Dr. AIX's POSTS — 18 August 2016

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If you’ve visited AVS Forum, you might have noticed a couple of upcoming events focused on “Defining Hi-Res Audio”. The folks at Sony — the Q&A session will be driven by the primary advocate for hi-res audio these days — has enlisted the help of expert Bob O’Donnell, the founder, president, and chief analyst at Technalysis Research and person whose had a long career in the technology business. Here’s the opening pitch from the AVS Forum website:

“High-resolution audio (HRA) is a hot topic these days. It promises better audio quality than MP3s and even uncompressed CDs and equivalent digital files, but there’s a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about it within the ranks of audio consumers.

To help address this problem, AVS Forum and Sony are offering AVS members an opportunity to ask an expert anything they want to know about high-res audio in a series of real-time interactive sessions. The first session will be focused on defining high-res audio — exactly what it is, how it’s created, where to get it, and what you need to fully enjoy it.”

It should be interesting although I seriously doubt Bob will be able to clear up any “confusion and misunderstandings” in a way that would please the people at Sony. I read the recent blog post that Bob wrote and which was reposted at recode.com called, “Digital audio progress highlights tech’s more human futur — Recording resolutions could go even higher, but for any applications involving people, there’s no point”.

I would generally agree with the points that he made in the piece. He stated, “Digital audio recording technology has peaked”. His assertion is that digital audio has already eclipsed the ability of humans to perceive a difference. He’s right. However, the essential question is at what specification has “digital audio” peaked? Is it 44.1 kHz/16-bits as many claim or do you have to move to 384 kHz/32-bits to get there? If you’re Sony, you believe that DSD is the answer. He also talks about the return to vinyl LPs — “format and audio quality that are arguably worse than what’s possible” with modern digital equipment. Obviously Sony believes vinyl LPs are hi-res because they sell a turntable that will convert your albums into DSD files! Argh!

But near the end of the article he expresses a central theme of this site, “With the right kind of digital music files, recorded, mixed and mastered in high-resolution form (unfortunately, a tiny fraction of available digital music), played back on the right kind of HD Audio equipment, you can experience a level of audio fidelity, sense of space and overall musicality that makes the technology completely fade away. In a word, pure audio bliss.”

I would add that you have to do more than just use higher sample rates and longer word lengths. Musicians, singers, engineers, and producers have to want to create and release albums that have high levels of fidelity. Unfortunately, that concept does not dominate the production community.

If you actually calculate the number of albums that fall into this category — and which strive for ultimate fidelity — there are less than 2500 of them. Does Sony really think there’s a business in selling HRA to the masses when there are a very limited number of albums that will benefit from the increased resolution? Apparently they do.

Wait a second, I get it. Sony is in the business of selling hi-res audio, which is the hardware that plays back the upconverted standard resolution audio files we download from most sites. They don’t care about hi-res music because there are big bucks in reselling hardware.

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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. Hello Mark
    I think a basic understanding about what is really taking place with the reproduction of recorded music is necessary. The sales pitch has always been, higher sample rates equals better sound quality. The notorious stair step analogy is dragged out, and this visual aid helps to illustrate the point. If this one aspect of the process is highlighted, without regard for any other details of the recording and reproduction chain, one is likely going to be sold a piece of equipment that will be disappointing.

    • I agree. There is way too much emphasis on the specifications and not nearly as much on the quality of the recording.

  2. You may have answered this already, but what steps would you recommend to take the 5.1 SACD Yes Closer to the Edge CD and play it on a high resolution player? I am intersted in what software I would use via Mac Computer to rip the CD, what format to rip it in so that I can transfer the file to say a Fiio X7 for playback. The specific mechanics in being able to do this would unlease my SACD collection to portability. I currently don’t have a high resolution portable player, just using the Fiio X7 as an example. What should I look at in a portable high resolution player to play the content of the converted file? Love your column and your podcasts. Your response is greatly appreciated. I apologize if you have already covered this and if so if you could direct me to the proper link. Thank you. Sincerely,

    • Ripping SACDs is very challenging. You would be better off purchasing the files you want from the online shops that offer “high-res” downloads and transfer them to you Fiio player. Otherwise, you’re going to have to capture the analog outputs of your player and redigitize to PCM files.

  3. Mark, I am intrigued by your comment that there are less than 2500 of albums that strive for ultimate fidelity. How would one go about locating those specific albums for acquisition?

    • I attended a panel at last years AES conference with a group of audio engineers and label folks from Telarc, 2L, Merging Technologies etc. They were asked how big their catalogs were. That’s where I came up with the 2500 number, which is probably very generous. 2l, MA, Linn, Telarc, AIX and the rest of us don’t have large catalog and the stuff we record isn’t the commercial world. ALL of the content released by the major labels — every single one of the albums that they claim are high-resolution — is not up to high-res standards. They may be converted to 192 khZ/24-bit PCM bit buckets but there’s nothing in the dynamics or frequency response to warrant specs that high. That’s why Hi-Res audio and music in the main stream record business will never matter…and why MQA and other strategies are a waste of time IMHO.

      • Thanks Mark for your listing of record labels that still care about sound quality. What do you think of the Dynamic Range Database as a tool for measuring compression (ie sound quality) of CD recordings?

        • The dynamic range database is a good start but it doesn’t actually indicate fidelity.

  4. Why won’t they let you record a main stream commercial band? I think that would be great. The problem is I don’t really like most of the stuff you record or those other companies mentioned. Why can’t people like you record the popular artists. Maybe It will cost the consumer too much money. I don’t think very many people will pay $25 for a 24/192 file.

    • They won’t let me record them. Not enough money involved.

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