HRA Solutions: Step 4

How much do we want to know about an individual “hi-res” album or track? Are liner notes enough or important in deciding whether to purchase a “high-res” download or not? It probably depends on how comprehensive the information in the liner notes is with regards to the production processes involved. We shouldn’t have to do our own analysis after making a purchase.

I had a conversation with David Chesky the other day about this very issue and he told me that HDtracks is constantly asking their licensors (the major labels included) for as much information as possible. He sent me a couple of links to pages on the HDtracks website that provide full disclosure on the albums. Here’s a great example:

“Recorded April 17-18, 1960 in Northrop Auditorium, Minneapolis MN (tracks 4-8) and June 16-17, 1961 in Watford Town Hall, UK (tracks 1-3).
Recording Director: Wilma Cozart
Musical Supervisor: Harold Lawrence
Chief Engineer & Technical Supervisor: C. Robert Fine
Associate Engineer: Robert Eberenz (tracks 1-8)
DSD Transfer and 3-to-2 Mix: Andrew Wedman assisted by Claudia Pohl

Original recordings made with three Schoeps M201 omni-directional microphones. Recorded on Ampex 300 half-inch 3-track recorders at 15 inches per second. First-generation tapes were transferred to produce this high-definition download.

Simply some of the best performances of these classic concertos put to tape. Captured in stellar sound quality, Janis’ piano seethes with emotion and virtuosity while the Mercury Living Presence recording quality brings out every orchestral nuance.”

This Mercury Living Presence album is available at 176.4 and 88.2 kHz /24-bit PCM. I wish they would explain why the original analog tapes were transferred to DSD…then they say the first generation tapes for used for this transfer. That’s a little confusing. But as an experience engineer and audiophile, I know what to expect from an AMPEX 300 machine and so my overall expectations of this album are dampened.

But it does get to the issue of provenance. I was the first to adopt this term to provide information to potential consumers about the origin and/or production path that a product undergoes prior to reaching your hard drive. I written posts about the production paths used by a variety of labels, engineers, etc. Some projects start on analog tape then are digitized to PCM or DSD. Others may start on digital and then suffer through an analog stage to gain “warmth” or “analog sound”. There have even been projects cut directly to a metal master and instantly played back and digitized to DSD…hard to imagine but true. The provenance of my own productions I 100 high-resolution PCM digital with no conversions other than the ones are either end of the chain.

It is very challenging to get accurate information about many of the commercial releases of the past 60 years. In fact, it may be impossible in some cases. Does that mean that the “About This Album” section on a website should be left blank or not mention the technology employed? There’s always something that can be said.

For example, it is not difficult to know that any pop/rock recording done in the 60s would have been recorded on analog tape. Maybe we don’t know if it was a 4-track machine or a 16-track deck, but we can say with confidence that the music was recorded by analog means. And knowledgeable people at download sites know that an analog sourced tape will have noticeable hiss and other distortions. Is it too much to ask that online vendors identify as many of the production stages as possible. The Jerome Sabbagh “The Turn” album was recorded on analog tape and then digitized but the information was not presented on HDtracks. It should have been.

The 4th step in fixing the confusion about “high-res” music is to make sure that customers know as much about the provenance of a product as possible. Even if that information is limited to the format of the source recording prior to digitization. No information guarantees that some customers are going to feel ripped off. Giving even basic stuff will reduce the number of unhappy customers.

Part 5: Simplify the format tug of war and abandon DSD. Get behind high-resolution PCM and run with it.


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.

19 thoughts on “HRA Solutions: Step 4

  • Rodrian Roadeye

    Your comment about all 60’s music being on analog tape is true and it got me thinking about going back even further. Frank Sinatra was rumored to have an obsession with top notch sound recording and many say he outspent many on getting the best equipment and tech people of his day to master his albums. I am not familiar with exactly how he went about doing this but he probably was one of the first to emerge from the mono era. I do know that I have never heard a bad sounding Sinatra album but then again his volume of work was fairly high. It would be interesting for you or someone to research further into this to determine just how much expense he went to in order to achieve his goals of outstanding audio reproduction. Or whether his efforts really didn’t distinguish him from any other artist of his day.

    • I can’t say I know a lot about Frank Sinatra recordings. But I have heard session tapes and outtakes from sessions held in the 1950s at Capitol Studio B. The Nelson Riddle Orchestra and the chairman of the board all playing and singing together. They were live mixes to AMPEX machines (probably the 300) in two or three tracks. The magic of those recordings is the lack of heavy processing and the live nature of the performances.

  • “How much do we want to know about an individual “hi-res” album or track? Are liner notes enough or important in deciding whether to purchase a “high-res” download or not?”

    In the end I don’t think any of it will have much influence on the purchase, it will be the music.
    But what you’re looking for and what I’ve been asking for are different. Yes basic info on the provenance would be great but how many customers really have any idea on how what brand of analog tape recorder was used will effect the sound.
    What I’m asking for is at least what the LP or CD purchaser gets. Many if not most albums include beautiful artwork, photos, intros written by the performers, etc, etc.. I may need a magnifying glass to read the CD’s but at least we get it. 🙂 I remember back in the day after dropping the LP on the table for the first time the very next thing was to open the LP if it had a gatefold and read what was presented to us by the artists, label, etc. Maybe read the songs words and sing along, look at the pictures —-
    I will hand it to HDTracks, the new James Taylor Before The World release comes with a 12 page pdf file that includes all of the above. I’m sure it is a copy of the booklet that comes with the CD, very nice. First time I’ve seen it down, maybe Davids tired of my bit-hing.
    Bottom line is for our $20-30 bucks or so we deserve to get something like this with all downloads, the info exists, it’s on the other media. Don’t charge us premium prices and give us a minimal product.
    And if they ever do Cheech and Chongs – Big Bambo I want my 12″ rolling paper too. WOOT

    • Knowing the provenance will influence my purchases decisions. If I know that a tracks was sourced from a safety copy before being mastered for vinyl LP, I know what to expect in terms of sound quality. The liner notes are not always available and that’s why the labels don’t make them available to HDtracks and the others.

  • These are home run posts you have done the past week or so. Thanks!

    • Thanks…I’ll wrap it up when I’ve completed the series and then present a summation of the 10 things that I believe would help the success of high-res music.

  • I would like to know a little more of your critique of the AMPEX 300, because people put this recording up on a pedestal as the pinnacle of what is possible with analog.

    I’m genuinely interested.

    Also, (different question), do you think there were better options for recording in the day? (1955-60-ish)

    • The Ampex machines of the 50s and 60s were far from the “pinnacle of what is possible with analog”. In fact, my go to guy on analog tape wouldn’t include the much heralded ATR-100 machines. Studer and Nagra machines are at the top of that list. The frequency response, tape handling, speed accuracy, scape flutter, electronic distortion, and dynamics were all good but not great by today’s standards. That being said, there probably no alternatives at the time.

  • By the older (analog tape) recordings it is important to know from which generation tape, the transfers were done.
    And…I’d like to know, if the did an (unnecsesarry) DSD transfer, before converting/transfering to highres PCM.

    • We can only hope for so much information. I wondered about the DSD transfer. I can only hope that it was for a different product.

  • Abandoning DSD. That will cause quite a stir!

    • I’m talking about the health of the commercial, mass market music business. They don’t care at all about DSD…it’s the audiophile market that’s been sold that bill of goods.

  • Butch Patchell

    It drives me insane when I cannot find information as basic as the simple designation of how a CD is mastered. At one time it was common to find AAD or or other combinations to denote the analog and digital processes used to create the disc. I applaud your efforts to provide information about the provenance of the end product. I have passed on many offerings from HDtracks and others because I cannot find enough information to make an informed purchase decision. Here’s an example of what Acoustic Sounds has to say about one of their recent offerings:

    The 2015 CD + Blu-ray edition of Amused to Death feature a new 5.1 surround remix of the album on high-definition Blu-ray audio completed by longtime Roger Waters / Pink Floyd collaborator and co-producer, James Guthrie.

    It calls this ‘high-definition Blu-ray audio’. What does that mean? This is not a video Blu-ray.

    • Butch, there is a new format called a “Pure Audio” Blu-ray disc that offers high-resolution, multichannel sound without any accompanying video.

      • To bad a really good multi channel hi rez media has finally arrived just when it seems that almost all interest in hard media for music has died off.

  • Chester Alkema

    Dr. Aix, have you heard about Meridian’s new MQA technology. Robert Harley discusses this technology in the latest newsletter from THE ABSOLUTE SOUND, under the heading BEYOND HIGH RESOLUTION. Have you witnessed a demonstration of the technique? What are your impressions?

    • Yes, I’ve experienced the demos and know Robert Stuart, the inventor quite well. I’ve written about MQA and plan another post as soon as I get a response to a series of questions I asked of Robert. Basically, it is a really great codec…it is not a fidelity enhancement tool or technique.

    • Good example…we just want the information.


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