The Value Proposition

During my discussions with Paul McGowan, we chatted about his PS Records effort and the slicing up of the pie amongst artist, studio, and record label. They intend to retail the new 2-disc high-resolution compilation for almost $40. This makes it a reasonably high priced collection of 10-12 tunes. Have you ever wondered what goes into the production of an album? As a label owner and producer of new high-resolution projects, I’m happy to “peel back the curtain” and provide readers with a little “record production accounting”.

I also read a press release put out by Astell & Kern, makers of portable high-resolution players, that highlighted their partnership with Warner Music and the release of the Maria Callas Remastered – The Complete Studio Recordings (1949-1969) Box Set in high-resolution, 24-bit audio. This is quite a collection and is being delivered in a rather unique way…on microSD cards. Here’s how the press release describes it:

“Conceived as a true collector’s edition, the Maria Callas Remastered Box Set presents each individual opera or recital MQS (Master Quality Sound) Album on microSD card with its original artwork. The box set contains a 132–page hardcover book with essays, a biography and chronology, rarely seen photos and reproductions of revealing letters written by Maria Callas, Walter Legge and other EMI executives. The opera librettos and aria texts are provided on each MQS Album.”

The Callas Box Set is currently available for $1,200. That’s a lot of money for a set of microSD cards. I applaud the A&K folks for creating a really beautiful book and packaging but the price seems a little over the top. Especially, since all of the recordings are from a period in recording history that doesn’t come close to requiring 24-bits or 96 kHz sample rates! I would challenge anyone to detect any difference between a CD of the new masters and the files that you will load onto your portable player.

What’s wrong with providing digital downloads of the project?

“Astell&Kern wants consumers to hold the media in their hands, experience and feel it and not worry about losing a digital download and being unable to recover it. The owner can simply re copy the track or album to their portable player, computer or other device from the physical microSD card.”

Is there really a thrill associated with holding a microSD card in your hand? And when someone downloads a track from the iTrax.com site, they have it forever. If you lose a hard drive, simply log in to your profile and download the track again.

Of course, you could opt for the “Astell & Kern Blue Note 75th Anniversary Box Set: Limited Edition is also currently available for $5,500”.

It seems that A&K is moving away from hardware and becoming a premium…very premium…provider of standard definition content in high-resolution bit buckets…with elaborate packaging. This goes right along with $5 per track downloads of DSD files and $40 album downloads of DXD content. The right price is the price that people…at least a few people…will pay. I’d love to get my hands on a few of these files and do some analysis. The projects do not bring “more high-resolution audio to consumers”. They perpetuate the myth that you can magically convert older standard definition recording into high-resolution products by simply remastering them and capturing the output at 96 kHz/24-bits.

I’ll have to keep an eye out for the first reviews of these titles. I have good friends at A&K; maybe they’ll send a few files to me to check out.

To be continued…


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.

15 thoughts on “The Value Proposition

    • I’m sure they are the same remasters merely transferred to 96/24.

      • Nik Razis

        No, the new masters are at 96/24. The CDs have been produced from these masters (obviously downsampled). One has the choice of paying about $250 to get the lavish CD set (handholdable and all at 44.1/16) or get the 96/24 files without the book and stuff or pay $1200 to get the microSD set…. I opted for the CD set since I like boxes and I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to discern any difference from the 96/24 files. I promptly transferred the CD set to my itunes library as uncompressed ALAC’s. Even if I could afford to spend $1200 on a Callas set I still wouldn’t have bought the micro-SD thingy.

  • craig allison

    It would be interesting to hear how the Rolling Stones view today’s music business. Artists got screwed back when they started too; enormous top 40 hits put very little money in their pockets, and many other legendary bands suffered the same fate. (Best Example=The Byrds)
    The Stones took control of their finances by hiring the right people after many years of fame w/o the corresponding payoff. Today’s musicians are in an equally dis-advantaageous era today as were the early Stones; there are just different reasons why it’s tough today.
    Don’t knock the Stones just because they figured out how to make enormous money. They have worked incredibly hard and continue to do so. At least this is a bit different output from moi, eh?

  • Phil Olenick

    Someone has a very perverse sense of humor! Of all the physical formats to distribute dig-it-all music, a microSD card has got to be the *easiest* physical format to misplace.

    A bare optical disk might be mistakenly put between the pages of a book or slide between the cushions of a sofa. A Compact Flash card might just fit into a coin pocket – a standard SD card would fit easily – but a microSD card could get lost anywhere there’s an opening an eighth of an inch wide by a few millimeters thick. It could get caught in a crumpled-up candy bar wrapper.

    For the thousands of dollars they’re asking, I sure hope they’re including step-up adapters for inserting their microSD cards into standard SD slots – not just one for the whole set but one per card!

  • Your comment about downloading the content again brought a thought to mind. I once lost a digital album I downloaded from HDTracks. I went back to their download app and webpage and finally contacted them by email. My lost album could not be re-downloaded. I don’t know if this is still true, since I never went on their site again after that.

    • Nik Razis

      Yes, that’s true. They explicitluy state that if you loose a file due to a computer mishap and you don’t have a backup, it’s your problem not theirs. I find this stance highly ant-consumer and I wonder why not many people have made a fuss of it.

  • I have a real issue with the pricing of some of this stuff. It seems that the move to higher and higher sampling rates and DXD is to “justify” charging even more. I as a rule only buy high res downloads when there is a sale which happens normally on a weekly basis with HDTracks and Prostudiomasters. Superhighrez not so much which is why I buy very little from them.

  • A FLAC24 download of the remastered Callas complete studio recordings has been available on the B&W site since last year for $269.99.

    Also, A sampler of 10 tracks is available to B&W Society of Sound members for download. The sampler download is 48/24.

    Here is a link to an article about the remastering process.

    • Very helpful…thanks.

  • A couple of years ago, I relocated from a town about 15 miles south of, to central Vancouver and in doing so, downsized from a 2100 sq. ft. home plus 20 by 40 ft. garage we’d been slowly filling for 23 years into a 1450 sq. ft. town home with little storage and no garage. The process took a year because every bit of stuff in that house was ‘important’. The process of ‘letting go’ of stuff was an incredibly invigorating experience I hadn’t enjoyed since I was 18. A couple of the ‘box sets’ I had didn’t make the cut, tho the music part of the package did. When I see some of the large offerings that accompany musical releases to justify ludicrous prices, it makes me wonder how long it will be til they hit the yard sale or the goodwill or the dump.

  • eagertrader

    Keep their feet on the fire Dr. Aix, keep’em honest!

  • Dr. AIX,

    You seem to have missed a very important point: Callas is being marketed as a collector’s compilation, a cachet that automatically confers much higher value to collectors. In fact, if the price is too low nobody will think it’s worth even the low price. It’s also quite possible that collectors don’t know what 192/24 is.

    Have you considered making your own collector’s compilation and delivering it in 384/48 buckets?

  • Let me be the devils advocate for a minute here. I’m sure the retail price is drastically inflated but I wonder by how much? The question mark lies in the cost of producing that 132 page hardcover book, how many were printed and in what volume they expect to sell the collection. The margins might not be as large as we imagine and if the box set doesn’t sell those expensive to produce books could end up getting eaten my book mites in some warehouse for years to come.
    As for the microSD cards, I can think of no more ridiculous media to distribute on, just doesn’t make sense?

    It is nice to hear of someone attempting to offer some nice info, art, etc as whats in that book to the consumers of the modern HDA products. For the premium prices we pay for HD downloads don’t we deserve to get at least something equal to what is considered the norm for LP releases? I was thinking about this the last few days and this morning I wrote an email to HDTracks on the issue. Below is my email and the reply I got from them. I’m not sure I buy their reply as the companies out there now that are re-issuing LPs are for the most part including all the original artwork, liner notes, etc. Why can’t we get a copy of this on a pdf with a 24.95 download of a classic rock album or what ever.

    “Considering the premium $ we pay for HDTracks downloads why can’t they include the liner notes, inside and rear artwork, etc, everything you would get with the purchase of an LP? It couldn’t take that much time to do a pdf to include this additional info and include it with the download.
    Nine Inch Nails offers a FREE HD 24/96 download of their “The Slip” album and it includes a very nice pdf of everything on the LP
    For the prices we are paying I think you owe your customers that much.”

    “Hi Sal,

    Thank you for comments and concerns. Please note, we do not record, master or package anything at HDTracks. We are only a retailer. All the music is recorded, mastered and provided by the record labels. While we have conversation with the labels all the time and do ask them to provide as much package information as possible, it is still there decision on what they plan to include. We certainly hope that this changes as they realize the popularity of high res amongst our customers like yourself.
    HDTracks Support Team”

  • A&K writes about “losing a digital download and being unable to recover it.” Wait, what? The whole point of digital downloads vs. physical media, from the consumer’s perspective, is precisely that it eliminates the worry of losing or damaging the media! The standard nowadays is that a purchased or leased download, be it music, video, software or app, is available whenever, and to wherever, one needs it. On the other hand, no media is more subject to being misplaced than a microSD card!

    And, “Astell&Kern wants consumers to hold the media in their hands, experience and feel it.” Really? A microSD card? I can understand that this hardware company (of parent iRiver) does not want to get into the business of hosting files, but that statement is embarrassing. It makes me suspect of its apparent business model that targets the wealthy or stupid. Yes, A&K players are really fine, but way, way, way over priced. They know this, but they also know that there are just enough homo sapiens will pay.


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