2021: It’s Been A Tough Year

Those of you who have followed my musings on all things relating to high-end audio may have noticed that I haven’t written new blog in over 6 months. As we approach the end of 2021, I thought I would write about the year in review and explain why I’ve avoided posting new articles to this site. It’s not because there is a shortage of high-end audio topics to discuss.

Important Audio Trends in 2021

MQA Hangs On…Barely

Robert Stuart and his associates at MQA are still trying to convince mainstream audio consumers, record companies, hardware manufacturers, streaming services, and broadcasters that their pricey proprietary encoding scheme provides additional fidelity over other free technologies. Thankfully, their “emperor’s new clothes” process seems to have stalled in the face of obvious and revealing reporting by honest authors. Hi-res audio, as my own research clearly demonstrated in the HD-Audio Challenge II, is not perceptible over CD-res fidelity. Those who continue to pitch hi-res audio are more interested in profits than science. Although, I did find it interesting that both Robert Stuart and the head of the AES Hi-Res Technical Working Group, of which I was a member, both attempted to refute the AES paper that I authored.

MQA deserves to be ignored.

Immersive Audio Is Everywhere!

The big news this year is the spatial music initiative spearheaded by Dolby, Sony, and Apple. I bumped into my neighbor Ben as I exited my driveway the other day. He owns and runs a small audiophile accessory business out of his house known as Shakti Systems. And while I find his products fall into the “snake oil” category, he is a member of the audiophile community. We stopped to chat for a moment. He was dismayed that the passion we have for audiophile sound was disappearing before our very ears with the “amazing fidelity” produced by his recent acquisition of Apple’s AirPods Pro—the ones capable of head tracking. He was over the moon about how incredible they sounded and was convinced that the future of high-end audio was in doubt. Not wanting to engage in a long debate, I nodded slightly and told him about my own efforts in the immersive music domain. There certainly is a lot of money being spent to promote immersive music but I have yet to hear it translated through my own recently purchased AirPods Pro. The playlist of immersive Dolby Atmos music at the Apple Music Website is underwhelming in my opinion. I love surround music when played back on a system consisting of 5 discrete speakers and a subwoofer but am less enamored of the sound from the Apple AirPods. It’s true that technical advances have brought personalized HRTF, motion tracked, immersive music to the masses, but it’s being oversold.

I got a text from my friend and Grammy-winning engineer Ken Caillat (for the work that he did with Fleetwood Mac) yesterday. We haven’t talked in many months but he wanted me to know that he’s set up an Atmos room here in Southern California and is preparing to mix a number of projects in Atoms spatial audio including Fleetwood Mac and albums by his daughter Colbie Caillat. I saw a Facebook post by Brian Malouf, a college buddy from my days at CSU Northridge’s music department, talking about his new Atmos-equipped room. And the large studio at my own building is being set up as an Atmos room. Why all this interest in immersive productions? Because there is a lot of money being spent to convert/remix existing albums into Dolby Atmos or Sony 360 Reality Audio. More and more streaming services are offering spatial audio mixes including Apple Music, Tidal, Amazon Music HD, and Deezer.

Cancer: A New Round Of Decisions

I am a cancer survivor. In 2017, stage four thyroid cancer was detected—and removed—from my body during an operation to remove one of my parathyroid glands. How the doctor missed the bigger issue prior to the surgery was unsettling. But at least they discovered it and extracted it. All indications are that the surgery was successful. My dermatologist has removed repeated melanomas from my back, arms, and legs. The largest one above my right eye required a specialist who sliced a large flap from the area to fill in the hole that remained. Melanoma killed my father at 43 and my grandfather at 47. The family genes have proven less than reliable in this area.

My prostate cancer tumor is growing once again after 3 years of “active surveillance.” A recent MRI and a soon-to-be complete biopsy will undoubtedly require a decision as to how to proceed in the new year. I have found it very reassuring to have a close community of male friends who also have had prostate cancer. The discussions are helpful and informative. Once you get past 50, be on the lookout for this very common cancer. After a 2019 surgical procedure to remove a growing “pleomorphic adenoma” from the left side of my face, I’m feeling like the poster child for unwanted diagnoses. But as in all things, quitting is not an option.

A Flood In the House

I came home a few weeks ago from an evening out to discover Charlie up on the couch and 1″ of water on the floor of my home. A hose in the upstairs bathroom failed and spewed water through the light fixtures in the laundry room and hallway, which spread throughout the ground floor. Thankfully, I know how to shut off the water main and did so immediately upon arriving home. I mopped up the water and lived with the pungent smell of wet carpets and walls until the insurance people came and set up a couple of blowers in the area. Further review found asbestos in the walls and floor so I get to move out for a couple of weeks over the Christmas and New Years Holidays. Perfect timing.

The water in my office/studio has meant that next week the restoration people will be “packing out” everything including boxes of my book and blu-ray disc tomorrow. Thankfully, most copies weren’t damaged but I’ve decided to offer them for sale at the lowest price ever to make room for the new book, which should be coming in the spring. Use the coupon “Flood2021” and purchase a paperback copy of the book at 50% off!

Music and Audio: A User Guide to Better Sound is a must have for any serious audiophile. Purchase copy as a gift for an audiophile friend or buy one for yourself. Quantities are limited. Thanks.

21 thoughts on “2021: It’s Been A Tough Year

  • December 20, 2021 at 11:36 pm
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    I thoroughly enjoy reading your non-pretentious posts about high end audio and want you to know that your posts really helped me understand audio better, so thank you.

    Very sorry to hear of all the bad things that are going on, but, like everything, hopefully this will make a turn for the better. I am glad you have a circle of friends to help you, we should never do any of this alone. Good luck and I am sure the community is here to support you, as I am.

    Reply
    • December 21, 2021 at 9:02 am
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      Thanks. I was willing to share some details on my personal struggles because I know there is community of support out there. It matters.

      Reply
  • December 21, 2021 at 1:00 am
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    Sorry to hear about your troubles – you sure have a lot to cope with.
    Hope you have the strenght to deal with it.
    Best wishes for 2022

    Reply
  • December 21, 2021 at 3:36 am
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    Through your blog you have come across as an honest, righteous and courageous person. Me, and I am sure many others really appreciate all your efforts in the world of audio. 2021 certainly has been a tough year for you. I wish you all the best and that 2022 will be better!

    Reply
  • December 21, 2021 at 9:27 pm
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    The old folks used to say when I was growing up that the bad things happen in three’s. You’ve had your three, marriage, cancer and flood.

    I can only comment on the first. I moved on from a bad married life with two adult “children” 11 years ago and was told “as far we are concerned you are dead.” I replied “I can live with that.” Dark humour yes but I can still laugh about it. It’s still your life to live, don’t worry about the “kids.” They will have deal with their own decisions. In times like these we find out who our true friends are. Enjoy their company, help, and honest feedback. They are golden.

    Enjoy the day, evening, morning…. and we care.

    All the best from a Canadian friend.

    Tom eh

    Reply
  • December 23, 2021 at 9:27 am
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    FWIW Mark, there’s a large community of people who value your posts — your knowledge and your honesty. I hope 2022 brings you some peace and a respite from the challenges you wrote about.

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    • December 23, 2021 at 10:41 am
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      Thanks Alan! And Happy Holidays.

      Reply
  • December 23, 2021 at 11:07 am
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    Mark, Sorry to hear of your troubles this year.
    I’ve been thru 2 divorce’s myself, I can’t imagine the pain of being sick at the same time.
    God Bless my friend.
    Sal1950

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    • December 23, 2021 at 12:35 pm
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      Thanks for the support! I appreciate it.

      Reply
  • December 23, 2021 at 11:37 am
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    I am so sorry to hear of your travails, Mark. You have much to recover from but so much good stuff to recover, as well. This pandemic has separated all of us in many ways but I do look forward to seeing you again and raging about our common targets.

    Reply
    • December 23, 2021 at 12:35 pm
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      Thanks Kal. Happy Holidays.

      Reply
  • December 23, 2021 at 9:26 pm
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    Thanks for sharing your story, Mark. We’ve missed your voice of reason much of this year. Sorry to hear of the difficulties and pains. Totally respect your openness; it certainly takes courage to write what you did.

    Despite these events, I hope you have a good holiday season and wish for you a much smoother, healthier, 2022.

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    • December 24, 2021 at 1:09 pm
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      Thanks and Happy Holidays to you as well. Looking forward to a better 2022!

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  • December 29, 2021 at 11:50 am
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    Mark,

    I’m really sorry to read about your troubles, and I’m glad that you are thus far OK. I wanted you to know that your blog posts have really been missed, since it’s a lonely thing being (yes) an audiophile, yet finding almost nothing to read out there except the same old nonsense. (Archimago seems to be the only other writer/reviewer with any sense, though his technical analyses of equipment are more than I require.)

    Surround sound continues to be ignored insultingly by the usual sources, “high-res” continues to be hyped, and most annoyingly, you can’t go a week without reading another article on the vinyl boom. I own four turntables, and they’re fun to play with, but there never seems to be any discussion regarding the horrors of surface noise and short playing times. (Of course, as a classical music lover, I’m accustomed to my tastes being ignored.)

    It’s all enough to make one want to give up high-quality components and just switch to a phone with a pair of AirPods. Er, just joking!

    Reply
    • January 8, 2022 at 10:23 am
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      Thanks Jonathan, I appreciate it. Things are going to be better in 2022.

      Reply
  • January 3, 2022 at 12:23 pm
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    I was wondering what happened and I am sorry to hear of your troubles; but your positive attitude after all of those troubles is great to hear.

    Reply
  • February 26, 2022 at 12:40 am
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    Wow. Sorry to read about all of the personal struggles/problems you have been having, Mark. Like you, I have never heard anything that improves on the good old RBCD, and I am happy to see you have seen the light based in your level-matched double-blind test protocol. I always look forward to reading your posts. Best wishes for a better New Year.

    Reply
  • May 29, 2022 at 7:17 pm
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    Checking in from Canada Mr. Waldrep.

    I hope things are going better for you right now and I have been wishing the best daily.

    All the best sir.

    Reply
    • June 9, 2022 at 11:26 am
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      Thanks Thomas…there continue to be ups and downs. However, things are generally better.

      Reply
  • June 26, 2022 at 2:25 am
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    Hi Mark
    sometimes life hits really hard and most of the times it happens when we’re not ready for it
    Im few days on a list to remove thyroid and I can only imagine all the trouble you went thru (among all the rest)
    Hope you’re doing fine now and that all the bad staff is behind you!
    WIshing you all the best from Italy
    Andrea

    Reply

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