Dr. AIX's POSTS — 01 October 2015

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I can’t say that Alan Parsons is a close friend or even a friend, but I do know him and have chatted several times at length with him at a trade show or on the phone. He’s the real deal. He lives just up the coast near Santa Barbara and is still a very active musician, producer, and engineer. He popped up today because there is a graphic of him and a quotation attributed to him circulating on FB and other social media. Here’s the image:

151001_alan_parsons

Figure 1 – Alan Parsons quote about audiophiles.

This is a very insightful statement. “Audiophiles don’t use their equipment to listen to music. Audiophiles use your music to listen to their equipment”. I was asked if I agree with the statement and I replied that I did. All of the endless debating and rants about formats, sample rates, word length, “impedance matched” USB bus restorations devices, and nonsensical reviews of both equipment and music have gotten in the way of sheer musical enjoyment. What’s wrong with just sitting in your listening environment and reveling in an expressive piece of well-recorded music ?

I take Alan’s very pointed quote as an indictment on “audiophiles”. Maybe I shouldn’t call myself and audiophile. I’ve taken it to mean a driving passion to experience the art of music at its very best. And in order to achieve that level of performance requires every step of every production be executed with fidelity in mind. After if the fidelity of the content doesn’t measure up then it’s impossible to extract high fidelity at the reproduction side of the equation. Try as they might, equipment designers and manufacturers are fighting a useless battle if the recordings that we want and cherish aren’t capable of delivering great fidelity.

That’s why it’s so disheartening when the labels’ recommendations for “high-resolution” demonstration material is off the mark. And the descriptions and definitions of “hi-res audio” or “hi-res music” don’t help matters.

As a group audiophiles should be less concerned about perfecting the digital data stream moving through a USB bus and more interested in convincing artists, major labels, organizations, and retailers that they want better sounding records. The essence of the problem is the lack of really great sounding recordings. And sadly that problem is not even being addressed within the music industry.

I’m headed to the airport for my trip to the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. If you’re planning on attending the event, please come by and say hello.

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For any new visitors, please visit my Kickstarter page here, for information on getting the truth about music and audio.

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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.

(23) Readers Comments

  1. I agree that Alan Parsons’ characterization of audiophiles is sometimes true. But it is too much of a generalization. I believe that, for most audiophiles, music comes first. Unless, of course, you define an audiophile as someone who puts equipment first. That would be too narrow a definition.

    • Of course it is…but there’s some truth to it as well.

  2. Great quote! So true. I’ve been guilty of that myself.

    I also like Mark’s statement”
    “As a group audiophiles should be less concerned about perfecting the digital data stream moving through a USB bus and more interested in convincing artists, major labels, organizations, and retailers that they want better sounding records. The essence of the problem is the lack of really great sounding recordings. And sadly that problem is not even being addressed within the music industry.”

    That is indeed the essence of the problem. The better my equipment gets, the better I can hear how bad most recordings are.

    Lately I’ve been trying to seek out good recordings rather than worry about my gear, or the format/resolution I am listening too.

  3. Thanks Mark,

    maybe you will redeem yourself, at least in my music lovin Kitties, with the big ears and my blurry eyes, after that kickin around thing.

    Sincerely,
    Walt Prill

  4. Alan and you have a good point—one of the reasons I started identifying myself as a “musicphile” about a year ago—but ‘indictment’? I think you’re slinging paint with a very wide brush. Music is the important thing, but the only way to separate listening from the equipment is to forego media of any kind and attend only live performances. Can’t collect music that way, though.

    Parallel examples to collectors of music can be seen in figurine collectors who’ll spend thousands on custom cabinets to display their treasures, and art collectors who’ll spend thousands on frames with exotic glass and matting, special lighting, and temperature/humidity control systems. There may be some collectors who go overboard, but I imagine few of them lose sight of the reason for all the adjunct equipment.

    Since most of us don’t have the financial resources to get musicians we want to hear to come to our houses on demand, media and equipment matter, too, and though not true in all cases, the less self-noise and unwanted distortions added to the signal passing through, the more expensive it is.

    I own a good bit of that expensive “audiophile-grade” stuff. I enjoy discussing specs and features, auditioning new products, and replacing older/less-capable components, but if all I had was some wire, a diode, a capacitor, and cheap earbuds, I’d still listen to whatever music I could pull off the AM band. I think the majority of so-called audiophiles would do the same.

    Thank you for all you do for this great hobby! I backed your Kickstarter campaign—your book will go a long way toward keeping the focus on the music while helping audiophiles (and musicphiles) to become media- and equipment-savvy.

    Let’s all keep up the pressure on hype and push for standards.

  5. The word audiophile has by now been kicked around, redefined countless times, far too many jokes although there is some truth in those humors, but…99% of audiophiles were once simply folks who enjoy listening to music. Remember, the hi-fi postulate” The music and the sound are two different things. The sound is just the carrier for the artists’ emotion and intent, which is the music.

    But …the idea has always been that if one can more accurately reproduce the sound, more of the artists’ emotion and intent will be available for a deeper level of enjoyment. So, while there is unfortunately but definitely a lot of asinine behavior associated with “audiophilia” , at the same time I would characterize most audiophiles simply as folks who have found a way to get much more out of music.

    The pursuit of sound quality alone is futile, and I have determined that a surprising number of ‘philes’ who may be quite familiar with the sound of recordings still do not have a mental template of what natural, acoustic instruments in free air sound like, thus allowing for the very circuitous course taken by so many as they move through the audio specialty market.

  6. As long as we bear in mind that the Parsons quote is two statements: a completely untrue statement followed by a sometimes-true statement.

    If we remove the first sentence (a lie) and insert “sometimes” into the second, it becomes true — but boring.

  7. Now I did use his (Alan Parsons) Sound Check CD to set up and test my equipment for many years until I got the Spears & Munsil which came along on Blu Ray. I must admit I do like the music tracks on the Sound Check CD.

    I guess I’m not an audiophile, as I do use my equipment to listen to music not the other way around.

  8. Mr. Parson would be a perfect artist to record Hi-Res. His music comprehends all that audiophiles can measure: dynamic range, large frequency spectrum, subtle arrangements, smooth and powerful segments. Can you convince him Mark?

  9. While I can understand where AP is coming from with that quote, it’s an over-generalization. Most audio enthusiasts primarily listen for pleasure, but can listen analytically when evaluating gear. I’m sure there are a few extremists that are permanently stuck in analytical mode, but they are the exception, not the rule.

    The perception comes from the fact that audio enthusiasts are nearly always listening or talking analytically when in public. Whether it’s an audio show (like RMAF), a local audio meeting, or on an audio forum, we want to find out about the new stuff to figure out if it will work for us at home.

    The beauty of this hobby is that it appeals to both the technical and artistic sides of our nature. When listening at home, either alone or with a few friends, the tech stuff gets old real quick. The focus is almost always on the music as record after record gets played, shared, and enjoyed. That’s what it’s all about.

    • Very true. Thx

  10. A very good post Mark, and Alan Parsons is right on target. But it is a bit off the mark to throw all audiophiles in the same lunatic barrel. There are some of us that have a bit of common sense and don’t buy into all the crazy devices, cables, magic bricks, magic dots, etc; that have become such a large part of the “hobby” today. I kick around some of the sites like CA, Head-Fi, etc and just can’t believe whats going on, it gets more luny by the minute. It’s gotten to a point that I would be embarrassed to call myself an Audiophile in public any more. Alan Parsons isn’t the only one talking in these terms on the social and print media and our reputation among reasonable folk gets worse and worse.
    If you see Amir from Whats Best at RAMF (hes there) ask him about his Regen post. It’s gone completely off the tracks and even forced him into changing the name of the Science catagory. ???? Ask him, the whole thing went unreasonable and ballistic with the BS still continuing.
    Have Fun

  11. Very little essence to RMAF, but for those attending remember this as wandering the venue. LOUDNESS is not FIDELITY and HI REZ is not HIGH DEFINITION….. But beyond the diatribe remember….. ” The Abscence of evidence is the evidence of Abscence”. Shakespeare had it right, ” much ado about nothing”. Save your $$$ for better days ! Maybe !

  12. RE: Alan Parsons quote about Audiophiles, I am a big Alan Parsons fan. I have nearly all of his albums and attended several of his performances. I consider myself to be an Audiophile and I both use my equipment to listen to his music and use his music to listen to my equipment. I listen to his music for its composition and performance and to my equipment with his music to adjust it to its optimum capability. How would he or you Dr. Aix classify me?

    • I don’t categorize people. We love music…that’s what counts

  13. I heard my first “real” audio system at age 14 and after a year of cutting lawns etc, bought my first system at 15. I built the Dyna amp from a kit. The system cost $330 which translates to about $2500 in today’s dollars. That sum did not include a tuner; I added one a little later. Today’s “audiophile” often spends that much or more on boutique cabling.

    There is no counterpart to that system today. At Capital Audiofest this past August, the most affordable system weighed in at $8900, almost four times the adjusted cost of my 1971 system. ‘Audiophile’ doesn’t mean the same thing. Back then it meant someone who was interested in how the reproduction of sound worked, and how to make it better. Today it’s all about conspicuous consumption and ridiculously overpriced accessories and ‘tweaks’. As a result, those who might have gotten interested in quality reproduction of music in the home- something most would enjoy- have walked away. Video played a role too but that’s another story.

    Enough of my “Back-in-my-day” rant. I’m about to go listen to a 24/96 digitally mastered recording of cellist Vincent Belanger, sourced from my computer, on a pair of in moderately priced in-ear monitors, and I’m gonna enjoy the hell out of it because I’m an audiophile- and a music lover. I learned of this artist, strangely, enough, at the audio show where he played solo cello, live, in the AudioNote room. Life can be funny that way.

    • You can assemble a really great high-res system for a lot less than $8900. I agree that most audiophiles are spend happy and don’t listen as carefully as they should.

  14. Yeah, let’s paint all of us “audiophiles” with one big old brush. I’ve loved music for as long as I can remember, first listening on a transistor radio, then used a clock radio. I got my first stereo at 14.

    I imagine that there are a few of the supposed stereotypical “audiophiles” out there, that own a few dozen audiophile recordings, and that is all they will listen to. But, my love of music drove me to get better equipment, and better equipment, drove me to get more music. I will listen to music I love, on a transistor radio if I can’t hear it elsewhere. That I prefer the carefully assembled, fully tweaked big rig, in my listening/living room, just gives me more of a connection to the music.

    When you listened to the Regen, using your music, I thought it was because you know it so well. When someone posted some songs they had used to evaluate, I think it was the Jitterbug, you told them “You need to download the tracks from my FTP to hear what real HD-Audio sounds like”. When you get on your soapbox about what is truly hi-rez, and seem to see no value in transferring analog tape masters in DSD or 24/96 or 24/192, although we know it moves the brick wall filters up out of the way, you are forgetting that audiophiles that are music lovers just want the best possible sounding version of that music. A good remastered version, may allow us to hear more of what is on that recording. And my guess is that the majority of your customers would identify as audiophiles. Why would anyone, other than a music lover, who is also an audiophile, pay a premium for your recordings. You may as well make them available in MP3, if those are the music “lovers” who buy all the music. The guy who has 6000 tracks on his iPod/phone, but knows nothing of the artists, only listens to what is popular, and considers music disposable. I have albums that I bought at 14, still play some of them. Your original definition of an audiophile is close, but most of us will listen to less than the highest of fidelity, if that is all that is available. Ever listen to the Velvet Underground’s first album. It is full of distortion, I just transferred an early pressing on to my PC. I thought I had screwed up, until I compared it to the CD. I now have my original LP, a CD, and a copy of a friend’s LP on my PC. If all I cared about was perfect sound, I’d never play it. It gets played regularly.

    I listen to the equipment when I am evaluating a new component or tweak, otherwise it is the music that I am listening to. I find his statement to be somewhat insulting, but also, I see no point in him making it, or you agreeing with him. Because we debate about tweaks or bit rates, we are not music lovers? What is he trying to say? At a time when new music can be recorded with better quality sound, with equipment that is affordable, it seems like he is saying good sound only serves those that listen to the equipment.

    Here is my take on audiophiles, music got us interested in equipment, the equipment brought us added enjoyment, so we buy more music. And our interest in that equipment drives us to optimize it, to hear that music at its best. I believe setting up a great system involves attention to the details. Tweaks like isolation, power filtering, cable routing, proper placement of speakers, addressing room acoustics, all are accumulative. Each of those, other than speaker placement if you eliminate say bass boom, are on their own miner improvements, or sometimes setbacks on the goal, but together they make the difference between that system being good, or at its best.

    There is “snake oil” in lots of hobbies, and there are improvements to be made with attention to detail. I want better fidelity when possible, but we can’t ignore 80 plus years of music, just because it isn’t recorded in perfect high fidelity. You don’t think we wouldn’t prefer all new music to be recorded at the highest possible quality? For all your disappointment in Pono, it has made artists aware of hi-rez, hopefully those that care about fidelity will record that way in the future. I buy local music through Bandcamp, Testa Rosa’s newest album was a 24/96 download, that is progress.

    You’re going to an Audio Fest, that wouldn’t exist without audiophiles. Ask some of them how big their music collections are? I think you will find very few, unless new to collecting and to listening through an actual audio system, who don’t have large collections. If it is about the equipment, all you need is that 10-12 demo discs.

    Don’t ever be ashamed of being known as an audiophile.

    • I count myself as an audiophile…no apologies. I listen and enjoy all formats of music from all periods. I’m disappointed that very few recordings are made have great sound. The business realities demand loud records.

      • Mark, there are lots of recordings through the various formats that were recorded taking advantage of the best that was available at the time. And there is a lot of music that is poorly recorded.

        I think audiophiles that set up a system that while may it be as accurate as technology allows, makes the average recording unlistenable is not a music lover. That type of system is necessary in a studio, but at home one needs to develop a system that makes listening pleasurable. That, of course brings up the debate of accuracy vs coloration. I believe in tube preamps, as they can bring a little bit of sweetness, to the music. I like a highly resolving system, one that allows me to hear details formerly obscured, but not one that makes average recordings unlistenable. When I replaced my very musical Nobis preamp with the Conrad Johnson CT5 it lowered the noise floor. Sure I had heard a little tube hiss with my head a foot from the speakers, but didn’t realize how much deeper into a recording I could hear. A good example of this is Hot Tuna’s first album. After the first song Jorma is asking for more monitor, and then he and Jack talk. With the CT5, and the Benchmark in the system I heard for the first time every word they said. An audiophile thing, sure, but think of all the other details I may now hear on often played music, it is part of the fun of an upgrade. I think it was Stereophile’s Sam Tellig, who said the better the recording [audiophile recordings] the worse the music. While I don’t agree with him entirely, a lot of my favorite music, is not the best recordings. So, we need to assemble systems that bring us the most joy from the majority of our collections.

        You are so right about loudness/compression that the record companies demand, ruining potentially very good recordings.And that is something I don’t know how we will change. It would be nice if adding compression was part of the playback device, like the “Loudness” button was on mid-fi receivers, in the past. A button I never used.. Seeing as that compression is added during mixing and or mastering, shouldn’t the raw masters still allow for a proper finished recording? That is a question, not understanding the technical side of the studio, I would like to know if better sound, and true hi-rez ever catches on with the masses, can they take the raw tracks, would they have the dynamics needed to make better products? I know that most of that material would not be true hi-rez, but still would sound so much better with the dynamics restored.

        In reality, it is all about the music, and those that are passionate about it, will listen to it, in whatever form we are stuck with.

        Keep spreading the word Mark.

        • Thanks Jeff.

  15. Dr AIX, you make a good point that mediocre recordings are first hatched in recording studios and it’s best to correct problems there at the source. (Here comes the but.) But, the big studios know that most of their customers are satisfied with average recordings so they aren’t motivated to improve. So, the rest of us are left trying to improve things downstream with better equipment and tweaking and buying well made recordings from producers like you. That’s the area we do have some control over.

    Here’s a story: A fellow audiophile once recommended to me a Taiko Gong drum CD, then quickly qualified it by saying he didn’t like the music but it was a great test of his stereo’s bass. Hmmm. Okay, that guy has probably gone to the dark side.

    But, we can be both “audiophiley” and music lovers at the same time. An audiophile may spend much more than average on equipment because it sounds better, appreciate well recorded music because it sounds better, and pay attention to set up and other details because it sounds better. I just held up a mirror, that’s me.

    And I like many styles of music and you betcha that some of it is not recorded all that well, but some of it is. Paradoxically, favs that really engage me emotionally are the old Doo Wop recordings and 60’s and 70’s Top 40’s Pop and Rock. There I’ve said it, I confess. (Uh, oh, the fringe is getting out the torches and pitchforks.) And even the poorer recordings sound better on a top notch music system.

    This despite some of it sounds like it was recorded in the producer’s shower! Hey, wait, wasn’t that the original way to get that echo and reverb effect? For further research, please reference Kenny Vance & The Planotones’ 1975 recording, “Looking For An Echo” or The Persuasions’ 1977 version will do. Just having fun here.

    I suppose it’s a good idea to remind ourselves once in a while that audiophile means lover of audio not lover of audio gear. Hmmm, audiogearphile….

    Phil_C

    • I’m with you.

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