HRA In Ten Easy Steps

My posting about “The Mice War” Kickstarter campaign by David Chesky brought out more than a few comments about the HDtracks high-res music download site. There were some expressions of disappointment about audio quality and some complaints about their business practices. It was not my intent open up issues surrounding the HDtracks site or any of the other sites that offer “so-called” high-resolution music downloads. My responses focused on the fact that HDtracks isn’t alone in selling files that are sometime hit or miss. All of the sites that have done licensing deals with the major record labels have signed up to the same program. The sites all offer the same albums.

I know what the label deals are. A few years ago, I reached out to the licensing people at the major labels and sat down to talk about getting major label content for iTrax. I don’t want to go into great detail about the license deals but I can tell you that they require the websites to write very large checks (hundreds of thousands of dollars) to the labels as guarantees against sales for each year. These sites are obligated to meet minimums that they can run into the millions. The labels get the industry standard 70% of the dollars from sales. The sites hang on to 30%. Any sales or discounts that HDtracks offers come out of their percentage. It’s a great deal for the labels and the licensing heads are looking like heroes to upper management.

HDtracks was the first to offer “high-resolution” music from the major labels. It was David and Norman Chesky that approached the majors and convinced them that their catalog could generate new money if marketed as “high-resolution”. I commented back in 2008 when their site was launched and I’ve continued pushing for information about provenance, quality checks, and complete transparency about sources and processes. That’s why I’ve blasted Neil Young and his PonoMusic site because the vast majority of the tracks in their catalog are rips of CDs. Where’s the high-res stuff? In the quest for larger profits, everyone has forgotten about telling the truth about high-resolution audio and music.

In the meantime, organizations like the DEG, CEA, JAS, and NARAS have issued press releases defining high-resolution audio, promoting a single message and logo for hardware and content, then changing the name and adding a new logo for content only, and trying to convince consumers that “high-resolution” audio/music is a major upgrade to the listening experience. They’ve been pushing a false message because it makes the record labels and the distributors a bunch of money.

The comments that I’ve received over the past few days are merely the most recent. I’ve been reading about the disappointment purchasers often feel after buying a “high-res” download, the feeling of being ripped off, the anger, and the promises to never buy from this site or that site. I firmly believe that unless the industry organizations, high profile artists, producers, labels, high-res music downloads sites, and audio media revise their approach to “high-res audio/music”, it will fail. The signs are already here.

The articles that John Atkinson called “access” journalism in a recent issue of Stereophile are actually right on the money. They may not thoroughly understand the topic, but they have accurately reported the results of their research and investigations. David Pogue may not know the first thing about high-resolution audio, audiophile DACs and digital audio (he runs the reel-to-reel Yahoo group), and real high-resolution recordings (he did his test with 40 years analog to digital transfers!), but he did get the right results…that most people can’t tell the difference between content that’s labeled “high-res” and existing formats regardless of whether they’re listening to a Pono or and iPhone.

So what would I advise David and Norman Chesky and all of the other interested parties to do about the selling of “high-resolution” audio?

Stop in tomorrow for “Dr. AIX’s 10 easy steps” to fixing the problems with producing, marketing, and promoting high-resolution audio. Here’s a tease:

Step 1: Stop using the term “high-res”!


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.

16 thoughts on “HRA In Ten Easy Steps

  • Rodrian Roadeye

    Sadly I bought a Pono player and was totally unimpressed with the tracks they included. I have yet to buy any music from Pono for it. I don’t see anything that looks or even resembles original source quality. I am waiting for the verdict on Young’s new release to see if even he puts his sound quality where his mouth is.

  • No offense intended Mark, but along with “less than straight” talk coming from the likes of Chesky, but the common knowledge some of us have regarding the less than honorable business arrangements artists have suffered at their hands.

    • It is the music business…there are few good guys.

  • Camilo Rodriguez

    Excellent rsponse and great and concise piece; looking forward to your next post.

    I hope we can get David Chesky’s angle on this problem, and it sure would be interesting if you could do a couple of short interviews with engineers like Morten Lindberg (2L), Todd Garfinkle (MA recordings), Jonas Niederstadt (Carpe Diem Records), Barry Diament (SoundKeeper Records), etc., to hear it from them and how they view the upcoming ten “commandments”


    • This is a great idea…Morten has already told me he would contribute. And Todd and Barry are friends.

  • So HDtracks can boast, “we are no worse than those other guys” when it comes to hires downloads.

    I understand a little at least about how the people with the music offer up certain terms and you get what you get. I know even better, as long as that is good enough to get outlets to pay money up front, and they get their 70% you are wasting your time to change it. It won’t change. Even if it kills that whole market. Maybe outlets can stipulate terms when they reach agreements, maybe the larger ones should get together and insist on more transparency or better provenance from music rights owners. Maybe someone else would step in to replace them. Otherwise it will be the same old same old.

  • I will be anxiously awaiting for tomorrows post.
    I understand everything your saying but am a bit unclear about one issue. Does the contract that HDtracks sign with the provider exclude them from running a quality control over what they put up for sale on their site? Do they HAVE to offer every single album in labels catalog? Doesn’t seem like HDTracks is offering everything that’s on the streaming sites or even the huge number of upsampled CD rips that Pono Store is selling.
    This is the response I got from them today when I complained about the quality of their $19.95 Animals Retrospective download.
    “Please note, we do not record or master anything at HDtracks. We receive the most up to date masters from our record label partners as does every high res retailer. Each retailer receives the same files. Each label has their own recording/mastering process. There is no universal standard. But we do ask that every label provide the best quality possible. Sometimes the clarity of the high res mastering may present qualities that were unnoticeable or masked in previous formats or versions. We do ask every label to take note of this when remastering.
    HDTracks Support Team@”

    Anyway, the reason you heard so much in the last few days is we as consumers aren’t completely dumb, we know when the Brothers Chesky are sticking it to us, so no wonder you heard back from the readers when you tell us they are coming to us with their hands out looking for $ to Kickstart their theatrical production “The Mice War”.
    I say go to H-LL David, use your own money to fund your production, I’m sure after 40 years you can leverage $300K out of your numerous Hi Fi based businesses.

    • Sal, the campaign to raise funds for David’s children’s musical is and should be completely separate from his label and HDtracks. If celebrity actors and others with means can us KS then why not David Chesky?

      • It “should be completely separate”?
        I don’t see the logic in that. When the thief already has his hand in your right pocket why should I open the left for him too? I’m not a fool and that’s what this would make of me.
        He’s more than welcome to ask but I’m completely justified to tell him where to go with his request.

        • David Chesky is composer, musician, record producer, and artist. His participation in HDtracks is in partnership with his brother. I know them both and they are not “thieves” as you wrote. In the case of David’s Kickstarter campaign, it has nothing to do with HDtracks or Chesky Records. I have no problem with the KS campaign…that’s why I endorsed it with a blog post. Artistic projects should be supported.

          • If thief was too strong a statement I apologize.
            But it is the greedy business practices of HDTracks and the other download sites in relation to HDA that’s raising all their customer comments here the last few days.

          • It was. I know these people and they are honest and hard-working. I disagree with a lot of the marketing stuff but the fact is they are struggling to maintain a business. I spoke with David yesterday and will be doing a Q&A interview. If there’s a question or two that you would like to pitch me…please send it along.

  • Alex Ferguson

    I’ve had Donald Fagen’s Kamakiriad on CD since it came out and know it well. I recently downloaded the 24/96 version from High Res Audio and noticed that it appears to have been re-mixed! The finger clicks that accompany the intro of the title track are dead centre of the soundstage on the CD whereas on the high resolution version the finger clicks are panned right, then left. Also the higher frequencies are attenuated and the percussion later on in the track is so deadened that I had to give my Devialet amp 6dB of treble boost to make them as clear as they are on the CD. Is it possible that the rip was taken from a 5.1 mix?

    • It is certainly possible that a different mix or master was used for the “hi-res” download. The retailers only sell what they’re supplied. We need more information.

  • Alex Ferguson

    For the title track in the above post read Trans-Island Highway.


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