During previous CES Shows, the good folks at the CTA, DEG, and NARAS put together a Hi-Res Audio “Tech Zone” in a ballroom at the Venetian Hotel. They invited hardware and software companies to participate with booths and held a series of panels to inform attendees about the exciting new world of high-resolution audio. AIX Records, HDtracks, Channel Classics, and a few other audiophile labels exhibited. We were told that we couldn’t sell anything during the three-day event, which made the whole thing rather difficult to justify from a cost perspective. It was even more challenging because the room didn’t attract many attendees except during the panels or when Neil Young made an appearance.
However, things are going to be different this year. The DEG (Digital Entertainment Group) announced that Hi-Res Audio has found a new home in the Las Vegas Convention Center’s Central Hall in its own pavilion. The major labels, consumer electronics companies, The Recording Academy Producers and Engineers Wing (I am a member of this group) and the DEG has partnered to put this new marketing effort together. And the central focus of the 50 x 40 foot pavilion will be a mock up recording studio. Yep, you’ll be able to experience what those of us in the studio business hear when we’re recording, mixing, and mastering commercial recordings. The promotional line being pushed this time around is to bring a “studio experience” to a new generation of music fans.
And to demonstrate the advantages of “the studio experience” will be a number of first rate professional engineers including Gavin Lurssen, Eric Boulanger, Mick Guzauski, Al Schmitt, Bruce Botnick, Dion “No I.D.” Wilson, Vic Anesini, Justin Smith and Steve Berkowitz. Jac Holzman, the former music executive and founder of Elektra Records will also be in attendance.
The new exhibit space, which makes its CES debut next month in the LVCC’s Central Hall, will be the culmination of a joint effort by DEG, a coalition of Hollywood studios, the major music labels (Warner Music and Universal Music Group), the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the Japan Audio Society (JAS), MQA, CE retailers, manufacturers and technology providers, and The Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing.
It’s pretty clear that the Hi-Res Audio marketing machine hasn’t thrown in the towel yet — nor are they likely to. Sony, the biggest supporter of hardware that qualifies for the Hi-Res Audio logo, continues to bring new “hi-res” portable players to market AND even a “hi-res” turntable. In a somewhat surprising move, MQA is listed as one of the partners in the new Hi-Res pavilion in spite of the fact that their process is a software offering. The Hi-Res Audio program is limited to hardware as the people at the JAS explained it to me. The MQA process is a clever process that tucks ultrasonic frequencies into a much lower bandwidth version of a track (actually CD sized) making “Hi-Res Music” streamable with the right hardware and MQA decode-capable players. What happened to the Hi-Res Music logo and initiative for content?
But what none of these organizations seem willing to acknowledge is that without a major shift in focus from the artists, engineers, and producers towards higher fidelity recordings, having hi-res audio hardware is meaningless. How many times have I read in the last week about a device that will make high-resolution audio files out of lower standard sources?
Just today, I read a post pitching the Korg DS-DAC-10R ($599). This device claims to be “the world’s first USB DAC/ADC (digital-to-analog/analog-to-digital converter with a built-in “studio-grade” headphone amp, moving-magnet phono input, and asynchronous bi-directional USB control for recording and playback in native 1-bit DSD or PCM hi-res audio”. The person responsible for pushing this machine into the audiophile market stated that the Korg device, “allows fans of retro audio to manage their record collection as music data and enjoy it more easily, without surface noise, ticks, or pops.”
I have a couple of quick questions. First, what is “retro audio”? Is that another name for program material with marginal fidelity? And as far as I know, a USB ADC/DAC doesn’t provide any tools or techniques for digital restoration of the source being recorded. If there is “surface noise, ticks, or pops” on the source vinyl, then the DSD or PCM digital version will contain those same flaws.
Wouldn’t it be better to start with a professionally transferred digital file? Or start creating high-resolution audio files during the original recording sessions?
The myth of hi-res audio and hi-res music continues — and visitors to the new pavilion at CES will have the chance to get the latest information about it and audition music from the major labels sold as hi-res music. I hope they have more success than the previous TechZone presentations I experienced. Nobody came to the Venetian to check out hi-res audio and I doubt it will be much better over at the LVCC. I will stop by and check it out.