Q&A With David Chesky of HDtracks

I'd imagine most of you already know about HDtracks. If not, I'll just say that HDtracks is a music download service, specializing in High Definition downloads and if you want to know more, follow that link or let Google show you the way. What you may not know is HDtracks was founded by David and Norman Chesky who also own and operate Chesky Records, the Grammy Award winning record label, and David Chesky also happens to be a musician, composer, record producer, and audiophile. At the risk of sounding not impartial, if we were to create a wish-list for one of the people at the helm of one of the largest HD music download sites, I can't really think of a better resume. But that's just me.

Over the years, there has been some controversy over some releases sold by HDtracks and there are some ongoing issues and concerns mainly related to the quality and provenance of HD remasters. I recently had an opportunity to speak to David Chesky by phone and talk about some of these issues and concerns.

Can you tell us how HDtracks got started? I don't necessarily mean history, I'm more interested in the reasons behind starting HDtracks.

Years ago, many years ago I had this idea but the web wasn't there yet. It wasn't fast enough, the bandwidth for HD downloads wasn't readily available. It took time. It took years to build.

I liked this idea for two main reasons:

A) Even if you're living in Idaho were there aren't any music stores you can listen to, preview, and buy all of this great music. If you're going to buy a new recording of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 you pretty much know something about what you're going to get even if you haven't heard it. But with contemporary music, you have no idea what the new Jane Doe record is, what it's going to sound like. Now we can preview all of this music before we buy it.

And B) Playback execution, mainly playing from memory, has allowed digital to sound great.

"We sell what artists want us to sell and in the end I have to respect their vision."

One of the main issues I've seen discussed on various audio-related forums is the sound quality of some HD downloads. Specifically, there have been some releases such as Nirvana's Nevermind where it appears as if additional dynamic compression was employed during the remastering process and other releases that appear to have been upsampled to create a higher resolution version from a CD-quality recording. Could you provide an overview of the process for a HD remaster, what HDtracks' involvement is this process, and what if anything HDtracks can do to ensure the quality of the HD remasters you sell.

HDtracks is a delivery system. We sell what artists want us to sell and in the end I have to respect their vision. This is an aesthetic choice and some musicians like the sound of analog and even digital compression. That's the way they want it. Look, if you buy a contemporary rock record chances are its going to be compressed. On the other hand, the entire Warner Brothers Jazz Series catalog is 192/24, uncompressed, unedited and straight from the masters. Check that stuff out, Ellington, Coltrane, The MJQ...It sounds amazing.

"Look, Reference Recordings gets it. Water Lilly gets it. But some people still don't get it."

About two years ago we were sent a few files from a label that were represented as being 24/96 and they were not. They didn't get it. Look, Reference Recordings gets it. Water Lilly gets it. But some people still don't get it. So now we have three outside sources testing everything before we release it on HDtracks to make sure it is what its claimed to be. These are mastering studios who are spending their time listening to and testing things for us using equipment that's much better than something like Audacity.

photo credit: Greg Hark

This is a learning process. It's going to take time for artists and producers to really understand what hi res audio is, but HDtracks is shifting the paradigm to quality.

On the subject of dynamic compression, consumers are starting to rely on sites like the "Unofficial" Dynamic Range Database as well as applications like Audacity to determine the sound quality of a given recording. Is there some rating system HDtracks can put into place to give customers an idea of the quality of a recording before they buy it?

No! Look, some artist is going to say 'Why did you rate my record as sounding bad. That's exactly what I wanted'. I've had people say to me that some of our recordings [on the Chesky Label] have too much natural reverb or not enough bass but I'm not going to change the way I do things based on someone else's opinion. That's the art form, part of the complete aesthetic. This is not a science its an art.

And people can preview music and listen for themselves, download a single track before buying the entire album.

"We can ask, we can suggest but in the end we cannot tell the labels what to do."

Another concern I've seen discussed boils down to provenance. People are interested in information regarding the origin of a remaster, as well as the specific steps taken during the remastering process. I've seen this information available for some HD releases and was wondering why its not available for all releases.

We rely on the labels for this information and while we always ask for it and try to explain why we feel its important, we cannot dictate this kind of thing to the labels. We can ask, we can suggest but in the end we cannot tell the labels what to do. As we grow we'll have more influence and people will learn why these things are important. But when this information is available to us, we make it available on HDtracks.

Some people feel that the prices for HD downloads are prohibitively high and some people feel HDtracks is responsible. Is this true?

HDtracks is a delivery system. The labels dictate the wholesale price and we add our markup just like Tower Records or any other retailer.

With the internet record companies are getting slammed and hanging there, I dont know another business where people just walk in and take things off the shelves like they do with illegal downloads. So the drop in volume will dictate prices as well.

"We want HDtracks to be like a club, a premium service, something special."

I've noticed a lot of "coming soon" labels listed on the HDtracks website including ESP Disk which I'm particularly excited about. How many HD albums are currently available from HD Tracks and can you give us a rough idea of where you think you'll be 12 and 24 months from now?

I have no idea. Look, we're not trying to be the biggest, we're trying to be the best of the best. We want HDtracks to be like a club, a premium service, something special.



See Part 2 of our Q&A with David Chesky of HDtracks here.

COMMENTS
Jitterjabber's picture

This was really needed. Thank you for speaking with Mr. Chesky about his business model. I appreciate the fact that Chesky is doing what it can to be open and honest about the content provided by various record labels.

Let's hope this educates more consumers and professionals about hifi,

www.hifiqc.com

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Let's hope this educates more consumers and professionals about hifi

I thought this quote from David Chesky sumed things up nicely (and I probably should highlighted it):

"It's going to take time for artists and producers to really understand what hi res audio is, but HDtracks is shifting the paradigm to quality"

kavon yarrum's picture

Nice interview. This is as candid as I have seen David Chesky.

However...some obvious questions were not answered

First, HDTracks CAN provide source of their FILES...not necessarily the mastering or the remastering, as that is done by the record company, but they CAN tell us whcih files ripped from DVD-A, SACD, etc. They do this THEMSELVES. The others that are new tape archives do have more lineage. They need to standardize the information they provide us.

BTW, the Nirvana is a total an utter disaster. I would love to know how a reviewer like Alan Taffel can live with himself after calling it and the Stones Some Girls excellent. He probably gets his downloads free and did not want to bite the hand that feeds. But what happened to serving the reader?

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Jesus said, “Let he who is without sin among you, let him be the first to cast a stone.”

“Ouch!” said Jesus as he cringed from being struck on the temple with a stone, “Oh come on Mom. I was trying to make a point!”

I believe it’s in HDtracks best interest to provide this information and I also believe they’d agree. I’ve also seen this kind of information available for a number of releases on HDtracks. Point being while I am not, nor do I want to be, in a position to defend HDtracks, one takeaway point I’ve taken away is they’re helping to define this market and its not yet perfected. But I do not see any ulterior motives at work.

And while I do not know Mr. Taffel, I do know that others have enjoyed the Nirvana Nevermind HD release so I’m not so sure I’d call it a disaster. I also know that I wouldn’t jump to any conclusions as to his motives and I especially wouldn’t assume the worst-case scenario.

Then again, I don't want to be in a position to defend him either but due to the nature of your questions, I kinda sorta feel inclined to. Which leads me to believe that the very nature of the scenarios you've presented is unnecessarily offensive.

kavon yarrum's picture

Fair enough, points taken.

"I believe it’s in HDtracks best interest to provide this information and I also believe they’d agree. I’ve also seen this kind of information available for a number of releases on HDtracks."

So if they would agree...why is there no lineage literally hundreds if not thousands of internet postings requesting this?

It is NOT that hard.

Let's see:

Foreigner 4:

Ripped from DVD-A with Playback Designs modified unit.

Remixed from the multitrack tapes.

Prepared for download by Bruce Brown.

Wow, that was hard! (This is my own hypothetical liner notes).

As far as Nevermind and Some Girls, I have a direct quote from Bruce Brown, who prepared the files for download, where he calls these remasters "unlistenable" and hugely dissapointing.  Kind trumps Taffel, sorry. 

I will leave him alone and just assume he has sub par listening skills, as opossed to alterior motives.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

As far as Nevermind and Some Girls, I have a direct quote from Bruce Brown, who prepared the files for download, where he calls these remasters "unlistenable" and hugely dissapointing.  Kind trumps Taffel, sorry.

No need be sorry and this raises an interesting question - I wonder who forced his hand? It also appears to highlight one of the difficulties involved in this process.

kavon yarrum's picture

Can you clarify what you meant about forcing his hand I assume you meant Brown.

BTW, the horrific sound of Nevermind and Some Girls has NOTHING to do with HDTracks.

The CDs suck big time too.

Bob Ludwig did the Nevermind and Stephen Marcussen, I believe did Some Girls. He butchered Exile on Main St. too.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

That he did not have a say in the matter. Similar to David Chesky's point about the same issue. I find it difficult to understand how a musician or anyone involved in the process would choose to release crappy-sounding records.

Time for that beer.

kavon yarrum's picture

Let me clarify front and center here that I have never held HDTracks to the fire for crappy sounding masters, no more than I would Amazon if i bought a turdy sounding CD. They get what they get and Bruce Brown and David Chesky do not make artistic choices, just technical ones. 

The ONLY issues I have with HDTracks are lineage, and the fact that they in the past DID sell upsampled, or as it is commonly known, FAKE hi res. They have remedied the situation by having mastering engineers check the files. But why did it take outside prompting to do this.

Pricing? The market will decide if the pricing is too high. I am ok paying a slight premimum for higher than CD resolution.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

The ONLY issues I have with HDTracks are lineage, and the fact that they in the past DID sell upsampled, or as it is commonly known, FAKE hi res. They have remedied the situation by having mastering engineers check the files. But why did it take outside prompting to do this.

That's you and so is this:

Yes, I believe HDTracks HAS either reimburrsed or offered credit for albums found to be upsampled or flawed.

Customers complained (and I’d imagine we’re talking about the incident referred to in the Q&A from a few years go), HDtracks looked into it and found out their customers were right, HDtracks then reimbursed or offered credit to their customers who bought these upsampled or flawed downloads, and they have since implemented testing procedures to make sure this doesn’t happen again. And this is still an issue for you.

I obviously need another beer.

kavon yarrum's picture

You lost me.

Either you and I have had too many beers or not enough, lol!

First, I agree that HDTracks has remedied the situation in making sure there are stop gaps and testing to prevent any problems.

Secondly, I think any customer harmed by purchasing upsampled files has been mde whole.

My only "issue", if you can call it that, is lineage, meaning information about the source of the files. Those who have been pesistant already know that 90% of what they sell is ripped form SACDs and DVD-As with a  customized Playback Designs unit and high level software..why not document the process?

Wolfgang's vault does, and so do many others. 

Ok, another cold one.

 

 

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Those who have been pesistant already know that 90% of what they sell is ripped form SACDs and DVD-As with a  customized Playback Designs unit and high level software..why not document the process?

This is an interesting claim. I'll see if I can validate it, or not. If it turns out to be incorrect, which is my hunch, I'm going to give you a very hard time about it.

;-)

kavon yarrum's picture

Michael:

THAT is the process. Go and verify, by all means. For virtually every 96/24 download of classic material, there is a corresponding commercially released DVD-A. Look on HDTracks, then search the DVD title on Amazon. 

EVERY ONE of the Abko Stones downloads are ripped from an SACD.

You really did not know this?

The ARE downloads of newer recordings that sourced from studio masters, like Jason Mraz, Plant/Krauss, Elvis Costello, Rufus Wainwright.

Then there are a bunch of 192 and 96 khz tape archives.

kavon yarrum's picture

If you can't get any response from HDTracks..simple search Audio Asylum's Computer Asylum and DIgital Asylum, as well as Bruce Brown' s Whats Best Forum. It is all there.

kavon yarrum's picture

Several of the 192 Khz downloads, like the Eagles, Jackon Browne, and Marvin Gaye Let's Get It On are also from DVD-As.

The Doors 1st album 96 Khz download is a rip from the REMIX DVDs that came with the 2007 studio box set. I did my own rip with DVD-A extractor and it sound virtually identical the HDTracks download.What I don't like is they are selling it with NO mention of the fact it is NOT the original album mix. 

You do realize that all these SACDs and most of the DVD-As are out of print and comment ridiculous collector level pricing on ebay and amazon.

deckeda's picture

"Ripped from [DVD-A or SACD]" is a misnomer at best. No one is sitting at a PC and ripping a disk at HDTracks, which is the implication in this discussion.

At any given time, the label is going to supply HDTracks with files that match what's on a particular DVD-A or if SACD, (transcoded to PCM from DSD as necessary) if that's what's available and if that's what's chosen by the label to be "the release."

As my old Econ 51 prof Walter Johnson liked saying, coincidence is not causality / correlation does not imply causation.

What seems implied by "Studio Master", is a file straight off the studio hard disk, or freshly created from analog without mastering done for an intended physical product. I think that's a misnomer (at best) --- everything is mastered.

So ... if 10 years from now the label thinks today's original release could be bettered, it could release a remastered version of the previously "unfettered" Studio Master. Hopefully they kept the raw tracking files and not just the mixed 2-ch. final copy.

In fact, the new Studio Master of Bob Marley's Legend is like this. They took a more recent analog mix, like what appears on recent CDs and digitized it anew; I have the original '80s CD and it's a different mix. so even an unfetttered Studio Master is a fungible thing, depending on what source mix is available.

kavon yarrum's picture

As usual, you are misinformed and have created a comfortable fantasy world to live in.

YES,they ARE are using COMMERCIALLY RELEASED SACD AND DVD-A discs. They are using a sophisticated workstation in conjunction with a Playback Designs universal player modded for the application by Andreas Koch.

KNOW your facts.

As you pointed out the this is not the case of EVERY release, but for most of them

Many of these discs are no longer in print and would cost a fortune for an end user, plus you are still tied to physical media.

I can rip a DVD-A with $30 software that is a bit perfect copy of the files on the disc. Same for SACD with a Sony PS3.

deckeda's picture

Not that you've bothered to post any links to support your claim, but it doesn't matter if their downloads match what's on a physical disk, for the reasons I mentioned above, which you've ignored.

 

Bigger picture: let's say HDTracks does have someone ripping disks. So what? Why is that important? Where's the relevancy? Are the disks somehow different than what the studios would otherwise provide? And how would you know?

kavon yarrum's picture

No attitude here Sparky.

I have the facts.

One thing you missed is that I NEVER said there was anything wrong with ripping these hard to find, out of print discs and converting them to downloads for computer playback. I actually think its a good idea.

They are taking the DSD file and sampling it at 176.4 or 88.2 with a Weiss Saracon workstation. So it is NOT the equivalent of the studio DSD master. Sorry.

They DO however, sound quite good as 176.4 files, and even at 88.2.

I have no issues there. But I can tell you that at the last 3 hifi shows, including Newport, recording engineer Cookie Marenco did a demo where she played back her own DSD files then the commercially produced SACD produced from those files on the flagship Esoteric SACD player and according to John Atkinson, there was no comparison, the SACD was trounced.

kavon yarrum's picture

Hey Sparky:

This is one of the dozens of posts of Bruce Brown on various topics on the subject.

You could do this to if you were willing to spend a load of money on a "Pro" SACD player with an optical output, and an expensive workstation.

Or you could you use a Sony PS3.  Not sure if the results would be as good. Probably not.

I've been creating my own 96/24 bit perfect copies of DVD-As with DVD-A Extractor, which costs 30 bucks.

http://www.whatsbestforum.com/showthread.php?3341-Ripping-SACDs-the-righ...

We have 2 workstations that we use. The first one is:

Playback Designs MPS-5 out via ST-optical into a Sonoma workstation.

The second is;

EMM Labs CDSD out via ST-optical into an EMM Labs ADC8-IV changing the datastream from ST-optical to SDIF-3 and capturing the digital datastream into our Pyramix rig.

Both systems are top-notch and both do a bit-perfect copy of the DSD data.

Right now we are storing all the DSD data on 2 servers. For conversion to PCM we're using Weiss Saracon and downsampling to 24/176.4 and 24/88.2 for downloads.
 

deckeda's picture

Puget Sound contracts to provide files to HDTracks. Like I said, HDTracks doesn't rip anything, and Chesky was correct: they sell what they're given.

Here's your original assertion again:

First, HDTracks CAN provide source of their FILES...not necessarily the mastering or the remastering, as that is done by the record company, but they CAN tell us whcih files ripped from DVD-A, SACD, etc. They do this THEMSELVES.

kavon yarrum's picture

By themselves I obviously meant in conjunction with a mastering studio they pay to do so. This is done exclusively for them, and has nothing to do with the record companies.

Pugget Sound rips the FILES from the commercial discs as describes then delivers said files for upload.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

so we have some

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Drtrey's picture

I bought Some Girls based on Taffel's recommendation and I regret it. The files are so glassy and tipped up, they sound like a hires mp3 to me. So I will not be getting the other albums he recommends, such as Tea for the Tillerman, even though it is one of my favorites! Well, I might download one file and test it against a home ripped file from a record, but I can't read Mr. Taffel anymore. I don't trust his ears.

Trey

dalethorn's picture

I've bought several rock albums from HDTracks, and my experience is mixed. I didn't buy Layla because the samples didn't sound any better than the audiophile CD I have. But I did buy Tea for the Tillerman since I didn't already have it and I didn't have to pay $35 for two discs, one of which is (in the Layla case) a toss. And Tea for the Tillerman sounds good to me for the price, so no complaints. If you have it already and have compared the samples, and don't find them obviously better than what you have now, then it probably isn't worth the money.

kavon yarrum's picture

One other point...HDTrackis has never taken responsibility for some of the sub standard and misrepresented prodcut they have sold. Their attitued has been smug and they just blame the "suppliler". 

For the record, when I read a review in Stereophile and the reviewer references a Chesky recroding, I cringe.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

That chip on your shoulder has apparently fallen onto your keyboard and taken control!

I don’t know the point you’re trying to make regarding Chesky recordings and Stereophile but unless you can explain without the histrionics I’d suggest we leave this alone.

kavon yarrum's picture

I agree, this is a separate topic, and has no relation.

Suffice it to say, I think Chesky Music is drivel. Just my opinion. 

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I very much enjoy Entre Amigos by Rosa Pasos and Ron Carter to name just one off the top of my gee-its-Friday-night-and-I-should-be-having-a-beer-and-listening-to-some-music head.

kavon yarrum's picture

Rosa Pasos is sublime. Agree too about the beer.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Cheers!

Jitterjabber's picture

Will HD Tracks/Chesky reimburse any Hi-res download that has been verified to be false?

Another point about "the supplier" - at major recording labels (I won't mention who, but you know) - Often times Audio Engineers do not make the "Business" decisions.

More so, it is often record business executives(for no reason other than false understandings about audio) who request for mixes to be compressed and limited to death. Sad, but true....And yes, the artists hear other recordings loud and feel they must do the same...Educate, listen, and learn...

I hope these challenges are met with grand efforts. I for one will always love high-end audio, but without solid technical verification - many in my generation will look away.

bring back hifi!

www.hifiqc.com

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Will HD Tracks/Chesky reimburse any Hi-res download that has been verified to be false?

I cannot speak for HDtracks but will pass this along. It’s my understanding that this scenario has occurred in the past but HDtracks has taken measures, by testing new releases for example, to help ensure it doesn’t happen again. After all it benefits no one in the long term.

bring back hifi!

My hope is by having this kind of constructive conversation we can help to make this happen.

kavon yarrum's picture

Yes, I believe HDTracks HAS either reimburrsed or offered credit for albums found to be upsampled or flawed. 

deckeda's picture

Mr. Chesky seems to lament a lack of influence on the labels but doesn't know how to affect one. Can I offer a suggestion?* Look to your customer and give them a voice. All ya gotta do is pass on the message and give it some public exposure. Look, he's not powerless unless he chooses to be. 

Look, no one expects him to give his opinion to another artist, but even the milkman could go back to the milk factory and let them know what the customer said. Look, he's a big boy who knows it doesn't have to spill onto him if he plays his cards right. Look, we're on his side (more than he might suspect) but it would help if he threw us a bone. 

Look, it's not rocket surgery, *it's called a comments section for each album page. Or a dedicated forum. Why should the "club members" he wants to cultivate have to dig around stevehoffman.tv or elsewhere to learn about the value of an HDTracks product?

Look.

kavon yarrum's picture

I fully agree with you on all counts.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

And you've picked on what I take to be an indication of a certain level of exasperation ;-)

And I agree - let the many speak for the many!

Stephen Scharf's picture

Thanks for the interview, Michael.

I admit to having mixed feelings as a customer. While I applaud their mission statement to bring the highest quality downloads to customer and the quality of their content, their download tool is a complete joke. Slow, buggy, and it hangs, frozen, all the time. It often takes me days to download a complete album. I'm sorry to say this, but I think it's dreadful, and so do friends of mine that use this service. I've provided them with feedback on numerous occasions, and even had an online chat with one of the customer service reps, but it still is not fixed after more than two years now. 

Michael Lavorgna's picture

...their download tool is a complete joke. Slow, buggy, and it hangs, frozen, all the time. It often takes me days to download a complete album. I'm sorry to say this, but I think it's dreadful, and so do friends of mine that use this service.

This is valuable information and a valid point. I have never experienced an issue with an HDtracks download and I can only guess as to the reasons this is the case (Internet connection/download speed...?).

But I do know if I experienced these kinds of issues, I would not be a happy customer.

firedog55's picture

Michael-

Good interview. You asked the questions a lot of us have about HDT. I wasn't totally satisfied with the answers, but now I understand where Chesky is coming from, at least.

I've bought lots of hi-res from HDT and am generally happy with the quality. Some is great, others are very good. I am careful, and generally aren't a "first downloader", so that I don't download the "disasters" or the "heavily volume compressed".

But from the forums and from personal experience, I'd say that HDT customer relaions are still lacking. There are still occasions of no response to emails, or a lot of back and forth until HDT makes something right.

That said, I recently had a download where one track (out of 25) was faulty - I don't know if it was the source or just some problem with the particular download of that track. I requested that HDT give me a link to download that track again, and they sent me a list of individual links to all 25 tracks in the purchase - direct download links and not through their somewhat problematic app. Can't ask for  a much better response than that.

Stephen Scharf's picture

Firedog,

I agree with you that HDTs customer relations are somewhat still lacking. Their lack of responsiveness of fixing their very flaky download app is a good example. 

mav52's picture

Customer support lacking oh yes. As a customer of HD tracks on my first attempt the download would just set there, endless emails to HD Tracks pretty much went know where.  That needs to change. Answer your emails or provide a contact number. After a customer pay's his fee for the download it's up to HDTracks to support the customer.    Be honest and responsive and you might have something,.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Your original issue:

My only "issue", if you can call it that, is lineage, meaning information about the source of the files. Those who have been pesistant already know that 90% of what they sell is ripped form SACDs and DVD-As with a  customized Playback Designs unit and high level software..why not document the process?

It has taken me some time to understand your point. At first I thought you were talking about “lineage” in terms of using this information to understand aspects of the A/D process to possibly get some idea of the resulting sound quality of a download in question. These were the main topics ‘in play’ and I could see why you’d want this info but was confused when I saw your initial additional posts since this information exists for a number of the examples you brought up including the ABKCO Stones releases and the Marvin Gaye.

But now I see, with your additional additional posts, you’re talking about a few different things. With the Doors release, I get your point and I think its important to know what mix the music we buy contains (I always sample before buying and find this can help fill in the blanks).

But your original issue, that 90% thing, concerns the D to Download process if you will or the source of the HDtracks digital download files which has nothing to do with sound quality, the mix, or A/D lineage (my original point was I doubt the validity of this 90% number, still do, but it no longer seems relevant).

You want to know the source of the bitperfect copy of the bitperfect copy you’re buying. Was it a file or a rip and you’re making the assumption that if an album exists on DVD-A or SACD, the answer is it was ripped from a disc not copied from a disk. This is where I lose the trail of relevance.

But now I see from your latest comments that this really doesn’t matter to you either way:

One thing you missed is that I NEVER said there was anything wrong with ripping these hard to find, out of print discs and converting them to downloads for computer playback. I actually think its a good idea.

I suppose you’re saying you feel this information should be made available even though it doesn’t matter one way or another.

Now you have new issue:

But I can tell you that at the last 3 hifi shows, including Newport, recording engineer Cookie Marenco did a demo where she played back her own DSD files then the commercially produced SACD produced from those files on the flagship Esoteric SACD player and according to John Atkinson, there was no comparison, the SACD was trounced.

Now you appear to be making some connection between these demos and the quality of an SACD rip. If so, you’re making a false assumption and not taking the playback chain, playing an SACD versus a DSD file, into consideration. This is not the same thing as ripping an SACD.

You can make an argument that playing back a DSD file in its native format will sound better than that same file converted to PCM format, but that’s another story altogether (I have the Mytek DAC here so I’ll be talking about this soon, too).

In the end, from my perspective, you’ve made much ado about nothing.

kavon yarrum's picture

Michael:

Yes, by lineage, all along, I was referring to the disc ripping and file download preperation process, that is it. I don't need anymore than that.

i use the Cookie Marenco demo SIMPLY to counter Deckeda's supposition that files ripped from discs are the equivalent of "studio masters". That is all!

I know there can essentially be no equivalent.  And that is FINE with me.

It would be like claiming that a 192 Khz archive of a two inch analog tape played back on a SOTA machine can be 100% indistinguishable.  It will be VERY close, but there were will probably be some minor differences.

In the end..I have NO issue with the downloads HDTracks sells. Take a look at the prices on Amazon of those original Stones SACD's.

Let me conclude that I have bought over $200 worth HDTracks downloads this year alone. I am a paying customer and I am entitled to have a voice. The last two were Norah Jones 192 Khz downloads of Come Away With Me and Feels Like Home.

Dude! Great score...the Mytek DAC! Wow. BTW, Brue Brown says it is absolutely killer

kavon yarrum's picture

I don't think there would be any harm if HDTracks supplied as much information about each download as possible.

The Doors album being a 2007 REMIX should be information that every potential buyer should have.

Also, did you know that the Rod Stewart 192 Khz downloads are from safety copies of the original analog masters? FIne. But let the custiomer know this so they can make an informed decision.

Informed Customer=Loyal Customer.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I agree.

;-)

kavon yarrum's picture

Me=Jealous

crying

firedog55's picture

Regarding HDT downloads: I'd definitely prefer it if they told us the source: ripped from DVD-A or SACD; 192k digital transcription of analogue tape, etc. And what mix/master. For instance, they marketed the "Fragile" album by Yes. I think it was a rip of the SACD from  a 2003 remaster. But just tell us. I don't see how this could harm them. I think it would only improve consumer confidence in their product.

As far as the Mytek DAC: just got one and am very pleased. Sounds great on both PCM and DSD. Not harsh or digital sounding at all. I'd call it clean and accurate. Doesn't have any "audiophile bling" to it, but this is probably how they got it to be reasonably priced for its feature set and SQ. Will be very interested to see what Michael thinks. The only other professional review I've seen of it was from Europe.

Gotta build up the SACD/DSD collection now...too bad HDT isn't going to make some of those rock and jazz titles available in DSD.

kavon yarrum's picture

Agree again. It seems pretty simple to me.  

Cool on the Mytek, I heard there was a waiting list.

BTW, I am almost sure the Yes album is from the DVD-a.

96 kHz downloads of back catalog material is generally fr om DVD-a and 88.2 or 176.4 material is generally from SACD.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

What value does knowing "ripped from DVD-A or SACD" have in and of itself?

kavon yarrum's picture

This has tremendous value. If one has the DVD-A in question, it is easy to create your own bit perfect FLAC files for your server..you already paid for it. I did that with all the Doors albums, Diana Krall, etc. Why should I pay HDTracks 18 bucks for something I can do myself?

Same goes for the SACD if you have a Playstation.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

You are asking/expecting HDtracks to provide this information for the sole purpose of letting some people know that they don’t have to buy one of their downloads. OK. Not very reasonable, imo, but OK.

But seeing as everyone who owns DVD-A discs and SACDs is not interested in ripping them, especially with SACDs since you know very well it’s not just a matter of owning a PS3 (and if you don't know this you’ve obviously never done it), what do you think would be the best way for HDtracks to share this information?

Maybe something like this:

“This HD Download was sourced from a DVD-A using….If you already own this DVD-A you might consider just ripping your own copy. See our “How To” pages on ripping DVD-A discs and SACDs for more information."

I look forward to the day when every download that also exists as a CD and LP has a similar disclaimer.
 

deckeda's picture

I look forward to the day when every download that also exists as a CD and LP has a similar disclaimer.

 

kavon yarrum's picture

you asked what value lineage has. i just pointed out one item.

when and if you buy organic food, do you not want to to know what farm it was sourced from?

in the case above and in the case of HDtracks you are talking about a PREMIUM product. It has to be held to a higher standard. PERIOD. You can split all the hairs you like and engage in all the psuedo intellectual hypotheticals you like.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

...you answered and I found your answer lacking in substance and illustrated why. 

So while I know I can "split all the hairs you like and engage in all the psuedo intellectual hypotheticals you like", I can also call you out on what I consider nonsense.

kavon yarrum's picture

Look, to quote our friend...

If HDTracks had never sold upsampled slop, oferred information about every download, and responded to emails, this thread would never have been 60 odd posts long.

Again, I haves spent good money with HDTracks, and I am glad they are around, but I will not keep my mouth shut.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

In this particular exchange I asked firedog55 a question:

What value does knowing "ripped from DVD-A or SACD" have in and of itself?

And I asked him because I was curious to hear his answer. Instead, you answered. So while no one is asking you to keep your mouth shut, I am asking you to refrain from monopolizing a thread.

kavon yarrum's picture

?

Sorry, I really thought you were asking me, as I was the one who brought up the topic.

Apologies then to firedog55 as well.

kavon yarrum's picture

http://www.amazon.com/Yes-Fragile/dp/B00006JKLI

This is probably what HDTracks ripped their files from:

Michael Lavorgna's picture

The HDtracks version follows the original release with nine tracks and leaves out the two extra/bonus tracks that were included on the DVD-A (“America” and “Roundabout (Early Rough Mix)). Which seems to suggest that there's more to this business than ripping a DVD-A or SACD.

FYI - you can get a 16/44 FLAC download of all 11 tracks from the DVD-A release directly from Rhino for $14.99.

kavon yarrum's picture

HDtracks is not allowed by most of their contracts to offer the bonus tracks. Period. End of story.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

...for anyone interested in understanding why. So yes it can be simple, period, end of story if you're not interested in anything more than a superficial answer.

kavon yarrum's picture

you are getting the bonus tracks from the CD from the Rhino site. Not the DVD-A.

deckeda's picture

By themselves I obviously meant in conjunction with a mastering studio they pay to do so. 

Your use of the pronoun "they" in your original comment had no other logical ownership other than the only entity mentioned in the statement: HDTracks.

So no, your statement was not obvious, and my specifically and repeatedly naming HDTracks did not cause you to clarify it wasn't literally HDTracks that ripped any disks until I pointed it out to you.

Waving your hand to dismiss me as being "misinformed" is therefore 100% bullshit, kavon.

This is done exclusively for them, and has nothing to do with the record companies.

Yes, it probably was done exclusively for them because they are the largest, if not only such outlet for most popular hi res sales, but Puget Sound couldn't have acted indepentently, as only the record companies could have authorized him to do so.

In other words it doesn't matter if a label engineer or Bruce working elsewhere did the work, HDTracks did not, as you finally acquiesced to.

kavon yarrum's picture

Geez, how explicit do you need me to be.

Of course they cut deals with the labels before they farm out the disc rips.  

I never implied otherwise. I may not agree with everything hdtracks does but they are a legit business.

remlab's picture

Remember this rule..

Most rock recordings suck.

Most jazz and classical recordings don't suck.

If you expect otherwise, you will, more often than not, be very disapointed, regardless of the resolution.

There. Problem solved.. Kind of...

kavon yarrum's picture

Rephrase..most NEWISH rock and pop recordings are apalling.

This does not apply to the analog and very early digital era where the best of that era easily stand toe to toe with the best jazz and classical.

remlab's picture

.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Initially you said:

Most rock recordings suck.

So 'most rock recordings suck' means that some don't suck. What are some of your favorite non-sucky 'rock' recordings'?

remlab's picture

 C'mon! I was responding directly to his statement. Which, by the way, ignored my "most" comment. It all has to be taken in context, Michael. Here, I'll give you a couple top rock artists that actually care about sound. Walter becker and Donald fagen. There..

Now, give me some examples of otherwise great sounding rock recordings that have not been compressed in any way. Similar to the best jazz and classical recordings. 

kavon yarrum's picture

It honesty is not worth the effort responding, since by your tone, you have predetermined a universal truth in your mind that something is so.

Steely Dan huh? So is that what you put on for your friends to "dazzle" them with your audio system when they come over? Or do you put on other classic audiophile "demonstration" discs?

So to play your game, here are cool dozen superb, natural sounding rock  or pop recordings:

Traffic: Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys

The Band: Music From Big Pink

Neil Young: Harvest

Bob Dylan: Desire

Bob Marley: Exodus

Jeff Buckley: Grace

U2: Boy

Nick Drake: Entire Catalog

Grateful Dead: American Beauty or Workingman's Dead

Marvin Gaye: What's Going On

Norah Jones: Come Away Wtih Me

James Hunter: The Hard Way

I can name 500, 1000 more, but I am sure you don't want me to.

 

 

remlab's picture

I think I made my point..Go ahead and keep playing your 12 albums. Over and over and over..

Michael Lavorgna's picture

At all.

remlab's picture

.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

To respond to your request lends it some credibility and in my opinion it doesn't deserve to be taken seriously.

And the reason it doesn't deserve to be taken seriously is at least twofold; the idea that we can have a serious discussion about music using "rock", "jazz", and "classical" as meaningful music categories is plain silly. These are at best crib notes to The Walmart Guide To Music. Secondly, there are innumerable, as in too many for one person to know of or count, records that fall outside these big useless buckets of "jazz" and classical" that don't "suck". And I know this for a fact as I've been listening to these outliers for a few decades.

But the notion that even though I have a few decades of experience listening really doesn't reflect on even a tiny % of recorded music is continually brought home when I listen to music with friends. You may have read about John DeVore's Monkeyhaus events where a group of people get together and listen to records. I've been attending these for years, they each last more than 6 or 7 hours and I'm always introduced to great-sounding music I've never heard before. Each and every single time. And this music falls into many more categories than three.

So yea, the idea that I need to provide you with a list of non-sucky sounding rock records strikes me as an exercise in futility and completely misses any and every relevant point regarding the enjoyment of listening to music on a hi-fi.

remlab's picture

50% of what I own is rock and pop. All twelve albums mentioned are in my rock and pop collection. This thread (And my comment) has to do with high resolution downloads and high resolution downloads only. Every 24/96 rock & pop download I have purchased from HD tracks sounds worse to my ears than the normal resolution cd's that I own of the same recordings. And almost every 24/96 jazz and classical download I have purchased from HD tracks sound better to my ears than my otherwise identical normal resolution recordings I own. JA found exactly 'one' rock recording( By Traffic) with no apparent compression. Why attack me when you know what I am saying is true.  99% of rock and pop albums are compromised by large amounts of compression and 24/96 resolution does very few of them any good. If I want rock and pop, I go to mog. Like I said before, If that's what you want, knock yourself out.

Do we really have to state every microgenre to make a point?

By the way, I love your coverage of the monkeyhaus events. That IS what it's all about..

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Every 24/96 rock & pop download I have purchased from HD tracks sounds worse to my ears than the normal resolution cd's that I own of the same recordings.

This is not my experience and without knowing the details, which recordings as well as your hi-fi's, I cannot offer a guess as to why this would be the case.

Why attack me when you know what I am saying is true.  99% of rock and pop albums are compromised by large amounts of compression and 24/96 resolution does very few of them any good.

Apologies for being "on the attack". This issue hits one of my hot spots which is no excuse for showing my teeth, if you will. But...I do not believe that dynamic compression automatically makes for an unlistenable record or even a bad or sucky sounding record.

I've mentioned before that some of my favorite albums of recent years, like the Grinderman releases, are compressed but it doesn't bother me one bit. In other words, the point at which the amount of dynamic compression employed becomes unlistenable is subjective and in my experience varies from recording to recording and person to person especially since it is only one aspect of recording quality. An important one indeed, but I cringe when I see people talking about the sound quality of music they've never heard based on a DR Score or looking at a spectrum plot. And no one, no one, has listened to "99% of rock and pop albums".

If I want rock and pop, I go to mog.

In general, if I want the best sounding recording of something that was originally recorded on analog tape, i.e. no digital compression which is what most people are talking about when they are talking about dynamic compression, I usually buy the LP (when possible). If I want the best sounding digital copy of this same recording, the HD version usually trumps the CD-quality version unless something stupid was done during the remastering process like applying more dynamic compression (Nirvana Nevermind comes to mind as one example).

Like I said before, If that's what you want, knock yourself out.

If you don't like feeling "attacked", then I'd suggest toning this kind of nonsense down if not out altogether. I enjoy listening to music and that knocks me out. If you want to create a false dichotomy, i.e. all X records suck and all Y and Z records are good, knock yourself out and place the importance of dynamic compression above the music, and that makes you happy, enjoy!

remlab's picture

 McCartney's "RAM"

One of my all time favorite albums.Probably the last thing on their mind while recording  it, was "audiophile". I'm sure they assumed that most people (kids) listened to 8 track tapes with ultra cheap door speakers in a beat up van they bought for cheap. If an album did end up sounding good, it probably had more to do with pure chance than anything else. I love 'Ram" just the way it was. Taking a chance on a high rez, archive Quality download of it makes me cringe for what I might hear.Why ruin it..

When Jazz (acoustic) and classical albums were produced (from the same era), the last thing on their minds were kids, 8 track tapes, beat up vans, and cheap door speakers. Sound quality was an issue...

Most of the music I love has nothing to do with ultra high quality sound. I refuse to fool myself into believing that it does. I accept it for what it is..

Remember, what I am talking about is "high rez" and its limitations. It has nothing to do with the intrinsic enjoyment of music as an art form..

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I'm not so sure I'd agree that loudness and crappy recording quality was based on a notion of the consumer's hi-fi, rather I think its more often than not based on the medium responsible for selling records -- jukeboxes where the loudness wars arguably began, radio, compilation records, and streaming.

In other words, loudness is a relative and comparative value and as far as I know, the record labels are typically the ones pushing for things to be as loud as possible because consumers seem to prefer loud when it comes to "rock and pop".

That said, we also have to look at the recording chain and realize that an original master (or final mix) and a mixed master (after the mastering engineer finishes his job) can be very different beasts. So a reissue that uses the original master tape as its source, for example, can in fact contain both what the musician(s) wanted and a very different sound than the original release which was created from the mixed master. So this is one reason why some reissues of even rock or pop recordings may in fact sound better than an original release.

btw - I've heard from a friend/colleague that the HDtracks McCartney's "RAM" sounds great.

kavon yarrum's picture

The gentleman is clearly not interested having a discussion.

I can actually name not just 500, or 1000 superbly recorded rock and pop albums, but 5000+

The fact that he says I should listen to those dozen albums over and over proves he did not read my post and he knows he made an irrational blanket statement.  I'm done.

remlab's picture

 

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remlab's picture

This is all I am saying..  Is it really worth buying a compressed, high resolution rock download for $20.00? Really? If that's what you want, knock yourself out..

findhdmusic's picture

Hi Michael,

In answer to your question:

How many HD albums are currently available from HD Tracks ... ?

As of yesterday the number was approx 1300. This is up from 1030 on Jan 20 this year (when we first started collecting these stats).

- Brett

http://www.findhdmusic.com/

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Thanks Brett.

Jitterjabber's picture

Love it!

Gretschguy's picture

Cheers for asking these questions to Chesky.   "Some Girls" was the breaking point for me as well, it sounded so awful that I literally stopped buying from HDTracks from that point forward.   I would return to HDTracks if they would list in detail the lineage of the material -- who mastered the material and where it was sourced.  

BTW I was not disappointed with the Eric Clapton or Cat Stevens downloads, however I felt burned by the REM downloads although I should have expected them to be poor since the DVD-A's were poor.   

Basically my hit rate was running about 50% when I gave up on HDTracks.  I stick almost entirely to vintage LPs these days.

Again, great set of questions Michael...   Let's hope efforts like this lead to some changes and maybe they will win back some audiophile customers who have felt burned in the past.

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