Confusion reigns at the French digital music download site. The second page of their press release contains a box of text titled “What is Hi Res Audio?” I hadn’t noticed this section of the document until just now. It’s indicative of a marketplace that continues to issue contradictory and confusing messaging about Hi Res Audio…in spite of assurances to the contrary.
Here’s the first paragraph of the Qobuz definition:
“High Resolution in music is a quality based on a number of important criteria which are very clearly defined by the JAS (Japan Audio Society) as well as by the CEA (Consumer Electronics Association), another synonymous institution of which Qobuz is a member, bringing together over 2,000 retail technology companies.”
The natural question is what are these “important criteria”? And are they the same for both organizations?
According to the DEG, CEA, NARAS, and the major labels, high-resolution audio is defined as “lossless audio that is capable of reproducing the full range of sound from recordings that have been mastered from better than CD quality music sources.”
This basic wording was appended with the 4 Master Quality identifiers, which describe the format of the sources. As a quick reminder, initially they gave us MQ (for Master Quality) with one of four letters to indicate the format of the source. These were A – analog source, D – DSD source, P – PCM source, and finally C – for CD sources. Experts in the audio community immediately took justified aim at the contradictory statements in their announcement. For example, how can you define Hi Res Audio as better than CD quality and then include a CD as possible source? It seems pretty crazy but that’s what was in the initial document. And my favorite “qualifier is MQ-A, which means that the source audio came from an analog source…not analog tape…but analog source. This would allow ANY recording made in the history of recorded sound prior to the digital era when transferred to a high-resolution PCM bit bucket to qualify.
I’ve since learned that the MQ-C category is no longer a part of the definition. The blowback was just too intense. But the MQ-A qualifier still stands.
I posted the requirements that the JAS uses in yesterday’s post. If you review that slide (you can read yesterday’s post by clicking here), you’ll see that each step in the production must conform to much higher standards than the CEA version. The JAS folks don’t allow anyone to use the logo unless it matches the 96 kHz/24-bit fidelity spec at each stage of production…and they include the signal path from microphone to speaker. To their credit, the JAS didn’t say that they were defining high-resolution audio. All they did was provide a list of requirements that need to be met in order for a company to license the “Hi-Res Audio” logo.
The Qobuz press release says that the CEA and JAS have the same definition. This is simply untrue.
The release continues:
“Hi-Res Audio thus describes audio files which have been clearly identified as being of superior quality to 16-Bit/44.1kHz CD quality – more often than not these are 24-bit files.” The key term here is that the quality assurance engineers at Qobuz merely apply the term (and now the logo) “Hi-Res Audio” to any files in their catalog regardless of their provenance. Because they say…or identify them as HRA…they’re better than CDs and we’re supposed to pay more and trust them.
The final lines of the press release assure us that Qobuz is always, “aiming to bring music lovers online music convenience and meet the highest audiophile standards, Qobuz will offer, from the start of June 2015, Qobuz Sublime subscribers the chance to stream not only ’16-Bit/44,1kHz True CD Quality’ music, but also real Hi Res Audio – another world first!” Shouldn’t Qobuz verify the fidelity of their source files before beginning a service to stream “real Hi Res Audio” to consumers? They’ve proven that they don’t care about the provenance of the downloaded versions.
A reader suggested that we contact the people at the JAS. I wrote to them yesterday and have received not reply…I don’t expect to. But if 1000 people wrote to them, maybe they would pay attention. Here’s the email address of the JAS: firstname.lastname@example.org