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.