Ready For The Hi-Res Demos?

I wrote about the collaboration between Best Buy and Sony last June when it was announced at the CE Week event. The press release said that some 70 Magnolia Design Centers would have dedicated areas for the latest Sony hi-res audio gear including headphones, headphones amplifiers, music servers, and speakers. The marketing push for high-resolution audio is just about to hit high gear. After all, the holiday shopping season is already in full swing and who doesn’t want to get their hands on the latest hi-res audio equipment?

The announcement also said, “Customers will be able to demo a selection of high-res audio clips, and the stations will promote a variety of high-res recordings from Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group that are available through participating digital music download providers.” The usual digital music download providers are the usual sites…HDtracks, ProStudioMasters, SuperHiRez, Qobuz, PonoMusic, and HighReMusic.

So if you were in charge of securing the content for these Magnolia locations, what music would you choose too show off the benefits of high-resolution audio equipment?

If you visit the Sony site that suggests where to “purchase and enjoy” high-resolution audio files, you won’t find HDtracks or PonoMusic. I talked about their recommendations some time ago. They list 2L, iTrax, Linn, Blue Coast, Native DSD, and Naim. The reason is simple…the recordings that you can download from these sites easily eclipse the fidelity of just about any recording licensed from the major labels. If Best Buy and Sony really want to demonstrate the improvements offered by the latest hifi gear, they should get their hands on some recordings that actually are high-resolution.

Mike Crane, the audio director of Magnolia said, “The addition of high-res music stations offers fans of high-resolution music the chance to experience the next wave of audio technology.” I agree there’s a chance that fans will be able to hear better sound but a very slim one. It could happen if a consumer brings in a bona fide high-resolution audio recording from one of the sites mentioned above. On the other hand, if the repertoire comes from the major labels, there is virtually no chance that consumers will feel engaged with fidelity that is indistinguishable from what they’re used to.

There is a large gap between what Sony’s new hardware can deliver and the fidelity of the tracks that will be recommended by retailers and the major labels. In my opinion, over promising and under delivering will continue to disappoint those that the industry should be trying to impress. But would Best Buy or CE companies consider playing real high-resolution content in their new demo locations? No, they wouldn’t. They have “experts” that will tell them what they should play. And they’ll do what they’re told. And they will fail.

So music fans will get the chance to hear some “hi-res” Neil Young, Led Zeppelin, Diana Krall, and The Police through headphones and marginal quality speaker systems. I wish I could do a brief exit poll as the customers leave the Magnolia stores. “So what did you think of high-resolution audio?” “You want to know the truth…it sounded great but not really any different than what I’m used to.” And they’d be right.

Wouldn’t it be better to blow them away with new hi-res music?


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.

11 thoughts on “Ready For The Hi-Res Demos?

  • You got a problem there Mark and I don’t have any answer to. No offence but how many rap or hard rock fans are going to walk in and get excited listening to anything from your catalog, or any of the other named providers? They’d listen to the phones for about 30 seconds max, take them off and say, yo-thanks. 🙁
    And the tiny amount of popular music that is getting recorded in true HDA still gets squashed to death by the loudness nazi’s compressors. Just sucks

    • Alex

      That’s not completely true! Our community is a shining testament to that fact.

      However, you are indeed correct: Mastering in the end trumps format every single time. I was once on the floor of an audiophile show and the vendor was demo’ing some crushed material in DSD (I think it was Nine Inch Nails if I recall correctly). I immediately asked him if I could listen to a few select, well mastered metal tracks in PCM format. He scoffed and told me that his curated DSD library sounds way better.

      Sure it does…

      • Admin

        The NIN mention prompts a response on the Mastered for Audiophiles version that Trent did for “Hesitation Marks”…it was little less loud but not much.

        • Alex

          Definitely. We covered it (“Terrible Lie”) and so did Ian Shepherd of Production Advice. Another wasted opportunity by Trent and Co.

          • Admin

            Yes, I was disappointed. I met Trent here at the studio and chatted with him for almost 30 minutes about this very issue. I was hopeful.

          • Alex

            No kidding. Mark, maybe next time then? I mean the guy is pretty tech savvy. I’m really surprised he missed the boat on this one.

          • Admin

            I spent at least 30 minutes talking to Trent and trying to make the case for a real audiophile sound. Maybe it would work…maybe it wouldn’t given the genre. We’ll never know.

  • Sal

    Buy the way Mark, that’s for the education on HiRez. Playing some tunes tonight and I can’t believe I didn’t know any better and paid Acoustic Sounds $17.98 for Carrie Underwood’s – Some Hearts at an awesome 24/44 bitrate.
    Yea that’s right, they had the balls to call a 24/44 file HiRez and charge $17.98 and I was too dumb or too loaded to notice before I purchased This was sometime back before I was reading your blog. I’m going to write a letter to them about in tonight in any case
    “We won’t get fooled again!”

  • Brault

    Mark, I read this sentence three times until I noticed it was a double negative…

    “On the other hand, if the repertoire comes from the major labels, there is virtually no chance that consumers will feel engaged with fidelity that is indistinguishable from what they’re used to.”


  • charlie w

    I’ll save you the time and expense of an exit poll. I was at a Magnolia store inside a Best Buy store in northwest San Antonio recently. At the entrance to the Magnolia section was a very nice audio set up consisting McIntosh tube pre-amp, MacIntosh tube stereo amp, Sony’s newest network media player(I don’t recall the model number) and Martin-Logan electrostatic speakers. What drew my attention was the material playing from the Sony. It was some bland-sounding jazz music but I wanted to see its sample rate & bit depth. It was too small on the display if it were displayed at all. While it all sounded nice, it was not challenging the components. The volume was barely above conversation level and it was drowned out by much louder television displays, XBox games and other conversations in the store. When a salesman finally noticed me looking at the system, he was pushing my attention towards the Mac gear not the Sony. I politely walked away thinking the Magnolia staff knew little or nothing about high res audio. Their draw was new shiny gear and not great sounding music to Best Buy customers.

    • Admin

      There you go…thanks.


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