When I first started to contemplate changing my professional focus from engineering audio projects and mastering CDs for other labels to launching my own high-resolution music label, I wasn’t too sure that the world would embrace the idea. I was excited by the arrival of DVD-Audio, a format with enhanced audio fidelity, surround music capability, and compatibility with DVD-Video hardware (excluding the ability to play MLP files). But would I be able to produce products that high-end audiophiles would purchase? The challenge was to apply 30 years of audio engineering experience to recordings made for a new format. The fidelity bar had been raised and I wanted to sail over it.
And that meant producing recordings that average consumers could hear and immediately realize were sonically better and more engaging than what they were used to. The music industry was given the chance to reinvent themselves when DVD-Audio and SACD were introduced. They recognized the opportunity the new “high-res” formats represented and they started looking through their vaults to find “classic” albums that could be the “killer app” of “high-res music”.
It was appropriate for the labels to seek out well-known recordings and recast them in surround. I can remember sitting in a studio with Mick Fleetwood and Lindsey Buckingham as they listened to “Rumours” in surround. They were knocked out…as was everyone else in the room except Jack Holzman, the executive at Warner Brothers in charge of new technologies and the founder of Elektra Records (His book “Follow the Music” chronicles the age of rock n roll). Jack didn’t get it.
But luckily his reluctance didn’t stop the format and the decision to re-release projects by The Doors, Fleetwood Mac, Queen, and more. A lot of effort was put into finding the source assets, creating the new mixes, consulting with the bands, and a lot of money was spent in the process. Queen’s “A Night At The Opera” was rumored to cost over $250,000…just for the surround mixes! But they didn’t sell.
Today, these early DVD-Audio discs are collectors’ items and much sought after by fans of surround music. But they didn’t propel the new formats to success.
AIX Records was started in 2000. I didn’t have a catalog of “classic” records to exploit in the new format. I had to produce entirely new recordings in high-resolution audio…96 kHz/24-bit PCM captures of musicians playing live. I had some strong opinions on how to create the “best sound” and I pulled out my wallet and went to work. And it worked!
When customers started hearing tracks like “Mujaka” from The Latin Jazz Trio or Jennifer Warnes singing “Darcy Farrow” with Jimmy Ibbotson from the “Nitty Gritty Surround” project, they were very impressed. The emails I received convinced me that I had succeeded in topping the new fidelity bar that DVD-Audio/SACD offered.
But the major labels, artists, engineers, and producers of mainstream music didn’t engage with the new formats. They never encouraged these folks to up their game…and they still haven’t. There are very few recordings made that take advantage of the new “high-res music” standards. The new James Taylor record “Before This World” is a welcome exception. The labels looked backwards to their vaults rather than producing new “hi-res music” albums for the future.
The repertoire that pretends to be “high-res music” on the various websites and has been almost universally slammed by the mainstream press lacks the “wow” factor to turn audio fans into new customers for high-res music. Why would anyone demo a 192 kHz/24-bit transfer of Neil Young’s “Harvest” and think knowledgeable music fans would spend their hard earned cash for yet another copy of that wonderful record just because it’s got a new logo on it?
Over the past 15 years, I’ve licensed a lot of tracks to companies that wanted to demo their systems with the best sounding albums they could find. Just recently, BenQ licensed 4 tracks to use with their Trevolo small speaker system. And Bose, Cadillac, Intel, Creative Labs, Porsche have also benefited from using my tracks.
Of course, no one will recognize my albums. And maybe no one will know who Carl Verheyen or Laurence Juber is. But I know there are a large number of customers that have grown to love these artists and others because they cherish the sound of the recordings.
Who doesn’t want to receive emails like these?
“That’s got to be the most incredible sound I’ve ever heard. I’m in the middle of your podcast on iTunes with Home Theater Geek. And this was on my Boston Acoustic PC speakers. Can’t wait to hear something like this on my Home Speaker with 5.1 surround sound, what ever it is your doing don’t stop!
Leroy from NJ, Jazz, Classical, New age fan.”
I just wanted to email you and let you know how much I’ve been enjoying the BD’s and DVD that I’ve gotten from AIX Records. The music (both technically and musically) is AWESOME. Beautiful musicianship recorded through great equipment by master producers… how could it get better?
All in all, very impressive. Please keep up the great work. Rick S.”
When someone experiences a demo of “high-res music”, it has to blow him or her away within the first 30 seconds. If it doesn’t drop their jaw, then they’ll probably smile and move on. The promotion of “high-res music” needs to include some real “high-res music”.
Step 8: Set up a website dedicated to real “high-res music” with downloadable demos, testimonials, white papers, and system recommendations.