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.