Dr. AIX's POSTS — 04 October 2015

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There’s a mad scientist on the second floor of the Marriott Hotel at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest…and this morning I managed to pry myself from my sales table and visit Room 2006. A couple of friends independently suggested that I visit James Lee McDaniel and find out what he’s doing. Ron came by and dropped off copy of the 36 paper the Instrument Quality (the name of the company) provides.

The basic idea behind his new development is the use of math to store vector representations of analog audio waveforms…using digital computers. What does that mean? I relate it to the difference between Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. I do a fair amount of graphics and have my students recreate a corporate logo using vectors…bezier curves…instead of individual pixels. That could be applied to audio waveforms too.

In a photographic image, each pixel displays an individual “picture element” of one single color. Millions of these pixels comprise a photo. With simple graphics like logos, it is preferable to use vectors…or mathematical representations of lines, curves, and colors…instead of pixels. Vectors can be infinitely scaled whereas a fixed resolution pixel image cannot.

The same thing happens with fonts. A font is made up of a series of complex formulas that describe the geometry of the letters and numbers. It’s not until you rasterize the fonts into pixels that you fix the resolution…and avoid having to include the font with your document when you want a printout.

James McDaniel is taking the same approach to representing audio waveforms. Think of the groove of a vinyl LP as the waveform that needs to be captured and reproduced. The shapes are not that different than the curves and lines of a fancy font. Can math be used to describe those undulations with 100% accuracy? Yes, it is possible. But it takes amazing amounts of computing power and storage.

I asked James to give me a guesstimate about how much data is required to accomplish his goal. He said each second of sound for a single channel would chew up between 200-400 Mega Bytes. A stereo album would require 1.5 terabytes. To deliver recordings done this way, James is going to offer Linear Tape Open format data backup tapes. This archival format can store 2.6 terabytes of data…perfect for 2-3 albums of “infinite continuous numerical analog masters”.

Instrument Quality introduced their “Numerical Analog Converter (NAC) at the RMAF…and James told me he hopes to be able to demonstrate it at AXPONA 2016. He doing something interesting…probably impossible to achieve but interesting.

Time to head back to Los Angeles.

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The “Music and Audio Guide” campaign is still running. We’re creeping up to the first Stretch Goal. Please stop over at the Kickstarter page and become a backer.

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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.

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