The music industry has a vested interest in promoting “so-called” hi-res music. Hardware manufacturers want you to believe that increasing the sampling rate to 192 – 384 kHz and lengthening word lengths to 32-bits will transform your listening experience — and make you invest in yet another upgraded DAC. Download and streaming sites want you to pay premium prices for standard-resolution music albums transferred to high-res bit buckets. In reality, the fidelity stays the same as the original standard-res source. And in spite these sites’ insistence that they “verify” the authenticity of each and every track through rigorous evaluation and that every track offered on their site is “high-res”, the fact is they aren’t (I’ll be writing an entire post about this false “feel good” propaganda soon after I had a back and forth with a download site founder about this issue.).
We all want to believe that ever greater levels of fidelity can be derived from older — and cherished —— recorded tracks when they are advertised as “high-resolution”. But generally speaking, these new HD transfers don’t have better fidelity than the original versions from 30-50 years ago when they were released as vinyl LPs. Very few albums are “remastered” when they undergo digitization for the new download/streaming sites. Remastering can be an expensive process and the labels won’t spend the money, take the time to locate the original masters (they use whatever they can find), get artist approvals etc. It’s simpler to simply digitize the “best available” master . (sometimes a third generation safety copy) into a 192 kHz/24-bit PCM file or through the MQA lossy codec, normalize it, and send it off to the distribution channels. You think you’re getting the best version of a particular album but more than likely, you’re going to get the best “available” version — and you’re going to pay more to get it.
The amount of misinformation is overwhelming. During the Munich High-End Show, I happened into a room with a large video screen promoting the virtues of “high-resolution” music. The Onkyo Music site has been providing audiophiles with “Hi-Res Audio” downloads for over ten years. I remember talking to them about my own catalog before I launched iTrax.com in the fall of 2007. I decided to build my own site because they refused to distinguish between “hi-res transfers” and actual new hi-res audio albums. All these years later they are still selling standard-res recordings as “hi-res audio”. They prominently — and incorrectly — display the “hi-res audio” logo next to the album covers. BTW The logo as administered by the JAS (Japan Audio Society) is limited to hardware and has no place on a digital music download site! — But that doesn’t stop them from using it).
I took pictures of the video display at the Munich show. I’ll post them in a future post but first let’s take a look their “Why Hi-Res Audio?” chart of high-res advantages.
On the left is a traditional time vs. amplitude graph showing the smooth undulations of an “imaginary audio waveform”. BTW I find it curious that the waveform is not periodic as you would find in a real audio file. I suspect the people in the marketing area of Onkyo have no idea how audio actually works. The right hand side presents the “digitized” version of the analog original in “standard resolution” and “high resolution. The coarse “stair steps” of the standard resolution version is compared to the much finer steps of the high-resolution version. The notion that a smoother graphic that “looks more analog” is wrong-headed and misleading. All that matters is whether the output signal is exactly the same as the input signal. Remember that the digital representation is really only a data set and has nothing to do with the graphic representation. The conversion back to analog adheres to the Shannon-Nyquist Theorem plain and simple.
There are no stair steps in PCM digital files — the discrete amplitude values at each sample time are points in time NOT stair steps or levels. This oft repeated — and thoroughly wrong — visual representation tries to convince viewers into believing that the high-res version is “closer to the original studio recording” and that “all details retained in recording process”. In reality, if the sample rate and word length of the standard-resolution file exceeds the fidelity parameters of the analog original (think Shannon/Nyquist), then the standard and high resolution versions would sound identical. The analog signal reconstructed from both the coarse and fine digitized versions would produce identical analog output.
The only time a benefit is achieved from a high-resolution recording is when the original recording was made using high-resolution equipment.
To be continued…
Don’t forget that I will be at the Marriot Irvine Spectrum Hotel from Friday through Sunday exhibiting at T.H.E. Show. I will be set up at booth A2 selling discs and the “Music and Audio: A Guide to Better Sound“. Please stop by if you’re headed to the show.