New Low HD T

Oh HDTracks. I want to support what you do, but you make it so difficult. Under the “About This Album” section of the latest release from Beck, Morning Phase, is a single sentence at the end: “Please note: Tracks 4, 5, 7, 10, 11 contain elements of 48k tracking, mastered in 96/24.” I usually complain about HDTracks having nothing at all in terms of sourcing information, and something is better than nothing, right?

In this case, no, not really. HDTracks mentions track 11 contains elements of 48 kHz tracking. What they fail to mention is that the track has a 16 kHz brickwall filter, and another one at 22 kHz. That’s a very strong indication that the track started life as an MP3, and was not “mastered at 24/96,” but rather was transcoded from MP3 to CD Digital Audio, and then upsampled from 16/44 to 24/96. It’s bad enough that Capitol Records is selling a CD at least partially made from MP3 files, but the CD and the MP3 version cost about the same. The HDTracks version costs almost twice as much as the CD, and is only a few dollars less than the vinyl version. I know HDTracks is a store, not a record label, and they have no control over what they are given in terms of production. They also seemingly have no standards in terms of quality control, and will sell absolutely anything as “audiophile 24/96” including MP3 files.

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You knew I couldn’t let this go without talking about dynamics, and the picture there is no rosier. The CD version is DR6 overall, with hard clipping distortion on several tracks. The HDTracks version is exactly the same. The last track is a pathetic DR3 on both the CD and “HD” versions, and nearly all tracks hit 0dBFS. As you have probably figured by now, the HD version is a definite “do not buy.”

Here’s where things get a bit strange. If you buy the vinyl version of the album (DR10) you also get an MP3 version to download. That in itself is nothing new, except this version is called “The Vinyl Experience.” It’s sourced from the vinyl master (hooray!), but it was made to sound like you’re playing live vinyl, so you have surface noise, a long gap of silence between “Side A” and “Side B,” and you hear the sound of the needle hitting the groove, and at the end of the album, the run-out groove. Somewhat ironically, the vinyl was pressed at Pallas in Germany, and from what I’ve heard, the pressings are very high quality and very quiet in terms of surface noise. So assuming you keep your records clean, listening to the actual vinyl will likely have less “vinyl noise” than the digital “Vinyl Experience” version.

I’m all for including vinyl masters in digital form as an included download with the purchase of a vinyl release, and though I would strongly prefer FLAC to MP3, I’ll take what I can get. Let’s leave the “vinyl experience” out of it though, OK? The enjoyment from listening to vinyl doesn’t come from the clicks and pops.

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