Dr. AIX's POSTS — 21 August 2016

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My summer break is officially over tomorrow when the fall semester 2016 begins at California State University, Dominguez Hills. It’s back to the classroom to welcome a new crop of eager audio students and to guide last year’s survivors through their last year. And I’m looking forward to it. I always enjoy my summer breaks. This one has been somewhat more intense than previous years because of my thyroid cancer and the subsequent adventure through a series of doctors. I’m in the last week of my iodine free diet (which is how people should eat normally…no dairy, no seafood, but lots and lots of fruits and vegetables) before I head to UCLA for the radioactive iodine pill on Wednesday. From everything that I’ve read, my life is going to be rather unpleasant after that. My wife is taking the dog with her to visit our daughter in San Francisco so that I won’t have to suffer through the isolation period (how can you explain to a dog that you can’t get close to them or pet them as I normally do? As smart as Charlie is, he wouldn’t understand). I have to stay away from everyone for about 4-5 days. I just hoping that I can muster enough energy to continue progress on the book, which is coming along quite nicely.

The new studios in the AIX Building are virtually complete and the new tenants have moved in. There’s still some work to be done on the final finish carpentry (wooden boxes around each of the electrical outlets because they aren’t cut into the walls), final wiring connections, and some strike plates on a couple of doors. But the rooms came out great and I can’t wait to hear some music playing in these new production spaces. Brew Media, the company that is behind the rooms, has some really great equipment and is looking at acquiring a vintage Neve console. Wouldn’t that be interesting?

I keep reading articles about higher sampling rates, longer word lengths, the move to 96 kHz/24-bits, Mastered for iTunes, and, of course, the arrival of MQA processing. It’s the same nonsense that powerful interests have been pitching for years. After endless paragraphs describing how Apple’s “Mastered for iTunes” is a technology that brings better fidelity to all of their customers and statements like, “Apple is currently amassing the largest database of 24-bit, 96kHz music in the world”, I have to wonder anyone is paying attention to the realities of the record production world.

They’re simply parading around new logos and making sure that everything ever recorded can qualify for “high-res” status even if the fidelity of the recordings falls far short of actual high-fidelity. An author recently wrote, “a minimum of 20-bit, 48kHz sampling rate is now considered ‘High Resolution Audio’. You may ask, why 20-bit and not 24-bit resolution? 20-bit was chosen because of the vast archives of classic songs recorded to 20-bit, 48kHz digital tape in the early 80s. If 24-bit was chosen as the minimum standard, then a decade worth of early digital recordings would not classify as ‘better than CD quality’. Technically, these files are higher fidelity than ‘CD quality’.”

Should I point out the numerous factual errors in the previous quote?

1. The recording industry didn’t record to 48 kHz/20-bits in the early 80s. In fact, most of the albums being produced were still being done on 24-track analog tape. And the only converters available at the time were 16-bits not 20. I’m selling my original Apogee ADC and DAC on eBay right now. I purchased it in the late 80s and it was state-of-the-art at the time. And it was limited to 16-bits.

2. There is no vast archive of “classic songs recorded to 20-bit, 48 kHz digital tape in the early 80s”. If there’s an archive at all, it’s at 44.1 kHz/16-bits because that’s the standard mastering engineers used to complete CD projects from all masters — analog or digital.

My point is posting this quote is to support the fact that the DEG, CEA, NARAS, and labels want the specifications to be just higher than CD so that they can include every analog recording ever produced (simply transfer to 48 kHz/20-bits or better even if the fidelity is less than that). The problem is that there was a period of time when the industry was only producing 44.1/16 masters. How can HDtracks or others sell those when they don’t meet the “higher than CD quality” specification? Technically, they can’t. That’s why their definition expanded to include CDs as masters if that was the “best fidelity available” or “as the artist intended” or “as was heard in the studio”. They define hi-res as higher than CDs and then include CDs as acceptable sources. This sounds a little like some Donald Trump would cook up.

And all this is for nothing anyway. Consumers are moving quickly from downloading to streaming, which leads a reasonable person to ask, “Can high-resolution audio be streamed?” I’ll deal with that question in the next post.

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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. Hey Mark,
    I have a question. I notice that Primephonic is showing up on your web page. Do you endorse their product as being HRA?

    • They reached out to me and asked if they could purchase a banner. I told them that I have some problems with their products and the way that they talk about them. No, I do not endorse Primephonic.

  2. “This sounds a little like some Donald Trump would cook up.”
    Actually it sound much more like a Hilary tall tale. Remember her story about landing in Bosnia under sniper fire and having to run for her life?
    Fair is fair Mark.

    • Sal, I hesitated before making the Trump quip but don’t assume that I’m a fan of Hillary either, I’m not. I should avoid making political statements in this blog as I know people have all sorts of positions, but for me both candidates don’t deserve my vote and won’t be getting it.

      • Fair enough,
        Saluto

  3. Ironically my first CD player was a Revox B225 which was only a 14 bit player… but… what a player!

    http://www.lampizator.eu/lampizator/REFERENCES/Revox%20B225/RevoxB225.html

  4. I’ve beat cancer twice. I wish I could tell you how. The only special diet is pretty much what you describe, but the rest is mental. BTW, my original inspiration for the mental process comes from an unlikely source: Bob Hoffman, founder of York Barbell company and godfather of the U.S. olympic weightlifting team. Hoffman sold supplements and was a fitness guru, yet he stated that freedom from disease is 90 percent mental and 10 percent nutrition and exercise. With that as a starter, I figured out how to beat it.

    • I’m feeling very positive about this whole thing. Thanks for the support.

  5. You crossed the line with your Trump quip. You’re better than that Mark, totally unprofessional.

    • Dave, I did think twice about it but decided to leave it in. I’m not a fan of either candidate but after reading about how badly Trump has screwed contractors and companies that have done work for him, I find him completely unacceptable as a candidate.

      • Perhaps “provenance” should play out with your choice to impose academia here Mark. No one can argue the media “screws” with us, and no one can argue they’re in the tank with liberals. Sorry this all spanks of the very thing you battle here everyday. I think it best to stay in “subject”. You rightfully have the stage here, it’s your venue.
        For me, and I’m most certain others, a “mea culpa” is in line.

        • You’re absolutely right. I shouldn’t have mentioned anything about the current election cycle here in the states. I regret doing so. I’ve been able to keep my cool on my FB page as well…in spite of wanting to do a little ranting.

  6. Very interesting, thank you. I regularly buy from HD Tracks and have noticed a significant variance in quality. Most, generally from the pre-CD era are excellent. Others from the early days of CD are questionable to say the least (E.G. ELO ‘Out of the Blue’). Can I ask two questions? 1) Is there a way I can find out about the quality of the recording before downloading (and paying!). Presumably HDTracks isn’t going to be too helpful! 2) If the answer is ‘no’ then perhaps I should avoid ‘HD’ recordings from a certain period? Thank you, Jonathan

    • There is not way to know…unfortunately. The people of the making of the original master matters but it’s the production methods that really kill fidelity, which doesn’t matter to the artists or labels. High-resolution audio is a promotional tactic only.

    • I find the Hoffman Music Forums have valuable discussions related to download quality. Seems to be a group of very knowledgeable folks!

      http://forums.stevehoffman.tv/forums/music-corner.2/

      • I would agree. I don’t know Steve well but his reputation is well deserved.

        • Here’s the best thread I’ve found discussing download quality:

          Steve Hoffman forum

          • Thanks. I stopped over to read a few of the comments. I have to write about the comments from Toby Wright because they are so off the mark…or indicative of the state of affairs in rock/pop commercial music. Stay tuned.

  7. Just wanted to thank you Mark for the update. All the best with the thyroid treatment. Rest up and enjoy plenty of good music!

    Have a great fall semester teaching as well…

    • Thanks Joe

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