Letters to Mix

MORE RESOLUTION ON PROJECT I would like to respond to Merrick Fleisher's letter to Mix (January 2006) regarding The Resolution Project (October 2005),
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MORE RESOLUTION ON PROJECT
I would like to respond to Merrick Fleisher's letter to Mix (January 2006) regarding The Resolution Project (October 2005), which I produced. As he found some things puzzling, I'll try to shed some light on his issues.

He states “…it's fair to say that most engineers are recording content in a minimum of 24-bit/48kHz resolution with 24-bit/96kHz becoming more and more the de facto standard (at least where the goal is published content).” If he is referring to CD-published content, the wise engineer records at the release media sample rate or an even multiple to avoid destructive transcoding. That means 44.1 or 88.2 kHz, not 48 or 96 kHz. Because I did not want to transcode anything (except the lossy formats, of course), I chose to record one of the disc's resolutions directly at the CD sample rate, which accurately reflects how MP3, WMA and AAC content is encoded.

Also, any small gain made by recording to 48 kHz is completely nullified by the damage from transcoding from 48 kHz to 44.1 kHz. He adds “…but his result was a less-than-true representation of what is really happening on the street.” It seems to me that everyone ripping their music to “street” portable players is doing so from CDs. If they rip tunes from digital videotape, I guess 48 kHz is more accurate.

He questions my choice of 64 kilobit/second as the MP3/WMA/AAC encoding rate. Actually, most people download at this data rate, according to my research, not the 128-kilobit/second rate. The goal was to present the widest range of audio resolution choices, not to favor one format over the other.

And in a side note, Fleisher questions my choice of jazz and classical as the music forms recorded for The Resolution Project. He writes, “While this is quite understandable to show the full sonic advantage, I have relied on showing my clients the differences between DVD-A, CD and MP3 using rock 'n' roll.” Let me describe for him the process necessary to correctly use rock as a music form for this type of project. (And for the record, my Gold and Platinum albums are for rock 'n' roll.) To make a completely accurate representation of any resolution differences (remember, the goal is to show only differences in digital resolution formats), all three formats must be recorded in sample-accurate sync from identical electrical sources — all basic tracks, all overdubs, all effects, all editing and all mixing — under the control of a single remote. (Got to punch in exactly the same on all three formats, right?)

Because it is currently impossible to run sample accurate — synchronized recorders (either stand-alone or computer-based) simultaneously at 44.1/96/192kHz sample rates, a true format-only representation is not possible when recording rock using current production methods. Recording in analog multitrack format and mixing to different resolutions doesn't present an accurate representation of different digital resolutions either, as it's — obviously — pre-recorded in a format that lends its own signature to the sound. Recording rock in a live venue would add main and monitor sound systems issues, as well as typical live microphone choices into the equation.

Jazz and classical music forms were recorded for The Resolution Project because it was possible to do so in single continuous takes from identical electrical sources and without the need for sample-accurate sync. The complex tonalities and phase differences that occur naturally within the music and the recording space highlight real and valid differences between resolutions, which, again, was the goal. Perhaps Fleisher should widen his musical horizons, at least for the purposes of judging correctly recorded format comparisons.

Fleisher somewhat condescendingly stated, “All in all, I think The Resolution Project is a great idea and helps bring a higher-fidelity awareness to the consumer.” I must say, though, that this project was conceived primarily as a method for audio professionals to accurately hear for themselves the differences in resolutions, and while the public shows occasional interest, it is the pro audio community that can gain the most from this disc, if they care to. So much of the talk about hi-res is from people who have yet to actually hear — or produce — a valid comparison.

Free discs may still be available from The Resolution Project participants: DPA Microphones, Monster Cable, Genex, Steinberg, Dolby and Minnetonka Audio Software.

Thanks to Mix magazine and K.K. Proffitt for the coverage.
John Calder
Generator LLC

A DIFFERENT PAIR OF EARS
I find it rather misleading that Eddie Ciletti's April 2006 “Tech's Files: Are Commercials Really Too Loud?” really doesn't address the subject until near the end of the piece, in a part headlined “Brightness and Contrast.”

Let me let the cat out of the bag where others have seemed to skirt the explanation, either because they don't know it or don't want to reveal it. When the audio is recorded for television or radio, a commercial track is laid down in more or less the way program audio is recorded. Yet in post-production, it is run through a compressor that raises the level of the soft passages while limiting the peaks of the loud ones.

When the broadcaster goes to commercial, the contrast between program audio and the commercial's audio is quite startling. This is because the dynamic range has been reduced. With the low-level passages louder and the peaks limited, the overall level can be increased while remaining within the FCC's modulation limit. We've jumped from the highs and lows expected of normal conversion to rapid-fire dialog with a reduced dynamic range and the overall level cranked up so that as much of the audio as possible is near 100-percent modulation. The selection of a microphone that is supposedly preferred for use in commercials is essentially meaningless because, as the recording greats are wont to say, “We'll fix it in the mix.”
Oliver Berliner
SounDesign Engineers

FAN MAIL
As a fan of Mix magazine, I am writing out of the blue just to commend Robyn Flans for her great December 2005 article on Pat Benatar (“Classic Tracks: ‘Love is a Battlefield’”).

As the president of my own marketing company, I know that great writing and creative initiatives can go completely unnoticed, or they can be well received while the creator receives no positive feedback, so I wanted to take two minutes to commend Robyn for her work.
Peter Mowbray
Mowbray International Inc.

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