peruses the AV press knows that these days there is a lot of energy behind
improving the median level of sound quality available to the public, with master
tape grade downloads originating from a number of websites , most noticeably
David Chesky's pioneering HDtracks. As well, Neil Young's high-res Pono player
and their eventual matching music service are imminent: I'll predict success,
that's all there is to say now. The public has already shown significant
interest regardless of the inevitable start-up holes in the Pono cheese. Given
the horrendous state of mass market music sound quality since low rate MP-3 and
the "loudness wars" took over, we can definitely say that there are now hi-res
flowers growing in the garbage dump. If enough flowers grow and are tended, it
won't be a garbage dump anymore; that's my pet analogy on the subject.
But I am troubled by the critic and nay-sayers
who publicly state that only certain types of flowers should be allowed to grow
under the hi-res banner. This precipitous time for public audio progress is not
a time for nit-picking due to vested interests; a "Big Picture" perspective is
needed, and here comes mine after 30 years designing and vending high-end stereo
systems and also a parallel career as a performing musician and recording
artist. Once you've had the opportunity to visit a good studio and hear an
original master tape, your ears will quickly understand that the freight train
of audio has arrived at the station. Maximum bandwidth, big dynamic swings,
beaucoup spatial information and natural tonality come along for the ride. But
when it's consumer format time, be it CD, vinyl, cassette, or any of the
playback formats we've enjoyed for most of our lives, the whole freight train
has to be squeezed into the dining car! From one viewpoint, it's amazing that we
all gotten so emotionally and financially involved with these limited signal
But now, today, 2014, we have the Holy Grail of
audio increasingly available to us; you can download and play the music in it's
original, master tape quality , and the hair WILL go up on your back the first
time you re-discover the favorite music you know well. Computer audio has really
grown up, and the hardware needed to bring this experience to your house can be
had from price-points low to high, depending on which shelf you shop on. So with
all this true progress, not hype, why are we hearing semantically-based
arguments that when we hear "First Gen" quality, it still might not qualify as
I answer this question with two of my own. First
of all, what more can we possibly ask for than first generation audio quality?
Yes, you can never get all the way to the wall, but a few centimeters is way,
way better than 3 feet. As for physical formats, we have three that have
unlimited signal capacity for all intents and purposes: SACD, which will be
around for some time, DVD-Audio, which died stillborn and probably kept SACD
from gaining wider acceptance, and the fledgling, Pure Audio Blu-ray discs as
well. (I have three of these; first gen sound all the way.) My second
question admittedly has a bit of a bite to it. To all the fussy listeners who
cut their teeth on vinyl and CD, say, Hi-Res, does it sound good enough yet for
you to listen, or is there still some problem? Why make a problem out of those
lovely flowers sprouting in the garbage dump?
Throw all these ingredients into the soup pot of
interest, and what do you get? Public confusion is without a doubt perhaps the
single most toxic element possible. When the public is confused, they either do
nothing or simply keep to their existing habits; Apple gets richer for selling
mediocre sound quality used only for background music. I can see it now; an
uninitiated wants to buy music in a hi-res format, but has no idea what that
means. Internet radio stations advertise 128kbps MP-3 as 'high-def'. Most music
is also available in CD or MP-3 form, so if someone does not have a good grasp
of audio realities, they may feel they wasted their money, which no one
(well, most folks anyway,) cannot afford to do.
Ok, there is still a bit too much computer
fiddling needed to get the planets lined up optimally, but that is improving
rapidly. But what should be rubber-stamped into the public is a very simple
equation: First Gen = best sound possible = High-Res. Repeat: First Gen = best
sound possible = High-Res, easily understood, eh?
Asking for the public to understand any more than
that as a reason to go hi-res is a very bad idea, Big-Picture-wise. Go to any
high-end audio show and you will hear Louie Armstrong. Yes, the tapes are old
and analog, but strip away all the layers of crud and you will have an amazing
experience. So what is this; semi hi-res? Cut me a break. Decades of public
contact selling good hi-fi and playing live music have taught me a few things.
All the advanced knowledge and understanding in the world will do you no good
until it can be explained simply, in a way that virtually everyone can
understand. This is the flop or fly of it all.
As a recording artist who paid for perfectionist
recording methods and was radically fussy about master tape transfer to both
vinyl and CD (I'm still a transfer freak today; only identical is identical,) I'll
put it this way. Both my LP and CDs have been lauded for exceptional sound
quality, and that's no brag, it was like having a baby, pain and joy in equal
measure. Yes, they both sound excellent, but as good as they each sound, in my
mind I am still comparing an expanded dining car to the whole freight train!
Why? Because as I said above, once you've heard and felt high-grade master tape
sound, you'll never forget it.
I strongly encourage ending all arguments about
what constitutes hi-res audio. Once you hear this quality sound in your home,
you won't be asking about 'provenance,' I'm sure. And in a short time, your
ears, the most acute aural instrument in the known universe, will readily
identify the audible difference first gen playback allows w/o any thought
whatsoever except "This is dynamite."
For once in this twisted industry, let's be sensible or we will kill the future of great sound/great music in the traditional fashion of industry stupidity. First Gen=Best sound possible = High-Res. Frankly, I'd abandon any label that has the word 'high' in it. The public has been triple-pasted with that misleading term. How about "First Gen Sound." Who could ask for anything more? That's a lot of flowers.