The High Res Mafia

I apologize for being out of touch lately. The rigors of writing the daily article have softened due to an increase in the amount of things that I have had to accomplish. The largest among tasks is the end of the semester grading. Ask my wife how many times I have complained about grading stacks and stacks of final exams. It takes days of reading, commenting, and record keeping. In fact, I missed the deadline this term for the first time in over 20 years (the university moved the date a day earlier). The students would love to have a ScanTron type of test but I have continued to resist because I just don’t believe that I can judge a student’s ability to problem solve and think critically if all I get is a bunch of filled in bubbles.

And the stack of papers and projects was much larger than in the past. I had close to 50 students in two separate classes. My final exams are usually 5-7 pages long and require a lot of writing. And that doesn’t include the DVDs, mixes, and other homework I received. The process was challenging but it’s finally done.

And I’ve been moving out of the area where the new studios are being constructed. That’s proven to be a bigger job than I had imagined. I’ve accumulated a lot of stuff over the years…and I have no place to put it. However, I’ve made progress and the space is almost cleared.

Yesterday, I posted an ad on Craigslist for a variety of tables, shelves, and filing cabinets. They were part of an office system I purchased from IKEA many years ago. I received a text response within a few minutes after the posting went live. The person asked a couple of questions about the stuff and the price…and whether he could pay using PayPal. After a little back and forth, we agreed on the price and things were moving forward. Until he wrote that he would be adding an extra $500 to my PayPal account to compensate the movers. Apparently, the movers didn’t have an account. The purchaser’s plan was to have me pay the movers with the “extra” $500 when they came to get the furniture. That was the end of that deal. I find it very troubling that there are people out there trying to scam others at every turn. I write this here just in case anyone else ever gets approached with this sort of deal. Run the other way…

Scott Wilkinson had Bob Katz on his Home Theater Geek podcast the other day. It’s episode 284 and you can view it by clicking here. Bob is a well-known recording and mastering engineer based in Florida. I know him and have a great deal of respect for his technical and aesthetic prowess. He’s also the author of a number of books on mastering and audio.

At about 48 minutes into the program, Bob mentions the “High-Res Mafia”. I have to be honest and admit that I hadn’t heard anyone describe a group of people involved with high-resolution audio as the “mafia”. My own thoughts went immediately to the myths and falsehoods being pushed by the CTA Audio Board, the DEG, NARAS, and the record labels…maybe they’re the mafia Bob was referring to. They certainly qualify as a group pushing a troubling and patently dishonest agenda about what is and what isn’t high-resolution audio and music. But they weren’t the targets of Bob’s discussion.

He’s upset at individuals that want to hold to a set of specifications in addition to using their ears to judge “so-called” high-res music. He specifically mentions HDtracks. Apparently, he has submitted a number of productions that he has mastered to them and was rejected because the HDtracks QC people…aka the “hi-res mafia”…judged the recordings as unworthy because they were sourced from standard resolution, 44.1 kHz digital masters. It’s pretty confusing. He talks on the show about doing all of his work at 96 kHz/24-bits but then gets rejected because the spectra show the submissions lacking any information about 22.050 kHz.

I should write to him and ask for some clarification. In my mind, if a recording drops off sharply at 22 kHz, then it’s not high-resolution no matter what sampling rate was used. It may sound terrific and warm and full of low level detail…but that just a great sounding standard def recording.

Happy Holidays!


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.

15 thoughts on “The High Res Mafia

  • Phil Olenick

    Good instincts, Mark. That was a classic “Funds Forward” scam. You can bet that “the mover” who would show up to pick up your old furniture would actually be the guy you had been dealing with, whose PayPal transfer to you would bounce, leaving you out your furniture and the $500!

    Folks victimized by this sort of scam have ended up in jail on charges of stealing from their own bank if they couldn’t reimburse the bank for the funds withrdrawn from their account.

    • Admin

      It really bothers me that people can’t or won’t play straight.

  • I listened to that podcast too and found it very confusing as well. He has older non 24/96 recordings and he wants to release them through a re-seller/distributor – so does everyone else, why would they not accept his? Odd.

    • Admin

      I’ll have to write to both David Chesky and Bob Katz and find out. Stay tuned.

  • Yep, I was surprised when I read the comments by Bob on the high end mafia. I really just didn’t get where he was coming from.
    Merry Christmas and a Happy – Prosperous New Years to you and yours.

    • Admin

      Thanks Sal..and you too.

  • Wayne Blair

    Is the Bob Katz rejection, given that he said everything was recorded at 96/24, a provenance issue or is it possible at the performance environment really did not have anything above 22k? Lacking information is not the same as a sharp drop off at 22k. The only way I know of to know and verify the provenance is to record tones or calibration tones at an unambiguous frequency through the Mic setup.

    Would calibration tones or some comparable methodology far beyond the std def threshold end this debate? It’s kinda like a signature for provanance.

    • Admin

      It’s an interesting idea. Honestly, I had never thought of recording tones as a method of verifying provenance. From conversations that I’ve had with both Chesky Brothers, they had a team of people that check each and every new album/track to see if it was upconverted or derived from a standard resolution CD. If they see the telltale sharp cutoff at 22 kHz, they reject the file as “not high-resolution”. Bob’s tracks…if I understand his process…should qualify.

      If you record a new track of virtually any instrument, you can tell a high-resolution vs. low-resolution recording by looking at the spectra. Even my piano recording has smooth spectra in spite of the fact that a piano doesn’t put out a lot of ultrasonic information.

  • Grant

    Could you please add a few words and explain to my naive self how that scam works, please?

    • Admin

      As Phil states above, the “buyer” asks you to pay him/her some cash that has been added to the purchase price. I offered to sell the furniture for $1500. Then the guy says, “I’ll add $500 to the amount you want if you’ll kindly pay the mover the excess deposited amount to my PayPal account”. The whole thing is a scam…the guys gets $500 cash, and the furniture, and some person’s credit card is used to make it look like the money was paid. Until the fraudulent charges are discovered and the money unwound…leaving me holding the bag AND responsible for the money.

  • Soundmind

    I watched the whole video. Not having a dog in this fight but always ready to be entertained by a good bar room braw,l there wasn’t much about the Hi Rez Mafia in it. Of course since their is no legal definition of what hi rez audio is, anyone can call anything hi rez and start their own road show. Katz could create an alternative “International Society of High Resolution Audio” and skew the requirements in a way that puts his recordings on top, even rating his competitors by his standards that would show them to be inferior. Then he could apply a certified logo to prove it instead of just whining about it.

    Of course the reason for this is that there is no such thing as high resolution audio, it’s a marketing term not a technical term so there is no way to hold a product up to scrutiny and there won’t be unless the FTA steps in, an unlikely prospect IMO.

    What was interesting to me is how much processing goes into his record making. They say there are two things you never want to see, sausages being made and legislation being made. For audiophiles who think less is more, you can add recordings being made. Evidently the process at least for Katz requires a fortune of equipment to manipulation the signals including digital equalizers, analog equalizers, equipment that can apply dynamic expansion to one section of the audio spectrum while applying compression in another section at the same time, ditherers, and a lot more I probably never heard of. There are subharmonic synthesizers to add additional octaves of bass that are not on the original tape. If signal above 22 kHz is the criteria for hi rez, Katz and others could take the top audible octave they have and apply ultrasonic synthesizers to their heart’s content. They could apply as much signal as they want out as far as they want to take it.

    There’s only one problems with all this besides the fact that as someone recently said hi rez will fail. When I was very young, in high school I believed all this “stuff” about the importance of extended FR beyond audibility. This is hardly a new doctrine. There was the “Frey Stereophonic Curtain of Sound” Audio Fidelity Records advertised with response to 25 kHz, the first amplifier I owned, an HK tube amp that claimed response to 70 kHz an its solid state successor which claimed response from 1 hz to 1 MHz and actually measured to 1.5 mhz. And then there was the University Sphericon super tweeter with response to 40 kHz. I even own a CD4 cartridge with response to over 45 kHz (sounds identical to me to the same manufacturer’s similar model that only goes to 20 kHz.) And then I went to school. And I studied and studied, and studied and after all that, I realized that all of those claims then and the same claims now are a bunch of hokum. They fly in the face of 200 years of bedrock mathematics and 100 years of experience measuring countless kinds of equipment and systems that give result exactly as the math predicts. Funny how audiophiles trot out technical facts when they are useful to prove a point (usually qualitatively) but then hide them away when they run counter to arguments they want to make. Can human beings hear 46 kHz? No. That’s even beyond the range of what dogs can hear.

    BTW, I have at least one recording Bob Katz made for Chesky, Rachmaninoff’s 1st and 4th concertos and Rhapsody on a them of Paganini performed by Earl Wild. I think the original recording was made by RCA and Bob Katz re-mastered it. IMO it is an excellent recording and I highly recommend it.

  • Alex

    Some outtakes from the interview:

    “I made’em a master he couldn’t refuse.”

    “Some day, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a master for me. But until that day, consider this justice a gift on my daughter’s recording.”

    “Just when I thought I was mastering high-res…they pull me back into Redbook…”

    Riveting stuff.

    • Admin

      Thanks Alex…LOL.

  • Um – you guys would know better than me as I am not in the industry, but as I understand it, there are many microphones used for studio or live recording don’t record much over 16KHz, or 18KHz or 20KHz do they? Particularly for directional microphones.

    eg a sennheiser “e 835” frequency response is listed as 40 – 16000 Hz. I would guess it rolls of quickly above 16kHz.

    So as an example if you were using using one of these limited microphones and recording anything at 96 kHz/24-bits, you could legitimately have a 96 kHz/24-bits recording with no content over 22kHz couldn’t you?

    I think a lot of people assume that just because a recording is at 192kHz/24bit, that it should have audio in there at say 50kHz yet there are very few microphones that could pick up sound at that frequency.

    Or is there always preamp noise or interference at high kHz that should show up above 22kHz no matter what mic you are using?

    • I use a variety of microphones, some of which produce meaningful amounts of ultrasonic content. Even those microphones that don’ have stellar specs don’t magically cease outputting signals above 20 kHz. There is a substantial amount of stuff up there even given the limitations of most microphones.


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