Sunday 2 March 2014

FOLLOW-UP: Anomalies in Beck's "Morning Phase" (HDTracks 24/96).

After I posted the last note on "High Resolution Audio Expectations", I got a few "tips" to have a look at some tracks on Morning Phase in more detail... So I got my friend who informed me about the DR6 from HDTracks to send me some pictures:

Track 4 - "Say Goodbye"
Spectral frequency display:

Looks like there's almost nothing after 22kHz but low level noise. Essentially a 44kHz "upsample" for many of the notes. Actually, my friend says a number of tracks he looked at is like this; for example tracks 3 and 5 also (I don't think he checked every track). Since this is a multi-tracked recording with synthesizers and various studio effects, this is actually not surprising - many synth/pop/rock albums are like this. Many samplers and DSPs operate in the 44/48kHz domain so what's laid down is "limited" and there's just no 'genuine' 96kHz sound available.

Track 10 - "Phase"
Now this is interesting:

Track 11 - "Turn Away"
And this:

My word... It looks like tracks 10 & 11 are sourced from some kind of lossy original! Notice the characteristic low-pass from about 16kHz! Might as well be the output from LAME 320kbps (on second thought, 320kbps usually retains up to a full 20kHz with the psychoacoustic model so we're likely looking at 192-256kbps).

Now I'm definitely going to be purchasing the CD rather than any high-resolution download (assuming I want it... Haven't listened to any samples yet). I don't know if folks have checked the CD or if the Qobuz version is any better.

Seriously, HDTracks... Do you guys ever look at these files for quality control purposes before declaring the album fit for high-resolution and charging folks $18USD? I know you claim to just sell what the label gives you, but isn't it a bit disingenuous to be calling much of this album "Audiophile 96kHz/24bit"?

ADDENDUM (2014-03-05):
Given the publicity Beck's album received a week ago and now the revelation of the quality issue, I do hope this serves as a meaningful wake-up call to HDTracks specifically and the audiophile download community as a whole.

If HDTracks sticks its head in the sand on this, it would be telling that their commitment is clearly not to their customers and they certainly cannot maintain any quality control to assure their product is "HD" in any sense of the acronym. Upsampled 44/48kHz is bad enough, but lossy sold as "HD" is just ludicrous!

Thankfully, I did not buy this album from HDTracks... I suppose if I did, I'd be asking for a refund ASAP or at least demanding a higher quality download.


  1. Shocking. I am curious what a run through, despite the DR Value, of the Vinyl Recording. Worst case, it's just a 44/16 Digital master EQ'd for Vinyl. (OR someone transferred to Tape and then to Vinyl! faceplam)

    1. Indeed an excellent suggestion! Anyone with a vinyl rip at this point?

  2. This is bad. But I am not into download music.

    I supposed some people when they see their DAC LED lights '24' '96' are on, they feel good right away !

  3. I only wonder if the "Beck" guys (and others) are aware of this rip-off, and do they care!?

    This is a clear diminish of there "artistic" achievement. Somebody should warn them about this horrific game played behind "the scenes". If it sounds like crap (deliberately) it is a crap, in my world!

    I wont buy any form of this crap (mp3/16-44/24-96), it is the only way to fight the power ;)

    Don't have the time to reply to all your great posts.
    Big LIKE!

    1. The interesting thing is that most of the artists I run into over the years have not been "audiophiles" in the sense of the way we use it as hobbyists. A good friend of the family for example leads a string quartet, has done recordings, plays the violin wonderfully, but runs Bose speakers (I don't remember which model now since this was a number of years ago)...

      He invited me over to listen but it was clearly not accurate to my ears - missing full treble extension and muddy bass. Of course, the most I could do was nod and enjoy the music despite the limited sound.

      Others I've spoken to at any length these days are producing more modern genres like hip-hop, rock, rap, dance. Again, it's not so much fidelity of sound they're interested in as being successful - to have the music heard, accepted, and ultimately "make it" as artists. Compression and digital processing is part of the sound and I don't see them as being concerned about whether it's presented as MP3, AAC, or lossless formats - so long as it's a reasonable representation. I therefore don't know if I would place any expectation that Beck would care about the small segment who bought a "Studio Master".

      As for HDTracks... Well, when you're catering to the audiophile crowd as your raison d'etre, I think it's your responsibility to make sure the customer gets what is being advertised!

    2. Yeap, we (audiophiles) are often labeled as elitists. So be it!

      I agree that musicians in general are not audiophiles (in my experience to), and they don't have to be that much involved in sound engineering and production.
      When you say "make it" as an artist, it means "make money", unfortunately in most cases artistry is totally irrelevant. So if the artistry is low, production standards only follow the source ;)

      But then again, this is an audiophile blog, so check this out.

      This is an RCA Victor documentary about record making process dated back in 1956. This short movie tells you how much energy and knowledge was invested in producing music with prehistoric technology, and yet this prehistoric recordings dating 40, 50 even 60 years ago, are reference recordings and masters even today.
      How come? With all of todays "limitless" technology?

      At some point the narrator emphasize the importance of dynamics in music!!!

      Around 2:40 min he explains the RCA's goal:
      "…the end object is a planed illusion! The illusion, as you ultimately hear the music played back through your phonograph :), that you have the best seat in the concert hall!
      How do they do it?
      Well, the recording music director, or any one of the sound engineers could easily explain it all in….ten weeks. :)"

      I wonder how important is for todays producers, sound engineers and others in the process (so called artists to), to create that illusion.

      Louder is better!
      I am afraid, thats the only illusion today.

      I am talking about mainstream of course, but if you look back, jazz, soul, big band etc. was mainstream at the time, RCA Victor was mainstream, so consequently Beck, Beyonce, Kanye West….. are jazz&soul of tomorrow?

      How low the standards can go, being accepted by masses?
      Is it OK that these days everything comes to: Take the money and run!?

      Brrrrrr…… :)))

      As for HDTracks, it is a clear example of fraud, they should return the money and apologize!

      It is great to run positive criticism of this kind.
      Keep it running Archimago!

    3. Nice comment!

      Great 1956 link there and that Beyonce vs. Freddie link certainly cute ;-)

      Wisdom from 1956: 3 elements of a great stereophonic recording:
      1. Full dynamic range.
      2. Instrumental & spatial balance.
      3. Full frequency response (20-20kHz).


      Also, the video quoted <0.2% distortion. Well, these days we can achieve <0.002% distortion in the ADC/DAC hardware quite handily but seem to have forgotten item 1!

  4. Check this out, you are not alone!

  5. Hi Archimago

    I read you blow now for a while. Here and there some good points. So, continue your writing.

    BTW: Here are some links, what I have written about the above mentioned Beck album:

    Happy reading.

  6. This post from Mark Waldrep at 'Real HD-Audio' offers a marvellous complementary view:

    Thanks for the great blog.



    1. Another fantastic post from Mark W.

      Indeed, it's hard to not laugh at the showmanship of the Paul McGowan video and hype-construction. Well, at least Paul seems realistic about the limitations of vinyl.

      Also check out the second part - Ted Smith's technical talk:

      Geez... *That* guy's calling Audio Asylum "a weird assed place"?

      Good that he confirms that DSD *exaggerates* the intersample jitter potential given the high sample rate... Nobody seems to talk about jitter with SACD's yet they freak out about much slower PCM sample rates and jitter! (The reason is simple... It's generally not that important unless extreme!) Jitter keeps coming up as the reason for improvement for the DAC; along with discussion around mathematical precision.

      "Quad rate DSD [DSD256] is a marketing crap and 8x [DSD512] is just stupid" - indeed :-).
      McGowan really likes harping on that block diagram and "simplicity".

      Same dude talking about "why jitter matters" (same shirt too?!):

      Toes tapping as sign of low jitter eh? "Jitter is one of those things that mess things up like nobody's tomorrow."

      Interesting that these videos coming from a tech guy doesn't demonstrate anything! Just more talk about what jitter could do. He even references computer load inducing jitter yet I could not find such a phenomenon when I looked previously:

      Enough talk! Demonstrate.

  7. Here's what Bob Ludwig said regarding this issue:

    1. Yeah, I saw that...

      Hmmm... So does this mean he received the full multi-track recording for final mixing in 192/256kbps lossy quality!?

      Sure, he could have mixed it all at 24/96 quality, but clearly the actual recording itself is not high-resolution. Issue remains. One cannot honestly be said to be buying high-resolution music.