As a low to mid level audiophile for many years I have always valued the sound of an album, not just the music itself. For me it is like enjoying a film for the beauty of the cinematography irrespective of script or acting, it is possible. Just like the time I accidently saw an Italian film… with French subtitles. The same can be true for music. In fact just as I couldn’t understand the language or subtitles of the film but still loved it, beautiful sound can provide an open door to the listener to music that might otherwise be difficult to understand.
So why should musicians looking to record albums look at producing them in hi-res?
For me there are three reasons;
It is foolish to say I can always hear a difference between hi-res and standard 44.1/16. There are way more things involved in the recording process that have bigger impacts on the eventual sound of a recording; room, microphones, fake reverb, eq, compression etc. But especially in acoustic music (non-computer based instrumentation) if attention has been given to 'sound', there is a difference in presence, clarity and imaging with hi-res. When I recorded my album in DXD (352.8/24), given that we had a great sounding space and very transparent microphones (DPA), the response from the musicians was that the sound during playback was universally the closest they had heard of what their instruments sound like to them, every day. High praise.
The ultimate example of hi-res for me was during mixing, Ross A'Hern had setup a button to switch between 352.8khz and 44.1khz sample rate during playback. The difference on his very transparent system was not subtle. The move to 44.1khz rendered a noticeable degradation in tonality, presence and depth of soundstage.
Musicians are losing the traditional avenues to sell ($) their albums. People are less interested in purchasing physical CDs at gigs and streaming services are making online stores such as iTunes redundant. Many musicians have even taken to publishing their music on services like Soundcloud for free. In terms of making money from an album the race to the bottom has pretty much happened. Recording an album in hi-res can open up an album to a market beyond that defined by the genre e.g. jazz. People who care about real hi-res recordings spend money on their playback systems and their music, and seek out musical content that reflects the passion they have for ‘sound’. As yet the major record labels aren’t catering for this market. As evidence of this market the recent Kickstarter campaign for Neil Young’s 24/96 portable FLAC player ‘Pono’ just raised over $6 million dollars… people are really interested in hearing better quality music!
In the early days of the CD, albums would have a simple code (SPARS) that showed the consumer whether the use of analogue (A) or digital (D) processes had been used in the making of the album. The idea being that it implied a level of quality was upheld throughout the recording, post-production and mastering process, at a time when it was seen as a given that digital was best. For me a hi-res production now reflects a similar idea to the consumer; that ‘sound’ has been cared for and respected throughout the process. That it has been given equal footing to the music itself. It also suggests to the listener that this is something that deserves to be more than background noise, to be appreciated like a book or film, with undivided attention. It is my little theory that people want to do this again, thus one of the reasons behind the rise of turntables. But that’s possibly another post.
This post is written on the day a friend, great educator and superb musician Mike Stewart died, too young.