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When CD’s came on the scene in 1982 this statement was made about their advantage over vinyl: “Perfect sound for ever.” Maybe this statement applies to their potential, but certainly does not apply to those first Compact Discs. For most part, they sounded terrible. Ironically, some of the same people who said this was true about CD’s are now saying that high resolution digital is just a marketing gimmick.

I started updating some my classical music repertoire with CD’s and quickly became discouraged. Then someone introduced my to Chesky RecordsDavid Chesky is an American pianist, composer, producer, arranger, and co-founder of the independent, audiophile label Chesky Records. David proved that CD’s could sound good, even in those horrible early days. He demonstrated that, with careful attention to the whole recording process, CD’s could be viable for the reproduction of musical performances. His early CD’s gave me hope that digital sound could sound good.

David Chesky is also co-founder and CEO of HDtracks, an online music store that sells high-resolution digital music. He is still proving that digital can sound better, especially with higher oversampling rates, through HDtracks downloads. Yet, HD Tracks has been criticized as selling overpriced junk. And why is this?

Firstly, it is because some people do not really listen, or refused to learn to listen, to music. To hear differences in the sound of music reproduction we first need to care about the music. Then we need to have a home audio system that has low distortion and enough dynamic range to mimic a live performance. We need to start with good recordings. Vinyl can sound bad and digital can sound good, if done right.

There are no shortages of amateur audio engineers who are certain that vinyl cannot sound good and digital cannot sound bad. After all, our ears just do not hear those higher frequencies. Sampling rates and higher musical frequencies are not the same thing. It has to do with resolution. Someone has said that picture is worth a thousand words:

dvd-audio-vs-cd-audio

If we understand digital photography, we realize that the more megapixels a camera captures the better it is at resolving the photo image and producing greater clarity. The eye can detect this clarity and the ear can also detect this clarity. And with a little training, they can do even better.

But who wants great fidelity in their sound? Maybe we just want convenient audio on the go? And maybe all the dynamic range has been crushed out of the musical performance so that it will louder on our smart phones?

There is some legitimate confusion concerning the quality of high resolution downloads, however, What is of particular importance is the quality of the original master tape or file and/or whether are not we are actually copying from the original recording at all. Upsampling lousy copies of the original are just not going to offer any significantly improved sound. Often, this practice can be more of a degradation than an improvement.

HDTracks attempts to provide the best possible source material available. But they need the cooperation from the music labels. Do we need to get into a discussion about how the greed for prophet often trumps audio quality?

I buy from HDTracks and others, (Acoustic Sounds being one of them). I believe that they are trying to sell honest products. It does not hurt to ask around and do some comparative shopping. Why should audio be any different than shopping from other goods? Be a smart shopper. And take time to listen to and enjoy the music.

If you want double blind amateur scientific analysis, go elsewhere. I have been listening to great sound for many years and I know what it is. My wife can come into our living room, which is our listening room, and say: “What did you do to the sound?” I ask: “What do you mean?” And she says: “The music sounds better.” Now that is science!

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