CD-Audio — 31 July 2014

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Inspiration for these posts comes from a number of sources. I think about what to discuss during my morning walks (sometimes runs) with Charlie, the new Waldrep Border Collie puppy. And not infrequently, a reader will send me something that triggers an article. That’s what happened this morning. I received a comment that contained promotional information from First Impressions Music regarding their “Ultra HD CDs” of the Decca” Supreme Stereophonic Legacy Box Set. It’s coming in mid August for the sale price of $224.99, which includes 4 CDs and a booklet.

The economic issue of just how valuable a particular recording is continues to haunt me after our recent discussions of pricey samplers. It seems I’ve got this whole pricing thing backwards after snooping around the web in search of “audiophile reference recordings”. It turns out that Cookie’s $50 sampler is a bargain. I turned up an Australian site that sells 9 different versions of Redbook CDs. And the cheapest one that I found was $29. However, most of them go from around $60…for a standard 44.1 kHz/16-bit PCM album. I was amazed. Especially since my most expensive product is $50 for a 4 sided “Collector’s Edition” DVD-Audio/Video set (I’ve been packaging these titles over the past couple of days…the Lowen & Navarro and Carl Verheyen titles are really great).

I’m not sure if any of the CD albums available at Audiophile Reference Recordings in Australia are available at HDtracks, but I would imagine that they are downloadable somewhere. Would you pay $60 for a CD of the Ray Brown Trio or $99 for a Door recording?

The ARR site has a “CD” filter that breaks out to 9 different compact disc types. They are: CD, Gold CD, HDCD, K2 HD CD, UltraHD CD, XRCD CD, XRCD 2 CD, XRCD 24 CD, and DXD CD. At this point I feel obligated to remind readers that there is only ONE compact disc type according to the people that designed, implemented and control the standard. So what are all of these other types and why are companies charging so much for them.

CDs are produced according to the Redbook specification. The spec describes the physical and electronic attributes of the format…44.1 kHz/16-bit PCM on a 12 cm diameter 1.2 mm thick piece of plastic. They’re a lot more to it than that, but you get the idea. They all have the same fidelity potential.

A Gold CD simple uses gold instead of aluminum as the reflective layer on a replicated disc. That might reduce the number of CRC “errors” and extend the life of the disc to 100 years over the 25 years that an aluminum disc should last but otherwise…they offer no improvement in the sound. You want John Lennon’s “Imagine” CD in Gold? It’s only $149.

HDCD CDs actually do offer the potential for greater than 16-bits of dynamic range (however, there aren’t any commercial recordings that take advantage of the extended range…as far as I know) through a clever process of encoding the low order bits to give maybe 20 bits of resolution. The Doors “Morrison Hotel” is only $99 as an HDCD CD.

Part of the premium price of these titles comes from the fact that they are numbered, Limited Editions, perhaps mastered by Steve Hoffman, and transferred from the master tapes. But I think the high prices for normal CD resolution are exaggerated.

We’ll talk about the rest of the flavors tomorrow. My favorite is the “DXD CD”…

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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.

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