I’ve still got last week’s press release from the DEG, CEA The Recording Academy® and all three major labels up on my computer screen. This document is the work product of many months of discussions, consultations and analysis by all of the parties listed above. The people involved range from CE hardware/cable manufacturers, audio producers and engineers, label representatives (including a few technical people) and personnel from the relevant trade associations. The final stages also involved lawyers and other executives from the majors.
As many of your know, I’ve been included on many those discussions (although as a member of Producers and Engineers wing of The Recording Academy®, I was never contacted about the issue, which I find somewhat surprising.) As an audio engineer that has championed real HRA longer than anyone I know, audiophile label owner and producer of one of the largest catalogs of high-resolution audio releases on the planet (if you accept my definition of what high-resolution audio is), I pushed very hard for a meaningful definition…something that would help consumers and professionals distinguish between the fidelity we’ve had for many decades and what we can deliver now…it didn’t happen.
I was not optimistic about the outcome from the start. The organizations involved wanted a definition that was as inclusive as possible (nobody wants their products to be left out)…even to the point of watering down the document as to render it meaningless, which it pretty much is. It just comes down to making money.
Here’s one of my favorite statements in the press release.
The definition is accompanied by a series of descriptors for the Master Quality Recordings that are used to produce the hi-res files available to digital music retailers.
As I read this, the four descriptors are intended to identify the “provenance” of the source recordings. No problem there. In fact, I’ve been very supportive of having the labels provide accurate information about the tracks that they are making available to their licensed high-resolution audio digital download sites. If we get the right information, then we can make more informed decisions. However, it’s going to get pretty messy when you refer to a MQ-D (meaning the source is a DSD/DSF master source) and we have no idea what individual production stages the recording went through before it was put on a site for sale.
I just picked up and read Robert Harley’s editorial in the May/June issue of TAS. He wrote that he’s looking forward to evaluating transfers of some of my friend Peter McGrath’s (Wilson Speakers) analog tapes to both WAV and DSD files. So is the descriptor going to read MQ-A…meaning from an analog master source…or MQ-D or maybe MQ-P? I think we’re still going to be in the dark for a long time.
So the descriptors try to inform consumers about the provenance of source recordings “that are used to produce the hi-res files available to music retailers”. This is where they lost it. I can get behind more information about the source of the tracks…even as flawed as we know it will be…but why does that guarantee that the resultant file is necessary hi-res? Under the definition as written…everything can be considered high-resolution!
Check out this illustration:
Figure 1 – The four descriptors being presented in high-resolution containers. [Click to enlarge]
This definition means that any analog source that was transferred to a file at better than 44.1/16-bits qualifies as high-resolution audio. Really? I noticed while I was preparing the illustration that it doesn’t say analog tape…but any analog source! This could include taking any digital recording and passing it through an analog console. So my scratchy acoustically recorded 78 RPM lacquer disc from 1932 is HRA if I consume it from a 96 kHz/24-bit file. And a standard CD into a DSD file at 2.8 KHz is HRA too.
Something has gone terribly wrong when a few bureaucrats (an official who works by fixed routine without exercising intelligent judgment) can render a definition meaningless. His or her job is to keep everyone happy. Instead they should be establishing meaningful standards.
This is the first shot into the demise of high-resolution audio. I’m not happy.