Why we started FDRHD.com
We've always thought about the mastering process as orientated around the RMS of the program material and not the peak. This concept is something that has been lost in our opinion, after the introduction of digital audio the focus has shifted to the peak, hence the quest for loudness continues unabated without the previous physical restrictions of older formats such as vinyl to consider.
We have always seen the restriction of the peak as an output format requirement and not wholly as part of the mastering process as it was with the restrictions of the physicality of cutting to vinyl and its differences to audio CD. This means we, as with many other engineers, have always made a full dynamic range master but have had to limit them because of the client's requirements.
All of this has eventually led us to the launching of the download store selling these full dynamic range master versions in high definition at the same grade as the mastering process.
This facilitates those artists and labels to sell a different product, one that accesses a different market. Not the hyper-compressed iTunes or audio CD market but the more discerning audiophile and musician. Both have access, in general, to equipment allowing playback of higher resolution audio files and better quality playback systems and so can benefit greatly from this increase in quality.
In our ethos we are not trying to say artists shouldn't release music which is hyper-compressed. We're just giving them the opportunity to sell another product to a different consumer and maybe in the process make all consumers aware of what they're listening to.
This is a format we want other mastering engineers and studios to get involved with. We want to bring as many albums in a full dynamic range high definition format to the public as we can.
Let people hear the music as we do – no restrictions, no compromise.
This is what we should all be interested in, hearing music at its best!
What do we mean by FDRHD (Full Dynamic Range High Definition)?
FDRHD (Full Dynamic Range High Definition) is all about hearing an album at its optimum sound quality, with full dynamic range and in its highest resolution. No loss of quality, no compromise. This means you hear the album at the same quality as the mastering engineer.
FDR – Full Dynamic Range: delivers an album at its optimum sound level dynamically, leaving the listener to decide on the playback level. This means that the track is not heavily limited to increase perceived loudness – you hear the tracks as they were made and intended to sound.
When finalising the audio for an artist's album, the primary focus of the mastering engineer is good tonal balance and appropriate dynamic restriction, relative to the genre of music.
With the advent of digital technology in the late 1970s there has been a gradual decrease in the relative level of dynamic range in the final product for the consumer. Albums have become louder and louder for the simple reason that perceptively (because of the way we perceive audio) a louder product sounds 'better' in comparison to the same audio played quieter. Fundamentally if we turn it up, it sounds like it has more bass/weight and brightness/excitement. This is just a psycho-acoustic effect and has led to what audio engineers refer to as 'the loudness wars'.
Nearly all mastering houses of note use an analogue processing path, in which we are concerned with what we call the RMS (Root Mean Squared) of the audio – its weight. With the advent of digital audio this has meant we also need to focus on the peak of a signal to avoid unpleasant digital clipping. To correct this we have to use digital limiting. Because this enables the engineer to 'turn up' the volume of the audio – making it perceptively louder – it has led to the increase in audio playback levels over time.
This is not a wholly mastering engineer led phenomenon but one driven by record labels and sometimes artists in the perception their music will be better received if it is louder when played against another production.
In some ways this is true. In an online consumer environment, where people are auditioning clips of music on iTunes/Youtube, when making a comparison, without consciously realising, they may buy a louder production as they think they can hear it sounds better. Hence the perception being that louder sounds better.
The reality at home is that we adjust our playback system to an appropriate listening level. On the radio or live, any DJ would balance their tracks for equal playback level and so on. Volume is a decision for playback, not delivery. Thus, bringing us back to the job of mastering engineers; to make an album sound balanced or 'fit for purpose' in any playback environments. Not just to make the music sound louder.
If we actually play different pieces of audio at the same perceived volume, what engineers call 'equal loudness', we can hear the actual difference between the compared audio. If we do this with a 'loud' album (what mastering engineers would describe as 'hyper-compressed' or over limited) and the original session mixes, often we can hear unpleasant distortion, dulling and the audio can sound tiring because of the lack of dynamic range.
This is obviously not a good outcome for the audio but unfortunately the purpose of dynamic range in music has become blurred by commercial pressures. Some would say, why not have an 'industry standard' dynamic range to avoid this, but, music is art. Should we really be forcing a standard upon it? As to what is appropriate – surely this depends on the 'art', the music itself.
This is why FDR is important for music. Each album has an ideal dynamic range relative to its genre/style. There is no standard which covers all. FDR delivers an album at its optimum sound level dynamically, leaving the listener to decide on the playback level.
HD – High Definition: delivers the audio with the same detail of resolution as the creative audio process – no rate reduction – no compromise.
For some years now we've all been aware of the move in consumer film/TV deliver to what is called HD – basically better clarity of picture and audio.
The Hi-Fi community has equally, for some time, enjoyed higher resolution formats at qualities better than standard CD audio. These have been SACD (DSD) format, DVD Audio or digital downloads at 24bit 88/96/192kHz quality files. These are all excellent delivery quality and to be commended.
The problem being up until now was that the audio delivered is still in a hyper-compressed state, as on the commercial CD and not FDR.
At FDRHD.com we deliver the audio at its highest resolution from the mastering process – no down sampling or bit depth reduction – at full dynamic range in high definition.
What is the difference between an Audio CD and an FDRHD release?
An audio CD is 16bit 44.1kHz, giving a dynamic range of 96dB. FDRHD is a minimum of 24bit 88.2kHz, which gives a dynamic range of 144dB and twice the amount of detail every second. Every engineer who has recorded at higher quality than CD and then had to reduce it to CD quality has heard the difference! Less definition, less depth.
Why buy FDRHD?
FDRHD is Full Dynamic Range High Definition. The typical modern method of delivery for mastered audio involves using heavy limiting to restrict the dynamic range to increase perceived loudness. However, this results in unwanted artifacts caused by the process, commonly the blurring of transients and increased likelihood of distortion. FDRHD files are not limited for loudness and therefore, these unwanted artifacts are avoided. This results in better clarity audio files. The tracks are still mastered, but not ‘hyper-limited’.
Further, FDRHD files are delivered in high definition. In most modern studios it is common for tracks to be recorded and mixed at well above CD quality audio. This means that in order to meet the standard of CD audio or MP3 tracks must be reduced in quality, resulting in a loss in definition. FDRHD files are not reduced in quality and are delivered at the same resolution as the final mastering process, avoiding this unwanted quality loss. This means that you, the customer, will receive the audio files at their highest quality and free from unnecessary limiting. You hear the tracks at the same quality as the mastering engineer. You hear the tracks, as they should be heard, high quality with no compromise.
What is the difference between FDRHD and other digital music services?
Obviously we cannot speak for every other digital music service but the general products sold by other digital music services are MP3 (256kbps to 320kbps etc), CD quality .Wav, AIFF or FLAC. It is rare to find digital music services, which provide quality greater than CD audio, i.e. sample rates of 44.1kHz and bit depths of 16bit. This requires a reduction in quality from the original masters. FDRHD files are not reduced in quality from the original masters and we provide .wav files of a minimum of 88.2kHz and 24bit. This means that FDRHD files will, in most cases, be at least twice the detail per second of typical digital downloads and 1.5 times the dynamic range.
This said, in comparison to other high definition services who may possibly be delivering non-up-sampled material i.e. from the original mastering path, they are not delivering them unlimited. We do not 'hyper-limit' the tracks for perceived loudness, providing audio files free from the unwanted artifacts of the limiting for perceived loudness process. This results in greater clarity.
What is the difference between AIFF, FLAC, Wav and MP3 files?
AIFF stands for 'Audio Interchange File Format' and is a PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) lossless file format used primarily by Apple. Lossless means that the file is not data compressed and this will result in the files being slightly larger than lossy (data compressed) files. AIFF files are commonly CD audio quality (44.1kHz, 16bit) but higher quality is possible. AIFF files are often used to provide audio samples for sound sample packs used for music production as they can include loop and note data for use in samplers. Data compression is possible with AIFF files but data compressed files of this type are referred to as AIFF-C to differentiate between the two types.
FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) is a file format that allows lossless data compression in that the data is compressed to reduce file size but the original data, can be retrieved by the media player used to playback the file. Although probably the most common lossless data compression file type, FLAC has less support from media players than file formats such as WAV and MP3 which, has resulted in it thus far being less popular despite its obvious advantages.
WAV (Waveform Audio File Format) is similar to AIFF in that it is a PCM lossless file. It is however more common than AIFF files and although usually at CD audio quality (44.1kHz, 16bit) WAV files can be found in much higher quality, up to 192kHz with bit depths of up to 64bit.
MP3 is the most common lossy data compressed file type. MP3s are usually found in qualities between 256kbps to a maximum of 320kbps. They are of inferior quality to any of the lossless formats listed above but remain popular due to their smaller size comparatively, allowing faster internet transfers or larger numbers of music tracks to be stored on computer hard drives or portable media devices such as Apple iPods. Although convenient, MP3s are lower quality and therefore not appropriate for situations where the retention of audio quality is desirable or required.
Can you really hear the difference between differing audio formats?
The short answer is yes. Even through relatively poor quality listening equipment it is easy to spot the difference between a low quality MP3 file and a CD quality wav file for example. As the quality of the files being compared increases the differences become less obvious on lower quality playback systems but can be spotted clearly on higher quality playback. This is similar to the ease at which the difference between a DVD film and a Blu-Ray film can be spotted on a HD television but would be much harder to spot on an old large backed vacuum tube television.
How do you import an FDRHD album into iTunes, or another music player?
FDRHD files are WAV or FLAC format and therefore can be imported in the same way that any other WAV or FLAC file would be imported. The only difference is that it may be necessary to confirm that your playback system is performing at the correct sample / bit rate and isn't automatically down-sampling the audio for playback or converting it on import.
What happens if my download is lost from my hard drive?
Files can be downloaded up to three times with any purchase and therefore you can simply log back into your account and re-download the file. If, you have already used your five downloads you can email customer support at firstname.lastname@example.org
We place this restriction on downloads to attempt to reduce the risk of piracy through file-sharing.
How many times can I download my purchase?
You can download any purchased track three times. This allows room for recovery in the unfortunate event that you lose your track through accidental deletion or hard drive failure for example.
Can I get FDRHD at 32bit?
Yes, but that would be driven by customer requests. The mastering transfer path is often converted back to digital at 32bit floating point meaning it would be feasible to supply FDRHD 32bit float files but currently there is minimal support for this in terms of playback. If enough customers request a particular album in this format we would be able to supply it.
What format are the previews in the FDRHD audio player?
Dependant on your operating system and web browser they will be either 128kBits Stereo MP3’s or 128kBits Stereo OGG files. Both of these are made from the original resolution files to minimise artifacts in the conversion process.
Obviously they do not have the quality or depth of resolution as the FDRHD product but do have the benefit of still being FDR. These are all two minutes in length and will give you a good idea of a given albums musicality.
How do I open my download / zip file?
All FDRHD downloads from your account dashboard will be in ZIP packages. Within each ZIP package, you'll find your WAV, FLAC or Artwork file/s.
Opening ZIP files is easy, both PC's and Mac's come with tools to extract the packages seamlessly. Just double click the file and you'll see the contents.
Drag the files out of the package to another location on your computer to allow playback.
Once copied out of the ZIP file and you've confirmed the file/s play correctly you can delete the ZIP file to reduce hard drive storage space.
Some media applications like VLC, allow you to load ZIP files directly into the playlist, avoiding the need to duplicate copies.
Media Players and how to playback FDRHD audio correctly.
Playing back FDRHD audio correctly:
To hear the full quality of the FDRHD releases, you should listen on a playback system capable of a minimum resolution of 24 bit 96 kHz. You'll need to check the specification of your media player, DAC or computer audio hardware.
We currently recommend the freeware program VLC player for Mac and PC. VLC will playback the high resolution WAV and FLAC file formats correctly as long as your hardware is capable of a minimum resolution of 24 bit 96 kHz.
Apple's i-tunes does not currently support FLAC but will playback WAV at higher resolution than CD correctly as long as your hardware is capable of a minimum resolution of 24 bit 96 kHz.
Can I play an FDRHD album on my Apple iPad, iOS device or via AirPlay?
A FLAC file will not playback directly on your iPad or other iOS devices. You'll need to download to a PC, Mac OS or linux machine. You can then play at full quality with VLC or other media players dependant on your playback card.
A WAV file will play on most iOS devices but will be trucated to CD quality or lower but will still be FDR.
You can stream via AirPlay from a host machine but this with truncate to CD quality or lower but will still be FDR. To do this you'll need to convert FLAC to apple lossless.
Please check our other FAQ for more information on media players and FDR.