…Continued from yesterday.
Of course, it opens the debate about what is and what isn’t high-resolution again. His engineer Ryan Ulyate, who’s been with Tom for a long time, was a fellow panelist at the 2015 International CES show in Las Vegas last January. When asked how long he’s been working with high-resolution audio, he said that he got started in 1979. My ears perked up because there was no such thing as high-resolution audio in 1979. A 2″ 24-track analog tape machine was the to machine back in those days and the dynamic range was limited to about 55 dB…not exactly stellar performance. And that was on the multitrack machine. The fidelity suffered with each transfer…including the mixdown and mastering stages.
I wrote about the latest Tom Petty effort called, “Hypnotic Eye” last fall because it was released as a CD AND a Blu-ray disc. I got friendly with Ryan at the Brooklyn Audio Show and he gave me a copy. During that show, I sat through a playback of the album in one of the high-end rooms in the hotel. I was underwhelmed. The vocals were buried in the tracks and the dominance of the electric guitars was gone. I held my opinions to myself until I got back to my own room and played the Blu-ray disc.
Unlike the CD, the Blu-ray disc was supposed to be “as the artist intended”…or just like sitting in the studio behind the console. The recording was made at 48 kHz/24-bits and mixed in 5.1 surround. It sounds marginal to me. There is no dynamic range on those tracks. And the surround mixes?
I actually played some of the tracks during the HRA Demystified seminar last Saturday to demonstrate how limited the 5.1 mixes were. After hearing some of my stage perspective mixes, I played several tracks from “Hypnotic Eye” from the Blu-ray disc and asked the assembled group what they thought. The reaction was not good. One person called the 5.1 music “5 speaker stereo”. And he was right. The difference between the 5.1 mix and the stereo mixes was minimal. The only perceivable change was that the surround mix came off of the front wall…a little.
If you’re given a completely new canvas to paint on and a whole new set of exciting colors with which to paint, don’t you think that you’d try to maximize the new creative space that you’ve been provided? Why be bound by the conventions associated with the traditional world of 2-channel stereo? That’s why I always mix my recording in 5.1 surround before I start to collapse them down to the audience perspective and finally the stereo mix. There’s a whole new aesthetic to surround music…I say go for it.
I’ll probably purchase a Tom Petty album from HDtracks. But I’m afraid I’ll be terribly disappointed and regret it. I want to trust Tom and his team but I feel like I’m seeing a shallow sell job in the video. If he and his cohort of rock star friends actually heard what I played for the group that gathered here on Saturday, I think there would be some impact. I’m sure Tom would hear the difference and at least be curious.
The world of high-resolution music is beginning to smell a little rotten. I’ve read a lot of articles and comments bemoaning the state of affairs regarding high-res audio. A writer called me yesterday at the recommendation of a very prominent audio researcher and I ended up spending an hour on the phone with him. I invited him to come to the studio hear Real HD-Audio before he finishes his research. With at least one real high-resolution experience he might get it right…when David Pogue and other have missed it completely.
So Tom, good luck with the high-resolution audio pitch and the sales of your catalog in “high-res”. I’m sure it will do very well…but it would nice to include the provenance of each of the albums in the notes so we can tell what’s what.