AUDIO SHOWS Dr. AIX's POSTS — 10 January 2016

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My visit to the International 2016 CES Show was very different than previous years. As some of you may remember, I solicited funds from readers to help defray the costs of participating in the “Hi-Res TechZone” located in the Bellini Ballroom of the Venetian Hotel. The organizers made a great sales pitch and assured those of us that signed that there would be lots of traffic and attention paid to “hi-res audio”. They were wrong. The only time the room was filled was during the panels and sessions…AND when Neil Young was given an hour to push his high-res agenda. So the DEG and CEA didn’t bother to try the same thing again.

They did have several sessions at the main convention center on Wednesday and Thursday, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend. However, I did get a chance to spend some time checking out the rooms in the Venetian. I took the elevator all the way to the 35th floor and worked my way down through the large suites and the regular hotel rooms.

One of my first stops was the Mobile Fidelity suite. I’ve known these guys for a long time and have visited their headquarters in Sebastopol, California more than once. They are one of the original audiophile “reissue” companies and have a very solid reputation for getting the best sound from original master tapes. They did is first to gold CDs and have subsequently released SACDs, and vinyl LPs.

160110_mofi_room

Figure 1 – The MoFi room at the Venetian Hotel.

It was nice to see what MoFi has been up to lately. They’ve gotten into turntables (who hasn’t?) and are continuing to reissue classic records on vinyl and SACD. They haven’t secured the rights to file downloads like HDtracks and others. MoFi’s market is for physical discs. And they take it very seriously.

I own a few of MoFi albums (including “Alone Together” by Dave Mason…one of my favorite records) and can attest to their attention to detail. However as I reviewed their website and read about their innovative “technologies”, I couldn’t help but be a little disillusioned. First, they opted to release SACDs instead of using high-resolution PCM formats like DVD-Audio or Blu-ray. The hyperbole they use to describe the GAIN 2™ Mastering Technology for Ultradisc UHR™ Hybrid SACD and Ultradisc II™ 24kt Gold CDs is more marketing spin:

“A few years ago – with higher resolution formats on the horizon – the vision of GAIN 2™ began. As it stands today, GAIN 2™ is one of the greatest technical advancements in analogue and digital technology in the last ten years. It consists of a series of critical modifications and new components to Mobile Fidelity’s proprietary mastering chain.

We feel that GAIN 2™ has come extremely close to meeting this goal. The key accomplishments of GAIN 2™ System are 1) the ability to extract all the musical information as possible through the Ultra High bandwidth analogue tape playback system with proprietary custom tape playback heads, reproducer electronics and 2) transparently capturing and storing that information with the Direct Stream Digital recording system.”

Everyone…including myself…likes to portray their technology and processes as revolutionary. But GAIN 2™ is NOT one of the greatest technical advancements in audio. I do believe that they do a better job of transferring standard-resolution analog tapes (sometimes the masters and sometimes safety copies) than the large record labels. They have a highly modified Studer tape deck (done Tim De Paravicini, a guru in analog transports), which allows them to make very good transfers.

But they are capturing and putting those excellent transfers on SACD using DSD 64. They want us to believe that they have the equipment to “extract all the musical information as possible through the Ultra High bandwidth analogue tape playback system” and then they cripple whatever benefits they may have achieved by using an encoding format that covers all of the ultrasonics with high frequency noise! The frequency response of SACDs doesn’t extend beyond 25 kHz due to the noise shaping required to maximize the dynamic range in the audio band. So why bother?

When discussing GAIN 2™ Ultra Analog™ System for Vinyl their marketing speak gets even more questionable. The process takes the analog tape and cuts a new lacquer at half speed. They claim, “It is worth noting that independent studies have confirmed that the GAIN 2 Ultra Analog™ system can unveil sonic information all the way up to 122kHz!” If you thought the JAS was overreaching with their requirement for 40 kHz in a “hi-res audio” system, I can’t imagine how you feel hearing that partials at 122 kHz can contribute “sonic information” to your listening experience. There are some analog tape recordings that exhibit ultrasonic frequencies, but not many. If analog tape is the source and vinyl LPs are the destination, then there won’t be any need for frequencies of 122 kHz. In fact, getting the entire audio band on a vinyl LP is challenging enough. And don’t even think about vinyl LPs and adequate dynamic range.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about my very engaging visit to the Chord Electronics suite.

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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.

(20) Readers Comments

  1. Anything coming on MQA?

    • Yes, stay tuned. I’ll be writing some thoughts on my visit with MQA and Robert at the CES 2016 show…and was promised answers to my questions by the end of the month.

  2. Disappointed you haven’t mentioned the release of MQA. I would have thought you would have given a listen.

    • I’m getting there…I’ve heard it several times. Stay tuned.

  3. Hi Mark,
    I find this all very distressing.
    Remember the days when people like you were actually appreciated and respected for your knowledge? A time when people were happy to learn and move “forward?” They were exciting times!
    Today, the consumer “must” be kept in the dark. Everything is dumbed down, including our audio. Everybody, including one Mr. Waldrep must be kept in his place and be ridiculed if he dares attempt to push the barriers.
    The bean counters rule….make no mistake.
    Mark, you may be fascinated to learn that “Adele’s” new album is sold on CD here in Australia for $20. The inferior vinyl edition is $45. The ONLY advantage of the vinyl edition is that you can read the cover.
    Many thanks for your efforts.

    • How true and well said Warren. If you don’t march in close formation with the leaders of the cult they try their best to discredit you and to make you look foolish. I’ve been at this since the mid 60s but things are worse now than I’ve ever seen them. With each day the words of Peter Azcel become truer.

      The gullibility of audiophiles is what astonishes me the most, even after all these years. How is it possible, how did it ever happen, that they trust fairy-tale purveyors and mystic gurus more than reliable sources of scientific information? It wasn’t always so. Between the birth of “high fidelity,” circa 1947, and the early 1970s, what the engineers said was accepted by that generation of hi-fi enthusiasts as the truth. Then, as the ’70s decade grew older, the self-appointed experts without any scientific credentials started to crawl out of the woodwork. For a while they did not overpower the educated technologists but by the early ’80s they did, with the subjective “golden-ear” audio magazines as their chief line of communication. I remember pleading with some of the most brilliant academic and industrial brains in audio to fight against all the nonsense, to speak up loudly and brutally before the untutored drivel gets out of control, but they just laughed, dismissing the “flat-earthers” and “cultists” with a wave of the hand. Now look at them! Talk to the know-it-all young salesman in the high-end audio salon, read the catalogs of Audio Advisor, Music Direct, or any other high-end merchant, read any of the golden-ear audio magazines, check out the subjective audio websites—and weep. The witch doctors have taken over. Even so, all is not lost. You can still read Floyd Toole and Siegfried Linkwitz on loudspeakers, Douglas Self and Bob Cordell on amplifiers, David Rich (hometheaterhifi.com) on miscellaneous audio subjects, and a few others in that very sparsely populated club. (I am not including The Audio Critic, now that it has become almost silent.) Once you have breathed that atmosphere, you will have a pretty good idea what advice to igno

  4. Love those TAD CE-1 Speakers that they had in that room! 🙂

  5. Hello,

    Was it 2015 or 2016 your visit ? :-))

  6. “I own a few of MoFi albums”

    Didn’t you once say you don’t own a turntable? Anyhow all is not lost. LPs make great cake plates for gifting home made cakes.

    RCA CD4 quadraphonic vinyl of necessity had response to 40 kHz. However, it took a Shibata type stylus tracking at very low force to keep from wiping the outband signal for the rear channels off the record in a few plays let alone detect it for decoding. The higher the frequency the greater the acceleration and therefore stress on the vinyl. Once you reach its elastic limit, it’s gone, deformed for good. The other way is to just shear it off with an elliptical stylus at say a couple of grams. That should probably do it too. They say dogs can hear to 40 kHz. Bats, around 100 kHz. If you have a pet bat, I’m sure he’ll enjoy thinking he has company.

    • I do not currently have a turntable…but the albums I have are Gold CDs.

      • Got a pet bat? No belfry should be without one.

        Just out of curiosity, why do audiophile sound systems have to look so damned ugly? In the old days they put them in nice custom built furniture that looked like they belonged in a home. Today they just stick them out in a room and make it look like an electronics laboratory? Even the equipment itself looks ugly. I don’t know if it’s really any better performing than in the old days but some of that vintage equipment was really nice to look at and use. Today, it’s all blah.

        • I think the designers of high-end equipment do a pretty decent job with the look of their products. Although, it does get out of hand when form doesn’t follow function.

  7. On the back of the 1970 cd version of the Dave Mason ‘Alone Together’ you can read this:

    ‘This compact disc contains program transferred from analog tape and therefore may contain some tape hiss and other anomalies that exist with analog recordings’.

    Different times then – the did not try to hide the backdraws of analog recording.

    • I’m good with that. This is exactly what the industry needs…provenance and honesty.

  8. I recall reading an article (perhaps in “Audio” Magazine – it was a long, long time ago) where there was some concern about the size of the vinyl molecules being close to the distance that a 20kHz signal would need, particularly on the inner grooves of an LP. So 122kHz would require some significant improvement in vinyl chemistry, not to mention a significant improvement in old analog tapes.

    • You can say anything in a marketing piece.

  9. So, based on your post comments about “Alone Together” by Dave Mason I had to get a copy to have a listen myself. Very nice, Amazon had it for $7.49 on Prime with free shipping!!! Not the MoFi version but still quite nostalgic in the sound. I knew the primary hits, but, songs like “World in Changes” I had not heard and enjoyed quite a bit!! The cover art available online sucked, so I scanned my own (that’s a common problem with all cover art I find).

    I have all the Dave Mason vinyl from 1974’s “Dave Mason” but nothing earlier. This was a great Saturday morning listen. Thanks.

    • I absolutely love this record…the sound, the guitar solos, the tunes, the lyrics, and his vocals. Glad you got your hands on it. I recorded Dave doing a bunch of his tunes acoustically.

      • Mark,

        I have enjoyed this album a lot since I received it. I succumbed to the Roon fever as well in the past couple of weeks (my personal jury is still out on that software) and so read up all the info on this album via that program as well. Seems that by most accounts this disc represents Dave Mason at his finest, with the later efforts considered by many to not be as good.

        I have a lot of college memories to the later tunes, which I will stick with, but certainly am liking the harmonies, the layering of instruments and other high points of this album. Take care and thank you again for the mention of it in your post.

        • Thanks Larry, the album is really fabulous. One of my personal favorites.

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