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High Resolution Blues: how the industry is failing with hi-res audio

High Resolution Blues: Why the industry is failing hi-res audio

The music industry seems very confused at the present time about what to do with, and how to market, high resolution (hi-res) audio. We thought it might be interesting to examine some of the issues surrounding hi-res, but before we do that, let’s answer an important question: what exactly is hi-res audio?

In a sentence, hi-res audio is better-than-CD quality.

If you want more than a sentence, here comes the science bit… Hi-res is digital audio data that has a higher bit-rate than standard CD. This bit rate describes the number of digital ‘bits’ of information for each sound sample. A CD is 16-bit whereas hi-res is normally 24-bit. Generally speaking, a higher bit-rate will give you a better quality sound when converted to analog. But bit-rate is not the whole story. The other element with hi-res is how many of these 24-bit sound samples exist per unit of time. This sampling frequency is expressed in hertz (Hz). A CD has a frequency of 44,100 Hz or 44.1 kHz. Hi-res audio can reach up to 192 kHz – more than four times the frequency of a standard CD. The combination of higher bit-rate and a higher frequency gives you high resolution audio.

We have established that CDs cannot deliver hi-res audio, so what options do record companies have to deliver this superior sound to consumers?

Format Wars and confused consumers

At the turn of the 21st century two formats emerged with an ambition to supersede the CD – Super Audio CD (SACD) and DVD-Audio (DVD-A).

Although there were technical differences (notably DVD-A being capable of offering video content) both were capable of delivering hi-res audio in the form of surround sound and/or stereo, from a five-inch optical disc. Unfortunately, the two similar formats served only to confuse the general public. Unlike the Betamax-VHS format war of the early 1980s, no single ‘winner’ emerged. Consumers were being asked to pay more money for the new optical discs and needed new expensive hardware. Many, understandably, were hesitant to spend hundreds of pounds or dollars on what could become the Betamax of the noughties.

Despite the industry failing to agree over one standard, what really burst the hi-res bubble was mainstream consumers increasingly seeking convenience over quality. MP3s, iPods, and docking stations replaced talk of amplifiers, speaker cable and cartridges when music hardware came up in pubs and bars. Never mind aspiring to higher quality audio, people were apparently willing to downgrade to lossy MP3s, happy to have ‘1000 songs in their pocket’.

Blu-ray as a hi-res delivery format

No one would argue that hi-res audio ever broke through to the mainstream, but more than a decade on, hi-res looks to be getting a shot in the arm from the Blu-ray high definition video format.

Many people already own relatively cheap Blu-ray players (often with attendant surround sound systems) and so they already have the necessary hardware set-up to enjoy high-res audio delivered via Blu-ray. The music industry does seem to have recognised this (if, rather slowly) and a few Blu-ray audio-only (stereo and/or surround) discs have been issued in the last six months or so. The advantage here is that these discs can be produced relatively cheaply, because Blu-ray is already produced is massive quantities for the home video market and the supply chains and pressing plants already exist.

Who is it for and how do I sell it?

This brings us on to how the industry currently markets hi-res audio. It is frankly a complete mess and one wonders if they wouldn’t prefer hi-res to crawl into a corner and die, so they don’t have to deal with it.

Is it an audiophile-only concern – for ‘geeks’ who spend thousands of pounds or dollars on hi-fi separates? Is it an alternative to the CD or download, to be sold at the £10-£20 price point? Should it be locked securely in a Super Deluxe Edition box set as an incentive for the high-income demographic to get their wallets out? Maybe downloading (e.g. HDtracks.com) is the way to deal with hi-res, negating the need for the pesky optical disc? Or should decisions about hi-res be left to local territories? (i.e. Japan-only SACD releases).

No one seems to be in any agreement on this. There appears to be no industry-wide cooperation or direction on to how work together for the mutual benefit of all parties (and ultimately consumers).

Hi-res in 2012

Let’s look at some high profile releases in the last 12 months or so and see how hi-res was dealt with.

Paul McCartney / RAM Deluxe EditionPaul and Linda McCartney – RAM deluxe edition box set

(Hear Music, May 2012 – £85)

No physical hi-res format included in this five-disc set. However, McCartney’s an industry leader when it comes to hi-res downloads. A card within this set (and all three previous deluxe albums in his archive collection) includes a code for a free hi-res download and even included two sets of hi-res files – ‘limited’ and ‘unlimited’ with the later offering very wide, full dynamic range at the expense of ‘loudness’.


The Rolling Stones / GRRR! European Blu-ray releaseThe Rolling Stones –
GRRR! Super Deluxe Edition

(Universal October 2012 – £105)

No physical hi-res included and no download either. Zilch. On the positive side a Blu-ray-Audio (stereo, not surround) sprang up unannounced after all the initial formats were released (not listed in the press release). This was great value at around £12, but Super Deluxe Edition purchasers (already depressed by how crap the box was) had further reason to feel ‘Doom and Gloom’ by having to spend and extra £12 on top of the £105 to get hi-res audio.


Virgin axe hi-res DVDs from Roxy Music boxRoxy Music –
The Complete Studio Recordings

(EMI August 2012 – £50)

The press release announced that this set would have every Roxy album on “DVD format as high-resolution audio, transferred digitally from the original analogue masters, making this release an absolute ‘must have’ for Roxy Music fans and collectors”. Then somebody changed their mind and the DVDs were axed and this set did not include any hi-res audio at all, whether physical or download.


Peter Gabriel / First Pictures "So" Deluxe BoxPeter Gabriel –
So Deluxe Box

(EMI October 2012 – £100)

No physical hi-res included, but a download card offered the newly remastered album and three bonus tracks as hi-res FLAC files. The Live In Athens set, and So DNA demos were not included as part of this hi-res offering.


David Bowie / Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars / 40th Anniversary EditionDavid Bowie –
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust reissue

(EMI June 2012 – £15)

A Vinyl/DVD-Video combo release gave buyers the new 2012 remaster as hi-res stereo as well as the 2003 Ken Scott in hi-res stereo. A 5.1 mix was also included but due to the limitations of the DVD-Video format (unlike DVD-A, SACD or Blu-ray) this wasn’t hi-res.


Rage Against The Machine / 20th Anniversary Deluxe Box SetRage Against The Machine XX – 20th Anniversary Deluxe Box

(Sony Nov 2012 – £60)

Despite four discs and a vinyl version, there is no place for any  hi-res audio either in physical or download format


Win a copy of Tarkus Deluxe Edition by Emerson Lake & PalmerEmerson Lake & Palmer – Tarkus deluxe edition

(Sony August 2012)

A DVD-Audio included (along with the two CDs) offering the album in hi-res stereo and surround. A few alternates were even included.


Pink Floyd / The Wall Immersion EditionPink Floyd –
The Wall Immersion Box Set

(EMI February 2012)

Despite including Blu-ray discs with hi-res stereo and surround mixes in the preceding ‘Immersion’ boxes (The Dark Side Of The Moon and Wish You Were Here), no physical or downloadable hi-res was offered with The Wall ‘Immersion’ box.


Michael Jackson / Bad 25 Deluxe Box ReviewMichael Jackson –
Bad 25 Anniversary reissue

(Sony Sep 2012)

The DVD-Video in this set could easily have included a hi-res stereo version of Jackson’s 1987 album, but it either didn’t occur to anyone, or they made an assumption that nobody would be interested. Hence, no hi-res audio either physical or download with this set.


Fleetwood Mac / Rumours 35th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition box set reissue 2013Feetwood Mac –
Rumours 35th Anniversary Deluxe Edition

(Rhino, January 2013)

Warner Music released Rumours on hi-res DVD-A, with a surround sound version, over a decade ago. They also released a SACD edition in Japan just LAST YEAR with the same surround sound mix. Both are quite expensive to get hold of, so it would make sense for them to include the same hi-res version within the US/Canadian and European deluxe set due this coming January, wouldn’t it? YES, it would make sense. NO, they haven’t included it. No hi-res at all, either as download, standalone Blu-ray audio, or as part of the deluxe box set. Arghhh!!!


Conclusions

So what to conclude from all this? Here’s a few thoughts:

No consistency within organisations. EMI provided hi-res as a download with Peter Gabriel, but not Roxy Music. Sony gave us a superb DVD-A with ELP but weren’t interested with Michael Jackson or Rage Against The Machine.

More chance with the ‘classics’. If you’re a fan of classic rock (McCartney, The Rolling Stones) you probably have more chance of getting hi-res than if you like ‘pop music’ (no hi-res in recent Level 42 or INXS deluxe sets).

The past is irrelevant. If the album has been previously released in a hi-res format, this does no guarantee inclusion with new sets. Bowie’s Ziggy reissue utilised the old 2003 SACD stereo mix in hi-res, but Warner Music’s forthcoming reissue of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours ignores two previous hi-res releases.

The artists themselves are influential. Pink Floyd insisted on a separate SACD release of Wish You Were Here, despite the inclusion of a hi-res Blu-ray within the ‘Immersion Box’. Yet the same group, didn’t insist on any hi-res at all when it came to The Wall. Similarly Peter Gabriel probably made sure a hi-res download was the minimum requirement with the otherwise disappointing So box.

No one can agree on formats. Some releases use DVD-Video for hi-res stereo (Bowie/Ziggy), while others utilise the DVD-Audio format (Emerson Lake & Palmer). Blu-ray was used by Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones, and our hi-res format of choice – the SACD – seems to be growing (modestly) in popularity with specialist labels like Analogue Productions reissuing albums from Norah Jones and The Doors in this format.

Thinking outside the box. Should hi-res be included as part of a deluxe box or as a standalone release, or both? At the moment IF a physical hi-res is released (a big ‘if’) there is no consistency (see Rolling Stones v Pink Floyd).

Final Thoughts

We currently seem to be witnessing a combination of greed, incompetence and ignorance when it comes to archival releases and high resolution audio from the major record labels.

There was no good reason for The Rolling Stones not to include the hi-res Blu-ray as part of the GRRR! Super Deluxe Edition box set. Greed almost certainly led to the decision to sell it separately, but this did have the advantage of pleasing hi-res fans who didn’t want the big set.

The lack of hi-res (and surround) in the forthcoming Rumours Deluxe set is ridiculous. Hi-res fans are having to seek out old ten year old DVD-As or import SACDs from Japan to get what they want.

Hi-res audio is a bit like giving your car a good clean (or valet) when you want to sell it. The car hasn’t changed but it becomes more attractive to potential purchasers. It may take you a little time and effort (and expense) to make it sparkle and shine, but you will expand the market for your vehicle, and it becomes a more attractive proposition. You would think that record companies would want their products to shine and sparkle, and sound as good possible, but it appears not to be the case.

With these expanded box sets, the irony is that much effort is put into locating tapes, searching out old demos, putting books together and photo editing pictures. In comparison to that, seeking out, or creating a clean, dynamic hi-res master of a recording that already exists would seem a relatively straightforward process. These super deluxe box sets are supposed to be celebrating one album, first and foremost, so why pass up the opportunity to present the album in the very best quality possible?  Why waste time and energy creating a stupid, useless, oversized book (see: GRRR!) and ignore the quality of how the music is presented?

It is hard to see things changing unless consumers make their views known. So if you are a hi-res audio enthusiast, then do leave a comment on this post and let the executives at record labels know how you feel. If you work in the industry, why not do the same and let us understand your thoughts or strategies regarding hi-res.

Paul Sinclair – 20 December 2012

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42 responses to High Resolution Blues: how the industry is failing with hi-res audio

  1. Barry Grayshon says:

    If I was paying quite a bit of money for a box set, I would like to have a high resolution format included to give me the option of having the best listening experience possible. However, I would also like to have the option to buy the format as a stand alone format, as I may not want to shell out, say £105 in the case of GRRR! It has to be accessible at both ends of the scale as far as I can see.

    • Paul Sinclair says:

      Agree with this, but can’t think of one example of this happening, yet!

    • CD83 says:

      Have you checked out HDtracks.com? They have GRRR! In hi-res, 88/24 with some tracks in 44/24 and it sounds excellent. Also they have a new download manager and you can download it in WAV, AIFF FLAC, or ALAC.

  2. Garnet says:

    Yes, I am a Hi-Res, SACD, Multichannel, Deluxe Edition Enthusiast. Very seldom do I buy regular CD audio anymore. Primarily, I purchase SACD’s only, trying to focus on multichannel. I recently bought the Grrrr! Blu-ray audio only disc and am impressed with the sound, however I don’t like the idea of having to keep my TV on just to listen to it. In addition there is just a static image on the set during playback, if anything, it should change to avoid screen burn. I would like to see SACD become the dominate format for all discs and in that process, make the discs multichannel standard, with a stereo backup for those without 5.1 speakers.

    • Shaun says:

      Why not just turn the TV off and pretend it’s an SACD? :)

    • Mark Robinson says:

      I’m in total agreement with Garnet.

      I think the artists should be consistent. The Wall is a case in point. Buying it would have been a no brainer like DSOTM and WYWH but no Blu-Ray sorry for over a hundred bucks no way.

      Get with the program Pink Floyd.

    • Pete says:

      Sorry if I’m late in the day but just found this website and must say despite past two years I think sacd is definitely what I want very much indeed!!i mean I like double DSD sound and hope industry picks up this way because this is the best hi res sound by any means especially from listening to superhirez American site.i can’t stand 24 bit so called audio as it sounds limited and distorted

  3. Heath says:

    I definitely agree Paul :)

    My opinion about ‘The majors’ or ‘Big four’ – for the most part – is they simply are getting it wrong across the board – whether it is due to bureaucracy, money, laziness – whatever it is – they just don’t know how to market music anymore, they cannot seem to market it’s importance and value in people’s lives.

    Between pricing, formats, or public reluctance in buying music, which in physical formats can be overpriced and often understated (cheaply executed), digital formats treated by most of the public as disposable & often sourced through piracy; the majors are just so desperate to sell anything – quick and cheap.

    They are clearly are not championing music or artists at all, other than quick fix here-today-gone-tomorrow-artists that in no means says that all these artists are disposable – just simply there is a lot more senseless drone artists now than ever before in the industry – that all want a share of the industry pie, which is getting less and less with more artists competing for the public’s attention and money.

    The industry is in such a state that the evidence is clear – the ‘Big four’ are now the ‘Big four’ and their organisations are shrinking ever more.

    It’s a shame that the industry is crumbling. The Majors had their heyday, and made a lot of money. Now the industry shifts a few steps back, maybe into an better position for the Artists on the whole?

    Thats just my opinion. :)

  4. Heath says:

    haha I meant ‘Big Five':

    “The industry is in such a state that the evidence is clear – the ‘Big five’ are now the ‘Big four’ and their organisations are shrinking ever more.”

    instead of:

    “The industry is in such a state that the evidence is clear – the ‘Big four’ are now the ‘Big four’ and their organisations are shrinking ever more.”

    :)

  5. Ramiro Ortega says:

    I absolutely love surround sound for music, unfortunately my speakers aren’t that remarkable for me to listen to hi-fi stereo music because I’m guessing the difference would be minimal. I have the SACD of Allman Brother’s Eat A Peach that includes 2.0 and 5.1 and I can also play the redbook CD layer since it’s a hybrid. Unfortunately the difference between 2.0 hi def stereo and the red book stereo layer is minimal, if not completely absent, to my ears through my equipment.

    It’s for this reason that I don’t purchase SACDs/DVD-A or Video/BluRay that only have the Stereo sound without multichannel playback.
    I recently bought from eBay Peter Gabriel 4 (Security) in SACD format only, not the hybrid, for 50 bucks. I hope I get this one soon to judge for myself the difference in sound between the SACD Stereo and my redbook CD of the 2011 reissue version of Security. I hope I can finally realize the difference, otherwise I’m afraid I’ll either have to sell the SACD or get better speakers, which cost over the 500 dollar limit for each medium speaker where I live.
    But to be honest, my Yamaha receiver has this Dolby Pro-Logic II for music and movies, which incredibly adapts 2.0 stereo into 5.1 and the result is unbelievable. I applied this option for my Security CD (which I think already sounds fantastic minus the hi res inclusion) and it did sound like it was mixed to 5.1.
    Of course there’s a huge difference between actual 5.1 surround sound and PLII simulation, but this option quite works for me.

    Excellent article. I have the pre-order for the Fleetwood Mac Rumours box set, but I think I’ll cancel at the last minute if the price doesn’t go down to make it worth it, but I think I much rather buy the SACD from Japan for the high price of 50 bucks and let the box set go, because let’s face it, when it comes to the choice of either the original album in high quality or a box set with regular redbook CD quality with a whole bunch of extras, we HAVE TO choose the original CD with high quality and ditch the extras, even if we have to sacrifice the extras so we don’t cash out 200 bucks for a single album plus extras the proper way it should have been released in the first place.

    Anyway, I am quite happy with my regular redbook CDs playing in 5.1 simulated with PLII on my Yamaha receiver and ignore the stereo SACDs. I actually regret a little having purchased the Security SACD, but if I really hear no significant difference, I’ll just sell it and add 50 bucks and go for the So box set to watch the DVD concert and own the live CDs.

    Great article!

  6. Jason Handy says:

    Good article, You may also want to point out the fact that you can change the file type when downloading from I Tunes to achieve better sound, only the sacrifice being that your computers memory will be eaten up quicker!! Other then that very thorough.

    • Galley says:

      The iTunes Store offers nothing but 256Kbs AAC files. Tracks imported from your CDs can be imported at your choice of lossy formats, or as lossless.

  7. DEAN says:

    It is my honest opinion that world is slowly growing more and more obtuse and demanding. Movies are slated because they lose a sliver of information on the top of bottom of the frame – or the colors aren’t saturated enough. And music lovers are on the hunt for ever higher bit rates, as though we’ve hitherto been unable to enjoy our music without it – not really.

    I’ve lived through vinyl, CD, downloads, and now back to vinyl. As though vinyl is the answer. It’s not. But that won’t stop a vocal minority. And the record companies love people to buy vinyl again, you can’t pirate that!

    And no hi-res audio – as if this is ESSENTIAL. It’s not of course. It’s a nice to have, that’s all. An add-on. Record companies are wise not to go overboard with it, because it won’t pull in significantly more punters. It really won’t.

    As the article states, the wider public (and it’s them that end up paying the most) have indeed spoken. They’re happy with LESS, as long as it’s convenient. Fact.

    The public weren’t confused by SACD and DVD-A. They just didn’t want it. They didn’t see the point, since they were happy with CD. At that time no-one was complaining about CD. And even now, no-one truly complains that CD’s are 16=bit. They complain ab out poor remastering jobs. Don’t blame the medium for poor sound quality, the medium isn’t responsible.

    Hi-res downloads are an utter and complete waste of time, imo. I buy physical media, and have no interest in changing to a new format. If there is a hi-res format in a box I buy, I’ll play it. If not, well a nicely mastered CD suits just as well.

    I’m a music lover, I listen mainly on a Linn system. I know good from bad. But the world is definitely getting ever more petty, squabbling over minutia. So much so, that the obvious just goes over peoples heads. Blu-Ray audio? Another waste of time. The days of Physical Media is going by very fast. Soon we’ll be digital downloads only. Or streaming.

    An example…. Before Blu-Ray we had DTS. DTS sound is great, and would have done well as a next step. A lot of people had DTS from their home cinema set ups. So why bother with Blu-Ray? Of course, they want to push Blu-Ray as much as possible….

    One final thing – it’s a real shame that this Blog doesn’t cover box sets and special editions in all music genres. It’s all Pop and Rock. Hi-res audio will mostly benefit classical music, imo. Or Jazz. I’m not saying ALL music might not benefit, but mostly I believe it’ll be those two. But such is the Blog that it’s now just a way to push pop and classic rock product, which is a missed opportunity, imo.

    • Ramiro Ortega says:

      You have a point about jazz and classical benefiting more than rock and pop, but it’s rock and pop that offer the most surprises and suspense regarding sound experience. For example, I have NEVER heard a bad classical music sound, of course SACD will improve the sound. Same thing with jazz, I never heard a terrible master, but rock and pop I’ve heard plenty of both worlds, and that’s where the art is, in perfecting the sound of an imperfect genre.

  8. Renato says:

    I guess people are more interested in selling retro formats nowadays – why should they invest in decent digital media/files when they are so desperately trying to sell vinyl as “the best way to listen to music”? They’re even trying to bring those awful cassettes back from the dead… So, I wouldn’t expect much consistency in regards to digital HD music, either in physical (SACD, DVD-A, Blu-ray Audio or whichever other format they can come up with) or download-only options.

    • Ramiro Ortega says:

      I couldn’t imagine a world without CDs. Sure mp3 files are the convenient way to go, and lets put aside endless questions of hi def and proper sound quality for a second, can we really manage sonic experience or audio-visual material for that matter, through “invisible” and flaky formats? I mean there are countless times in my life that I had problems with digital files of all sorts, but very rarely (in fact I think never) had a problem with a properly manufactured CD.
      In my opinion CD is definitely the way to go. It’s the step between digital files and vinyl LPs as history would have it, but it’s also the middle point between both and I think that’s why people prefer the CD, it’s the standard for both music, movies and (although less and less every year) softwares. I personally grew up with the CD and cassette tapes and to this day absolutely loooove the cassette because I remember the painstakingly hard work you had to put yourself through to record the songs you wanting to hear in a comfortable device that let you mix you collection up a bit, and that to me is what the cassette means to me. By no means would a buy a new album release in cassette form (like some indie band have been doing I been told some time, I don’t remember), but it’s essential to me for that.
      I never grew up listening to vinyl LP and therefore I don’t desire it. I remember going through my dad’s collection of albums on vinyl and spinning the needle on the correct place and hearing the static and hissing in the background, I honestly was very distracted by the whole experience. Once I finished that whole day of listening on vinyl I felt like it was a nice experience, but when I laid down in my bed I was never happier to play my regular, redbook CD of Dark Side Of The Moon in my stereo and put in my headphones. No noise, clicks and no distractions.
      Everyone has their own preferred format, but even if vinyl offered the greatest possible sound, 100 times better than CD I would not switch formats.

      And regarding downloads? I have 12,000 songs ripped from part of my CD collection and added them all to an iPod. I swear I couldn’t listen to one song in its entirety, not because of sound quality but because the whole idea of having 12,000 songs in the palm of your hand was overwhelming, I guess, and distracting that I knew immediately it wasn’t my primary source for music listening. I sold the iPod and bought a 2gb sony mp3 player and I couldn’t be happier with it.

      Everyone is used to a different source and format and no one is trying to make the public buy a specific format but the public themselves. There are always options and everyone should just stick to what they think sounds best. Thank god there is still choice, I even record a cassette tape once in a while in my boombox I’ve had since I was 5 years old. Others prefer dragging and dropping digital files to a playlist, everyone has their preference.

  9. Bill Cannon says:

    To all-I have a simple and probably dumb question. The HI RES downloads that I have from McCartney(McCartney, Ram, Band on the Run too I think)-should I burn those onto a DVD? CD? Play on my SACD or DVD player? Bill

  10. Will says:

    What will bring high-resolution music to the masses is iTunes. The moment that Apple decides to sell high-resolution music, everything will change. We know that Steve Jobs was into high-resolution music for himself (even though he only sold low-resolution music to others), so it makes sense to believe he was likely waiting for the “right moment” before asking the labels to start providing their music to iTunes in high-res. Perhaps that “moment” was when in his estimation people who grew up with iPods & earbuds were now old enough to be buying houses and real speakers (which is when sound quality suddenly matters). If so, that moment is imminent.

  11. richard says:

    I run a very small record label and so we self record a bit using various bit and sample rates, we go in studios a bit using various bit and sample rates……honestly, we can’t hear a difference and if we can, we can’t put our finger on what it is.. That goes for me, the artists, the engineers. Some engineers can hear it but they have highly tuned ears. So I see why they don’t know what to do with it. It is quite meaningless if such a samll fraction of the listeners get it.

  12. Marcel says:

    On the plus side, the new album by Mylene Farmer, ‘Monkey me’, released a few weeks ago, offers a cd + a bluray audio disc at just 20 euros. I don’t have bluray but I did buy it just in case. I think this is, quite simply, the way to go for record companies. Production costs aren’t huge and there’s still a lot of attraction in owning such a luxury sounding 2 disc set.

  13. Mike says:

    Some thoughts/
    – I get into SACD more than 10 years ago and bought the Rolling Stones reissues in this format because you could hear the difference with a regular Rolling Stones CD from the 90’s.
    – Nobody mentionned that Neil Young offered with Archives Vol 1, CD, DVD and Blu-Ray.
    – I have a cd-player that plays DVD-Audio and SACD but unfortunately no Blu-Ray. I never listen to suround audio. If you have a crappy blu-ray player and a poor sound system, you won’t noticed the difference.
    – I have a friend selling expensive hifi and his customers are not interested in quality but the price of their equipments to listen to maximum 10 cd and to plug their mobile device to play music.
    – People complaining about the cd quality are a minority.
    – I’m concerned about DVD and Blu-Ray, because after more that 10 years, quality of data storage on these supports is affected.

    That’s why, after copying it to a hard drive, I’m selling all my cd’s and i’m getting back to vinyl quality.

  14. Matthias says:

    Thank you for this analysis. I don’t think the industry is thinking in posibilities. Survival rules and will create more survival. I wish we’ d have many more hi-res reissues like The King Crimson series mixed by Steven Wilson. There are so many classic rock albums I would happily spend my money for.

  15. Marshall Gooch says:

    I didn’t (and wasn’t going to) buy any of the Grrr! editions because I’ve already got a bunch of Stones compilations on vinyl and CD. When I saw that they were releasing a hi-res Blu-ray audio-only (here on Super Deluxe Edition, thanks!) and then the price, I went ahead and bought it because a number of the songs I don’t have in hi-res (I don’t have all of the hybrid SACD/CD reissues), and the price was right. Oh, and one other thing: it is region-free. Being a European release, and me being in the US, that was the most important part. A little disappointed that there’s no 5.1 mixes on it, but it DOES sound great. It IS difficult to navigate through the songs without your TV screen on, though; Tom Petty’s Mojo did a better job of this.
    Anyway, I appreciate the analysis of the situation and I think the ideal way to do it is to offer the hi-res tracks within a deluxe or super deluxe edition (!) of a release, and to also offer it as an audio-only Blu-ray. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

  16. Peter Chrisp says:

    Listening, popular formats, box sets, deluxe, super deluxe editions, dvd audio, sacd, dvd 5.1, bluray there are so many formats out there for the music junkies. What the record companies and artists put out for the consumer is i guess entirely up to them, and the way to attract the buyers will forever remain a mystery, the decision is always up to you. What do you want? We all want the best sound possible and with the above including remastering or remixing these are improvements? When Pink Pink Floyd’s Immersion Box sets Dark Side & W.Y.W.H. came out and their various formats, and including Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung”, stunning is the word i would use in full 5.1 surround sound. As what Rush would say choices got to have voices. Speaking of
    2112 in glorious 5.1 and Moving Pictures same, and dvd 5.1 Tull’s 40th Anniversary of T.A.A.B and the recent T.A.A.B 2 both sound great. This is where i was a little annoyed Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” Immersion box set would sound awesome but not in 5.1? As suggested above a box set of “Rumours” is due pretty soon, i guess once again the sound would be good, but not in surround sound? What do you do? Hmmmmm.

  17. Steve Marine says:

    Great article. Thanks! For a public that continues to slide into the mp3 hole, you would think that the industry might focus on hi-res audio for those of us who still value physical media. (Or maybe as a way to win people back into buying physical media?) For me, the problem is lack of a universal standard. I didn’t buy a single blu-ray disc until I knew for sure that HD-DVD was dead. The same applies here.

  18. Gene Bennett says:

    I would highly, HIGHLY recommend anyone interested in the Feetwood Mac – Rumours 35th Anniversary Deluxe Edition to save their money, bite-the-bullet and just go ahead and purchase the 2011 SACD Japanese release in 5.1. The sound is nothing short of breathtaking.

    In the 70’s, I could barely stand to hear “Dreams” or “Don’t Stop” one more time as they were GREATLY overplayed. On SACD (and in surround) these tracks (and every one of them) are a revelation. Highly recommended!

  19. Per Hoffmann Olsen says:

    Well, if you read this article – you might know why hires failed.
    http://people.xiph.org/~xiphmont/demo/neil-young.html

    Cheers
    Per

  20. Scott says:

    Why have the hi-res formats not taken off?? I think there are a variety of reasons.
    #Very poor marketing/educating!
    – When was the last time (or the first time) you saw an advert for an SACD or DVD-Audio of an album? Even for some of those albums that do come out with a hi-res download available, the advertising for the hi-res download is nowhere to be seen. e.g. MJ’s Bad 25th anniversary release – available in hi-res 24/bit-48kHz from HDtracks – not seen it mentioned anywhere on MJ’s website or other general music websites that have reviewed the anniversary release.
    – How many of you hi-res/audiophile champions have had friends, family, neighbours experience your hi-res content/system and are stunned by it? It has happened to me SO often. The high level of ignorance of hi-res, multichannel etc that I have experienced just tells me that the industry is doing a very poor job of its marketing and education of the general listening public and demonstrating the product IMHO.
    – MP3 (spit!) has been forced down the throats of the latest generations of music buying public. Ok, it is a convenience format that balances an acceptable level of fidelity with storage and portability. But again many, especially todays young generation, don’t realise it is an inferior product; even some music artists don’t know this. I demonstrated this by performing side-by-side comparisons of MP3, CD, 24bit hi-res sources to my iPod loving son. He was very taken aback at the difference and now appreciates my passion for quality hifi and hi-res/quality music source so much so that when he is at home it is sometimes difficult to get listening to what I want even though he does have a B&W Zeppelin in his bedroom. At the end of the day what is the industry interested in? MONEY!! Which takes precedence over quality.
    #Multiple Formats!
    – SACD, DVDA, HDAD, DAD, DVDV, DUALDISC, HDCD, XRCD, HRx, K2, DTS, DXD, SHM etc… Where is the information explaining the difference/advantage of purchasing the K2 over an XRCD version say? Is there? How many commercial players can handle a DXD disc? Again if these different formats are not explained to the music buying population in general, without the need to go to specialist websites, how can the industry expect a high uptake?
    #Industry supporting its own formats!
    – Sony machines don’t support DVDA (not until recently). They stopped making SACD discs, gave the impression that it had given up on support for the DSD/SACD format then started again. e.g. Glenn Gould Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier series SACD recent release.
    – Linn, a great supporter of the HDCD format used on many of its own LinnRecords CD/SACD releases, manufactured the superb Unidisk – a Universal, all format, disc player – which DOESN’T support/play the HDCD layer of their own discs – go figure.
    #Hi-Res release suspicions!
    – Many audiophiles are now using analysis software to check the actual dynamic range quality of some of the 24bit releases available and there seams to be some suspicion that some may just be upsampled 16bit recordings or the recordings a still . If the suspicions are true then trust will be lost unless a guarantee of sorts can be provided.
    #Is Vinyl Better?
    – Vinyl is making a come back. Manufactures like Linn, Rega, Michell are still producing exceptional turntables. Most anniversary releases and many new albums are now released with, what now seams fairly standard, a heavy weight (180gm usually) vinyl option. Why? Well for one, spinning discs is now seen as a fairly trendy thing to do for young aspiring DJ’s.
    – I recently heard a “fully loaded” Linn Sondek LP12 playing Ray Brown’s ‘Soular Energy’ (180gm Blue vinyl edition) against the Concord 24/192 DVDA of the same – the vinyl won hands down although it has to be mentioned that a “fully loaded” Linn Sondek LP12 will set you back in the region of £16k.

  21. Tim Anderson says:

    Paul

    You say “here comes the science bit” but make no reference to the Nyquist-Shannon theorem which is a surprising omission. I recommend that you participate in some blind listening tests, or do your own experiments downsampling high-res files or inserting a 16/44 ADC/DAC loop after the output of a high-res source as was done in a famous test: the difference was impossible to hear.

    That said, I agree there is a lot wrong with the way most of these deluxe releases are done. All too often the potential high sound quality is ruined by poor mastering decisions, such as excessive compression, and maximizing volume to the detriment of the sound.

    We have had good enough digital technology for years, but what counts is getting the best sources and transferring them to digital competently; this is where the industry so often fails.

    The SHM-SACD Japan issues mostly get this part of the mastering right, though they would sound just as good as CDs and are overpriced. Neither the SHM nor the SACD are necessary. But why was the same quality of mastering done on the SHM-SACD not also done for the deluxe Quadrophenia box, for example, and to bring this back to the theme of this site?

    Tim

  22. grady says:

    I listen to DVD-A, SACD, and BR. I have a moderate system, and I listen in Stereo.
    1. I notice a difference in sound quality. Good recording and engineering , right from the start, makes a difference. Remastering experience makes a difference. Some material is simple lost, because the source is average or worse. i.e…You could never fix Kiss Destoyer, it’s an audio nightmare. You can get Beck Seachange in redbook, SACD, MOFI, and every version sounds great.
    2. The very young, dont know, dont understand…they know terms, like High Definition. They will buy 300 dollar headphones, and listen to 128, or even 320, itunes music on them. I guess they look cool.
    3. Hardware confusion. Too many difficult scenarios…May ask…Am I actually getting High Res through my system? Is my SACD player hooked up right, with the right cables? Does my pre amp process High res? Does my system actually offer the dynamic range? What is a DAC, which do I buy? DSD, PCM, DVD-V, SACD, DVD-A, BR, HD tracks…what?
    4. Sometimes, who knows what your buying and getting. Its hard to understand what the product is. Look at the confusion with Rush Sector boxs. Look at Amazon, everuthing is clumped together. The labels on the packages are confusing…24/88. whatever, 24/192….Labels that say remastered in 24 or 32 bit, then you find it was dumbed down to 16 bit.

    YOU need to be very savy to understand what your getting and if your system can deliver it.

    How many times do I need to repurchase the same music? Guess what….I listen to crap on utube now, via PC. If I buy, I buy SACD/DVD-A, or BR.

  23. Peter Campbell says:

    NowI almost never buy a CD. I only buy hires (24bit/96kHz minimum) downloads from the likes of Linn and HDtracks, played to my HiFi system via a usb DAC and kernal streaming.

    The difference in quality is gargantuan. I just might spend the money on a special boxed set if it included hres download but currently my cinema system is separate to my HiFi system so unlikely.

  24. Peter Campbell says:

    I would also add that £18 for a paltrey 30mins is too expensive. Grrr! at £24 for 187 minute is great value

  25. An interesting article and attendant responses, most of which I either concur or sympathise with.

    I’ve long been a fan of high res audio but for me it isn’t so much about the perceived improvements in sonic fidelity but about the placement of sounds. The key thing for me is multi-channel audio. Ever since discovering quadraphonic in the 70’s with my Dad’s Dynatron HiFi, I’ve been hooked on creating all encompassing sonic sound stages and for me, multi-channel mixes on DVD-A, SACD and in digital file formats such as FLAC and MP3Surround are my preferred way of consuming music. Sadly, it’s a limited way, given the scarcity of source material and ease with which to listen to it.

    Listening to the Depeche Mode or Bjork catalogue in multi-channel is pretty mind-blowing, as is something like Queen’s ‘A Night at the Opera’. Hearing the intricate production of Lipson & Horn on Propaganda’s ‘A Secret Wish’ on SACD or immersing yourself in the 5.1 mix of Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds is nothing short of breathtaking. We could sit and debate the merits or pitfalls of vinyl vs CD vs hi-res audio, but it’s the benefit of discrete separation of the constituent parts of a musical piece that multi-channel mixes provide that really floats my boat, and I really wish that someone, somewhere would decide on a single, definitive format and make a concerted effort to change the way we consume music. Too many people are still stuck in the mindset that multi-channel audio requires the listener to be in a single, fixed spot to listen, which is completely untrue. Most 5.1 music mixes, unless specifically intending to be otherwise, are not mixed for “surround” sound and the illusion of movement through audio. They are mixed to utilise the channel separation and the way it allows you to place instruments and vocals in a much less congested way than stereo allows, as well as better reproduce a sense of space in which the music can breathe. Sadly, in the current climate where most average listeners consume their music through stereo headphones, multi-channel music just can’t currently compete at that level. This then raises the topic of binaural and whether that is an option? Steve Marshall proved that you can process a binaural recording into 5.1 with his ‘Bilocation’ album, albeit that this album *does* require the listener to sit in the ‘sweet spot’.

    When I saw Sony incorporate SACD in early PS3 iterations, I thought the time had come, only for Sony to drop it like a hot potato. And slowly, but surely, source material has dried up. Depeche Mode, who first released ‘101’ in 5.1 then ‘Playing the Angel’ in 5.1 SACD as well as a regular DVD version, went on to reissue their entire studio back catalogue in multi-channel SACD and regular DVD, only to then remove the SACD version from subsequent prints and now, after continuing the trend with ‘Sounds of the Universe’, seem to have abandoned it altogether with the impending new release, ‘Delta Machine’. The same can be said of Bjork, whose last album, ‘Biophilia’ failed to appear in a 5.1 mix.

    Blu-Ray provides a perfect platform for physical multi-channel releases but we’ve yet to see a wholehearted seizing of the opportunity. MP3Surround never really took off and 5.1 FLAC’s are still prohibitively too large for the consumer market.

    My music collection is rapidly becoming almost entirely digital, with iTunes as the hub, sharing music around the house via numerous AppleTV units or other AirPlay devices but I still have two SACD and DVD-A hardware players to cater for the discs I still own and still collect.

    Multi-channel music has never gained the foothold it should, nor has it quite died completely, so it gives me a sliver of hope that one day, the world might embrace it and break out of the confines of stereo.

  26. Ian says:

    Totally agree. It seems that beyond classical music, there is very little in HD audio to appeal to anyone under 60. There is only so much ‘classic rock’ that will appeal to any sizeable market. Surely SOME new music has been produced in the 21st century? It hasn’t helped that it’s so darn complex to get working when it shouldn’t be, seeing much of the necessary equipment is consumer level these days – such as high definition sound output from PC’s. Even a basic optical SPDIF connection to a speaker box can get you started. Blu-Ray is the best idea ever – a STANDARD format that hasn’t some vendor like Philips or Sony try to stamp their own proprietary restrictive rubbish all over it.

    Bring on Blu-Ray audio – and lets hope we will see something else than just endless re-releases of yet more ageing rock ‘classics’.

  27. PierOz says:

    As usual independent jazz and classical labels took more risks than major labels. The majors have taken their audience for idiot for decades (remember “remastered” cd that only sounded louder) and they are now paying the price of it through a lack of will from us to pay more for old albums only for the benefit of high resolution audio. And saying that, I buy high res audio from diverse sources.
    An independent label like songlines in canada stopped doing sacd because of the cost of production but they are releasing high res through download, which gives an idea of the financial difficulty of producing physical high resolution albums.
    I never understood why the majors haven’t backed up the sacd more than that. Ok the DSD format wasn’t easy to deal with in the studio, being originally made for archival purposes. But it was possible (and many did just that) to record at high resolution in LPCM and then convert to DSD for the sacd. With the hybrid sacd they had a high res format with a standard side that could be used for the people who didn’t want to buy new players or were waiting for the prices to come down, and the high res side was then hard to copy (it isn’t now).
    I guess the mistake comes from releasing old material to feel the temperature and then see if it is worth investing, whereas if the majors had decided to go for it from the beginning sacd would have been the standard for ages. They are now doing the same with the audio blu-ray (again long after classical labels such as 2L). I think it would be better to release new albums using Blu-Ray and high res download, giving people a taste for great sound and then going back to the back catalogue. Listeners would then be more inclined to spend money on albums they already have.

    I like deluxe box set, and like them even more when there’s a high res download offered in them, but they cost a fortune (I wanted so much that £200 “scratch my back” box set) and I would indulge in them only for the albums that really matter to me.
    Also when high res download were available to buy on their own, they have now disappeared, with only the possibility of redeeming coupon form expensive box sets (Paul McCartney, Smashing Pumpkins…all with topspin media interestingly)
    The ideal would be standard release of cd+Blu-Ray and/or high res downloads like many did with cd+dvd releases (like Talking Heads and Nick Cave for example).

    Unlike on the classical and jazz side, the pop/rock/r&b…market has to deal with the loudness war and the greed of the majors. For example, the last Bowie “the next day” or “bad” are available in high res (“bad” isn’t in France any more, Qobuz eventually rejected it). They’re awfully compressed, what is the point of providing high res files with such a high level of compression!?
    Another example, Universal France is launching a series of Audio Blu-Ray with mainly French and international pop, and a few jazz and classics (“Melody Nelson” by Gainsbourg, “Ascenseur pour l’Echafaud (lift to the scafold) by Miles Davis, “Les Marquises” by Brel, “Layla” by Derek and the Dominos…). These Blu-Ray are too expensive, €20 each for albums that everybody has in multiple formats, and are close to 30 minutes in most cases. Again, they should offer new releases first and then re-issues. I don’t think that series is going to be successful, but the good thing is that the high res downloads are also available.

    It’s been ages now that we’ve seen “remastered” cds coming out with nice “24bit/96Khz” stickers on it, it should be that difficult for majors labels to provide high res versions of most albums in any genre since they should have the corresponding Masters archived. Why are we still waiting? And why are we still waiting for many albums to even see the light on cd?

    Finally I find interesting that everyone sees the benefits in terms of the quality of image of video blu-ray, very few sees it for audio high res. That says a lot about the status of music in our culture.

  28. Michael1984 says:

    The industry really dropped the ball on DVD-Audio. Instead of making the discs compatable with all DVD players they had most features on these discs only compatable w/ DVD-Audio capable players. Those were very hard to find and now impossible. Why would they tie it into another form of hardware? People aren’t going to buy another version of their hardware unless their original breaks down! So stupid…In order to somehow recoup from this mistake most of the latter DVD-A’s and all of the newer DVD-A’s are fully compatable with standard DVD-A discs and able to play all the content on each. If they had gone that route in the first place and made the discs more price-aware (think about it, if you’re plonking down the cash for a DVD-A chances are that you already own the LP that you are up-grading!) they would have caught on a bit better. Oh well. I have several DVD-A discs and I liten to them frequently b/c they sound amazing in stereo and 5.1.

  29. K Greenhalgh says:

    I have stopped buying CD’s, unless I can obtain hi-res music files I’m not interested in evermore expensive box set compilations with the odd glossy photo, back stage pass and ticket stubs. Combine this with dubious “sweepings from the studio floor music” and that’s what is on offer most of the time.
    The music industry has got to be the example of free enterprise that is rotten to the core. They don’t want to sell you anything because even when you have paid your money they still want to control how you use it, i.e. when I purchase a SACD why should I be prevented from ripping it to play it on my digital streamer.
    Why are they hanging on to master recordings of 40-50yr old music when we now have equipment to do this music justice.
    Why am I unable to purchase hi-res download of British artists in Britain when these downloads are available in the US, but not for me to purchase. The record industry just wants to shaft it’s customers and con them into paying the highest possible price for the lowest quality music they can get away with. So hang onto your master recordings because once the generation that they mean something to, has passed they will be worth chicken shit.

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  31. Ranasakawa says:

    I HOPE record company executives read these blogs. They may learn something.

  32. Julian H says:

    This post is still a trainwreck… sorry.

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