I think you visited my display last January in the High-Resolution audio TechZone room at the Venetian. It was good to see you. I’m still advocating for honesty, clarity, provenance, and openness in the production and distribution of high-resolution audio. As a member of the CEA audio board, The Recording Academy®, and the Audio Engineering Society, I’ve been involved in the introduction and promotion of high-resolution audio since the beginning. As you know, I’ve produced over 75 new HR recordings using state-of-the-art techniques and released them on DVD-Audio/Video and Blu-ray discs as well as digital downloads through iTrax. My approach captures live performances using PCM at 96 kHz/24-bits…real high-resolution according to my definition.
I received Sarah Sakamoto’s email newsletter of June 2, 2015 with the subject, “Digital Newsletter: HD Audio & Upsampling” and was very interested in the information presented in the newsletter. I applaud your efforts to ensure that all labels understand what high-resolution audio is AND what it isn’t. The use of up-sampling to “juice” a lower resolution recording to higher specifications threatens to diminish the enthusiasm audiophiles have for this emerging market segment and tear at the reputation of any organization that permits “hyperbole” in its marketing. But it doesn’t stop with up-sampling.
In the interest of making sure that accurate information is communicated to all of your distributed labels, I wrote an extensive email to your digital content manager concerning the large number of technical mistakes included in Sarah’s newsletter. I believe that it’s critical to communicate a unified and technically sound message whenever we address companies in the high-resolution audio arena. Here’s a brief summary of the six points that I pointed out to the member of your staff.
1. Under the Digital Audio subdivision – The diagram of how digital sampling works is wrong. There are no “stair steps” in the process.
2. Under the subsection “Further information about Digital Audio”, the statement “For example, a recording captured at 96 khz [spelling [kHz”] or 96,000 slices has 250 times the audio resolution of standard definition audio. More samples equals more resolution.” This statement is not true. The “audio resolution” is not 250 times greater when we sample at 96 kHz rather than 44.1 kHz. It adds another octave and improves noise levels.
3. The subsection “Standard Definition and High Definition Differences” should refer to Standard-Resolution and High-Resolution to be consistent with industry norms. It is correct to establish the Standard Resolution at CD quality and 44.1 kHz.16-bits. But saying that 20 or 24-bits then moves the quality to High-Resolution is incorrect. There are almost zero recordings that measure better than 16-bits of dynamic range. 24-bits is terrific for recording engineers but means almost nothing on the delivery side of the equation. High-resolution audio starts at 88.2 kHz/24-bit. Despite the definition issued by the DEG, CEA, NARAS and the major labels, high-res audio requires content and hardware to use 88.2/96 kHz and 24-bits. Their definition includes everything ever recorded, which obviously makes no sense.
4. In the High Definition subsection – “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.” This is incorrect. You need higher sample rates…minimum of 88.2.
5. I like the colored chart…but it needs a little tweaking. Vinyl LPs do not have the fidelity of CDs. The dynamic range of a piece of vinyl is less than 10-12 bits of equivalent PCM…50-70 dB. Move the sample rate line to the right…48 kHz needs to go in the standard definition category. Your recommended specifications should be the minimum standard.
6. The key concept is the fidelity of the source recording and the delivery specifications. I think you understand this quite well. The Music Scope plot is good but you might want to use a track with high-resolution dynamics. The orange area of the plot shows a very narrow dynamic range.
Your representative responded politely and explained that things needed to be kept simple for the “less audio savvy labels” on the roster.
That would have closed the issue for me until I happened across a piece on The Absolute Sound website in the Download Roundup section dated May 19. (Click here) Andrew Quint’s piece is very positive and closes with a discussion of the 2xHD remastering and the various formats that one can acquire. This led me to “Cantate Domino” product page at ProStudioMasters where I saw all of the options available for this 1976 analog stereo recording priced from $17 – $30.
As a staunch advocate of properly identifying real “high-resolution audio” and knowing that this recording was made 40 years ago with standard-resolution analog tape (and not even professional grade equipment), I decided to purchase the product at 96 kHz/24-bits in AIFF format. Being experienced and knowledgeable about analog recordings from that period, I did a rigorous analysis of the “Cantique de Noel” track and found it doesn’t meet the high-resolution audio specs, which came as no surprise. It’s what we would expect…a good analog recording from 40 years ago. I’d be happy to send you the spectrograph and explain why it should not be considered high-resolution. In short, the dynamic range of the “Cantate Domino” doesn’t even reach CD specs and the frequency response just barely eclipses CDs as well. The guys at 2xHD are misrepresenting what they are capable of doing…even their logo is misleading.
All analog recordings should not be identified as high-resolution because of the shortcomings of the format. The large catalog of analog masters can be masterfully remastered and placed into high-resolution but buckets by 2xHD or HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers) or by myself…but that doesn’t elevate the fidelity to current high-resolution specifications. Lumping them with new high-resolution tracks confuses people, drives complaints, and will ultimately diminish the market for your real High-Res titles…and mine.
The recently issued newsletter was a step in the right direction in spite of the mistakes contained within. But it missed the whole topic of provenance and analog masters. There needs to be a follow up that accurately describes the transfer of old standard-resolution audio (analog tapes, vinyl LPs, etc) into new higher resolution files. These can be marketed as “the highest quality transfer of the master tapes”. I refer to these as “master source quality”. But there is no additional fidelity in the 192 kHz version over the 96 kHz file.
Naxos has been a leader in the high-resolution market. Your labeling should serve as a model for the rest of the industry. However, you risk additional push back by associating the work of 2xHD or any analog sourced content with high-resolution. As a recognized authority on the topic, I would be happy to contribute my knowledge and experience in the preparation of a follow up document to set these issues straight.
All the best,
Mark Waldrep, Ph.D.