Fixing Hi-Res Audio/Music in 10 Steps

It took ten days of posts and a set up day, but the list is complete. In case you missed it, my recent posts laid out ten very easy steps that organizations, labels, download sites, and consumer electronics companies can take to give hi-res audio/music a fighting chance of success. I’d like to present them in a single post today. Do I really think that any of the interested parties will pay any attention and rethink their positions? No, it would be very difficult for them to move back from the abyss and change their strategy. But who knows…

I’ve been corresponding with a major CE company over the past couple of weeks about an update to their inclusion of iTrax on one of their sites. They want a new and shorter site description, a list of formats that we offer, and some products that I would like to highlight on a rotating basis. They provided me a draft article that describes the “best sites to acquire high-resolution content” and then goes on to list the best sites…and iTrax.com is listed as number 4! I’m very thankful. But as I read the article, I was surprised to see “hi-res audio songs” used to describe the stuff that HDtracks and iTrax sells. This is new wording. It’s not “hi-res audio” or “hi-res music”. The dueling definitions and logos that are competing for branding attention are confusing enough. I offered to help…I’ll let you know.

I’m being completely sincere in hoping that the interested parties accept some or all of my suggestions. Heck, I’d be thrilled to learn that they’re even discussing them…or even know of them. Here they are one last time:

1. Lose the term Hi-Res – Focus on the message of “best available fidelity” rather than two conflicting definitions that use “hi-res”, focus the message, develop one logo and get everyone behind it.

2. Play actual hi-res samples – The labels and retailers should make sure that customers can acquire “high-res” sample files BEFORE purchase so they can test them, play them and verify the fidelity is acceptable.

3. Charge the same as regular res – Establish a single price for the CD spec audio and the high-res version. Give people a “brainless” reason to go with better.

4. Provenance information – Include the source format, production path, and delivery specs with every file. At least say whether the source was an analog tape, vinyl LP, or digital file.

5. Abandon DSD – DSD is not a mainstream format and will never be one. It exists for audiophiles and high-end manufacturers. There are no commercial hit recordings being done using DSD. Let it go…at least for the sake of clarity.

6. Get knowledgeable endorsements – Don’t let celebrities like Neil Young be the voice of high-res music. He’s a great musician, rock star, and songwriter but he’s under informed about high-res music. His Pono devices are nice enough but PonoMusic is shoveling CD rips instead of sticking with the “rediscover the soul of music” theme he started with.

7. Demo compelling new recordings – Don’t limit demos to the “tried and failed” bunch of old analog mastered that David Pogue and others have labeled as “audio voodoo” and “emperor’s new clothes”. Play some newly recorded and sonically spectacular tunes. Drop their jaws!

8. Set up a website – Provide a clearinghouse for all relevant information about “hi-res”. And make sure that someone knowledgeable edits the content.

9. Start small and expand the audience – Recognize that “hi-res” should be marketed to a very small but dedicated group of audio fans. If we can get them engaged and talking then we can expand to the masses.

10.Be honest – Don’t exaggerate, avoid terms like “blown away”, be honest, and just tell it like it is. Honesty is still the best policy.

That’s it. All ten suggestions on a single page. I would encourage anyone with audio connections to share this list. We can have an impact.


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.

13 thoughts on “Fixing Hi-Res Audio/Music in 10 Steps

  • Great job! You gave the industry practical and common sense advice to sincerely help all consumers to enjoy recorded music at a greater level.

    I hope everyone appreciates your focus on the music purchaser/customer.

    I think there are lessons in the transition to HDTV – there was some out of pocket expense for a new TV or set top box, but there was no increase in monthly fees to view the new and improved HDTV content.

    Recorded music should be the same way. Sell a better quality product for the same price (there is no significant extra cost for production of it!) and sell more music! More sales at the same price means more profit! Customers, once educated will appreciate the technical advances in recording. Everyone is happy! Well — maybe :).

  • Phil Educate

    Kudos on this 10 Point list Mark. If it were implemented, it would succeed.

    • Thanks…one can only hope.

  • I would suggest that # 4 be changed to original source or something similar. Since a lot of CDs were made from analog tapes some could say the source was a CD when it was actually a tape.

    • A correct provenance of a hi-res transfer would identify the source format of the session tape. Saying a new release came from a CD wouldn’t be accurate, you’re right.

  • Robert Buckner

    Hello Mark. The push for higher quality sound will have to come from the young people in the business. If Taylor Swift announced her next studio project would be recorded at 24/96 and made available for downloading and Blu-ray audio, as well as regular cd, we would see a rush of young musicians moving in that direction. Nothing more than a two paragraph statement proclaiming to use the best available practice would do it. Without young people this is nothing more than a luxurious hobby. Thanks for your work.

    Robert Buckner

    • Maybe…Taylor Swift has legions of fans but here engineering team would never make a record that has fidelity. It wouldn’t sound right to her fans.

  • I find it interesting that Emotiva continues to basically ignore DSD in their digital products. I purchased their top of the line Stealth DC-1 DAC a few months ago and it has no DSD support at all. (But sounds wonderful playing back all my PCM files from 16/44 to 24/192, I love it!) The new Big EGO and Little EGO DACS just released a few weeks back also do not support DSD and neither does their top of the line $2500.00 XMC-1 Pre/Pro. I never read on their forums any statement as to any feelings on the DSD issue but find it somewhat surprising (and I applaud them) for continuing to ignore DSD.

    • I am friends with the CEO of Emotiva. I can’t say we’ve talked about DSD vs. PCM but I know he’s a smart guy. I didn’t know that they’ve made the right decision about DSD. I’ll have to ask him.

      • Let me make a correction here,
        “True DSD Playback
        The XMC-1 offers audiophile quality playback of DSD audio (when received via HDMI from an
        SACD or a DSD audio file), which bypasses all processing for the most accurate audio rendition
        Comes from the XMC-1 owners manual though not mentioned anywhere in the units specs on the website?

        AFAIK the brand new Large and Small EGOs do not support DSD but again I’m going by the manufactures listed specs

        • Thanks for the additional information.

  • I’m a little more optimistic on HDAs future than you Mark.
    As time passes and technology improves the cost of supplying HDA to the masses will drop. The only marketing leverage the labels and suppliers will have is better sound quality and price. With tech like MQA it will be possible to
    stream at HRA speeds and downloads will require less hard drive capacity. I can see a day where having multiple formats like MP3 Std def, and High def becomes more costly than necessary and the industry just standardizes on something like 24/96 or 192 and drop the price to something close to MP3 downloads now.
    A guy can hope. 🙂


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