The campaign for HRA spearheaded by the CEA, Sony, NARAS and others has managed to generate some press and interest. I got my copy of ProSound magazine the other day and there on the front cover, in the middle of the page above the fold was an article entitled, “Hi Res Audio Goes Mainstream. Written by veteran audio writer Steve Harvey, it was accompanied by a big bold red box with the words SPECIAL REPORT in it. It’s true that ProSound is a trade magazine but according to my assessment, that’s exactly where information about high-resolution audio should be directed. I read the article…and was naturally pleased that iTrax and I were included in the body of the article…but the message of the article illustrates the up hill climb that stands before us.
A few paragraphs into the piece, there is a single sentence that says it all…
“But what exactly is HRA?”
And the following paragraphs are taken right from the CEA statement on high-resolution audio. Here’s a quote from the article:
“HRA music files provide greater clarity and detail than MP3s and other compressed digital audio formats, resulting in a listening experience that more closely represents the original recording.” I don’t know who came up with this definition but we’re in deeper trouble than I thought if this is how HRA is being promoted by the CEA!
Steve continues by correctly saying that the new “standard” lacks specificity. “HRA is an umbrella marketing term that covers anything with a greater resolution than two-channel 44.1 kHz/16-bit PCM, and thus encompasses files from 48-kHz/16-bit to single through multiple-rate DSD (Direct Stream Digital, a joint Sony/Philips trademark).
He’s exactly right. This whole effort lacks focus and without accurate definitions, there can be no meaning to HRA. If a delivery format like 48-kHz/16-bits PCM can be HRA then we actually could say that CD is high-resolution. Do you really think you could tell the difference between a file with a sampling rate of 48 kHz and one at the CD standard of 44.1 kHz?
I received a call from the head of the CEA Audio Board yesterday. She wanted to discuss how the audio board and CEA could take advantage of the increased awareness in HRA. It looks like I’ll be involved in a working group tasked with trying to come up with some messaging and educational pieces to continue the push for HRA. It’s going to be interesting but I have serious doubts whether any sort of agreement will happen. The former head of the group was involved with iBiquity, the folks behind “HD-Radio”, which is about as far from high-definition as you can get!
Based on my posts of the last couple of days AND the very thoughtful posts (and emails) from readers, it seems that we need a new lexicon to describe high-resolution audio (and the rest of the audio quality levels that exist). One individual likes the term “audiophile” fidelity. Another thinks going back to the SPARS codes of ADD, AAD or DDD would do the trick. I think these ideas have merit but carry too much baggage. We need something new.
The levels that I described yesterday (High Resolution, Standard Resolution and Low Resolution) can be considered umbrellas under which a variety of formats and specifications can exist. AND we can use them to categorize both the recording production standards as well as the delivery/distribution container. Purchasers would know that an individual track was recorded on analog tape (a standard resolution format) and delivered to them in a DSD 64 or 192 kHz/24-bit PCM bit bucket. Those familiar with analog tape and the delivery formats will have a pretty good idea what to expect with regards to the final fidelity…at least the POTENTIAL fidelity of their download. No false marketing…no hyperbole about these being “Ultimate High Resolution tracks” when they were recorded 30 years ago.
Everyone wants the best possible copy of the “Studio Master” (what ever that is) but we need to understand that the potential for greater, more life like fidelity has increased over the past 40 years. Whether artists, engineers, producers and record labels choose to give us masters with more dynamic range and frequency response is another thing.
I developed a “provenance” logo with a sub line that includes the source and delivery standards. I have no idea whether this idea will gain any traction in the professional community or in the CEA working group but it’s worth trying.