It’s All About That ‘Sound’ Not Hi-Res
I read my fair share of comments associated with high-end audio posting around the web. In searching for something else, I bumped into an article written by Dan Raile back in January for Billboard’s online site (you can read the piece by clicking here). The headline reads ‘High-Definition’ Music Explained: Can You Really Tell the Difference? Never mind that the author never explained what HD-Music (and I wonder why he decided to call it ‘high-def’ music…but I won’t go there), his subtitle say it all, “Delusion? Bliss? Waste of money? Sound investment? A look at what exactly high-definition audio is, and whether it matters.”
The first part of the article focused on the Sony NW-ZX2 Walkman, the one that retails for $1200. And the photo that they decided to use (or did Sony send them the image?) shows a close up of the player with the DSEE HX signal processing turned on during “So Good” by Michael Jackson. As you may remember (I did a thorough analysis of the DSEE technology some months ago), DSEE is a process by which the fidelity that is removed from an MP3 file is supposedly restored. I didn’t find the process compelling when I checked it out but I have to wonder why would a Sony or Billboard magazine use a photo that shows the DSEE process? The audiophile world isn’t going to be loading up a $1200 player with MP3 files and then trying to bring them up to CD standards. Very curious.
But it was the comments that I found most compelling. They presented a very familiar debate between believers and non-believers. There are the anti-technical folks that just want their music to sound great. Never mind that “great” is unquantifiable unless you talk about dynamics and timbral balance etc. All that matters to a large number of audiophiles is whether they believe it sounds better than something else.
Fair enough…people should gravitate to the formats and music that work best for them. But specifications do a role to play in the description of fidelity. If the format in question can’t deliver accurate sound, I would want to know.
In the case of Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, my somewhat educated guess is that he doesn’t really care about high-resolution audio. He would fall in with the non-believers. All that matters to him is whether the tunes that his band has recorded and released sound a certain way. Do you think that he’s in search of wide dynamics and extended frequency range? No. He’s all about working on vintage equipment, using analog recorders and processors, and achieving that “classic” commercial rock sound. If Sony convinced him to release his albums in 192 kHz/24-bit PCM bit buckets, Foo Fighter fans win. They will be able to experience the sound as the “artist intended”. The “sound” of the original release from all those years ago is what Dave wants to preserve. He’s not looking to revisit their catalog and reimagine them as high-dynamic range audio or in 5.1 surround sound. Although, I think it would be great fun to experiment with his multitracks and see what could be done.
It won’t be possible for average Foo Fighter fans to tell the difference between the original CDs and the new high-resolution audio downloads. I would hope that Sony and other CE manufacturers would seek out bands and albums that will show off high-res.
I got a call today from a sales rep for a major CE brand. He’s getting ready to hit the road and share their new high-resolution server with his dealer network. He heard some of my recordings in NYC at the CE Week event and wanted to grab a half dozen to share. He lives on the front line of retailing high-end audio. He told me that the dealers have no clue what high-resolution audio/music is, how to explain it, what to demo, and whether it’s even worth the effort. I gave him a copy of the iTrax/Sprint 18-track sampler and told him to play “Mujaka”, “Lowlands”, “Lone Star” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” and see whether his dealers will hear any improvement over their standard demo fare.
I’ll give you a full report…
10 thoughts on “It’s All About That ‘Sound’ Not Hi-Res”
Just a reminder to all those who read the comments Mark did say this..
“So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I recently learned that Foo Fighters front man Dave Grohl was only interested in the money when Sony approached him about securing high-resolution transfers of his back catalog. Don’t ask me how I learned about this but it’s true. I had imagined that Dave Grohl would be one of the good guys and really believe in high fidelity. I keep thinking that all I need to find is a bona fide top tier musician to get behind high-resolution and the rest would be history. Who could be that person? It’s not Neil Young. Maybe James Taylor…I cherish his music, songs, and voice but he’s probably too old and not really relevant to the younger generation. Dave Matthews or John Mayer? Nope. Hearing that Dave Grohl had no interest in the capturing of his analog stereo masters into high-resolution PCM was surprising. All he did was show up for the check.”
One thing for sure, we’ll get some good posts from Mark in the future when he runs the recordings through his tests. 🙂
You’re right…and I don’t hold it against Dave Grohl. But the fact remains that the Foo Fighters music wouldn’t be the Foo Fighters music if it contained more dynamic range and extended frequency response. I would love to give it a try and mix the tracks in surround but that’s not going to happen.
Meridian’s MQA technology does a far better job playing MP3’s then Sony’s DSEE. The price to pay is a fraction of the Sony’s NW-ZX2 Walkman: A product named the Explorer 2, a USB DAC, which retails for $299! Not to mention its support of MQA, AND its use of the (patented) anti-apodising filter, which makes RBCD files (.FLAC, .ALAC, .WAV) sound absolutely amazing.
Yuval, processes like Sony’s DSEE (there are others) are completely different than MQA AND the use of apodising filters. DSEE tries to rebuild high frequencies that been lost during the encoding to MP3. Using an apodising filter removes “pre-ringing” in the digital conversion process. Completely unrelated.
Regarding my previous comments, I was in error: The technology that improves the sound quality of MP3’s in the Explorer 2 is not MQA, but rather the anti-apodisng filter. That takes nothing away from the amazing technology that MQA is…
A little off the topic, but I would like to know what Mark thinks of DTS Headphone X in terms of Hi Res Music processing and surround sound processing for headphones. If you have already covered this topic, please let us know where it is in your archives.
Jack, you must be psychic…I literally just opened up the user manual and will playing with this plug in this afternoon with my good friend Robert Margouleff (very famous audio engineer!)
“All that matters to a large number of audiophiles is whether they believe it sounds better than something else.”
LMAO, ain’t that the truth.
Dr. Waldrep, you said:
“Although, I think it would be great fun to experiment with his multitracks and see what could be done.”
Mr. Grohl and friends filmed the making of “Sonic Highways”, the 8 1-hour episodes played on HBO (I don’t have cable) but the whole series was released on 3 bluray disks, for less than $20!
I’ve gone through the first disk (4 cities/songs) and each episode ends with the “final cut” being performed live, in 5.1. Definitely not a clean mix like your AIX disks or Steven Wilson’s work, but some good power to them. Wish the ALBUM was available with those 5.1 mixes, but nothing so far.
Thanks…I’m going to have to sign up for HBO again. No that they’re unbundling the services…it might be worth it.