Audiophiles and music lovers all around the world deserve to know what high-resolution or high-definition audio is. This has been an issue for me for a long time…and it still remains. Leaving aside the question of whether it matters or not, high-resolution audio should mean something. But everyone in the audio business wants a piece of the term. In the current case, the processing that the MAX-D people are promoting as an “audio process that restores lost compressed harmonics, and brings high definition (HD) sound to digital media” is as far from the truth as one could be unless you skew the definition of HD-Audio beyond recognition.
Here’s my definition of HD-Audio or high-resolution audio. It is an audio recording that meets or exceeds the capabilities of human hearing and more…that means it must have the potential of reaching around 120-130 dB of signal to noise ratio (24 bits in PCM terms) and capture all of the frequencies up to at least 20 kHz and even the next octave to 40 kHz. That means that analog tape, vinyl LPs and standard resolution digital (CDs, DSD 64 and all compressed formats) do not qualify.
I get a lot of push back from vinyl fans and even professional audio engineers that love their analog tape machines. It’s hard for them to get past the notion that something that sounds great can’t be high-resolution. There are lots of examples of classic recordings that will forever be standard definition but can still make your heart or head soar. I’m okay with all of that. Where I have a problem is when a company like MAX-D misleads everyone in their sphere about what they’re doing.
So today, I did a little experimenting. It seemed to me that their comparison between a music source that wasn’t MAX-D processed and one that was played a little loose with the audio facts. I recorded the audio portion of the first promotional video (you can find this at MAX-D Demo) and did a spectral analysis of the section that features the tune “Give Me Everything (Tonight) by Pitbull.
Take a look at the spectragram below (by now you should be getting pretty good at interpreting these things, right?):
Figure 1 – A spectragram of the “Give Me Everything (Tonight)” showing the original in the demo, the processed file and the original from Youtube [Click to enlarge].
So here’s what we have:
1. The MAX-D processed version is between 3 and 10 dB louder than their “original”. This is especially apparent in the low end and above 4 kHz. They boosted the overall level AND both ends of the frequency range. And everyone knows that louder is better.
2. The high frequencies of both the original and the processed portions of the demo track are non-existent beyond 17 kHz. Their “so-called” HD-Audio output isn’t even as good as a standard definition Redbook CD.
3. I tried to purchase the tune on iTunes but it’s not available in this country for some reason. So I captured the output of the YouTube version. This is not an accurate plot of the energy in the released CD version (especially in the high end) but it does show that the people at MAX Sound attenuated the low frequencies of their “original” to make theirs sound better. No wonder everyone that hears the MAX-D “taste test” goes for the hyped version.
4. It’s a pretty good bet that they modified the original. In the YouTube version, I hear a lot more spaciousness and clarity…this is just an educated guess but it would make their version sound a lot better than the “demo original”.
I’ll let you judge for yourself if this “proprietary” process is anything special. It’s certainly has nothing to do with HD-Audio. If they simply claimed that it is a realtime music enhancement processor, I don’t think I’d have a problem with it. It processes the sound be making the processed file much louder…especially in the high and low ends…and they do some frequency specific phase shifting to expand the image.
But it’s not high definition audio.
What I can’t figure out is why professional audio engineers and even Mick Fleetwood have gone on record as “endorsing” the MAX-D process. It is a publicly traded company and their stock has been on a gradual descent from $.25 to around $.19 on last close.
Next stop Las Vegas…CES 2014, here I come.