T.H.E. Show Newport Beach Day 1

The day started early. I had scheduled an appointment with the HVAC service guy at 7 am, had yet to pack up all of the equipment and software that I needed for the show, author yesterday’s post and modify my power point presentation…and then drive 50 miles to Newport Beach and get everything set up.

I wheeled my cart of boxes and stuff through the courtyard, past the breakfast area and into the Marketplace II Irvine II room. My neighbor Darin Fong Audio had rearranged his tables making it impossible for me to get behind my area…we solved that with a little nudging and then I got all the gear out and plugged up. I had the BDP-95, HA-1, 2 Benchmark DACs, the Smyth Room Realiser and multiple sets of headphones going playing back in the corner of the table and my Mac laptop running Amarra off to the side. I rolled out my two banners and was good to go.

Traffic was pretty good at the Hilton. It was certainly much better than last year when I was on the porch at the Atrium Hotel next door. I met a bunch of readers in person and talked to a lot of interested audiophiles. The main attractions were the PM-1 headphones and the HA-1 headphone amplifier from Oppo.

At 11:30 I headed over to the seminar room and gave the keynote address for the Newport Show. The room was about half full and the session a mix between information and Q&A. The whole high-resolution audio space is still a confusing mess as far as I can tell from the questions that I answered during the session. My message was that high-resolution audio has morphed into a marketing term and has almost nothing to do with actual high-resolution recordings. The focus is still on the delivery side of music consumption and the source or “provenance” is secondary or is being completely misrepresented…and deliberately

The definition has been watered down such that virtually everything can…and will be…included under the high-resolution tent. Anything that is “better” than CD-quality qualifies according the most recent draft document. That means that 48 kHz/16-bit PCM files are high-res. And analog tape transfers of older third generation tapes when transferred to 44.1-24 bits are high-res. Although I haven’t heard anyone talking about doing it, I image a vinyl LP converted to digital at 192 kHz/25-bits will be high-resolution as well.

The labels seem to be willing to provide all of the information that they have with regards to production stages…but I honestly don’t think they know what they are. Does anyone thing that the majors are going to deploy teams of people to research this stuff? Are they going to employ engineers like Qobuz.com does as “Quality Assurance Engineers” to analyze and report on the quality of the files that are being sent to their licensees (we know how well that works for Qobuz…read this)? I don’t think so.

I also warned that virtually everything that attendees would be hearing about the DSD format would be spin from parties with vested interests…and I showed a few spectra of DSD files with the huge amount of ultrasonic noise present. I try.

A gentleman came up to the table and pulled out a Colorfly Pocket HiFi C4 16G Pro Media Player 24bit 192kHz MP3 AMP Hi-Fi DAC player. This is one of the rash of new dedicated, high-resolution capable players on the market (think Astell & Kern, Fiio X5 and even Pono). I hadn’t seen one of these previously.

He loaded up a Steely Dan track and handed me the device. I plugged in a set of the Oppo PM-1 phones and listened. The sound quality was impressive. The low end was especially good. I only wish I could have checked out some of my own material because this is another case of standard definition content played in a much more capable machine. Honestly, if I had compared a CD rip to the HDtracks download at 192 kHz/24-bits, there wouldn’t be any audible difference. Sad.

I was less impressed by the industrial design, build quality and user interface…really terrible. The thing felt like it came together in a 7th grade shop class. And for $700…I would opt for the HTC One 48 Harman Kardon Smartphone or a Pono player.

The first day was a success…full of conversation and meeting friends around the show. Go to run to day 2. More tomorrow.

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.

10 thoughts on “T.H.E. Show Newport Beach Day 1

  • May 31, 2014 at 10:24 am
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    I believe you would be hardpressed to find anything Steely Dan, that does not sound good, all their vinyl, and digital works are very dynamic sounding, many groups like ELP, YES, and others just sound darn good, prob the mixing engineers, what are your thoughts ?

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    • June 1, 2014 at 6:43 am
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      The Steely Dan productions are some of my favorites.

      Reply
  • May 31, 2014 at 11:23 am
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    What if record using decimal logic and then emulate it at play on the binary desktop ?

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  • May 31, 2014 at 12:02 pm
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    Thank you for your efforts out in the current state of malaise infecting the country in all avenues, which painfully includes the Hi Fi industry. A generation will be lost. I’m sure of it. But people like you are responsible for the life support of our industry. Thank you. I’m not a high end dealer. I’m a “small” consumer audio shop (My high end friend in Sacramento is now closed, Audio FX’s Chris Malone) & I’ve had to adapt to the new normal by selling new & used equipment. I’m looking forward to playing w/Neil Young’s PONO when it’s commercially available. I’ve been awaiting an across the market affordable “off the shelf” Hi Res consumer audio player to demonstrate in the store. I do simple value demonstrations showing that even keeping you CD player operational, -vs- not using your Blu-Ray to play CDs (i.e. as Big Box’ers of all sizes seem to suggest), is still better audio on middle road HiFi equipment. Know that my home system consists of Maranta Dual Mono Amp, PS Audio Pre, Quad ESL-63, etc… So, I do have some knowledge & love what I do. Take care. Ray Avalos.

    Reply
  • May 31, 2014 at 9:53 pm
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    Hi Mark,

    It is truly sad to read that “high-resolution audio has morphed into a marketing term and has almost nothing to do with actual high-resolution recordings. The focus is still on the delivery side of music consumption and the source or “provenance” is secondary or is being completely misrepresented…and deliberately”, and especially the last two words.

    I bought numerous downloads pretty much under the initial enthusiasm and discovery of High-Resolution audio, but my own interest brought me to ask most of the right questions before I continued on my High-Resolution shopping spree. My interest in doing my own recordings with local and friend musicians pretty much put me on the right track, and my professional habit of asking questions (I have a major in philosophy) and not liking unaccurate arguments and suspicious answers, helped a lot too. Also not noticing a significant improvement in audio quality pretty much disapointed me. Happily I got most at CD price as special offer.

    I believe your distinction of recording and delivery format is absolutely essential, and I believe it will permeate with some time, I’m pretty optimistic about that.

    The other great problem is of course playback, and as John Siau well points out: “But, an outboard DAC is only a partial solution to the High-Resolution Audio dilemma. A second key part of the problem is the performance of the audio power amplifier. A 24-bit audio system is useless if it passes through the typical power amplifier. It is nearly impossible to find power amplifiers that can deliver an SNR higher than about 102 dB. This is the equivalent of 17 bits (adequate for CD applications, but definitely not adequate for High-Resolution Audio). Anyone who thinks they can hear the difference between 16-bit and 24-bit digital audio through a “17-bit” power amplifier is fooling themselves.”

    At the moment there are of course dozens of reviewers that claim they clearly hear the difference between CD audio and HRA (and D/A converter performance), but they do it on Amps that acheive 17bits of resolution and 100dB THD in the best of cases. It’s either a not so innocuous expectation bias, or it has a lot to do with your last two words of the quote I made above. I tend to be inclined towards the latter option, but that will ultimately only play against those who make the false claims in the long run, and it will further help us steer clear of the current market hype and false publicity.

    Right now you have Benchmark’s AHB2 Power Amp and Bruno Putseys’ (Mola-Mola http://www.mola-mola.nl/) Makua PreAmp and Kaluga monoblocks (as well as his discrete Mola-Mola DAC) that can deliver 130dB SNR, extremely low THD and sufficient high-frequency range all the way to the speakers. Then you have a couple of solid state heaphone Amps like Auralic’s Taurus and Violcetric’s HPA V100/181/200, and that’s about it. So to actually experience High-Resolution audio, we must first establish provenance and respective recording quality, and then have a playback equipment that can actually deliver HRA and CD audio distinctively. Before we do any of that, I would go with John Siau’s last sentence of the passage above quoted.

    BTW, Mola-Mola is also at T.H.E. Show; maybe you could check them out.

    Cheers

    Reply
  • May 31, 2014 at 10:06 pm
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    Maybe a class action suit, or looming threat thereof would bring this mess together.

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    • June 1, 2014 at 3:22 pm
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      John,
      Interesting comment!
      I have been saying for years that the MP3 is one of the biggest crimes perpetrated on the listening public.
      It had greatly changed the masses expectations of what quality audio is, to the point that a huge slice of the listeners who would have known intrinsically what decent audio is, are now completely blinded.
      Not only do people not know what to listen for, they do not even care, and to suggest what they have been listening to is not terribly good quality becomes an insult.
      What a shame that a war must be fought to reeducate nearly an entire listening public that a great joy has been stolen from them, and they don’t yet know it.

      Reply
  • June 1, 2014 at 10:33 am
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    So true that the marketeers using the hi rez wording is misunderstood, we all here found out the hard way, there are many horrible sounding so called hi rez tracks, after upgrading to some of the best modern electronics, I feel I need to go back to some type of equalization ! Something like an Alexus to get the sound to be close to what it should have been in the first place. But geez, thats going back 30 years ! And I solute the ladies and alike, who seek proper knowledge from Mark, to be well educated in future purchases, and not selling them vapor components

    Reply
  • July 15, 2014 at 2:47 pm
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    Hi Mark,

    Prior to finding out about you and iTrax and AIX I had purchased about 10 “high-def” album downloads from Hdtracks – at 96/24 and 192/24. After finding out about you and your wonderful music I purchased Amarra for Mac, and Guitar Noir (2.0 Stereo – PCM 24_96) – I have never heard such clear, wonderful sound; it sounded like Laurence Juber was sitting in my room playing his guitar. Since then I recently purchased Symphony No. 5, Piano Concerto No. 4 (2.0 Stereo – PCM 24_96).

    Now for my question. Although I can’t find any downloadable music anywhere that competes with yours, I love prog rock music from the ’70s. Emerson, Lake & Palmer just released their 40th Anniversary release of Brain Salad Surgery (Deluxe Edition). It costs about $3 more to get this from HDtracks compared to purchasing the CD from Amazon. I have been getting your daily emails since May 2014, and I see you don’t like HDtracks’ products very much (and after listening to your music I can understand why). However, would it be worth the $3 extra to purchase the HDtracks version over the CD from Amazon? I don’t want to spend anymore than I have to, but I do want to get the best sound I can get.

    I am new to HD audio. I have a Mac mini; Amarra; an Audioengine D1 DAC; and Audioengine A2 speakers.

    I appreciate everything you are doing to provide the best audio quality there is, and if you were able to provide ALL music in your quality, I would never give another penny to anyone else for music.

    Reply
    • July 17, 2014 at 11:58 am
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      I wouldn’t spend the extra money on the ELP project unless you’ve heard it and know that it’s better than what you have.

      Reply

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