What are we going to call audio that promises AND delivers better fidelity? Is it enough to say High Resolution Audio? As most readers of this website know, HRA means absolutely nothing. All of the specifications (with ever large numbers!) and format acronyms only contribute to confusion and mistrust in what could be a major boon to the music business. What format at what specification level can deliver the best reproduction of a selection of music?
I was in favor of calling recordings that deliver fidelity exceeding that of standard compact discs as HD-Audio. It still seems like the right decision to me in spite of the CEA’s recent push for HRA or High-Resolution Audio. But there are plenty of other terms and names floating around. I read a recent post by Michael Lavorgna over at AudioStream that discusses this issue and I think he’s got it all wrong.
The title of his article is “What’s in a Name? HD, HRA, DXD, DSD…” You can link to it here. The title alone is enough to make me do a double take. On the one hand he includes generic descriptions of better quality audio (the HD and HRA acronyms) but continues on with specific encoding formats…these are distinctly different things. Oh well.
He goes on to advocate for calling the whole high-resolution audio initiative “Studio Master”. His choice is not new. There are plenty of companies that have used variants of this term. Astell & Kern talk about Master Quality Sound or MQS, Neil Young has submitted a trademark request for SQS or Studio Quality Sound, high quality download websites like QoBuz and Linn use Studio Masters and then there’s the actual meaning of the term, which audio engineers refer to when they’re delivering a finished project to the record label (but as I explained previously…there are usually 3-5 different studio masters produced during a mastering session…read the article here).
Then there’s one of my favorite terms…CD-Quality. Doesn’t a CD produce sound at 44.1 kHz/16-bits of PCM resolution? It’s simple to turn that into a potential fidelity level with 22.050 kHz of frequency response and 96 dB of signal to noise ratio knowing how PCM works. But to call something CD-Quality has generally been associated with compressed formats like AAC or MP3 striving to live up to the quality of a compact disc. When you hear an ad or someone talk about CD-Quality it means that they can’t really measure up but want you to think that they do. Using CD-Quality is meaningless.
Studio Master is a component of this new focus on audio provenance and does deserve a role in the world of better fidelity. We all want to be able to get a great copy of the Studio Master. But remember studios have been producing Studio Masters for a very long time…and they represent a very wide diversity of audio fidelity. Just because something is a Studio Master doesn’t mean that it will sound good. It might sound terrible! It all depends on the intentions of the artist, engineer and producer AND their talents, the era that the recording was produced as well as the type of equipment that was used during the recording.
The terms Studio Master and CD-Quality cannot be used to define or describe the fidelity of an individual track or album, as Michael seems to say when he lists three levels of quality:
This list confuses things more than it helps. As I stated above, Studio Masters (if you can even identify WHICH Studio Master you’re getting!) can be great or terrible so that that term out, CD-Quality is also because it is ambiguous and MP3/iTunes/Amazon lumps together a compressed format and a couple of distribution channels. Although they haven’t done it yet, Apple’s iTunes could actually allow us to download a Studio Master.
We have to think in completely different terms. I share my terms tomorrow…