Australian HIFI - - CONTENTS - greg bor­row­man

In the course of try­ing to prove that no-one can hear the dif­fer­ence in qual­ity between his own hires record­ings and lower-qual­ity ver­sions, Mark Wal­drep, of Aix Records, seems to have proved the ex­act opposite…

It is more than four years since I pub­lished an ed­i­to­rial in which I ex­plained why most of the so-called ‘hi-res’ mu­sic avail­able is not ‘hi-res’ at all, but rather a com­plete waste of your money and In­ter­net band­width. I don’t want to re-hash that ed­i­to­rial here, that’s what the In­ter­net is for, so you can read it at tinyurl.com/hivs­low if you’ve for­got­ten it or didn’t read it in the first place. What I’d like to say in this ed­i­to­rial is that, rather dis­ap­point­ingly, noth­ing has changed in the in­ter­ven­ing years: The fact re­mains that most of the mu­sic be­ing sold as ‘hi-res’ was not recorded at high res­o­lu­tion in the first place, so can have no in­for­ma­tion in it at all that was be­yond the ca­pa­bil­ity of the orig­i­nal record­ing equip­ment to cap­ture. The fact also re­mains that pretty-much all of the so-called ‘pure’ DSD record­ings avail­able spent a con­sid­er­able amount of their life in PCM for­mat, so any­one who claims that DSD sounds ‘bet­ter’ than PCM is bas­ing that claim on mu­sic that was ‘de­graded’ to PCM be­fore be­ing re-en­coded as DSD… and in this case you re­ally can’t put humpty to­gether again.

Then there’s the case of the mis­taken com­par­i­son. I was re­cently de­moed what was pur­ported to be an ‘MQA vs. CD’ shoot-out, us­ing two sup­pos­edly iden­ti­cal mu­sic sam­ples other than the for­mat in which they were recorded. I say ‘pur­ported’ be­cause the MQA ver­sion sounded so bad that it wasn’t a shoot-out at all, but a mas­sacre, be­cause the MQA ver­sion sounded truly aw­ful. So aw­ful, in fact, that I don’t think that it was MQA to blame at all for the bad sound. I think we were lis­ten­ing to two com­pletely dif­fer­ent mixes. Maybe one had been mixed for vinyl, and the other for CD (or for ‘hi-res’)… I re­ally don’t know. But if you’re of­fered a sim­i­lar shoot-out at a hi-fi show, take a salt-shaker in with you. But the demo did get me think­ing about Mark Wal­drep, aka ‘Dr Aix’, the owner of Aix Records, who is an out­spo­ken critic of MQA. Ac­cord­ing to him Bob Stu­art, the in­ven­tor of the MQA for­mat, of­fered to MQA-process sev­eral of Wal­drep’s own high-res­o­lu­tion record­ings (and Aix record­ings re­ally are hi-res) so Wal­drep could com­pare for him­self. It has been many years since that of­fer was made and de­spite many re­minders by Wal­drep, MQA ver­sions of his tracks are nowhere to be heard. Which makes me think that if MQA is so good, why is Stu­art so re­luc­tant to make good on his orig­i­nal of­fer? I thought I’d check for the most re­cent news about this on Wal­drep’s web­site and dis­cov­ered that he’s just con­cluded a sur­vey to see if visi­tors to his site could hear the dif­fer­ence between high-res­o­lu­tion files and files of stan­dard CD qual­ity.

His re­sults were very in­trigu­ing. There were two ver­sions of six tracks and of the 70 peo­ple who re­sponded only 2 got all six cor­rect. This would seem to sug­gest that no-one could tell the dif­fer­ence, but it doesn’t be­cause ap­par­ently 17 peo­ple got 0 cor­rect, 10 peo­ple got 5 of the six cor­rect and 18 peo­ple got only 2 cor­rect. This is sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant be­cause it sug­gests that these peo­ple could hear a dif­fer­ence, they just weren’t sure about which one was the hi-res and which was the CD stan­dard. Wal­drep (who says that he couldn’t hear any dif­fer­ence between the files) says the re­sults are not ‘a rig­or­ous study’ and the sam­ple size is cer­tainly very small, but his ini­tial re­sults cer­tainly in­di­cate that a large-scale study would be well worth some­body’s while.

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