I've never claimed to be an "audiophile," but I am fascinated by sound, how it's captured, and how it's presented.
I'm a casual fan of John Mellencamp and generally pay little mind when he releases a new album, but not this time. There's something different about Life, Death, Love, and Freedom and it has nothing to do with the artist himself. Producer T-Bone Burnett worked with Mellencamp on the album, which is an interesting enough pairing considering both have spent years mining Americana sounds. More interesting was the idea this new album would be released in a newly developed high-definition audio format.
I first wrote about this new format in May, and at that time details were a bit scarce. Since that first piece I've been asked by more than one person if I know anything about the particulars. I've done some digging and I'm pleased to say I was able to find additional information that might interest tech geeks and technophobes alike.
Burnett developed the new format, called CODE, and Mellencamp's new record will be the first released using this new standard. Albums encoded using this format are recorded to DVD. HD-audio on a standard DVD? How does that work?
Christopher Herot did a nice breakdown of this, which I'll attempt to paraphrase. The album is presented on DVD with all tracks in 24-bit/96kHz uncompressed audio tracks, which is the resolution used when albums are mixed and mastered. Standard CDs are encoded at 16-bits and 44.1kHz. In other words, the sound is compressed from its original form to "fit" on the CD, as it were.
Are you with me so far? Getting confused? Let's break it down in Q&A format. The voices in my head like talking to themselves.
Q: So if I read that right, I don't need expensive-ass equipment to hear this HD Audio?
A: That's right. Most standard DVD players will play this. I can't vouch for them all, though.
Q: So this new Mellencamp CD isn't a CD, but a DVD? How am I going to listen to that in my car?
A: Easy. The album is being packaged as both a CD and a DVD.
Q: Great, so I'm going to have to pay extra to get some new format I'm not all that sure I give a rat's ass about?
A: Nope. It's going to be packaged as a CD/DVD set, priced as a standard CD. Amazon pre-order price (as of today) is $9.99.
Q: I only listen to music on my iPod. Am I out of luck getting the fancy version of the album on my iPod unless I want to go to the headache of trying to rip the DVD's audio feed?
Actually you're not. The DVD comes with four copies of the album:
1 – A DVD which will play in most DVD players
2 – A 24/96 WAV file which is supported by iTunes (but not the iPod)
3 – A ΧΟΔΕ AAC file (which is supported by iPod)
4 – A ΧΟΔΕ MP3 file
Even the two "lossy" formats (AAC and MP3) are going to be an improvement over a lot of the AAC and MP3 files most listeners have encountered according to Burnett.
Q: How is this different than the shitty DVD-Audio format they tried foisting off on us a few years ago?
A: This is where my technical expertise runs a little thin. What I can tell you is that DVD-A were encoded in such a way you needed a DVD player capable of reading the DVD-A layer of the DVD to get the optimal sound. Very few people had such a DVD player and people weren't inclined to get one.
The CODE DVDs – like this one from John Mellencamp – will be readable by most DVD players and should play at the optimized resolution.
Q: Okay, so I've heard you blab on about the technology. Is the music any good? I mean, it's a Mellencamp CD, right?
A: I haven't heard a single high definition note from Life, Death, Love, and Freedom, so you're on your own. Fellow music editor "Iguana" Glen Boyd has already published a review of the album and I'm likely going to publish one myself, as soon as I get to hear it.