|Thanks Sony for this BS diagram... Except for the most primitive non-oversampling (NOS) DAC's out there, more likely than not, DACs these days utilizing antialiasing filters of course do not output their analogue like these stair-stepped waves. Sadly, these kinds of diagrams often become the marketing material used to push hi-res! Can good outcomes result from marketing with dubious claims? (Didn't seem to help Pono, did it?)|
I have followed your blog for a while now, and have been particularly interested in your comments on MQA.
After reading this latest installment, I'm left somewhat confused...
My overwhelming impression is that MQA is offering audiophiles something they don't really need, and that if the mastering step of the chain was overhauled (getting rid of the loudness wars) then we would have extremely good audio anyway.
I feel that the full potential of even 16 bit CD was never fully realised due to poor mastering etc.
Archimago has already stressed that most of the problem of the CD are due to the poor recording, mastering, etc. ...
Me, on my side, I can witness that MQA doesn't do miracles, but it works.
With some good recordings one hears (with MQA) clearly a widening of the stage, more focusing of the instruments, more "air" (as we usually say).
Hi Tony and Teodoro,
Yes, for me the bottom line has always been that the giant elephant in the room when it comes to the limitation to high fidelity has been the overall poor quality of mainstream recording/mixing/production/mastering. I believe that if hardware and CODEC development including MQA stopped today, and resources were put into the production side with new recordings and proper remastering, in 10 years we would have significantly better sound in our listening rooms compared to the present course.
This is not unique to audio of course. Machines get ever faster, more precise, quieter, use less power geometrically. However the abilities of human creativity and discipline aren't as easily realized, nor do they keep pace with what engineering is able to accomplish with concrete trajectories once the underlying principles have matured.
No doubt, a big piece of what needs to be done is to stop the "loudness wars". Of course this doesn't mean I'm asking the Industry to ban the use of dynamic compression. The point is to use effects judiciously. If the artist desires it to sound compressed as per his/her artistic intent, then that's of course fine; I have no problem with The Black Keys having a compressed/noisy/lo-fi sound. The problem has always been that the loudness effect "infects" recordings whether it's the original artistic intent or not. One of the worst examples of this for me are with loudness war "enhanced" series of UMG remasters of the Rolling Stones albums back in 2009. I'm pretty sure that Some Girls from 1978 was not supposed to sound like the DR6 remaster when Mick and the boys put it together in the studio! A cessation of these "loudness war" atrocities will result in sound quality for mainstream music becoming more "natural" with full dynamic extension. This would be a great foundation for the cause of "high fidelity" and potentially pave the way for "high resolution" albums which could benefit from higher quality playback. I think it's important to stress the foundational aspect of doing this. Instead of making a quick buck, the Industry needs to think about the future IMO and start putting in the resources to reap rewards in the years ahead. This takes true leadership and vision and I'm not sure who out there in the Industry is doing this.
As for the potential value of releasing music in 24/88, 24/96, etc... This has always been the "cherry on top" for me. A form of "insurance" for the neurotic audiophile in me such that no matter one day how nice my soundroom is (however low the ambient noise and perfect the acoustics), or how great my gear (super duper low noise floor, fantastic dynamic power), the full resolution that the studio captured can be encapsulated in the "container" I purchased. Nothing more... I have no great expectation that my ears and mind are capable of appreciating the difference between 24/96 and a well dithered/downsampled 16/44. And even if I did notice a difference, it'll be subtle and won't "make or break" the ability to enjoy the recording. This is why I've always thought a "hi-res" recording should not cost much more than a standard CD (maybe 20-30% premium at most; a $10 CD should equate to maybe a $12-13 hi-res download), certainly not the 100+% difference we're seeing these days. "Hi-res" should IMO not be viewed as yet another opportunity to sell yet another copy of the same album, but selectively marketed in an honest fashion for well-recorded albums with potential benefit for the customer. This would typically exclude all "loudness war" masters, essentially all old analogue recordings, and of course early digital sourced from 16-bits. (It's also time for the audiophile press to be honest with their reporting and find the fortitude to side with the consumer.)
In the context of the above, I find the whole industry's drive to sell us "hi-res" recordings and desperate attempts at convincing customers of their relevance disingenuous by dissociating the crucial elements of the quality of the media and the quality of the hardware. As far as I can tell, the hardware side is already capable of high-resolution digital audio; no problem even at low prices. A push for mainstream "hi-res" media whether digital downloads, MQA, DSD-this-and-that divorced from a genuine shift in recording quality is simply trying to sell us something we've already bought. As I suggested above with the Rolling Stones example on CD, ironically, many times, what they're reselling is even worse than what came before - witness all the "remastered" but compressed "hi-res" on HDtracks in 24/96 or higher. Or the new music - does anyone think Bruno Mars' latest 24K Magic needs 24-bits? How about The Weeknd's Starboy or Beyonce's Lemonade?
Oh to hear the hypocrisy when some audio writers complain that the "younger generation don't get hi-res" or that hi-fi is "dying"? Come on Mr. Record Industry and Mr. Audio Writer; look at mainstream pop, rock, dance, and Top 40 these days. The young are being fed crappy recordings which you guys produced and the press barely ever criticizes (and in some instances even apologetic for it?)! This is NOT the fault of MP3, AAC, or whatever other lossy encoding might be used. To do so is scapegoating pure and simple. I don't know if the music industry has even taken seriously the idea that poor sound over the last few decades - which they allowed to happen if not actively encouraged - has actually been an element in their loss of revenue. Remember folks, some genres thankfully have been spared the loudness wars - classical and some of jazz. But these genres only account for a total of significantly <10% record sales these days. I think it's fair to say that the record companies have raised at least a generation of young people on loud, unnatural, and distorted music. They keep releasing it like that. And now they want to pull the wool over our collective eyes that because it's 24-bits and has higher samplerate but using the same or worse mastering, that something remarkable has changed!? [Note that I will give credit where credit is due. For example, I have found some improved hi-res releases out there. Wish there were more!]
Want to see another example of horrendous misinformation? Check out more Sony promo material, especially this:
Wow! You can drag that slider on the web page to "see" the waveform difference between the supposed "compressed audio" and the "uncompressed audio". This is yet another purposeful (or even worse, incompetent) confounding of dynamic compression and data compression. No, folks, compressed MP3 vs. hi-res waveforms do not look like that! All things being equal, if we're using the same audio editor and the waveform represented the same song, then the one on the left would be significantly volume reduced and dynamically compressed compared to the right. This has nothing to do with MP3, or "14 times the detail". This attempt at a visual analogy is even worse than the stair-stepped picture above! (This is similar to this video confounding the different types of "compression".)
What can I say... I guess lying is just part of advertising. The problem of course is that sooner or later, these desperate lies will destroy credibility and when respect is lost, it will take a lot to rekindle confidence. This is especially true I believe for something as subtle and precarious as the grossly empty promises of "high-resolution audio". Good luck with that, Sony... I suspect you'll need it.
Perhaps it will only be with failure of "hi-res audio" as it currently exists and the wasted resources poured into it that the Industry will "hit rock bottom" and change its perspective on what consumers might want. Honesty with marketing material would be a nice start.
On a somewhat different tangent, I think it's also worth discussing and thinking about this: