Dr. AIX's POSTS — 27 January 2018

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My wife, Charlie (the family border collie), and I left the mountains of Colorado a week ago and have returned to the warmth and comfort of Southern California. It was great to spend some time with family and friends. And I love to ski. But it was time for the vacation to end — time to come back home.

The new semester at the university has begun, the <Music and Audio books are expected to arrive next week, and preparations are being made to get them packed and shipped to purchasers as quickly as possible. The YARRA 3DX campaigns have generated almost $1,000,000 in funding and everything is on track to deliver the units late in the first quarter. Life is settling into a “new normal” — life beyond the pressure of writing and illustrating a book and without the constant activities associated with introducing a new audio product. I’m looking forward to promoting the book at this year’s audio trade shows and may even travel to a number of cities to meet with selected audiophile clubs — we’ll see.

I happened upon a lengthy article by Peter Qvortrup titled High Fidelity, the Decline of the Decades that I found very troubling. The author has convinced himself — and attempts to convince readers — that contemporary fidelity, equipment, and recording methods are lacking in comparison to previous decades — especially the late 1950s.

I couldn’t disagree more with the positions taken by the author. As a recording engineer, record producer, and professor of audio recording I believe I have some authority in saying it’s simply not true that recording fidelity — both recorded and reproduced — peaked 50-60 years ago. For the first time in recording history, the potential exists to produce and release recordings of exquisite fidelity, no noise, real world dynamics, extended frequency response, and fully immersive surround sound that eclipse the highly compromised fidelity produced during the vinyl LP halcyon days of the 50s. In fact, it’s not even close. PCM digital technology has done more to advance recording fidelity than decades of tweaking turntables, cartridges, and phono preamps. When you evaluate and listen to a state-of-the-art recording played through a state-of-the-art system in a properly tuned room, there is no comparing the two.

The real problem is that the music industry and associated parties choose — for creative and/or financial reasons — to release recordings that don’t take advantage of the new technologies that are available. The potential exists to make amazing recordings but the commercial marketplace doesn’t produce or release them and consumers don’t seem to want them. The music industry makes a conscious choice to produce and release highly compressed, beat box sourced, auto-tuned, lifeless tracks because they sell better than audiophile-standard albums. On this Grammy® Awards weekend, it’s a simple fact that the music business is all about money and celebrity and cares very little about audio fidelity and the recorded experience. And perhaps that’s the way it will always be. Thankfully for us audiophiles, there are a limited number of dedicated producers and labels that strive for the ultimate fidelity.

I started AIX Records, my audiophile record label, back in 2000 to demonstrate that indeed it is possible to produce and release recordings that surpass all previous HiFi standards (including vinyl LPs) using new high-definition audio standards — and many believe that I succeeded. One listen to Jennifer Warnes singing “So Sad” in the midst of a circle of acoustic musicians or The Latin Jazz Trio playing “Mujaka” will convince even the most ardent vinyl advocates that high-resolution PCM audio and surround mixing is the ultimate expression of a music performance. Your personal tastes may differ from mine but there’s no denying that fidelity has improved in the past 60 years. To assert otherwise would be akin to saying a ’57 Studebaker performs better than any current model automobile.

Audio enthusiasts may personal preferences for the fidelity of a certain format or era, but there’s simply no sense in arguing that the entire production chain from source to delivery isn’t at its peak today. Engineers, producers, and listeners have the ability to deliver fidelity that matches or exceeds the sounds of real life — something that was impossible in the 50s. If you haven’t heard it, you simply cannot express a position. And if you have heard it and refuse to acknowledge it, you’re missing out on a rich vein of music fidelity.

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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.

(55) Readers Comments

  1. I could not agree with you more about today’s technologies producing the best fidelity in recordings. Three of my favorite discs are AIX recordings of Beethoven, Mozart, and the All Star Big Band. I listen to them frequently on my surround sound system, along with a large collection of SACDs and Blu-ray audio discs. I only wish AIX could produce more like those three I mentioned. I gave up my turntable and donated all my LPs to my college music library after hearing my first CD back in the 80s. BTW that was Berlioz “Symphony Fantastique”, and for the first time heard the English Horn solos not buried in surface noise and static! Never looked back!

  2. Yes Dr. Aix I agree with you wholeheartedly. Listening to true hi-resolution recordings is an immersive and rewarding experience. Still, I have a sizable, well cared for LP collection that I most enjoy, since the listening is only part of the total experience. The tender loving care bestowed to the records, from cleaning to handling, reading the back covers, queuing, the warmth of the sound, and let us not forget of the “nostalgia” factor are all contributors to the total experience. I am not saying that LP’s are better than hi-rez files, only that to me (and probably many others) are just as enjoyable. In the end, it’s all about the music, isn’t it?

    • Norberto, your comment is among the most honest I’ve heard from a fan of analog vinyl etc. I get it…and I enjoyed my vinyl LPs for the same reasons. I recently unearthed my collection of LPs and have seriously thought about purchasing a turntable. I haven’t done it yet but I’m thinking about it.

  3. There are many parallels, in modern history, where Truth, Fake News, used in the same statement, attempt through aggressive platforms, on the internet, to be heard. Most of us long time audiophiles, students of science, have moved on from analogue long ago. Even in the late era, on analogue, we bought direct to disc vinyl, moving coil cartridges, click and pop machines, DBX dynamic range expansion/compression noise reductions, Dolby, etc. I even tried Carver Sonic Holography, a Koss time delay system to increase soundstage with early ~ psuedoquad reproductions. All of these techniques and devices became completely redundant with the inception of the modern CD 16/44 standard. There are many in the audiophile community, hanging on to analogue, tube amp, and old tech pathways, reverently, like a religious belief. After reading your great new reference text, I feel armed to debate any of these pundits. You cannot argue with the equipment waveforms, s/n ratios, and the data coming out of respected test centers. I would like to see a survey, of these supporters. Not to start a political s…storm, but I would bet heavily that there would be a huge swing to the right with a strong religious belief system, conservatism, and Fox news watching. Thanks again for all your great productions, keep them coming, and I hope that many of your students can take 5.1 recording to the mainstream. Unfortunately, most of the mainstream music genre’s are not capable of playing a live recording sessions.

  4. Dear Dr. Aix, Mr. Qvortrup is absolutely correct, but does not go far enough– just consider the facts: no car has improved since the 1957 Chevy Bel Air, motorcycles have steadily declined since the Vincent Black Shadow, the change from vacuum tubes to silicon based transistors ruined computers, what speed boat of today can compare in any way to a vintage wooden Chris Craft runabout, even women were much better looking in the early 60s (check out any vintage monster movie). Your embrace of modernity is just pitiful. All true music enthusiasts stick with analog– especially when it is without electrical amplification to ruin it. The Edison cylinder phonograph had it right: you don’t even need to worry about “Green Energy”, just crank it up!

    • Thanks Barry…you brought a smile to my day. I must admit having seen all of the classic cars of yesteryear at the Gateway, Colorado museum, I might be swayed a little. Mentioning a Chris Craft is going too far…!

      • Jajajaja, Sofia Loren Forever…Estoy de acuerdo con Usted Mark.

    • Electricity is overrated. 🙂

      • “Crank” it up.

      • steampunk audio player anyone? :p

    • most sarcastic would be stating that 2017 Peugeot 3008 is much better than 1930 Cadillac V-16

    • ‘change from vacuum tubes to silicon based transistors ruined computers’

      Currently (7 nm), ECL is five times higher clock speed compared to CMOS with same transistor count (operated simultaneously) and same TDP (no frequency—heat relationship). This is the clearest example of unreasonably forgotten technology.

  5. “I couldn’t disagree more with the positions taken by the author. As a recording engineer, record producer, and professor of audio recording I believe I have some authority in saying it’s simply not true that recording fidelity — both recorded and reproduced — peaked 50-60 years ago. For the first time in recording history, the potential exists to produce and release recordings of exquisite fidelity, no noise, real world dynamics, extended frequency response, and fully immersive surround sound that eclipse the highly compromised fidelity produced during the vinyl LP halcyon days of the 50s.”

    While I agree with you that the technology exists to make better recordings than ever before in the past, I have to disagree with you that such recordings are routinely BEING MADE! Contrast recordings made in the 1950’s and early 1960’s by such recording giants as C. R. Fine, Louis Leyton, or Bert Whyte (to name a few) with modern classical recordings made using the latest technology that you are touting. For the most part, they stink. Sure, they are dead quiet, have tremendous dynamic range, and flat frequency response from DC to daylight, but, for the most part, they don’t sound very good, or even very much like real music played in a real concert hall! The reason why these 50-60 year old recordings from the early days of stereo are not only still sold, but are still sought-out by music lovers and audiophiles alike and are still remastered every time a new medium gains popularity, is because they do something that today’s whizz-bang technological tour-de-force recordings don’t do: they sound like live music played in a real space!
    I put this down to the modern, wide spread use of multiple (as in more than two) channels to capture the performances as well as multiple (as in more than two or three) microphones!. When we sit in an audience listening to live, unamplified instruments we hear, with our TWO EARS, an ensemble, the individual instruments of which, have blended in the air and mixed with the natural ambience of the venue to form the sound of real music. Modern recordings use a forest of microphones all in close proximity to the instruments that they are capturing and these are recorded to multiple channels and are blended to make the final complete ensemble sound totally, electronically, and artificially in the studio mixing console! There is no space between the instruments and the listener’s ears. Believe me a dozen violins all close-miked and mixed together to form a string section, do not sound anything like a string section, but instead they sound like 12 violins all playing at the same time. They may be perfect representations of each violin’s sound, but since they haven’t mixed in the air between the instruments and the listener’s ears or between the violins and a pair of surrogate ears in the form of a stereo pair of good microphones placed at a distance in order to record not the violins themselves, but rather the SPACE that the violins and other instruments occupy. Mixing multiple mike feeds electronically robs the music of it’s life, it’s vitality, and any semblance of a realistic soundstage.

    Another thing that modern recordists do (including you, Dr Waldrep) is place microphones INSIDE of pianos! People don’t listen to pianos with their heads stuck under the lid! What it does in the listening room is to give a piano image that stretches from wall-to-wall with the bass piano strings on the left side of the room and the treble piano strings on the right side of the room. This is every kind of wrong!

    Now, today’s technology may be, and I’ll give you is, superior to that of the recording technology available during the so-called “golden age” of stereo, but when the recording engineers and producers apply these technologies thoughtlessly of incompetently, the greatest tools in the world can’t and won’t give great results.

    • Thanks for the comments George. You express your opinions very well but I wholeheartedly disagree with your analysis and conclusions. You fail to recognize one very important aspect of a live performance in a hall coupled with the reproduction of that recording in a playback environment. I am aware of your criticism of my piano recording technique (although reviews at the major magazines have routinely lauded them!) because you state quite correctly that “people don’t listen to pianos with their heads stuck under the lid!” But the sonic result of capturing a piano from 10-15 feet away when played back through a pair of speakers 8-10 feet away from the listener is a distant, hallow experience in my estimation. I opt to have the music coming from the sound board of the piano come from the drivers in the speaker? The distance of the speaker to your ears now matches a private concert. It certainly works. If you prefer a narrower mixing perspective than my “stage” perspective 5.1 mixes, simply opt for the stereo mix…and presto the the sound is located in front of you. I believe I’m unique in giving you the option to choose your mixing perspective.

      You are free to chose the recording techniques you prefer and others are free to experiment with other approaches. I shudder to think I need to be shackled with your aesthetics and approach when the awards and feedback I’ve received for my work has been overwhelmingly positive. When Andrew Quint of The Absolute Sound writes that the sound of my recordings, “is quite simply the most realistic and involving instance of recorded sound I can recall, from any source format. Mark Waldrep knows what he’s doing,” I’m going to stick with my approach. Your assessment of multimiking and electronic mixing is not correct. Wonderful recording can are are being made by a variety of producers using more than 2 microphones. IMHO they eclipse anything that I’ve heard from the golden age.

  6. I routinely check out sources using the “dynamic range data base” available on line. I wonder how many know about this interesting resource.

    • I do too; besides Dr AIX telling us that DR database measures it wrongly (I understand it should be measured without intro and outro parts), it is very interesting to see such a big number of versions of the same album for a given artist; that (besides their DR scores) gives us the real dimension of the different qualities in audio tracks and one should take great effort to find the best possible version in terms of fidelity; in many cases it’s a real pity to find that such best quality version is not from a digital source but from vinyl, another proof of how a bad mixing-mastering process ruins the whole digital potential in many cases.

  7. First of all thank you for taking the time to respond to me comments, but I think you miss my point. The author, of the piece to which you are responding, Peter Qvortrup, is obviously talking about classical music recording in his comments about the recording arts hitting their peak in late 50’s and early 60’s, and he is right. Before the advent of multi-channel tape recorders and multi-miking as a way to capture the talent (are you aware that producer J. David Saks used TWO 48-track, two-inch tape machines sync’d together to give 92 tracks in order to capture the Philadelphia Orchestra for RCA Victor during Ormandy’s waning days in the early 1970’s?) recording engineers like Bob Fine of Mercury, Louis Leyton of RCA, and Bert Whyte of Everest, used only a two or three track tape recorder and two or three microphones to capture orchestras all over the world. I believe that this is what Peter Qvortrup is referring to in his comments about the recording arts. You see, those recordings sounded real. They transported the listener to the venue where the performance was taking place, and for that reason, these recordings are still sought-after to this day, and they are re-mastered in each new technology as it comes along and made available as re-issues over and over and over. The reason? Sure the performances by Fritz Reiner, Frederick Fennel, Pablo Cassals, et al, are masterful, incisive, even definitive. But even more so, the recordings sound like real music played in real space. because that’s how they were recorded. The instruments themselves weren’t miked, the SPACE those instruments occupied was miked and that makes all the difference. The instruments have a place in the ensemble, and their sound is in proportion to it’s part in the score. The instruments blend in the air between the musicians positions in the ensemble, and the microphones. There is image width, height, and depth that is a natural result of the physical relationships between instruments and the phase differences between them. This is all captured with simple microphone technique. It is not captured with multi-miking and multi-track recording techniques.
    One more thing about miking a piano. For a number of years, I recorded a major municipal Symphony Orchestra’s concerts. In those days, I used a pair of Sony C37P microphones which I mounted on a T-bar and hung from the ceiling in front of the proscenium arch. The mikes were various distances behind the conductor and over his head. The mikes were set to the cardioid pattern and angled at 90 degrees from one another and about 8 inches apart. One time, a guest pianist, Frenchman Phillipe Entremont, came to town to play with the orchestra. His piece was Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto #3 in D major, Opus 30. For the performance, they moved Entremont’s Steinway Concert Grand down-stage left next to the Maestro and in front of the first violins. I was in a quandary about how to mike the concerto, so I hung my mikes early for that concert and attended several dress rehearsals where I tried different things. I wasn’t happy with the piano sound I was getting from any of them. I had a pair AKG414 and I tried to highlight mike the piano, but I didn’t like the result. In the end, I used NO auxiliary mike, just the two Sony C37Ps in their normal spot. The result is probably one of the best recordings I ever made! The Piano is pinpointed in exactly it’s location on stage. it neither overpowers nor is lost in the orchestra when they play loudly. The recording images perfectly with layers of sound and the performance is electrifying! Everyone I have ever played it for, including my late friend J. Gordon Holt said it was the best, most natural piano recording they have ever heard. So you see, Dr, Waldrep, I don’t agree that a wall-to-wall piano is in any way representative of how a real piano sounds and that in spite of what Andrew Quint says, and with all due respect to you, I think you are wrong in your approach to miking pianos. OTOH, I will give you that your studio recordings are spectacular sounding – not sure they are “high-fidelity” (at least, not to me) but they are spectacular.

    • George, I read your posts and I believe your statements to be incorrect. My academic training is in music composition. I have a Ph.D. in composition and have attended thousands of live performances. I’ve composed two symphonies of my own. The techniques used during the late 50s by the engineers you mention are fabulous and worthy of the praise they receive. And they are worthy of remastering and reissuing because of the performance, the ensemble, and the conductors…secondarily because of the recording fidelity. If I had been able to capture those same performances with my approach and equipment…the results would stand heads and shoulders above those original analog stereo recordings. The former music director of the New Jersey Symphony — Zdenek Macal — commented that the surround recordings I made of his ensemble “finally sounded like what I intended”. And Bryan Pezzone, a wonderful pianist living and working in Los Angeles, commented that my recording of his performances were the “first time it actually sounds like what I played”. Obviously, we could go back and forth touting the merits of this or that technique. It’s pointless. You — and perhaps many classical music fans — enjoy a particular sound which is captured using a particular technique. However, that doesn’t mean you — or Peter Qvortrup — can rule out all other approaches and the sounds they produce, which you seem to advocate. You know as well as I that individual engineers take different approaches and get different results. Consumers — and clients — ultimately determine their preferences with their support and wallets.

      BTW I don’t believe I’m that far apart from your “ideal”. I record real musicians in real spaces in real time without additional processing. I include the sound of the space, use stereo pairs of microphones, and make sure that the natural balance is maintained. I created a catalog of recordings done this way that has sold ten of thousands of copies, won awards, won recognition worldwide, and a dedicated following. Maybe you missed my comment about choosing your own preferred mixing perspective in my releases…you aren’t forced to listen to “wall to wall” piano just hit the AUDIO button. And I doubt that you’ve ever heard any of my studio recordings because I’ve never released any. My entire catalog was captured in live, acoustically rich venues…usually the Zipper Auditorium in Los Angeles. My secret weapon was to record in a great sounding space.

      Peter Qvortrup is wrong in stating the the best recordings — classical or any other genre — were produced in the 50s or 60s. I’ve got almost 20 years of feedback from ardent fans who discovered an entirely new level of fidelity in my work. Andrew Cordesmann, esteemed reviewer and audiophile, finds my label among the few that “are worthy of listening to”. It’s easy to find fault and criticize the work of others — but it’s very hard to accept that others may have different — yet equally valid — goals and methods. There are no absolutes in audio recording and reproduction.

      • Don’t get me wrong, Dr Waldrep, I too believe that recording science is better than it was 50-60 years ago, Digital is better than analog, today’s microphones are quieter, have flatter frequency response, greater dynamic range and can accept much higher sound pressure levels than the microphones of the past. I had occasion to use a borrowed pair of the same Telefunken omnis that Bob Fine of mercury used throughout the “Living Presence” years and I found them to be not very good! First of all, they are supposed to be omnidirectional mikes. They aren’t. The best I could say about them was that they were a very “loose” cardioid, The Ampex three-channel 300 tape decks had what I consider relatively high amounts of wow and flutter and his tubed mike preamps were not all that quiet. Today, and amateur recorder can buy better microphones cheaply, ditto with mike mixers/preamps and I have a Korg MR1 hand-held recorder that will record in DSD, 24/192, 24/96 or any of 4 or 5 other formats including MP3.
        But the bottom line is that these older recordings sound like real, live music to me, and the samplers from you that I have do not (I’ll admit that the samplers are the only works of yours I have heard). They remind me of a fuzzy photo that someone has run through a Photoshop sharpening filter over, and over, and over again so that everything is rendered in bold relief, but ends up looking more like a cartoon than a photograph. IOW, your recordings are not my cup of tea. Sorry, I respect you for what you know, and I have attended several of your lectures, but your taste in recording and mine are miles apart. I have a single criterion; one acid test: Does the recording sound like live musicians playing un-amplified instruments in a real space. Very few recordings pass my acid test and those that do are generally made by companies like Reference Recordings (and no all of them),

        • George, we’ll have to agree to disagree. I certainly have had people in the high-end industry comment that my recording sound “too real” or “too clear”. I attribute their reactions to an unfamiliarity to recordings that don’t have distortion, reduced high-end response, and other sonic compromises. Hearing something dramatically different — IMHO better — than previous experiences can be unsettling. Thankfully, your assessment of my work is a minority opinion. I’ve had audio professionals, musicians, and journalists respond with kudos that give me the confidence to continue my approach. One recent customer explained that his wife commented that “actually had the ensemble in the basement” from what she could hear. It simply sounded real to her for the first time. Thanks for your comments.

          • When someone says “that’s too real or too clear” they are instantly putting themselves aside from any serious discussion; how in hell, referring to audio fidelity, someone can complain about too realistic, when that is PRECISELY the goal of a true audiophile?!
            Give me digital bit perfect recording, mixing and mastering with no compression BS, no EQ abominations, no noise, and please Dr AIX keep delivering more closer-to-the-real thing productions! Thank you.

  8. I particularly enjoyed the bit where he said, in a very matter-of-fact way, that loudspeaker technology “…is considered to have peaked in the late 1930s.”

    • Yes, Peter Qvortrup’s comments on the playback side of the equation seem steeped in personal prejudice. believe me, if any area of playback has improved (in leaps and bounds) it’s loudspeakers. probably the best speakers to come out of the 1930’s was the original Klipschorn. I had an uncle who owned one of the originals built in the 1940s. I always thought it sounded awful; tubby bass, screechy upper midrange and almost no highs (as we know them today). As a teen, I had a pair of used Altec Lansing A7 “Voice of the Theater” speaker systems that I pulled out of a local neighborhood movie theater the was being torn down. Boy was I disappointed! No bass below 50Hz (even with 15″ woofers), highs so distorted as to be unlistenable. One thing that both the A7s and the Klipschorn had in common though – you fill the room with sound from a 1960 6-transistor radio with the speaker plugged into the radio’s earphone jack!

      • To get a good soundstage you’ll only need a quite weak single-driver speaker with modest-sized woofer as deep low/highs are always compromised in some way by the filters and even the amplifier settling time. And yes, neither DSD nor even 192 kHz is high-fidelity by my standard.

        • If high-resolution PCM with 192 kHz / 24-bit is not “high-fidelity”, what is? I would be interested to know what formats and standards you believe deliver high-fidelity?

          • There was an article where its author pondered over the weaknesses of CD format. It was concluded that CD (or digital audio in general) is bad because it has finite impulse response and especially too low sampling frequency. The author found out that the sample rate must be at least 240 kHz to keep the timing mess sonically unheard, but he also offered some Wolfson DAC with only 192 kHz. Nevertheless, I used to listen to recordings at no lower than MHz sample rate for complete safety. As for 24-bit, so there’s actually no such term, there is only the real resolution of an ADC, which gives it possibility to have either too low bits but too high sample rate, or otherwise; thus, low bits (that is low dynamic range) can be easily tweaked at the expense of much higher sample frequency, or, in case of CD, of considerably more noise pressure in the high frequency range. As for impulse response, it may not really matter because listening is anyway to be in a room that must be slightly reverberative to cope with the non-linearities always present in audio equipment.

            P.S. There was a Swiss company which sold a valve amplifier for only 15000$ based on a scheme that was not Single-Ended Triode and not Push-Pull. It used two triodes instead of one to eliminate the prominent distortion that made valve amps widely desired. Allegedly, the principle behind it was first implemented on a German nuclear power station in the seventies. There was a note the amp thus sound far from SET and much like a normal solid-state.

          • But you still haven’t told me what you consider high-fidelity?

          • Are you waiting something like ‘there must be a single microphone just a few metres off the band during recording’ or what? Here already exists the CD format which now seems well enough if you have got very high-quality digital filters that will do it all and there’s no need in craving hardware-generated elevated sampling rates due to a 44.1 kHz ADC giving righteously better results than a 192 kHz one. And remind what Ian Shepherd had pointed out: even fair 24-bit cannot go without dithering! Just turning back to the previous talk, here: if you let codec decide which bits (out of 1411.2) to be removed, then you get FLAC or other type of MP3, but not the exact copy of the original.

          • You’ve commented extensively on the problems with PCM digital. I was asking what format you consider high-fidelity? Is it vinyl LPs or analog tape?

          • Where have I mentioned analog sound on this thread? I might have heard magnetic tape and specially LP very long ago but how the latter sounded was perhaps like digital with MHz sampling rate which I just recommended to you. I only meant that 192/24 is rather useless for a home user systematically resorting to the digital filtering for improving digital audio as it commonly is.

          • I was simply asking which audio distribution format you regard as high-fidelity. I’ve read your assessment of high-resolution digital at 192 kHz PCM digital and disagree with your assessment. The performance of 96 kHz/24-bit PCM is high-resolution AND very high-fidelity. The noise floor, high frequency extension, and overall sonic accuracy to the source is head and shoulders above all analog formats.

          • ‘I was simply asking which audio distribution format you regard as high-fidelity.’

            2.5 MHz/16-bit PCM (WAV). Simply analog sound without analogue shortcomings.

          • I’m pretty sure that 2.5 MHz/16-bit PCM is not an actual consumer delivery format. And how do you know how it sounds, if no one is actually recording at those specifications? I was hoping to learn which consumer format you regard as having high-fidelity standards.

          • CD format can be very easily improved and extended up to 120 dB and 2.5 MHz which all gives sound quality respectively higher than even 192/24 and no overclocked ADC is required to achieve this

          • As the CD format is locked by the Redbook specification, how can the sample rate be increased to 2.5 MHz?

          • And how do you yourself think this could be accomplished? Very simply. What can I add to all that is at only 192 kHz I had managed to make a mediocre CD recording sound on-axis as if the female singer sing specially for you just right several metres in-front. I highly doubt that could be possible at least on listening sessions with extremely expensive audio stuff & professional audio staff.

          • Impulse response of purely digital CD is potentially (i.e. it can be corrected at any time) better than that of the best analog tape available, but this specific characteristic is insignificant.

          • Ok, you seem convinced of your positions and I remain unconvinced and confused by your comments. High-resolution PCM at 96 kHz/24-bits exceeds the fidelity of human hearing in frequency response and dynamic range. That’s good enough for me. As for the timing issues, what I hear satisfies my musical ear. If the industry were to make recordings as rich in fidelity as can be delivered using 96 kHz/24-bits and less compression during mastering, it would be a major advancement and potentially change everything. But that’s not likely to happen…and 250 MHz/16-bit isn’t going to happen either. Cheers.

  9. Mark, thanks for speaking out. Why does high-end audio have to be stuck in nostalgia for an imagined, better past? I did a lot of recording on tape and I wouldn’t go back even if tape cost 10% of what digital recording does. A computer DAW with an inexpensive USB interface is demonstrably far better, subjectively and objectively, than the recording gear of the ’50s and ’60s.

    • Hi Brent and thanks for the support. Analog tape and vinyl LPs are all well and good. I enjoyed my time working in those mediums but PCM digital — especially high-resolution 96/24 — is far better. Those who cling to the past are simply ignoring 50-60 years of technological advancement. Can’t wait for you to get a look at my new book.

    • I agree 100%. I especially agree about going back to analog tape. I wouldn’t record if I had to drag those two Otari MX5050s that I had to schlep to every recording date back in the 1980’s. Today I take either my Korg MR1 DSD recorder (a little bigger than a couple of packs of king-sized cigarets) or my Korg MR-2000s (a slim rack-mounted DSD recorder that records to flash drives). Both will record to multiple formats including DSD, 24/192 PCM, 24/96 PCM, 16/48 or 16/44.1 PCM and even MP3.
      There is nothing wrong about modern recording equipment. It is remarkably good quality and represents good value. I have some Chinese condenser mikes that test very favorably against really expensive mikes from Neumann, AKG, Telefunken, Sennheiser, et al and make marvelous recordings.

      Looking at Mr. Peter Qvortrup’s playback system with it’s SET amps tubed preamp, and vinyl playback system, I’d say that while his opinion of most modern classical recordings mirrors my own, I find modern solid-state playback equipment and digital sources (even of old recordings) to be much better than tubes.

      • once saw an advertisement on a resource like ebay where one was selling p/u Audio Note Gaku-On for 130000$

  10. Three thumbs up on your post Mark. LOL
    Despite the crazy claims in the audiophool media on the superiority of analog recording and vinyl playback, today’s digital recordings offer the highest sound quality in history. Measurement proves there to be no comparison in accuracy to the source and that is what High Fidelity has been about since it’s inception. I still enjoy listening to the rips of my old vinyl collection going back 40s, but it is in spite of it’s weaknesses, rather than any thought of a higher sq.

  11. I find it highly amusing how intelligent human beings can argue over such matters in 2018. The arguments seem no different than when Richard Dawkins argues with some loony Creationist about whether God created Man or whether we came to being in extremely slow, “natural” and gradual steps.

    What often distinguishes the Creationist from the academic is that the Creationist doesn’t believe in empirical data. Science is perceived as just another “religion”. No amount of measurement or systems to validate accurate sound is good enough. The human ear is “God”. Taking on such a subjective approach to determining sound quality is like playing hockey with a cheater, who continually moves the goal post. If the hockey player doesn’t believe in the rules, how can anyone know what the true score is?

    The virtual pissing contest goes on and no one is swayed one way or the other. Proving the physical limitations of vinyl doesn’t bother the vinyl lover. The response will always be that you just haven’t purchased the proper (or “best”) analog gear in order to know and experience “true” audio bliss. Let me be blunt here. I’ve been to my fair share of concerts and musical events (but nowhere near what others may have). When I hear a jazz combo live, I don’t poop my pants and think “wow… that’s superlative sound!!!!”. When I listen to a heavy metal group live, I don’t think to myself: “Holy hell! I have to find a way to get that kind of sound at home!” Accurate sound should just sound natural and not give you the feeling you’re hearing something special. The minute you determine a recorded thunderclap sounds “better” than the real thing, then maybe your sound system isn’t doing an accurate job.

    In all honesty, I would NEVER want to experience Metallica (or Apocalyptica) for example, EXACTLY like the live concert, but the jazz combo is much more practical and attainable. Arguing over mic techniques seems like a sideline to the main discussion. Today’s musicians often don’t care that much about sound quality. They want their musical vision captured the way THEY hear it.

    Much of the argument tends to revolve around hardware. Since I’m not a lawyer or billionaire, my choices for audio gear is extremely limited. The analog gear is almost universally expensive, in order to get good sound, while digital can be had for much less. This is particularly true of the low-end equipment. My $25 Blu-ray player does many things, and sounds quite wonderful compared to a cheap Crosley turntable. Digital gives the consumer the best bang for the buck, regardless of financial scale.

    My only take away from any of those vinyl lovers is that they are hard-wired to enjoy the vinyl “sound signature” and anything that deviates from that is considered bad. The only reason music sounds crappy today is that the music business has put far too much emphasis on the business side, forcing intelligent people in the content chain to mangle the end result on CD. (I haven’t heard any brickwalled Blu-rays…yet).

    The other part of the problem is that so few vinyl/analog freaks have ever sat down and listened to a pristine digital 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound recording. To them, stereo is king. I remember the days when mono was all the rage and hi-fi mags back then were arguing against stereo recordings! How silly is that? (Hey, we still have dummies who believe the Earth is flat so…)

    People are entitled to their positions, but if you’re an old man who only listens to “serious music”, then you’ve never heard Kraftwerk, Metallica, or The Beatles in surround sound. You’ve never compared the bland, vinyl stereo copy to a Blu-ray in glorious surround. If you can barely run a computer (other than a word processor perhaps), all of this “digital stuff” just seems confusing and unnecessary.

    Mark has the unenviable task of bringing dinosaurs up to speed, of convincing leagues to misinformed consumers and re-educating listeners about all the snake oil claims made by peddlers of bad digital material and analog alike. His words are met with the same contempt that Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens have endured. Arguing with Luddites using clear, REPEATABLE measurements are often received by the opponent as harsh, because they don’t want to hear anything close to the truth. Only their truth matters. Facts and figures mean nothing to them.

    Music itself, as well as music production has clearly taken a nosedive. Very few commercially successful artists or groups pump out good sounding albums. The final mix is compressed to hell, leaving people to believe this high compression is a by-product of the digital format. Vinyl “wins” only due to the fact the makers of vinyl discs can’t crank the loudness to ridiculous levels due to the physical limitations of that medium.

    For me, listening to groups like Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac, the Beatles and a slew of other well-known artists in digital surround sound makes my vinyl collection gather dust. Spending thousands to dollars to get my vinyl playback gear up to “audiophile standards” (whatever that means) is never going to happen. I have also listened to DVD-V audio recordings of classical music where I’ve heard a creaking chair, most likely from a musician shifting in his/her seat! No such thing ever comes through like that in a vinyl recording, and I’ve bought many direct-to-disc, and half-speed mastered albums in my day. Digital rules folks. Get over it.

    • Thanks Norm. Very well stated.

  12. I would say to Mr. Waldrep that before passing judgement on Peter’s article that you walk a mile in his shoes first to understand where his article is coming from. The reason I say this is because Peter Qvortrup’s company Audio Note makes many “left field’ products both in home audio and in professional audio (designing microphones ADC, DACS, speakers, cutting lathes, CD transports, loudspeakers etc).

    Recording engineer Steve Hoffman owns much of it and has touted some of it as the best he has ever heard. They often attend audio shows where they win best sound of show. They have even had their CD players playing CD in blind tests beat SACD playing SACD. Which isn’t to say that SACD is inferior or that the technology isn’t better in and of itself but that the macines that play it back perhaps have worse otput stages that have not yet allowed SACD to shine as well as Audio Note’s CD players (which are different than any other CD players in the entire audio industry – in other words you have not heard CD until you hear Audio Note CD.

    As an audio equipment reviewer I would not necessarily you will like it better but you will hear it differently and IMO they’ve been on to something for quite awhile. Peter has one of the biggest deepest music collections in the world and years ago he wrote the comparison by contrast method of evaluating gear – which says basically that the stereo the reveals the most differences in recording (contrast) is likely the most accurate (as it doesn’t homogenize the sound). Regardless whether you like the sound more or not the ability to contrast is more accurate. So with a lot of current music there is indeed a sort of airbrushed quality to music – autotune is a huge reason where it difficult to tell singer from robot. This sameness of sound from recording to recording has almost no contrast whatsoever and that is the mainstream recording studio sound of today.

    When I go back and listen to say Ray Charles on LP I was stunned by the overall dynamic ability presented that is very rare to hear in modern recordings on SACD. And it’s not like Ray Charles would be the best example either. On CD the same recording is pretty horrible. Is LP better? Well listening to both I can understand why people adhere to LP – of course it’s not CD’s fault – it’s the folks who made a lousy CD copy.

    Perhaps check out some of Gearbox Records albums – Gearbox uses Audio Note equipment to make their vinyl and CDs which have been reviewed as some of the very best sounding albums in the industry. Old school approach but modern times and then determine if they are on to something http://www.gearboxrecords.com/home.html

    • Richard, thanks for your comments. I’m sure that Audio Note equipment is superb and sounds exquisite but that not the assertion in the article. His position that analog equipment, recording techniques, recording, and distribution formats of 50-60 years ago trumps current state-of-the-art is simply untrue. There are certainly lots of poor sounding recordings being played through lousy digital systems but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t hi=res digital releases that eclipse the best analog has to offer. The releases from my own label AIX Records being a prime example. Looking at the Gear Box Records site demonstrates their affection for analog tape, old equipment, and processes that produce fidelity that harkens back to yesteryear. There are many studios that market themselves to analog advocates and produce vinyl LPs using vintage equipment and procedures. No doubt they produce great sounding tracks — but they are limited by the compromises of the formats they embrace. I’m simply saying that the best of the best fidelity today is better than the best of the 50 years ago. Failure to recognize that is part of what keeps the industry from moving forward.

      If you haven’t experienced a real high-resolution, 5.1 surround recording, you haven’t heard real world dynamics, extended frequency range, and complete sonic envelopment. You may prefer the “sound” of the past — many do — but that doesn’t make the vintage sound better.

    • Richard, take a listen to JMF Audio equipment and you will forget your Audio Note forever.

  13. > One listen to Jennifer Warnes singing “So Sad” in the midst of a circle of acoustic musicians

    Is this on some AIX album? I could find Jennifer Warnes only on “Nitty Gritty Surround” album but there’s no “So Sad” track there.

    • I’m not allowed to release the track.

  14. Are the books shipping yet? Thanks!

    • Yes, all books and Blu-ray have been sent. If you’re expecting one and haven’t received it yet, please let me know.

    • ‘These statements are as fatuous as saying that the TVs and cars of the 1960s were superior to those of today.’

      Valve CRT still is superior to any tech currently on the market

      ‘little sense of space, because they’re mono’

      There’s no quality difference between mono, stereo and multichannel.

  15. Good Day for you, Mark!

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