Definition by Committee

I’m on the Audio Board of the Consumer Electronics Association’s thanks to my friendship with cable maker Ray Kimber. It’s been a very enlightening experience to hear what hardware manufacturers and cable makers are concerned about with regards to their products. We have a monthly conference call and get together at least once a year for a meeting, dinner and social event…last year in New York City as part of CE Week.

Although I’ve been involved with the group for a few years and everyone has been very open to hearing what I have to contribute, I still feel like the odd man out because my company AIX Records and iTrax.com don’t make hardware. I’m an audio engineer, record label owner and professor of Audio Recording at one of the local California State Universities. My priorities and perspectives are different…very different…than the rest of the group. While they’re interested in lobbying about import restrictions on exotic woods used in speaker cabinets or the best way to market and sell audio accessories, I’ve been constantly pushing the value of better audio productions.

And to the credit of the CEA staff and organization, the Audio Board has built a close relationship with the P&E (Producers and Engineers Wing) of NARAS (the Grammy organization). Lucky me, I’m involved in both organizations as a member. So I get to see the musings of both organizations.

NARAS and CEA have collaboratively launched a website called QualitySoundMatters.com. You can take a quick look at the site by clicking here. The site offers a variety of posts on the emerging world of high-resolution audio. I’ve actually written a few pieces for them and I do stop by to check out the contributions of others once in a while.

It’s targeted at consumers and thus doesn’t push any technical information or controversial issues at you, but I believe it serves a purpose. It’s a “keep everyone happy” type of site.

Following the Audio Board call of last Thursday, a working group was formed to define the meaning of high-resolution audio. As soon as the call was over, emails were flying from a number of members volunteering their time to this new committee…and, of course, I stepped up as well. So far there are 12 members. They come from all sorts of companies, but I’m the only one that has ever made or released a recording. This is going to be interesting.

The working group’s challenge is to come up with a definition of high-resolution audio that the CEA and its international partners can get behind and promote. I’m sure there’ll be a logo and some sort of continued promotional campaign like the things that happened at the recent CES 2014 show.

Remember that it is the CEA that changed the name of 4K video to “Ultra HD-Video”. And it was another working group that branded HDTV a few years ago. The new challenge, however, is pretty much guaranteed to fail. Don’t get me wrong, I’m looking forward to the discussions and the proposals and the rest of the posturing that will undoubtedly happen. But the complexity and more importantly the vested interests of everyone on the board will be insurmountable.

If by some miracle consensus is achieved, the definition will be something like the meaningless definition that was given to Steve Harvey in his write up about the CES “high-resolution audio” panels. If you recall, it was: “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’ve also heard them talk about anything produced that has greater specifications than a compact disc. Without divulging any confidential, I’ll try to keep you all posted. And I can assure you that I will very active in the group and pushing for some of the ideas and terminology that we’ve discussed in these posts and follow up comments.

I’m going to spend some time preparing a preliminary document for the CEA Audio Board “high-resolution audio” working group. I’ll share that as well.

Stay tuned.

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.

11 thoughts on “Definition by Committee

  • February 15, 2014 at 4:37 pm
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    Luv it! It shoukd be patently obvious that defining HRA as anything greater resolution that a compact disc is as ridiculous as saying an SD TV program upconverted to 2k is HD quality.

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    • February 15, 2014 at 4:44 pm
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      You hit the nail on the head!

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  • February 15, 2014 at 5:02 pm
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    Wow! Talk about cutting edge when it comes to defining High Resolution Audio. I wish Mark all the best. I really want to know what I am purchasing on discs or by downloads. Provenance is so important a issue to me. Honesty in product sales and packaging! Without it I waste money needlessly, not really knowing what I am getting for my buck.
    Dad.

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  • February 15, 2014 at 6:58 pm
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    Yes good post Mark.

    Changing the name of any product from its original monika is always to some one else’s benefit. 4K is exactly that, it defines the res right off the bat, something an engineer would use but unfortunately there is no way of disguising it for the marketing boys to slip in there upsampled regular res files and charging big bucks for them. Negative comment yes I accept but the marketing department has a way of putting a spin on things to keep their options wide open. It’s down to engineer types to make sure its the truth, the whole truth and no damn spin /hype.

    Well done on getting a foot in the door, least this way the RIGHT approach can be demonstrated and act as a flag bearer to those who do not have such clear insight!

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    • February 16, 2014 at 9:42 am
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      Right now I’m thinking we need a technical and a qualitative system to define and rank high-resolution audio. Something along the lines of “Reference”, “High Fidelity” and “Low Fidelity” to describes the experience of listening to a recording AS WELL AS the “high-resolution”, “medium-resolution” and “reduced-resolution”…I’m going to be flushing this out more over the coming days.

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  • February 16, 2014 at 5:15 am
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    So I’m listening to an old favorite album of mine from 1968 this sunny Subday morning, “The Antiphonal Music of Gabrieli.” The recording was obviously done via tape, and Sony, the current owner of the CBS label this was originally recorded under, says in the rear cover notes that “This recording was mastered using 20-bit technology for “high definition sound.”
    But as I’m playing it on a lowly 16 CD player, Is the 20 bit HRT potentially lowering the noise floor?

    Remember when we were starting to release all the old vinyl albums on CD, and the buyer could check the general provenance of the cording by the AAD, ADD, and DDD appellations?

    Perhaps something along this line is what we need to clearly define HRA for the next wave of buyers.

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    • February 16, 2014 at 9:37 am
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      Sony had something called “Super Bit Mapping” that they touted as a way to extend the fidelity of a standard CD. If the original recording was done on analog tape then it has a pretty limited dynamic range…much less than a 16-bit PCM digital recording (CD specs). There is no benefit from from using SBM technology. On the other hand HDCD was able to increase the fidelity of a well make digital recording IF you had a player that could extract the extra information.

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  • February 18, 2014 at 5:25 pm
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    RE Feeling like the “odd man out” being a producer of recordings: Mark, you’re the guy they need there the most. Too much snake oil among hardware guys… like the traveling salesmen of old. What does it say that you’re the only one in the group actually doing something with content?

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    • February 19, 2014 at 10:49 am
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      In all fairness, the group is the CEA and the companies that join are hardware companies. Everyone has an agenda…including me.

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      • February 19, 2014 at 3:08 pm
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        Okee Dokee,. However, without software people like you, the hardware people wouldn’t have much to present on their hardware worth bragging about. And it seems like there’s WAY more hardware these days than good new software. So your agenda is more important. :o)

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        • February 19, 2014 at 5:50 pm
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          Bill, I couldn’t agree more. What good is hardware if there’s nothing great to play on it?

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