(It’s been pointed out that just to add to the confusion, some people say “High Resolution” instead of “High Definition.”)
I wrote a few days OK about AIX Records CEO Mark Waldrep and his war on mislabeled HD recordings, noting that though I agree with him 100 percent on the issue, he often skews his remarks to make it seem like there are only AIX HD recordings and just a few other labels, and that’s simply not so. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of HD recordings with higher bit and sampling rates and I’ll give you some links to find them. As far as downloads go, I’ll start with Mark’s iTrax, since he’s the one that got me going on this. At iTrax you can find all of the AIX catalog and a few other great labels like 2L. And of course, all AIX recordings are available as HD DVD-Audio discs. With surround channels yet.
The very closest you can get to a master tape recording is HDx from Reference Recordings. These look like CDs but are really data discs that when played through a player such as the OPPO universal units, will decode the master tape digit for digit. You can’t get closer than that. Reference Recordings has the magnificent Eije Oue/Minnesota recordings to offer and I’ve said it before and will say it again, Oue’s version of Rahmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances is the best in the catalog and one of the top ten best recorded discs of all time. Now I find that Reference Recordings are handled internationally by Naxos and that brings me to ClassicsOnlineHD.LL, where you’ll find a huge number of HD titles on dozens of labels. If you prefer hard copies, you can look up the SACD and Blu-ray disc versions at the Naxos site. In addition to Reference Recordings, be sure to pay special attention to Chandos, BIS, Oehms, LSO Live, Pentatone, and Naxos own Blu-ray discs if you’re looking for the highest fi. If Naxos doesn’t have it, and you’re looking for classical downloads try Linn Records or Eclassical. You’ll find some duplication with the Naxos site; competitive pricing might sway your buying decision. They all have easy download methods, by the way. Both sites have many labels and are very transparent about bit and sampling rates used. Most of the Linn downloads are also available as 24bit/96kHz SACDs with surround tracks. And whatever you do, don’t miss out on the incredible line of recordings from MDG, which is to me sort of like the Reference Recordings of Europe, in short, the best and almost all true HD.
So is HDtracks, which is a good source for pop and jazz downloads, most of the time. The site is run by Chesky Records and the owners surely know what HD is, they record all of their own new recordings at higher bit and sample rates, but the major labels they deal with, in trying to have a site representative of all music, sometimes throw curves at them. Generally if you see a recording over 25 years old that is being called something above CD quality, it is being mislabeled. But in general HDtracks is on the money these days, a recent 24bit/96kHz Bruce Springsteen compilation identifies the specific racks that were sourced from 16bit/44.1kHz masters and converted. A much appreciated example of transparency!
I’ve probably left a lot out here but the main thing I want you to take away is that there are great recordings out there and they are not all 50-year old classics. There are exciting recordings being done today, using higher bit and sampling rates that were not available 30 years ago. They will not be found in the MP3 camp. MP3 “quality” has set recorded sound back too many years to count, substituting quantity for quality. The 45 rpm records I owned 60 years ago probably sounded better.