NAMM 2016: Hi-Res Audio MIA

The National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) holds its annual trade show in Anaheim at the convention center every January. These are the folks that make or sell retail musical instruments (from tubas and violins to guitars and drum kits), recording equipment, lighting equipment, synthesizers (digital and analog), sheet music, and music accessories (if you’ve ever wanted a bust of Mozart or Beethoven). The show is restricted to the trade but any sufficiently creative private individual can get in.

I headed down to the show on Sunday morning. Saturday is typically the busiest day and I had planned to get there on Saturday afternoon and then attend the TEC Awards that evening (Don Was was the honoree) but after cranking out a 16-mile run with my L.A. Marathon training group, I just couldn’t manage it. I always run into people that I don’t see regularly and of course, the new equipment and software are the main draw.

So what did I see? There were a lot of analog synthesizers, alternative controllers, audio consoles with flat panel touch screens, and plug-ins with very exotic names. I chatted with Rory at Benchmark Digital, saw Stevie Wonder checking out a new synthesizer, tried to convince Peter Chaikin from JBL to support my AXPONA 2016 effort with a set of JBL Studio Reference M2 speakers (doubtful), and nudged Dave O’Donnell (engineer for the recent number 1 selling James Taylor album) about finishing up the questions I sent him back in the summer. But I didn’t see much high-resolution audio.

I’ve been lusting after the JBL Studio Reference M2 speakers for over a year now and popped into the Harman area to check them out once again. In a corner of their large room, I found Nat holding the controls to a Mac Laptop (music server), a pair of M2s, and a couple of pairs of smaller speaker models based on the same drivers. Nat played files from a folder labeled NAB…a variety of movie sound tracks and some familiar pop tunes. He played a large orchestral selection, which sounded good but not great. It was a traditional distant miked recording and the specs on the Mac screen displayed on a monitor at the front of the room showed 44.1 kHz/16-bit PCM. A good recording but not special.

However, the same Mac had a couple of additional folders including one labeled “Waldrep Classical” and another “Walrep and Chesky” (yes, they did misspell my name…but promised to fix it asap). So I urged Nat to play “Mujaka” from my The Latin Jazz Trio project. It sounded absolutely amazing! The other guys in the booth immediately turned their focus to the M2s. It’s the high frequency metallic sounds that make that track shine AND the rich immediate sound of the 9-foot piano. What a treat to hear one of my favorite recordings through these spectacular speakers. The deliver high-resolution audio better than any speakers I’ve every heard…including models costing 10 times as much. If you ever get the chance to audition a pair, don’t miss it.

The hi-res audio logo showed up at the Sony booth. The Sony representative was very nice and demonstrated a couple of recordings that he made using a new portable hi-res audio recorder that Sony was introducing. Interestingly, it doesn’t support DSD. I listened to a “Magnificat” he recorded with just the two mics on the device through a set of HRA headphones…very nice. But that the first and last time that I saw the logo or any mention of high-resolution audio. The creative/production community seems to be more interested in controllers, beat boxes, sample libraries, and ways to make new sounds than improving the fidelity of the audio that they produce.

A great sounding recording for this group is one that is bass heavy, lacks dynamic range, and is mixed in mono. I left the show early and went home in time to take a sunset mountain hike with my wife and Charlie.


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.

12 thoughts on “NAMM 2016: Hi-Res Audio MIA

  • As a 40+ year admirer/owner of various horn loaded speakers it always brings a smile to my face when once again SOTA sound is recognized as coming from a horn design. PWK, JBL and others got it right oh so many years ago.
    As Paul was so fond of saying, “You can’t change the laws of physics”. 🙂

    • But I need 5 of them!

      • Just take in a few cable advertisements, etc; like the other guys do.
        You’ll have 5 plus a few their new super sub-woofers to boot. 😉

    • Devin

      Normally these are sold as a “system” which includes a Crown I-Tech 5000 amp taking the price to $10,000 each. These don’t appear to come with the amp, thus the $6,000 price tag.

  • what are the smaller version speakers to the M2s Mark ? Same drivers ?

  • Vinícius Kraemer

    Hi Mark!

    I think that hi-res audio will never become mainstream (even in the audiophile market). I think that the lack of an standard is one of the main problems. It’s just too many variants of bit rate and sample rate. Confusing at least.

    To me 96/24 should be the “premium” standard and 48/24 the “mainstream” standard. But that is just me.

    And we have to face the truth that (1) 99% of the moderns recordings don’t deserve an hi-res version and (2) 90% of audio gear out there (including “audiophile” ones) don’t benefit from hi-res recordings.

    Best regards!

  • Soundmind

    Interesting how 3D TV seemed to come and go so quickly. I guess the glasses had something to do with it. Who knows.

    Also interesting how so many people have a speaker they wish they owned. For most of them they are different speakers from one another. Audiophiles are constantly swapping equipment looking for the holy grail. They never seem happy for very long because almost as soon as they get it out of the box and start listening to it, they start shopping for its replacement. Complain to the dealer who sold it to you and he’ll invariably tell you it needs breaking in. Give it a few years, then decide.

    • “breaking in loudspeakers”

      I used to work in hifi retail in a serious shop in Oslo. We’d stage blind listening tests for the opinionated critics- I remember their faces when a reasonably priced NAD receiver with B&W speakers won- hands down as the curtains slid aside.

      IMHO- when investing in new sound drivers (speakers, plugs etc) one needs to remember that the ears are used to a certain sound and certain idiosyncracies- and it is that which needs to be adjusted- not the glue around the membranes…

      Try this: get 5 speakers brand new. Send 4 through “burn-in”. Identify the fifth.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *