Mastered in 96 kHz/24-bit PCM

Did you see the top item in your HDTracks newsletter this week about the “NEW” album from Paul McCartney? This is his first release in 6 years and is described as a Deluxe Edition Audiophile release at 96 kHz/24-bits. Great news for Sir Paul’s fans and for audiophiles, right? And over at a new “high-resolution” digital music download site called ProStudioMasters I noticed an exclusive release on their site by Sting called “The Last Ship”. Here’s the marketing blurb on that one:

sting_prostudio_masters

Both of these albums would seem to be high-resolution, right? They’re recent recordings and the engineers certainly know the current state of affairs with regards to high-resolution production tools and procedures. But the fact is neither one qualifies for my definition of high-resolution. It’s true that the mastering was done at 96 kHz/24-bits but that doesn’t have anything to do with the original dynamics, frequency response or overall fidelity. In fact, in my experience the mastering stage often results in a final product that has less fidelity than the source mixes! I actually know the mastering guy that worked on the Sting release. I should probably reach out to him and find out what the production path was in the project.

So if you got the HDTracks newsletter and believe that the product is a 96 kHz/24-bit release. It’s not. The following information is available only when you get to the product web page:

Please Note: Tracks 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 12 are 48/24 recordings mastered at 96/24; tracks 5, 11 are 44/24 recordings mastered at 96/24

Why would anyone purchase a 96 kHz/24-bit PCM recording of this album for a premium price ($20) when the highest frequency component is limited by the sample rate of the original multitrack project? There will be nothing higher than 24 kHz present on any of the track. This is brick wall because of Nyquist.

The Sting project at least has a chance of something higher than 24 kHz IF the mastering engineers used the analog master as the source for their task. I doubt that they did. The website says that the project was recorded and mixed on analog tape AND 48 kHz/24-bits. If this is true then they tracked to an analog multitrack AND a Pro Tools rig. Then they mixed from both formats to both analog tape and 96 kHz/24-bit PCM. I don’t believe that they would do both formats all the way through the process. And in the end they don’t tell us which format was used as the source for the mastering stage! I’m tempted to spent $20 on the album and find out but will probably pass. The “Technical Notes” tab on the product web page doesn’t talk about which source was used. They do credit the Pro Tools engineers but there’s no mention of the analog folks. I’d be willing to bet that the PCM digital files were used.

The Sting project was also “Mastered in 96 kHz/24-bit PCM”, just like the Paul McCartney release. However, as I pointed out above neither one was actually recorded in a high-resolution standard at the time of the original sessions…so the final stage “Mastered in 96 kHz/24-bit PCM” has no bearing on the ultimate fidelity of the release.

Does it really matter? Probably not. These are both commercial recordings that have very little dynamic range and the major labels don’t care about frequency response so if you love the music then go buy the CD. But stay away from the HD downloads because the CD will sound as good as the expensive downloads.

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.

3 thoughts on “Mastered in 96 kHz/24-bit PCM

  • October 20, 2013 at 8:18 am
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    Dear Dr. AIX,

    Sir Paul & Sting are megastars. How come they do not make sure their recordings are state of the art (96kHz/24-bits with high dynamic range) and then leave the sub standard versions (which is the current commercial CD standard) be processed as the record company wishes? I am sure those gentlemen have a high-end sound system at home and would like to share the studio experience with their fans who are serious music lovers.

    Édouard Trépanier

    Reply
  • January 6, 2014 at 6:04 am
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    Yeah, I don’t know about Sting but McCartney is definitely somebody who appreciates good recording, from what I gather, and you’d think that would be pretty important to him. It’s tough to know how much say these guys actually have over what the record company does with their music though. Still, far less significant, less important and more “pop oriented” artists have done just that (NIN comes to mind) and did it quite well. Probably certain record companies are more open to that than others though, regardless of whether they’re “major label” or not.

    Reply
  • April 6, 2015 at 7:50 am
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    These labels 4 labels make the best sounding hi-res recordings:
    Reference Recordings.com
    Soundliason.com
    Blue Coast.com
    2L.com
    The rest are hopelessly behind.

    Reply

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