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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

An Old High-Res Audio Format Returns

DSD Word Cloud image
I recently wrote on the Forbes blog about the potential problems that Neil Young's Pono high-resolution audio service might have when it launches. This is nothing against hi-res audio (I'm an audio person, after all, and have recorded my share of hi-res over the years), just an observation that the public always goes for convenience and not quality when it comes to formats.

No sooner did the article post when I read a press release that audiophile music retailer Acoustic Sounds launched, a site that offers DSD (Direct Stream Digital) downloads, among other types. DSD, if you recall, is the technology used on the highly-hyped but rarely purchased SACD disc that was launched in 1999. Until now, no company has offered true DSD downloads to my knowledge.

Acoustic Sounds actually started as a specialty vinyl pressing house and gradually morphed into the largest seller of SACD discs in the world. The company also sells hi-res album downloads both in Apple Lossless Audio (ALAC) and FLAC as well as DSD.

Right now the company has about 30 DSD download releases for sale (although more for the other formats), with albums by Shelby Lynn, Nat "King" Cole, Counting Crows, and Norah Jones the most recognizable.

Of course, you can't just download a DSD album and expect it to play. You'll need some software first and it'll cost you around $130. That means your investment in the format is more than just buying the files, so you really have to be committed to the format.

That said, today there are more hi-res audio formats than you can shake a stick at, and I hope they all survive. We really need to preserve the best quality audio every chance we get, and there's still no other audio experience that sounds better. I'm pleased that there are at least some people out there who think highly enough of audio quality that they're willing to pay extra (at around $25 per album) for a superior product.

That said, I still think that our best chance for a common high-quality audio format lies with Apple's Mastered For iTunes (MFIT) program, which considers any file that's 24 bit as hi-res but prefers a 96kHz files sampling rate. During a brief visit with my friends at Oasis Mastering yesterday, they said that most major labels now order MFIT mastered files on their orders, which is a major improvement from this time last year.

In the end, is definitely cool, but Mastered For iTunes is where the high-quality action really is at the moment. If you want to learned more about how to prep your songs for MFIT, check out the Mastering For iTunes course. You can get a free 7 day trial, which you can use for lots of other programs and courses as well, here.

You should follow me on Twitter for daily news and updates on production and the music business.

Don't forget to check out my Music 3.0 blog for tips and tricks on navigating social media and the new music business.


Michael Bishop said...

Hi, Bobby.

Acoustic Sounds is actually late to the game of DSD downloads. There is a pretty good sized handful of DSD download sites that have been doing a decent business already. A list is here:

JRiver Media Center and Pure Audio are two great software players that will play all the audio formats (including DSD up to 5.6MHz) in their native file format without conversion. Add the new DSD-capable USB DAC "The Geek" ( $300 and you are playing master-quality recordings on your computer. There actually is quite an industry that has sprung up around USB DSD-capable DACS, with many great manufacturers jumping in with products at all price points.

IMO, that all beats the pants off of hi-rez iTunes any day in regards to quality.

Love the blog, Bobby!

Best Wishes,
Michael Bishop

Juan said...

Talking about mastering and hi-res files, i think you would like to read this:

Greetings Mr. Owsinski.


Michael Bishop said...

Thanks for the link, Juan. I found that really interesting about the NIN dual-format release and have shared that info further.

Best Regards,
Michael Bishop

Michael Bishop said...

BTW, there are more than 50 manufacturers making DSD-capable DACs in all price ranges.


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