Wrapping Up AXPONA: “We’ll Be Back”

It took a day but I’m back in the groove following the weekend in Chicago at the AXPONA 2015 audio show. The equipment is on its way back to opposite coasts and my suitcases are unpacked. And I’ve signed a contract for the same demo room for next year’s show, which will take place on from April 15 – 17 at the Westin O’Hare. I’ll be reaching out to the same partners and see if we can’t repeat the success of this year. Make your plans now because AIX Records doesn’t set up a demo system at any of the other shows we attend.

I thought I would share a couple of additional takeaways from the recent show. The first is the positioning of DSD and all things 1-bit within the seminar schedule and on a more personal basis. On Friday, Ted Brady and Jared Sacks held a seminar called “DSD and beyond”, which was described on the seminar website page as:

“The last three years has seen a dramatic increase in the use of DACs for consumers. Especially for the conversion of recordings made in DSD, DXD, or analog transfers. The word ‘Beyond’ means that the development has not stopped as we are now able to record and playback in DSD 128fs and 256fs stereo and multichannel.”

First, DXD has nothing to do with DSD. In fact, it’s PCM at excessively high rates without the low-pass filtering…you get all of the noise at even higher frequencies. And when they say “we are now able to record and playback” in the multi-rate DSD formats should be taken with a large grain of salt. Just because “we can” doesn’t mean that “we do”. Very few record labels…even those that profess to prefer DSD…actually make their recordings using that technology.

There wasn’t an equivalent session focused on PCM, which is a far superior method of capturing and reproducing music. Why not? Shouldn’t equal time be given to the dominant digital format in the world…the one that is used in virtually every professional (and even bedroom) studio? Yes, there was a seminar called, “Everything You Need to Know about High Resolution Audio”. I was a member of the panel along with Jared Sacks of Channel Classics and Chad Kassem of Acoustic Sounds and SuperHiRez.com, both of whom are strong advocates for DSD. I was the only presenter on any AXPONA seminar standing up for high-resolution PCM. After having given the keynote address for the past 6 years, I had to schedule my own “special event” in my own demo room to get any traction. Thankfully, I got lots of traction. The “High-Resolution Audio Demystified” sessions attracted standing room only crowds on both Friday and Saturday…I would guess that more people attended my special event than came to the “High-Resolution” seminar. I will definitely be repeating those sessions again next year.

A few visitors to our demo room expressed a preference for DSD and SACDs over traditional CDs and even high-resolution PCM. I sat them down in the sweet spot in our room and asked them what they thought of DSD vs. PCM following a dose of real HD-Audio. I must say I was impressed that they were honest enough to admit that PCM sounded superior. That’s not the first time that someone has flipped when confronted with recordings made with fidelity in mind from the start of the production process. DSD is not used for very many recordings because it cannot be used in its native format during the postproduction phases.

And then there was the seminar that followed the panel on high-resolution audio called “Discover the Reel Truth” moderated by Myles B. Astor, PhD. I met Computer Audiophile’s Chris Connaker in the hall on Sunday and he told me that my head would have exploded at what was being pulled over on the attendees of this seminar. The description from the webpage says it all, “Audiophiles seeking the Holy Grail, the ne plus ultra of sound, need look no further than 15-ips/2-track reel-to-reel tape. These 21st century, real time duplicated, second or third generation [tapes], simply are as close as one can get to the original recordings.” It wasn’t a joke…these people either can’t read specification sheets or have never bothered to listen to real high-resolution audio. Second or third generation tapes of original recordings? Give me great quality transfers to high-resolution PCM digital files and forget losing fidelity through another generation. Save costs, complexity, and arrive at better sound with high-resolution PCM. Wow.

A few people have asked about the cables in our demo room. One individual came up to me and was proud to say that he acquired 3 power cords for only $70 each. I suggested he might want to return them because they won’t improve the fidelity of his system. I pointed out to him that the power cords in the Lakeshore B room were standard issue IEC cables. The only unique thing about them was the locking mechanism used to securely attach them to the chassis of the amplifiers. The DH Labs people did supply some very good interconnects but they weren’t crazy expensive.

I look forward to doing even better at next year’s AXPONA. I’ll have the new 2015 edition of the sampler finished and bring along some A | B comparisons to illustrate the differences between stereo and surround, compressed vs. uncompressed music, and native high-resolution vs. analog tape.


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.

14 thoughts on “Wrapping Up AXPONA: “We’ll Be Back”

  • April 28, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    There are lots of claims and counter-claims in the audio arena. There is no circle more controversial than the current state of affairs in the audio industry. To me there are like the blind men groping different parts of the elephant and proclaim tot he world they each know what an elephant feels like.

    In other words, there is no absolute winner (like best format for recording music). I believe each format is a winner in each unique situation (style of music, stage, loudness etc)

    • April 28, 2015 at 6:20 pm

      Yes, there is a best format for recording and delivering music. DSD is absolutely unusable unless converted to something else. The only winner in recording music is PCM, period. Deliver downconverted versions using DSD for those that want compromised sound but this is not a judgement call.

  • April 28, 2015 at 3:21 pm

    Great as always, Doc!
    It is still too complicated to download/setup for your HD surround experience
    I suggest:
    1. Partner with Oppo
    2. Get a AIX app on their player software
    3. Make it seemless to download/order HD files from you to experience in *my* sysytem, already set up for 5.1/7.1 surround.
    4. Give Oppo a few sheckles on each download
    5. Make available a optional pointer to one’s NAS

    Voila! Oppo & you benefit, and we consumer get the seemless and easy HD experience we crave.

    Simple, yes?

    Let’s go!


  • April 28, 2015 at 3:32 pm

    I agree that PCM 96 or 192 is superior to DSD. I was wondering, was there any mention of the Meridian MQA at AXPONA? What do you know about it. I read about it in Absolute Sound, but I am no engineer, They didn’t say how they improve the temporal resolution so much over PCM24/192 and DSD . But using psychoacoustics makes sense.

    • April 28, 2015 at 7:32 pm

      ‘Temporal resolution’ cannot be improved in digital audio because there’s no need to. ‘Temporal resolution’ is just marketing lingo for hot air. Even just ‘resolution’ means nothing in digital audio. You want audio resolution, look into the analog parts, especially your speakers…

  • April 28, 2015 at 5:24 pm

    Mark, please expound on Johns new amplifiers especially in concert with his DACs at lower SPLs. I’d like to know if resolution is what the technician would call, “remarkable” ?

  • April 28, 2015 at 8:36 pm

    Thanks for the show reports. I have enjoyed reading them.

    Never been a fan of multi-channel, but you have me intrigued. I have made a few amateur recordings in 5 channel, and plan to see what I can get out of them. Reading about your process is helpful. So far I have used a double mid/side mic setup with omni outriggers.

    Thanks for fighting the good fight. I must say the increasing drone of DSD, DXD and such are an indication of what seems a sickness in the industry. Gains are to be made at 96/24 and good production values. I suppose money is to be made with DSD though. It is like a broken version of digital. It needs higher and higher sample rates to eventually approach good PCM.

    I also have run into those R2R folks. I once said I thought vinyl LP was never a reference because even back in the day reel to reel was higher fidelity. Only to be told about modern 2nd or 3rd gen copies of masters. Like those are something readily available with a huge back catalog out there for lots of people to own. I mentioned getting those on 24/96 would be sweet only to be told it was far superior to 24/96. I didn’t buy that. Then was told how if I didn’t have a custom modern reel machine or something like a pro Otari I had no idea. Again, like there are thousands of those to be had. Sure I know my old Studer Revox isn’t state of the art, but that doesn’t mean 24/96 PCM would leave anything on the table vs any reel to reel tape machine. Crazy stuff.

    Again, thanks for your show reports.

    • April 29, 2015 at 1:27 pm

      I got a private email from one of the world’s foremost analog tape experts…he called these analog tape peddlers “morons”. Enough said.

  • April 28, 2015 at 9:47 pm

    Would it maybe be possible for next year to look at putting together a second system whose cost wouldn’t restrict its ownership to the rich? There’s a huge market of equipment out there for the surround video crowd. There has to be some combinations of Oppo player, HD reciever and reasonably priced 5.1 speaker system that could deliver HD surround playback at a quality level that could be appreciated by the average audiophile.
    Or will the ONLY path to multi channel HD sound remain in the domain of a $100K+ system attainable only by the rich. If so then what is its relevancy in the real world?

    • April 29, 2015 at 1:31 pm

      We were able to construct a room the delivered real HD-Audio. I don’t consider it a rich man’s system. We used a $500 Blu-ray player (with the Audioprise Vanity HD mod add another $1000), the DACs totaled to $6000, the amps to $15,000 and the speakers around $50K. Compare that to a monoblock Boulder power amp or Wilson speakers and I think the system was a bargain. If you want to get almost the same fidelity in high-resolution surround, purchase an OPPO BDP-105 and connect it to a $1000 Denon receiver and then a surround set of good speakers…for around $5000.

      • April 29, 2015 at 2:52 pm

        Mark, Really? You’ve been living in the La La land of Southern Cal way too long if you don’t think a $72,000 system “without the video” isn’t a rich mans system.
        “Median household income has been on the rise for the past three years, climbing 3.8% to $53,891 in June, according to newly released data by Sentier Research. It’s yet another indication that the economic recovery is taking hold.”
        How many average people do you think would spend a year and a half’s salary on their Hi Fi?
        Obviously you live on a very different rung of the economic latter than a majority of the US.
        But that’s exactly my point, if your mission is to promote HDA and 5.1 surround sound, why not also bring a system that the average working man can possibly afford and be able to own. That Denon receiver $5K based system you mentioned might be just the ticket with the right speakers and present a musical experience that’s not that far off your elite SOTA equipment.

        • April 30, 2015 at 11:00 am

          Sal, we assembled state-of-the-art system for less than a pair of high-end audiophile speakers. This can be done for a lot less money…even $5000…if you back down the specs a little.

  • May 1, 2015 at 10:45 am

    In the DSD vs. PCM “war” I’m on the PCM side. At last year’s Munich show I brought a stick filled with 96/24 files produced from vinyl and in the Harman International room we compared my “rip” of Oscar Peterson’s “We Get Requests” with the SACD version mastered at the same time as the double 45rpm edition from the same source. Everyone in the room agreed the PCM from vinyl KILLED the SACD, including the Harman guy doing the demo who is an electrical engineer. He said “I’m not surprised”. However, Mark, I do NOT LISTEN TO NUMBERS or to specs, though they are fine to read. I listen to the musical results. They tell me that PCM beats DSD but also that a record made from an analog source beats any digitized version and especially, that whatever the numbers tell you, digital recording and analog recording are not comparable. They are different. The brain processes them differently.

    • May 3, 2015 at 11:41 am

      Sure, the brain processes them diferenetly once you know what you’re listening to. Care to participate in double blind test? We can ad tape hiss to the digital stuff just to alleviate any advantage for the analog…..
      Yours truly,
      Sick & Tired of your mumbo jumbo


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