I wouldn’t have taken the time from my vacation to participate in a CEA conference call, if the call wasn’t a discussion of a study by the association on high-resolution audio. No, they’re not doing the rigorous study that is so desperately needed…the one that would actually determine whether high-resolution (audio at 96 kHz/24-bits or better) is perceptible. Instead, what the lead researcher described was a market survey for HRA. A study of this type will be tremendously important as well.
So after saying goodbye to my recent graduate and daughter (they headed back to Boston) and transiting to Martha’s Vineyard for a day of roaming around the island, I sat on a bench outside of a candy/fudge/ice cream shop (there are lot of these around here) with my iPhone glued to me ear to participate in the call. There were well over a dozen different companies involved from major car companies, consumer electronics companies, professional electronics companies, representatives from the recording academy and several CEA staffers. However, only a few of the people on the call were involved in the working group that has been working on the definition of high-resolution audio. The work product from that group has not yet been distributed outside of the organizations involved in its creation and the major labels, so most people didn’t have the same frame of reference.
There were at least 4 different statements made describing what high-resolution is. I don’t recall who said it (there were many new people involved in the call), but the first reference to a HRA called it “anything at 192 kHz/24-bits”. A person from a professional hardware manufacturer stated that “24-bits 48 kHz” had been established as the minimal specification for high-resolution audio by a major CE company. The soon to emerge standard from CEA/DEG/NARAS working group has a lower standard and I’m advocating form 96 kHz/24-bits. DSD wasn’t discussed during the call.
If there is this much confusion about what HRA is among people that are supposedly in the loop, then what hope do we have for rallying around a meaningful definition?
The purpose of the call was to identify the “top three” things that manufacturers want or need to know about high-resolution audio. There was discussion of surveying awareness of high-resolution audio among audiophiles, among music enthusiasts of different demographics and what thresholds of size vs. quality would acceptable? The automobile company was concerned about storage capacity and accessibility of high-resolution music in cars. I was particularly intrigued because he mentioned that his company could install specialized “high-end” components in a car but if there’s no content capable of showing it off, what’s the point? He put his finger squarely on the most important aspect of HRA.
Numerous manufacturers are rushing to market with “High-Resolution High-Fidelity” or “Audio Reference High Definition” portable music players (I got these terms from an email I got from Amazon that contained a long list of players I might be interest in). But what are these folks going to play on their new hardware? A ripped CD or “high-resolution” tracks made from older analog tape masters that have limited fidelity?
This issue is at the core of the whole rush to high-resolution music and it’s rarely a part of any discussions. What I DO hear…and heard again yesterday…is that there is an audible difference between the usual MP3 and AAC files loaded into our portable players and uncompressed versions of the same music (although I did hear from a group of audiophiles that evaluated the “Mosaic” track and one of ten people picked the MP3 file as the high-res version). We need to get to uncompressed files but should avoid elevating a standard definition recording to high-resolution status. High-res needs to mean something.
What I heard on the call was pretty disheartening. Confusion, politics, marketing and spin are the dominant factors in the HRA debate…nowhere is anyone talking about elevating the quality of recorded music beyond the fidelity that we’ve have for decades.
We’ll all be buying new “high-resolution audio” players to play the same old stuff.