Dr. AIX's POSTS — 06 February 2014

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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.

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About Author

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.

(17) Readers Comments

  1. Actually am less interested in all the definitions of what would constitute HRA, and more interested in all the parties developing an audio container that would morph appropriately to the device doing the reproducing. Example: Home audio with large speakers would have the container provide highest resolution appropriate to the system’s bit rate specs, and allow either 2, 3 5 7 11 or more channels of sound, with various “perspectives” selectable by listener (Stage, audience, etc.) Further, if same container was played on a phone/mobile device, dynamic range would be adjusted to be appropriate. You get the idea. But first things first: What defines HRA?

    • The new iTrax website will allow you to choose between a variety of “flavors” for your downloads…these could be customized for your devices or environment. Using metadata to automatically change things would be possible too. But I doubt it will happen anytime soon.

  2. The namesake and ambition of this website reminds me of the dairy industry. If you want a “real” dairy product, one from cows not pigs, look for your milk or cottage cheese with an “R” logo.
    Mark is spot on describing “high, standard and low” as variants of audio. However, the verbiage must be consistently worded or enumerated such that there’s a logical quantifiable procession from low to high. They must all have an organic root. Whether that be tape or digital sourced would be 2 technically different houses of cards. From there the sampling and it’s derivatives must follow there own paths and be mutually exclusive of the other. Ultimately there’s a low and high “bit bucket” that can not coexist and separates the science from the marketing hype. To me, the “morse code ” comes to mine. Get it right, everyone lives; get it wrong, everyone dies.

    • The “Real” term came about because I was very frustrated by sites that were (and are) peddling standard resolution audio recordings as “High Definition” just because they put them in big bit buckets.

  3. Mark,

    You got it right with “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.” The problem remains how do we get people to relate to HR, SR and LR? Everyone reading your posts surely understands – maybe that’s all necessary to get it started. Others might catch on out of curiosity. However, some in the industry may not like the transparency. It might be hard to sell a standard resolution source in a high resolution container at a premium price once everyone understands what they are buying.

    Blaine

    • I got a response yesterday about the the difficulty that “Low Resolution” will cause among those that are selling highly compressed files. They’re not going to like the term. It’s true. So what other term can we come up with that won’t offend them and still have relative meaning?

      • Compact Resolution

  4. I honestly believe that we audiophiles should feel insulted by the CEA’s view of what constitutes HR music.
    For them to state: “HRA music files provide greater clarity and detail than MP3s and other compressed digital audio formats”…..surely announces to the entire world that they either have NO idea, or tin ears. If you live in Zimbabwe and you listen to music piped down a piece of string with a tin can attached at each end, then MP3 may be regarded as a step up. However, nothing less than 24/96 or (88.2) can be considered HR. Who records today with 16 bit converters? Why should a state of the art recording facility invest ludicrous sums of money in pursuit of the “ultimate” only to have their projects released in 16/44.1 or MP3?
    The film industry has left us behind, not only in resolution, but the entertainment experience of “surround” sound. It’s an interesting word that, “entertainment”….

    • Having been a member of the CEA audio board for about 5 years now, I understand their position. They have to keep all of their member companies happy so it is natural that they will have to water down any terminology to keep from alienating anyone. I will push back…very hard, in fact. If there’s nothing in their pronouncements then why bother?

  5. Hi Mark,

    Inspired by the article today, I recommend an updated SPARS code.

    It has three steps:
    source rez, processing rez, final product rez

    It has three designations of resolutions:
    Definitive (D), Standard (S), Low (L)

    Then it will be able to rate the recording’s performance.

    For example, a 24/192 product that was mastered at CD resolution using a compressed master would be designated LSD, which, incidentally, you’d have to be on to think you were getting high rez off this recording.

    (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)

    Paul Squillo

    PS- Except for my changing the H (High Rez) to my joke’s D, this system could be a start in the right direction.

    • I like the three stage approach as outlined in your comment. I’m going to continue to ponder this whole area and will post a followup article asap.

  6. I believe a simple term would do it, if the correct one would be chosen.

    What comes to mind quick is OHD (Original High Definition). The O part tells you that the recording was HD from the start and the HD tells you it is still HD. For the old stuff one could use RAHD for Remastered Analog HD. Also tells you right away what the source was.
    Cheers

    • I like the Original High Definition name. However, the more we expand the number of acronyms, the more we risk confusing the public even more. The three stage SPARS 2014 coding might work.

  7. I recently wrote Mark stating I was afraid he would get little or no traction with the “High, Medium, Low” approach to recording resolution labels. The guys selling the low end stuff simply will not accept it. (Even the fast food industry usually sells “regular” rather than “small” sodas.) Mark then invited me to share my views here.

    I put the invitation on the back burner for a couple of days & came up with:
    – “Standard Resolution” meaning anything less than 16/44 performance. Whether we like it or not, lossy compression has become the current standard.
    -“High Resolution” could mean 16/44 performance. As we know, a quality 16/44 recording can be quite good.
    -“Ultra-Res” would be reserved for recordings exceeding 16/44 performance from the original recording session all the way through distribution to end users.

    There may be better labels, but I firmly believe those labels cannot seem like “High, Medium, and Low”. Low/inferior will not be accepted by industry Marketing people.

    • Thanks for your well well reasoned response. I do agree that “Low Resolution” will stigmatize the providers and I’ll come up with something else. But I can’t get behind calling compressed formats like MP3 and AAc files “Standard Resolution”. This would throw the entire basis or High-Resolution out and require a reboot of everything that’s been accomplished up to now. I’m working on a chart that will hopefully put things into technical AND quality boxes.

  8. > “HD-Radio”, which is about as far from high-definition as you can get!

    I thought HD in HD-Radio was “Hybrid Digital” – I never thought of it as high definition.

    Thanks for being vocal about these details. I hope your influence will avert another VHS/Betamax fiasco – a disaster the world has forgotten (or never knew).
    I especially thank you for making a stink about the importance of the recording process, not the stupid “studio master”; It’s an end-to-end thing and garbage in ( poor mike placement, characteristics, transmission to recorder, etc..) cripples the quality of every thing down the line from the performance.

    Also, I want more attention given to surround sound and material that does not require me to have a HT. I live in a car and my 5.1 is in my car.
    As I age and my hearing range drops the spatial information is a much more important to me to hear details. Yes I am aware that what I cannot hear is critical to capture and reproduce harmonics and interference patterns (am I being redundant?) hence the need for high resolution.

    • I don’t think there are a lot of casual consumers that know that HD-Radio is “Hybrid Digital”. They jump to the assumption that HD means “high definition”, which it very clearly is not.

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