Enjoying music at home isn’t a new thing — but it certainly changed once record players gave way to digital discs and digital files. But for a home theater to be at its best, the audio that’s being played needs to be high resolution (i.e., Hi-Res). from the major manufacturers can play digital music discs, and there’s also s to convert digital files into music, but it’s the home theater’s sound system (i.e. speakers) that makes it all worthwhile. That’s why so many people are turning to professional installers like to help them set up a truly great home theater system where audio is featured just as importantly as the picture being watched. Because you listen with your ears, so what you are hearing needs to be as good as can be. Mark Waldrep is definitely an audio guru as well as a professional audio engineer and multimedia producer — just look towards AIX Records that he started and his upcoming book on improving the fidelity of your music system to gain that (as found on KickStarter). So who better to provide more details and rationale for why Hi-Res needs to be a part of your audio moving forward.
Mark Waldrep: The arrival of a consumer delivery platform back in 2000 in the form of DVD-Audio was the catalyst for my interest in high-resolution audio/music. I've been a professional audio engineer and multimedia producer for the last 30 years but always as a services provider. With the move from standard-resolution compact discs to 96 kHz/24-bit PCM audio, 5.1 surround capable DVD-Audio discs and accompany production tools (high-res digital consoles and workstations), I felt it was important for someone to go out and produced new recordings for this new market. While the major labels looked back into their aging catalogs for tracks that they could release as "hi-res music", I opted to produce new recordings that actually took advantage of the new standards. I launched AIX Records in the spring of 2000 as the first high-resolution music label.
Since that time, AIX Records has produced almost 100 new high-resolution albums featuring source recordings done at 96 kHz/24-bits, multiple mixes including stereo and two 5.1 surround versions, and full video of the sessions. Our productions have won numerous awards and garnered very positive reviews from the audiophile press and consumers.
Why is there a need for high-resolution audio?
Mark Waldrep: Music production depends on several critical factors. The quality of the equipment being used to produce new recordings establishes the potential fidelity that an engineer can achieve and the skill and approach of the engineer defines how much of that fidelity potential is actually used. In other words, the evolution of professional recording equipment and consumer formats allows us to produce better and better sounding music. We used to depend on analog tape and vinyl LPs before PCM digital encoding became the norm in the 80s and 90s. But they are both limited in comparison to what human hearing can perceive. And as good as a well-done CD can be, the specifications still fall short of our ears. It's not until you get to 24-bits and 96 kHz sampling rates that the potential fidelity equals or exceeds the dynamic range and frequency response of our human abilities.
Therefore, if the goal of reproduced music is to deliver recorded music or sound that is equal to our natural hearing, we have to move the specifications up to 96 kHz/24-bit PCM. It's not difficult, not expensive, and available to all consumers…but it is hard to achieve for a variety of reasons.
What do you think of the new breed of high resolution audio players, like the Sharp Audio Player?
Mark Waldrep: I was fortunate to be able to audition the SHU-1000 Sharp wireless high-resolution audio player in my studio for several weeks. It's a very well designed and constructed, high-end audio piece that doesn't require the use of speaker cables to achieve high-resolution fidelity. However, it is on the expensive side. I don't see wireless systems as the major driver for high-resolution audio or music. Most of the new equipment from some very large consumer electronics companies doesn't even meet the requirements of standard-res CDs and there is not enough high-resolution content to make purchasing this new equipment worthwhile.
The same is true of the expensive…sometimes very expensive…portable "hi-res audio" players. The way forward will require the hardware and content to establish a meaningful approach to specifications, definitions, methods, and most important provenance, the production stages an individual track or album went through prior to being digitized into a high-resolution bit bucket.