AXPONA Fallout

It takes a lot of effort and substantial amounts of money to mount a big demo room at a trade show. The value of the audio gear is only one piece of the puzzle. The logistics of packing, shipping and filling out forms can be quite daunting AND extremely expensive as well. For example, shipping the German Physiks speakers from Germany to Chicago cost more than $10,000 and poor handling resulted in some puncture damage to the crates (thankfully the equipment inside was no damaged).

Then there are the hours of unpacking, positioning, connecting and testing the assembled system in the room. Hotel ballrooms and sleeping rooms are not ideal places to set up as critical listening spaces. It’s even worse when loud air handlers and a continuous flow of jet airplanes make doing critical calibrations virtually impossible.

Still, I think the demonstration room that AIX and our partners assembled in the Madison room of the O’Hare Westin Hotel was among the best at the show. And I’ve received a number of emails thanking me for an excellent presentation AND great sound room. However, my opinion and the opinions of a multitude of other attendees are not shared by some of the reviewers that attended the show.

A reader alerted me to a post over at The Absolute Sound website written by Jonathan Valin, one of their senior writers. After several screens of beautiful images and reasonable reviews, he tucked the following brief paragraph in near the end:

“Finally, in a show in which sonics were definitely a mixed bag, I want to note a particularly egregious presentation. After haranguing showgoers about “high-definition” audio (which, apparently, doesn’t include anything sourced from analog), AIX’s Mark Waldrep proceeded to turn a near-half-million-dollar German Physik loudspeaker system, the $475k Emperor II, into a laughing stock with one of his high-res multichannel tapes. The sound on female voice was incredibly big, ill focused, bright, and unpleasant.”

Now, I’ve received great reviews (some from the same publication) and some tepid reviews but I’ve never read a review filled with such overt nastiness and negativity. So I wrote a reasoned response on the site in an attempt to clarify the motivations behind Jonathan’s emotionally charged comments.

And after his response, I think I’m beginning to understand the reasons for his push back. Jonathan didn’t like my presentation. He labeled it “egregious” and said I was “haranguing” attendees because I spent time explaining what high-resolution PCM actually is and because I stated that analog format like tape and vinyl LPs are incapable of the same level of fidelity.

I understand that I’m pointedly uncompromising in my quest for better fidelity AND for advancing high-resolution PCM productions and consumer products. But I honestly believe that I acknowledge and respect that analog tape and vinyl LPs can produce high quality sound and should be enjoyed by those that prefer them. I’ve never referred to them as “low-resolution” as he wrote in his response. You want to talk about DSD? That’s another discussion.

Jonathan and his editor Robert Harley don’t accept the fact that analog tape is not high-resolution. Jonathan quotes Robert from an upcoming TAS article on HRA, “For the record, I consider analog tape a high-resolution medium, and high-bit-rate files made from those analog tapes are truly high-resolution.” I’ll have to wait until I read the entire article to understand his reasoning but this statement is a change from an article that he wrote years ago about the catalog available on Music Giants not being “high-resolution”. I wonder what has changed in the intervening years?

Personally, I agree with Dr. Sean Olive (Head of R&D at Harman and President of the AES) and other audio engineers that agree “analog tape and vinyl are examples that are not HD-Audio”. To see prominent and influential writers refuse to acknowledge scientifically reasoned information will only perpetuate the confusion in the high-resolution marketplace. That’s bad news for audiophiles.

I’ve said my piece here and responded at the TAS site. I’m done.


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.

14 thoughts on “AXPONA Fallout

  • Barry Santini

    Dr., you’ll have to just get used to how some reasoned audio experts want to rewrite HRA narratives to include gooses they’ve enjoyed eating on the past. In done ways, it’s kinda like “no audiophile” left behind. Sure, the sonics they love are pleasing and impressive no doubt. But if HRA is really and Ultimately gonna deliver on its potential, standards have to be applied, and some formats, no matter how treasured, will nor be able to display the HRA imprimatur.
    Keep up the good work. I look forward to hearing your stuff in person on the east coast soon.

    • You’re absolutely right…everyone wants in the HRA tent. Specifications don’t necessarily lock you into “lessor” fidelity.

  • FWIW, Chris Connaker over at Computeraudiophile.com wasn’t impressed by the sound in your room either, especially given the cost of the system. He says in the comments section of his Axpona article that he visited the room with “an industry veteran” and both were underwhelmed…perhaps he dropped in with Valin?

    • It’s certainly possible. I don’t remember seeing him and I’m sure he didn’t listen from the center of the seats, the best place. I can’t concern myself with the opinions of reviewers like Chris and Jonathan. It’s certainly nice to get a good review but to each his own.

      It is interesting to me that Scott, the part time audiophile, listened to exactly the same disc and had the following to say in his report…”Shown here at AXPONA with AIX Records, using their extremely high-quality music as demos, I’m inclined to flag this demo as one of the most interesting at the show. Great sound, here, from source-to-ears, this one was very hard to match much less beat.” It’s true that he’s referring to the music played through the new Oppo HA-1 amplifier and PM-1 phones, but the tracks were the same.

  • You are quite right, Mark, TAS will criticise your sound based on your opinions. It is the nature of their prejudice, and their final power over you.

    Remember that these guys, on principle, never measure anything they ‘review’. They are professionally committed to stereo, so anything added to the FL and FR German Physik speakers, such as more speakers, is a corruption in their eyes (ears). They have carefully ‘calibrated their ears’ to a reference point built around analog compression, vinyl mono bass, and the 2-channel version of ‘soundstaging’ and instrument placement. If you weren’t playing the ‘audience’ versions of your productions, they will reject it outright, because it varies from their ‘calibrated’ reference point, and all such variation is ‘deviation’. Yes, they see you as a deviant! These guys publish their listening tests that say computer audio is significantly enhanced by putting the computer on a granite ‘hifi’ shelf with ‘hifi’ spikes for *isolation* (!), using an external HDD instead of an internal one to hold the music files, replacing the computer’s power cable with an expensive ‘hifi’ product, and always converting FLAC files to WAV before playback.

    So, how much credibility do you want to give them? Especially since they wrote that you were playing ‘tape’! And, how much effort is worthwhile trying to win their favour? In effect, you are ‘the enemy’ to them.

    And, having said that their opinions are not worth reading, and noting that you wrote on your Day One blog that your setup sounded ‘exquisite’, did you do any measurements of your setup and did you apply any EQ? If ‘no’ and ‘no’, then IMHO you only covered your risk of criticism with ‘your ears’ and ‘big bucks’, which is the TAS way. 🙂

  • Hi Mark, It is extremely frustrating in 2014 to have to witness this snobbery. This guy obviously has a grievance and instead of embracing those who are doing their level best to advance the art of audio reproduction, they choose to drag it back into comfortable territory. We will never move on with attitudes like this. They have every right to their opinions and they may even disagree with the way you mount your argument, but for heaven’s sake, don’t shoot the messenger. If high resolution audio is what they “really want”, it is here right now.
    A friend of mine told me to have a look at the Munich HiFi show on the internet. Again, here we have a very impressive line up of “turntables.” In a dimly lit room with a glass of red, it is lovely to see lights and be hypnotised by the constant spinning of the disc, but really, we are talking about something else here.
    Keep up the good work Mark and thank you.

  • They’re running scared. Everything about HRA threatens the 1950s business model that Stereophile’s version of High End Audio is based on. The Emperor has new clothes

    • I agree with your there, Sal!

      • Blaine J. Marsh

        I’m with both of you. These guys give me a headache.

  • Actually Mark, it comes as no great surprise. You have been very active when it comes to pointing out others failures so don’t be surprised when others are less than flattering. Focus on what you do best and extol the virtues without snipping at others and you’ll come out less blemished. 🙂

    Trying to get others to accept that the world is not flat takes time so stop trying to jam it down their throats and all will come good in the end.

    • I readily accept that I don’t pull any punches when I read or see the spin machines in action…this is not the first time that someone has disagreed with my positions. But to take second hand, confidential information and use it to attack to attack me rather than write about the sound in the room (which was not perfect but very, very good), tracks below the standards of journalism that TAS aspires to.

      • Quote” This may sound strange coming from an ardent absolutist when it comes to this issue…but if we waffle on the definition of High-Resolution, then the whole market segment is in grave trouble.”

        Yes Mark, IMV this is exactly what all the marketeers and shirt salesman want, throw around too many descriptors of what HD / HRes is and you can sell any old back catalouge junk in new shiny bit containers to the great unwashed public for premium rates. ‘They’ have done it all before with each new release of recorded medium so no surprise they are at it again……………………

  • Gerald Pratt

    You wrote: Personally, I agree with Dr. Sean Olive (Head of R&D at Harman and President of the AES) and other audio engineers that agree “analog tape and vinyl are examples that are not HD-Audio”. To see prominent and influential writers refuse to acknowledge scientifically reasoned information will only perpetuate the confusion in the high-resolution marketplace. That’s bad news for audiophiles.
    I don’t think it is necessarily bad news for audiophiles. We have the trained ears and systems with enough resolution to easily hear the differences of Hi-rez audio sources. The bad news is for the up-coming audiophiles or music lovers that are trying to digest all of the conflicting information about this new format.
    Congratulations for even mentioning the comments from TAS and it must be frustrating to hear these un-kind and mean spirited comments from supposedly experts in the audio field. I commend you for printing what their response was. Somehow, it does not surprise me. I have the first 100 issues of TAS and those were the days when they (TAS and HP) did a great job promoting and informing us about high-end audio. Those days are over and TAS is just like any other audio magazine. They obviously are holding on to their own beliefs even though they must know that they can listen to their audio hardware now with the higher sampling rates and increased bit depth to really hear what is going on.
    I am an Instrumentation engineer. I have never heard anyone who measures data complain about the similar increased speed and resolution of digital Data acquisition systems that now can record more information than ever possible or imagined.You don’t see too many scientific companies resorting back to XY recorders or analog strip chart recorders. Yet the folks at TAS expect us to return to analog, lower resolution LP’s and tapes? Hello. No thank you.
    Keep up the fight Mark. I am not sure why there is a fight. Vinyl can co-exist with Hi-rez digital, but don’t tell us that Hi-rez audio in not an improvement. Unreal !!!

  • Gerald Pratt

    Another thing about TAS. They seem to make rude comments to Mark about his pursuit of Hi-rez audio, yet their magazine is plastered (front covers and content) with the latest DAC’s and 96 KHz this and 24 bit that. Seems they want it both ways. Perhaps they should look back at some of their audio publications when HP was around and return TAS to the great reading it used to be. And the snake-oil ads? Hi-rez audio is finally here and they still talk about painting the edges of CD’s with some kine of green paint that will let the laser read the bits better? Don’t get me started.


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