. I watched the Sony keynote presentation on the web. When they got to hi-res audio, the first product introduced was a new Bluetooth speaker. That pretty much says it all for their direction.

    • I’ll have to search for the Sony keynote. I had some hope for Sony and even contributed to some of their efforts. However, the direction that the HRA audio initiative has gone over the past several months is very disappointing. It’s buyer beware at every turn.

  7. Hi Mark,

    It just occurred to me, is this how the industry is sending files to the so called Hi Res download stores? It is rather funny to think that this turntable is being used in studios around the world to create the Hi Res files on sale on the pono website, don’t you think?

    However it is beyond my credulity that this is given the Hi Res logo and does make it painfully clear that the message for Hi Res is well and truly muddied to the point of blindness.

    And on another point I was looking on the 2L website to see if they have the MQA files for sale, and they do. The mystery for me at the moment is that one of the titles I looked at, had several resolutions available, with the specification of bits and Khz as you would expect, worringly the MQA file only says “original resolution”.

    So, in the best case scenario, for me, I still have to ask 2L for confirmation of the resolution that I am buying.

    I’ll say no more, as these are the very first files to be made available.

    The cynic in me says, that the description is part of the MQA licence, I hope not.

    All the best in 2016 and looking forward to the book.

    Gordon

    • I know several people working on the transfers at the major labels. They are not using analog vinyl LPs…except in very rare cases. But they do scramble to local and transfer the very best analog master or copy they can find. I’ll check with Morten at 2L and Bob at MQA about the specs.

      • Thank you Mark,

        I am keen to find out what the spec is, as I am actually keen on buying into MQA at the entry level. I am considering the Meridian director DAC for mobile use.

        Gordon

        • I’m going to post some thoughts about MQA in a post very soon…maybe today. The bottom line is that I don’t see the entire industry moving to a format that is proprietary to one company, requires the time and cost to reprocess every album into MQA, and which produces a very slight change in the fidelity of the finished product. I’m going to hold my thoughts until I get a chance to hear my own recordings with and without MQA. If it were a real time process, then the prospects might be very different.

  8. Hello Mark
    How dare these digital people, trying to soil and ruin the reputation of the only true music source left. It looks like the only HIgh going on with this subject is the HIgh income steam these products bring in. Enjoy the carnival Mark.

  9. They just want a piece of the vinyl-hype-cake.
    And that at any price – huh!
    A prime example of misleading marketing.
    I am afraid, that it will sell as hot cakes, though.

    • I think you’re right. Vinyl LPs and the associated hardware are getting a lot of buzz. I personally can’t imagine suffering through the cost and hassle of vinyl LP on either the production or consumption end…especially since the end fidelity is so much less than a good high-resolution file.

  10. Well, you can now, once again, get the Technics SL1200. They are starting back production. And it doesn’t have any of the offending logos.

    Technics sl1200 link.

    The two TT’s together make a heck of a laugh do they not mate?

  11. I suppose that by definition the transfer function it does meet the standard.

    It could be argued that it is not the fault of this product that the analogue master tape is less than 40kHz.

    As for ethics, well a different matter….

    Comments welcome!

    • That’s reaching…IMHO.

  12. The specifications all flew out the window with statement #2 shown on the requirements chart; The listening evaluation process must meet the manufacturers own highly biased and subjective “listening tests”. These meetings, uh listening tests must go something like “Well boys, we’ve put almost 4 hours of research in duplicating our ultra high tech turntable from 1976, add in the huge costs from the maintenance crew finding all that stuff in the basement so we could build a couple hundred Highly Retarded Against Progress They’re not as cool as our departments P & L statements. It’s got the bean counters blessing, so print us out some more of those Highly Revenue Advantaged Poop (or whatever we’re calling it this week) logos so we can get that bonus for Q1.”
    The truth of rule #2 further trashed HRA material and associated equipment standards. They just pooped all over Mark’s (& quite a few others)hard work & battles for some real meaning and distinction for what HRA could be. I had a Sony SACD propaganda sheet fall out of an old CD case the other day. We’ve all seen this BS dog & pony show before. It’s such a warm wonderful feeling to be taken for a ride and as a group of morons yet again…
    Please don’t let this crap discourage you from keeping up the good fight!

    • Thanks.

  13. I’m so burned by all the marketing bs with hd audio that I just don’t care anymore.
    Difference or not, there is literally nothing available in high res (apart from classical selections) that I, or most music fans for that matter even want. How many times can people buy the same classic albums from the 60-80’s again?
    I sometimes browse HD download shops just to be disappointed pretty much every time. It’s either (great) jazz & rock albums that everyone already owns, or some obscure half-talented cocktail singer who’ll bore anyone with an ounce of taste into tears. This can’t compete with the excitement of shopping for CD’s or records, where the possibility of finding something new and exciting is much greater, fidelity be damned.
    All this along with what we’re witnessing here, which is basically a total mockery of the HRA specification. It’s officially a joke now.

    • EDIT: whoops, meant to say HRA not HDA

      • I fixed it.

    • I’m prepared to call the whole HRA a miss.

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