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No. 153 February 2017

PRAISE OF THE FORMAT
PART 3: SUPER AUDIO CD


The reasons for this state of affairs may be different, but usually the problem is that the idea, the technology is not yet mature enough to successfully achieve what its creators want it to, even though on paper it all looked quite well. Or again - a mass implementation of this solution required some compromises that effectively canceled all advantages of this new solution and left caused a return to the starting point.

One of these promising novelties once was a Super Audio CD. It seemed - a perfect successor to the CD format, offering the same advantages with fewer disadvantages, but it turned out to be yet another missed opportunity. All those who have a spare hour or so, and are curious about why it happened and why it may be time to change this state of affairs, I shall invite to read the following article.

NEW HOPE

uring the 2014 CES in Las Vegas, Sony launched a new project, which was designed to establish common standards for the whole market and simplify communication with customers. It was a Hi-Res project, concerning the criteria to be met by the audio devices that support playback of a high definition signal. The “Hi-Res” logo quickly became a standard marking used for number of products, and Sony was joined companies such as: Bowers&Wilkins, Onkyo, Samsung and LG, and then some more (more HERE).

As Mr Marc Finer, the Director of the Digital Entertainment Group, said back then it allowed to "crystallize" plans for the development of this part of the audio market (more HERE). It was an event concerning not only a small part of the market that we'd like to call "perfectionist audio" and "audiophile" one but the entire market associated with music. At the same time, however, or at least that's how I see that, it was a moment when Sony definitely let the Super Audio CD format go.

Beginning and end

The SUPER AUDIO CD format, SACD for short, was launched end of 1999 and it was a result of a collaboration between Philips and Sony, companies that previously gave the world the Compact Disc format. The idea was to use a DVD drive and a disc of this type in order to provide users with a high resolution signal (equivalent to 24-bit 192 kHz) both in stereo, and multi-channel, but encoded differently than in the past. They decided to use DSD, ie. DIRECT STREAM DIGITAL (DSD) coding, while CD and DVD-Audio used PULSE-CODE MODULATION  (PCM).

The first SACD Player – Sony SCD-1. (photo Sony).

The DSD is a 1-bit format with sampling frequency of 2.8224 MHz. This signal has a high level of noise in the high frequencies, so one needs to apply some very aggressive techniques of "noise-shaping", which move the noise far outside a range audible for man. Signal prepared this way is characterized by the dynamics of 120 dB (20 Hz - 20 kHz) and bandwidth reaching 100 kHz. In practice, it is somewhat narrower (70-90 kHz), and in many players a high-pass filter at 50 kHz is utilized. There were some concerns that amplifiers manufactured up to this time were not prepared for such an extended frequency range large treble level (including noise), and may oscillate, which could damage both the amplifier and loudspeakers connected to it.

As you can see, the measurable parameters made the SACD similar to another great hi-res format, ie. DVD-Audio. In both cases, on 120 mm optical discs one could store stereo or multi-channel uncompressed signal. For DVD-A a lossless compression MLP is used for multi-channel recordings, and SACD utilized Direct Stream Transfer (DST).

The PentaTone Music company started releasing a catalog of Philips Classic on SACDs in stereo and 4.0 (quadraphonic versions) in 2003. These were albums recorded, mixed and mastered in analogue domain and finally converted to DSD. Subsequent albums included presently recorded music.

From audiophile customer's perspective the SACDs and DVD-As offered a similar package of solutions, ie. high-resolution sound, both stereo and multi-channel versions. They differed with the signal encoding system (DSD vs PCM), but it wasn't important for the user since the basic parameters of both formats were similar. SACD, however, had two advantages DVD-A didn't have that, potentially, qualified it to become a natural successor to the CD. First, to operate SACD player one didn't need a TV screen while DVD-A navigation required using a video link. Hence, the SACD player remained an audio device, while a DVD-A Player had to offer a combination of audio and video links. Years later it ceased to be important, because we all got used to controlling music servers using smartphones or tablets, but back then it was a serious issue.

But perhaps even more important was the other advantage of the SACD format: label to a layer of high-resolution material could add also a CD layer, thereby forming a hybrid disc that was compatible with CD players, too. One disc could contain up to three versions of the same material: CD (standard, PCM 16/44.1), SACD Stereo (DSD 1/2.8224 MHz) and, if necessary, a multi-channel version of the SACD (DSD mch 1/2.8224 MHz). Despite this complexity any SACD disc looked identical to the CD and the user didn't have to think about what sort of disc he used.

SACD entered the market with a 5,000 USD SCD-1 Player from Sony and 19 albums from the same label, mostly with Columbia logo, each costing 25 dollars. The player was intended for an audiophile market, specifically for lovers of classic stereo. Presented shortly afterwards Philips SACD1000 Player was cheaper - but still expensive - and supporting also a multi-channel discs.

Again 2003, this time an initiative of Concord Records – high quality jazz recordings and a nice releases. Albums were released with stereo and multi-channel version. The photo presents Herb Ellis/Joe Pass, Stan Getz Quartet and Charlie Byrd Trio albums.

Until 2003, when the best result in the sale of SACDs was recorded, over 1.3 million units were sold. Although it seems like a lot, you should look at it in a broader perspective: in 2003 alone 800 million albums (in all formats) were sold, 93% of which accounted for CD and SACD and DVD-A together reached only 0.002%. By 2007, the format was virtually dead (you can find previous article about SACD HERE).

What happened? Why did the format fail?

The Super Audio CD was conceived as a direct successor to the Compact Disc format. Its creators, of course, wanted to keep the incomes from patent rights and licenses, but one can not fail to see the desire to introduce to the market a medium that would offer something more than a CD, that had been criticized for years for offering too narrow bandwidth and a small number of bits per sample. An earlier attempt to get out of this trap was the HDCD (High Definition Compatible Digital) format introduced in 1995, but it turned out to be even more niche format (although I promise to write something it about too some day).

The SACD format offered record labels a lot of possibilities. One of the best ways to utilize it was presented by Analogue Productions, which in its releases included: mono and stereo version (CD and SACD layer), as well as the original, 3-track recording session. Let me remind you that originally that's how “stereo” was supposed to work like. The photo presents Nat 'King' Cole's Love is the Thing (Capitol / Analogue Productions CAPP 824 SA, SACD/CD, 1957/2010).

Why so few years was enough to make this interesting initiative, supported by powerful corporations, almost disappear? As usually in such cases, it is impossible to identify one main cause, but rather about a combination of events, decisions and omissions. The American portal hometheaterreview.com in an article titled 12 large falls AV technology discussed the four main reasons:

• record companies could not agree among themselves on a new hi-res audio format which unleashed a "format war" between SACD and DVD-Audio (which, in turn, let us add, confused hardware and discs manufacturers as well as the music lovers; both sides ultimately buried the hatched due to a fall of the idea of HD discs, and then the explosion of a market for Hi-Res PCM and DSD did the rest), • using SACD format required the user to buy a new player and possibly also a new preamp and six power amplifiers assuming he was interested in the multi-channel version, • the record label did not release new albums of so called “A” list (the biggest hits) on SACD, • SACD was never introduced to „car audio”.

12 Massively Failed AV Technologies, hometheaterreview.com [accessed on Dec. 20th 2016]

One of the biggest SACD hits, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, 2003 „30th Anniversary Edition SACD” release – stereo and multi-channel – prepared by James Guthrie.

The www.soundandvision.com in an equally evocatively titled article Failures: fourteen formats and technologies that couldn't quite hang on adds a fifth reason, who knows, maybe the most important one:

When the LP was all but dead, the almighty CD had reached its zenith, and millions of college kids were flocking to a start-up, peer-to-peer service called Napster that let them quickly and easily download and share MP3 music files over the Internet. It was—quite literally—a free-for-all. The RIAA responded with a $20-billion suit that ultimately led to a court-ordered shutdown of Napster in 2001. It was the beginning of a new era for music and audio.

Flops: Fourteen Formats and Technologies That Couldn't Quite Hang On, soundandvision.com [accessed on Dec. 12th 2016]

What really matters

It's all true. Together and separately. But for audiophiles as important was the issue of sound quality. Let's not sugarcoat it - the first SACD players (and even more the multi-format SACD/DVD and SACD/DVD-A player) delivered much worse sound with CDs than dedicated CD Players costing the same, and the SACDs played on SACD player did not sound so much better, so that anybody would bother to buy them.

The remastered in 2007 Genesis catalog was converted to DSD from 24/96 files. Unfortunately, this was not the best transfer. These releases are, however, interesting because of some bonus material on DVD and multi-channel SACD and Dolby Digital versions.

These observations were confirmed by many scientists and engineers, and the highlight of the debate was, published in 2007, documentAudibility of a CD-Standard A/DA/A Loop Inserted into High-Resolution Audio Playback (Meyer, E. & Brad Moran, David R. AES E-Library. 55 (9): 775-779, www.aes.org http://www.aes.org/e-lib/browse.cfm?elib=14195 [accessed on Dec. 20th 2016]), presented at the Audio Engineering Society (AES) conference. After the formal ABX listening tests it was stated that there is no difference between sound from CD and SACD. This, in my experience, is a total nonsense (AES also released a document claiming that there is no difference between the sound of CD and MP3 file!), but such “findings” fit perfectly the general feeling of a falling format.

In the last two or three years the situation has changed. The reason is the Hi-Res revolution, in which DSD files found also their own space, their niche, and these files are encoded in exactly the same way as the signal on the SACDs. When we compare them with the PCM files, even the 24/192, we can easily find out that they sound different. This is due to the very nature of the DSD encoding, where there are no decimation filters, where the impulse response is almost perfect, but where the high frequency noise is very high, and no matter what we do it modulates also the part of the band, which is usually called the "audible band."

LIFE AFTER LIFE

The audio world, on both sides (professional and audiophile) is divided on the acceptance or rejection of PCM and DSD, like it was before. This time there is no reason for concern - almost all files player support both formats, so it is the end-user who decides his own preference.

An example of some of the best DSD transfers - Mobile Fidelity releases. A remaster for them is based on analogue master. The photo presents Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms, Miles Davis' Sorcerer and Patricia Barber's Companion. Interesting fact - the latter includes two tracks transferred from PCM 16/44.1 files.

In recent years a group of recording and mastering (mainly re-mastering) studios, as well as label specialized in the DSD files and SACD releases. Together with DACs equipped with USB input manufacturers and several SACD producers they "pushed" this technology forward, so that finally (after almost 20 years since the introduction!) makes it so interesting, that it may be an alternative, not only for CDs, but also for vinyl records.

I think that the biggest problem of the first discs and players was a high sampling rate in this type of equipment, and thus their susceptibility to jitter. It was also important to fully realize an influence of high frequency noise on the signal. That one thing. Secondly, at the beginning it seemed that everything was allowed and that converting PCM - because that's how almost all the music is recorded - to SACD was simple and painless. It is not and never has been. Improving the quality of A/D converters, understanding the distinctiveness of this type of signal coding, all that together resulted in a huge change in the quality of recorded and reproduced DSD signal. That's why I think that it is time to take a closer look at SACDs and SACD Players again, this time considering the hi-res layer as the most important one.

SACD releases of equally high quality as those of Mobile Fidelity are produced by Original Recordings Group. The photo presents Charlie Mingus' Tijuana Moods.

SACD (DSD file), but which one?

Before I move to a subjective choice of labels and discs, first a few words about what the SACDs and DSD files really are, ie. where they come from (I will discuss SACDs, but this also applies to DSD files).

The SACD is the final piece of a long chain, which included the following elements:
1. Recording, or the way material was recorded.
2. Mixing, meaning the transition from multi-track recording to a stereo or multi-channel 5.1 format.
3. The mastering or re-mastering, ie. the way in which the mixed material was treated in the final stage before the release of the disc or how it was newly re-mastered.

Let's start with the fact that the audio material can be recorded in analog or digital form; if it's a digital one it could be either in PCM (CD, DVD/A and BD), or DSD (SACD). Mixing the many tracks of each of these formats is possible either in the analog or digital domain. And finally (re) mastering also can be performed in analog or digital domain; if digital they use either PCM or DSD. As you can already see even from this short description, there are plenty of possible combinations, which for files and SACDs and how we perceive them (sound) is particularly important.

The catalog of Dead Can Dance was released on SACD in 2008, both in Japan and Europe. Although it was released by 4AD label, it was clearly stated that the remaster was made by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab. The source of the signal were analog tapes and digital PCM files, but the mastering was performed in DSD format.

Almost all modern recording and mastering studios are designed to work with digital PCM signal, some of them with analog signal. Therefore, the signal for the first SACD released was converted to DSD from PCM files. Sometimes it was the conversion from analog tape. The latter was usually better, but only to a certain extent, ie. if the remaster was made in the analog domain, and converted to DSD file only at the very end. Why it is important? Well, because the DSD signal can not be edited (processed) in its native form.

To process DSD signal, ie. change the level, EQ, add compression etc., it must be converted to another format. Special stations for "DSD mastering" were developed. As far as I know, these stations work with PCM files in DXD (Digital eXtreme Definition) quality (32 bits and 352.8 kHz). Only after processing the signal is converted to DSD. SO the information on Japanese releases stating "DSD mastering" must mean a master in DXD quality. To systematize the information let me give you some examples of the most common ways to prepare SACDs (DSD files).

The Jazz SACD 101 catalog and two recommended albums: James Carter's Gardenians for Lady Day (Sony) and In Memory of Michael Brecker: A Song for You/Will&Rainbow (Eighty-Eight’s).

Releases

LEGEND: in the headlines I've included three steps of material preparation for a SACD (DSD files), ie. recording-mix-mastering

1. DSD-DSD-DSD (recording-mix-mastering)

Everything written so far it looks like complex process including formats, conversions, etc. And, unfortunately, it really is so complex. So when you buy a SACD you do not have any certainty how the SACD layer was prepared. It would be best if the recording was made in the DSD domain, there was no need of processing, but only a stereo mix that should be put on the disc. However, this actually can not be really done this way, and I know only a few instances of such releases, for example: Mark Levinson series of live recordings at Red Rose Music, prepared by Mark Levinson. But Stockfisch Records also offers their own version called "Direct Cut Hybrid Super Audio CD".

The German label Stockfisch Records releases SACDs with signal from the different types of tapes - analog and digital. They also offer something called Direct Cut Hybrid Stereo SACD, which is a realization of idea for DSD-DSD-DSD - during the whole process signal remains in the digital DSD domain.

2. Analog – Analog - Analog

The second case, a very good one, is when the recording was made in the analog domain, then mixed and mastered still in analog form. All that is left to do is to convert the signal to DSD and it's done. In this way albums for small specialized labels are prepared, that release the material also on vinyl, such as: Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab., Analogue Productions, Audio Fidelity, ORG (Original Recordings Group) and so on. At some point also Linn Records prepared material for their releases in the same way.

These companies have a long road behind them, with LP releases, then CDs, but usually some form of special release, eg. on a gold CD (Mobile Fidelity and Audio Fidelity) or encoded in HDCD (Linn), and only at the very end of this road, they finally chosen SACD format.

The Analogue Productions releases, as well as Mobile Fidelity's and ORG's, are prepared using analog remaster – only the new final analog master is converted to DSD. The photo presents releases of the 25 mono albums released by Prestige.

3. Analog – Analog - Mastering DSD
(analog recording, analog mix, DSD mastering)

More than not, what we get is some modification of the above scheme. If the source is an analog tape, usually already mixed, meaning with stereo material, often a new DSD mastering is performed (meaning: transfer to DXD) and only then signal is converted to DSD. That's how CD releases are prepared by major labels, including Universal Music Group in Japan. Same way is used by Esoteric and - for example – also the whole Dead Can Dance catalog.

A good example of this type of releases are Esoteric discs. Most likely company receives material in the form of PCM files but mastering is performed in DSD.

4. Analog – PCM - Mastering PCM
(analog recording, digital PCM mix, PCM mastering)

But more often, in fact almost always we can see two types of issues. The first begins with an analog master tape usually already mix into stereo. The signal from it is converted to "normal" PCM - 24/96 or 24/192 - and processed in the digital domain (see EMI Signature Collection). Such a new digital master is then converted to DSD. I would say that there is a little difference between this way and the previous one described above, but the labels firmly insists that DSD Mastering is not the same as PCM mastering. OK, let's say it is.

Discs prepared this way are issued by the major labels. That's how the reissues YES albums were made, issued in the 7 inch mini-LP format in Japan, same way was used to prepare from the scratch catalogs of Depeche Mode and Genesis. Among smaller labels same process is used by AliaVox and Stockfish Records.

The AliaVox's re-issues of the older titles are prepared using analog master-tapes, transferred and mastered in PCM. Current recordings are made in digital PCM domain.

5. PCM – PCM - Mastering PCM
(digital PCM recording, digital PCM mix, PCM mastering)

And finally a basic situation, so to speak, for the present time: a recording is done in the digital PCM domain - usually 24/96, rarely 24/192 - and after mixing and mastering in the digital PCM domain signal is converted to DSD. This is the easiest way to release SACD, which does not require the company to have DSD equipment. They just need to send a hi-res PCM to a specialized external company that will carry out the conversion to DSD and will perform so called "authoring".

The Depeche Mode catalog remastered in 2007 using both analog and digital master tapes. New mix as well as mastering were performed using 24/96 PCM and only later converted to DSD.

Just like the previous one, this way is chosen by major labels, both for pop, rock and classical music. The names that come to mind are labels such as: Deutsche Grammophon, Naxos and Harmonia Mundi. Smaller labels follow the same process although they try to minimize conversion errors and they are pretty good at it. These are, for example, L2 and already mentioned AliaVox. Telarc, on the other hand is a totally different story that I might tell you later in a separate article.


Titles of such labels as: Channel Classic, Harmonia Mundi and Deutsche Grammophon with a new repertoire are good examples of DDD releases, where the PCM signal is ultimately converted to DSD. From left to right: Biber Rosary Sonatas, Puer natus est perf. by Stile Antico and Beethoven's Spring & Kreutzer Sonatas perf. by Anne-Sophie Mutter. Sound quality – from left (the best) to right (the worst).

An interesting fact - in 2014 Jared Sacks, the founder and sound engineer of Channel Classics Records, along with his son, Jonas, founded the online store called Native DSD Music, where you can buy DSD files belonging one of the first two groups. They are available in the form of DSD and DXD files in both stereo and multi-channel version. Their goal was to create a central place where the highest resolution music fans could go to find the best quality recordings in the world in both Stereo and Multi-channel, directly from labels recording in DSD and/or DXD. A big part of that vision was to make music as Direct Stream Digital (DSD) downloads available to listeners anywhere in the world. This included obtaining DSD Edit Masters and Analog Master Tapes that could be transferred to DSD, bringing the listener, as close to the original performance as possible. Today you'll find more than 800 albums in this store.

In Poland also a few interesting SACDs were released, for example with Górecki 3rd Symphony conducted by the composer himself, released as a part of Polskie Radio series (PWM Edition), and Witold Lutosławski, part of The Pearls of Polish Music series released by BeArTon label. An interesting fact – the CD layer of the latter is encoded in Dolby Surround.

Very similar offer is proposed by our friend René Laflamme, chief of Fidelio Musique and 2xHD online store, where one can buy DSD files (also binaural ones) including DSD128 and DSD254 (Quad DSD). I mention this, because - in my opinion - the current interest in SACDs is caused largely by the fact that DSD files sound so good. So it's an opposite situation to the one between CD and HD files, where the latter is still trying to catch up (in terms of sound quality).

6. SHM-SACD

I separated the kind of SACDs for one simple reason: these are the best sounding SACD releases there are. Some say that these are even the best existing digital releases (after the publication of my article about Tangerine Dream releases on Platinum SHM-CD on Positive-Feedback.com, the chief editor wrote to me: "Wojtek, you have no idea how much better sound these albums on SHM-SACD releases").

SHM-SACD release of Camel's The Snow Goose (Decca/Universal Music LLC).

What is SHM-SACD? We mentioned SHM-CD format many times (see HERE, HERE http://www.highfidelity.pl/artykuly/0905/kts.html, and HERE). Let me just shortly remind you that these discs are made of a different material than the regular CDs and SACDs. This material, originally developed for LCD displays, exhibits much better optical properties. These discs are heavier and stiffer than regular ones. They should be handled more carefully, because in extreme cases, they may crack.

The second significant difference is that they are single-layer discs. Though we are accustomed to the fact that SACD discs can be played also in a CD Player, Sony at the very beginning of this format, in 1999, already noted that the single-layer discs sounded better. Not only Sony noticed that, also SME Records and Eighty-Eight's, but also other Japanese labels in the early years released a single-layer SACDs. A proof of this state of affairs can be found in a basic guide to the early years of the format, an album released in Japan Jazz SACD 101 (Takashi Yamaguchi, Stereo Sound, 2009). It can be treated as a kind of Old Testament for SACD format.

But I am sure that if an update version were released today, a large part of the records would concern the SHM-SACD discs. To what I already wrote we need to add yet another information: material for these releases is sourced from analog master tapes without additional mastering – it is so-called "Flat Transfer". Plus these releases are simply beautiful.

3. SOUND QUALITY

As you can see, SACDs are not quite what they seem to be, meaning they can be prepared in different ways (to the ones described above we could add eg. a following: analog (recording) - analog (mix) – PCM-DSD mastering and others). It reminds a situation of the Long Play medium in the 21st century – when picking up a recently issued record we do not actually know what source material was used to prepare it - signal from analog tape, a digital file, and if so, what kind of file?

Although both discs were released by major labels, the sound quality is debatable. The cause could be not fully understanding the process of PCM-DSD conversion. The photo presents a special edition of Sacred Love by Sting (A&M Records) and a "regular" edition of Peter Gabriel's So (Virgin).

Perhaps that is why in terms of sound quality SACDs often radically different from each other. I know SACDs sounding phenomenally, close to the quality of analog master tape, but also those that sound many times worse than the same material released on a CD. So if I was looking for titles looking for sound quality, I would choose the first three groups, with an emphasis on the first and the second, or the SHM-SACD.

That's an example of fantastic SACDs. The Audio Fidelity offers two series – a stereo one (golden box) and multi-channel (silver). The latter contains transfers of original quadraphonic mixes.

CD LAYER

This article is not supposed to be an accurate guide to the SACD format. It's a kind of summary of knowledge of SACD format and of format's situation in 2016. It is a bit historical summary, because the format seems to be dying even in Japan, where it held firmly its position so far, but this years sales dropped dramatically. When analyzing reasons behind this situation one should notice a comeback of CD, a significant increase of LP market segment, but mostly a huge boom for Hi-Res files, including DSD ones.

Japanese magazine „Stereo Sound” in co-operation with Sony released several fantastic SACD samplers. Even thought I'm not a fan of compilations these are worth having.

There is, however, a second reason behind my interest for SACDs. This second reason is... a Compact Disc. I do not know if you remember, but a few years ago together with the Krakow Sonic Society we listened to the CD layer of hybrid SACDs, comparing them with the same the masters released on CDs. The comparison proved that the CD still had an advantage, resulting from technical aspects – the laser reading the CD layer must first pass through the HD layer (with DSD signal), which only theoretically does not affect the sound (see - SHM-SACD).

Over the years, the term "hybrid" was used by us as a synonym for something worse, it was pronounced with disdain and contempt (it concerns mostly titles from major labels). Recently it has changed, mainly due to the fantastic re-issue of the YES and Jeff Beck discographies. Something must have changed in the method of material processing, so that the sound quality has increased significantly. This is a speculation, but I think that what was improved was the quality of PCM-DSD conversion, remastering and conversion from analog tapes. But, in my opinion, much of the credit should be attributed also to the CD layer.

Yes discography released as „7-inch mini LP” is a great example proving that a “hybrid” disc played in a CD player might sound better than regular compact disc.

As we already know, most SACDs are hybrid discs with a hi-res layer containing high-resolution DSD signal, and a CD layer that can be played on any CD player. The format has been described in the document called the Scarlet Book. In addition to the requirements for how the data should be written on the disc, physical dimensions, and so on, it also includes requirements concerning the CD layer.

Sony proposed using the algorithm used by them in the past – the Super Bit Mapping (SBM), here in the SBM Direct variant. SBM Direct allows to convert the DSD signal directly to the 16/44.1 PCM. SBM is a technique that helped to convert high definition signal, eg. 20-bit to 16-bit, reducing the (inevitable) quantification noise. With the right dithering and noise shaping this process leads to creating a 16 bits signal that is an equivalent of a 20-bit one. Not bad, right?

Clockwise: Logo on the Bill Evans Trio Portrait in Jazz album stating that the CD layer was prepared in the process of SBM Direct, HDCD logo, referring to the CD layer on Linn Records hybrid discs, a description on a hybrid disc, saying that the mastering was made in the DSD, a description which indicates that the mastering was made or in the analog domain or digital PCM (unfortunately there is no more information there to learn).

Perhaps that is why so many Sony discs from the 1990s sound so good. The SBM Direct algorithm allows in turn to make the CD version directly from a Hi-Res DSD file. Initially, the record labels indicated that they complied with the guidelines (see the Fantasy re-issue of Bill Evans catalog), but after a while they stopped informing the buyer about what he actually buys (that's a similar situation as with LPs). In most cases, so we can only hope that this process is executed in the best possible way. I believe that in recent years the quality has improved significantly.

But the SBM Direct is not mandatory. Linn for many years has been an advocate of HDCD encoding. They didn't offer “regular” CD Players but only HDCD ones (see Sondek CD12). It is understandable though, that their own label released mostly HDCD discs. After adapting SACD system for their needs Linn Records switched to "hybrids". But the CD layer on those discs was actually a HDCD layer, which was clearly stated on the cover. This required extra work - HDCD requires a slightly different encoding and equipment to do the job. It's been only a few years since Linn's discs are "regular" hybrid SACD/CDs.

Linn Records releases are always made with an utmost care for details, including the SACD layer.

WHAT TO DO?

Picking up a SACD we have no idea what is it that we are actually getting with it. Record labels do not care about including appropriate information/markings, believing apparently that it has no meaning. Nevertheless, the format should be particularly interesting especially for the owners of high quality systems. Affordable SACD players, including multi-format ones do not - in my opinion - make sense, because their problems outweigh the benefits of the format. And these are considerable. Same as the DSD files, a well-prepared SACD can deliver an incredibly deep, tonally rich and at the same time very resolving sound. The PCM Hi-Res files are usually bit brighter and not fully neutral in the midrange.

Therefore, a common sense is highly recommended. Since we know - and we do - that companies such as Mobile Fidelity, ORG, Audio Fidelity, Esoteric, Audio Analogue, Channel Classic, Pentatone, also releases of "Stereo Sound" magazine to name only the most important ones, are good at what they do, we should buy their releases no matter whether we prefer CD or SACD format. If it is the SACD, it will get us some extra quality. It may not be - in my opinion – a significant improvement, but valuable enough so that after some time we will buy more discs of this type.

And ultimately you won't be able to resist any album released as SHM-SACD. And it is such passion that our hobby is about, is not it? Because the music and how it is reproduced, it is the most beautiful adventure.

Finally an example of a top quality sound from both, CD and SACD layer – the Opus3 release. This record label records material on analog tape, performs analog mastering, and only then the signal is converted to DSD, that is used also for a CD layer. The photo presents Bottleneck John's All around Man.


FURTHER, RECOMMENDED READING

Super Audio CD - Part 1: SACD Overview, www.practical-home-theater-guide.com [accessed on: Dec. 21st 2016]
en.wikipedia.org [accessed on: Dec. 21st 2016]
polyhymnia.com [accessed on: Dec. 21st 2016]
www.sa-cd.net [accessed on: Dec. 21st 2016]
The 10 Best Audiophile SACDs Ever, AudiophileReview.com [accessed on: Dec. 21st 2016]
What is SHM? www.sa-cd.net [accessed on: Dec. 21st 2016]
Tangerine Dream SHM-SACD reissues, PartTimeAudiophile.com [accessed on: Dec. 21st 2016]
edu.pjwstk.edu.pl [accessed on: Dec. 21st 2016]
Trochę o płytach w kontekście artykułów w „High fidelity” [accessed on: Dec. 21st 2016]
SUPER AUDIO CD – taka piękna katastrofa [accessed on: Dec. 21st 2016]
Pliki – nowy wspaniały świat [accessed on: Dec. 21st 2016]


„PRAISE OF THE FORMAT” Cycle

Praise of the format, part 1: Compact Cassette, No. 131, see HERE
Praise of the format, part 2: High Fidelity Pure Audio, No. 132, see HERE

About Us

We cooperate

Photo

Our reviewers regularly contribute to  “Enjoy the Music.com”, “Positive-Feedback.com”“HiFiStatement.net”  and “Hi-Fi Choice & Home Cinema. Edycja Polska” .

"High Fidelity" is a monthly magazine dedicated to high quality sound. It has been published since May 1st, 2004. Up until October 2008, the magazine was called "High Fidelity OnLine", but since November 2008 it has been registered under the new title.

"High Fidelity" is an online magazine, i.e. it is only published on the web. For the last few years it has been published both in Polish and in English. Thanks to our English section, the magazine has now a worldwide reach - statistics show that we have readers from almost every country in the world.

Once a year, we prepare a printed edition of one of reviews published online. This unique, limited collector's edition is given to the visitors of the Audio Show in Warsaw, Poland, held in November of each year.

For years, "High Fidelity" has been cooperating with other audio magazines, including “Enjoy the Music.com” and “Positive-Feedback.com” in the U.S. and “HiFiStatement.net”  in Germany. Our reviews have also been published by “6moons.com”.

You can contact any of our contributors by clicking his email address on our CONTACT  page.

enjoythemusic linia positive-feedback linia hifistatement linia

ALL PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE TESTED DEVICES ARE MADE USING THE EQUIPMENT OF THE COMPANY



Digital camera:
Canon EOS 5D MkIII

Lenses:
EF-16-35/L II USM
EF 100 mm 1:2.8 L IS USM


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