If the business of selling high-resolution music is not as transparent as we would like it to be what can we do? I’ve already said that my own iTrax.com website is being redesigned and will deliver new transfers and masters of analog masters provided by the major labels (licenses and budgets willing). What the site has been delivering since its launch in the fall of 2007 is a bona fide catalog of over 1500 tracks that were actually recorded using high-resolution equipment. I can recall rejecting some really nice analog recordings done by a friend of mine because they didn’t qualify as “real high-resolution audio” according to my standards. The new iTrax will be less exclusive but make sure that the source format and all subsequent production stages are done at the very highest levels…and you’ll be able to download samples of the new transfers and see for yourself if the new “reference” versions are worth your money.
It’s clear that the current vendors of “high-definition tracks” or “studio masters” are run as businesses first and foremost and not really dedicated to maximizing the audio experience with their downloads. Several readers have communicated with a few of these companies asking about the relative merits of the 96 vs. 192 kHz downloads over ripping and existing copy of a CD. The responses are pretty telling.
As we saw with the response from Qobuz, the response is routinely something like the following, “all the titles in our store are the most up to date masters from our record label partners. Each record label has their own recording/mastering process when it comes to high res. We are not a record company. We don’t do anything to music provided to us by record companies. We are just a retailer. We don’t downsample or upsample. Or rip CDs.”
I’m not sure I believe it. There are independent studios that are working daily to prepare the files that are sold as high-resolution downloads. I’ve talked to these mastering houses and engineers. They’re doing what they’re told to do.
So what will it take to change things? I’m seriously thinking about setting up a “Audio Quality Assurance” website that will analyze “high-resolution downloads” from customers and readers and post the spectragrams. It’s kinda what I’ve been doing with this site over the past 9 months, but I will set up another FTP site so that you can upload example tunes for analysis and posting. It will be a database of tracks with spectragrams and annotations. Visitors will be able to enter the name of an album or track and discover whether it’s worth $25 or $30 bucks.
And we need to push back on the high-resolution audio download sites, the artists, the engineers, the producers and the labels. They should know that there is an active community of quality minded audio enthusiasts that are willing to purchase reasonably priced high quality downloads of their productions. I’m pushing as hard as I can on the engineering community within the NARAS organization and as part of the audio board at CES. The only thing that will make a difference is numbers.
If you’re interested in making some of your high-resolution audio purchases available for analysis, please let me know. I don’t need entire albums or even the entire track to do an analysis…just a minute or two will suffice. Let’s see if we can collectively work to change the market for high-resolution audio.