Dr. AIX's POSTS — 23 February 2014

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As I mentioned yesterday, our “Guitar Noir” recording by Laurence Juber has been widely recognized by fans of acoustic guitar playing as one of the reference recordings available on any format. I still use the “Mosaic” track to demonstrate the clarity and transparency of high frequency material. When the percussionist plays a set of wind chimes made out of the tuning pins from a junked piano, there are sonoluminescent sparkles coming from the speakers. I’ve never heard anything like that sound except with our recording at 96 kHz/24-bits (this is one of the free downloads available on the FTP site BTW).

So while Laurence was here the other day, we got talking about the different production paths that he’s used over his career. The “Standard Time” CD that will accompany his book was recorded on 2″ analog tape with Dolby A noise reduction, mixed to 2-track analog and then digitized at 96 and 192 kHz/24-bits. The projects he worked on with Sir Paul McCartney were probably done the same way. In fact, I’m pretty certain that the “Guitar Noir” DVD-Audio, high-resolution audio recording is unique in his professional experience.

He’s made his living performing and recording music. He can tell you the difference in sound between a Martin acoustic guitar with a Sitka spruce top and one with a piece of spruce from some rare stand of trees in Scandinavia. The same goes with different types of strings…it’s really amazing. His latest project “Under an Indigo Sky” on Solid Air Records was first released as a 180 Gram vinyl LP before the CD version was made available. He likes the sound and warmth of analog tape and analog electronics.

So as he was praising the fidelity and the “feel” of his analog projects, I asked him about the sound of our “Guitar Noir” project. It’s a question that I’ve wanted to ask for a long time. The way I figure it…if I can capture the kind of sound that became an instant reference in the catalog of guitar recordings using 96 kHz/24-bit PCM digital without any analog stages involved that he would become a convert and want to make more recordings this way. And in fact, he has made a bunch of recordings this way with me. The “Surrounded by Christmas” record is among my favorite recordings in spite of being a holiday recording.

Laurence told me that what I do at AIX Records is a completely different recording style and process. It’s not comparable to the normal way of recording records…and the resultant sound is completely different as well. He acknowledged that the “Guitar Noir” recording presents a very accurate and transparent presentation of his playing (and the playing of Steve Forman and Domenic Genova) in a way that vinyl LPs and analog tape couldn’t. But for him and probably most other engineers, producers and audiophiles, it’s the “feel” of the music that matters most…regardless of format.

That’s hard to argue with. Just listen to The Beatles or Led Zeppelin or James Taylor…the music that comes from those productions is what makes them magic. It’s not about the extra octave or the ultimate level of dynamic range. It comes from the genius behind the arrangements, the riffs, the solos, the quality of sound, the imperfections and the “mojo” that only happens rarely. He’s right, of course. It’s only guys like me, Todd Garfinkle of MA Recordings and Morten Lynberg of 2L that are trying to stretch the boundaries enough to capture the “feel” AND the spectacular fidelity that high-resolution audio can produce.

I like to think that I’ve captured many of those moments in the 15 years since the founding of AIX Records. I know that we did it with Jennifer Warnes almost a decade ago. Everyone that walked out of that session knew that it was a special session…and the first time that Jennifer heard the tracks in the studio…she was beyond words. I still listen to those tracks and am amazed. To hear “So Sad” or “Prairie Melancholy” in 5.1 surround in my room is the highest expression of musical reproduction that I’ve ever heard.

Too bad I’ve been prevented from releasing the Jennifer Warnes project. Don’t ask me why…I really don’t know.

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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.

(4) Readers Comments

  1. I am a big, big, BIG, Jennifer Warnes fan. She sounds really great on Nitty Gritty Surround. Is there a someone we can write to about freeing the decade-old recording for commercial release?

    • Likewise. I think Jennifer is one of the most important singers of the 20th century. It was an honor to work with her on the Nitty Gritty project. That’s how we got connected to work again on a project of all her own. There is no way that she will be swayed from her current stance. If you happen to be in Los Angeles at some point and want to come by for a listening session…

  2. Musical mojo vs. audiophile-quality sonics: I do not feel we are constrained by Holt’s law. I feel that the high-mojo performances are equally distributed among all the recording-mastering efforts out there: good, bad, or indifferent. This accounts for the exceptions to Holt’s law. If all engineers adhered to the same standard of recording-mastering quality, every great performance would be accompanied by great sonics. I’m saddened to learn that in LJ’s experience you are unique in the way you record music. If we are going to break free from Holt, we need more musicians being recorded the way you do, Mark. Hopefully recording and mastering engineers visit your site to gain knowledge in addition to us consumers.

    • Alex…there’s plenty of room in the world of audio production for many types of production. The goals are different for commercial releases than they are for audiophiles like me. I’m hoping my work has made a dent. But as you can see from LJ’s POV, he’s used to the more traditional way of recording and is very happy with the sound.

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