My visit to the International 2016 CES Show was very different than previous years. As some of you may remember, I solicited funds from readers to help defray the costs of participating in the “Hi-Res TechZone” located in the Bellini Ballroom of the Venetian Hotel. The organizers made a great sales pitch and assured those of us that signed that there would be lots of traffic and attention paid to “hi-res audio”. They were wrong. The only time the room was filled was during the panels and sessions…AND when Neil Young was given an hour to push his high-res agenda. So the DEG and CEA didn’t bother to try the same thing again.
They did have several sessions at the main convention center on Wednesday and Thursday, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend. However, I did get a chance to spend some time checking out the rooms in the Venetian. I took the elevator all the way to the 35th floor and worked my way down through the large suites and the regular hotel rooms.
One of my first stops was the Mobile Fidelity suite. I’ve known these guys for a long time and have visited their headquarters in Sebastopol, California more than once. They are one of the original audiophile “reissue” companies and have a very solid reputation for getting the best sound from original master tapes. They did is first to gold CDs and have subsequently released SACDs, and vinyl LPs.
Figure 1 – The MoFi room at the Venetian Hotel.
It was nice to see what MoFi has been up to lately. They’ve gotten into turntables (who hasn’t?) and are continuing to reissue classic records on vinyl and SACD. They haven’t secured the rights to file downloads like HDtracks and others. MoFi’s market is for physical discs. And they take it very seriously.
I own a few of MoFi albums (including “Alone Together” by Dave Mason…one of my favorite records) and can attest to their attention to detail. However as I reviewed their website and read about their innovative “technologies”, I couldn’t help but be a little disillusioned. First, they opted to release SACDs instead of using high-resolution PCM formats like DVD-Audio or Blu-ray. The hyperbole they use to describe the GAIN 2™ Mastering Technology for Ultradisc UHR™ Hybrid SACD and Ultradisc II™ 24kt Gold CDs is more marketing spin:
“A few years ago – with higher resolution formats on the horizon – the vision of GAIN 2™ began. As it stands today, GAIN 2™ is one of the greatest technical advancements in analogue and digital technology in the last ten years. It consists of a series of critical modifications and new components to Mobile Fidelity’s proprietary mastering chain.
We feel that GAIN 2™ has come extremely close to meeting this goal. The key accomplishments of GAIN 2™ System are 1) the ability to extract all the musical information as possible through the Ultra High bandwidth analogue tape playback system with proprietary custom tape playback heads, reproducer electronics and 2) transparently capturing and storing that information with the Direct Stream Digital recording system.”
Everyone…including myself…likes to portray their technology and processes as revolutionary. But GAIN 2™ is NOT one of the greatest technical advancements in audio. I do believe that they do a better job of transferring standard-resolution analog tapes (sometimes the masters and sometimes safety copies) than the large record labels. They have a highly modified Studer tape deck (done Tim De Paravicini, a guru in analog transports), which allows them to make very good transfers.
But they are capturing and putting those excellent transfers on SACD using DSD 64. They want us to believe that they have the equipment to “extract all the musical information as possible through the Ultra High bandwidth analogue tape playback system” and then they cripple whatever benefits they may have achieved by using an encoding format that covers all of the ultrasonics with high frequency noise! The frequency response of SACDs doesn’t extend beyond 25 kHz due to the noise shaping required to maximize the dynamic range in the audio band. So why bother?
When discussing GAIN 2™ Ultra Analog™ System for Vinyl their marketing speak gets even more questionable. The process takes the analog tape and cuts a new lacquer at half speed. They claim, “It is worth noting that independent studies have confirmed that the GAIN 2 Ultra Analog™ system can unveil sonic information all the way up to 122kHz!” If you thought the JAS was overreaching with their requirement for 40 kHz in a “hi-res audio” system, I can’t imagine how you feel hearing that partials at 122 kHz can contribute “sonic information” to your listening experience. There are some analog tape recordings that exhibit ultrasonic frequencies, but not many. If analog tape is the source and vinyl LPs are the destination, then there won’t be any need for frequencies of 122 kHz. In fact, getting the entire audio band on a vinyl LP is challenging enough. And don’t even think about vinyl LPs and adequate dynamic range.
Tomorrow, I’ll talk about my very engaging visit to the Chord Electronics suite.