Dr. AIX's POSTS HD-AUDIO — 22 November 2019

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UltraHDtracks

I had planned to write a blog today about the changing landscape of high-resolution audio and how participants in the HD-Audio Challenge II might approach listening to the multitude of files that I’ve made available. However, having recently had a brief conversation with my friend Norman Chesky of HDtracks at the New York Audio Show, I empathized with his concern that Amazon Music HD’s entrance into the music streaming business is a game changer. How are small, innovative companies like his supposed to compete against one of the largest companies in the world? It’s obvious, they can’t.

David and Norman Chesky were among the first to make available “high-resolution transfers” of the catalogs of the major labels. They built a respectable business for audiophiles interested in downloading the best possible transfers of classic albums. I’ve downloaded more than a few and enjoyed them and been willing to pay the premium price on occasion.

I’ve also been critical of the promotion of these clearly standard resolution recordings incorrectly recast as “high-resolution” by HDtracks and plenty of other providers. Why do these companies feel compelled to elevate virtually the entire catalog of standard resolution, analog tape-based recording to a level that they don’t deserve? Because they believe that audiophiles and music lovers will buy into the myth that older recordings — with fidelity “locked in” at the time of the original recording — in high-resolution bit buckets are better than what we currently have. As wonderful as the classic albums of the 60s and 70s recording sound, they will forever be standard-resolution recording because they were produced prior to the era of “hi-res audio”.

A graphic from HDtracks recently pitched “Ultra Hi-Res” downloads…

This morning, I received an email from HDtracks with the graphic above. I also received a couple of emails from readers that also received the email questioning whether Jimi Hendrix ever recorded in “Ultra Hi-Res”. It should be obvious to anyone familiar with the artists listed above that most of them didn’t produce any “ultra hi-res” albums. I understand that Amazon’s decision to falsely market Redbook or CD spec audio as HD is causing headaches for HDtracks and others but does it really help audiophiles to change the definitions of what is and what isn’t HD? I don’t think so. But I do feel some sympathy for HDtracks. Demand for physical discs and high-resolution downloads is diminishing. Streaming is the dominant method of music consumption.

Trolling or Truth Telling?

Earlier this morning, on the Hi-res Digital Audio Discovery group FB page, a member commented about the advantages of 96/24-bit audio over 48/24-bit in reference to a new Coldplay album. He wrote, “I think 24/96 is much better file.” And given that I’m in the midst of the HD-Audio Challenge II survey (for more information and to sign up, please visit by clicking here), I thought I would put my two cents into the conversation. I responded:

Mark Waldrep 96/24 is much better? If the original recordings were made on analog tape (usually involving several generations!) and then digitized at 96/24 the fidelity doesn’t improve from the what it was originally. This is the hoax of virtually all so-called “hi-res” music…the provenance is NOT high-resolution. If anyone believes that 24/96 is “much better”, I would encourage you to participate in a survey that I’m conducting. I’ve made 20 tracks from my 96/24 AIX Records catalog available in the original 96/24 and as 44.1/16 Redbook files. You’re free to download them and see if you can tell them apart. Visit http://www.realhd-audio.com/?p=6713 for additional information and to sign up.

I commented further on a follow up post:

The streaming services get what they get from the labels. It’s on the labels to knock off the upsampling shenanigans:

Mark Waldrep You’re right that HDtracks, Qobuz and Tidal get their source files from the labels but it’s the services that perpetuate the myth of hi-res for their own gain. Just this morning, HDtracks issued a newsletter moving everything from Chet Baker to Jimi Hendrix to “Ultra Hi-Res”. The whole thing — hi-res music and MQA included — is a marketing initiative to get people to pay more for the fidelity that was locked in at the time of the original recording.

I regard these responses as polite, reasoned, and accurate. But they (and a previous post about Qobuz , read here if interested.), set off a couple of very harsh comments. The first from David Solomon, Chief Hi-Res Music Evangelist at Qobuz, wrote:

David Solomon It’s no wonder that you’re kicked off of almost every site you post. FYI… Studios have been recording in Hi Res for many years… You would think someone would have shared that with you, except no one that matters will even talk to you and apparently you only read your own book. So sick of your self-promoting nonsense and vile attacks…. Hi Res files come directly from the labels in native form… you know, the ones ppl used to have to pay big dollars.

[MW] I didn’t respond on the FB page but feel obliged to do so here. No one likes to be criticized. First, I have never been kicked off any FB or social media site because of something that I’ve written. I don’t get angry and go on lengthy rants, I avoid personal attacks (what good has that ever accomplished), and I don’t use foul language. As a professional recording engineer with over 45 years of experience, I know what happens in studios. David’s right that the labels provide the source files but as I’ve shown in the past that doesn’t mean that they are bona fide hi-res music. Are we supposed to blindly trust the providers?

[DS] We never up or over-sample. That is so 90’s. Furthermore,

[MW] I never stated that HDtracks, Qobuz, Amazon Music HD, or Tidal modify or change the files they receive. I know they provide the original files as downloads or streams without upsampling them. As for “oversampling”, that’s an entirely different process and may, in fact, improve the fidelity of a file. But I believe the companies have to accept some responsibility for the files they promote. Merely accepting assurances by the labels that what they deliver is high-resolution isn’t sufficient.

[DS] I have never once heard a system or recording you’ve ever done that sounded correct, but have never said this online until now. A hack w a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I would be embarrassed to sit behind a system you set up… and is why no one ever invites you in their room any more. You sound intelligent, but the proof has been established many times. You’re just bitter. So sad…

[MW] Then David resorts to very personal attacks against me by criticizing the sound of the audiophile recordings in the AIX Records catalog (including many that have won 5 star reviews and “best of” awards from magazines and consumers) and calling me a “hack”. Obviously, no one likes to be attacked and my truthful observations with regards to Qobuz and others promoting “so-called” hi-res music could be taken as trolling if you represent one of the companies in this market. As I begin to dial down my very successful career in audio and music production, I’m very proud of the many accolades that fair-minded, audiophiles have expressed to me. I captured the following customer at the recent Capitol Audio Fest.

[DS] I hate even putting this out because you are the king of trolls… Even though I have despised almost everything you do and or say, I have never once put out that I think you are full of shit. Ever tried restraining yourself instead of spewing toxic posts at every turn… ? You promote you and only have interest in what you do. You could give a crap about the industry as a whole. Seriously can’t believe someone hasn’t blocked you from this site already. I’m sure it’s only a misplaced insult or two away… Get a life.

[MW] Apparently, David “despises almost everything” I do or say and resorted to an expletive to describe his opinion of me. I’m honestly surprised by his reaction as I believe I try to provide balanced information relevant to audiophiles and the topics at hand. Sure I’m interested in exposing audiophiles to my recordings and my book but I my livelihood doesn’t depend on books sales or income from the 100 or so albums I’ve engineered and produced. I believe that informed audiophiles can save money, get better sound, and avoid falling for the hype that comes with this hobby.

What was very surprising was the response from the Admin of the site. He wrote the following:

[FK] Sorry Mark Waldrep – I am with David Solomon on this. You have constantly self-promoted for your book, and your A/B test is so hopelessly flawed that it proves absolutely nothing. I was hoping you’d take the hint that you are tilting at the windmills.

Getting to the “fidelity that was locked in at the time of the recording” is a complex task with vintage recordings and has been the holy grail all along. Sampling hardware and technicians in the last 5 years seem to have finally gotten to a point where we are not just able to get the best possible reproduction, we are also able to get entire new mixes and amazing 5.1 versions that sound better than ever before. If those are sampled and mixed at 24/96 then preserve it, and move the industry towards the new normal so prices can also normalize. Labels can downsample for CD and streaming and allow people the choice of which version to get. That is the tide that lifts all boats. The guys and gals on this forum that really know what they are talking about are just sitting back and grimacing, while the newbies are just getting more confused by your auto-repeat attacks.

Documented provenance is a much more important topic.

Hopefully, the knowledgeable members of this FB group know the difference between facts and marketing speak.

Qobuz, other streaming companies, and all small digital music retailers are under a lot of pressure because of the entry of Apple and Amazon into the streaming business. It’s not hard to see why they reduced their prices to match the subscription rate of Amazon. Competing with Amazon is a lost cause. I would encourage people to continue to support Qobuz and HDtracks instead of Amazon.

In reality, all companies involved in streaming or downloading music are at the mercy of those providing the music — the big labels. They simply pass along and market the music they are given. Now that we have moved past compressed formats like MP3 and have established Redbook quality as the norm for streaming, the factors that will determine market winners and loser will be things like integrity, customer service, user experience, size of catalog, ease of use, and ultimately value.

It is my firm belief that we should really forget about hi-res audio and focus on maximizing the quality of the transfers to digital (getting the best analog tape to PCM digital masters), advocate for less audio compression, and insist that the artists/engineers/producers and labels release better sounding recordings.

And David, I am sincerely sorry if my posts were perceived as insults. They were not meant as such.

HD-Audio Challenge II Continues

Almost 500 individuals have signed up for the HD-Audio Challenge II. If you’re interested in participating, please sign up below or visit the original launch page. I’ll be writing more in a few day about how to listen and compare the files in the study. Stay tuned.

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Holiday Sale on the Book and AIX Records Continues

Discounts have been extended until the end of November for the all AIX Records releases and the Music and Audio: A User Guide to Better Sound. Use COUPON CODE AIX191101 for 25% off all AIX Recording and MAAG191016 for 50% off the paperback version of the book. The holidays are fast approaching…shop now for the perfect audiophile gift.

Following the success at the audio trade shows in DC and NYC, quantities of the book are limited. Make sure you get your copy in time for the holidays.

Thanks as always and Happy Holidays!

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(30) Readers Comments

  1. You should not apologize to that David jerk. Your points are clear and concise and accurate and have been for years and years.

    You were kicked out of at least one audio group because you told them the truth. Industry people are lying and cheating and have no morals or ethics. Just the worship of the almighty dollar. You are good to call them out on their behavior and lies.

    Yes I know there are good honest business people but they are rare.

    Keep up the good fight!

    • Thanks Ron. I know and have interacted with David on a friendly basis at various trade shows. Apparently, criticism of the type I have leveled at Qobuz is taken very personally.

  2. I have not yet subscribed to a streaming service, but if this is the way David Solomon defends Qobuz,I have two comments:

    1) I’m unlikely to subscribe to Qobuz because of concerns about how I might be treated by their Customer Service if I encountered any problems;

    2) Mr. Solomon may have a brighter future in politics than in the audio business,

  3. Morning Mark,

    I too was surprised by an email from HD tracks promoting ‘Ultra Hi Res’ versions of…Hendrix, Peter Gabriel etc obviously all great old analogue recordings. I can understand they have to ‘level’ the field because of Amazons re-categorising but it adds up to more confusing bull*** for the consumer. You seem to be banging your head against a wall with these bastards. As I have mentioned before I would have thought it a great sales pitch explaining that these are (hopefully) high definition transfers from the original material and therefore are the best you’re gonna get, but instead of this they just keep screaming “it’s now in hi res” as if it’s been magically transformed into something different.

  4. I typed in Hi-res Digital Audio Discovery on FB and found no group page by that name. Anyway, why not write a PM to the admin of that forum and ask for David Solomon to be removed and blocked. Quote the disgraceful names he called you.

    More broadly, Mark, welcome to the audiophile online environment at the hobby level. Where vinyl is considered The Ultimate, and on another plane altogether above digital, and where 16/44 digital is considered completely inadequate, and can only be made to sound bearable with $10,000+ players from high-end brands. And where blind listening testing is dismissed as fundamentally broken, and sighted casual/home listening tests are considered the gold standard, especially when conducted by an established and experienced reviewer with a penchant for lyricism in prose. Cue Golden Ears.

    And where, if you or I upset this apple cart of fixed paradigms and belief systems by declaring that the Golden Eared Emperor and High Priest looks pretty naked, the local denizens show their true colours and start screaming Witch! at you and trying to get us burned at the stake.

    It’s tough out there. I’ve been banned a few times, despite always being friendly but sticking to my guns about realities vs belief systems. But I just quietly persist. It’s a mission worth pursuing. I get the impression that there are less vocal contributors and readers on audiophile forums who appreciate quiet but determined and well-reasoned voice of discord.

    cheers

    • The FB group is real (Hi-res Digital Audio Discovery). I’m not sure why you didn’t find it. But I can tell you that the admin also made a comment and agreed with David Solomon. He wrote,

      “Sorry Mark Waldrep – I am with David Solomon on this. You have constantly self-promoted for your book, and your A/B test is so hopelessly flawed that it proves absolutely nothing. I was hoping you’d take the hint that you are tilting at the windmills.

      Getting to the ‘fidelity that was locked in at the time of the recording’ is a complex task with vintage recordings and has been the holy grail all along. Sampling hardware and technicians in the last 5 years seem to have finally gotten to a point where we are not just able to get the best possible reproduction, we are also able to get entire new mixes and amazing 5.1 versions that sound better than ever before. If those are sampled and mixed at 24/96 then preserve it, and move the industry towards the new normal so prices can also normalize. Labels can downsample for CD and streaming and allow people the choice of which version to get. That is the tide that lifts all boats. The guys and gals on this forum that really know what they are talking about are just sitting back and grimacing, while the newbies are just getting more confused by your auto-repeat attacks.

      Documented provenance is a much more important topic.”

      I reported David’s post as being contrary to the groups rules but nothing happened. The posts — David’s, Frans’ and mine — were all curiously removed by the admin.

  5. I read Mark’s article from Q buzz boss ,and was appalled by his email to Mark who is standing up for all of us who don’t have the inside knowledge of how music has been recorded and who is standing up for us,and doesn’t want us to be ripped of by the record companies , I thank Mark and support him , and appreciate his integrity in this day and age, there is not many like him I am sad to say, keep up doing what your doing Mark ,we need your voice , from one appreciative Scotsman

    • Thanks Donald. I appreciate the support and encouraging comments.

  6. Unfortunate that Qobuz’ reaction took the tone it did. Not necessary, and unprofessional. Nowhere in the quotes is there any rebuttal of your claims.

    I’d like to comment on the portion of the post dealing with HDTracks. I was recently introduced to a wonderful guitar/cello duet album titled ‘Boyd Meets Girl’. Heard a track on the radio, listened to it on Tidal and decided I liked it enough to buy it. So I went looking for it on HDTracks.The first version that popped up was 352 kHz (!) 24 bit for a mere $39.99. The only other sampling option was 192/24. That one was $29.99.

    Since my DAC downsamples 192K to 96K, this didn’t sound like a good deal to me. A little Googling located a 24/96 download from Presto Classical for a reasonable-seeming $17.50. They also have a 16/44 option for a mere $12, but you may as well just play from Tidal or Qobuz there.

    My question is, why would HDTracks not offer the 24/96 iteration? They’re missing out on at least my business. How many other potential customers agree with Mark that 24/96 is plenty and balk at spending more? Audionirvana says Qobuz is ‘good enough for the masses’ but maybe outlets like HDTracks shouldn’t dismiss that market.

    • We’re arguing and discussing audio and music…it is not worth getting angry or abusive in my opinion. The folks at Qobuz or any of the other streaming and download sites can refute the facts about hi-res music. They can deflect, the can redefine terms, and speak in techno jargon in attempts to get us all to buy the same tracks again. Spending $40 for a single downloadable album is nonsense. As I observe the responses to my HD-Audio Challenge II, there don’t seem to be obvious perceptible differences between HD and CD spec. As I sit here listening to CD spec audio of Joni Mitchell, I’m convinced that this is the end of physical discs and even downloads. HDtracks and others need to find another business.

    • A little off topic but since we are talking about the music marketplace: The ‘Boyd Meets Girl’ cello/guitar album I mentioned as being available from HDTracks for $29.99 in 192/24 format is sold by eClassical for $13.50 (!). Like most consumers, a 2:1 cost ratio for the same thing will usually cause me to select the lower cost option.Charging twice as much won’t help HDTracks in the long run.

      (Related technical question for Mark: If I convert the files from 192 to 96 (without changing the bit depth) to avoid the extreme waste of space incurred by the 192k version, is dithering necessary or desirable? Opinions on the inter web are divided but I figured you would be able to sterer me right.)

      • Dave, whenever you are doing a bit rate reduction using dither is mandatory. For sample rate reduction, it’s not. Going from 192 to 96 kHz is simply taking every other sample.

  7. Hi Mark,
    Got to say I’m shocked by Mr. Solomon’s response to your honest and truthful postings. Name calling and vulgarity by a corporate representative is quite a bit over the top IMHO.. I can understand the folks at Qobuz, Tidal, HDTracks, etc being a bit uptight over Amazons entry into the market but this kind of reaction is not acceptable. The writing is on the wall for the end of HDTracks, how many will be willing to pay the high prices for purchasing HD files when you can stream the entire catalog for a small monthly or yearly fee, purchasing files for you library from the streamer if desired? But to be honest it’s nothing new, we’ve seen this type of reaction a number of times when folks using somewhat unethical marketing practices in audio get called out for it. I won’t name names but we who have been around all know who they are.
    Best of luck Mark, keep up “telling it like it is” in the industry.

    • Thanks Sal. And equally surprising was the support that David received from the admin of the FB group.

      • I wouldn’t be bothered over the reaction of a bunch of fan-boys on FB.
        The overwhelming response I’ve read around the web found Davids remarks
        way below that expected by any industy perfesional.

        • Thanks Sal. It was just surprising to me that he felt the need to attack me personally and professionally.

  8. In a recent Facebook video David Solomon extolled the virtues of Illinois Jacquet’s 1956 Verve recording of Harlem Nocturne. “This is actually 24/96 recording (in 1956???) and so just the microdynamics you are able to hear…is astonishing.” I heartily agree this is great captured sound within the limitations of the microphone and tape.
    The spectra for both the 24/192 HDTracks version and the 64dsd Analogue Productions version are virtually identical. Good dynamic range yes but the real recorded music stops at 21.8kHz/-74dB. Then unnecessary HF noise for your tweeters and amp to handle steadily rises  from 23kHz/-107dB to 58kHz/-69dB. Admittedly the bit depth reaches 18 on the PCM which may give a marginal improvement. Perhaps system intermodulation of this unmusical HF hash creates an illusion of “astonishing  microdynamics”?
    Measurements were made using XiVero’s MusicScope.

    • Thanks for helping make my point. I chafe when anyone uses terms like “microdynamics”, “low level details, “sound space”, or “expanded reverb”…these subjective adjectives fail on so many levels. But they seem to be the mainstay lexicon of those that don’t have any technical understanding of how audio works.

  9. Mark,

    This discussion topic has prompted me to add some commentary to my web page. I’ll share that here.

    Countless thousands of original analog master tapes survive in record label storage vaults today. Yet almost no one has heard these legacy recordings played back in their highest fidelity.

    That’s because accurately hearing everything on an analog tape requires playing it back on a machine that is of better quality (by an order of magnitude or more) than the machine that originally recorded it.

    Further, fine adjustments of such machines (technically known as reproducers) need to be made in order to optimally align to each individual master tape.

    Yet when the record industry began converting vast numbers of analog stereo master tapes to digital files during the CD boom era of the 1980s, they did not use highest-quality reproducers. To keep their costs low, the transfers were instead made using re-purposed vintage studio recorders.

    The result was that audible (and measurable) distortions were added to the original analog recorded signals, in the critical step immediately before conversion to the 44.1 kHz, 16-bit linear pulse code modulation files.

    Today there are proprietary attempts to remove distortions from existing PCM files by performing operations in the digital domain. Yet it must be emphasized that the older transfers and their resulting PCM files were never of “high resolution” quality.

    By far the best and surest way we know to remove added distortions from natively analog recordings is to return to the original master tapes and re-do the transfers using a playback and conversion chain of much higher quality.

    Thanks for reading.

    Fred Thal

    • Thanks Fred,

      That is the most clear and sensible explanation you can give and why I/we get tired of hearing the constant mantra of such and such recording being ‘hi res’ with NO provenance given.

      • Fred is the man and it’s unfortunate that his expertise and experience is largely being ignored by the major players that would benefit.

  10. You are held in sufficient esteem and respected for your knowledge and judgement that your own reputation is not the one which will be hurt by the mean spirited comments from David Solomon. I read his words with dismay, but I have to say I find that audio attracts such people for some reason. Please continue as you are, I’m not the only one who looks forward to your posts and see’s you as a voice of sanity and reason in this often dysfunctional hobby.

    • Thanks John. I’ve received a large number of private emails in support of my posts and comments. I have known David to be a reasonable individual in the past. He must have been having a very bad day…but that doesn’t excuse his overly harsh language.

  11. I was in that FB community and watched that thread with every new entry. After reading the Administrator’s response, I removed myself from it. If that is his tact in handling such incendiary language and conversation by its members, I don’t need to be there. Truthfully, I got very little enjoyment or information out of it. So I won’t miss it(and I left a SACD fan FB group on the same day).

    • Thanks for letting me know. I was shocked as well. I’m think I should start a FB group for polite and objective audiophiles. There is a lot of nonsense on many of the sites.

  12. I apply a little pressure and say there isn’t a market for high resolution audio and everyone is freaking out. Nobody cares about high resolution audio. If they did more people would visit hi-res download sites and subscribe to hi-res streaming sites in numbers above a rounding error of the total market.

    • You’re actually right on. And I say this as someone that spend 20 years, millions of dollars, and countless hours building a catalog of real high-resolution albums. It seems obvious to me that people don’t care and in fact, cannot tell CD versions of my masters from the hi-res originals. Sad, but it is true. Interestingly, David Solomon of Qobuz answered the question “does anyone care about hi-res?” during his “seminar/commercial” at the RMAF with, “No, they don’t. Man, that is a great question. They don’t.”

  13. I’d like to apologize for the tone and emotion of my short lived post. After many insults from MW regarding Qobuz marketing fake hi res and comments of false claims on many sites, I uncharacteristically snapped back.
    For those who knows me, I’m sure this was surprising as I’ve never posted anything like this. I should have take my issues directly to MW instead.
    I did ask that the post be removed by the owner as I realized pretty quickly that it was very unprofessional and quite embarrassing.
    No one should be attacked on a site, ever and I regret my emotional knee jerk reaction.
    I am sorry for my hurtful words and realize these kinds of mistakes potentially and rightfully live with one for an indefinite period. Even through my remorse, I take full responsibility for the post.
    MW please accept my apologies for not coming to you with any issues I have with you personally. As with most conflicts, I’m sure we could have come to terms.

    • David, thanks for taking the opportunity to reach out to me. While I don’t accept that I have posted “insults” or “false claims” regarding Qobuz (or any other organizations working in this space), I do accept your apology and look forward to communicating more directly in the future. Happy Thanksgiving.

      • Thank you, Mark.
        Id like to have a real conversation and truly clear the air. Had I used even a small amount of wisdom, I would have reached out instead of an emotional post.

        Take care and hope you and your family have a happy thanksgiving.
        David

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