Note: I'm posting as a member here. As I state in a quote in the Moderation FAQ, anything to do with sponsors does NOT affect me financially.
I bought Beck's latest album and was pondering asking for a refund after what I found out about it, but I decided to think about it a bit first after reading this thread. This is what I came up with. It's not an argument against any points that have been made by anyone else, but more so I thought to try and understand why things are how they are at present.
While I've not been involved directly in music production (so some of what I'm going to write will be talking out my rear-end a bit) I do have some idea what goes on and a bit of related experience, mainly in radio.
I can't say I know exactly what would have gone on when Beck or other artists made their albums, and HDTracks would be unlikely to know either. Especially given the age of the albums, it wouldn't be a simple task of sending an email asking "So, how were these recorded and mastered?" because at the time, they would likely not have made any detailed record, because it wouldn't have been important. If you listen to a lot of music, you can discern that it is made up of vocals, instruments and samples to greatly varying degrees. Even if it is a recent album, I don't think the studio is going to go and hassle the mastering engineer, artist and others (who are all famous) because someone on a forum or blog ran their songs through an app. I think we all know what they would reply and it would be a long the lines of something about a Firetruck going OFF with a few of the letters removed (and the studio staff would be "What's a forum??!?").
An established artist may have all sorts of samples, either of instruments or other sounds they played or made in the past that they decide to use. When they made those samples, or digitized them (if they were made directly onto a tape of some kind) they certainly didn't think beyond recording them to a degree necessarily to mix them in later. They could have been recorded or digitized on any kind of equipment, from poor to excellent, and would have been mixed in to a, say, 24/96 master at whatever resolution they were in at the time. Whether or not they are the same sample rate or not doesn't matter to the artist as the purpose of mastering in 24/96 would have been for headroom, not to output it to audiophiles.
If you listen to a track like Alicia Keys' "Fallin'" on good equipment nowadays, you can clearly make out that she was recorded in a studio, probably a sound-damped booth with a mic. However, there is what sounds like a very low-quality sample dubbed over her vocals making up the backing of the track. Since the track was destined to be played on the radio or on an iPod (at a guess) the person mixing and mastering the track wouldn't have cared about the quality of the sample used, and it shows. If Songs in A Minor was to end up on HDTracks in high res, it would be obvious that parts of the music other than her voice may not be high resolution -- they could even be low quality MP3 samples of stuff from the label's library, or simply stuff that was recorded on poor equipment.
In a similar parallel, Van Halen is one of my favourite bands. However, being that all their stuff was recorded by them in the 5150 Studios, which is TINY, the dynamics of their music has been seriously compromised to overcome the limitations of that studio (which Eddie discussed in an interview around the time the album was released). The track "As Is" from their latest album has the most awesome drum opening, but because the way the recording was made and mastered, compared to many other recordings I've heard, the dynamics are seriously lacking and the impact of the drums will never be as satisfying as it could be. It always sounds like you're in a large hall listening to them play far from too far back. I really wish they had recorded that album in a regular studio or had David Chesky do a binaural version, which would have been spectacular.
So, I'm going to keep the Beck album. In the end, if anything, I might question whether the work of some artists are even suited to high-res downloads at all, or at least some of their albums, but ultimately I hope it becomes possible to hear more famous artists as we got to hear Amber Rubarth, as that would be spectacular, but for now I agree for the most part with what lithium1085 posted.
Edited by Currawong - 3/8/14 at 5:16am