High resolution downloads and quality music

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spektrograf

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High resolution downloads and quality music
« on: 7 Oct 2008, 06:14 am »
Hey y'all, this is my first post at Audio Circle, but I've been lurking for a bit. I just came back from 4 days at AES, and felt so strongly about this subject that I thought I'd post and offer a perspective on what some people are doing in the music industry to offer great quality recordings to the consumer and to audiophiles. I wrote this as an article first before considering it a posting. It's just a perspective and me sharing my thoughts. I hope you enjoy it!



After 4 days at AES, I've been filled with a great deal of intriguing conversation and discussions on various things technical in the audio engineering industry. However, what's most on my mind coming off the event is the increased accessibility to a deluge of mediocre music and recordings in a new era where to make it in the music world, musicians have to be not only creative artists, but business people, road managers, technicians, distributors, and business planners to succeed. While I'm assuming that interesting, innovative, risk-taking artists producing, engaging, moving music, if not good recordings, exist, the signal-to-noise ratio on this front has diminished dramatically and has made it difficult to lock onto the signal from the noise.

Both the audiophile and consumer market is in the midst of a growing trend of music servers becoming the heart of many people's entertainment centers. The increased dialog around DAC's alone—especially the repeated questions on low-cost DAC's—on the various internet boards seems to be a leading indicator that it may just be that disc-based formats will be supplanted in the future by digital bits from downloads. Does that mean we're to suffer from lossy, perceptual coded music files? It seems, for now, the answer is "no" based on the launch of 3 services this year that revolve around getting high quality music and recordings into the hands of the consumer. I wanted to take a moment ot highlight these companies, as I firmly believe in what they are trying to achieve in their offerings.

The first one is HDTracks.com. If you haven't checked them out yet, you owe yourself a favor and should go check out their offerings. HDTracks is co-founded by David Chesky of Chesky records fame. As I write this, I'm listening to "Best of New Sessions, Vol 1" at 24/96. All I can say is "WOW!" what a difference high-resolution files make to the enjoyment of great music! I get that effect of settling back into my seat and just relaxing. HDTracks uses a java applet that you download when you purchase to download your order to your hard drive. I recently purchased 3 albums, so my download took a while via a 802.11n WiFi connection through a cable-modem. I basically let it go overnight to get the albums. It was definitely worth it!

The second one is B&W Music Club. No, now BMG, but B&W as in Bowers & Wilkins. They're a bit of a different model. Essentially it's a subscription-based service where you subscribe on a monthly basis to get access to a monthly download of 1 album from them. They record independent, unsigned artists at no charge to the artists. They get the exclusive rights to offer the album for download on their site for 1 months. After that, the artists walk away with the master and are free to shop the album as they see fit. In the two months that I've been a member, I can say that the recordings and musicianship have been top-notch, even if the music styles aren't those that I'd have on heavy rotation. The way I look at this is it's a great way to support motivated independent artists and a studio who's putting out high-quality recordings to the benefit of quality music and quality recordings.

The third label is one you all are probably familiar with, Reference Recordings. Keith Johnson, et al, are releasing select albums in their pure master recordings in 24-bit, 176.4 kHz sample rate format—albeit not for downloads, but on DVD-R's shipped to the buyer (downloadable 24/96 tracks are being released via HDtracks.com—thanks, Ted for pointing out this needed clarification). I've only been able to listen to the recordings at 24/88, but I can say that I'm astounded by the musical recording and presentation. Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances absolutely floored me. I tried a integer downsample with dither to 16-bit/44.1kHz, and there was a definite loss of impact and clarity on complex orchestral passages. I'm looking forward to getting a firewire interface that's capable of sending up to 192kHz via SPDIF so I can enjoy these at full resolution.

These guys are all offering great quality, emotionally moving, high resolution music, DRM free. You can load these all onto a music server, hook up your DAC of choice, and pipe the glorious master files through your listening system—shuffled, playlisted, by album—whatever. They are doing it because they recognize that with music servers, the constraints of the portable player and small MP3 file sizes aren't the main concern, instead, there is a rising need towards quality when it comes to servers with cheap storage attached.

There's one more label that I got turned on to at AES, and that's Bernie and Paul Grundman's Straight Ahead Records. They're not that new, in fact, some of you may already be familiar with them as they've been around since 2005 it seems. Bernie spoke on several panels at AES and shared his thoughts and stories from decades of experience as an A-list mastering engineer that other A-list mastering engineers look up to and learn from. I just had a lengthy e-mail discussion with Paul Grundman about digital downloads. They seem undecided on that front, but are definitely considering it. I'm strongly encouraging them to, and if you dig their stuff, you should definitely do the same and let them know!

I totally encourage you all to check these offerings out, sample their music, and enjoy the added experience these high-quality downloads yourself! Support their cause as they're fledgelings out of the gate. If you dig their stuff, drop them a line and let them know. They're all experimental ventures at this point, and they're listening to both our wallets and our words.

Their success only leads to our benefit as an audiophile community in the future. :-)



Ted pointed out that Linn Records have released high-resolution, 24/96 for download purchase as well! Nice! I'm going there now to check out their offerings!

There's also the iTrax site as well, who's featuring 24/96 downloads for some AIX Records releases.
« Last Edit: 9 Oct 2008, 07:09 pm by spektrograf »

zane9

Re: High resolution downloads and quality music
« Reply #1 on: 9 Oct 2008, 02:56 am »
Thanks, spektrograf. This was such an interesting post. Lots of questions for you, but I need to digest it first.

spektrograf

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Re: High resolution downloads and quality music
« Reply #2 on: 9 Oct 2008, 04:12 am »
Cool, zane9... fire away post digestion. :)

ted_b

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Re: High resolution downloads and quality music
« Reply #3 on: 9 Oct 2008, 04:19 am »
Spektrograf,
Nice post. I too have been downloading hirez (i.e 24/48+) from such sites as Chesky's HDtracks, Linn Records and others..  But you are the second person to mention that Keith Johnson's Ref Recordings is aloowing the downloading online of 24/176 stuff.  I just don't see it.  The only thing I've found is that they are putting 24/176 pcm stuff on DVD-R's for purchase (they call it HR-X).  Where do you access the downloadable 24/176??  Thx
Ted

spektrograf

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Re: High resolution downloads and quality music
« Reply #4 on: 9 Oct 2008, 04:54 am »
Hey Ted, apologies as my post seems a bit unclear after rereading that paragraph... RR only releases 24/96 via HDtracks. The 24/176 files are only available via DVD-R, shipped to your door. :)  As long as it's been taking for 24/96 tracks... those 24/176 tracks would be a real PITA to download. All the tracks for Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances album alone are almost 6 GB's! It's a doable download, but just not that fun. ;)

(I edited the post to clarify that point.)  :thumb:

zane9

Re: High resolution downloads and quality music
« Reply #5 on: 11 Oct 2008, 06:04 pm »
The first one is HDTracks.com. If you haven't checked them out yet, you owe yourself a favor and should go check out their offerings. HDTracks is co-founded by David Chesky of Chesky records fame.

For those of us who don't live in the USA, HDTracks is not, officially, an option.  :(  There must be copyright/licensing problems, and unlike Apple (for iTunes), I don't know if HDTracks will make the effort to solve the problems.

niklasthedolphin

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Re: High resolution downloads and quality music
« Reply #6 on: 11 Oct 2008, 07:42 pm »
For norwegian Hi-Rez digital files for download:

http://www.2l.no/hires/index.html

When you have to settle for digital music, high resolution encoding and no compression  is the way to go.
I have been listening to 24/96 and 32/192 and other hi-rez for years.
But still it can't deliver the same quality as my R2R or Cassette.

"dolph"

Randy

Re: High resolution downloads and quality music
« Reply #7 on: 11 Oct 2008, 07:51 pm »
For us tech. dummies, what's a DVD - R and what do you play it on?

JRace

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Re: High resolution downloads and quality music
« Reply #8 on: 12 Oct 2008, 12:19 am »
For us tech. dummies, what's a DVD - R and what do you play it on?
A DVD-R is a 'blank' DVD that you can store data on.
YOu can play it on most every DVD player. However the DVD-R's available for purchase contain data files, and not audio files. You then play i ton your computer with a media player.

avta

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Re: High resolution downloads and quality music
« Reply #9 on: 12 Oct 2008, 01:08 am »
Interesting stuff. I'd be interested in knowing the details of the systems all of you are using or will be using to listen to high res files. I use a Squeezebox2 with a Mac computer, a Benchmark DAC, a Nuforce P8 pre-amp, McIntosh MC252 amp and Harbeth Compact 7 speakers. One limitation I have is that the Squeezebox will only handle 24/48 files not 24/96 or higher. I rip cd's with a program called Max and store them on an external drive. I have Comcast cable internet and use a Netgear 802.11g router with wireless connection to the Squeezebox.

Feisal K

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Re: High resolution downloads and quality music
« Reply #10 on: 12 Oct 2008, 01:47 am »
For us tech. dummies, what's a DVD - R and what do you play it on?

DVD-R are blank discs you can buy and use your computer to 'burn' - write once - stuff on them

There are programs that come with a DVD-burner that can make DVDs (or CDs, using CD-R) for you to burn onto the DVD-R so that they can be played on any DVD (or CD) player

Why is this good? because once you download a hirez audio 24/48 or 24/96 you can't listen to them in their full glory if you have to convert them to 16/44.1 to burn onto CD. The DVD format allows up to 24/96/2.0 that is compatible with any DVD player, but you have to use the programs to make these audio DVDs - unfortunately it's not as straightforward as making an audio CD.

 

niklasthedolphin

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Re: High resolution downloads and quality music
« Reply #11 on: 12 Oct 2008, 10:10 am »
I use stand alone Hard Disc players for tranfering files to or record files on in high resolution before playing them.
Can't be done on the fly like SB's.

The problem is that you won't find a DVD player capable of delivering sound quality adequant to well matched high-end set-up's and most Sound Cards, SB's and all similar products will downsample, as will the build in Windows mixer platform.
Have no idea about if Mac/Apple downsample or have other issues.

Nevertheless, my Cassette and my R2R still do better jobs than 32/192/2.0, DXD 24BIT/352.8kHz or SACD.

The advantage of my stand alone HD recorder shines through when it comes to editing.
The advantages of SACD or DVD-A is convenience.
The advantages of the analog recorders is Sound Quality.

Take your pick.

"dolph"

pardales

Re: High resolution downloads and quality music
« Reply #12 on: 12 Oct 2008, 10:20 am »
Interesting discussion and good information. Thank you! :thumb:

grenamc

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Re: High resolution downloads and quality music
« Reply #13 on: 12 Oct 2008, 10:34 am »
For those with Windows Operating Systems, Musicgiants.com is another place to turn for HiRez audio files.  They have a pretty good selection in Rock and it seems to be growing pretty rapidly. 

-Michael

spektrograf

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Re: High resolution downloads and quality music
« Reply #14 on: 13 Oct 2008, 10:33 pm »
Interesting stuff. I'd be interested in knowing the details of the systems all of you are using or will be using to listen to high res files.

I'm currently running a S/PDIF out of a MacBook Pro via Toslink mini-jack to a PS Audio DLIII w/ Cullen Level 3 mods into a Eddie Current Zana Deux and Sennhesier HD580 Headphones... 8) ...sweet, sweet stuff... though, it's currently limited to 24/96 out from the MBP's integrated digital out. I'm looking into M-Audio's new ProFire 610 as a digital-out at max 24/192, but can't find info to confirm or deny that. Under the $1K mark it seems the TC Electronics Konnect 8 and Focusrite Saffire may be able to output 24/192 via SPDIF. I'm looking at Firewire audio interfaces only as the traffic processing overhead for USB 2.0 isn't workable for me—especially at high bit/sample-rates.

I don't really listen critically or carefully with my speaker rig. It's more for background music while my wife and I do other stuff.

...oh and iTunes is my music library manager.

Bob Attiyeh

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Re: High resolution downloads and quality music
« Reply #15 on: 8 Dec 2014, 07:03 pm »
I saw this early thread and felt good about how much progress DACs have made in a few years.  Congratulations to the companies who have continued to innovate and to the serious music lovers who support them. 

Wanted to chime in with “Weekend thoughts from a producer," part review, part marketing for a friend:

We’ve been familiar with exaSound for some time, but the company’s stereo e22 digital-to-analog converter is new to me and arrived three weeks ago.  I love it.  Setting up the interface with the computer was effortless, and we found the exaSound software interface meshes nicely with J River.   Given my job in recent weeks, checking our new 256fs DSD files (Quad DSD) for release on NativeDSD.com, I have spent considerable time with the e22.

It was musical out of the box.  George Klissarov, the designer at exaSound, told me that the units are only broken in for 24 hours before shipping (reminiscent of a tube burn-in in the Navy to check for defects in the “good old days”).  So the e22’s initial musicality impressed me.  After a couple hundred hours it is liquid and transparent at the same time.  Clean recordings sound really clean.  Dark recordings sound dark.  Bright edgy recordings sound bright and edgy.  The e22 demonstrated all of these characteristics with Miles Davis’ famous Porgy and Bess.  What more could a producer want than a component that tells us the truth? 

We’ve been using the a-synchronous USB connection the most, given we’ve been working on DSD files, but the coaxial output from a simple CD player works beautifully and sounds great as well.  George designed this DAC to play whatever format it is fed, all the way up to high resolution PCM (384kHz at 32bit) and DSD files up to 11.2896 / 12.288 MHz (Quad DSD or DSD256) without breaking a sweat.  The unit plays any file of which I’ve heard, also including some of those “less glamorous” portable formats in lower resolution which we hope fewer and fewer people use in favor of lossless formats. 

I listen through a number of vacuum tubes in preamplification and power amplification in the “big system,” but I also check all our new files on a passive transformer volume control directly to a solid state amplifier.  The exaSound’s elegant and easy to use internal volume control allowed us to omit the transformer volume control and plug from the exaSound directly into the amplifier.  Again, a very happy and informative combination.   

We are grateful to exaSound for underwriting our first quartet of DSD releases at NativeDSD.com (The exaSound Quartet), but I didn’t own the e22 at the time.  Next Friday (December 12th ) marks the release of our Merging Technologies Quartet of DSD releases, and these we were able to check and thoroughly enjoy using the e22.  In the meantime, the exaSound Quartet can be sampled at https://yarlungrecords.nativedsd.com/  Thank you George!  For more information about the e22, please visit www.exaSound.com

Bob Attiyeh, producer
Yarlung Records

www.yarlungrecords.com

PA

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Re: High resolution downloads and quality music
« Reply #16 on: 1 Feb 2015, 11:36 pm »
Hey Ted, apologies as my post seems a bit unclear after rereading that paragraph... RR only releases 24/96 via HDtracks. The 24/176 files are only available via DVD-R, shipped to your door. :)  As long as it's been taking for 24/96 tracks... those 24/176 tracks would be a real PITA to download. All the tracks for Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances album alone are almost 6 GB's! It's a doable download, but just not that fun. ;)

(I edited the post to clarify that point.)  :thumb:
I have Doug MacLeod '' There's a Time'' in 24/176 bought it  from HD tracks. Here is the link;http://www.hdtracks.com/there-s-a-time-134545
The RR recordings are among the very best if not the best sounding Hi- Res available. (ok count in ''Blue Coast'' and ''Sound Liaison'')

kappa546

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Re: High resolution downloads and quality music
« Reply #17 on: 5 Mar 2015, 04:43 pm »
Great resources! I don't know whether to thank you or curse you, this thread is going to cost me some money!

Bob Attiyeh

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Re: High resolution downloads and quality music
« Reply #18 on: 6 Mar 2015, 12:40 am »
Kappa, you are absolutely right! This high end audio business can cost more than a few pretty pennies.  Great recordings are expensive to make, unfortunately.  Keith and his team at Reference Recordings are among the best, as this thread has pointed out, but they too are not inexpensive to purchase. 

Happily there are still enough of us enthusiasts to keep the record business alive and to keep supporting new musicians and new artists.  Yarlung has had a great year so far.  Our first four quartets of DSD releases have done well and we have just scheduled our fifth quartet for April, sponsored by Genesis, the company that makes the famous loudspeakers in Seattle Washington. 

Gary Koh is flying to Los Angeles for the official kickoff events, which will be fun.  I haven't seen Gary in a few years.  If any of you want to peak at the DSD releases so far, take a look at

https://yarlungrecords.nativedsd.com/

Thanks! And thanks for your post.

Bob

PA

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Re: High resolution downloads and quality music
« Reply #19 on: 14 Nov 2019, 08:42 pm »
Excellent sampler of the Sound Liaison DXD recordings, including a number of their superb One Microphone recordings;
https://www.soundliaison.com/index.php/536-sound-liaison-dxd-music-sampler
Quote
With our new DXD sampler recording engineer Frans de Rond is proving once again that his knowledge of mic placement and use of equipment is in a class of his own.
He is able to create a sound stage, that projects an almost visual image of the musicians.
A sound stage which is intimate but also has depth and space.
The sound on the recordings presented here are like a three dimensional Van Gogh painting, where you can step in and take a look around.

All the albums were recorded in the legendary Studio 2 in the building of the Dutch BroadCasting company. The studio has a deep warm sound with a beautiful natural decay, perfect for chamber music and jazz ensembles. Studio 2 has remained in its original form since it was built in 1929.

Together with Abbey Road it is one of the oldest recording studio in the world.