FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 42
An Analog Lover's continuing Adventure in Digital
Part Five: The SACD format needs a more complex SPARS-type code
A real high resolution SACD will be from a 15 IPS or 30 IPS analog master tape, PCM at 96kHz or higher, DSD or DXD.
I consider the Telarc SACDs from their Soundstream 50kHz historical digital masters to be medium resolution however I do enjoy many of them greatly.
In my humble opinion SACDs from 44.1kHz or 48kHz PCM are too limited in resolution, strings have an edge, ambiance is greatly subdued, there is congestion on climaxes and they do not sound "relaxed" or "beautiful" like SACDs from 96kHz or higher PCM, DSD or analog masters. While low resolution 44.1kHz PCM upsampled to DSD for SACD release are listenable and no longer have most of CD's irritable strident sound we as consumers need to warned of low resolution prior to purchase. I find both medium and high resolution listenable, but not low resolution. Since I am advocating all CDs be replaced by SACD/CD hybrids there will be even more low resolution SACDs from 44.1kHz and 48kHz masters so a new SPARS type code would be very necessary. SACDs from low resolution 44.1kHz and 48kHz PCM SACDs should be marketed to those who don't have a problem with "CD sound".
I am suggesting something like a complex SPARS code like the following example:
RECORDING - 5,644.8kHz DSD
MIXING and EDITING - 352.8kHz 24 Bit DXD
The old spars code told us if the recording or mixing were analog or digital, the third number was not needed as it was always a "D" for CD, for SACD we know the final mastering has to be DSD or it couldn't be put on an SACD. There are many different sonic levels of resolution for digital low, medium and high. This is something, as consumers we have a right to know as many of us do not like SACDs from low resolution PCM masters. Many companies such as Telarc offer this information freely, but most do not.
The choices being: 15 IPS Analogue, 30 IPS Analogue, 44.1kHz 16 Bit PCM, 48kHz 24 Bit PCM, 88.2kHz 24 Bit PCM, 96kHz 24 Bit PCM, 176.4KHz 24 Bit PCM, 192kHz 24 Bit PCM, 2,882.4kHz DSD, 5,644.8kHz DSD or 352.8kHz 24 Bit DXD and whatever new resolution is invented for recording or editing.
Part Six: I was wrong and too forgiving of lower resolution PCM
When I first got iTunes and a iPod a year and a half ago, I was thrilled with the 192kbps and higher MP3s especially the free ones from Download.com. I never liked the sound of CDs but these MP3s were warmer and more ambient with less strident highs. I commented at the time part of what they threw away were the things that made CDs sound so bad ...to me at least.
I learned over time that MP3's frequency response starts rolling off at 16kHz or lower, thus the highs were smoother because they were lower in level. This could also be what caused the extra warmth. It is possible the extra feel of ambiance is artificially created by the lower signal to noise ratio of MP3.
However, over time I just could not live with the loss of resolution caused by encoding to MP3, so I started listening to uncompressed lossless WAV and AIFF music files, and they indeed have more resolution. However there was some of the stridency and dryness of CD, only not quite as bad. I had the iPod shuffle so I cannot do Apple lossless which in my early tests I found warmer than WAV or AIFF.
It seems on my iPod with 44.1kHz, I can either have resolution or warmth and ambiance, but not both at the same time.
I find 24 Bit 96kHz lossless uncompressed music files have much greater resolution than any type of 44.1kHz music files. They have even more warmth and ambiance than MP3, which would be "real" warmth and ambiance instead of artificially created variety used in MP3s. However I couldn't play my 24 Bit 96kHz music files on my iPod, so I sold my iPod, and deleted all computer music files lower than 24 Bit 96kHz. Now on my trips outside my home, I carry no music. I just experience the real world instead. At first I thought I might wait for an acceptable 24 Bit 96kHz portable player, but now I am not so sure I want to have music with me on walks and other travels.
I now recommend NO digital products or music files with resolution lower than 88.2kHz PCM with the sole exception of the Telarc historical 50kHz Soundstream recordings on SACDs or LPs (Which would severely limit one's music - Ed).
Part Seven: Everything is important to make a great enjoyable recording.
1) The Master should to be recorded with high enough resolution using at least 24 Bit 88.2kHz PCM, DXD or preferably DSD to accurately capture the music being presented. If recording in the analog realm the highest quality mastering tape run at 30 or 15 IPS should be used.
2) Microphones with the smoothest and widest frequency response should be used, at least to 40kHz or if on hand some of the newer microphones that extend to 100kHz.
3) The concert hall or room, needs to be studied and mapped for correct microphone placement and this can take up to a week to do in a hall a record company has never recorded before.
4) Get the balances and everything else correct BEFORE the start recording with an aim to make a photographic recording using as little mixing and editing as possible. Fixing it in the mix is what decreases the spontaneity and realism of many recordings.
5) Keep everything high resolution digital or high resolution analog until the end product.
6) That end product should be an SACD, LP or at the very least a high resolution download. Releasing it only on CD sacrifices most of the work done in steps 1-5.
Part Eight: Please Support BIS's single inventory SACD/CD hybrids!
A recent thread at SA-CD.net Robert von Bahr, founder of Bis Records asked "How many of you are - actually - SACD-ONLY buyers?"
Since BIS Records releases all their traditional standard playing time SACDs as hybrids and since they don't charge a premium, but absorb the extra costs for recording, editing, mastering and production of an SACD, selling at the same price as a RBCD, Robert was extremely interested in knowing how many EXTRA copies they sell because of the SACD option. The only BIS SACDs that are not hybrids are their Ultra Extended Playing Time SACD which play for more than four hours on a single disc in 2-channel stereo, making a compatible CD layer impossible (more here).
Robert von Bahr is watching the sales of his single inventory SACD/CD hybrids versus his RBCD only releases. He wonders if there are "dwindling SACD-only buyers" because he really cannot see any noticeable difference in sales between RBCDs and SACD/CD hybrids; once he takes into account the repertoire and artists. About half of the SACD listeners said they would still buy BIS recordings on CD if the SACD were not available. Personally I fail to see the logic in accepting a CD in lieu of a potential SACD, especially considering the huge sonic differences between between the two formats. I am still baffled that any SACD owner said they would buy any CD if it was not released on SACD.
Since BIS SACD/CD hybrids are single inventory the listeners who only currently listen to the CD layer may become motivated to buy an SACD player or universal player to hear the DSD layer in Stereo or multichannel. I believe BIS are doing a great service to the SACD format by releasing single inventory SACD/CD hybrids! And I am thrilled that they are priced the same as RBCDs. Many including myself mentioned we would pay extra for the SACD/CD hybrids, however Robert said that was not an option as he has no intention of going dual inventory so they cannot be priced higher than his regular CDs.
We have our work cut out for us to insure that BIS SACD/CD hybrids sell double or triple the quantity of their CD only releases. The way to do this is:
1) Buy only SACDs
2) Tell every one you know about SACDs, let them hear your stereo. If we can increase SACD ownership from 20 million to 100 million by recruiting five music lovers each we can insure all SACD/CD hybrids outsell single-layer CDs easily, at which time all CDs will have SACD layers. This really can be done.
3) Send emails to the recording companies requesting the SACD version of a recording you want that they have not yet released on SACD. And tell them you would love to buy the recording if and only if it is released as a SACD/CD hybrid. Tell them that you and all your friends are withholding their money until the SACD/CD hybrid is released.
4) Tell them that SACD/CD hybrids make everyone happy, as they have a CD layer for folks who like low resolution, a high resolution DSD layer that offers high resolution stereo for the stereo lovers and high resolution multi-channel for the surround sound lovers.
And we have to be totally committed to this as SACD/CD hybrids are the only thing that will save SACD and CD.
Part Nine: An open letter to the world's recording companies.
Record Companies your choice: SACD or die?
All CDs should have SACD layers! No need to mess around with Blu-Spec CD which is just a "cleaner" 16 bit 44.1kHz CD or other low resolution substitutes when the real thing is available in both Stereo and Multichannel and backwards compatible with all devices that play CDs.
Record companies if you release everything and I mean everything including Hip Hop and Rap on SACD/CD hybrids then SACD will replace CD and you may find you are selling more product as many do not buy CDs anymore and it takes a long, long time to download high resolution Multichannel surround sound. I firmly believe that SACD is the only thing that can save physical formats but only if every single recording is released on SACD/CD hybrids.
Recording companies if you set on your derrières and do nothing, not only will CDs die but the whole concept of recording companies will die with it. Your only chance to save physical formats, your company and your jobs is to release every single recording on SACD/CD hybrids.
Choices are what is so great about SACD/CD hybrids, as they offer three versions of the musical program, you greatly increase your customer base and make everyone happy!
A Blu-Spec SACD/CD Hybrid? Now that might be something worth doing.