Being able to carry music around on phones is a great convenience, but how do you get the rich, full-bodied sound you deserve at home? Easy — that’s what are designed to do. But for them to work at their best in the living room, den or bedroom, the music needs to be high-resolution, not the lowly MP3 or other lo-res digital track. That’s why Mark Waldrep, Ph.D., Founder, President & Chief Engineer of AIX Records makes a point of listening to high resolution music. And with the advent of high resolution audio players, now we all can too. We asked him for more details.
V&AC: How did you first get interested in high-resolution audio?
Mark Waldrep: My company, AIX Media Group, produced the first DVD-Video disc released in the U.S. in March of 1997. For the first time, consumers had the ability to experience music delivered in stereo at 192/96 kHz/24-bit PCM and compressed 5.1 surround. The DVD-Audio format introduced a few years later tried to elevate the quality of music delivery again by swapping lossy compression (DTS or Dolby Digital) for MLP...lossless 5.1 surround.
I saw that the major labels went back into their catalogs, hired prominent mixing engineers to remix a few classic records in surround, and then release them as “high resolution” DVD-Audio titles. However, the fidelity of these recordings was the same as the source analog tapes. Surround music is great but if advancing the cause of fidelity was an essential part of the plan, then someone would have to produce new recordings that clearly demonstrated the capability of 96 kHz/24-bit PCM. I decided to starting recording a catalog of new high-resolution audio projects.
V&AC: So you launched AIX Records?
Waldrep: AIX Records was launched in 2000 and has one of the largest catalogs of “real high-resolution audio” recordings on the planet...records that were actually recorded using high-resolution capable equipment. Our tracks exceed the dynamic and frequency range limitations of CDs. Our technique of recording live sessions (a throw back to the days of Frank Sinatra’s session at Capitol Studios) and avoiding any artificial processing makes our records unique. Then in 2007, I launched iTrax.com as the world’s first high resolution digital music download site.
V&AC: Did the appearance of MP3 for portable music players hurt?
Waldrep: Lossy compression technologies provide enough fidelity for the mass market. Music consumers would rather have 10,000 tunes in the pocket than 500 great sounding tracks. And that’s OK. However, audiophiles and real music lovers want to hear their music at its highest resolution. Great recordings source recorded with high-resolution gear and delivered on portable devices will likely remain a niche market. But moving up to uncompressed CD fidelity in place of MP3s and lo-fi AAC iTunes files is a great result of the increased attention on better sound.
V&AC: What’s the need for high-resolution audio as you see it?
Waldrep: [It’s] critical if artists, producers, engineers, and labels want to advance the fidelity of new productions. For the first time in the history of recorded sound, we can produce and release music recordings that match or exceed the sound capabilities of our human ears. When you experience recordings made without the heavy processing required in the pop/rock world, you’ll know why high resolution audio needs to be a part of the market. It’s not going to replace everything that we do today...but it might just push some artists to demand better fidelity for their albums.
Waldrep: [This] is a well-designed component that offers the unique ability to stream high fidelity to speakers without physical connections...an audiophile wireless unit. It will definitely take its place among high-end components at home just as high-resolution portable players make listening to high-resolution audio on the road possible.
V&AC: And the future of high resolution audio?
Waldrep: High resolution audio is going to be a part of the future of reproduced music. However, it’s not ever going to become mainstream because of the confusion surrounding what is and what isn’t high-resolution. Consumers are not getting the information they need to make intelligent purchasing decisions about high-resolution hardware and software. I think we’ve launched the high-resolution ship but forgot to chart a course for our destination.