well-respected audiophile label, reference recordings, or RR in short, is going to release their "HRx" discs containing WAV files intended for computer-based music servers. HRx is not playable on conventional optical players like cd players and is tauted to be digit-for-digit copy of the original RR's 24 bit/176.4Hx digital master.

RR states that with the advance in computer technology and hard drives, they are finally able to offer sound close to the original masters. It may be bad news for preamp manufacturers but if all the buzz has any truth in it, hard drive playback is destined to rule the future.

HRx disc is only an interim solution as eventually RR's original masters will be available for direct download into music servers. at the moment, downloading a single album at 176.4Hz sample rate and 24-bit word length will take several hours.

while the labels and industry players are sorting it out, this writer feels that HDD playback has several implications and issues:

1) can it compete with cd, which has already millions of titles in the market? like the sacd and dvd-a, the lack of software titles ultimately caused the downfall/demise of these formats?

2) what happens to market leader in preamp market like audio research? i believe the technical head in such manufacturer is already cracking his brain to come out with their own version of music server...

3) will the novelty of collecting cd jewel cases and cover art die away? cd cover art is already a compromise from LP cover art, do we have to compromise further? with HDD playback, we are buying a WAV file on the computer and not a physical thing you can put in your shelf.

4) will HDD playback signal the downfall of physical music retail shops like victoria and rock corner?

5) will HDD playback threaten the livelihood of the pirates and illegal cd peddlers so infamous in a market in malaysia? if so, it will be great news to all and sundry but it is also a double-edged sword - how do artistes control illegal download online?

6) does HDD playback really sound superior to redbook cd????

the success of a new format hinges on so many complex factors, and politicking amongst the big boys is just one of them. i am waiting to see the progress of HDD playback with bated breath!

20 comments:

passionate about digital said...

Hi maggie,

personally I feelThe referance Recordings label is overated.I have more than 20 of their CDs{mainly on }HDCD]and feels that they do not live up to promise.The problems are:
1'limited reportoire of good artists/orhestra..I am sorry to say that dallas Symphony orc for eg is way behind Vienna Symp,St petrsburg symp etc

2.People will always be attracted to music first and recording is always lower down the list even to audiophiles like us

3.the current transmission from Harddisc to DAC pruduces way too much jitters.Jitters are the main culprit for poor Digital sound.At the moment Only EMM lab and Esoterics has mastered the antijitter problem..

CHEERS!!!!

holy said...

Maggie,
Why would you not need a preamp?I could understand if you won't need a transport....

hickney-expat said...

hi ,Just my 2 cent worth of opinion..
Main problem is poor Quality recording
If you have poor recordings {badly engineered Master}the sound that comes out will always be bad no matter what you do.

I prefer Water lilly Acoustic recordings to Referrance Recording{I own quite extensive catalogues of both....Mahler's sym 5 by St petersb orc In water Lily 's label shows you what you can get when the engineering is good...even on CD

hiho said...

Replace CD?Don't think so

More people would conver to harddisc?Definitely.Convenience wins over quality99% of the time'

Would it be as good as CD?Not if you use USB port to connect to the DAC.Produces way too much jitterss!!!!!

musiclover said...

Chesky and Water Lily Acoustics ,to me are way better than RR.

RR used way too many mediocre american artists to get the best results.Should go more to Europe and russia to get better orchestral music{like Kavi alexandra of Water Lily Acoustic}
Chesky has better artists and better mastering than RR..I actually has CDs from all of the above named.

Soundengine said...

Exciting topic!!!!
The sound of life music is analogue[i.e.continous]The digital data is in bits form It doesn't matter how many gizzilion bits you transfer,this data still need to be converted to analogue.the sound that you get would be as good as the associate hardware [and software DAC]that you use.
do this experiment right now.get a pasar malam cd and play it on your best hifi set-up.next get you best recorded CD[?Skip?Laika?chesky}and play it on your cheapo Marantz Cd player/Cheapo Dvd player...
GEt it?10 out of 10 your Pasar Malam Cd would sound better..The limiting factor in musical reproductions is poorly designed hardware..

Michael Ng said...

Was in a friends car the other day and was listening to his new 2008 Pioneer 5050UB head unit. We compared several songs (MP3) recorded in both a CD and an external HDD (connected via USB) and to our suprise the playback via the external HDD sounded much better; a lot fuller and less digitalized. Could it be bad lens quality, something to do with error correction or ... ? I'll probably get his to record some songs from an original CD to the HDD and make the comparison again sometime this week.

gerhard said...

Hi,
It is always music first isn't it?How many different version of Miles davis can we get?Or Dire Straits's Brother in Arm?The reason why Reference Recording failed before because was because They only have Minnesota symphoy and Dallas Symphonies in their repertoire.
I personally prefer XRCD and K2 recordings.Of cause when it comes to CD playback Your Hardware is even more important than even analogoue playback.And your cables are indespensible too.You wan't to make sure the cable are good enought[carry wide enought bandwidth] to carry the music that has been processed....

mafan said...

Michael Ng,
Certainly In car audio HDD would hold a lot of promise.As I understand it,the transport used in most car audio systems produced way too much jitters from the vibration[Minute amt can degrade the sound tremendously]
If anything the car audio industries should lead the way to tackle this issues,but it is not the case

that is way I prefer to drive in silence....

pragga said...

Maggie,Hi
Enjoying the blog and notice that lately there has been many response.I think you have managed to choose the topics well....
Anyway to take on your point no 6] I would like to ask this Question;Does Sacd sound better than CD?yes if you play them on universal player.But sacd vs cd played on dedicated cd only transport?I dont think so..

So I kind of agree with the general consensus that the limiting factor is the playback chain.gosh,we still even have people who call cables and power supply as snake oil!!!The unfortunate thing is this people would splash their money on the 'best'recordings and start feeling cheated..

Michael Ng said...

mafan,
Of course the comparison was made with a rather low-end player at less than a thousand ringgit. I am very sure the Alpine F1, Pioneer P90/ODR, any of the Mcintosh players, midrange Nakamichi and most pure decks and flagship players sound way better than playing via the HDD from the test unit. You should not be driving in silence just because of the hardware. At the end of the day you're enjoying the music not the hardware.

charlie said...

I always feel that RR is more hype than substance..
Let us see how far they can carry on with this new hype
Prof Johnson to me is way past his prime he should have sticked to his HDCD project.I think Kavi [Water Lilly ',David Chesky [chesky records]andMark Levinson's sacd c are some of the best recorded stuff
I buy a cd because I like the music and the performance first.Given choices ,I always go for the one that is better recorded.
But it is music first ain't it Maggielurva???

maggielurva 愛美姬 said...

hi all

to start with, i don't have that many audiophile cds; i own only 1 copy of RR so it is obvious that i am not their fan.

secondly, a lot of cds i bought sound good in my system; i am not blowing my own trumpet. so i am not so particular about recording if i like the music cos more often than not, it sounds decent in my system.

music comes first in my buying decision. but if music and recording are both top-notch then i am willing to pay big money for it.

i started my interest in HDD playback when i read statement from robert harley saying that he's made side-by-side comparison and HDD playback is clearly superior. if bob harley can say something like that, you don't doubt this man.

hi soundengine,
you hit the nail on the head with your comparison!

hi holy,
i suspect some music servers come with build-in preamp. i may be wrong. i will check it out further.

hi gerhard,
i spent RM30K on my cables so i guess i am not stingy ;-)

thanks for all the comments ;-)

gerhard said...

Hi Maggie,
No wonder you are getting good sound!!!
I can bet you the sound coming from your system would be superb!!!
Even Michel Jackson would sound nice..
Hand made -silver cables,I presume?These are the best

maggielurva 愛美姬 said...

hi gerhard,

wow! you even know what cables i am using! yes, hand-made silver for interconnects and perfect surface copper for speaker cable and single crystal copper for power cord.

i am the kind who's willing to spend top dollars on cables. and i find the mixture of copper with silver gives me the best tonal colour. silver throughout is way to o "pretty" and "artificial" for me and copper throughout is lacking the purity and speed in highs.

ultimately, i believe in balancing the "yin" and the "yang".

DS said...

The subject on jitter is very much debatable, in general HDD playback should induce less jitter compared to normal optical CD playback - this article is quite useful as a reference..
http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue22/nugent.htm

Recently there has been quite a few 'breakthru' PC audio players that have been considered to be on par/better than cost no object traditional CD players, like the Nova physics memory player or the Linn Klimax DS (which is Linn's flagship source now, but not cheap at US$20k)

I have been using HDD playback for a few years now, and never looked back; in fact many of my local m'sian 'audiophiles' have adopted/will be adopting PC audio as source.. the trend (even in high end audio) gradually moving towards PC/digital audio is undeniable - Krell, Wadia etc. have already taken the step, other are following suit.. this will only get better once solid state/flash memory cost/Gb goes down, and we dont even have to rely on HDD for high capacity.

On the other hand, some so called high end CD players are really a joke - See the crappy measurement results of a US$43 top-end Zanden in Stereophile (that raised hell lot of online debate about expensive CD players); another one is the RM42k Goldmund CD player that has the SAME transport/electronics of a RM1k DVD player, Goldmund is such a ripoff!

passionate about digital said...

Ds,
The HDD per se doesn't induce jitter,as long as it stays there...
the problem arises once the digital data get transmitted down[USB port in most instances] that is when jitters run amok.You can get a lot of the bits lost and what happen is when it reach the DAC ,The Dac software would then have to filled up the lost data by guessing what it was in the first place..The wider the bandwith,the more the guesswork will be involved.

I have no doubt that one day we MIGHT be heading towards computare based music system,but unfortunately at the moment,it is more hype than fact...remember the old story when digital first came out?perfect sound forever?It is the same story again...

Unfortunately when it comes to digital playback very few got them right.Wadia has a major flaw in ther digital volume control,you have to listen to their playewr at high volume,a lot of data got lost when the volume goes down.That's why they went bancrupt before..

Since when did Goldmund becomes Hi-End?It is in the same boat as BOse and B&O..all hype no substance

gerhard said...

ds,
Linn ,Goldmund,Krell...Well they are hardly opinion leaders in digital reproductions .THEY have to run to HDD soon because frankly ,they do not know s##t abt making digital reproduction
dcs,EMM labs ,ESOterics ...these are the people that know both the hardware and software part of digital reproductions...

I hope you are not one of those that buy CD player based on spect.A bigger joke[ among us digital -lovers] than the poorly measured Zanden is the equipment that has been used by JA to measure...it is from the stoneage..

You certainly cant equate bad measurement =bad sound{Nobody would be using SET,Class D amp ,Tube amps,otherwise]
And talking about that particular review of Zanden,Mike Framer actuaklly said that it was the most analogoue sound that he has ever heard coming out of a digital playback...and he was listening to a faulty unit!!!!!when he got the working unit he said that the sound was even better ...

i hope you all could read the full review

BTW,Maggielurva,Perfect cable match.You have got it my man!!!!

Ralph said...

ds,
Q1]How do you rip your CD to the Hard disc/PC?;With dvd-rom [that probably uses plastic lens!!]

Q2]Would the bits get lost while being ripped?:You bet,Gizzilions of them!!!

Q3]How does the data then get transmitted?;Via USB port. Have a feel at it now, would the data undergo jitters? Like somebody having malaria!!!!


Q4}What exactly do you mean by high end? Amplifier manufacturers trying to get extra bucks making CD players???? Please....

There are very few makers who know about digital

Entry level;
Cambridge Audio
Mid Level:
Simaudio,Rega Meridian

High end:
EMM,Esoteric,Reimyo,Zanden,dcs,Spectral

HDD and pc based server definitely wins hands down when it comes to convenience. Does it produce satisfactory fidelity? I honestly do not think so!!!!!

maggielurva 愛美姬 said...

hi guys,

i am learning so much from reading your comments. keep them coming!

i concur with gerhard and ralph about leaders in digital technology. eventho' i am an ARC fan for the last 20 years, i have never touched their cd players :-(

my personal benchmark is dCS and spectral. would love to listen to EMM given a chance.