Friday, April 13, 2012

Audio Resolution and Football

I can hear some of you out there saying, "Now he's lost his mind..." but BEAR with me for a bit (no offense Chicago fans).

I was a season ticket holder for a while when living in the area to the Denver Broncos football team. My wife and I would enthusiastically bundle up on cold days and head off through the snow to be entertained by a bunch of big guys having fun playing with a weird-shaped brown ball. It was truly exciting at times, except for the location of our seats.

While not in the nose-bleed section of the old Mile High stadium, it wasn't - shall I say - on the first section of the 50 yard line. We were in the second deck on the west side just north of the south goal posts so players were a little tiny. Things were worse as the game moved toward the north end and numbers on the players just disappeared into a colorful blur. Compound this fact with my aging eyes and overdue appointment with an optometrist, and you get the idea of what the games actually looked like.

This was in the early 1990s and John Elway was making a name for himself in football history. I can still recall the first Superbowl win in 1997 when almost the entire town literally shut down for the parade (you have to understand football fever to understand why someone would not go to work but rather stand in the cold for hours waiting for a glimpse of a young man riding on top of a firetruck to appear). These are fond memories since we were two of those crazy fans.

The Crowd at the Denver Capitol for the Superbowl XXXII Celebration

It struck me just recently with all of this hubub about high resolution audio what a good analogy to the recording process could be. Imagine me sitting there in my seat and the game is on the opposite end of the field, the team trying to make a field goal. If you compare my inability to see numbers on the jerseys of the players to the inability of digital audio to preserve nuances in quiet passages, you have an idea of how 16-bit digital resolution limits musical enjoyment. The information is there, I just cannot see it. And with standard CDs, the information WAS THERE, but the 16-bit recording process just did not see it.

Enter my binoculars! So I changed and started watching the action through a pair of $20 binoculars. While better, the images were so smudgy from the poor optics that I enjoyed watching the distant players better with my unaided eyes. This is sort of like trying to coax more sound out of a 16-bit recording. While admittedly a weak analogy, you get the idea that the larger images were just that - not better, just bigger. So when playing a 16-bit CD on a 24-bit player, you may hear more but still not what was there in the original performance.

Enter my really good pair of binoculars. Now when viewing things far away, I can see grass stains on uniforms and scratches on helmets. NOW THATS what I'm talking about! Here, this is what high resolution audio offers compared to the ho-hum 16-bit 44KHz 30-year old standard. It's time to get a new pair of binoculars for the recording process and change the standard. Much like high definition television and my really good binoculars changed the way we watched football games, so can high definition audio change the way we listen to music.

I am a proponent of using the massive 4Gb of storage capacity of a Blu-ray disc to springboard this new format. From its capacity, we could preserve 32-bit source recordings and achieve a sampling rate
of 192KHz.

Now that would be a really great pair of binoculars!

Yours for higher fidelity,
Philip Rastocny

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