Clouds In My Coffee

In the recent exchanges between Jonathan Valin and myself (which can be reviewed at their website…theabsolutesound.com), he pushed back on my assertion that Robert Harley’s categorization of analog tape as “high-resolution”. I wish I could find the article Robert authored years ago about the Music Giants high-resolution download site because I remember being impressed that he would share with his readers that the albums offered on the MG site were not actually “high-resolution” because they were sourced from the original analog masters.

I can remember meeting with the Music Giants principals (CEO Scott Bahnemann and COO John Williams) about 7 years ago and having a conversation about high-resolution music downloads. They positioned themselves as a high-quality music vendor and had almost 1M tunes available on their site. They billed themselves as the home of “High Definition Music Downloads”. But they opened up the whole conversation about what is and what insisted “high-resolution” in my mind. They believed and their engineer/consultant Elliot Mazer believed that analog tapes from the major labels were and are “high-resolution”.

When I asked them what my recordings would be labeled if I was to make them available on Music Giants, they suggested “Super HD”. In fact, they started marketing original high-definition recordings under that name just prior to exiting the business. Perhaps their business model was flawed or their timing wrong, but MG declared bankruptcy in June of 2009.

It was Robert Harley’s endorsement of my thoughts on what is and what isn’t HD, that made his article so memorable. But now, with the arrival of Pono and soon Ponomusic, Robert has changed his mind. Jonathan’s response included this quote from Robert:

“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 will have to wait and read his article to understand his revised thinking on this issue. It might be that with the success of HDtracks and the fall launch of Ponomusic AND the dearth of new recordings that are actually done at high-resolution audio specifications that Robert wants the more inclusive definition. He’s certainly entitled to his opinion. But his position as the editor of one of the mainstay audio magazines makes his opinions more relevant that those of others…including Dr. Olive from Harman and the current head of the Audio Engineering Society.

The various committees that I’ve been working with have at least gotten a rough sketch of a definition. The argument that analog tape is high-resolution is over. Analog tape is not HiRes…the committee’s deferred to the likes of Dr. Olive and myself. The definition includes language to the effect that high-resolution audio is audio that is “better than CDs”. So knowing that CDs can handle up to 96 dB of dynamic range and analog tape is limited (without noise reduction) to about 60 dB max…it would seem reasonable for Robert and the rest of the audio press to reflect on the impact of their articles. The worst thing that can happen is to have multiple parties pitching multiple incompatible definitions for the same thing.

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.


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.

9 thoughts on “Clouds In My Coffee

  • Robert McAdam

    Yes I read with great interest the Ab sound views of Jonathon and co. I suspect that we will encounter more of this misleading information as we go forward until we get more Hi Res recordings and peoples equipment is at the level to hear them.
    Its interesting how protective the vinyl lot are and incuding master tapes. I use to subscribe for years to Ab Sound when Harry Pearson ran it and he indeed did extol the virtues of vinyl and master tapes often using a personal collection of tapes he had to do reviews.
    I did loose interest once Harry left and by this time I had dropped vinyl. I havn’t given much credibility to this magazine since nor Stereophile both sitting in the corporate tent now.

  • I’m with you Mark but the position that RH and Stereophile takes will be interesting. More and more over the last three decades or so, Stereophile has become increasingly supportive of the position that analog tape recording and vinyl playback are THE State Of The Are in high fidelity. They believe we took a wrong turn with CDs
    and digital has mostly been a waste of time. Measurements mean nothing, they can hear that analog is better and that any meaningful a-b-x comparisons are inherently
    How can you have any positive discussion against a position like this?

    • Good idea…I’ll take a look.

  • The magazines’ business model centers on selling advertising space to audiophile snake oil vendors (e.g. unbalanced interconnects sprinkled with fairy dust, or magical power cables). Of course they aren’t going to rock the boat.

    • Yes, advertising is the life blood of these publications and comes with tacit obligations. That’s just the way it is.

      • I can’t help believing that J Gordon Holt is rolling over in his grave. I remember when he started Stereophile and didn’t accept advertisements for just those reasons. RIP JGH.

  • Professor,

    To consider Analog Tape HD in general is rather stupid. There are extremely well recorded albums that go well above the average of the usual analog limits, but to consider each and every analog tape a HD source is ridiculous.
    I used the SPEK program to look at all kind of HD files from HDtracks and others. Some albums including Cream and Stones and many others from the 70’s don’t even go above 16k. They are hard limited to 16k, maybe 17k and that is that. No one should call these files HD. Call them “from a new master” (for what it’s worth).

    Like you said in many articles and in some interviews, 16bit-44.1k is a very good format if used well. Listen to Reference Recordings or DMP or early Chesky in that format. Some fabulous recordings were released by those labels and I still listen to them regularly. Yet, I wouldn’t call them HD. They sound great but don’t have the HD background.


    P.S. What pisses me off the most is the arrogance that so many of these so called audiophiles carry around. I met the first of that kind when I was just 18 in 1983 and started to get into Higher Fidelity. They said in those audiophile magazines that I was reading “bring your own records/CD’s to the store, so you can hear the system with music you love in the store”. That’s what I did. You should have seen the looks on the faces of those suckers (sales people and audiophile customers). There was pity, laughter, grinning and some not so nice comments about the choices I brought to the listening session. Those 3 stores closed long time ago. I went to another store that took me seriously and spend (over the years) more than $30.000 on equipment there.
    These people (the former) will never learn. With their arrogance concerning digital contra analog they will end up dead sooner or later, because those 0,3% audiophiles that spend hundreds of thousands for some magic cable or liquid will not save the industry.

  • Replacing John front the company means compromise with something. This I am sure not going to help Pono. Reminding me of Steave Jobs from Apple.


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