AIX Records physical discs are distributed by Naxos. Naxos is a very large classical label, aggregator, and distributor of CD, DVD, Blu-rays, and digital media (both streaming and downloads). They do a very good job of labeling the provenance and technical statistics of their own releases. However, they’ve recently gotten some push back from consumers who have analyzed some of their digital content and discovered some upconversions. I wrote about this a few weeks ago in a post called, “Communicating the High-Res Audio Message”. You can check out the post by clicking here.
The purpose of the email was to inform their labels about high-resolution audio (although they called it HD) and insist that everyone make sure that “our labels do not send us up-sampled audio files.” The newsletter also included sections about HD, analog and digital audio, bit depth and sample rate, and definitions for standard and high definition audio. They stated, “We require that the audio be delivered in the bit-depth and sample-rate in which it was recorded and produced. Any sample rate that is used from 44.1 kHz – 192 kHz which also contains a 24 bit depth can be used for HD audio distribution.” They’ve bought into the lowest possible definition of high-resolution audio.
They say they won’t accept upconverted audio from digital sources, but they will allow older analog tapes digitized at high-resolution specs to be labeled as “HD-Audio”. They don’t have a clue about provenance and the limitations of the analog master tapes. How do I know? I purchased a “highly recommended” classical album titled, “Cantate Domino” from HDtracks (along with the new James Taylor album…more on that in a future post) yesterday.
The provenance of this recording is as follows (written by Andrew Quint from The Absolute Sound website):
“Recorded in 1976 by the Swedish label Proprius, Cantate Domino is quite clearly a Christmas album. But for nearly four decades, audiophiles have been happy to employ it as a reference yearlong. This exceptional recording variously features chorus, soprano soloist, organ, and brass ensemble. Timbral balance is even from organ fundamentals up to the Oscar Motet Choir’s high female voices, Marianne Mellnäs’ buttery but focused soprano is realistically scaled, and—most impressively—musical sounds connect seamlessly to the reverberant acoustic of the Stockholm church where the program was recorded with one Revox A77 and a pair of Pearl TC4 microphones.”
This is fine sounding album recorded in the minimalist style. But the original master is not a “High-Res” source. I question how it shows up in the Naxos catalog in a variety of high-resolution containers? On ProStudioMasters site you can purchase the album in 352.8 kHz/24-bit, 192 kHz/24-bit, 96 kHz/24-bit, AIFF, FLAC and 2.8224 MHz, 5.6448 MHz DSD/DSF high-resolution audio formats.”
And EnjoyTheMusic.com was quoted on the ProStudioMasters site:
“…widely regarded as one of the greatest audiophile masterpieces ever recorded … now made even better with this hi-definition release.”
If you want to purchase this analog recording in “faux” high-res, it’s going to set you back a few bucks. Here’s the breakdown:
Figure 1 – The pricing structure of ProStudioMasters.com for a standard-resolution audio tape from 1976 in various formats.
Lest anyone think this recording has any sonic information worthy of 352.8 kHz sampling rate or even 16-bits of dynamic range, here’s the spectrograph of a typical tune from the album:
Figure 2 – The spectra of the “Contique de Noel”. [Click to enlarge]
This is a decent analog recording NOT a high-resolution masterpiece of audio engineering. There is no musical sound above 26 kHz, so buying a format with higher than 96 kHz sample rate is a waste of money. In fact, a good CD version would be as good as any of the expensive downloads. The noise and hiss reduces the dynamic range of well less than 10-bits (37 dB!) and they’ve applied a steep Low Pass Filter at 44 kHz. I have to wonder what you would see if you purchased the 192 kHz version…where would they put the corner frequency of the filter then?
Who’s doing quality control on these products? Purchasers are buying an expensive container of nothing when they choose anything higher than 96 kHz /24-bits…and that’s being generous.
Here’s the page from the PDF booklet that discusses the mastering by 2xHD.
Figure 3 – The 2xHD mastering notes.
I find it ironic that the engineers and staff at Naxos chose to alert all of their distributed labels about the issue of upconversion and the realities of high-definition audio in the digital domain. But they get it completely wrong when the guys at 2xHD put forth a product that doesn’t even come close to meeting high-resolution specifications…other than the specifications of the delivery container. Yes, they have great equipment and a very impressive studio but they can’t improve the sonics of the original Revox tape…and I’m sure the master is a copy of the session master. They can do new transfers into 352.8 kHz/24-bit AIFF files and charge $30 dollars and not have any trouble with the Naxos folks.