If SACD is Superior Then Why is Sony Playing Games?

Discussion in 'Playback Devices' started by Chu Gai, Jan 22, 2004.

  1. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Lead Actor

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    Even for an objectivist such as myself, I'll state that there have been some dreadful CD recordings. Some are so bad that their deficiencies will be readily apparent on your run of the mill boom box. By the same token there have been poor recordings done on vinyl or tape however much of the focus is on the digital medium. Many have hailed the coming of technology such as SACD as the cure or DVDA as the cure. Increased sampling rate will allow for more accurate signal representation they say. Well we know that's not true according to the Nyquist Theorem, the proof of which was given by Shannon about 50 years ago.

    There are also critically aclaimed digital recordings even on the humble CD which suggests to me that the fault lies not with the medium but elsewhere. As others have pointed out, there are a myriad of reasons why CDs can sound bad and why their dyanamic range is not being utilized which I summarize below and point to the recording process as being the culprit.
    1) Engineering standards are poor and good quality control procedures aren't being implemented. Variable quality is the result.
    2) The recordings are being designed to some perception of what the public wants. Unfortunately the public is either accepting it or not complaining. Well maybe all that downloading is part of the retaliation [​IMG]
    3) Some music is admittedly low in dyanamic range
    4) Engineers are using techniques that worked well for vinyl and therefore don't exploit the possibility of digital.
    5) The microphones are inadequate to exploit the medium lacking either linearity and/or dynamic range.
    6) The equipment in the studio is inadequate along the lines of 5) above and needs to be upgraded.
    7) Poor speakers are being used in the studios. Can anyone say Yamahas?
    8) The recordings are being done in rooms that were suitable for vinyl. We've got a much lower noise floor with digital and those rooms need to be addressed.

    That'll do for now.

    We, the consumers, seek to blame our equipment looking for something a little more realistic, something a bit warmer, something that we can justify spending our hard earned dollars on. So we engage in DAC assassinations and focus on our equipment as the reasons. Well maybe if you're using one of the first couple of generations of CDs there might be some justification. To the rescue many say comes Sony with SACD. Now don't get me wrong, being able to do 5.1 is nifty. More recordings are starting to come out and here we are touting SACD (yes, I know there's DVDA but I'm focussing this on SACD) as the savior. But is it really? What guarantees do we have? What's to say that since it's possible to create crappy CDs we're not going to have overcompressed and poorly recorded SACDs?

    Many have bought SACD releases and compared them to the CD versions and found audible differences. The question then becomes to me, are these differences the result of the new medium or something else? Allow me to digress briefly into DVDA. If one compares the DD, DTS, and DVDA tracks of various DVDA releases one will find differences and similarities. On some disks, the differences are quite substantial. On others they're quite similar. Since there's no pattern here, this strongly suggests that the differences in the tracks is due to how they're handled and not by any differences in digital processing. If it were the latter, then these differences would be consistent and they're not. IOW, the differences that we're hearing are due to differences in how they're mastered onto the medium. Consider an article published in the July 1994 Stereo Review by David Ranada titled "Super CD's: Do they deliver the goods?" Ranada's findings back then indicated that there were equalization and level differences that could not be attributable to differences in the digtial technology. His conclusions were that either different masters were being used or that it was the same master with some additional post production enhancements or corrections being applied. This means the differences had nothing to do with dynamic range and nothing to do with frequency response.

    So what has Sony done to convince the public of the superiority of SACD? Well for starters, neither Sony nor the companies issuing rereleases of old favorites have been particularly forthcoming with what's new other than some vague comments about it being an SACD release. That leaves you and me to make of it what we will.

    Apart from the above paragraph, they've also done something else that to my mind is rather reprehensible. They've stacked the deck in favor of SACD. This has been done by ensuring that even if you've got two identical recordings on the disk, SACD will play back 3 dB hotter. This ensures that should the naive consumer or reviewer get their hands on such a disk, they'll be sure to hear a difference. Since these evaluations are never performed unsighted, we can be quite confident that the louder of the two will be preferred. As is well known to those who've conducted research into non level matched playbacks, if the individual is not aware that the level has changed, they'll use a variety of subjective terms (soundstage, clear highs, a firm and controlled low end, etc.) to try to describe the differences.

    So if the outputs of the DSD decoders are 3 dB louder but commercial SACDs are softer, then what does that tell you is going on? What does that tell you that Sony is really trying to do? Are they looking to give us more quality or are they looking to pump some life in the cash cow?

    What do all of you think? Me, I think neither SACD or DVDA will survive. I also don't think we needed to go to a different approach to get better sound quality but the market will be the arbiter here. I also think Sony's got some 'splaining to do especially as to why, if SACD is so superior, that they had to gimmick it up by adding a little extra salt.
     
  2. David Kyser

    David Kyser Agent

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    After buying my first DVD-A disk (Zeppelin HTWWW) I started researching the hi-rez formats. It is really a mess, what I have learned is that there is no way to integrate a sub with multi channel HI-Rez without degrading the sound for under $3000(firewire setups). There are ways to integrate a sub with analog or digital devices but these degrade the sound and there are no answers as to how much degredation occurs. Also I read this:
    SACD vs DVD-A Article which is very interesting. I do think these Hi Rez formats are exciting in that there is finally some acknowledgement to what most of us have known for years in that CD's don't sound perfect. I also think that the HI-Rez will become very popular mainly because Rock and Roll is basically dead as far as new bands and a lot of us are interested in hearing the good 60's & 70's rock in as high fidelity as possible.
     
  3. Stephen M

    Stephen M Stunt Coordinator

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    I remain skeptical of the new formats. They have been on the market for over two years with little consumer acceptance. Contrast this with the cd of twenty-two years ago! The technical specs of the new formats are superior to cd, but this is a good example of caution in buying on spec alone since it is unclear if the superior specs result in superior recordings. You still need a skilled engineer with the right equipment and caring artists to get a good recording, regardless of the recording format. The five channel mono is another throwback to quad days and is quite annoying IMO. Regarding new recordings of the old rock catalogs, been there, done that before, won't do it again except for extraordinary recordings of music I do not have on cd now. If either of these formats is to succeed, we need a digital transfer standard to our pre/pros to do bass management and speaker distance and universal players with the necessary digital link. Absent these advances, the formats will die and virtually no one will notice.
     
  4. Doug_B

    Doug_B Screenwriter

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    If nothing else, the hi-rez formats are prompting new mastering to take place, which is where I feel the majority of the benefits lie.

    If anyone has listened to recordings by Mapleshade Records / Wildchild, you know that redbook can sound damn excellent. They use a minimalist intervening equipment approach.

    I still like both hi-rez formats, although I admit to a number of failed experiments when I wasn't previously familiar with the material.

    Doug
     
  5. FeisalK

    FeisalK Screenwriter

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    Doug, I think so myself. I think if no new mastering is done you end up with a product like the Boston eponymous 1st album (apparently not much improvement over redbook).

    New res formats will survive in one form or another if not only for the fact that they are on higger density medium and able to store more stuff (5.1 yeah!)
     
  6. Angelo.M

    Angelo.M Producer

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    Hi-rez will survive, but as a niche format.

    It's less convenient for the typical music listener as it isn't compatible with 95%+ of existing hardware, it's more expensive, and it doesn't offer a substantial upgrade for the average consumer. It simply doesn't provide the same order of magnitude of performance improvement over redbook CD that, for example, DVD offers over VHS.

    So, it will remain relegated to a niche. Nothing wrong with that.
     
  7. Bob Saylor

    Bob Saylor Stunt Coordinator

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    DTS was doing 5.1 audio and for the most part was doing a pretty decent job of it for some time. Unless the engineers do a good job with SACD and DVDA there is little to show that is better the the DTS offerings.

    Just because the recordings are more dynamic and cleaner doesn't always show up on the finished product. It may have all of the potential they tell us about but if the work they put into the SACD and DVDA disks doesn't show it they are waisting our time and the formats will eventually fail. They are spending a lot of time trying to re-engineer old tracks instead of coming up with new stuff.

    I have several SACD disks that have selections on them that are outstanding, but alas, most of the others simply are not much, if any, better than 5.1 DTS recordings. A lot of those listening don't pay any attention to how clear,clean and warm the new formats sound because many of the recordings don't really deliver in this dept.

    We need to have new material so the engineers can realy show what they can do. Re-making old disks just doesn't get it done, IMO. Also, the recording artists themselves are slow to warm up to 5.1 recording.
     
  8. Rachael B

    Rachael B Producer

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    There's not any doubt in my mind that both DVD-A and SA-CD sound better. Sometimes it's only subtle, other times it's definitely more. Tourists proably can't tell and if they could they wouldn't care anyway.

    I've been using both since near their beginnings. The discs are better sounding now than the early ones mostly, when comparing the stereo. I've never heard a CD that could stand up to a 1st line recording like the Eighty Eight's SACD of Will & Rainbow's HARMONY. Last night I listened to Neil Young's HARVEST in high bit rate stereo DVD-A and it was stunningly good.

    I know not if Philips and Sony have pulled some slight of hand with respect to Sack-Dee but I believe it's better than CD. The results resonating from my drivers tell me so. Bass is less fuzzy and horns sound better. The decay of notes seems closer to natural. That's enough for me.

    Of course we all know that the main reason for both formats, an attempt to get the market to give more $$$$ per unit sold. That part of it will never work with the general public. It might work with me but I'm not so generally, general. [​IMG]
     
  9. Roger_R

    Roger_R Second Unit

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    "Increased sampling rate will allow for more accurate signal representation they say. Well we know that's not true according to the Nyquist Theorem, the proof of which was given by Shannon about 50 years ago." - .....Okay? A higher sampling rate will give a result which is closer to the original, analogue wave, therefore giving more accurate signal representation.

    The main advantage with those new formats is that they use 24bit samples instead of 16bit. It gives the studios the ability to heighten the dynamic range on music, because 16bit tends to sound crappy if you turn the volume down when recording. Today's CD-releases often have a supressed dynamic range simply because low sounds sound badly.
    ALso..you're talking about 3dB...you know how much that is? [​IMG]
    It's the smallest difference in volume that the human ear can notice. To me, such an insignificant difference in volume is not a problem...
     
  10. RobertR

    RobertR Lead Actor

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    Yes. It's enough to make some people think it represents a qualitative difference, which is what Chu was getting at.
     
  11. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Lead Actor

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    The benefit, if there is one with SACD, is that it seems to put greater emphasis on those producing records to do a better job of getting it right. Seems to...
    Judging by the amount of crap that's out there (pick up various releases of Kind of Blue) I don't hold my breath for engineers to get things right with SACD or anything. I do think it'll be different and people do indeed respond to different.

    3 dB is only a little salt. Consider that HDCD plays back 6 dB louder.

    Myself, I made my financial mistakes on the Beta/VHS wars. I play it a bit more conservative today.
     
  12. Carlo Medina

    Carlo Medina Executive Producer

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    I definitely agree with Chu's original post regarding weaknesses in the recording and mastering chain. I have heard fabulous CD recordings and terrible ones.

    I think there is a cultural aspect as to why more care is not shown during the music recording process.

    Quite frankly, I think that most of today's "general populace" sees music as "background music" - something to have on while doing something else. Hence why downloading has become so popular. Let's face it, anyone that cared about music wouldn't put up with hearing a 5MB MP3 file.

    Competition for entertainment dollars and time is at an unprecedented all time high. There are now a myriad of things for people to do: video games, home theater, PC, electronics, mainstream sports, Internet, etc. And people have less and less spare time in which to relax (it is now common for a married couple to have both adults working 40+ hour weeks).

    The music industry is trying to capture peoples' attention and win back their share of entertainment revenue. As such, you don't win back the general populace with excellent sounding recordings. You do so by promoting HYT - Hot Young Things - whether they be boy bands or very attractive females.

    The age of the audiophiles - who were never a majority in the first place - is really shrinking. Sony and most other record companies could give a damn that a few hundred (or even a few thousand) people here at HTF are decrying their recording process. We're not going to make them money. They want to appease the mainstream and since they're competing against other, flashier, technologies they have to market themselves in a way that will attract peoples' attention. Unfortunately that is not by making a better recording (in their view). And even if they want something to sound "better" they use the psychoacoustic phenomenon of "louder is [perceived to be] better" and that's why we have the overcompressed messes that we have today.

    Sad, really, but that's where I think our society is at.
     
  13. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Lead Actor

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    I've got a bizarre taste in music. I think the kind way to say it is that it's eclectic. I enjoy classical, old R&R (although I've had my fill of Stairway to Heaven), ambient stuff (Brian Eno), even Eminem and the late Tupac. I do though laugh at MTV calling all these women divas...sheesh. Maybe one of the problems is that these 'artists' want too much production control...I really don't know. Maybe they just ought to master it on vinyl and then run the vinyl into digital. Or maybe they need to go back to school and learn that old tricks don't work in the digital world.
     
  14. Yohan Pamudji

    Yohan Pamudji Second Unit

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    I would also like to see references on this. I distinctly remember comparing SACD and redbook tracks on a few of my hybrid discs and noticing that the redbook tracks were hotter.

    Having said that, I agree that a lot of the superiority of the new formats are likely due to more careful mastering and production as opposed to any inherent superiority of the sampling and encoding methods.
     
  15. Kevin C Brown

    Kevin C Brown Producer

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    Before I got a universal player, I was all hot to trot to get on the SACD and DVD-A bandwagon. 18 months later, I have exactly 4 SACDs and 1 DVD-A. Why? Because I personally have not noticed that much difference between 2 channel versions of CD vs SACD/DVD-A. The funny part is that in the beginning, I was a high rez stereo proponent, but now I think that if they survive at all *in the mainstream*, it will be because of good surround sound mixes and not because they are high rez at all. Remember, the *mainstream* is mostly happy with crappy quality MP3s.
     
  16. Chu Gai

    Chu Gai Lead Actor

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    The comparisons were done by the measurement of two test tones on the different layers. This I believe was either done by Arny Krueger or replicated by him. The SACD layer plays it back 3 db hotter. Further your general findings that Redbook plays back hotter is often the case. If we consider these two bits of information, a reasonable conclusion is that the SACD layer is layed down signficantly different. Call it mastered differently or equalized differently. Apparently, some Sony executives were confronted by this but that no good answer was given. I was kind of hoping that Lee Scoggins, who is familiar with SACD and a big proponent, would either comment or get some additional information.

    A reasonable question to my mind would be why not take this SACD layer, do whatever conversions are necessary to get it into a different format amenable to CD playback and give the consumer a fair chance at determining if one is better than the other. However if one is perceptably louder it'll tilt the balance that way. Not 100%, but minorities have been swayed by majorities.

    As the codecs improve, and they do, good mp3's can provide a formidable challenge.
     
  17. Jeff W.

    Jeff W. Stunt Coordinator

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    Interesting points that I have pondered myself.

    Bottom line though is that Joe Consumer does not want YAGDF (yet another Gxx Dxxx format!) and will go..

    "SA-Whatnow?"

    and

    "DVD? you mean movies right?"
     
  18. RobertR

    RobertR Lead Actor

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  19. FeisalK

    FeisalK Screenwriter

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    chronic upgraditis, anyone?
     
  20. JimmyK

    JimmyK Second Unit

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    Interesting, considering early adopters, who tend to be much more critical, are the ones who usually determine if a new technology/format will get off the ground.

    Just my humble opinion.

    JimmyK
     

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