Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns at 24 bit / 96 kHz
Ordering Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns through John Hiatt's website had one unexpected benefit. I received the CD/DVD package one day early and about 30 minutes prior to leaving for the airport to visit Listen Up in Denver. Needless to say I carried the CD/DVD onboard the plane and spent a couple hours ripping the CD and audio off the DVD-Video disc, and listening to the 16/44.1 and 24/96 versions of the album. The DVD disc of Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns is a DVD-Video disc that does not contain visible audio files such as AIFF or WAVE. It's possible to play the 24/96 version of the album on a disc spinner, like the one built into all computers, but a major benefit of computer playback is then negated. Like most audiophiles I ripped the 24/96 audio form the DVD-Video disc. I used the new Mac OS X version (10.7 Lion ready) of DVD Audio Extractor to rip the files in FLAC format. Readers interested in learning this process can view my in-depth DVD ripping article here. Needless to say the environment at 35,000 feet is often not conducive to critical listening so I spent much of the time listening casually and analyzing the ripped files with Audacity.
I'll be the first person to admit I do not have the skills of an Audio Engineer who works with high resolution audio on a daily basis. In addition I am using the consumer grade free application called Audacity as my analysis tool. Over the last few years I've analyzed my fair share of audacity spectrograms and asked my fair share of questions to professionals much more learned than myself. Questions sent to 'Dirty Jeans' Mastering Engineer George Marino of Sterling Sound were not immediately returned. Based on my own analysis of all eleven tracks on Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns it appears the 24/96 version was sourced from 48 kHz files. Evidence of 48k to 96k upsampling can be seen by looking at the spectrograms for each track. For example the track Adios To California has a very unnatural cutoff at about 24 kHz. It's easy to see the horizontal straight line cutting off all frequencies above 24k. Real instruments do not have filters that stop all sonics at specific frequencies. If John Hiatt's Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns 24/96 version was sourced from 44.1 files the horizontal cutoff would be seen at 21 kHz (44.1 / 2) instead of 24 kHz (48 / 2).
An example of what a native 24/96 recording should look like can seen by looking at the following spectrogram of Guitar Noir released by Mark Waldrep's AIX label and downloadable from iTrax.com. The higher frequencies clearly fade away naturally.
On a positive note some of the waveforms on Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns are not nearly as compressed as much of today's popular music. One example is the waveform of the track When New York Had Her Heart Broke. Compared to many albums this waveform is music to my ears. Take a look at the following waveform from Green Day's 21st Century Breakdown album. Just looking at this causes headaches.
I returned from my trip to Denver Tuesday evening and quickly began listening to Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns at 16/44.1 and 24/96 on my main audio system. I figured the sonics would be nearly indistinguishable based on the subpar spectrograms. I certainly had an expectation bias but it was impossible for me to throw away the spectrogram facts. Over the course of a couple days I listened to the CD version and the 24/96 version back to back as complete albums. Shortly before writing this article I conducted some quick A/B tests that served to confuse my brain much more than the prolonged listening experiences. During one of the first prolonged listening sessions I could have sworn the difference between the 44.1 and 96 versions was huge and readily apparent. I heard air around the cymbals, great texture in John's voice, and a cohesive three dimensional sound stage in the higher resolution version of this album. To my dismay I was unable to duplicate this experience in any subsequent listening session. I setup the Aurender S10 music server to shuffle between 44.1 and 96k tracks while I tried to identify them as 44.1 or 96k. This testing was a disaster as I selected the incorrect version half the time and really confused myself the longer and harder I tried to listen for differences. That type of listening was an absolute mess.
The results of my listening tests should not be taken as an indication of how this album or any other 24/96 album will sound to someone else in a different system in a different room, on a different day, etc. My experience is a single datapoint among many. Overall the new John Hiatt album is pretty good. I highly recommend Hiatt fans go to his site and download the FLAC version of the Redbook CD. At least CA readers can support lossless downloads from great artists.
- Source: Aurender S10
- Remote Control: Aurender iPad App
- DAC: Meitner MA 1
- Preamp: Audio Research LS27
- Amplifier: Bel Canto Design ref1000m
- Loudspeakers: TAD Labs Compact Reference (CR1)
- Cables: AudioQuest Redwood Loudspeaker Cable, AudioQuest Niagara Balanced XLR Analog Interconnects, Mogami W3173 Heavy Duty AES 110 ?, AudioQuest NRG-100 Power Cables