Tom Petty on High-Res Audio Part II

…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.

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 thoughts on “Tom Petty on High-Res Audio Part II

  • April 9, 2015 at 10:53 am
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    Mark,
    are you aware of the Dynamic Range Database? It collects measurements of the dynamics of music releases, which are contributed by users. You can downlaod tools to measure the dynamic range of single tracks and whole albums (i.e. as plugin for foobar2000).
    When searching for Tom Petty albums. I found that there are already a lot of measurements for the new remasterd download versions. When comparing them with the measurements from the existing CD entries, you will find that mostly they are only marginally different from the CD releases from the late 70s and 80s. Interestingly, there are a couple of “remastered” CDs from the 2000s which have been compressed to death!
    I realize that such a measurement which results in a single number for each track is problematic and will not really tell you how good or bad the thing will sound in the end, but it might give you an idea what to expect or if it might be worth it to buy the same albums again.
    Best regards,
    Oliver

    Reply
    • April 10, 2015 at 10:42 am
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      I am aware of the Database but it has real problems. If you’ve used any of the tools, you know that you can trick them by including the fade outs or fade ins on a given track. If you just isolate a dynamic section of the track, the numbers come in very different.

      I’m sure that some of the new Petty titles are somewhat better sounding than older versions…but it’s the remastering that changes the sound not the 96 kHz/24-bit PCM format.

      Reply
    • April 10, 2015 at 3:15 pm
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      The one bright light in the Petty video is he is talking about dynamic range and returning to something more reasonable when it comes to compression. We know his talk about HR is mostly marketing spin but if he’s really putting back in some DR that is the real good news.
      Oliver, the DR numbers of his newly remastered catalog releases being comparable to CD’s mastered and released in the 70-80s is what you would expect and hope to see. It wasn’t till the late 90-2000s that the loudness wars began crushing everything to death.
      I buy a lot of used CD’s off ebay always on the search for pressings that were done before 2000.

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      • April 11, 2015 at 9:02 am
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        Don’t read too much into the DR numbers, these are subject to wide variation depending on how you make the measurement. I purchased the same album (“Southern Accents”) from HDtracks and while the tracks are noticeably better than most…they don’t have huge dynamic range. I’ll be reported on them soon.

        Reply
  • April 9, 2015 at 11:27 am
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    If only we had all this wonderful technology back in the 60s – 80s when there was a huge market of consumers that really gave a darn about High Fidelity. Next to their TV, everyone had to have a good Stereo in the living room, the Hi Fi stores were everywhere, and the record stores were full of music lovers picking up all the latest releases from the rock gods of the day.
    For whatever reasons things are completely different today. Almost no one give a dang about Hi Fi any more, they don’t care or for the most part aren’t talking about music except to be looking for ever new ways to get what they want on their phones for free.
    All that’s left is a audiophile community that for a large part are middle aged to senior citizens with large incomes using their equipment as indicators of who has the largest disposable income. The guys buying the $300K turntables, multi thousand dollar cables, and things like Synergistic Research Dots.
    There just isn’t a mass market for HDA, real or bogus upsampled. The Pettys and Youngs are lieing their butts off in a marketing spin to sell their 30 year and older catalogs of music one more time.
    All of the above is what is causing that odor your smelling in the HDA world. Worse yet is the only people that have equipment good enough to reveal the benefits of real HD recordings belong to the lunatic fringe of audiophiles and you never know whats going to come out of that group..
    I very much enjoy reading your daily blog, one of the few places where honesty is the order of the day and despite all the negatives I posted above do wish you the best of luck with the business of RealHD-Audio

    Reply
  • April 9, 2015 at 2:18 pm
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    Other than your downloads & some Bluray discs CD’s still seem like a good bet. There is a massive range within these. I use Pure Music as a drive engine for an I Tunes library. They have a color chart for loudness on their display. Many newer recordings are pushing into the red zone.

    Reply
    • April 10, 2015 at 10:48 am
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      I’m a strong advocate for well recorded CDs. Most productions don’t benefit from higher specs.

      Reply
  • April 9, 2015 at 6:28 pm
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    I would think any artist that has an extensive back catalog such as Petty, that can resale that catalog as remastered “hirez”, would ever jeopardize the loss of revenue by releasing a true 24/96 recording that could be used to compare a remastered analog recording too. The labels are not that dumb.

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    • April 10, 2015 at 10:50 am
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      Honestly, I don’t think the labels and the artists are worried about the loss of future sales because they’ve provided the original master. Tom and his label want to benefit from the emergence of HRA but it’s more marketing spin than reality.

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  • April 10, 2015 at 4:32 am
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    Two ways to look at what Tom is saying. OK, us audiophiles know that what is being peddled here cannot realistically exceed that of red book CD, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that doesn’t represent a quantum leap upgrade for a generation weaned on mp3 and it’s shortcomings. At least Tom is trying to lead this group of people into audio that is indeed a much higher res than what’s on their phones and iPods. Accept that he gets involved in the numbers game above 16/44 here, but trying to fight that is likely to be as effective as King Canute on the sea shore, because it provides an excuse to resell back catalog for the nth time.

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    • April 10, 2015 at 10:51 am
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      Good observation…I think Tom is trying get the best Master Source quality out to the public.

      Reply
  • April 10, 2015 at 10:57 am
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    Anything to get rid of the compressed to death excessively loud masters is OK in my book.

    Reply

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