Music Tap Intervews Mark Waldrep
The name of Mark Waldrep is synonymous with DVD-Audio. His work in the technology has brought more forward movement for the format than any one label has advanced. His label, AIX Records, is consistently at the forefront with their stellar releases. Dr. Waldrep also has authored many familiar titles and is probably the most knowledgeable proponent of DVD where technology of the format is concerned. AIX Studios is a state of the art facility designed to produce the highest quality DVD output as is possible.
Mark Waldrep has graciously taken time out from his all too busy schedule to answer questions that were intended to not only provide a look into the technology of DVD-Audio but also to initiate and inform the average buyer of DVD-Audio of the basic concepts. It is hoped that you'll be enlightened by the questions and answers as provided by Dr. Waldrep.
AIX has a wide range of DVD-Audio albums available as well as a sampler disc that you can purchase for $24.98 from their website or receive for free with a minimum order. We invite you to sit back and enjoy the interview with Mark Waldrep.
We also recommend a visit to AIXRecords on the web to further your knowledge and to purchase extraordinary releases.
MusicTAP: Give us a little background on yourself.
Waldrep: I have been an audio engineer and musician for most of my life, with a specific interest in the integration of technology with music focused entertainment. I have advanced degrees in music (Ph.D. from UCLA) and computer science (M.S. CSUN) with additional credentials in art. The following paragraph is taken from my usual bio:
"Mark Waldrep, Founder, President and CEO of AIX Media Group, has over twenty years of business and production experience in the world of digital multimedia and has been a visionary in the application of technology to the entertainment and corporate industries. Holder of multiple advanced degrees in music, art and computer science as well as having 20 years of practical experience as a designer, musician, recording engineer and entrepreneur, he is well-qualified to contribute to the convergence of information technology and entertainment.
Founder and President of the Pacific Coast Sound Works, he developed software tools and techniques that established PCSW as the preeminent media service bureau for the most prominent software developers and publishers in the CD-ROM multimedia industry. PCSW clients include Warner New Media, Spectrum Holobyte, Broderbund, Rocket Science, Virgin Interactive, Disney Interactive, and The Learning Company.
As a recording and mastering engineer with over 20 years experience, Waldrep has repeatedly demonstrated his unique ability to embrace both the technical and creative aspects of the recording industry. In 1994, he was experimenting with technologies and interactive designs that could integrate the record business with the emerging multimedia industry. His innovative idea to place music videos, interviews, liner notes, and web connectivity on a standard audio CD resulted in the birth of the “i-trax® enhanced CD” format. His trademark “i-trax” has appeared on dozens of ECDs released during the past four years, including the first ECD from a major label (Rhythm of the Pride Lands/Walt Disney Records), the largest selling (The Rolling Stones “Stripped/Virgin Records), and the first to have an internet connection (David Bowie & Bing Crosby “Little Drummer Boy/Oglio Records). AIX Entertainment, the first interactive record company, was founded in 1994 and released and/or produced over 60 i-trax® ECD records.
With the emergence of DVD technology, once again Dr. Waldrep has led the way with innovative and compelling productions. AIX released the first DVD-Video titles outside of Japan in March of 1997, produced the first DVD-Video/DVD-ROM hybrid title, the first title DVD-Video with motion graphics menus, the first with multiple camera angles, and the first with WEB connection software. Recently, renamed AIX Media Group, the company has expanded into the area of DVD-Audio content creation with it’s own label AIX Records, the first and only label specializing in new recordings for the format."
MT: How did you come to be involved in DVD-Audio? What drew you to the format?
Waldrep: AIX Media Group has been one of the foremost production companies working in the area of DVD-Video since the inception of the format, but as a composer/musician, I always longed for the application of DVD technology to the music industry. ECDs were problematic because of the computer platform…with arrival DVD-Audio the creative and technical improvements in music products were finally possible. It is the only high-resolution format that provides a comprehensive multimedia experience and the best possible audio fidelity. The ability to have high-resolution, multi-channel audio, multiple audio mixes, video, graphics, DVD-ROM files, and complete compatibility with 85 million DVD-Video players makes it the clearly superior format for music delivery.
MT: What keeps you a fan of the format?
Waldrep: Month after month, AIX Records releases new DVD-Audio/Video titles into the audiophile marketplace…and every month we continue to receive the highest reviews from professional critics and average consumers. One site (HometheaterSpot.com) lists 20 of the “most highly recommended” DVD-Audio titles…7 of them are from AIX Records and they are only one that have garnered 5 stars! This is the only format that can deliver the kind of entertainment experience that will keep people purchasing physical media. SACD, the other contender for high-resolution surround music, is only a music platform…it’s mired in narrow thinking and won’t survive the coming age of purely downloaded music….DVD-Audio will.
MT: How long have you been involved in DVD-Audio?
Waldrep: I have been aware of the format since it was first described in 1995-96. AIX Media Group made the first MLP encoded DVD-Audio disc for the 1999 AES show in New York. The disc was used at the Pioneer booth and contained a variety of new tracks recorded and mixed in high-resolution.
MT: What is DVD-Audio?
Waldrep: DVD-Audio is a cousin of the DVD-Video format. In fact, it contains a large portion of the DVD-Video format within it….the so-called “Video Zone”. The format allocates the majority of the space and bandwidth to delivering the highest quality PCM audio in stereo and multi-channel. DVD-Audio discs can deliver 5.1 channel surround sound without compromising audio quality using 96 kHz/24-bit resolution and stereo at 192 kHz/24-bits. They can also include Dolby Digital, stereo PCM and DTS tracks with or without video that can be played in any DVD player.
MT: What is MLP?
Waldrep: MLP stands for Meridian Lossless Packing. It is a “lossless” compression technology that provides DVD-Audio hardware and software to deliver 96/24 audio into each of 6 channels. Unlike Dolby or DTS, none of the data is lost during the encoding/decoding cycle.
MT: Would you explain compression and how it works?
Waldrep: There are two types of compression associated with digital audio. The first is the processing of dynamics to provide additional “punch” or apparent loudness through playback. The other is a methodology to reduce the amount of mega/gigabytes and bandwidth that a particular digital audio signal needs for storage and/or delivery. The first one is used by audio engineers during recording, mixing and mastering to control the dynamics of a particular piece of music and the second one is used during encoding and decoding of a music file.
MT: What is EQing and why is it used if a certain fragment of the record buying public bemoan its usage?
Waldrep: The use of equalization is intended to sonically balance or modify the harmonic spectrum of an individual instrument, track or entire mix. It is employed by audio engineers, mixers and mastering engineers to alter the sound of a recording for creative or technical reasons. Audio purists and others interested in the natural sound of a particular instrument usually prefer recordings that are made without excessive use of EQ.
MT: What are the benefits of compression and, more specifically, the benefits of a ‘lossless’ compression?
Waldrep: As explained previously, data compression allows audio files to be reduced in size and bandwidth requirements in order to make them more manageable for downloading and streaming. Lossless compression is obviously better than lossy compression because you don’t lose any fidelity…the tradeoff is that the algorithms are less efficient.
MT: Explain authoring of DVD-Audio? Why does it take so long? Is it possible to speed up the release of a DVD-Audio once a title is announced?
Waldrep: DVD-Audio authoring is actually a very straight ahead process but it requires that all of the media assets of an individual project be produced, QC’d and delivered and ready for inclusion in a project. It takes a long time to assemble, create, verify and legally clear the media assets that go into a project. At AIX Records, we include fully edited video, interviews, commentaries, photos and even musical lessons on every title…it takes a lot of production time and skilled personnel to complete all of these steps. For simple, audio only projects the timeline can be reduced.
MT: What is the process that has to be undertaken to make a DVD-Audio from an old recording. Let’s use Yes’s Fragile as the reference point. Let’s leave out the contractuals and just deal with the technical aspect.
Waldrep: The conversion of an older master to a new 5.1 DVD-Audio release is complex even if you restrict the discussion to the non-legal stuff. First, you have to find and verify the master multi-channel tapes. Sometimes this is simple, but most of the time it is very difficult…for example, if a tape is poorly documented how do you know which track of the dozen vocal passes was actually used in the release? The tracks are digitized to Pro Tools or some other hard drive based system at 96 kHz/24-bits. A producer/engineer will remix the material into the 5.1 mix and stereo mix according to their philosophy and artistic skill. The tracks are then mastered and encoded. Any graphics are developed for menus and stills by a graphics house. The whole thing is proofed and then assembled or authored.
MT: Would you differentiate between DD 5.1 and Advanced Resolution 5.1. How does the sound as it reaches my ear change between the two styles. I have heard of confusion from people who don’t know what is what once they pop it into their DVD-Audio player. In other words, is it DD or is it Advanced Resolutions?
Waldrep: There is great confusion and some deliberate “marketing hype” associated with the “advanced resolution” name. In reality, it doesn’t mean anything…sadly it’s just part of a marketing machine that thought it would be a good idea to segregate DVD-Audio releases from standard CDs.
The most important thing to recognize in the production of a particular track is that the fidelity of the recording is established at the time of the original session. If the tracks were captured on an analog 24-track tape machine back in the 70’s, then the overall dynamic range and frequency response will be as good as the machine and tape formulation of the time. In general, those specs fall substantially short of the potential offered by new high-resolution digital technology. The analogy that I often use is to imagine someone converting your 8mm Christmas movies from 1965 to high-definition video. What is the quality of the finished transfer? Is it going to look that same as a new video shoot of a Christmas scene done with state-of-the-art cameras and recorders? O f course not! It will be everything that was on the original film…but nothing more. So an analog multitrack dug up out of the vaults at EMI or MCA that is remixed through and analog console and then captured at 96 kHz/24-bits is NOT in actuality a high-resolution or “advanced resolution” product according to my definition. There are lots of engineers and audiophile that profess that analog technology is the ultimate for music recording and reproduction…I disagree. When you hear a truly new recording that has been properly recorded and left in tact…it will open up your ears.
Once the track is finished, the difference between Dolby, DTS or MLP versions is obvious. But if requires a good system and the right kind of source.
MT: Why do some discs offer higher resolution stereo resolutions, some at 192k and others at 44k? How is the quality of the sound affected?
Waldrep: The higher the sampling rate the better the audio fidelity of the digitized signal. There are a lot highly technical reasons why this is true having to do with Nyquist frequency, transient times, and phase relationships, but all that really counts is that more is better. With current systems using higher sampling rates reduces the need for higher order filters and results in a closer representation of the playback to the source. The use of 192 kHz for stereo programs means that the analog master is perfectly reproduced. If there’s room on the disc…why not?
MT: You know this has to come up. It’s obvious that you prefer DVD-A. Why would you feel that it is a superior format over SACD and do you think that DVD-Audio is positioned to overtake SACD as the format of choice? Also, could both survive together? Would they survive together?
Waldrep: DVD-Audio is clearly a superior format from every point of view, but you have to broaden your vision of the recording industry in order to see it. Many labels that have embraced SACD see it as an incremental move to better quality music delivery. They are not equipped to start thinking in terms of additional visuals, clearances etc. A record is a record to them…a platform for delivering music and music only. So SACD is easier and closer to their existing model. I don’t argue about the fidelity of either format…as I’ve mentioned most recordings in either format are not really taking advantage of the increase potential of real high-resolution audio. Both will survive in the short run…but with high-resolution, multi-channel streaming and downloadable files coming soon, the attractiveness of SACD will diminish. Fully interactive, visually enhanced DVD-Audio/Video titles will live substantially longer in the physical media world.
MT: Universal has shown a combined interest in both DVD-A and SACD. Why are they issuing in both formats? Are they waiting out the winner and wishing to be positioned well in advance?
Waldrep: Universal issued SACD products because of some very generous support from Sony…in fact, many millions of dollars. Now that they have met that obligation, I believe they are releasing DVD-Audio titles because of the reasons that I prefer the format and for the same reasons that 4 out of the 5 major labels have opted for DVD-Audio. It simply makes more sense when you break out of the audiophile community….85 million machines installed in homes, tens of millions of computers with DVD playback (including DVD-A) and now factory installed automotive systems are substantial markets.
MT: I’ve heard early DVD-Audio discs. They were good but not the measure of what a DVD-Audio disc is now. Would you attribute that to advances in the technology or advances in an engineer/producer understanding of multichannel?
Waldrep: Undoubtedly things have improved in terms of experience and expertise. Some labels have been know to upsample stereo files and extract “faux” 5.1 mixes through digital processors…and now more and more producers are doing a much better job. AIX Records has succeeded because of the amazing improvements in fidelity that comes from our recordings. More than one reviewer has commented that you haven’t heard what high-resolution DVD-Audio can be unless you’ve heard one of our discs…I hope you have. They make most standard “advanced resolution” titles sound flat and covered.
MT: In the past, there has been some horrendous tinkering with Multi-Channel. I have a disc in mind where the guitar on one of the songs starts out on the Front Left and then moves to the Rear Right. It sounds to my ears as if the guitar player ran from in front of me to behind me…and then back again. It is my estimation that unless a song has MC in mind, (like Dark Side of the Moon), then it should best be left in Stereo. Unless, of course, you have an engineer who can do a great job. I’m talking about legacy recordings, not new recordings. How do you feel about moving to MC what was originally Stereo?
Waldrep: Personally, I have no problem with a mixer/producer adapting an older master to MC in a balanced and creative way. My argument is that if 5.1 technology was available at the time the tracks were originally recorded and mixed, the artists would have embrace it whole-heartedly. I routinely place instruments or vocals all around the listener…why not? My goal is not recreate the sonic reality of a performance but to maximize the musical impact of the composition. If that means making a piano swirl around the room then why not try it (I haven’t yet found it to be effective…but there no absolute right or wrong way to mix). As long a the original stereo mix is included with a re-release…the mixers should make the best mix possible…in consultation with the artists and producer.
MT: Another issue that I have and one that I’ve actually heard happening is the actual re-recording of parts the original artists were unhappy with. Do you feel that is a part of the whole phenomenon of hi res music, the ability to correct what is felt to be an unsatisfying part?
Waldrep: That’s a personal issue with the artists…it’s their work, why shouldn’t they be able to continue to tweak it? We have tools that are so much better than before. For my own productions, I record the ensemble and singers live to high-resolution multitrack. There is no EQ, no compression, no overdubs…just great sound produced in a great hall by great musicians. If there’s a minor wart here or there…it’s OK with me.
MT: Where do you see the technology of hi resolution music going in the future? Will DVD-Audio or even SACD for that matter replace the CD or does CD stand a chance of technological improvement?
Waldrep: Equipment manufacturers and engineers will continue to take advantage of more powerful computer systems and delivery platforms. There will be 10.2 systems at 384 kHz/32-bits because the equipment will be cost effective and consumers will have it available to them. The CD is going away rather quickly…in as little as 3-5 years. DVD and HD DVD will replace it for movies and multichannel music.
MT: Which label do you like in their handling of hi-res formats, DVD-A and/or SACD?
Waldrep: My label is the only one that I can mention in responding to this question…audio captured in high-resolution during original sessions, using lots of stereo mics, no EQ, no compression, in a live hall without processing of any kind. No one else is doing anything close to this that I’m aware of.
MT: What, if any, improvements are in store for DVD-Audio or what can be envisioned for future implementation?
Waldrep: There will be larger capacities, higher sampling rates and of course, high-definition video…but it may not be called DVD-Audio.
MT: Tell us about the elusive hybrid aspects of the DVD-Audio.
Waldrep: I’m assuming that you’re referring to the “dual disc” or “DVD-Plus” format. I have replicated examples of these discs and have done some compatibility tests, which have confirmed for me that they will find their way to the marketplace this next year (2004). To my business, it’s not a critical component. AIX Records makes DVD-Audio/Video discs…a hybrid would only be useful for radio promotions or portable players. They are coming from the majors.
MT: Will there be portable DVD-Audio and/or SACD players to carry around, much like the CD Walkman (stereo)? What about MC in cars?
Waldrep: There are already portable DVD-Audio machines and automotive systems. The new Acura TL is the first with factory installed DVD-Audio. It’s amazing…Elliot Scheiner did a great job along with Panasonic and Acura.
MT: Do you feel that bonus materials are necessary to sell a DVD-Audio disc? What if the labels just dispensed with the extra bonus materials and sold an audio only album? Would it speed the time up as far as getting it out to the consumer is concerned or would authoring still be a time consuming work?
Waldrep: I firmly believe that bonus features are necessary for consumers to feel they’ve received value for their money. It’s a clear advantage that DVD-Audio has over SACD and makes the entire experience richer and more consumer friendly. We load a whole side of our titles with 14 gigs of bonus video, multiple mixes etc. and the feedback that we get is very encouraging. Would it speed things up…undoubtedly, but then you’d be back to the narrow model of SACD…a business with a limited future.
MT: In your mind, what is the future of recorded music? Do you see where the need for SACD/DVD-A even exists outside a niche capacity, perhaps where all music might be sold via online downloads? Also, will there be a need in the future to add on hybrid capability?
Waldrep: Music is moving in two directions, downloadable with compromised quality and physical with great quality and lots of bonus features. This may be niche but it’s one that spends a lot of money on equipment and software. The idea of a media center based around a living room PC running some form of Windows is being heralded as the inevitable path of home based entertainment. I’m not so sure that the simplicity and elegance of a dedicated DVD player for accessing audio and video is going to go away any time soon. Keep it simple…that’s why ECDs didn’t work and DVD did.
MT: Does technology allow for “rips” of perfect DVD-Audio quality thus allowing for potential streaming and downloading via legitimate services? What kind of hardware would be necessary to replay such quality provided that it is possible?
Waldrep: It is possible to rip a DVD-Audio product…although it might require a lot of patience and the compromise of an analog stage. Windows Media from Microsoft is at the forefront of this kind of thinking, there will come a time…but it’s not going to be simple and therefore might.
MT: Mark, thanks for your time and energy in enlightening us. We recognize that your time is valuable which makes us even more thankful for your accessibility and willingness to further our understanding of the higher resolution phenomenon. It is greatly appreciated.
Waldrep: You’re welcome…this was definitely a chunk of typing, but I do appreciate any opportunity to get the message out.