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Is HDTracks becoming more hip?

  • In recent months HDTracks has shown signs that it’s no longer just a repository for ‘that‘ audiophile music (and all of its negative connotations). No, HDTracks is slowly morphing into your cool uncle who still goes to gigs.  The one who wears Doc Martens and band t-shirts.

    First came Suede’s much touted reunion album Bloodsports. Here in 24/44.1 (US$18).  Only Americans call them The London Suede.  Then HDTracks dropped The National’s Trouble Will Find Me in 24/96 (US$18).   Oh, and then there’s Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories in 24/88.2 (US$18).  Make sure your DAC can play 88.2kHz sample rates before you take the plunge.


    There’s always been a healthy amount of hi-res R.E.M. on HDTracks but the 25th anniversary remaster/re-issue of 1988’s Green has seen this hi-res music store score quite the coup: the bonus cuts, a live show from the 1989 Green World tour, features not only the same tracks as the bonus CD of the physical release but also the limited edition ‘Live In Greensboro’ companion CD EP released for RSD 2013. Both the 24/96 (US$28) and 24/192 (US$39) merge the content from these two CDs to form a more coherent representation of a killer live show. There are far more cuts here than on the Tourfilm movie so if you loved that, you’re gonna lose your shit over this.


    This week’s HDTracks newsletter announced the availability of four albums by The Smiths. Their eponymous debut, Meat Is Murder and Strangeways Here We Come download direct to your hard drive at 24/96. The Queen Is Dead is the odd one out: it’s only available at 24/44.1. This four-album bundle is available for US$66. Presumably these are the digital (re)masters used for 2011’s vinyl re-issues?

    The hi-res collection is called ‘Complete’ but it isn’t as complete as the CD box sets of the same name – there’s no sign of (compilations) Hatful Of Hollow, The World Won’t Listen, Louder Than Bombs or (the live) Rank. If you don’t mind lossy files you can get a more complete ‘Completefrom iTunes for the same money.

    Further Information: HDTracks

    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


    1. I’ve noticed that as well. A year ago, most of their rock collection consisted of the standard audiophile fare — tired prog rock, obscure jazz artists and the fetish for anything by Diana whatshername (Mrs. Elvis Costello). Seemingly the stuff most audio dealers try to put on when one auditions gear. A welcome trend as is the alternatives to the very wonky FLAC format.

      A great website.

    2. You can buy “The Smiths Complete” download, 44.1 kHz 16-bit LOSSLESS – all 106 tracks – for 37Euros at

    3. I am surprised that HDtracks is still offering their albums in FLAC format.

      Did anyone convert HDtracks FLAC to high-res WAV file and compare with the original HDtrack FLAC and notice difference?

      I personally enjoy very much upsampling 16/44 redbook CD’s to 32 bit/192 kHz WAV files at the moment. These large WAV files are much more musical and easier ‘digested’ by my NAD C390DD 35 bit/844 kHz DAC into an improved analog sine wave of the original content than all 16/44 WAV or Flac files I own at the moment.

      To my opinion and personal experience, part of HDtracks success and higher resolution formats in general is not only due to superior sonic and high-res content present during the recording and mastering process, but also achieved by the DA conversion itself.

      Processing ‘mashed potatoes’ so-to-say, seems to be easier than chewing ‘chunks of potatoes’.. I have the impression that this mathematical aspect of digital signal processing is being underestimated.

      In the 6-Moons review of the NAD-M2 the following statement describes this mathematical aspect:

      ” While digital signal is processed up to 24 bits and analog automatically converted to 24 bits, NAD actually talks of 35-bit math. At first glance this makes no sense. It’s simply about mathematical headroom however. Envision a basic pocket calculator. If it accepts 24-digit figures, subsequent calculations can easily exceed those digits. A calculator with 35 digits will produce more accurate results”

      So,I hope also HDtracks will soon shift towards the 32-bitdepth at 192kHz, preferably WAV …

      Please try it for yourself and upsample a 16/44 WAV file to 32/192 WAV (using DBPoweramp or other program) and compare … You will be surprised!

      p.s. this experiment will only work with a DAC able to process 32-bit

      Regards, Peter

      • Some very, very bleeding egde ideas there Peter but I’m sure some readers will game for a tinker. However, this conversation is really about the types/styles of music offered by HDTracks.

        • Yes John, you are indeed correct.

          In my enthusiasm I mixed up the recent findings at home regarding upsampling and ‘manufacturing’ HD material and this new thread regarding HDtracks

          My quest for improvement and disclosing the master-tape sound on my stereo was initiated by the existence and developments at HDtracks and their licensed albums. Before that, many of us enjoyed (and still do..) MFSL CD’s and LP’s and others.

          It is an interesting phenomenon to notice that there is a growing market for ‘recycling & pimping’ important albums. The need for improved sound reproduction of our favorite albums is a positive market trend, in which HDtracks is taking the lead.

          Unfortunately it is too easy for them to camouflage bad master-tape quality or even worse, offering no ‘true’ master-tape quality to the public…

          The 24/96 or 24/192 ‘label’ is in itself NO objective quality parameter at all. It just reflects the density of the data, but not the (source) quality.

          There is therefore quite some fuzz going on on the internet, whether all HDtracks albums are nothing more than just upsampled albums of some digital 16/44 ‘master-tape’ As long as HDtracks is re-mastering analog master tapes with their superior 24/192 AD technology, this is a different story, but still it is not certified that the data is originating form the mastertape.

          Luckily enough, these type of marketing-tricks can (and have been) revealed by the use of a digital spectrometer, in which this type of ‘fraude’ can be shown.

          I would therefore welcome an initiative from HDtracks which shows (non audible) eveidence or watermarking or other type of certification that the tracks are 100% bitperfect and do originate from the 1st generation master-tape of the original album.

          I do have some serious doubts that, for example, Fleetwood Mac’s albums as offered by HDtracks do originate from this first (analog) master-tape.

          I would also encourage readers of this thread to compare their HDtracks albums with their personally upsampled 24/96 or 24/192 (and here I go again..) if feasible a 32/192 (or higher) rip of their own original 16/44 WAV albums..

          I do miss an objective discussion and comparison regarding the (potentially intrinsic) positive contribution of chunking up the 16/44 WAV files into higher data-streams. This must be done ‘off-the-fly’ like HDtracks is offering their data. When using a PC or Mac for ‘on-the-fly’ upsampling, it will deteriorate and camouflage the advantage.

          But maybe it is better to proceed this discussion in a separate thread John 😉

          Regarding HDtracks becoming more ‘hip’ I can only say that it is nothing more than a new way of making more money from old and new albums to a large and (in many cases) quite ignorant audience..

          I do not understand how the US$11 price difference between the 24/96 (US$28) and 24/192 (US$39) of R.E.M.’s album can be justified only due to the higher sample rate. The re-mastering of both the 24/96 and the 24/192 version are most probably identical and the 24/96 version is nothing more than a downsampled version of the ‘original’ 24/192 version.

          I am not a R.E.M. fan, otherwise I would purchase both version and do some personal upsampling and downsampling of this HD material and compare the differences. It will not surprise me if it will turn out that the difference is not at all audible..!

          Today I will proceed with some of these upsampling and conversion tricks. Most interesting one will be the conversion of a 24/96 or a 24/192 HDtracks FLAC file into a 32/192 WAV file…

          The less conversion and the shorter the signal path the better the sound quality. And in ‘audiophile -country’ in which we live in it is all about music and sound quality, isn’t it..?

          LISTEN and you will SEE (one of the better marketing sentences in the audio industry.. B&W use)

          Regards, Peter

      • Hi Peter
        FLAC files are lossless so you can convert them to WAV very easily so I don’t see the problem.
        We have have heard the same comments about AIFF versus ALAC.
        Linn recommend using FLAC and ALAC so we recently did some comparisons using a Linn Klimax DS.
        We actually thought the ALAC and FLAC may have been every so slightly better than the WAV and AIFF but there was nothing in it.
        I suspect t the reason for this is that the Linn converts and up-samples these files in its software before sending them to the DAC.
        QI would suggest the reason you are hearing such a difference lies with the NAD being unable to convert these files without adding noise to the analogue output.

    4. BEWARE of where HDTracks sources their masters from. They often tell you absolutely NOTHING, which IMO is inexcusable when a certain album may have been remastered as many as a half a dozen times.

      Take Nirvana’s Nevermind for example. The HDTracks version comes from… where? Anyone? Bueler? If you’ve heard the ORG or even the MFSL vinyl you know that the HDTracks release is no match for them. Not because vinyl is in any way superior to 24/96 digital but because the HDTracks comes from some mystery master by some mystery engineer that didn’t do as good a job as the guys at ORG and MoFi.

      • Agreed – it’s all about the mastering quality. A debate that we could have for hours. However, I look at what HDTracks gives the buyer over and above a physical Redbook CD release rather than its shortcomings when compared to the best vinyl pressings.

    5. Although I have noticed a tiny movement in HDTracks’ stock towards the more interesting/ambitious kind of music, 99% of it is still incredibly lame and obscure. I went through their entire catalog of hi-res titles and found only 3 jazz and 3 classical albums (of which I already own 3 on regular CDs) that I would care to buy.

      I assume that whoever runs that company, decides about what to offer according to his/her own tastes.

      Whatever happened to Neil Young’s Pono project?

      • I think they began life offering audiophile recordings of audiophile-style music (not my bag at all) but my point here is that they seem to crossing over into alt-rock territory (which is definitely more my thing).

        Neil Young’s Pono project is being developed in conjunction with Meridian but details are presently still very, very vague.

    6. HDTRacks offer downloads in the following formats:

      WAV, FLAC, AIFF and ALAC. You can choose your default when registering.

    7. I see they only sell to US customers… I presume you have one of those international credit cards?

    8. Beware REM fans on the HDTracks release of Monster. It was taken from a 5.1 mix and is horrible in 2 channel playback. Stipe’s vovals are way out front and everything else, with the exception of parts of Buck’s guitar work is buried in the background. Apparently, HDTracks has known about the quality of the file for years (I am not the first to complain) and HDTracks has neither removed it or noted that it is from a 5.1 mix. I wrote HDTracks and received this is response:

      Hi Glen,
      As with all the music in our store, we receive the most up to date masters from our record label partners. Each record label has their own recording/mastering process when it comes to high res. We are not a record company. We don’t do anything to music provided to us by record companies. We are just a retailer. We don’t downsample or upsample.

      Whenever possible we try to provide as much information as possible about the mastering process that is giving to us by the labels.

      Some recordings when remastered may present qualities that originally were unnoticeable when first released or in previous formats. We only hope that our label partners have taken note of that. When it is an issue we do our best to have them correct it.

      In general with regards to our hi-res content, we DO test them in-house as well as by an independent 3rd party, at various time points within each track in the album. What we look for is a gradual rolloff in frequencies up to the appropriate point for 44, 48, 76, 88, 96/24, etc, and reject anything with an obvious brickwall cutoff. Note that depending on where in a track a sample is taken, the rolloff may be at a slightly different frequency, which is natural with dynamic music.

      I hope this information is helpful.

      Helpful???? Seriously????

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