A great SACD: Alison Krauss *Now That I've Found You: A Collection*

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by KeithH, May 15, 2002.

  1. KeithH

    KeithH Lead Actor

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    Based on recommendations here and on Audio Asylum, I picked up the Alison Krauss Now That I've Found You: A Collection hybrid SACD last weekend. Those of you who recommended this disc were oh so right. This is one outstanding album, and the SACD layer sounds wonderful. I picked up the Krauss Forget About It hybrid SACD a couple of weeks ago and thought it was a bit of a downer, but Now That I've Found You: A Collection is a must-have. I bought it strictly on recommendations, so I didn't look over the playlist in the store. The Beatles' "I Will" was a pleasant surprise when I fired up the disc. If you can find this disc, get it. Not only is the music great, but the recording is reference-quality, in my opinion.
    If you live in and around New Jersey, look for this disc at a Compact Disc World store. I picked it up at the new store in Bridgewater last weekend for only $13.99. It was regularly $15.99, but Compact Disc World had a $2 off sale that I believe is over. Of course, if the sale is over, $15.99 is still a great price for a hybrid disc from a smaller label. The thing of it is, the disc was marked $17.99, but scanned at $15.99 and then $13.99 with the sale. [​IMG]
    I have yet to listen to the CD layer, but it should make for an interesting comparison. I know that Rounder Records has a good reputation for recording quality, so I expect the CD layer to sound quite good. It's recordings like these that spoil me. Right after playing the Krauss SACD layer, I put in the Soul Asylum Black Gold: The Best of Soul Asylum CD. The sound quality of this CD is very poor in comparison to the Krauss SACD. It's typical of modern pop and rock recordings in that it is compressed. Why can't all recordings sound as good as the Krauss discs? I know I am comparing apples and oranges in comparing the Krauss and Soul Asylum discs, but that is the point. Why must there be apples and oranges in music? [​IMG]
     
  2. Lee Scoggins

    Lee Scoggins Producer

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    KeithH,

    I'm going to Tower today and hope to find this one. Thank you for the recommendation.

    I am often frustrated by the sound of modern pop music - compressed and a lifeless soundstage even on acoustic work many times.

    One wonders if this is a hidden factor in poor CD sounds - music that is edgy and hard to listen to even when it is a good artist.

    One also wonders why musicians don't take more interest in the sound of their recordings?

    Lee
     
  3. Evan S

    Evan S Cinematographer

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    I've heard the mention of compression on this board numerous times, but what I haven't heard is what compression actually SOUNDS like. When I listen to a CD, I can usually say "yeah that sounds great" or "man this sounds horrible". How do I know that in my poorer sounding recordings, compression is to blame. What are the characteristics?
     
  4. Ryan Spaight

    Ryan Spaight Supporting Actor

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    Compression is simply the practice of squishing the dynamic range of the music so that the quiet passages and loud passages are roughly the same level, then cranking the whole mess up to the absolute limit (and beyond) to make it all sound "loud." Label execs like this because their market research tells them that loud = better. Casual listeners may like this because it makes subtle details pop out (since they're louder than they should be) and it makes it easier to listen to in the car (since the "quiet" stuff can be heard over the road noise).

    Actually sitting down and listening to it, though, is a very unpleasant experience. There's no sense of "space" in the music -- it's just a constant droning noise. Plus, the more extreme examples will actually distort from being turned up so loud.

    The best way to picture it is looking at the actual waveform using Sound Forge or something similar. Music mastered more "naturally" has peaks and valleys in the waveform, only occasionally touching the max levels. Heavily compressed material looks like a thick, solid line, with the level always at or near the max.

    This is a separate issue from the dreaded "smiley face" equialization, where the bass and treble are cranked up to make things "sound better," which results in something that's very fatiguing to listen to, with overpowering lows and screeching highs.

    There's also "no-noise" processing, which is common in remastering jobs, which is a digital process that removes tape hiss and background noise, along with top end and subtle musical detail. The top end is often "restored" by cranking up the treble (see above).

    Often, however, newer stuff and recent remasters feature overcompression, over-EQing, *and* No-Noise, which leads to a truly horrific listening experience.

    Ryan
     
  5. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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  6. Evan S

    Evan S Cinematographer

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    So basically any CD I own that happens to sound "Loud" on my system I automatically know it's compressed?

    I have some CD's that seem to be recorded at a higher level that I actually think sound pretty good. I guess it's not as cut and dried as I thought.
     
  7. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    Evan,

    It's not that cut and dried. All recordings are compressed somewhat just to be able to fit into the dynamic range of the playback medium among other reasons. A certain amount of compression is part of the sound that many of us enjoy in some of our favorite rock and pop recordings -- the classic Motown sound, for instance, where the recordings were optimized to sound good on mono mid-fi 45RPM records or AM radio.

    A recent trend for CD remasters (and even new releases for that matter), however has been to use compression "excessively". This reduces the dynamic range of the recording (i.e. the soft to loud differences) beyond what was done for original analog mediums even though you now have a digital medium capable of reproducing a dynamic range comparable to the original master tapes, let alone LPs or tapes. Since the amplitudes of the compressed signal are smaller, the average level can be higher, so overall, it sounds louder.

    A particularly loud recording is grounds for suspicion, but not conviction. The lack of dynamics compared to earlier versions of a recording is usually the sign of over compression.

    Regards,
     
  8. KeithH

    KeithH Lead Actor

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    Lee,

    No problem. If you do pick up the Krauss disc, let us know how you like it.

    All,

    Regarding compression, what I meant was that many CDs, especially modern pop and rock titles, have a compressed soundstage. It sounds like the band members are all standing right next to one another. There is little sense of space or layering of the instruments. I don't know if this is simply inherent of the recordings or a reflection of poor mastering. Both factors probably come into play. All I know is that many pop and rock discs sound like crap. The Soul Asylum greatest hits disc is one of them.
     
  9. Ryan Spaight

    Ryan Spaight Supporting Actor

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    Keith,

    I've noticed that, too -- one thing I like about many of the SACDs I've heard (especially jazz titles) is that they tend to sound very spacious, even in stereo. Multichannel, of course, is a different animal entirely...

    I've been meaning to grab the Alison Krauss discs for some time now, but the only way I can get them is mail order, so I haven't gotten around to it.

    Ryan
     
  10. Peter McM

    Peter McM Supporting Actor

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    I love Alison Krauss, so this thread got my attention.

    I need a primer, however: What is SACD? Is it really that much of an improvement? Can I listen to one on a conventional CD player?
     
  11. Evan S

    Evan S Cinematographer

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    Peter,

    SACD stands for Super Audio Compact Disk. It's a special new high resolution format based on DSD technology (direct stream digital). Regular CD's use PCM technology (Pulse Code Modulation). The "experts" can go into more technological ease for you, but it is much better sounding than regular CD IMO. Some disks the difference is night and day, some disks the difference is subtle (depending on the original recording quality), but all and all, it's definately an improvement. Unfortunately, you cannot play these disks on a regular CD player. You need to get an SACD player. Most SACD's (except for the Sony ones) have a hybrid technology that has both a regular CD and an SACD layer, so you can play the regular CD layer in your car and the SACD layer at home. All of Alison's SACD's are like this. Hope that helps.
     
  12. Peter McM

    Peter McM Supporting Actor

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    Evan:

    Much obliged for the lesson.
     
  13. KeithH

    KeithH Lead Actor

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    Peter, I'll add that Sony makes a few cheap SACD players, so you can observe the benefit of SACD with a minimal benefit. Best Buy and Circuit City sell the Sony SCD-CE775 carousel changer for $180-200. It plays stereo and multi-channel SACDs in addition to CDs. If you can spend more, there are better players available.
     

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