Dr. AIX's POSTS HD-AUDIO SAMPLES — 20 August 2014

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Some days the dog bites you and some days you bit the dog! The new iTrax – Sprint Ultra HD-Audio Sampler has been downloaded many hundreds of times over the past week. I’m thankful that there are so many readers and others interested in hearing the variety of music I offered in the best quality possible. And I am quite interested in what people think about the music and the fidelity…both positive and negative. That’s the core of today’s post. I’ve received a number of comments and wanted to feature two completely opposing points of view. It’s hard for me fathom how both could be true…but these are straight from the horses mouths.

I received this email a couple of days ago:

“Dear Sir:
After careful listening & inviting fellow music lovers over to audition this new HD download, I’ve come to the conclusion that it was money wasted. I can’t hear much more than a nickels difference between my CD collection (or new downloads from iTunes) and these tracks. This was my first and regrettably last purchase from iTrax. I was really looking forward to getting deeper into the music.
Please see ‘my system’ info with the attachment less you think that I’m using circa 1955 car audio equipment.

Regrettably yours, Richard”

I can attest to the fact that Richard’s system would seem up to the task of playing high-fidelity content. He included a photo and a list of his equipment, which includes ARC D200 & SP16 Linn Karik & Numeric CD Player, TEAC 6010 GSL, SAE Digital FM Tuner, CLS II Z, Kinergetics K200 Amp and SW100 Woofers, Koss ESP.9 Electrostatic Stereophones, Panamax MAX 5500 AC Regenerator, Linn Interconnects & Speaker Cables, AudioQuest FLX-X RCA Splitters & NRG2 Power Cables & Diamond Mini USB, Shunyata Venom 3 Power Cord, 2012 Antelope Audio DAC & Black Box Music Server (home made) additions.

Here’s a picture of the setup…very nice I think!

140820_richards_system

Figure 1 – Richard’s audio system…a high-end two-channel set up featuring electrostatic speakers.

I wrote back to Richard and let him know that I was disappointed that he and his friends didn’t experience any improvement in the fidelity of my tracks vs. CD or iTunes downloads. I quoted a few positive comments and left it at that.

I would like to ask Richard how much improvement in his music playback he “hears” from his power cables and expensive interconnects”…more than a nickel’s worth? The $11 spent on 90 minutes worth of new UHD recordings was wasted but the $150 Shunyata Venom 3 power cord was a valuable addition to his rig? Oh well…

This morning I received a very enthusiastic email that makes it very clear that the files on the iTrax – Sprint Ultra HD-Audio sampler do have something going for them. Here’s that email:

“Dear Mark,

For various reasons, I had all but lost interest in recorded music – then I stumbled upon your sonically gorgeous offerings. Needless to say, my interest has been exponentially piqued by the experience and I can’t thank you enough for allowing me to sample the demos on the FTP site. I have since gone on and purchased the new Sprint compilation and am enjoying it immensely. Notwithstanding the superior technical quality of the recordings, they also starkly highlight the importance of content at a time when it seems there exists an inverse relationship between the level of advancement of the content delivery platform and the quality of the content itself. Although highly subjective, all too often I hear poor quality music that is in no way redeemed by the smoke and mirrors of specifications and whiz-bang production. Bad is bad, in high resolution or otherwise. So it is refreshing to hear such an eclectic range from the AIX stable and additional purchases are no doubt imminent.

Your passion is commendable, as is your humility in sharing your talents with all who will listen, as opposed to promoting yet another niche product for musical enclaves to espouse in a self-important, exclusive and elitist manner. Thank you again and I wish you continued success.

Yours sincerely,

Paul”

So there you have it. Obviously, I agree with Paul’s perspective. But I can’t help wondering what could have possibly gone wrong during the listening sessions at Richard’s place. I find it very hard to believe that an iTunes download is only a “nickel’s worth” different than a real HD-Audio file. I’ll post “Let Them In” from John Gorka in both AAC from iTunes and as it is on the iTrax – Sprint Sampler.

I would love hear from those of you that have heard the new sampler. Does it sound the same as a CD or iTunes download? Does it sound the same as other tracks encountered on other high-resolution download sites? Who’s opinion do you think got it right?

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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.

(33) Readers Comments

  1. It is very possible that Richard’s system really is NOT up to the task of properly playing back high-def files. Do we know what source hardware and software he is using as well as the drivers and what the configuration is? The weak link in the chain is always the one that downgrades the whole experience. He may be using an incorrect driver or configuration that causes decimation of the files.

    I had a friend with a $72,000 system play some hi-def files. He said that it sounded no different on his equipment than the normal CD version. I looked at the first “hi-def” file he played with using Audition and saw that it was bricked walled but upconverted to 96khz.

    The next file that he played was a real 192Khz file, but he was right, it did sound the same as his CD. I then looked at his configuration and he had 5 settings that were incorrectly configured. We both noticed a difference right away.

    Another friend had his set up doing multiple AD/DA/AD conversions and it sounded bad. After changing things around, it sounded much different.

    A third situation happened when a friend listened to a file and he said it sounded terrible. He was right. It was due to the fact that it was high-res and he could now hear the crap that was left in the recording that he was unable to hear in the mp3 version!

    • Thanks…it is certainly possible that he has something wrong in his system.

  2. Very fine sports cars, bespoke luxury goods, haute cuisine are wasted everyday on folks who can’t appreciate them. I wouldn’t sweat it, Mark.

    If this guy’s downloading iTunes stuff and can’t tell the difference, he needs to toss that gear and settle in with some white, Apple earbuds.

    • There has to be something that is causing the files to sound bad in his system. Hopefully, he’ll figure it out.

      • Not to belabor the point, Mark, but here’s what he says, “I can’t hear much more than a nickels difference between my CD collection (or new downloads from iTunes) and these tracks.” So his 44/16 cds, iTunes, and your stuff sound about the same. Or, at least, that’s how I read it: lossy=mp3’s=lossless?

        For his sake, I hope he gets it figured out. You’ll be a metaphorical demigod in his eyes, once that system or his ears gets opened up.

        • I don’t want to beat up on Richard or his system…but I would love to have a breakthrough moment with him and his audiophile friends. And we’re not even talking about differences between the over compresses stuff that comes through iTunes or on CDs yet!

  3. Hi Mark, Richard’s stereo system probably sounds good, but looks terrible. And it is in front of a fireplace. Does he have a wife! His hearing is probably as bad as his vision. Forget his comments and continue to advocate for high quality discrete(not processed) surround sound and video. Give yourself and your wife a treat by listening and watching The Berlin Concert DG Blu-ray 2006. On another note, don’t forget that the performance can be more important than the quality of the sound and vision,especially when a direct and immediate comparison can not be made.Here is my home demo to friends and fellow musicians: Play Shostakovich Jazz Suites ( Naxos SACD 05537, recorded 2001) from the 2 channel analog output of a Sony player processed by a Lexicon MC-12 , to a 7 channel Lexicon amp, and out to 7 B&W speakers. Most will say how good it sounds. Yes, it it a great performance,but the sound? At the same time have a second copy of the disc running in an OPPO 105 using the discrete 6 channel analog outputs to the BYpass mode of the same Lexicon MC-12. Switch back and forth between the two Lexicon outputs. Everything is the same except for the D/A converters of the players and the Lexicon processed sound( Logic Seven) vs the complete bypass of processing. Wow, what a difference. Nearly everyone agrees,except for the Richards of this world. Try it! Regards,John in Gilroy,CA

    • John, just drove by Gilroy on my way back from SF the other day. Thanks for the suggestions.

  4. At the end of the day it’s what you expect from your system. I expect my system to convey the “feel” of the music, because at the end of the day music is emotion. I have the suspicion that many people who buy Hi-Fi don’t actually know what they want, and unfortunately many manufacturers pander to this – hence the proliferation of highly analytically, but emotionally dead, sounding systems.

    Having said that, your recordings only seem to come alive on a really good system. On my Note 3> Fiio X3 > SR-71A > Sennheiser HD-25 1 II your recordings come across as being so-so. When I substitute a Naim DAC V1 for the Fiio and SR-71A (but keep the Note 3 and Sennheisers) there is a positive step change; interesting.

    • Not sure I love the “so-so” description…but I do get your point. The better the system, the better great tracks sound.

  5. I really do not care much about the looks of the system.

    As mlknez says, it can be ‘operator’s error’ for Richard’s case. The most common error is letting Windows OS to take care of sound mixer (DIrect Sound), which usually convert the sound to whatever it is set (normally windows mixer is default at 24/48 or 16/48). I am not sure if Richard uses WASAPI or ASIO.

    That said. there are people who are not capable to hear high-definition sound, due to issules like hearing damage, etc.

  6. Just thinking about all that gear and not being able to discern an appreciable difference between iTunes and a CD. I am able to tell the difference with my Grados plugged directly into my iMac. I got 3 for 3 on the AVS Forum challenge. I would suggest he give the Philips Golden Ears course a go.

    He is obviously very proud of his system as I’ve seen it posted on several sites. When bought new (some of his equipment is quite old) I’m sure it totaled $20-30K or more and I wonder if it was ever professionally voiced. I can’t imagine spending that much money back then or even today and not having someone like Jim Smith voice it.

  7. Some folks hear it, some don’t. Some just don’t really listen intently enough, some ears just aren’t as good as others. Who knows what went wrong for Richard. Paul heard it and I believe that there are enough who can hear it to make your passion a worthy endeavor. It’s got to be difficult putting your heart and soul out there and not getting it back in return at times. What you are doing is the right thing and many appreciate and admire your commitment and honesty.

    • Thanks Blaine…I don’t get a lot of negative or neutral comments. It definitely set me back until Paul came to the rescue.

  8. Hey, forget about what “Poor Richard” said.
    Let the comments from “Paul” percolate through. What a perfectly stated and perfectly worded comment.

    Wow! Lost interest in recorded music until finding your material.

    I whole hardily agree with his closing paragraph!

    • Paul’s email was eloquent and heart felt…I agree, comments such as his make this pursuit worth it. And the support of lots of others. Thanks.

  9. Not t sure what’s going on with Richard and his “friends”. Friends shouldn’t let friends listen to Itunes on a system like that.
    My hearing is shot and I have tinnitus. I can’t listen to MP3. Also can’t listen to some noisy vinyl and bad mastered cd’s. The better quality the recording the easier it is on the ears.
    I have several of your recordings. I’ve expanded my genres of listening partly due to you and your recordings. Keep it up!!

    • Thanks Dan…and good luck with the hearing. I should write a post about taking care of your ears! It’s hard to be a music lover if the sense of hearing is diminished. But I have heard from others that have challenges with their ears that my tracks are much easier to listen to. Maybe there’s something there.

  10. Since his hardware looks good, the key question to ask him is what software he is using to play the downloaded file and what settings he was using. The most likely explanation is that the software did not recognise the native resolution of the file, or the settings downscaled it to 44.1 kHz/16 bit. Did he use iTunes? At least that recognises 96kHz/24 bit.

  11. I downloaded the sampler a week back and I think the recordings sound terrific, just as good, if not better than my most well recorded CD’s… And before anyone jumps down my throat at that statement, let’s discuss another HUGE component …..room acoustics!!!

    Now I’m not 100% sure my system is high-res capable yet (I’m quite keen to know how I can find out without using my ears though) …But one thing I do know for sure is that my room sucks! …It’s probably no that bad compared to a lot of music listening rooms, but it still sucks. It is 4.4m x 5.4m x 2.4m (WxLxH meters), isolated room, carpet, big shag-pile rug on floor, curtains down both sides (thin curtains covering large windows), two big spongy couches with main couch sitting 1/3 in from back wall. So ample absorption and the system sounds great without proper acoustic treatment.

    From 500Hz up the rooms wreaks havoc on the phase, this is very obvious when running a slow sine sweep, not so obvious when playing music due to all the psychoacoustics that come into play, however it does collapse the sound stage and cause cancellation at various frequencies. I’m sure this is destroying all the subtle nuances high-res recordings would otherwise be spoiling me with.

    I have no plans to upgrade any further in the name of sonic nirvana until I have correctly treated this room, or better still, have a new dedicated room.

    Anyway, my point is, I don’t think it matters one little bit how many billions of dollars one has thrown at the electronics, to really hear what this high-res is all about, your going to want a room that wont screw it up the moment it leaves the speakers…. or just get a good set of headphone… and then cast your judgement.

    Mark, I love what you are doing, it gives me hope things will one day get better, and all my favourite artists will be recorded using techniques inspired by your efforts.

    My system:
    Source: HTPC – openELEC -> HDMI out (linux version of WASAPI) …shouldn’t be down-sampling
    AVR: Marantx SR6003 …not sure if xover-to-sub does any down-sampling
    Amps: Emotiva UPA-1 x2
    Speakers: JBL Studio 590 …rated to 40KHz -6dB
    Subs: SVS PB2000 x2 (setup mid-wall front and rear)

    • You’re right. It’s takes the entire path from recorded source to speaker AND the listening environment to achieve the best possible music experience. Point made.

  12. Es LAMENTABLE que RICHARD diga que NO encuentra diferencias entre el HD contra un CD.Hace 10 años AIX records me envio en forma muy especial un DVD AUDIO con muestras en 24/96 y 192 KHz.Mi unico lugar para ecucharlo fue en un SUPERMERCADO con un Home theatre PANASONIC que era capaz de reproducir DVD-A pero no SACD.A pesar del ruido ambiente LAS DIFERENCIAS SON ESPECTACULARES.SIN LUGAR A DUDAS EL HD es lo que el oido necesita.La VISION puede facilmente ser “engañada” de hecho lo vemos a diario cuando los magos predistigitdores hacen sus trucos, pero el OIDO tiene una presicion tan notable que hasta podemos discernir una diferencia de UN CICLO (One HZ).La BIBLIA relata claramente que la FE viene por el OIR es decir que la vista ocupa un lugar muy inferior, de hecho hay dos episodios uno en el antiguo testamento y otro en el nuevo, donde GRACIAS al oido SON RECONOCIDAS la VOZ .Esto nos indica de la presicion y calidad necesaria que deben de tener las grabaciones y sus reproductores.Lamento que RICHARD debe de estar SORDO o debe de tener algun problema en su equipo.DIOS bendiga a AIX RECORDS y prosiga en su lucha Dr. Mark WALDREP.

    • I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a comment in another language. Google translate doesn’t do the best job…but I’m pretty sure Jose likes AIX Records tracks.

  13. I wouldn’t let negative or neutral comments set you back, take them for what they are. I would have thought customer feedback would be important – it gives a clue to your demographic, and could open up opportunities for new streams. I’d personally get tired of constant gushing or obsequious comments.

    • I do welcome comments from all sides…but I’m just curious about Richard’s set up and method.

  14. The emailer’s comment that he couldn’t tell the diff between an iTunes download and your music is rather telling. I can think of few key aspects the emailer should consider: the loss of high frequency hearing ability as one gets above 40 or so and what his actual room response looks like for his PC playback chain versus his CD/DVD/Blu-ray playback chain.

    Given his expenditures in cables and other tweaks that alter music in opaque ways, I would think he’d be open to spending about $100 on a calibrated microphone and use REW to find out what the combo of his playback chain and room actually measures for each of his PC-based and disc-based playback chains. Hometheatershack.com is loaded with extremely helpful people to test and improve rooms. And if REW is too difficult to use and money not a problem, Acourate, Dirac or Audiolense are easier to use than REW. I may have overlooked what actual app he uses to play back PC music, but if he uses JRiver Media Center then there is tremendous support at that website for using the built-in convolver with room correction apps. I also hope the emailer is not using one of the “audiophile” PC apps that claim to offer better-than-bitperfect playback, or anything other than bitperfect playback. Anything other than just bitperfect playback means some kind of distorting equalization. Ironically, I find it far easier to get the best playback quality from my PC music than music I play from discs, mainly because it’s cheaper and more robust to correct my room response using a PC playback chain than disc chain. When I bought a microphone and used REW, I was amazed at how much my bass was boosted and midrange gutted at my listening position, and how easy it was to correct, with significant audible improvement. I hope the emailer considers some of the above if they haven’t already.

    • I don’t whether to reach out to Richard and ask him if he’s open to some of these suggestions. What to do?

      • Perhaps email him back to note that you posted his email to solicit a few ideas for him to consider? This might be an item that both you and the emailer might want to discuss more efficiently in your HRA Planet forum. I would be encouraged that he reached out to you to begin with to mean he’s open to discussion on his issue, so I don’t see how he could be reasonably offended at your obviously constructive suggestions (and perhaps the suggestions of your commenters) to look into the matter a bit more.

        As an aside, it took me a while to remember the name of your website with a forum – I couldn’t find any banner or link on this page. You seem to have or be affiliated with a number of websites (AIX, HRA Planet, this site, maybe others) – any reasons preventing putting top, bottom or side banners or links with all of your sites on each site? I would guess your different sites are associated with different legal entities, but my gut says there should be a way for you to put links on each of your sites for access to all your sites on an “arms-length” basis to preserve the separate legal status of each without too much red tape.

        • I’m working to try an get some coordination between my sites. I think the HRA Planet site is a great place to focus for a while. Thanks for the suggestions.

  15. Great recordings and great systems go together, but I’d rather hear a great recording played on an “OK” system than a poor recording played on a top-end rig.

    • We also get into the issue of a great performance, great recording, and the great system…hmm, might be a thoughtful post there.

  16. Sorry to bleat on… but it seems there’s still confusion why Richard found the high-res experience the same as iTunes downloads …am I wrong? ….Again, it seems all the focus is still on electronics, with other factors being completely ignored and/or glazed over … It may well be electronics configuration at fault, and I totally get why the majority of so-called audiophiles would rather just focus on that being the case, because it’s a simple problem to fix, you either tweak some knobs or throw some money at it …job done. But sadly that’s not all there is to it… I wish it was that simple.

    So, along with asking Richard about his settings, how about asking for more photos of the room??? ….and when did he last go for a hearing check?

    I would love to learn that some part of my electronics is ‘bottle-necking’ any high-res capability, because swapping my HTPC for an Oppo would be WAY easier than treating my room. That is why I asked how I could test for high-res capability at various points in the chain without relying on my ears…?

    Then ‘Lazys’ suggestion to run REW is the next logical step n my mind, if not the first, once verified his system is up to spec, now what does REW have to say about the room?

    I find it so frustrating when all these so called audiophiles whom expect sonic nirvana from their ridiculously expensive systems continually ignore acoustics. This may not be the case with Richard, but how about finding it out??

    Apologies if the tone of this is a bit off, has been a hectic week, well 2 months, and I have the grumps …time to listen to some music me thinks 🙂

    • I think I may leave well enough alone with regards to Richard and his system. I appreciate the suggestions and encouragement, but everyone has there own thing.

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