DVD-A vs. SACD: The Mixes

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Brian-W, Jan 6, 2003.

  1. Brian-W

    Brian-W Screenwriter

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    Nah, not another flame war...yet.
    But I noticed that practically all DVD-A discs have a 5.1 mix (96KHz, not the default AC-3 track), while SACD is heavily weighted in the 2-channel arena.
    Sure, a lot of DVD-A discs have the ultra high-rez 192KHz 2-channel, and there are quite a few SACD Multi-channel releases, but my impression is DVD-A dominates the 5.1 arena and SACD the 2-channel arena for now.
    Why am I bringing this up? I'm curious about a few things which I've noticed lately.
    Multi-Channel DVD-A vs. Multi-Channel SACD
    Nope, not which is better. But I've noticed that multi-channel DVD-A discs tend to use most if not all the speakers. Foreigner and Eagles tend to use the fronts and the surrounds, and the mixing seems to be extreme (not good or bad, just an observation.
    SACD multi-channel mixes like Billy Joel, Aerosmiths Greatest Hits tend to still sound like stereo mixes, using the surrounds and even the center channel for ambient noise rather than placing singers voices or specific instruments in one speaker vs. another.
    In other words, SACDs in my opinion tend to be very conservatively mixed in multi-channel, while DVD-A is radically mixed in multi-channel configurations. No, I'm not claiming one is better than the other. But with my collection of both formats, it's interesting to me the 'philosophies' of mixing that go into each format.
    Additionally I notice that on both formats, often it's the original recording engineer for the intial recordings that does the new upgraded mixes. I don't know if it's coincidental that most SACD multi-channel mixes are conservative while DVD-A tend to be aggressive.
    I like both, and would default to wanting a stereo mix as opposed to a gimmicky multi-channel mix (the one a lot of audiphiles fear: vocals out of one speaker, drums out of a rear speaker, etc. etc.)
    DVD-A 2 channel vs. SACD 2-channel
    Again, I've got a variety of listening set-ups, but what I'm going to write is more subjective than quantitative.
    In listening to the 192KHz 2-channel mixes vs. SACD 96KHz mixes, SACD sounds smoother, warmer, and more detailed. DVD-A sounds muddy and collapsed (like the 5.1 mix was just collapsed to a 2-channel mix). It's hard to give accurate assessments without identical material. The only thing I own that is on both formats is Foreigners "Waiting for a Girl Like you" on the Foreigner 4 DVD-A disc and on the SACD Footloose soundtrack. To me they do not sound identical. Different mix or mastering? Possibly. But the SACD sounds warmer and more detailed than the DVD-A.
    Conclusions
    Nope, this isn't a format flame thread, just some observations. To me the DVD-A 5.1 tracks sound cleaner and far more detailed than the 2-channel tracks. But 2-channel on SACD sounds warmer and cleaner than 2-channel DVD-A.
    But what prompted me to even post this as a discussion here was the multi-channel mixing on DVD-A and to a degree, lack thereof on SACD (on multi-channel listed mixes) and the use of all the speakers.
     
  2. Justin Lane

    Justin Lane Cinematographer

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    I think alot of the differences between mixes also has to do with the content provided by SACD and DVD-A. SACD has more of a classical/jazz slant where you are not going to find as much play in 5.1 mixing as you would with rock, and for that matter more recent recordings. I am guessing for alot of vintage recordings the elements needed to make a proper 5.1 mix just do not exists (or they where recorded in a way nonconducive to 5.1 mixing).

    I really cannot make any opinion on 2 channel comparisons until we run into discs released on DVD-A or SACD from the original analog tapes (i.e. PCM or DSD masters from these tapes, no PCM derived from DSD or vice versa). I can believe you heard differences on that Foreigner cut, but we don't know the source elements, etc. that were used. One disc where I have seen the opposite opinion is Muddy Waters Folk Singer where most comments state the PCM DAD has better sound quality then the DSD SACD. Until there is more conclusive proof though for me, I will continue to enjoy music from both formats.

     
  3. Brian-W

    Brian-W Screenwriter

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    Dammit. Just lost my reply.

    Well, I'll shorten it. Yep, Oh Yeah is the one I was referring to.

    It's seems Sony has been conservative in preaching multi-channel to recording artists (judging by the quality of multi-channel releases) while DVD forum seems to have been emphasizing it (again, based on quality of releases).

    I enjoy both formats, hence why I own both
     
  4. Lee Scoggins

    Lee Scoggins Producer

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    Real Name:
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  5. Rich Malloy

    Rich Malloy Producer

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    I don't think there's any identifiable trends, though I've read some fairly broad-brush appraisals (you know, stuff like "all DVD-A mixes are gimmicky crap intended to impress the rubes" and "all SACD mixes are stick-up-the butt elitist, purist blah blah").

    I think there's an impression that SACD multi-mixes are more conservative, given that many essentially preserve the signature of the original recording. But I think this may only be due to the fact that SACD has concentrated more on classic albums from the golden age of recording and an understanding that their target audience tends to be "audiophiles" (rather than home theater folk looking for an audio format to fit their many-speakered systems). Messing with such classics can earn scads of instantaneous derision. So, very often, the two-channel mix is preserved, and when a multichannel mix is offered, it essentially retains the character of the original mix, but broadens the soundstage by use of ambient surrounds. See especially "Kind of Blue" and "Time Out".

    On the other hand, there's "Headhunter" and "In a Silent Way", two classic recordings that are given fairly aggressive multichannel mixes on SACD (especially Headhunter, which earned a fair share of criticism for doing just that).

    But when it comes to contemporary recordings - for example, Beck's SEA CHANGE and Bowie's HEATHEN - I don't perceive the multichannel mixes as being conservative (or essentially two-channel). Likewise, the Diana Krall SACD releases make relatively aggressive use of surrounds without devolving into the "ping-pong" gimmickry that plagued early stereo recordings.

    I'm far less familiar with the choices available on DVD-A, though I've very much like what I've heard (the Grateful Dead remixes and Bjork's Vespertine), but I don't think they would have received any different mixes on SACD (Mickey Hart did the GD remixes and certainly would have no reason to make any distinctions based on digital format, and Vespertine doesn't sound any more "surround gimmicky" to my ears than contemporary SACD releases of a similar nature).

    So, I think there's a great deal of oversimplification going on when people attempt to distinguish these formats. They're much more alike than different, each exhibiting good and bad (and in roughly equivalent portions, it seems). The only distinction I think we can draw is that SACD is releasing far more "catalog" titles than DVD-A, but even that's subject to debate.
     
  6. Mike Broadman

    Mike Broadman Producer

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    Brian, amazingly enough, considering the length and scope of your initial post, I pretty much agree with all of it.

    This is exactly why I'm so against the idea of a "format war." Call me greedy, but I want both to survive. I just don't see a powerful sounding and aggressively mixed rock album like Night at the Opera or Empire on SACD, nor do I see gorgeous, warm sounding stereo or MC-with-ambient classic jazz releases on DVD-A. I need both formats!
     
  7. Kevin Deacon

    Kevin Deacon Second Unit

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    I was in an Ultimate Electronics a few weeks ago and had a demonstration from one of the sales guys who was very much into DVDA. I listened as he raved about how great the multi-channel mixes were. The singer was in the center, percussion in the right rear, guitars were front left and right, and backup singing in the rears. I asked if he would play the stereo track and he went on to explain that the beauty of DVDA was the multi channel mix and isn't it just great. I told him it sounded as if the band had me surrounded and it made me feel uncomfortable. It's like the band was staring at me from all directions and forcing the music. Just my opinion, but no thanks.
     
  8. Rich Malloy

    Rich Malloy Producer

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    Kevin, there's no small amount of multichannel crap out there, just as there's unfortunately no dearth of bad two-channel mixes. But don't write off the possibilities because of a single bad experience in a showroom, and remember that SACD always has a high-resolution two-channel mix (and same for DVD-A, but perhaps not always?). Though it's certainly the high resolution aspect, first and foremost, that improves over the previous standard and is the primary reason why one might wish to upgrade, I'd nonetheless press the small point that multichannel is nothing to sneeze at...

    Let me give you a quick example that might help you get past this poor showroom demo. When I first added an SACD player to my system, I slightly adjusted my speaker setup to be closer to the "ITU standard" or whatever. By this, I mean that I moved my "surround speakers" more to the rear and behind my listening position (the speakers should ideally be placed on the perimeter of a perfect circle surrounding the listener at specific points). But I wasn't careful to ensure a perfect setup and so ever-so-slightly screwed up the time alignment and relative levels of the various channels. This made material with "aggressive" surround use seem distracting and lacking cohesion with the rest of the mix. Specifically, Miles Davis' "In a Silent Way" and Diana Krall's "When I Look in Your Eyes" struck me as gimmicky and distracting. The Miles was nonetheless interesting, but the Krall I completely wrote-off, finding it practically unlistenable in multichannel (at least compared to the two-channel mix which then was far more appealing to my ears).

    Not so long after that, I decided to tweak the entire system, carefully placing my speakers in a near-perfect near-field setup with the surround speakers at the correct angle behind the listening position and almost exactly the same distance from the listening position as the center and mains (actually very slightly closer, but a de minimus amount of about 8 inches). What a difference!

    While there remains instruments placed discretely in the surround channels, the result is closer to an extremely wide soundstage that's exceptionally cohesive. The Krall mix, which I despised before, is now much preferable to me over the two-channel mix of the same. Sounds that are intended to be directly behind my (such as the "electric suck-out" at the very end of Beck's "The Golden Age") are appropriately placed directly behind me, but the overall effect is one of complete cohesion.

    I guess my point is that there will be rotten multichannel mixes just as there are rotten two-channel ones. But, for the most part, the multi-mixes I've heard on SACD are fantastic. However, this was not evident to my until I very carefully calibrated my system to this new standard. I don't think I'm presuming too much when I venture to say that the demo system you heard was likely compromised by poor placement, calibration, etc. I don't know what "Ultimate Electronics" is, but unless it's super high-end with dedicated listening rooms, then you know...

    BTW -- and perhaps this wouldn't hold true for folk with dipole speakers -- my monopole rear surround speakers also now sound much better for movie soundtracks in their new position than they did previously (after reducing the delay time to "0" and increasing the levels by 1db to recalibrate).
     
  9. Rick_Brown

    Rick_Brown Second Unit

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    Kevin, about hearing a multi-channel mix, you said "I told him it sounded as if the band had me surrounded and it made me feel uncomfortable."

    Now, imagine that your favorite band invited you to their recording studio to hang out while they recorded a new album. And imagine that you got to sit on a chair right in the middle of them when they were recording. Would you feel uncomfortable or thrilled?

    I'd be thrilled. Multi-channel mixes are a new experience, not the best or only experience, just different. Admittedly, it's hard to feel comfortable when an album you've known in 2-channel for many years is suddenly thrust upon you in multi-channel, but give it a chance, especially with new music. It just might grow on you...
     
  10. Rich Malloy

    Rich Malloy Producer

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    And the important thing to remember is that there's always a high resolution two-channel mix (at least on SACD, but also DVD-A, I think), and it's this increased resolution, this "transparency to the source element" that makes these formats so exciting.

    And if you like the multichannel mix, too... well, that's just gravy!
     
  11. Kevin Deacon

    Kevin Deacon Second Unit

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    Hey Rick, If the live band had me surrounded I think I would still be uncomfortable. This is coming from 40 years of watching tv or listening to the radio, stereo, etc.. while looking at the source. I just doesn't seem natural to have instruments and voices separated so drastically, but that's my opinion. As for hearing good surround mixes The Eagles Hell Freezes DVD makes it like I'm in the middle of the crowd. I like this effect as it seems natural to me.

    Rich, I do own the Sony SCD-C555ES SACD player and very much appreciate the high res stereo tracks. At this point I'm unable to enjoy(or try to for that matter) the multi-channel SACD tracks that I have because of temporary(5 months) apartment living.

    Good discussion.
     
  12. Rick_Brown

    Rick_Brown Second Unit

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    Kevin, I've been listening to music in surround sound now for almost 30 years, so you and I are coming from opposite extreme experiences! I was an early quadraphonic adopter, and I continued to listen via my quad setup right up until I went digital multi-channel. I have never had a 2-channel setup in all those years. I guess our brains have become patterned in different ways? I find it sooo hard to listen to anything in straight 2-channel, so I must respect your reactions when you try to listen to multi.
     
  13. Kevin Deacon

    Kevin Deacon Second Unit

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    I'm definately not closed minded about the multi channel experience. Once we get into our new home and I get my listening/HT room setup (Yes, she gave me my own room) I'll have the chance to demo new stuff. I'm going crazy now not being able to have my 5.1 setup in the apartment (we are between homes). When I was young my brother had a quad setup and that was real cool. I've heard rumours that Pink Floyd material is going to be released in high res and maybe even quad. Take care.
     
  14. Tim Hoover

    Tim Hoover Screenwriter

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    As one of the silent minority, I'll admit that I like the feeling of being surrounded by the band. Of course, this is coming from a drummer who usually can't hear squat in a live situation except for the monitor to his left [​IMG]
     
  15. LanceJ

    LanceJ Producer

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    I find it interesting to read another post (among dozens here & elsewhere) describing sacd's sound that uses the exact same adjectives as when many people describe the sound of tube amps.
    Hmmm........
    LJ
     
  16. Doug Smith

    Doug Smith Second Unit

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    I wonder if Sony is going to lose round two. First it was Betamax - yes it had a better picture quality. But in the end VHS took over. Maybe the same thing will happen to SACD - yes its a great sound, but having a DVD player (whether video or audio) is more common. So much for round two.
     
  17. Brian-W

    Brian-W Screenwriter

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    Doug, the problem with the Betamax argument (that everyone uses against Sony) is that Sony refused initially to license out the Betamax technology. JVC was happy to license VHS away and thus the battle was won before even fought.

    As for SACD, it has just as much of a chance as DVD-A because it licenses out most of its technologies these days to all manufacturers.

    There is definitely more DVD-A capable players to choose from, but there are also quite a few SACD players from a variety of manufacturers. SACD has a little catching up to do in this arena
     
  18. Doug Smith

    Doug Smith Second Unit

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    Yeah, maybe your right. I have no axe to grind for either type of system. But it seems that most SACD enthusiasts prefer stereo. DVD V or A is multi mix (for the most part). In order to hear the difference that SACD offers one must first purchase a machine which can play it, then (I assume) have decent enough equipment (receiver and speakers) to be able to appreciate the difference between a regular CD and SACD. On the other hand everyone and his brother now owns a DVD. More and more are putting money into low cost home theatre systems (in a box, etc.). This, I assume, means that these people can now pick up a DVD A disc (even if its on a whim to see what they're like) and be able to play it through there DVD V machine. Even at this level its going to knock their socks off. In fact their regular DVD machine they use for movies is also going to play their CD's. So why go out and buy a new machine? I realize this is not what the true audiophile might do - and perhaps their SACD's are the best sounding discs around. Are there enough stereo loving audiophiles out there to support this format? Who knows. I'm no expert in bit rates, compression rates etc, but I am old enough to have seen this movie before with Betamax - which was a superior video system. Lets hope there is enough of a market for the true SACD audiphiles --- but?
     

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