Dr. AIX's POSTS HD-AUDIO NEWS — 27 December 2018

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My wife would like to take credit for it (and she’s probably right because she does pay the credit card bills), but I some weeks ago ordered the 50th anniversary boxed set of the Beatles “White Album” as a Christmas gift for myself. And there it was under our tree on Christmas morning all wrapped up with my name on it. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 50 years since this classic double album was released in late 1968. And it’s a little tough to shell out over $150 to get the Blu-ray disc of new surround mixes that producer Giles Martin and engineer Sam Okel created. But I did. And I’m very glad I did!

Having visited London’s Abbey Road studios last month and toured Studio One and Two, the rooms where most of this incredible collection of tracks were recorded, listening to all 30 tracks was a revelation and special treat. The familiarity of the material combined with the excitement of hearing new, well-crafted, immersive mixes for the first time was magical — kind of like a similar Christmas experience a few years ago when I headed to my big listening room and cranked up the Beatles’ “Love” DVD-Audio disc mixed in 5.1 surround.

As I listened, I read the track descriptions AND the recording notes. Looking at the dates brought back a lot of memories — good and otherwise. That year saw the assassinations of both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy and my home team Detroit Tigers win the World Series in a decisive seventh game. It was also the year that my father’s melanoma recurred and took his life at the age of 43. I find it a little more than ironic that my own body has produced the same disease — which has been hacked out and replaced by ever larger scars over the past couple of months. Yesterday, my dermatologist sliced out a couple more spots. There are 16 fresh stitches on my arm and chest.

I’m a strong advocate for surround music mixes. My own recordings include two different 5.1 mixes to ease those not yet enamored of sitting in the middle of the music to a better way of experiencing music. Any kind of music works better when sounds come from all around. The notion that mono or stereo mixes are the “right” way to listen to music or that “recasting” an original piece of art in a new delivery technology is nonsense. Surround sound transforms a classic recording like the “White Album” much more than digitizing it at 192 kHz/24-bits (which makes no difference at all). Audiophiles will continue to debate the perceptibility of high-resolution transfers of older analog recordings (or even my newly minted HD tracks) but there’s no denying the fact that 5.1 surround music is immediately apparent to all listeners.

The producers of the anniversary edition of the “White Album” included the original mono mixes on the Blu-ray and I briefly switched over to those mixes as I listened. The emotional and musical engagement was dramatically reduced. More sound from more speakers (or virtual locations) accentuated the instrumental clarity and made audible parts that get buried in mono or stereo.

Old familiar music is fresh once again thanks to the care and craftsmanship — and artistic sensibility — that Giles and Sam brought to the project. Just like the preceding “Sgt. Peppers” and “Love” 5.1 surround mixes, the “White Album” is well worth the extra expense. This is an album that will find its way back into my playlist — as long as I can play it loud in fully immersive surround sound.

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Another year is almost over. I’ve struggled (and overcome) with a few medical issues, finished and delivered my “Music and Audio: A User Guide to Better Sound” book, fought the good fight for the YARRA 3DX 3D audio sound bar (but ultimately failed), learned how to soar in a glider, and enjoyed another crop of audio recording students at the university. I want to wish everyone happy holidays and hope for a new year full of new opportunities, more love and caring for everyone, and a future of open-mindedness, independent thinking and inclusiveness.

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(12) Readers Comments

  1. “fought the good fight for the YARRA 3DX 3D audio sound bar (but ultimately failed”

    What does the above mean? What failed, is there no product?
    Or it doesn’t work?
    What?

    • My goal over the past couple of months was to acquire the YARRA 3DX product, raise the needed funds to manufacture it, and ship it to all backers. I failed to convince the CEO that giving me the product AND an exclusive deal to market the YARRA 3DX in the consumer market was a win-win. There is some hope that the company can survive and ultimately raise the money needed to achieve the same goal. We’ll have to wait and see.

  2. Hi Mark & Seasons Greetings!

    Interesting how it’s now ‘immersive sound’ – bit catchier than multi-channel.
    We’ve had this conversation before but it’s nice to have a soap box.

    I’m not a Beatles fan but yesterday was playing through the 2007 Genesis 5.1 remasters (yes I know they have been widely criticised for the new mixes) and was blown away by music I am familiar with since a child sounding so much more……immersive (they got that right)

    I am utterly sick to death of so called audiophiles banging on and on about two channel, holding it up as some kind of divine perfection! The division between HiFI and Home Theatre is ridiculous they should be one and the same and technology from both should just be combined – music is very often an audio and visual experience (for instance a live performance – which I believe audiophiles are trying to emulate with their systems) and to separate them does it all a disservice. Why on earth should audio playback be restricted to two channels (regardless of numbers of speakers) it’s a no-brainer to realise music needs room to breathe – to get out to the listener as fluidly as possible, bottle necking it in two channels is stupid. I’m sure back in the day these recordings would have been made in immersive if the technology had allowed.

    I’m pleased you are still flying the flag and I will continue to support immersive recordings wherever possible and criticise people who run away screaming at the mention of the the ‘M’ word -or ‘I’ word as it is now.

    I also agree 192/24 is simply a great way of doing a thorough job of capturing whatever is on these old tapes and that’s all – and that’s fine but don’t pretend it’s magically transformed the music to some higher form, how can it?

    (Interesting how many new recordings are appearing as HI RES at 44.1/24)

    Cheers.

    • Hi John and Happy New Year to you and yours. Surround sound brings a level of engagement to any selection that isn’t possible with mono or stereo. I have a lot of surround albums and want the music industry to embrace the format. We’ll see. I have learned that a lot of Atmos mixes are being done at Capitol Studios so there’s hope.

  3. “Surround sound transforms a classic recording like the “White Album” much more than digitizing it at 192 kHz/24-bits (which makes no difference at all). Audiophiles will continue to debate the perceptibility of high-resolution transfers of older analog recordings (or even my newly minted HD tracks) but there’s no denying the fact that 5.1 surround music is immediately apparent to all listeners.”

    Audiophiles will debate the desirability of 5.1, 7.1, 9.1, X.Y for a long time I suppose. Most audophiles prefer 2.0 or 2.2. The difference between 4.0 quadraphonic sound of the 1970s and 5.1 HT of this era besides recording format is a monophonic channel in the center so that voices on a TV screen sound reasonably close to the direction of the person speaking them and of course a separate subwoofer. It was my badly disappointed expectations with 4.0 that sent me on my own journey.

    Anyone expecting these multichannel formats to duplicate the sound of live music especially as heard at a large venue will also be disappointed. The required effects of large room acoustics are not in the recording and the system is not configured in a way that could convincingly reproduce them even if someone figured out how to record it. The method I chose was to reconstruct what is missing from what is present by noting that there is a mathematical relationship between them. It’s not an easy thing to do but it was a lot of fun. You might call my current prototype 18.4.Are 18 speakers in a 400 square foot room enough? Not unless you point 16 of them away from the listener and at the walls and ceiling instead. The rest is down to very extensive signal processing, in my case both digital and analog.

    • Whether someone prefers the sound of an immersive, surround music mix is a matter of personal taste. For me and many others, it’s no contest. The preference for stereo is based in market forces. When presented with a good 5.1 experience, most audiophiles will eventually admit they prefer the music coming from all around. However, most stereophiles have not had a proper surround experience.

      It may be that MCH formats recording and reproduction methods are incapable of recreating the sound of a live concert. But I personally do not want to recreate that distant, hollow, unfocused sound in my listening environment. I much prefer the intimacy, depth, and detail afforded by close up stereo miking techniques and aggressive placement of instruments and voices in the speaker array. Not everyone has the same end goal.

      • Totally agree.

        The fact that I referenced audiophiles obsession with trying to recreate a live performance was to point to the irony that they don’t embrace more channels to (attempt) to do this with – let alone a video element showing…shock! horror! maybe film of the performer(s)….
        If I want live I go and see it live, i simply want great sound from my music system and immersive sounds better.

      • “Audiophiles will continue to debate the perceptibility of high-resolution transfers of older analog recordings (or even my newly minted HD tracks) but there’s no denying the fact that 5.1 surround music is immediately apparent to all listeners….most stereophiles have not had a proper surround experience.”

        I’ve said this for a decade now. As your test last summer demonstrated — yet again! — no one can distinguish CD-spec audio from 96/24 or DSD but everyone can distinguish, without special training or expensive kit, stereo from multichannel. Multichannel is the greatest and probably only audible benefit of SACD, DVD-A, and Blu-Ray.

        The most frequent complaint from stereo fetishists is discrete multichannel sounds artificial, like a knob-twiddling engineer added fake reverb to the recording. Most multichannel listeners place their speakers at varied distances from the listening “sweet spot” for practical reasons. This means that, without timing adjustments, the sound from each speaker hits the ears at different times and the brain interprets this as reverb or an echo because the music is heard twice (or more) in close proximity. It is critical that the listener carefully measure speaker distances and input this to the receiver/pre-amp — or use the onboard YPAO (etc.) microphone to measure and program these distances automatically.

        This fake echo effect caused by incorrect speakers distances is obvious and certainly makes discrete multichannel recordings sound fake. But properly calibrated distances unify the sonic image and reproduce only the reverb of the original concert hall, church, club, or wherever.

        Of course true surround recordings where the musicians surround the listener are a different creature altogether — some people like them and some people flat-out don’t.

        • From John Deas: Very well said Steve, careful speaker placement is essential (plug for Mark’s book here – very helpful in understanding this aspect…), i would add identical speakers all round and not the traditional horizontal style front centre used for home cinema makes a big difference for music playback. I’ve managed a proper full circle (pin, piece of string from listening position – high tech approach) based on the ITU configuration with pretty mid-range speakers so not timing adjustment necessary and it sound pretty darn great.

          While it seems crystal clear that it is not in any way easy or even possible for a great many people to distinguish between CD/96/24 etc (myself included) i personally do feel an ‘ease’ listening to digital music at higher sample rates including DSD. From discussions with various recording engineers I’ve had via email it seems timing is the possible benefit here as frequency capture and dynamic capture are more than covered at 96/24 but possibly it just needs to tweak higher to grab more tiny microsecond transient moments in the music?

    • “The difference between 4.0 quadraphonic sound of the 1970s and 5.1 HT of this era besides recording format is a monophonic channel in the center so that voices on a TV screen sound reasonably close to the direction of the person speaking them and of course a separate subwoofer”

      Er… I think it might be a slight improvement on 70’s quad!

  4. I concur with you Mark on this new 50th release of the White Album. All I can say is Giles Martins ears must be in better shape than his fathers when he remastered the White album 2009. I have both and Giles has done an excellent job on this one. Even the Esher demo acoustic renditions are well worth a listen. A very pleasant Christmas surprise!!!!!!!!!!!! Hopefully Giles will have a crack at Abbey Road next year.

    May you have a better year 2019 Mark.

    Regards Robert

  5. Sorry to hear about your cancer, Mark. It seems to run in my dad’s side of the family as well, and it took him away five years ago, so I might end up the same one day too.

    I haven’t listened to the surround mixes of “The White Album”, but I find the new stereo mixes great! I originally had the original Danish vinyl LP (which sounds the same as the UK one, as far as I know), and then I later listened to the 2009 CD remaster, which was much more pleasant and less shrill. The new mixes are even better in my opinion, and even less shrill than the 2009 remaster. The shrillness is something that has always bothered me about the Beatles. I suppose there are some songs on the 2009 remaster that I prefer to the new mixes, but I can live with that. Somehow I also like the new “White album” better than the remix of “Sgt. Pepper’s”.
    Funny thing, on Youtube a guy did a vinyl comparison between the original US stereo mix, a 1980s UK copy, the original mono mix, although in the 2014 edition, and the new stereo mix. I easily preferred the new stereo mix, but if you read the comments, many people preferred the original stereo mix or the mono mix. The original mono mix included on the new CD was very dull to my ears, but seeing so many preferences for the two old mixes just seem to suggest that many people often prefer what they already know rather than having something better (although I know it’s very subjective in this case).

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