My summer break is officially over tomorrow when the fall semester 2016 begins at California State University, Dominguez Hills. It’s back to the classroom to welcome a new crop of eager audio students and to guide last year’s survivors through their last year. And I’m looking forward to it. I always enjoy my summer breaks. This one has been somewhat more intense than previous years because of my thyroid cancer and the subsequent adventure through a series of doctors. I’m in the last week of my iodine free diet (which is how people should eat normally…no dairy, no seafood, but lots and lots of fruits and vegetables) before I head to UCLA for the radioactive iodine pill on Wednesday. From everything that I’ve read, my life is going to be rather unpleasant after that. My wife is taking the dog with her to visit our daughter in San Francisco so that I won’t have to suffer through the isolation period (how can you explain to a dog that you can’t get close to them or pet them as I normally do? As smart as Charlie is, he wouldn’t understand). I have to stay away from everyone for about 4-5 days. I just hoping that I can muster enough energy to continue progress on the book, which is coming along quite nicely.
The new studios in the AIX Building are virtually complete and the new tenants have moved in. There’s still some work to be done on the final finish carpentry (wooden boxes around each of the electrical outlets because they aren’t cut into the walls), final wiring connections, and some strike plates on a couple of doors. But the rooms came out great and I can’t wait to hear some music playing in these new production spaces. Brew Media, the company that is behind the rooms, has some really great equipment and is looking at acquiring a vintage Neve console. Wouldn’t that be interesting?
I keep reading articles about higher sampling rates, longer word lengths, the move to 96 kHz/24-bits, Mastered for iTunes, and, of course, the arrival of MQA processing. It’s the same nonsense that powerful interests have been pitching for years. After endless paragraphs describing how Apple’s “Mastered for iTunes” is a technology that brings better fidelity to all of their customers and statements like, “Apple is currently amassing the largest database of 24-bit, 96kHz music in the world”, I have to wonder anyone is paying attention to the realities of the record production world.
They’re simply parading around new logos and making sure that everything ever recorded can qualify for “high-res” status even if the fidelity of the recordings falls far short of actual high-fidelity. An author recently wrote, “a minimum of 20-bit, 48kHz sampling rate is now considered ‘High Resolution Audio’. You may ask, why 20-bit and not 24-bit resolution? 20-bit was chosen because of the vast archives of classic songs recorded to 20-bit, 48kHz digital tape in the early 80s. If 24-bit was chosen as the minimum standard, then a decade worth of early digital recordings would not classify as ‘better than CD quality’. Technically, these files are higher fidelity than ‘CD quality’.”
Should I point out the numerous factual errors in the previous quote?
1. The recording industry didn’t record to 48 kHz/20-bits in the early 80s. In fact, most of the albums being produced were still being done on 24-track analog tape. And the only converters available at the time were 16-bits not 20. I’m selling my original Apogee ADC and DAC on eBay right now. I purchased it in the late 80s and it was state-of-the-art at the time. And it was limited to 16-bits.
2. There is no vast archive of “classic songs recorded to 20-bit, 48 kHz digital tape in the early 80s”. If there’s an archive at all, it’s at 44.1 kHz/16-bits because that’s the standard mastering engineers used to complete CD projects from all masters — analog or digital.
My point is posting this quote is to support the fact that the DEG, CEA, NARAS, and labels want the specifications to be just higher than CD so that they can include every analog recording ever produced (simply transfer to 48 kHz/20-bits or better even if the fidelity is less than that). The problem is that there was a period of time when the industry was only producing 44.1/16 masters. How can HDtracks or others sell those when they don’t meet the “higher than CD quality” specification? Technically, they can’t. That’s why their definition expanded to include CDs as masters if that was the “best fidelity available” or “as the artist intended” or “as was heard in the studio”. They define hi-res as higher than CDs and then include CDs as acceptable sources. This sounds a little like some Donald Trump would cook up.
And all this is for nothing anyway. Consumers are moving quickly from downloading to streaming, which leads a reasonable person to ask, “Can high-resolution audio be streamed?” I’ll deal with that question in the next post.