The excitement generated by the Neil Young and his Pono initiative has been noticed at the major record labels, the DEG (Digital Entertainment Group), the Recording Academy (NARAS) and the CEA (Consumer Electronics Association). It’s certainly gratifying that after 14 years of high-resolution audio production and delivery options that 2014 may be the year that it finally happens for the masses. As a major advocate for better sound recording and specifically REAL high-resolution audio, nothing would make me happier than to see music consumers and artists have a direct connection through better fidelity. But as we’ve seen, getting the truth is going to be very difficult if not impossible.
I read the latest update from the Pono KS page today, where CEO John Hamm recommends that supporters read a paper titled, “Computer Audio Demystified” put together by high-end cable manufacturer Audioquest. There is plenty of useful information in the paper but I lost some of my enthusiasm when I read this in the second paragraph:
“In this brave new frontier of computer-based digital audio, the current reality is that a lossless 16-bit/44.1kHz digital music file can sound far better than the CD it was ripped from when each is played in real time, and a high-resolution 24-bit/88.2kHz digital music file can truly compete with vinyl’s sonic beauty without our beloved vinyl’s flaws.”
This is one of those statements designed to keep everyone happy…imagine if they had told the truth. A well-done high-resolution recording can do much more than “compete with vinyl’s sonic beauty”. It could blow it away in terms of dynamic range, frequency response, distortion specs, number of channels and a myriad of other aspects. But if you’re Audioquest, you can’t say that because vinyl lovers are part of your target audience. You want to sell them your expensive cables. And does anyone really think that a 44.1 kHz/16-bit file ripped from a CD “can sound far better” than the actual disc playing from a good quality player (using the same DAC)?
[NOTE This is one that I can actually test…stay tuned]
I remain skeptical that Neil or any of the organizations mentioned above can actually turn the tide against the standard operating procedures of the major labels, but I’ll continue to push as much as I can. Today, the CEA Audio Board working group charged with defining High-Resolution Audio had its first conference call. And while I can’t really share the things that were talked about, I think it is important to share my opinion that the chances of getting a meaningful definition are slim to nil. Why?
Because an organization has to serve its membership and the working group is made up of companies that want to sell you a new piece of hardware (it is after all the Consumer Electronics Association), it’s going to be difficult if not impossible to produce a definition for high-resolution audio that actually means something. The tendency will undoubtedly be to generalize high-definition audio as being better than CDs or MP3…a statement that means absolutely nothing! Pointing to the “masters” as the best sources is also meaningless when we know that there are a variety of “masters”. We’re going to get what we deserve. My guess is that within a couple of months we’ll have a definition something like this:
High-Resolution Audio is made from sources that are at least CD quality and represent the “best available” fidelity of an album exactly as the engineers, producers and artists experienced in the studio.”
There are a couple of others on the group that understand the idea of provenance and quantifying both source and delivery specifications. But the loudest voices or the majority will push a definition without any backbone in the interest of keeping everyone happy. After all, the mission statement is all about selling more electronic stuff, not making it clear what is and what isn’t high-resolution audio.