Dr. AIX's POSTS — 24 July 2014

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If something costs more, is it inherently true that it is better than a less expensive item with the same function? I get it. AIX Records and our partners at the AXPONA show back in April filled a ballroom with around $1,000,000 worth of equipment, including a pair of German Physiks Emperor MK II speakers costing $400,000 (and that was just the front stereo pair). I agreed to the idea because it was pitched to me that attendees would have to visit a room that has that much money . As some readers know, the results were not exactly as expected.

Pricing is different than value. I had a vendor of very high-end cables tell me that his business is pretty straight forward. He told me that he puts about $50 worth of materials into each of his $995 cables…and then allocates $15,000 per month in advertising to promote them. What’s the value proposition? Are the cables really that good or is it the fact that people pay almost $1000 to acquire them? In my studio right now, I have a couple of very expensive power cables on loan from a vendor in this space. My plan is to break them in according to his instructions and then rigorously test them. I’ve assured him that I will be completely objective in my evaluation and involved other engineers that work in my building. Stay tuned for the results.

But my point is that pricing is difficult. I read an article at an Australian high-end audio site (where I contribute articles on occasion) that featured the world’s most expensive amplifier…it retails for $2.2 million dollars and is as large as a Cray super computer…and probably about as complex. You can read the article for yourself but does anyone really believe that you need 160,000 watts of Class A power? You don’t have to sell very many of those to make your annual sales goals.

My Blu-ray titles have at least 3 separate ultra high-resolution audio mixes and some even have a mix dedicated to headphone surround. There’s HD-Video and lots of bonus stuff on the discs and they retail for $35. I’ve only had a couple of complaints about the cost of of the discs but generally people are pleased with the amount of content AND the quality of the content. That’s a physical disc.

If you were download the same album from my iTrax.com site and acquire all of the available mixes in the same resolution as the BD disc it would total to over $80…clearly the better value is to purchase the Blu-rays. If I tried to price the downloads the same as the disc, each mix would be less expensive than an entire album on iTunes…and clearly that doesn’t work. I provide the extra value on the discs because it a single physical piece of entertainment and to allow people to switch between mixes to see which they prefer.

Paying a lot for something makes you believe that it’s better than a less expensive version. If you purchase a $1000 USB Cable or spend $5500 on a power conditioner AND believe that you’ll get, “more inner resolution, more separation of instruments, more dynamics, more bass definition and more air” than good for you. But be aware that the price of something doesn’t necessarily equate to higher quality.

Being a music lover and audiophile doesn’t mandate spending a lot of money. You can get The Absolute Sound without going broke.

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About Author

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.

(12) Readers Comments

  1. Boy Mark, we are in 100% concurrence now. There is no direct relationship between equipment cost and sound quality, any more than a given level of expense infers a higher level of pleasure. We’ve all heard sickly priced stereos that were completely un-involving, and also heard mid-fi systems that transport. Yes, a high-end system that is v. close to spot on is a beautiful thing, but the over-priced aspect of so much gear today has been one of the reasons that high-end has an adverse public image today. For 2.2 million dollars, you could travel around the world going to all the great halls and performances and have plenty left over for a great system. If I didn’t take it so seriously, it would be laughable; but it is not. Best to you.

  2. You hit the nail on the head.

    It would be nice, if you posted this comment on the Computer Audiophile blog, where so much nonsense is going on regarding power and USB cables, which are said to provide “more inner resolution, more separation of instruments, more dynamics, more bass definition and more air” as you wrote so effectively.

    • There are always going to be audiophiles that want to believe and do believe in the hocus pocus of tweaky accessories. CA is a great site with a lot of passionate people…I visit there once in a while but prefer to stick with my own site to distribute information.

  3. I think many supposedly “high end” audio components are priced at what the market will bear. Given that most electronic components are constructed by machine (the circuit board at least) some companies are making a high margin. Having said that, high end electronics won’t be sold in volume, so cost of R+D? manufactur, distribution etc., must be recovered over a smaller mumber of sales.

    Then theres diminishing returns, is a DAC that costs $4000 twice as good as one costing $2000; back to what the market will bear again.

    • Don’t forget about the cost of advertising.

  4. Hi there,

    this is an interesting post, I have one question about the album pricing though… The way iTunes gets around that is by pricing albums separately and not as the sum of the price of the individuals pieces on the album. I am wondering if there why you’re not taking that approach as well. You could price the “album” which would include the same as the blu-ray, or am I missing something?

    Cheers,
    Alex.

    • Most sites, including my own, don’t add up the amounts of the individual tracks for the album price. I do it the same as iTunes…so I’m not sure I understand.

      • I believe this question is about the difference in packaging between the Blu-ray discs and the download albums. If a premium album download package that included multiple mixes was available at a premium price similar to the Blu-ray price, I know that I would be happy to pay the premium price.

        • That’s an interesting idea…of course, I’m pretty much the only label that is making multiple mixes available.

          • 2L provides multiple MCH options on Blu-ray, for example 2.0, 5.1, 7.1 and 9.1 on the Trondheimsolistene Souvenir disc, but 7.1 and 9.1 are not available for download. I don’t know of any label, other than AIX, that provides alternate 5.1 mixes in the same album release.
            There are many sites with 2.0 and 5.1 downloads for the same album with the 5.1 download priced slightly more than the 2.0. Pentatone provides combined “stereo and surround” downloads for DSD.iso files, but for FLAC 96/24 the options are “stereo or surround” download files.
            On the marketing side, the video on the Pentatone site describing the difference between “High Quality” (44.1 WAV), Premium Quality (96/24 FLAC) and Master Quality (DSD.iso) aligns the quality difference between the file formats with B&W speaker lines.

          • The Pentatone label is interesting. I downloaded a few of their files only to find the levels completely different for the FLAC files. When I pointed it out to them, they corrected the problem and gave me a credit to download them again.

            I also asked about their production process…since they equate Master quality with DSD 64 recording. Here’s what I was told:

            “Concerning our production process, that’s easy. We always take the original masters used to produce the SA-CD versions and the CD layer. NOTHING is changed to retain the best possible quality. For the FLAC version we use the Weiss Saracon as sample rate converter, known to be the best around, to convert from DSD to 96kHz 24bit stereo and surround. The 96kHz versions are converted to FLAC files to reduce server space and download time. This is a lossless process. When all files are available they get packed with extra metadata and MP3 files in a .ZIP container. I hope this answers your question and I hope you will enjoy the downloaded files.”

            This means there is no point is purchasing the 96/24 PCM files since they are merely conversions of the DSD original. Too bad.

      • I read it as combining the different mixes into one package price that’s equivalent to the Blu-Ray.

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