iTrax High-Def Downloads Now Available

Mark Waldrep, the man behind the "only all-HD digital label," Aix Records, has now established an all-HD download site, While Music Giants and Linn offer HD downloads, iTrax calls itself "the only website to offer real HD in multiple mixing perspectives," since it offers consumers two-channel stereo, 5.1-channel "audience," and 5.1-channel "stage" perspectives in MP3, Dolby Digital, DTS, WMA pro, WMA Lossless, and PCM 96kHz/24-bit resolutions.

MusicGiants also offers "high-rez" downloads, meaning DRM-free WMA Lossless files, which is certainly high-rez compared to any lossy compressed format. Linn Records offers Linn Studio Master downloads at 88.2kHz and 96kHz 24-bit files, reflecting the resolutions at which the masters were recorded.

"We're kind of unique in that we don't claim to be the only place doing high-rez downloads," said Waldrep. "Linn's Studio Masters are legitimately 88.2kHz or better and 24-bit—but there are some places who claim to be high-rez when they're up-sampling Red Book quality. If you start with Red Book, you cannot exceed that baseline, in my opinion. I think high-rez starts at 88.2kHz and goes up from there."

Waldrep conceded that iTrax's roster isn't overflowing with recognizable names. The Tormé Sings Tormé disc is Mel's son Mark Tormé singing songs his father made famous, and both Nitty Gritty Dirt Band member John McEuen and son Jonathan have discs. "We don't have the biggest names in the business—yet. We're in talks with several labels that record in high-rez digital, who are interested in what we're doing, and we may work out distribution deals with them," he said. "But I don't have to do Aix or iTrax in order to make a living (Waldrep's day job is teaching), so I have the luxury of recording projects I want to do and doing them the way I think they should be done.

"Luckily, a certain audience of discerning listeners share this passion, so they buy pretty much anything we release—and now they won't have to wait until we can get the packaging done and the discs manufactured."

Convenience isn't the only factor in Waldrep's decision to take his recordings online. "Frankly, I think that the physical media are dying away, other than for the true fan base, who like to feel that connection with their favorite artists—they'll buy special editions at concerts and off websites. But the companies depending on selling CDs are having a hard time surviving. A lot of people simply want the music now—and some people want something better than recordings that are sonically compromised to sound good in a compressed format.

I call these consumers the 'Ferarri owners'—when you spend a hundred grand on a hi-fi, you don't want to listen to MP3s on it. You want rocket fuel—and our recordings are the food that fuels the Ferarri. People want to hear music that sounds real—and iTrax and Aix recordings do that very nicely."

iTrax has another arrow in its quiver: video. "Personally, I don't even need the video. I'm more of a lights-down kind of a guy—but the video is there if you want it." And if you do, iTrax has a doozy of a video experience for you, John Gorka's The Gypsy Life.

"I discovered John Gorka's recordings about 10 years ago and was just transfixed. I introduced myself to him through his manager about two years ago and proposed we do an intimate concert recording—sort of a house-concert done right—and to my surprise, he said yes. We ended up including rehearsal footage and made it a really special experience for fans.

"It's 'just' a guy with a great voice, singing great songs, with three other musicians accompanying him.

"Now, re-creating the experience of a concert in a concert hall is really cool—I liked that Dave Matthews DVD, after all—but isn't re-creating a concert in your living room even better? Radio City Music Hall is concert-going writ large, but a casual evening in your home is just so much better, at least to me."