Dr. AIX's POSTS — 13 August 2016

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I love the summer Olympics! I’ve been spending a bunch of time watching them from my DVR so that I can skip all of the fluff and commercials. As a track and field athlete in high school (I was a pole vaulter), I’m particularly interested in the upcoming events taking place in the main stadium.

And then I get a call this week from a gentleman asking about high-resolution audio files for an automobile fidelity competition. Really! And I’ve heard about these events — at least the ones where the loudest car audio system wins. Believe it or not, there are individuals spending a lot of time and money creating cars that are capable of producing over 130 dB SPL! I ran into a website today called “Car Audio Central” that has a whole section on competitive sound contests.

One of the engineers who worked on the Ernest Ranglin AIX Records project years ago turned me on to competitive automotive audio systems. He produced the “burp” tones that are used during the competitions to achieve the loudest SPL. But I was not aware that these events have a subjective “best fidelity” category. It’s easy to read the sound pressure level from a meter but as we all know judging the fidelity of a system is something completely different.

The competitions have judges that sit in the cars and evaluate the quality of the sound that they hear. It’s not a science but is it really any different than having judges evaluate gymnastics or the artistic merits of a trampoline routine? I can imagine a panel of judges moving from one car to another auditioning the sound systems and pronouncing one better than the other.

In fact, this sort of thing already happens in the craft categories of the Grammys. I’ve been an alternate on the “best surround album” and “best engineered recording” categories but have not actually participated — yet. But I know people that have and thankfully they’ve shared what they experienced during the intense review of hundreds of submissions. They all sit in a room and play segments of the entries through a good quality sound system (they do it in an office at the NARAS headquarters not a studio). In the past, I know sometimes they couldn’t play a few of the albums because I received a call about a few of my own entries. Would it surprise you to learn that they didn’t have a DVD-Audio machine available when they wanted to listen to a “best engineered album”? And that if they couldn’t play a particular disc, they simply disqualified it? Argh.

So why not a new Audio Olympics? Equipment manufacturers, cable designers, and speakers makers would get together and set up their best sounding demo. And then judges would evaluate the sound on a variety of criteria, assign points, and produce a composite score. I could see that happening. It could be a really big deal for the winners — and the losers.

But what about the content? The guy that phoned me told me that high-resolution audio is not currently allowed at the car competitions. When I asked him why, he told me that most automotive car systems can’t handle music in high-res — and I believe him (except that my 2004 Acura TL can!). I recently had a very successful television composer come by in his Turbo Porsche with the highest end option Burmester audio system installed. Guess what? It couldn’t play high-resolution audio.

These competitions could happen during audio trade shows complete with gold, silver, and bronze medals. I can’t wait.

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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.

(10) Readers Comments

  1. Given the contentious and semi-absurd mentality that too much of high-end audio embraces, the idea of a “who’s got the best sound” playoff is a vision of horrendous proportion IMHO. Maybe I’ve been in the business too long, but I’ve often heard upper mid-fi systems that are more musically engaging than a surprising amount of the high-priced spread. Audio rococco is not for me, just the music please.

    • There could be divisions for best vinyl LP, analog tape, and of course, high-resolution digital. It might silence some of the nonsense written by experts at all levels.

      • All the systems would have to set up in identical rooms or obviously all bets are off. The land-mines will go off when some participants tell you that the vinyl or analog tape sounds better than anything else. That’s a dialogue from which I will gladly be absent.

        When people ask me ,” What’s better…” I always make clear that I am format agnostic, and that only audibly ‘better’ is actually better. There are no 3 letter buzz words that tell us what’s better.

      • Maybe new generations of high-end cars should come with a in-car vinyl LP player? How else should well heeled analog fans be able to enjoy audio in their cars? 😉

  2. Re: high-res car audio….I think high-res car audio already came and went. My circa 2008 Pioneer AVH-P7500 could handle DVD-A quite nicely. However, given the inherent noise floor of a moving vehicle sort of negated the benefits of the format. Still, it was fun to be on the cutting edge of car audio for a while! 😉

    • Probably true for the dynamic range (bit that’s also true at home given the typical DR of commercial releases) but what about surround sound in cars…it rocks.

  3. Would it surprise you to learn that they didn’t have a DVD-Audio machine available when they wanted to listen to a “best engineered album”? And that if they couldn’t play a particular disc, they simply disqualified it?

    SHEEESH! And these guys are supposed to be the experts? Unreal. As far as medals for categories I don’t know. I’ve had people tell me that they hate the transparency of good equipment. Sadly a generation raised on sound compression, limited frequency response, bass enhancement and just plain noisy grunge seems not to care. Digital was supposed to be the Holy Grail, bringing us closer to live than ever. Yet the masses seem so far, far away. They wouldn’t know good audio if it whacked them alongside the ears.

  4. As for High-Res in cars Mercedes Benz with the COMAND Nav/Audio unit can play DVD-Audio, in surround also.
    But as for media files it supports no more than MP3 – 320V BR. It seems that the S-class has eschewed the disc player nowadays so that wont work there. But at least he current SL-models still has a disc slot.

  5. I used to have a go at getting a decent sound systems in our cars. My best so far was in my wife’s car. I wanted to buy her a Toyota Corolla but she opted for the smaller Echo (Now Yaris in Australia)instead. I installed a system costing roughly the difference between the two cars, spent a few weekends on getting the balance between highs on the dashboard and mid/lows in the doors right and eventually ended up with a very nice sound, especially for a car. I even got a very decent sound stage.
    I wouldn’t spend much more than what I did because of what’s said above: at some stage the road noise is going to kill the difference between ‘good enough’ and ‘better but only if you turn the engine off’

    MP3? fine for a car.

  6. … “It’s not a science but is it really any different than having judges evaluate gymnastics or the artistic merits of a trampoline routine?” Yeah, it is. A lot different.

    With the possible exception of focus or color interpretation, we all see the same objects the same way. We all agree when we see a circle, a square, a fast moving object, a slow one, and so on, and we can rather accurately describe what we see. An inexpensive camera can easily capture the visual evidence. As we all know, this is NOT true of audio and our sense of hearing.

    Hearing is a totally individual experience, subject to many physiological elements. A few individuals have what we call perfect pitch and can write down the pitch name of a particular note, but beyond that there is little agreement between listeners. The most obvious variable to human hearing is frequency response, and I have never heard of any audio judge being required to undergo a calibration test much less have any shortcomings corrected by a hearing aid device.

    A spectroscopic instrument might be helpful in a car test, but who gets to select mike placement or affect other variables? And where is the warning against hearing damage due to excessive sound pressure? This whole concept is just another variation on the “snake oil” portion of the audio reproduction industry. We have more productive things to do.

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