Dave Madden / Blog

An Open Letter to Lovers of Music

1982 saw the advent of two major developments, both of particular importance to my lifelong devotion to music: the compact disc, and me. By every objective standard, the former has thus far enjoyed more success.

The CD was designed when hundreds of megabytes was a lot. Over time, as we digitized more of our music, dozens of gigabytes and even terabytes of digital storage have become commonplace—ever faster and cheaper to produce. The same can be said for processors and memory.

And the same is true for video, which has marched relentlessly from VHS to DVD to 5.1 Surround Sound to flat-screen, wide-screen, LCD, Hi-Def, HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc. Audio however, has not progressed beyond its original groundbreaking CD format. In fact, it hasn’t even maintained that level of quality.

The nimble mp3 sacrificed quality for convenience, and the world was changed. Its effects are both beautiful and terrible: spreading seemingly infinite amounts of music to the masses, birthing and destroying entire industries, and igniting fierce, unresolved debates. In all this chaos, one thing is clear: the CD is dying. Its sales continue to falter; its retailers shut their doors.

I say, let it die. \ The compact disc—once a revelation—has become a liability. It doesn’t offer the convenience and portability of an mp3, and it doesn’t offer the quality that the modern personal computer is capable of delivering. These records, Open-Eyed and Broken Wide, are among the first to be made available at a new level of audio quality I call “HD studio-quality” or technically: 96 kHz sample rate with 24-bit sample size. That’s more than 2x CD quality and more than 35x mp3 quality.

This outcome was the result of an epiphany I had while recording Open-Eyed. Making a record—while exciting—is also complicated. Processes like tracking, mixing and mastering are but major checkpoints between subtler steps. Through a few curious conversations, I learned that most records today are indeed being tracked (meaning recorded or committed to hard drive) at 96k, mixed at 96k and mastered at 96k. Yet at the very last step, just before this pristine quality is delivered into the listener’s waiting ears, out comes the sonic chainsaw to hack away half of those meticulously crafted ones and zeroes—ones and zeroes that are rightfully ours and, alas, cannot be expressed through the now archaic format of the CD.

I don’t accept that and you shouldn’t either. These are my songs and I want you to be able to hear what I wrote, what we played, what we recorded in the studio… not just some lazy approximation. My hope is that the height of the quality will help you experience the depth of the music.

So, what does 96k sound like? I describe it as having a “spacious clarity.” The overall sound is very open, very transparent. It’s almost as if each individual word, each note is more accurately defined, more present, letting you hear more without increasing the volume.

It should be noted that the capacity of this format won’t be appreciated via tiny ear buds, blown-out/abused car stereos or built-in laptop speakers. Save it for something nice: a good pair of headphones or a great stereo. Having said this, I understand that not everyone wants a revolution. Savoring music and devoting one’s attention to it is a modern luxury. If you don’t care about any of this, that’s fine. I hope you love the music anyway. Both records are available to you as large, uncompressed (96 kHz, 24 bit) “wave” files (.wav) and also as the traditional, familiar mp3s we all know and…well, tolerate.

Thanks for listening, Dave