What is provenance? Its dictionary definition is “the place of origin or earliest known history of something” or “a record of ownership of a work of art or an antique, used as a guide to authenticity or quality.”

Back in the early days of the compact disc, SPARS (Society of Professional Audio Recording Services) identified if a particular production stage was accomplished in the analog or digital domain. A track that was recorded on an analog 24-track machine and edited/ mixed using analog equipment and then mastered for CD release was identified by the letters AAD. A purely digital recording would use the designation DDD. There were albums (such the ones by Telarc or Deutsche Gramophone) that charged a premium if they were produced entirely in the digital domain. The system fell out of favour over time as engineers moved between analog and digital processing and equipment during their productions. I think the effort was worthwhile and valuable to consumers. But that was then. Now? It’s a jungle. With the resurgence of vinyl, reel-to-reel tape, and the proliferation of high resolution files, people are selling these items without any indication of their provenance.


Vinyl that are digitally mastered are all over the place. Analog masters that have been digitally remastered and used as the master for vinyl and reel to reel tapes are in abundance. High resolution recordings that have no sonic information beyond the equivalent CD counterparts are also commonplace. I would, quite frankly, call these recordings and albums a scam. Upsampling in audio is not going to add additional sonic data into what you hear in a recording. It does not do any interpolation whatsoever. One can simply open the song file and see what’s inside the file. In many cases, the “better” overall sound is caused by the higher amplitude (read: volume level) of the file.

I would like to see high definition digital download sites, reel to reel record labels, and vinyl, adopt a voluntary program to identify and categorize tracks as to their provenance and technical specifications in a way similar to the previously mentioned SPARS codes. I recognize that it’s a daunting task, but it would be of tremendous benefit to consumers.
If a track was recorded on analog tape and originally mixed to a 2-track analog deck, letting consumers know that will benefit everyone in this new market.

Marketing everything that was every recorded and is now being made available at 96/24 or higher and called HD is false marketing. Selling reel to reel tapes that are mastered from a digital source is false marketing. Selling vinyl that are mastered from a digital source is anywhere between misleading to false marketing (depending on the album title).

I have no problem with customers having the ability to purchase and download classic albums/tracks from the original master tapes as digital files or tapes or vinyl. A good track is a good track. However, until labels are open about the provenance of their products, never assume anything. You might have just been had.

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