I wonder if “LP” caused one tenth of the confusion back in the 50s that ‘HD” is causing now. The definition is really simple. An HD (high definition) recording is one where the original has been recorded with higher bit and sampling rates than a CD, which is 16 bit/44.1 kHz. So in a practical world it would mean that anything 24bit/48khz and up would be HD. The recording must also be delivered via an HD capable medium, i. e. SACD, Blu-ray disc, DVD-Audio, or digital download (CD, vinyl and reel to reel tape are not HD capable). Now here’s where the rub comes in. Many SD (standard definition) recordings sound absolutely great, and many have been up-sampled to the HD realm. Does that mean they’re HD? No! They are still SD recordings being served up in HD guise. Try this analogy. Say you have a pint of water. If you put it in a gallon bucket, you will still have a pint of water, though you can purify and alter, or even flavor it before you dump it in the oversize container. But it’s still a pint of water. In the same way an SD recording can be re-mastered with greater care than it originally received and it might even sound better for that care, but it will not be HD.
Mark Waldrep, the CEO, producer, and recording engineer of AIX records has made it his crusade to let everyone know that a large number of recordings that are sold as HD, simply are not. I’ve applauded his own 24bit/96kH discs (first DVD-Audio, now Blu-ray) as some of the best in the industry (John Gorka’s The Gypsy Life is my favorite), making full use of the higher rates and surround to boot. I also applaud his crusade to inform people about what’s doing on through his Real HD-Audio website. He’s even putting out a book and companion Blu-ray disc that will allow listeners to directly compare the same audio tracks in different samples ranging from MP3 on up.
But Mark’s rhetoric has gotten shrill and negative to me and he’s become somewhat quarrelsome and ego-centric about the whole issue, making it seem AT TIMES like there are no HD recordings except his own and those from 2L, and a few others. This just isn’t so, and that’s why I am here, to point you in the direction of some great HD discs and downloads. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of them. I’ll be back with a list on the next post, but in the meantime try the Steven Wilson Blu-ray pictured here on the kscope label. It’s surely HD and also surround, showing Wilson as a master of both. If you’re into audio and good music, stop reading about what’s being done wrong and revel in this disc. I’ll be back with more.
Well, one great album and one sort of good one. The best is My Morning Jacket’s The Waterfall, which has some very good tunes on it and some world class singing from Jim James, whose high tenor and falsetto exude confidence underpinned with charming vulnerability. He might be one of the best lead rock singers around these days. He really gets to shine on “Only Memory Remains,” which is offered in another mix on a bonus cut on the deluxe CD set.
Mumford and Sons has released Wilder Mind, their first non acoustic album. I don’t get this. The band has created a folk revival sound that has taken the world by storm and blanded it out to sound pretty much like any other heavy rock band. There are a few good songs like “Believe,” and “Broad Shouldered Beasts,” anunusual song about a guy taking his girl to see the big city only to find her scared of it.
But that’s not what I really want to talk about. It’s the sound, which is absolutely horrible. To make everything sound big and loud, there’s way too much reverberation, even the vocals have it to excess, and when drums get going loud with or without electric bass and/or synth we get a welter of sound without much definition. The bass notes are there but the attacks are absent. The drum strokes sound like banging, not playing, cymbals go to mush. It’s the kind of sound that makes you rush to find a favorite album to prove to yourself that there’s nothing wrong with your sound system. Wilder Mind is the worst; The Waterfall manages to sound musical once in a while, but surely not always. It’s all loud and louder, little if any dynamic range.
I went back to Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City, one of the best albums of 2014 (Rolling Stone though it “the” best). Everything sounded just as good as always. Nothing wrong with my system. The scariest thing of all is that listeners seem OK with this. Go read the comments on Amazon.com. There are only one or two that call out the album for its ghastly sound, when anyone who cares about sound ought to be crying foul. Which tells me that no one cares about sound. Really?
I downloaded both of these albums from HDtracks at 24bit/96kHz resolution and have to tell you that my rant is not anything against HDtracks. The tracks downloaded easily and faster then you might think. the fault is in the lavel;s mastering. Actually the higher resolution downloads probably helped. I hate to think what these albums would sound like in MP3 resolution. If any producers are listening, go back to the Vampire Weekend album. Replicate that and bring music back. Get rid of the loud gelatinous noise and discover dynamic range again.