This week we dive into the high-resolution audio market. A lot is going on regarding this topic. Streaming services are using it as a unique selling point, and stereo speaker developers are innovating as much as they can.
What kind of resolution music do you listen, MP3 quality, CD quality or even higher? We interviewed with Brendon, founder of the label TRPTK and distributor of high-resolution recordings.
Hi Brendon! Please introduce yourself
Hi, I’m Brendon Heinst, co-founder and audio engineer at high-resolution music label TRPTK. During my Master’s Degree studies at the Utrecht School of Arts and Technology, I focused on high- resolution multichannel (5.1, 7.1, and more) recording. While studying, I noticed there were so many tools and techniques available to record in great quality, but they were often not used because “it’s going to end up at Spotify anyway”. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to work together with my friend and classmate Luuk Meijssen, who felt pretty much the same way. We decided we wanted to create some statement product, to show the music industry how it can also be done. And, well, long story short, that statement product actually became a music label, TRPTK.
What is the difference between a traditional label and TRPTK?
Even though there are some labels in the world that share our vision that music is an art form and has to be treated as such, I think there are three things that sets TRPTK apart from the bunch.
First and foremost, we have a very specific recording style. Everything we publish is recorded at 352.8 kHz 32 bits (a format called Digital eXtreme Definition), 16 times higher than CD quality. Why we do that is a very long story that mostly has to do with A/D-conversion and filtering, but we believe DXD is the true golden standard for recording.
To be able to achieve this level of resolution, we work closely together with the top of the top in the world of high-end audio world, such as Merging Technologies for AD/DA Conversion, Furutech for ultra-high-end cabling, and KEF and Hegel for monitoring. 90% of our microphone arsenal consists of Sonodore, who make 60V active powered microphones that we just absolutely adore for their purity of sound as well.
Another important aspect is that we refuse to limit ourselves to certain genres or styles. There’s beauty in absolutely every genre in the world, and the producer’s task is to capture that and translate it to the listener’s context. Because of this genre-blindness, we were the first label in the world to record progressive rock in DXD. Aside from that, we’ve recorded classical music, singer-songwriters, jazz music and even fado and bossanova. In January 2018, we’re releasing the world’s first conceptual rock opera in DXD, with a band called Human 2.0.
Lastly, I think something that sets us slightly apart from others is that we try to continuously develop ourselves and our techniques. As they say, you’re never done learning. We want to make every new album our best ever.
When do you accurately hear the difference in the audio quality?
Well, hopefully, always! If you record something well, the difference is heard across the board, from cheap iPhone earplugs to multi-million-euro sound systems. By staying away from dynamic compression and filtering, you should notice a huge increase in dynamics and timings, respectively.
Of course, the difference is more noticeable on a big ultra-high-end set up. That being said, you don’t have to get a second mortgage to get great sound nowadays. At just a little investment, you can get yourself some great-sounding equipment. I myself, personally, really love the KEF LS50 loudspeakers. They costs just around € 1.200,- for a paid, but man do they deliver some tight stereo imaging and deepness. Pair them with a nice but low-wattage amplifier and good cabling, and you have yourself a superb system without breaking the bank.
High-resolution audio is getting more and more accessible to the common folk, and it shows. Download and streaming platforms for high quality and high-resolution music have been mushrooming and more and more people own a (simple) great hi-fi set up at home.
How can artists get started with releasing high-resolution recordings?
Why, through TRPTK of course! Well, on a more serious note, recording at high-resolution is more than just toggling to a higher sample rate on your recording interface. Of course it’s a good beginning, and hard drive space is really not an issue anymore, but there’s just so much more to it. For example, the right room acoustics of your recording space, correct use of recording techniques, good monitoring to be able to hear problems arising in the recording/mixing/mastering process, etcetera.
That said, it’s becoming more and more accessible as well to be able to record your own tracks in high quality and with higher resolutions nowadays. Modern interfaces/AD-DA converters usually support 96 and even 192 kHz rates and their signal/noise ratio is pretty good. If you’re on a limited budget, I can’t stress it enough, just get good equipment but less of it. By having two high quality, all- round microphones, some good cabling and conversion, you’re able to lift your recording quality to such an unbelievably higher level.
Also, always trust your mastering to a “real” mastering engineer. It takes quite a specific kind of equipment to master your tracks, and definitely a different approach to things. As a mastering engineer, I’ve received many mixes that had great potential to it, even though recorded at home with regular equipment. A mastering engineer might hear what you as an artist don’t and vice versa. Working closely together with one, you can get the absolute best out of your own recordings and mixes.
How do you see the market developing the following years?
I think now that bandwidth isn’t that much of a problem anymore (so many people have 4G on their phones and broadband internet connections at home), you’ll see more and more focus towards lossless (FLAC) streaming. The convenience of having a million tracks in your pocket, instantly able to be shared with your friends, is a major plus. Lossless and high-resolution services like Tidal and especially Qobuz (who now offer up to 192 kHz 24 bits streaming!) might just become more popular over time, and rightly so. Music’s just so much more enjoyable when you hear exactly what the artists and producers intended...
What is the biggest challenge for TRPTK in this niche market?
The biggest challenge for us as a small label in this ever-changing world of countless streaming platforms and social media is definitely trying to keep up with everything. With just five people working, of which only two people full-time, and so many platforms, conventions, and everything, we try our best to reach as many people as possible, to spread the good word of high-resolution recordings. We try to have as much people to listen to our albums to understand the benefits of this approach, and work closely together with the biggest names in the high-end hi-fi industry to make sure as many people as possible do so.
What is your opinion about the loudness war and the developing of it?
Fortunately, it’s coming to its end very, very soon. My former teacher, Eelco Grimm, is making huge efforts to have all music platforms adhere to loudness normalizing, so that everything basically sounds just as loud. What will happen then is that people will begin to notice that when you listen to these overly compressed/limited masters on a normal level, they will sound like utter crap, and more dynamic masters will sound punchy, vivid, lifelike. As soon as that hits, the loudness war ends. Then, it’s not anymore about being noticed (whichever track is the loudest will often be recognized the most), but about the conveying of the emotions of the artists. And that’s what music is all about.
Go to www.trptk.com for more information.