The February editorial (No 58, February 2009) talking about new, bettered methods of pressing and manufacturing Compact Discs caused an uproar of emotions. I will remind you, that it was about HQCDs – HiQuality CD, Blu-spec CD and SHM-CD – Super High Material CD. I was just after first listening sessions with all those kind of discs and I wanted to share my experience and impressions with you. As it is known, and that caused many protests, I did not fully like those solutions, and – in my opinion – more changes are brought by different issues (masters) than the mentioned technologies. But it was not an in-depth analysis, so I could not be certain. This is why I ordered from CD Japan HQCD and Blu-spec CD samplers, allowing for a direct comparison of the technology and not re-editions. Those samplers I am talking about are: HiQualityCD. Jazz Selection, issued by EMI Music Japan and Feel The Difference of the Blu-spec CD. Jazz Selection, prepared by Sony Music Japan, were made exactly for such kind of comparisons. Because those are double albums, with one disc pressed the standard way, and the other one in the new technology. Assuming, that the companies did not screw anything up during the manufacturing of the standard CD, to emphasize the assets of the promoted technology, this is the best opportunity for thorough comparative listening sessions and get an opinion. To enhance the comparison we listened to some other titles, clashing together different editions.
We compared the following discs:
∙ Jazzmen Detroit/Kenny Burrell, Savoy/Denon Corporation U.S.A, COCB-50301, CD.
∙ Miles Davis, Kind of Blue, Columbia/Legacy/Sony Music, 27105 2, Legacy Edition, 50th Anniversary DeLuxe Set, 2 x CD.
∙ The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Time Out, Columbia/Sony Music Japan, SRCS-9163, Master Edition, CD.
Differently than in previous listening sessions we have decided, that this time we will meet in two places – first at Janusz’s (look HERE) and then at Ryszard’s place (look HERE). We decided for this because we did not have to carry anything heavy, and secondly because this is an issue that is interesting for all music lovers and audiophiles, regardless of the budget and audio system. This is why the doubling of listening tests in two systems, differing from each other in almost every aspect, but used for the same purpose – listening to music. The ability for quick exchange of the discs allowed for a blind AB testing (not a double blind ABX, we have tried that and in our opinion it does not allow for evaluation of music). The results of the tests were fascinating. Like I said, this was an AB comparison, where only I knew which disc is playing at a given moment. We made a rule, that for a given disc A was always the same version, as was B. With the HQCDs ad Blu-spec CD the preferences of the listeners were almost unchanged during the sessions, what points to the fact that the differences are audible. And I will say even more – the differences are really big. But the HQCDs and Blu-spec CDs were treated differently by the listeners.
It turned out, that the HQCD discs sound in a much smoother, slightly warmer, visibly more vivid way than the CDs. Everything seemed cleaner, without any ‘dust’, disturbing extra-musical details, etc. The back planes were much closer than with the CD, so we had the impression that the sound is louder, and the instruments have a larger volume. The difference was so big, that the honesty of EMI Music Japan was questioned, which could prepare the masters in a way, that they would differ maximally. But we have discarded those thoughts listening to further discs – the differences were really big. And the table reveals something much more interesting – most voices were given to the CD. When somebody valued the assets of the HQCD I described, then he opted for that pressing. But not in every case. Because the CDs had bigger resolution. Without a doubt the amount of information was bigger, what translates into a much better depth of the stage, better differentiation of dynamics, etc. The sound is more ‘dirty’, but rather because the recordings themselves are like that. Especially the treble is better defined and worked-out here – with HQCD it sounded as if it would pass through a tube “analog maker”. Interesting was the proportion of votes at Ryszard’s, where we went after the first part of the listening tests:
This situation needs to be commented upon. It can be clearly seen, that the votes were quite even on both sides of the line dividing CD from HQCD, but there was a significant change: there were no ‘half votes’, each vote was clear and unambiguous. In Ryszard’s system, which has a stronger and deeper bass, subtle differences were less noticeable, they played a lesser role, the so called ‘whole’ became most important. And one more thing – while the system warmed up (it was turned on just when we came, and due to logistic reasons we had not the time to wait for it to warm up fully), the more assets were shown by the CD versions – it started with Kenny Burrell, but later it was much easier to catch.
Again, it is worth to notice, that the choices were unambiguous, and the differences between the versions clear – much more visible, than between a part of the classic re-masters. We split only during the recording Birds of Fire McLaughlin&Mahavishnu Orchestra, because the CD version was less clipped, seemingly clearer. But this might be a result of the sound of the Blu-spec CD: it is bigger, more saturated, more dynamic, and the bass reaches lower; the stage is also much better. In general it seems, as if there would be more sounds, but not due to brightening of the timbre, but by the increased number of details inside the boundaries set by the CD.
For such, seemingly, small changes, like a change in the material the disc is made from, and the way it was pressed, the differences between the classic CDs and HQCD and Blu-spec CD pressings are big. Those are audible in any system, even the cheapest ones, but depending on their class those can be interpreted and judged in different ways. Played on ‘round’, warm, smooth systems HQCD – surprisingly, as it has the same characteristics – can be liked better. Not everybody, and not always, but statistically it will be better. The more up, the more its advantage melts, and its flaws become visible. So I cannot decide, if it is worth to buy regular (Japanese only!) pressings, or HQCD. In case of the Blu-spec CD the case is clear – this is really something. It is surprising, that this idea comes from a ‘major’, a big company, which was engaged in high quality ventures some time ago (lets mention SBM and SACD for example), but which is now immersed in ‘entertainment’ and classic audio, stereo, is less and less associated with it. Congratulations!!!
CDs FROM JAPAN
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