Comparing Formats

I’ve been working a lot on the Blu-ray demonstration disc, which will accompany the “Music and Audio: A User Guide to Better Sound”. My current goal is complete everything for the book within the next couple of weeks so that I can get it proofed, indexed, and printed in time for the AXPONA 2017 in Chicago during April 21-23. It’s been a major effort to get everything written, illustrations produced, audio and video created, and everything assembled. The last few days, I’ve been focusing on the demonstration disc.

The Blu-ray disc has five main sections:
• 12 Real High-Resolution Audio Tracks of various genres
• Mastering Comparisons
• Format Comparison
• Mixing Comparison
• Test Tones

The high-resolution tracks are taken from the AIX Records catalog and span a wide range of musical genres and ensembles. I’ve included tracks with vocals, instrumental tracks, jazz, and classical pieces. Listeners will be able to hear them in two different surround POVs as well as traditional stereo. If you’ve never experienced a real high-resolution audiophile recording, you’re in for a sonic treat. In my highly biased opinion, there aren’t any better sounding recordings on the planet.

The “Format Comparison” section has been the subject of my attention over the past few days. It’s important for audio enthusiasts to have a way to quickly audition and compare a great recording in a variety of distribution formats. We’ve all read articles or comments that rave about the sound quality of a new DSD or MQA version of a classic album. The unfortunate thing about this type of report is that no one knows whether the two tracks being compared came from exactly the same master. It’s rare to be able to make an apples to apples comparison. So I decided to include a short segment of any award-winning track on the Blu-ray disc in 6 different formats.

The Laurence Juber track “Mosaic” won a major award back in 2002 from the CEA. They gave a “Demmy” award to that for “Best High-Resolution Track” and the entire album has come to be known as a reference standard not just for acoustic guitar recordings but in the world of audiophile albums in general. BTW Laurence Juber has a brand collection of new high-resolution recordings of Beatles’ arrangements. I had lunch with LJ a few weeks ago and agreed to make the new record available through iTrax. Stay tuned, I’ll write a blog post and review of the album shortly.

The multiple audio tracks feature of a Blu-ray disc makes it an ideal format to quickly switch between formats. In the Format Comparison section of the disc, you can instantly switch between the original 96 kHz/24-bit PCM master (there is no need or benefit to exceed this rate and word length!), a 44.1 kHz/16-bit CD-resolution version, a version captured through an analog tape machine, and various levels of MP3 encodes (320, 256, and 128 kbps). In order to make meet the specifications of the Blu-ray format, I have to have all of the versions at 96 kHz/24-bits so I converted the master to the different formats and then converted them to 96 kHz/24-bits. Admittedly, this is less than ideal but I believe the inherent sound of each format is maintained through the process.

I would have liked to include DSD as one of the file formats but moving between PCM and DSD and then back to PCM for the Blu-ray would have presented too many conversions. DSD advocates would have challenged the validity of the comparison.

It should prove interesting to learn whether listeners can appreciate the differences between the formats. It will take a good system and experienced ears to detect fidelity differences. But the source of this recording is as good as it gets.


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.

24 thoughts on “Comparing Formats

  • Mark,

    Please ensure that the audio tracks can be easily ripped. Not everyone as a Blu-Ray player in their audio system.


    • Ran, I’ll have to write and describe the options available to purchasers of the Music and Audio book and disc. The files are also an option for those that do not have a Blu-ray player. However, it will require some special software to be able to quickly switch between the streams for comparisons. The disc does this very well. Additionally, there won’t be any HD-Video available for the demonstration tracks.

  • david whitton

    Will it be possible to download the Blu Ray tracks on to a computer so they can be played via a media player as normally done with recordings from download sites ? Otherwise all those people who do not have an HMDI input on their PreAmp / Amp will not be able to hear the intended resolutions. All Oppo players only playback the higher resolutions if output is via HDMI. The vast majority of “audiophiles” are interested n Stereo and will not have an HDMI Amp.

    • Yes, the files will be available for playback using a media server or other playback setups. The comparisons will be challenging and there won’t be any videos unfortunately.

  • Mucha suerte en su nuevo trabajo. Espero que sus esfuerzos tengan pronto recompensa. Es muy difícil luchar contra las grandes multinacionales de la grabación. Los que tenemos la suerte de haber escuchado sus discos sabemos lo que es una buena grabación. Es cierto que la mayoría no tiene unos oídos entrenados o un buen equipo de sonido. Y te miran con cara rara cuando les hablas del 5.1. Es difícil cambiar ciertas cosas. Saludos desde España Mark.

  • Matt Harris

    Dear Mark,
    Could you recommend a suitable Blue-ray player for listening to this disc? I will probably go second-hand as I’m on a tight budget. Unless you know of any cheap new ones that are good. I realise this may not be your field but then again, you may know one that’s worth looking out for on eBay etc.
    Many thanks either way,

    • Matt, inexpensive Blu-ray players are available for less than $100 these days. I would highly recommend the Oppo BD machines…there may be a used BDP-95 around for a price you can afford.

  • Kit Kimes

    That is great news Mark. Can’t wait to see you at AXPONA. I already have my tickets and am bringing my brother-in-law. I don’t suppose that there will be any YARRA demonstration there, will there? Interested in hearing how spacial that it will sound.

    • Hi Kit…I’m trying to make room for a Yarra 3DX demo at the show. Stay tuned.

  • Steve Wright

    “It should prove interesting to learn whether listeners can appreciate the differences between the formats. It will take a good system and experienced ears to detect fidelity differences.”

    Mission impossible, at least with our middle-aged ears. And the young’uns don’t care — they’re thrilled by 3dB of dynamic range streamed at 128kbps and pumped through earbuds. Sensualists like us are literally a dying breed.

    I know you’re not a DSD man, but I was listening the other night to an old 2001 surround-sound Pentatone SACD featuring the Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra…. it transported me; with the lights off, it felt like I was sitting right there in the hall. DSD’s limitations, though visible thru oscilloscope, aren’t audible.

    My point is any tin ear can instantly distinguish multichannel from stereo, and that’s the main, perhaps only benefit of post-CD formats. But a lot of people have no room in their home or apartment for a surround setup. (One reason I chose my house is the living room is the perfect size and shape for a surround system that’s still reasonably discreet.)

    • I’m with you…surround done well is bliss.

  • will we able to navigate the disc without video? I use my oppo strictly for audio and do not have a monitor attached.

    • The disc has a lot of content and will require you to see the choices in order to access the media.

  • First off, totally unrelated to the subject of this post I see that Dave Mason is on tour with the “Alone Together Again” tour. He is doing “Alone Together” in its entirety during the show. I mention this only because of your prior posts that it was one of your all-time favorite albums. Since your post I have it in vinyl (an original with the full gatefold cover) and digital. I really enjoy spinning those tunes. His dates may not coincide with my schedule but perhaps yours or others!!

    Secondly, I was able to score a couple of top-rated BD players on eBay in the past couple of months, factory refurbished in generic boxes, for $35 each. Digital and coax out, as well as the HDMI. I had an older one with component out for a legacy HD TV I had but alas that one died. I see on Craigslist locally where you can find 40″ or larger plasma or LCD sets, full 1080, used for under $200. So, for those that have no TV and BD if they do a search locally they may find they can replicate the whole kit to add to their sound system for under $300.

  • Mark,

    Is there any way to have updates and comments come more often? I look on the site various times a day to see what comments have been made and then think about whether I might reply to those or ponder what is said, but often days and days go by (it’s been six days since the last update) before comments are updated..

    I know you prefer a moderated site but when you post something that might engage a lot of people and get everyone thinking it really would be nice to be able to talk about it all closer to the time that the post was made, rather than after a new post comes up and everyone forgets the last one. Sorry, just my two cent’s worth today.


    • Larry, I do my best but you’re right that I could move things faster. I’m heavy into finishing up the book and working with the speaker folks in San Diego.

      • Totally understand! There is much on your plate. Thinking more on my comment it is probably good some of this is not in near-real-time so I don’t end up bantering with someone who makes what I think is a silly comment or they think I have made one! Planning to see you at Axpona have a great day.

  • Anthony Johnson

    Happy Birthday

  • Pls. I get your Point you’re making. Sounds very valid. Still, I may be able to hear a/the difference with any of my audiophile chains, regardless of their sucking factor, but surely NOT the full spectrum, unless your recorded information is pretty low there, compared to the target level you’ve been positioning.
    Please help, to fully engage and consume your recordings, what’s the minimal viable chain (no headphone) you suggest to play your recordings and listen to every bit of information recorded and fully transported into my room. I know, I’m old, as old as my ears, so I may not make it to that level in listening. I’ll try my best.
    thank you.
    Best regards

    • I searched a bit and found:
      – a book http://musicandaudioguide.com/
      – a Blue-Ray Disc http://aixrecords.com/catalog/bd/aix_sampler_2013.html
      – a digital player http://www.aixrecords.com/techtalk/oppo_bdp_95_review.html
      – and studio equipment list http://www.aixrecords.com/techtalk/aix_studio_equipment.html

      Reading through it I get the feeling that you’re personally focused on 5.1 recording and replay of high dynamic sound, recorded with a multitude of analog-sound virtualizing or cleaning, thus totally modifying sound plug-ins in Pro-Tools, including “Extremely Flexible and Musical Dynamics Control. Loudness Metering, Upconversion and Hi-res EQ” using Class-D Amps, and top-cost 5.1 B&W speakers to replay as much of dynamics you can get out of your recordings.

      What’d be much more interesting is how Mics and your systems are set up, but no word. Only “You can download the files at iTunes or iTrax (in high definition and surround). The sound of this recording brings these incredible musicians into your listening space. The HD-Audio surround mixes immerse you in the musical interplay with full range frequency response and dynamics.”
      and “SPECTRAGRAPHS [click to enlarge] Coming As Soon As Possible”

      You’re not the first trying to fool me with active 5.1 Butt-Drivers to make me believe that this is what it sounds, when an orchestra or Musician plays his music. Philips did so in Den Haag at the North Sea Jazz Festival at the launch of 5.1 Audio Systems and SACD products. They didn’t spare any effort to convince everybody, invited Herbie Hancock and others. Yes it sounded great, dynamic as dynamics can on those 5.1 B&W. Music and a groove feel though I could not find, only Cinema-THX-like butt-kicking sound. I prefered by a lot any of the live performances of the musicians, regardless of their PA setup I could listen too in the following three evenings and nights. A big party.

      Nothing bad about it and yes, your recordings might now after all these Loudness War years of contribution have finally reached a more honest level of recording. Will I buy them? Maybe, maybe not, it’s all about the Musician that I’m looking for.

      Ergo Sum:
      – Ignore the Audiophiles and the Anti-Audiophiles, as the later are no better, professionals or amateurs, musicians, regardless.
      – Trust your ears, they’re great, good enough to listen and enjoy
      – Buy your “software” as well selected as you can, and immediately return “crap” to the shop and make them (shop-owner) clear what you returned, but also let him know if you have purchased a really excellent product, technically.

      Have fun.

    • It doesn’t take an audiophile system to enjoy and appreciate the fidelity in my recordings. The important components are the DAC, speakers, and the environment in which you listen. A good system can be put together for a few thousand dollars.


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