NPR: What Does A Song That Costs $5 Sound Like

Last Thursday, I received a phone call from Laura Sydell. As soon as I picked up the phone and she stated her name, I immediately recognized both her name and her voice. As a regular listener to National Public Radio, Laura’s reporting is familiar to me. She told me that the Consumer Electronics Association had given my name to her regarding a piece she was doing on high-end audio…and that the particular focus would be on my friend and fellow pioneer in the world of high-end audio Cookie Marenco. Laura wanted to include my perspective in the segment and asked if I would be willing to be interviewed later that day. Of course, I agreed.

Laure sent me an email describing an iPhone app that NPR (and I’m sure other use as well) uses to record the audio of the interview using an iPhone and then deliver it via the net to her. That made sense to me, so I attempted to download the application and install it on my aging iPhone 4. No luck. It seems I needed to have iOS 4.3 and my phone hadn’t been upgraded to that version. I’ve always figured that if it’s working then I should leave well enough alone. After all this particular iPhone has been through both the washer and the dryer in my home…. and survived. It’s miraculous, I know…but it’s true. I did have to take it apart and replace the battery but the unit is still working today.

I scrambled for the better part of an hour trying to back up the phone and complete the upgrade to no avail. When Laura called me that afternoon, I informed her that I could record the interview using my iPhone but would have to put it on an FTP site because I couldn’t get the application on my phone. I told I thought I could handle it because I am an audio engineer. She agreed.

While I wished the story were about the emerging world of high-resolution audio (given the announcements by the CEA and Sony the week before), it turned out to be a piece featuring Blue Coast Records founder and engineer Cookie Marenco. I had seen Cookie at the California Audio Show back in early August and noticed that she was doing some live recording and playback demonstrations using Sony’s DSD format.

The article was a promotional piece about DSD as a new high-resolution download format. Blue Coast Records is making available DSD 64 and 128 at their download site. The sidebar of the article provided links to one track of Cookie’s in a variety of formats including DSD 64|128 and PCM at 96 kHz/24-bits.

dsd_npr_blue_coast

Figure 1 – From the Blue Coast Records Website showing the file sizes of the various formats. This doesn’t equate to the fidelity of the files BTW.

If you visit the Blue Coast Records website, you can register for an account and acquire the files. The artist is Keith Greeninger, a wonderful singer/songwriter. The entire album is available at the Blue Coast Records website. The CD version, which is provided on a CD-R using 24K gold blanks, will set you back $40. That’s a lot for a standard resolution 44.1 kHz/16-bit PCM disc but it seems Cookie has a well-heeled clientele.

The DSD downloads on Cookie’s DownloadsNow site cost $1.50 for the 44(sic)kHz version, $3.00 for the 96 kHz/24-bit version and $4.00 for the DSD version. I didn’t see the entire album on the site but if it’s got the usual 12 tracks, the DSD downloaded album will set you back almost $50. I appreciate the sentiment that Starbucks created a premium coffee market and charges a lot for a cup of coffee, but honestly this is a lot of money for a single album. I always come back to my own Blu-ray productions which have multiple mixes in real HD-Audio, lots of features and full HD-Video of the entire session…and they retail for $35!

I’ll continue my thoughts on the NPR piece tomorrow and provide the spectragraphs of the files that I’ve downloaded. I can tell you that the track sounds wonderful and I like the tunes, but…

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.

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