Are Studio Masters just another marketing ploy?

The dawn of the iPod is really one of the revolutionary moments in music achievements, putting a world of entertainment into everyone’s pockets. And this format has evolved even more since 2001. The world truly jumped on the compression bandwagon and music has become a constant companion for so many with devices becoming faster, less expensive and capable of storing more and more files. But the one area where it has had a less than positive impact is in the quality of the resolution for most portable file formats. The highest quality sound is still found in the original analogue recordings or the “studio masters” and now sites are popping up regularly offering HD tracks that are being said to have been transferred directly from these master files.

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Sounds like the quality problem is solved, right? Hmmmm, maybe not so fast on that one. The issue is that there is no baseline that has been set or even an industry wide standard that regulates these transferable releases. One of the experts that has been looking at this issue is Dr. Mark Waldrep, Ph.D (a.k.a Dr. AIX), who is a recording and mastering engineer with more than 40 years of experience. He also runs a high res audio download site called iTrax which is overseen by his company, AIX Media Group. Waldrep says that most parties in the industry cannot seem to agree and establish an absolute definition for what represents the different levels of quality. He proposes that there be three levels defined and that the industry attempt to benchmark quality on these levels.

These are:

• High-Definition/Resolution which would be the top level which would have the capacity to bypass the natural human level of hearing and would include maximum fidelity 96 kHz/24-bits or better.
• Standard-Definition/Resolution which would capture a frequency range of 20 kHz and 60-90 dB of signal to noise ration similar to analogue, vinyl and CD recordings.
• Low-Definition/Resolution which would hit the frequency range at 15-18 kHz and 20-40 dB of signal to noise ratio and these would include MP3’s AAC and other data compression files.

Waldrep has researched and reviewed some files that are available for download and found enormous variation in the quality of the recordings that did not necessarily match with the product that was being said would be delivered. And there is no standard that controls this.

Studio quality music doesn’t always go to market at the highest level of quality mostly because the delivered product has to play well in a variety of different environments. At the end of the day, the music industry is what every other business is always about and that is about making money. They need to sell music and not create elitist files that are out marketed by price or the equipment that can provide the appropriate playback. So while the high resolution sites have created a façade of quality what they’ve really done is pump up the ability of music to sell more seamless and directly to a multitude of markets and to increase the volume of sales.

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