Author Topic: HDTracks: Curiosity got the better of me!  (Read 17857 times)

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HDTracks: Curiosity got the better of me!
« on: May 28, 2011, 02:58:53 PM »
As a result of my preparation for Stream X testing, I decided to do a little research in the resolution quality of some 'HD' music I downloaded last year. When I pay for a 24bit/96KHz album, I expect it to be a 24bit/96KHz album, somewhat stupidly perhaps.  :(

The album in question is HDTracks' Albert King & Stevie Ray Vaughan's 'In Session' 2009 Stax Records re-master. It's described as a 24bit/96KHz HD album in FLAC format. It really is a great album & I've loved listening to it since buying it Last April. However, having read a few online articles concerning problems with CD-upsampled albums being sold, perhaps unknowingly, as 24bit/96KHz, curiosity got the better of me & I thought I'd perhaps scrutinise 'In Session'.
The aforementioned articles include:
http://www.computeraudiophile.com/content/Look-what-Linn-sold-2496
http://www.computeraudiophile.com/content/2488-Mutter-Carmen-Fastasy-Native-or-Upsampled
http://www.computeraudiophile.com/content/Many-ECM-hi-res-titles-have-been-pulled-line
http://www.computeraudiophile.com/content/Some-more-crap-HDTracks

I used the latest & free, open source Audacity audio editing program on the Mac to investigate the FLAC files in the 'In Session' album. It's able to produce a frequency spectrograph of the data & a frequency plot of the data. I know that earlier versions of the software had issues with these abilities, but this isn't case with the latest version. I've used the software to investigate a large number of HD albums recently. The variation in audio frequency between the albums is easy to see with the software.

Having spoken to Steve (SteveC) about these issues & based on the results of the plots, I decided to send HDTracks an email. I was going to say more, but I didn't, well, not yet anyway.
Track 11 on the album is called 'Don't Lie to Me'. How very b****y fitting, I thought.  >:(

Below is the content of the email I've sent to HDTracks earlier today.

If you're as an untrusting individual as I, then I suspect you may check your downloads as well  ;)

Best wishes.

Viv




Quote
Hi Scott.

I'd like to let you know of a problem I seem to have.
I paid for (order number HDXXXXX - account: xxxxx@xxxxx.com) & downloaded Albert King & Stevie Ray Vaughan's 'In Session' album on 9th April 2010 from HDTracks, expecting it to be a 24bit/96KHz download.

Although I think it's still a great album, curiosity got the better of me & I decided to check for the possibility of frequency cut-off, which is quite usual for tracks which have passed through some form of frequency capping, either intentional or not.

Below are the Audacity frequency spectrographs & FFR plots for two of the tracks which I downloaded:
a Track 01 - Call it Stormy Monday:





b Track 11 - Don't Lie to Me:





The same situation is quite apparent for all of the tracks which I downloaded on the 'In Session' album, namely that they have been upsampled from a CD-quality source, with a high-frequency cut-off at around 22.05KHz.
A true 96KHz recording would certainly include data from 22.05KHz up to its 48KHz maximum. To say that these recordings 'just don't go that high' will give me greater cause for concern at your lack of understanding of this information.
The software I have used to produce the data above has been used to identify upsampled tracks from both yourselves & also other HD audio sellers with great success, so please bear this in mind, should you want to blame the problem as a software discrepancy.

I wouldn't have minded if HDTracks knew about this & took the subsequent opportunity to let me know of this. This has not happened, unfortunately.
I also do not know if this is a problem which has since been rectified. ie Have you now changed the tracks, so they are now 'true' 24bit/96KHz recordings?
If no changes have been made to the downloadable tracks, then this situation is even worse than I first thought, so please enlighten me.

As a result of this, I am somewhat annoyed & will expect a Paypal refund of $17.98. I will also expect some form of gratuity, based on the time wasted in sorting this problem out.
I also expect you to let me know precisely how HDTracks will now let other customers know of the possibility that they may too have downloaded incorrectly-described CD-upsampled music from your site.

If I do not here from you soon, Scott, then please be aware that I will take every opportunity I have as a UK audiophile to let other potential purchasers know of the reason for my annoyance with your company.

Best wishes.

Mr Viv
« Last Edit: May 28, 2011, 03:02:15 PM by vivekk »

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Re: HDTracks: Curiosity got the better of me!
« Reply #1 on: May 28, 2011, 03:06:39 PM »
Interesting Viv! (even though I don't really get the charts!)

Only just subscribed to HDTracks today!  :o
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Re: HDTracks: Curiosity got the better of me!
« Reply #2 on: May 28, 2011, 03:19:57 PM »
Interesting Viv! (even though I don't really get the charts!)

Only just subscribed to HDTracks today!  :o

Alex, when you buy a CD you know you're getting music which can only reach a maximum of 22.05KHz (half of the 44.1KHz sampling frequency) for that particular medium. This applies to other types of digital audio media as well, including the so-called 'HD' tracks.  >:(

The charts show information about 2 particular FLAC files on the 'In Session' album which I downloaded. The first of the 2 graphs for each song is a spectrograph. It shows how much frequency 'energy' there is over time. The horizontal axis is time, from when the song starts till when it finishes. The vertical axis is the frequency 'energy' as any point in time. The higher the band at any particular point in time, the higher the frequency recorded.

You can see that throughout the whole track, there is a 'cut-off' at a little over 20KHz.
ie there's just no frequency 'energy' above this frequency.
This leads me to believe the downloaded tracks are simply CD-upsamples, or have been otherwise through a 22.05KHz frequency cut-off!

The second graph for each song shows the range of frequencies 'captured' from the data over a specific period of time. It uses a software technique called Fast Fourier Transformation (FFT). The fact that there is a complete high-frequency cut-off at around 22KHz, leads me to again believe the downloaded tracks are simply CD-upsamples, or have been otherwise through a 22.05KHz frequency cut-off!  >:(


A 'true' 24/96 recording will contain recorded musical information between the 22.05KHz CD-based upper limit & the HD track's upper limit of 46KHz. As there is the equivalent of Matthew's view of high-end mains cables in that region, I think I've simply paid for something I haven't received, purposely or not. To say I'm as angry as when my CDxtSE stopped working is an understatement.  :o

Viv
« Last Edit: May 28, 2011, 08:26:30 PM by vivekk »

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Re: HDTracks: Curiosity got the better of me!
« Reply #3 on: May 28, 2011, 03:23:10 PM »
Viv, as per one of the links you posted, Linn owned up to a series of their recordings having been recorded at 96khz by the original record label, but having passed through a 44.1k device somewhere in the process and hence truncated. Is it not possible that this is the case here?
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Re: HDTracks: Curiosity got the better of me!
« Reply #4 on: May 28, 2011, 03:26:12 PM »
Viv, as per one of the links you posted, Linn owned up to a series of their recordings having been recorded at 96khz by the original record label, but having passed through a 44.1k device somewhere in the process and hence truncated. Is it not possible that this is the case here?

Indeed it is, Julian, I just want them to admit to that, own up & give me a refund, as they couldn't be bothered to let me know. They've 'pulled' other recordings in the past & they may also have done this with 'In Session', but may have then replaced it with the 'proper' material at some point after I purchased it.

Concerning Linn's recording, they only admitted to the error after buyers complained about the issue. For Linn not to know of the issue beforehand, shows a lack of their own internal testing process. This is how I feel about HDTracks right now.

For them to not let previous purchasers of this error, unintentional or not, is what really makes me angry.  >:(
If they know about it & are still selling the album as it was when I bought it, well, that's just ridiculous & downright cheeky.

If I were to sell some music as HD 24/96, perhaps MisterMat's 'Groans of Pleasure: The MMStreamer Concerto', well, I'd make sure all of Matthew's groans were in high resolution & not just upsampled from the CD version, however fantastic that may be. Matthew, how do you fancy being recorded at a lowly 16/44.1, upsampled to 24/96 & then sold to the public as HD. We could record it in mono perhaps & then use some software to pseodo-stereoise it- they won't know any difference, will they?! ;)

Viv
« Last Edit: May 28, 2011, 03:41:32 PM by vivekk »

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Re: HDTracks: Curiosity got the better of me!
« Reply #5 on: May 28, 2011, 03:40:06 PM »
I fear this sort of thing happens a lot. I've read before that some of the HD Tracks (and other companies) releases have been up-sampled using some specialist software/hardware and were not originally recorded at the higher resolution. I'm pretty sure the recent Rolling Stones re-releases are up-sampled in this way.  This is one of the reasons why I'm very selective of what HD stuff I buy these days.   
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Re: HDTracks: Curiosity got the better of me!
« Reply #6 on: May 28, 2011, 03:44:28 PM »
I fear this sort of thing happens a lot. I've read before that some of the HD Tracks (and other companies) releases have been up-sampled using some specialist software/hardware and were not originally recorded at the higher resolution. I'm pretty sure the recent Rolling Stones re-releases are up-sampled in this way.  This is one of the reasons why I'm very selective of what HD stuff I buy these days.

Don't you think it's ridiculous that these HD audio sellers can get away with it, Ian?

If I were to produce some guidelines for this sort of thing, I'd make sure frequency plots were available for any 'true' HD recordings for sale. It isn't difficult to internally test a file's audio frequency range. So, why can't they do this prior to selling any new album? I just don't trust the sellers.

A 'good' company would apologise for a problem, even if it was found by accident & would make sure they let their relevant customers know about it as soon as possible. To admit to nothing & to keep their mouths shut, well, I just don't like it. Unluckily for HDTracks, when I don't like something, my mouth doesn't stay shut for long.

Viv
« Last Edit: May 28, 2011, 03:56:58 PM by vivekk »

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Re: HDTracks: Curiosity got the better of me!
« Reply #7 on: May 28, 2011, 03:59:44 PM »
Yes of course it's ridiculous. I feel they really should be stating whether the recording was originally recorded at higher resolution or up-sampled. What it really needs is a campaign from us 'HD' music consumers to try and force these companies into stating exactly what resolution the original recording was made at. Fancy starting one Viv?
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Re: HDTracks: Curiosity got the better of me!
« Reply #8 on: May 28, 2011, 04:02:32 PM »
I fear this sort of thing happens a lot. I've read before that some of the HD Tracks (and other companies) releases have been up-sampled using some specialist software/hardware and were not originally recorded at the higher resolution. I'm pretty sure the recent Rolling Stones re-releases are up-sampled in this way.  This is one of the reasons why I'm very selective of what HD stuff I buy these days.

The thing to consider with the Rolling Stones albums and everything originally recorded in the sixties, seventies and very early eighties is that they will have been recorded onto tape. Therefore the question to be asked is did the producers of the "24/96" versions go back to the original master tapes and re-digitise them at 24/96 or higher or, did they just go back to the first digital masters from the eighties, which would almost certainly be 16/44.1, and just upsample them.

BTW, I'm not defending HDTracks or Linn in anyway. If their internal checks don't highlight the problem then they clearly deserve all the criticism that comes their way.
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Re: HDTracks: Curiosity got the better of me!
« Reply #9 on: May 28, 2011, 04:06:05 PM »
Yes of course it's ridiculous. I feel they really should be stating whether the recording was originally recorded at higher resolution or up-sampled. What it really needs is a campaign from us 'HD' music consumers to try and force these companies into stating exactly what resolution the original recording was made at. Fancy starting one Viv?

You know Ian, why not- I just don't think these HD audio sellers should be allowed to get away with it. At least with CD, you knew you were never going to get anything above 22.05KHz. With HD audio, it's so much easier to say 'We don't upsample anything'. If that's the case, then I think they need to substantiate that.

As more & more people are moving from CD-based digital audio to higher-resolution digital audio downloads, the problem will simply annoy more individuals as time goes on. That's why it would perhaps be an idea to have something beneficial done for consumers sooner rather than later.

What do you think should be done to improve this situation, Ian et al?

As Julian says, HD versions could possibly be derived from original analogue masters (call it OAM) or upsampled from later Red Book CD-quality masters (call it URB). So, should an HD purchase not state the resolution (eg 24/96), but also the type of master from which that HD album was derived (eg OAM)?

Viv
« Last Edit: May 28, 2011, 04:13:52 PM by vivekk »

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Re: HDTracks: Curiosity got the better of me!
« Reply #10 on: May 28, 2011, 04:13:26 PM »
I fear this sort of thing happens a lot. I've read before that some of the HD Tracks (and other companies) releases have been up-sampled using some specialist software/hardware and were not originally recorded at the higher resolution. I'm pretty sure the recent Rolling Stones re-releases are up-sampled in this way.  This is one of the reasons why I'm very selective of what HD stuff I buy these days.

The thing to consider with the Rolling Stones albums and everything originally recorded in the sixties, seventies and very early eighties is that they will have been recorded onto tape. Therefore the question to be asked is did the producers of the "24/96" versions go back to the original master tapes and re-digitise them at 24/96 or higher or, did they just go back to the first digital masters from the eighties, which would almost certainly be 16/44.1, and just upsample them.


An email I received from HDtracks said this:

Quote
NEW ROLLING STONES TITLES: ABKCO’S HD REMASTERED SERIES!

"For the analog to digital transfers, vintage reel-to-reel tape machines were utilized - a modified Ampex 351 with original tube electronics (full track mono and two track stereo) and an Ampex ATR-102 modified with Aria Discrete Class-A Electronics (full track mono and two track stereo). A Sonoma DSD digital audio workstation was the chosen high resolution format and Meitner Design ADC8 and DAC8 MKlV converters were used for the conversion process. Cables used were the cryogenically frozen type supplied to us by Gus Skinas of Super Audio Center. Gus also provided much guidance to Jody Klein, Steve Rosenthal and myself for our first time use of DSD technology. For this HD Tracks release, the Bob Ludwig mastered DSD files were converted to both 176.4kHz and 88.2kHz high resolution PCM with Weiss Saracon conversion software."

- Teri Landi, Archivist and Engineer, ABKCO Music & Records
« Last Edit: May 28, 2011, 04:15:54 PM by Czechchris »
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Re: HDTracks: Curiosity got the better of me!
« Reply #11 on: May 28, 2011, 04:17:15 PM »
It might be worth emailing the guys at Computer Audiophile and Stereophile as they're pretty widely read across the pond and may be able to influence the Chesky's. You've nothing to lose by presenting them with the evidence and seeing if they decide to take it further. Maybe also Alan Sircom at HiFi +.
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Re: HDTracks: Curiosity got the better of me!
« Reply #12 on: May 28, 2011, 04:19:09 PM »
I fear this sort of thing happens a lot. I've read before that some of the HD Tracks (and other companies) releases have been up-sampled using some specialist software/hardware and were not originally recorded at the higher resolution. I'm pretty sure the recent Rolling Stones re-releases are up-sampled in this way.  This is one of the reasons why I'm very selective of what HD stuff I buy these days.

The thing to consider with the Rolling Stones albums and everything originally recorded in the sixties, seventies and very early eighties is that they will have been recorded onto tape. Therefore the question to be asked is did the producers of the "24/96" versions go back to the original master tapes and re-digitise them at 24/96 or higher or, did they just go back to the first digital masters from the eighties, which would almost certainly be 16/44.1, and just upsample them.


An email I received from HDtracks said this:

Quote
NEW ROLLING STONES TITLES: ABKCO’S HD REMASTERED SERIES!

"For the analog to digital transfers, vintage reel-to-reel tape machines were utilized - a modified Ampex 351 with original tube electronics (full track mono and two track stereo) and an Ampex ATR-102 modified with Aria Discrete Class-A Electronics (full track mono and two track stereo). A Sonoma DSD digital audio workstation was the chosen high resolution format and Meitner Design ADC8 and DAC8 MKlV converters were used for the conversion process. Cables used were the cryogenically frozen type supplied to us by Gus Skinas of Super Audio Center. Gus also provided much guidance to Jody Klein, Steve Rosenthal and myself for our first time use of DSD technology. For this HD Tracks release, the Bob Ludwig mastered DSD files were converted to both 176.4kHz and 88.2kHz high resolution PCM with Weiss Saracon conversion software."

- Teri Landi, Archivist and Engineer, ABKCO Music & Records

Chris, it sounds like the Rolling Stones albums may be okay, but if HD Tracks haven't confirmed that the files haven't been processed somewhere along the way at a lower resolution, then the only way to be sure would be to buy a single track and look at the frequency graphs.
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Re: HDTracks: Curiosity got the better of me!
« Reply #13 on: May 28, 2011, 04:22:30 PM »
It might be worth emailing the guys at Computer Audiophile and Stereophile as they're pretty widely read across the pond and may be able to influence the Chesky's. You've nothing to lose by presenting them with the evidence and seeing if they decide to take it further. Maybe also Alan Sircom at HiFi +.


Thanks Julian.  :)

CDs have the a SPARS code classification to identify the type of recording equipment used to produce the CD recording. Perhaps a similar classification could be used to identify the original audio source from which an HD audio album was derived? How difficult can it be???  :o

Viv

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Re: HDTracks: Curiosity got the better of me!
« Reply #14 on: May 28, 2011, 04:33:53 PM »
Chris, it sounds like the Rolling Stones albums may be okay, but if HD Tracks haven't confirmed that the files haven't been processed somewhere along the way at a lower resolution, then the only way to be sure would be to buy a single track and look at the frequency graphs.


I've just had a look at 'Honky Tonk Women' on The Rolling Stones 'Through the Past, Darkly' album (24bit/88.2KHz):

a Frequency Spectrograph:




There's a good range all the way up to 35KHz along the whole track, so I see no problems with that.  :)

Viv
« Last Edit: May 28, 2011, 04:37:27 PM by vivekk »