Gauging the Cost of Quality
I received the Blue Coast Records newsletter the other day and followed a link to one of Cookie Marenco’s latest samplers. Since I’m in the midst of preparing a collaborative sampler of my own, I thought I would do a little research on the samplers offered by other small audiophile labels. I wanted to know how many tracks are typically included, how long they are and what they cost. I also looked at the latest Linn Records “Super Audio Collection Vol. 7”. The contrast of philosophies between these two companies could not have been greater.
I purchased the Linn Records Vol. 7 sampler in 192 kHz/24-bit PCM format (which is the native ‘master’ recording format). They offer the sampler in a variety of formats from a physical CD to “Studio Master (192) files. The Super Audio Collection Vol. 7 contains 18 full-length tracks from their extensive catalog. These are new recordings from second tier artists (I don’t mean that they aren’t terrific performers…just that they aren’t huge celebrities…much like my own artists). The cost was $10.
Figure 1 – A section of the web page at Linn Records showing the options and costs of their sampler.
Then I went to Blue Coast Records to check out “Blue Coast Collection 2”, which is a collection of 12 tunes of various artists. This product is available in a number of formats as well. You can get a CD spec version (44.1 kHz/16-bit PCM burned on a 24k Gold CD-R instead of a replicated Redbook disc), a 44.1 WAV, 96 kHz WAV or a DSD 64 in DSF or DFF format. You can also purchase an SACD. But that’s where the similarity ends. As you click the format choices, the prices and the colored buttons change. See the graphic below:
Figure 2 – Blue Coast Records website page for their sampler. Notice the pricing model.
Cookie Marenco believes in premium pricing. She was interviewed on NPR (I was part of that piece) because she charges up to $5.00 for a single song…and they can be as short as two and half minutes! At the DSD 64 level, you’ll pay $50.00 for just under 60 minutes of music. I didn’t purchase the BCR Sampler.
I have to question the philosophy behind such extravagant pricing…and apparently others have too. Here’s a quote from the newsletter:
“Some of you have been curious about how we price our music. For the last 6 months we’ve been offering a SUPER SPECIAL discount for new music on first launch. The discount lasts through two weekends. This is the best way we can reward our most loyal music lovers.
Then we go to a MID DISCOUNT pricing for another two weeks. Still a great value. The following two weeks the pricing shows as full price but we offer our members a 20% rebate when forwarding the Paypal receipt. Rebates continue until the music slows in sales. We have also begun a “Featured Music Month” where the rebates are offered.
We hope this pricing model works for those on a budget and those who want to better support our activities.”
So the 20% discount reduces the price down $40.00 for the album in DSD. I can appreciate paying more for great recordings…and Cookie and Blue Coast do make very good tracks. But ALL of the various formats are derived from the same analog tape master, which has less potential fidelity than any of the delivery formats she offers. If these were sourced as DXD files like 2L in Norway, maybe I would feel differently about the very high prices.
The new downloadable sampler from AIX Records will have 18 full length tracks and be available as a 96 kHz/24-bit PCM WAV or FLAC file. It will be priced at $11.00 and come with a PDF booklet.
My 41-track Blu-ray HD-Audio Sampler 2013 with three different mixes and HD-Video of every track can be purchased at the AIX Records site for $25.00. I know the quality of my tracks and I want people to experience them. In fact, I give the sampler away for free with any purchase of $50 or more.
15 thoughts on “Gauging the Cost of Quality”
$50.00 for a sampler? That is insane. HDTracks offers a sampler for free. I can see $10 but $40 or $50? Basically a sampler is designed to give new listeners a sample of a particular label’s content so that you will like what you hear and come back and order more. Hence they should be very competitively priced or as HDTracks does, be given out as free. $40? No way! I have a couple of Cookie’s albums that were offered for about $20 when they were first released, both being 24/192. Two very nice albums and I can live with $20 but would prefer them to be $15. Maybe she thinks that we all are on board with some of the vinyl pricing out there and hence, we will all pay that for high rez downloads. Not me.
In my opinion Linn have got it right, and I’m glad that you’ve finally decided to follow their (and others) example to samplers. Over the last several years I’ve downloaded several of Linn’s samplers and have discovered some fabulous artist from them, including Claire Martin, who is, as you would categorise, a second tier artist, but who is almost (again in my opinion) peerless.
I’ve given a free sample away with any purchase for years…when it comes to sending physical BD discs, it can’t be free. Downloads need to be provided at low cost.
I find the price of the BCR sampler simply ridiculous and frankly offensive. In my humble opinion, samplers should cost less than other recordings from a label and even be for free. Samplers are made with the interest to attract listeners to shop from a record label, and are really promotional material.
I find the price for 2L’s sampler equally outrageous (https://shop.klicktrack.com/2l/35847), and although they record with different standards to those of BCR, and actually offer HRA, the difference in price between formats is equally misleading in their more bits = more dollars scale, and where DSD costs the double of PCM:
2L – The Nordic Sound
Stereo 24bit 96kHz FLAC 2ch 96.0 kHz / 24bit 24.00 USD
Stereo 24bit 192kHz FLAC 2ch 192.0 kHz / 24bit 28.00 USD
Stereo DSD64 2ch 2.8 MHz / 1bit 30.00 USD
Stereo DSD128 2ch 5.6 MHz / 1bit 38.00 USD
Stereo DXD WAV 2ch 352.8 kHz / 24bit 42.00 USD
MCH 24bit 96kHz FLAC 5.1ch 96.0 kHz / 24bit 28.00 USD
MCH DSD64 5.1ch 2.8 MHz / 1bit 38.00 USD
I’m not charging enough for my titles.
She wants HOW much for a DSD sourced from a med rez analog master? NUTS.
Think I’ll save my $ for one of dem deer $200,000 turntables, then I’ll really have something to show off to my rich friends.
It makes no sense to me at all. I have to admit her recordings do sound great…but she derives no benefit from high-resolution formats at all. These are the perfect 70s era analog releases.
Mark forgot to offer the link to the website in question. http://bluecoastrecords.com/store/various-artists/blue-coast-collection-2
He also forgot to mention that we just ended a Buy One Get One Free program that was on for 6 weeks. We offer the program 2 times a year. The next one is in December. If you subscribe to our newsletter you’ll find we offer our members discounts and rebates every week.
We value our customers and they value us. If you are under particular financial hardship and would like any of our music, please write to us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ve always managed to work it out for people who enjoy our work and can’t afford it.
We also have free downloads and a half price store.
For the record, as much as I enjoy analog tape recording only 25% of Blue Coast Records projects were recorded to tape. Most is recorded to DSD. On BCC2, only two pieces were recorded to tape and the rest to DSD.
Mark, I hope you make it a point to post our next new music release in August. It will be a sampler. 🙂
Thanks, everyone, for speaking up and feel free to write to me directly if you have questions. Support@bluecoastrecords.com
Cookie and Blue Coast Records do offer discounts and incentives just like every other label. The post was focused on the specifics of the BCC2 sampler and costs as offered on the the website. I recognize that Cookie believes that premium products should have premium prices…we’ve talked about that. And more power to her if she’s able to get premium prices for her tracks. But paying $5.00 for a single track still seems a bit of a reach to me.
And given that DSD 64 equals about Redbook specifications, what possible benefit would there be to up converting to 96 kh/24-bit PCM file other than to capture all of the ultrasonic noise. Does anyone really want a PCM copy of a DSD track. Frankly, I’d rather have a high-resolution PCM transfer of the original analog tape…it would be more accurate in the frequency domain.
Cookie and I have different approaches to production, believe in different formats and have different opinions on pricing…and I can’t get behind the inclusion of audiophile “accessories” on her site (and positive testimonials)…like the “Essence Disc Treatment”, the “Bybee/Curl Holographic Power Source” for $5495 and “PranaWire Photon USB Cables” at $1895 for 3.0 meters.
I’m sure the last thing anyone owning a business wants to be questioned about is pricing. We all take for granted that if we make a business we have the freedom to value and price our products autonomously. As much as this appears evident to our common sense, and as much as it appears fair to value our work according to our own autonomous criteria, there has to be a minimum of transparency regarding the real production costs that go into a given product, and regarding the standards and specifications that determine the quality of a product. This is when marketing becomes a central issue, and the scientific and technical accuracy of information and specs in marketing and advertising is an aspect where the autonomy of a business has clear limits, which also necessarily affect pricing.
When it comes to the costs of recordings, we all know that no matter how high the resolution of a download, it can’t possibly have higher costs than a CD. There are no discs being sent off for copying, there are no jewel cases or digipacks involved, there are no booklets being printed with the inherent cost this implies, there are no transportation or shipping costs of physical CDs involved, there’s no plastic seal on each CD, and there are no costs and margins of brick and mortar stores with their own inherent costs either. A download can’t possibly cost more than a physical CD, and the price of a High-Resolution download should very obviously be less than that of a CD.
When it comes to the quality derived from quantitative differences in resolution, we know that whatever significant acoustic reality is contained in 24 bits/176.4 kHz or 24 bits/192 kHz will also be fully contained in 24 bits/96 kHz. There is no acoustic reality for the limits of our human hearing that requires to be recorded at 176.4 or 192 kHz, and a digital audio file at 176.4 or 192 kHz will hence not be superior to one at 96 kHz. The logic of more bits = more dollars doesn’t apply here. Exactly the same goes for DXD and DSD. (We also know that DAC chips reach their peak performance at 88.2 and 96 kHz, and that they perform worse at 192 kHz.)
There might be some significant acoustic material for our human hearing beyond CD standards, but it will be more than fully contained at 24 bits/96 kHz. Again, the same goes for DSD, which we all know has severe compromises for the fidelity of a recording, while implying higher costs and troubles that offer no benefit in terms of fidelity. There is really no debate to be had regarding the superiority or qualitative difference offered by DSD, the facts are the facts and they are available. The rest is just at the same level of denying climate change or evolution. It’s ultimately spin and reveals the interests of those who defend it with no accurate facts and false arguments.
We also know that there is no benefit whatsoever to putting a CD quality recording, or analogue recordings of lesser resolution than CDs, in a 24 bits/96 kHz or 24 bits/192 kHz. This is equivalent to putting the engine of a Suzuki Swift under the hood of a Ferrari Testarossa and expect the Suzuki engine to go acheive higher speed. The resolution of the recording is definitively set by the conditions of the recording session, and it will not change no matter how many bits you throw at it. Obviously, no analogue recording or CD recording will ever constitute High-Resolution audio, and selling it as such because it is contained in a 24 bit High-Resolution format is simply no more and no less than fraud. The sad reality is that the industry wants to go precisely in this direction, as it has clearly shown with the recent definition of HRA that it has come up with, which manages to include any recording of any quality ever made to the HRA standard. How can this possibly benefit the consumer, recording and ultimately the music? It is however quite easy to see where the benefit actually goes.
There is no need to buy additional equipment to record and provide 24 bits/96 KHz or 24 bits/192 kHz audio files (let alone the absurdity of 24 bits/352.8 kHz DXD) if you already have professional equipment for digital recording, and the less hours of work you put into processing, mixing, EQing and mastering, the more of the original fidelity of the recording will be preserved. This is also of key importance, because a recording could well be made with exemplary fidelity, but the subsequent processing, mixing and mastering can degrade it well below the fidelity that would actually require a digital container larger than that of CD standards. This clearly shows that we need more specs regarding the fidelity of recordings we buy than than those of bits and word length.
To sell DSD for a higher price than PCM could perhaps be justified in terms of prodution costs regarding additional and expensive equipment, but as it doesn’t add any fidelity to the recording, it is questionable why the customer should pay more for it. The XL or XXL DXD 24 bit digital container is not a guarantee of the fidelity in itself, and there are inherent differences of quality between recordings that have been captured in 24 bits/176.4 kHz or 24 bits/192 kHz, which can well put them below standard CD quality.
In conclusion, there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to justify the higher costs of a HRA download, and the scale of pricing in which basically a larger digital container (more bits and word length) implies a higher price. There are no extra costs to justify the price difference, quite on the contrary, cost of production are radically lower. There is no extra fidelity obtained by 24/192 and 24/176.4 vs 24/88.2 or 24/96, as the higher word lengths don’t contain anything that isn’t already contained in 24/88.2 and 24/96, let alone any acoustic material significant to the limits of our human hearing. There is no extra or extravagant equipment that has to be financed beyond that which most professional record labels already own, and there are no extra hours of work required to render more fidelity, on the contrary, the less processing the more fidelity is preseved.
By mere and simple logic, HRA downloads should cost significantly less than CDs. On the one hand, especially since most HRA downloads don’t actually meet HRA standards and can well and fully be contained in CD standard (this is why we require real and sufficient recording specs from labels and scientifically/technically accurate industry standards and definitions), and on the other, because the signifiantly better margin of HRA downloads per se, would already be significantly more profitable for albels at already available CD prices. Charging $40 USD + for a download is nothing but greed based on false advertisement and deliberately misleading and false facts. This doesn’t only hurt customers, it hurts the music industry itself.
Pricing should be strongly reconsidered, and the information and facts available on label’s websites regarding recording practices and recordings should be significantly reviewed.
Thanks for the carefully composed comment. Right on.
An issue I have with download pricing is the way downloads of alternate mixes are priced compared to DVD-Audio, SACD and Blu-ray discs, and since AIX Records provides many alternate mixes on Blu-ray discs this is especially evident on the iTrax site. Using an example disc that I have purchased, The Old City String Quartet Blu-ray, AIX Records 86065, contains 4 different mixes: 5.1 Stage, 5.1 Audience, 2.0 Stereo and 2.0 Headphone. Depending on the circumstances at the time, I may choose to listen to any of these mixes. At $34.98 this disc is a good deal. For the same recording on iTrax, only 3 of the mixes are available, and the available mixes are individually priced, there is no discount for multiple mixes. While a single mix is priced at less than the Blu-ray disc, 2 mixes cost more than the Blu-ray disc, and 3 mixes at $60.97 cost 74% more than the 4 mixes on the Blu-ray disc. With this kind of download pricing I will buy discs.
Mark…you make a very valid point. As a matter of fact, I routinely tell potential customers that the discs are a much better deal than downloads. One factor is that each download is an individual sale and the royalties and mechanical costs have to be paid for each track. For Blu-ray disc each disc is a sale and I pay the royalties and mechanical costs (publishing etc) just once. While this doesn’t account for the entire differential, it does play a substantial role.
Some of Cookie’s statements contradict other statements she made about how she records in other websites/interviews. I don’t think she’s intentionally lying – I simply think she is out of her depth in understanding or discussing technical aspects, merits, trade-offs and recording best practices encompassing analog, DSD or PCM.
Just a small example: she now claims she records to DSD. How? Natively? That’s quite a needlessly expensive and complicated thing to do to prevent quality issues that would not affect recording to PCM. And if not recorded natively to DSD, then going back and forth with PCM conversion is also needlessly complex and expensive to prevent quality issues. But perhaps all that needless complication and cost explains the pricing.
I have nothing negative to say about Cookie’s abilities or knowledge on the technical aspects of being an audio professional. I have always found her to be very sincere and honest about her approach and philosophy of capturing a live ensemble or artist. I wasn’t aware that she’s changed from using an analog tape machine as her multitrack to a DSD rig of some kind. It would be interesting to hear from her about her current setup.
I suspect that she routes the mic feeds through her analog console, does whatever EQing or processing (including artificial reverb) she needs, balances the levels and panning, and then captures the analog output of her console to a Korg DSD recorder. That way should could claim “native DSD” as the format of the files. If she’s upconverting to PCM 96/24 or 44.1/24 from the DSD 64 mixes, I would have a problem with that.
A Korg DSD recorder is not expensive…and everything else she already has at her disposal. It simply removes the ability to do complex mixes since everything is done in real time.
She’s a strong advocate for DSD and believes it’s a winning format. We disagree about this but remain friends. I just can’t justify the pricing model that she uses…that was the point of yesterday’s post.