My wife, Charlie (the family border collie), and I left the mountains of Colorado a week ago and have returned to the warmth and comfort of Southern California. It was great to spend some time with family and friends. And I love to ski. But it was time for the vacation to end — time to come back home.
The new semester at the university has begun, the <Music and Audio books are expected to arrive next week, and preparations are being made to get them packed and shipped to purchasers as quickly as possible. The YARRA 3DX campaigns have generated almost $1,000,000 in funding and everything is on track to deliver the units late in the first quarter. Life is settling into a “new normal” — life beyond the pressure of writing and illustrating a book and without the constant activities associated with introducing a new audio product. I’m looking forward to promoting the book at this year’s audio trade shows and may even travel to a number of cities to meet with selected audiophile clubs — we’ll see.
I happened upon a lengthy article by Peter Qvortrup titled High Fidelity, the Decline of the Decades that I found very troubling. The author has convinced himself — and attempts to convince readers — that contemporary fidelity, equipment, and recording methods are lacking in comparison to previous decades — especially the late 1950s.
I couldn’t disagree more with the positions taken by the author. As a recording engineer, record producer, and professor of audio recording I believe I have some authority in saying it’s simply not true that recording fidelity — both recorded and reproduced — peaked 50-60 years ago. For the first time in recording history, the potential exists to produce and release recordings of exquisite fidelity, no noise, real world dynamics, extended frequency response, and fully immersive surround sound that eclipse the highly compromised fidelity produced during the vinyl LP halcyon days of the 50s. In fact, it’s not even close. PCM digital technology has done more to advance recording fidelity than decades of tweaking turntables, cartridges, and phono preamps. When you evaluate and listen to a state-of-the-art recording played through a state-of-the-art system in a properly tuned room, there is no comparing the two.
The real problem is that the music industry and associated parties choose — for creative and/or financial reasons — to release recordings that don’t take advantage of the new technologies that are available. The potential exists to make amazing recordings but the commercial marketplace doesn’t produce or release them and consumers don’t seem to want them. The music industry makes a conscious choice to produce and release highly compressed, beat box sourced, auto-tuned, lifeless tracks because they sell better than audiophile-standard albums. On this Grammy® Awards weekend, it’s a simple fact that the music business is all about money and celebrity and cares very little about audio fidelity and the recorded experience. And perhaps that’s the way it will always be. Thankfully for us audiophiles, there are a limited number of dedicated producers and labels that strive for the ultimate fidelity.
I started AIX Records, my audiophile record label, back in 2000 to demonstrate that indeed it is possible to produce and release recordings that surpass all previous HiFi standards (including vinyl LPs) using new high-definition audio standards — and many believe that I succeeded. One listen to Jennifer Warnes singing “So Sad” in the midst of a circle of acoustic musicians or The Latin Jazz Trio playing “Mujaka” will convince even the most ardent vinyl advocates that high-resolution PCM audio and surround mixing is the ultimate expression of a music performance. Your personal tastes may differ from mine but there’s no denying that fidelity has improved in the past 60 years. To assert otherwise would be akin to saying a ’57 Studebaker performs better than any current model automobile.
Audio enthusiasts may personal preferences for the fidelity of a certain format or era, but there’s simply no sense in arguing that the entire production chain from source to delivery isn’t at its peak today. Engineers, producers, and listeners have the ability to deliver fidelity that matches or exceeds the sounds of real life — something that was impossible in the 50s. If you haven’t heard it, you simply cannot express a position. And if you have heard it and refuse to acknowledge it, you’re missing out on a rich vein of music fidelity.