Dr. AIX's POSTS — 24 July 2015

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My preview at the end of yesterday’s post may send some of you running…certainly DSD fans. After all, how could abandoning DSD help the desperate situation that “high-res music” finds itself in? There are several reasons why the record business and its “high-res” initiative will benefit by ignoring DSD.

The first is to narrow the marketing focus on a single message around a single format. And that format is PCM digital. It’s already the de facto standard in the world. Every commercial recording studio uses either analog tape or a PCM-based Digital Audio Workstation…even those DSD equipped rooms record to DXD, which is PCM. Of course, there are esoteric record labels, devoted engineers and producers, consumer electronics hardware companies, activist editors/writers, and thousands of audiophiles that believe in the format, but the rest of the commercial music world isn’t paying any attention to DSD.

I recognize that Sony, the company most active in pushing high-resolution audio, has considerable focus on DSD. But even they understand that DSD is a sideshow compared to the clout of PCM. As music distribution steers away from physical media and downloads in favor of streaming, DSD is not going to be a factor.

If one of the goals of the industry’s marketing effort is to bring “high-res” music to the masses (which will never happen…the masses just don’t care), then they need to adopt a single messaging strategy. But my experience with these groups and organizations has shown me that simplicity and focus are not in their best interest or the interests of their member companies. The organizations are in a very tough spot. They don’t want to alienate any of their members. Therefore, everyone that wants to be under the “high-res” tent is assured a spot. But this dilutes the strength of their message.

Sometimes it’s better to make a stand and hold to a set of convictions. There will certainly companies left behind and disappointed that they can’t take advantage of the “hi-res” music initiative but it’s a simple fact that not everything ever recorded is a high-resolution recording. There needs to be meaningful definitions and specifications applied to audio fidelity just like they are in the world of digital televisions. We have standard-definition, high-definition, and now ultra high-definition. Each of these levels is well defined. Unfortunately, everything except the standard-resolution PCM digital recording produced in the late 80s can be regarded as “high-res” under the current definition.

The practical reality is David Pogue, Ryan Nakashimi (AP), Mario Aguilar (Gizmodo), and other mainstream writers that have been critical of “high-res” music have never mentioned DSD. They’re not even aware that it exists…outside of the audiophile community, DSD elicits a blank stare. I ran into a very prominent professional drummer at the lunch check out line today and got chatting with him. This is a guy that just finished touring with Miley Cyrus (boy, I never thought I would mention her in one of my posts) and guys from Mars Volta…he’d never heard of DSD.

DSD is nothing more than a sidebar in music production and distribution…a very small sidebar. The promotion of high-res audio/music would be best served if the interested parties focused on high-res PCM and never mentioned DSD.

Keep the “high-res” message simple, focused, and avoid hyperbole. People can understand getting the very best rendition of their favorite music.

Part 6: Engage with personalities that know the subject area and avoid aging rock icons in the promotion of “high-res” music.

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About Author

Dr. AIX

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.

(9) Readers Comments

  1. Let the flame being. LOL

  2. It doesn’t feel right to commit the next 10-30 years of Hi-Res to 24/96, when we can already achieve, say, 24/192, at this very early stage.

    Will we look back and say we should have gone for 24/192 or higher? because we will better understand:

    a) The significance of some people detecting delays on sounds as low as 3-5 microseconds
    b) The importance of capturing instrument harmonics reaching 40 kHz, 80 kHz or even 100 kHz
    c) Why hi-res sounds better despite the limitations of our hearing?
    d) ???

    As for DSD, I hope this has the opportunity to flourish. For this, I am reminded:

    “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

    Here’s to choice and innovation.

    • We can already achieve 384 kHz/24-bit PCM but the increase is useless. The companies making these “ultra high rate” boxes are playing to the biggest number marketing method. The producers of mainstream commercial music are using 48 kHz/24-bit PCM and rarely higher. That’s where the fidelity is locked in. Pushing higher may someday be relevant but it isn’t now. Maybe 192 kHz/24-bits but I’ve never heard 192 make a difference.

      The energy of partials past 40 kHz is down 120 dB…it makes not difference.

      DSD will survive among the “crazy ones” but it will never be a part of mainstream listening or production.

  3. Mark, I’ve been reading your daily posts for a very long time, thank you!

    Regarding “the masses just don’t care” in yesterday’s, as well as the ongoing “loudness” wars that are destroying new music distribution, I think the primary culprit is noise. The world most people live in is an increasingly noisy place. Hearing the music at all is a challenge, let alone the delicate subtleties that distinguish resolution differences. Combined with the fact that the masses are using equipment that isn’t capable of high-res by any definition it is no wonder they don’t care.

    I live in a very quiet forest away from traffic and neighbours, yet my biggest problem listening to a good recording with high dynamic range is background noise. Even with my fridge and ceiling fan off the living room still has 40 dB of background noise. I can only really hear the subtle clues that provide a good soundstage and instrument clarity in my basement room.

    I was recently in Toronto and was horrified by the constant level of background racket. How anyone could listen to headphones or earbuds on the street is a mystery. No wonder compressed loudness in recordings is important. The studios are selling to the masses, and they are buying!

    Anyway, enough. Thanks for the posts.

    Brault…

    • Thanks…you’re right that ambient noise works against recordings with lots of dynamic range. That’s part of the reason for dynamics processors. To enjoy audiophile recordings, it’s takes a very good system AND the right environment.

  4. And where are the speakers, that would ‘support’ 384 or even 192 kHz recordings?

    • The use of ultrahigh sample rates is promoted because the filtering can be more easily accomplished AND in the case of DXD, eliminated entirely. When you get to 192, we’re not talking about harmonics any more.

  5. Perhaps its just me but this never ending swirl over high resolution, although interesting; and I personally want what I listen to to be in it’s truest finest format, what isn’t mentioned enough is just how much better I think the surround sound listening experience is, even if only an Remix of a previously recorded stereo CD.
    Now once we get there, I prefer AIX, 2L, Steven Wilson remixes, whoever remixed Elton John’s stuff, etc… I find myself almost ignoring anything that is limited to stereo although 320 mp3 in my car sounds very good as a mobile alternative.

    • I’m a major surround music person. It a much better way to experience music.

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