Written by 6:00 am Audiophile, Audiophile Music • 17 Comments

Is The Audiophile High Resolution Music Business Jumping The Shark?

Mark Smotroff wonders if audiophiles shall ever learn from the past?

My jaw dropped a lot. I gagged a little. No… actually, I gagged a whole bunch. I did a double take when the email from the good folks at HD Tracks came in and there at the bottom was a link to a high resolution download of an album by the “Living Voices.”

AR-AudiophileSharkJumpAngel225.jpgNow, for many (dare I say, most) of you, we probably need to set the wayback machine to my audiophile infancy. When I was a little kid growing up in the 1960s I quickly became aware of records that were “cool” and records that were decidedly not.  Even at my young age (I bought my first single when I was five) I was aware that there was a phenomenon of recordings especially made for an older group of people who were not like me or my older brothers.  Apparently, these were people who didn’t like the raucous rhythms of rock ‘n roll and “that modern jazz” (as Chuck Berry put it) and records made for them were were often quite popular, remaining steady sellers in an ongoing series.

Don’t believe me?  Click this link to Discogs which tracks a search for “Living Strings” (a sister series to this), a catalog which begins in 1960 and stretches to just about the 80s! That is a lot of titles and this is just one “brand” for this music… The 101 Strings and many other knock off recordings littered the record racks for decades. 

AR-AudiophileSharkJump#1Cartoon225.jpgEnterprising producers reasoned (wisely, I might add) that perhaps these same audiences might well like the melodies underlying some of those ever trendy hits us kids were rocking out to. This concept of dumbing down (if you will) probably started in the 1950s but may have begun earlier, I don’t know for sure. Regardless, by the time of my youth in the 1960s it was “a thing” (as they say) and there were scores of albums released featuring the hits of the day watered down into non confrontational “easy listening” sonic pablum.  

Many of these albums came out on budget labels, perhaps acknowledging the fact that older folks these were likely targeting tend to have lower disposable income for things like music. Or, perhaps it was simply due to the fact that there wasn’t a lot of marketing budget available for this stuff — they just showed up in stores, I suspect. I don’t really know and it doesn’t really matter…

AR-AudiophileSharkJump#2Cartoon225.jpgNow, not all of this kind of music was/is bad. Heck, these days I admit that I own several of the “Living Guitars” and “Nashville Guitars” type releases on vinyl which are well recorded (and most feature terrific playing from studio icon Al Caiola). I get it. But then, I bought those records at thrift shops and garage sales 45 years later for 50 cents, primarily to hear the guitar work, not for some audiophile experience.  Apart from a relative handful of early albums from these types of artists — such as early Ferrante and Teicher on Westminster Records, when they were cool and pretty out there as far as commercial mainstream tastes were concerned — most of these easy listening affairs are pretty nebulous performance wise. 

I do not own any recordings by the Living Strings or the Living Marimbas. And I certainly don’t plan to buy any recordings by the Living Voices. 

Just seeing Living Voices albums available as a 192 kHz, 24-bit download raises the question (at least for me):  are audiophiles this desperate for good quality recordings of any sort that they would sacrifice musicality just to hear a well recorded pops orchestra and singers in high resolution?  This is the kind of “elevator music” that continues to clog up shelves at thrift shops and bargain bins around the world…  

AR-AudiophileSharkJumpWinkler225.jpgHas the audiophile download market effectively jumped the shark?  (For those of you not familiar with the origin of the phrase, which involved actor Henry Winkler in his role as Fonzie on the hit 1970s TV show Happy Days, please click here for a bit of edjumacation courtesy of the Wiki).

So now Living Voices will eat up precious hard drive space too, not just the shelves at thrift shops around the world? Isn’t one Jazz at the Pawnshop enough for lackluster instrumental music that technically sounds good? 

Most of these Camden Records releases were designed as budget line vinyl releases to begin with so I do wonder how these recordings are suddenly supposed to be considered an audiophile value at a $15 price tag? You can find a near mint original vinyl copy on Discogs for about $10, while most are under $5.  Frankly, if you visit your friendly neighborhood Goodwill or Salvation Army family store you will probably find a half dozen of these sorts of records around for less than $3 a pop. Heck, Rasputin Music here in San Francisco has a whole section of albums like that for fifty cents a piece. 

AR-AudiophileSharkJumpTidal225.jpgYou can check out the title track for this Living Voices album on YouTube (click here).  To get the full impact of this music in all its saccharinity you should listen at least to the point where the whole choir comes in on the Chorus, around the one minute mark. If that is not enough punishment, you can stream the whole album on Tidal if you have a subscription (click here for that)

What comes next: a Sing Along With Mitch Miller revival in 5.1 surround? Will we get 101 Strings in Dolby Atmos? 

Paraphrasing (and with apologies to) Shakespeare:

O wonder!

How many goodly creatures are there here!

How ridiculous audiophile-kind is! 

O brave new world

That has such recordings in’t!


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