Recording - February 2013 - 80

listening experience in the end product. For this reason, 96/24 resolution is quickly becoming a standard format in the industry, and it’s also common to see higher resolution files, such as 192/24.” I’m not convinced that using sample rates and bit depths beyond those of standard CDs is useful for a distribution medium because 44.1 kHz at 16 bits has been proven sufficient. One early test done in 1984 showed that inserting a 44/16 digital “bottleneck” into the audio path was not audible [2]. A more recent—and far more exhaustive—series of tests by Meyer and Moran [3][4] published in the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society employed 60 listeners in 554 trials over a period of one year. The results were the same as random chance at 49.82 percent. A few years ago, a company specializing in high-resolution music files was found to be selling CD-quality files that had been up-converted to

Guest editorial by Ethan Winer

Mastered For iTunes: High-Resolution Audio?
There’s a lot of interest in “high-resolution” audio lately, spurred in part by audiophile record labels that offer uncompressed 24-bit files at 96 kHz, as well as Apple’s recent Mastered For iTunes initiative that aims to increase the fidelity of music processed using lossy data compression. (Not to be confused with volume compression used as a studio effect.) Mastering is an important final step to ensure a pleasing tonal balance, among other enhancements, and even great mixes often benefit from a second opinion by an expert with a fresh outlook. Everyone wants their music to sound as good as possible. But is the push for high-resolution formats a true advance, or just a ploy to sell us the same music again? The weakest link in lossy-compressed music is the compression process itself. Portions of the music deemed “unimportant” are discarded based on their audibility. A loud cymbal crash can mask a soft tambourine, so it’s acceptable to discard the tambourine for a second or two until the cymbal fades out sufficiently. Using more aggressive compression makes the file smaller by reducing its bit-rate, but also removes more of the music. At some point the loss is audible. Therefore, it’s important to balance the amount of data compression with the demands of the music to minimize degradation. So what does this have to do with Mastered For iTunes? Apple’s Technology Brief [1] claims that high-resolution audio sounds better than normal CD quality at 16 bits and 44.1 kHz, but offers only anecdotal evidence: “...many experts feel that using higher resolution PCM files during production provides better-quality audio and a superior
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RECORDING February 2013

96/24. This came out only after someone analyzed the files and discovered some that rolled off steeply above 22 kHz. None of their customers ever noticed! Which makes sense, given that nobody can hear frequencies much higher than 20 kHz. Even if 44/16 is sufficient for distribution, does recording source tracks at higher resolution improve fidelity? Some people believe that plug-ins sound better at high sample rates and bit depths, but controlled tests I’ve done for distortion, noise, and frequency response—the parameters that affect audio fidelity—failed to confirm this. Most audio software processes music using 32-bit floating-point math, regardless of the source file’s resolution. This yields extremely low distortion for the DSP (Digital Signal Processing) operations that perform eq, compression, and other effects. Further, 16 bits provides a dynamic range of 96 dB, which is sufficient for any type of music including gentle classical and jazz. It may seem that 24 bits offers more resolution than 16 bits, but all that’s affected is the noise floor. Even in a quiet professional studio you’d be hard pressed to make a recording where the noise of the 16-bit medium exceeds the ambient noise in the room or the noise of the microphone preamps. You can easily prove this for yourself: Record any group of musicians in any venue at 24 bits, then play the file in audio-editor software and note the playback meter during a silent passage. If the background noise is above –90 dB then the medium is not a factor. Some types of DSP math can be more accurate at higher sample rates, but that’s handled by up-sampling within the code when appropriate. There’s no need to record tracks at a higher sample rate. Nobody is arguing against obtaining the highest quality possible throughout the entire production process, including the final medium consumers receive. Further, improving the code that implements lossy compression is always worth striving for. But that’s the responsibility of the programmers, not recording engineers. In my opinion, the notion that sample rates or bit depths greater than 44/16 are audibly superior should be re-examined, and this is easy to assess for yourself with a proper blind test. [1]http://images.apple.com/itunes/mastered-for-itunes/docs/ mastered_for_itunes.pdf [2] http://www.bostonaudiosociety.org/bas_speaker/abx_testing2.htm [3] http://www.aes.org/e-lib/browse.cfm?elib=14195 [4] http://www.bostonaudiosociety.org/explanation.htm Ethan Winer is co-owner of RealTraps, a popular acoustic treatment company based in New Milford, CT, and his new book The Audio Expert from Focal Press has received many rave reviews. You can find Ethan at www.realtraps.com and www.ethanwiner.com.


http://images.apple.com/itunes/mastered-for-itunes/docs/mastered_for_itunes.pdf http://images.apple.com/itunes/mastered-for-itunes/docs/mastered_for_itunes.pdf http://www.bostonaudiosociety.org/bas_speaker/abx_testing2.htm http://www.aes.org/e-lib/browse.cfm?elib=14195 http://www.bostonaudiosociety.org/explanation.htm http://www.realtraps.com http://www.ethanwiner.com

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Recording - February 2013

Recording - February 2013
Fade In.
Contents
Talkback.
Fast Forward.
The Production Of Clare Fischer’s CD ¡Ritmo!
Big Money Drums.
Recording Fundamentals. Chapter 14: Sweet Spot Conundrums—Part 1.
Sonodyne SM200Ak Studio Monitors.
AKG D12 VR Reference Kick Drum Microphone.
Shure KSM9HS.
Radial Engineering Firefly Tube DI.
Audio-Technica AT4047MP.
Zoom Q2HD Handy Video Recorder.
iOS Music Tools: Take Control!
Emotiva Pro airmotiv 4 and airmotiv 6 Powered Studio Monitors.
DPA Microphones Reference Standard Mics.
Sony Creative Software Sound Forge Pro Mac.
Lewitt DTP 640 REX Dual-Element Kick Drum Mic.
Readers’ Tapes.
Miking An Orchestra—Rock Band And Symphony.
Stereo From A Mono Mic.
Advertiser Index.
Fade Out.
Recording - February 2013 - Recording - February 2013
Recording - February 2013 - Cover2
Recording - February 2013 - 1
Recording - February 2013 - 2
Recording - February 2013 - 3
Recording - February 2013 - Fade In.
Recording - February 2013 - 5
Recording - February 2013 - Contents
Recording - February 2013 - 7
Recording - February 2013 - Talkback.
Recording - February 2013 - 9
Recording - February 2013 - Fast Forward.
Recording - February 2013 - 11
Recording - February 2013 - 12
Recording - February 2013 - 13
Recording - February 2013 - The Production Of Clare Fischer’s CD ¡Ritmo!
Recording - February 2013 - 15
Recording - February 2013 - 16
Recording - February 2013 - 17
Recording - February 2013 - 18
Recording - February 2013 - 19
Recording - February 2013 - Big Money Drums.
Recording - February 2013 - 21
Recording - February 2013 - 22
Recording - February 2013 - 23
Recording - February 2013 - 24
Recording - February 2013 - 25
Recording - February 2013 - Recording Fundamentals. Chapter 14: Sweet Spot Conundrums—Part 1.
Recording - February 2013 - 27
Recording - February 2013 - 28
Recording - February 2013 - 29
Recording - February 2013 - Sonodyne SM200Ak Studio Monitors.
Recording - February 2013 - 31
Recording - February 2013 - AKG D12 VR Reference Kick Drum Microphone.
Recording - February 2013 - 33
Recording - February 2013 - 34
Recording - February 2013 - 35
Recording - February 2013 - Shure KSM9HS.
Recording - February 2013 - 37
Recording - February 2013 - Radial Engineering Firefly Tube DI.
Recording - February 2013 - 39
Recording - February 2013 - Audio-Technica AT4047MP.
Recording - February 2013 - 41
Recording - February 2013 - Zoom Q2HD Handy Video Recorder.
Recording - February 2013 - 43
Recording - February 2013 - iOS Music Tools: Take Control!
Recording - February 2013 - 45
Recording - February 2013 - 46
Recording - February 2013 - 47
Recording - February 2013 - Emotiva Pro airmotiv 4 and airmotiv 6 Powered Studio Monitors.
Recording - February 2013 - 49
Recording - February 2013 - DPA Microphones Reference Standard Mics.
Recording - February 2013 - 51
Recording - February 2013 - Sony Creative Software Sound Forge Pro Mac.
Recording - February 2013 - 53
Recording - February 2013 - Lewitt DTP 640 REX Dual-Element Kick Drum Mic.
Recording - February 2013 - 55
Recording - February 2013 - Readers’ Tapes.
Recording - February 2013 - 57
Recording - February 2013 - 58
Recording - February 2013 - 59
Recording - February 2013 - 60
Recording - February 2013 - 61
Recording - February 2013 - Miking An Orchestra—Rock Band And Symphony.
Recording - February 2013 - 63
Recording - February 2013 - 64
Recording - February 2013 - 65
Recording - February 2013 - 66
Recording - February 2013 - 67
Recording - February 2013 - 68
Recording - February 2013 - 69
Recording - February 2013 - Stereo From A Mono Mic.
Recording - February 2013 - 71
Recording - February 2013 - 72
Recording - February 2013 - Advertiser Index.
Recording - February 2013 - 74
Recording - February 2013 - 75
Recording - February 2013 - 76
Recording - February 2013 - 77
Recording - February 2013 - 78
Recording - February 2013 - 79
Recording - February 2013 - Fade Out.
Recording - February 2013 - Cover3
Recording - February 2013 - Cover4
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