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High Resolution Digital

SACD started out as a high-resolution 2-channel stereo format aimed at lovers of analog 2-channel sound promising "the precision of digital combined with all the warmth and ambiance of analog". It later became a multi-channel format and as less expensive players entered the market it was seen more as a multi-channel rather than a high-resolution format. SACD still didn't get quite "all the warmth and ambiance of analog" but they got closer than any other digital format.

The high resolution Digital formats, SACD and DVD-Audio sometimes do an excellent job of imitating Analog. However nothing sounds more Analog than real Analog formats as they bypass the Analog to Digital conversion upon recording and the Digital to Analog conversion upon playback. The whole idea of changing Analog to Digital in recording is an effort to eliminate the limitations of the recording medium, such as tape hiss, overload compression, wow and flutter, etc. Suppose instead of spending all the millions of dollars in almost three decades of trying to make Digital sound more like Analog that this money was actually spent to perfect Analog. Something to think about!

In the Digital formats it is extremely important to minimize the amount of degradation of the analog signal as possible. DSD seems to degrade the least losing only the sharpest and fastest transient attacks and a small amount of ambiance and air. DVD-Audio using 192kHz PCM can come close as well and often sounds excellent at 96kHz. Anything lower than 96kHz PCM usually has a graininess and overall uncomfortable sound, with a shrillness in the midrange and at 44.1kHz rolled off highs as well as.

44.1kHz PCM: The Wrong road taken.

When 44.1kHz PCM CD first came out the audiocassette had just overtaken the Vinyl LP in sales. CD was supposed to replace both. CD debuted in 1984 in record stores; the public didn't take to them right away. The CDs were too expensive $15.99 and up versus $8.99-$9.99 for front line LPs and equipment was too expensive. Three years into CD equipment prices dropped but not CD prices however that was enough to boost CD sales. When LPs were taken out of the stores LPs were outselling CDs 4-1.

The industry took LPs off the record shelves to force the holdouts to adopt CD. So now if you wanted an LP you had to special order or mail order. By the fourth year LPs were only outselling CDs 2:1 and by the fifth year CDs began outselling LPs. However it is my firm believe if the LPs were not taken off the shelves CD would either have died or become a niche format like DVD-Audio and SACD are today. People were forced to adopt CD by making it more difficult to buy LPs.

But even with the industries strong-arm tactics they were not able to kill off LPs but they did manage to kill of many of the audiophile record companies who resisted "Digital". They killed off Direct to Discs; pre-recorded Reel to Reel tape and the entire audiophile real time (1:1) audiophile cassette industry. The "CD Industry" and Digital was the worst thing that has ever happened to music. I have great hope our descendants will be more intelligent than we have been and totally dismiss Digital as non-musical. I see a return to recording musical waveforms as is without any conversion to 1’s and 0’s and back to musical waveforms again. This unnecessary step will be eliminated by treating the cause of noise and distortion in physical formats instead of treating the effect as Digital does.

Recording engineer Tony Falkaner is now making 2 Track 15 IPS Analog versions of all of his recordings he does for other companies. He has bravely told the truth about analog being sonically superior to both DSD and even the highest resolution PCM 32 Bit 192kHz. He is not alone and many, many more are joining his ranks.

CD killed audiophile tape

Barclay-Crocker maker of 4 Track 7 ½ IPS Reel to Reel tapes licensed from most of the major labels and many minor ones was slowing losing sales to the dominate medium at the time Cassette. But when Barclay-Crocker went out of business they stated Compact Disc as the cause of their demise.

It was not long after that the audiophile cassette companies folded up one by one. The big CD lies and the forced move to CD is perhaps the biggest crime the musical world has ever seen. Some have said that the people chose CD because their LP playback was so lousy. That may be true for a minority, but I believe what I seen with the own eyes, CD forced on us in two ways. First by taking LPs off the shelves even though LPs outsold CDs 4 to 1. Second by record companies NOT releasing LP versions, forcing people to get the CD version if they wanted the music. These are very high crimes indeed!

Can you imagine a world in which CD was never invented and Digital was never used to record music? I can! All the great conductors and artists of today would be recorded in glorious analog. There would still be dozens of companies making audiophile pre-recorded cassettes and Reel to Reel tapes. Pre-recorded cassettes would likely be either Dolby S or Dolby SR encoded with 100dB dynamic range. Barclay-Crocker would still be releasing the newest Analog master tapes on 4 Track 7 ½ IPS Reel to Reels. And JVC-Japan would never have closed down their pressing plant and tons of Direct to Disc LPs by talented artists and major symphony orchestra would have been released.

CD prevented the birth of a new analog format.

There would be a NEW laser read Analog format for people who don’t like the fuss and extra care LPs require. Imagine if LaserDisc never added Digital Soundtracks! LaserDisc’s picture and the sound were analog. After the introduction of CD, 44.1kHz Digital tracks were added. I always choose the superior Stereo Analog tracks over the 44.1kHz Digital tracks. Then 5.1 Dolby Digital came along and in order to make Dolby Digital fit along with the Stereo Analog and Stereo Digital they used the right channel of the Stereo Analog tracks thus making all Dolby Digital LaserDiscs unusable for me as the Analog tracks were now Mono. This I also blame on Digital and CD, if they had never happened LaserDisc would not have been robbed of its Stereo Analog tracks.

I hope I am making it clear that it is not just CDs abysmal sound quality that causes me to abhor the CD format so much but the damage it has done to other formats as well. CD is the strongest destructive force in the world of music ever created by mankind!

Format inventor George Mann has developed a new laser read analog format using Frequency Modulation similar to LaserDisc but with full frequency response. It will offer all the convenience of CD with the superior sound of Analog. I fully support this new format and if we can let the powers that be know how we feel about abysmal sound quality of Digital it might just have a chance to succeed.

PCM Digital, an unnecessary step in recording music.

DIGITAL sources don't sound like ANALOG or the original musical waveforms, although DSD does get close. Anytime you change musical waveforms to 1's and 0's and back to musical waveforms you have to very careful that the process does not destroy the music. Digital is a cheat, a shortcut to treat the symptoms of residual noise of formats rather than actually curing to cause of noise in formats. The best solution is to record the musical waveform and only the musical waveform and don't convert it to anything.

I personally believe all Master Tapes should be 2 Track 15 IPS Analog Reel to Reel for posterity's sake, as 50 years from now the Digital recordings will be looked back at as too compromised and will be achieved if only really special. I believe in the long term Analog will be perfected without "noise" and Digital will be abandoned as it involves a totally unnecessary step of changing the musical waveform from Digital and back to Analog. In the future they will be smarter than us and realize that it is far better to keep the musical waveform intact.

Analog is Music; Digital is Mathematics

Musical waveforms stay musical waveforms when using analog recording techniques. However when musical waveforms are changed to digital 1’s and 0’s using digital recording techniques they must be changed back to analog musical waveforms to be heard as music. If not converted to analog all you would hear is switching noise. And when Digital is converted back to analog the signal is no longer smooth, it is stair-stepped. Dither (low-level analog noise) is applied to the stair-stepped recovered analog waveform in an attempt to make it smooth and rounded like the original waveform.

The reasons given for converting analog to digital mathematics is to eliminate wow and flutter, increase dynamic range, lower noise and distortion. There are advanced analog techniques that can do all of this making digital totally unnecessary. So why do we continue to destroy our music by converting it to digital and back to analog again?

My thoughts on Digital

Ever since Tony Falkner’s declaration of 2 Track 15-IPS analog’s superiority to 192kHz PCM and DSD I have been expecting a mass reawaking from the digital delusion. Sadly, it hasn’t happened yet.

For many years I was puzzled over how CDs could be shrill and dull at the same time until I realized it was string instruments (upper mid-range) that sound shrill and high percussion instruments (high frequencies) that sounded dull. When listened to in this light the unusual tonal qualities of CDs began to make sense.

My overall impression of the high frequencies of the Analog medium is they seem to be not only further extended and brighter but they also seem to be higher in dimension than digital. What I mean by "higher in dimension" is that the are highs extend further to the ceiling of the listening room, as does the entire soundstage. Many have noted the deeper and wider soundstage of Analog; well it’s taller as well. It doesn’t matter whither the analog is from LPs or Reel to Reel tapes. On the other hand many pre-recorded cassettes even on a Nakamichi have some veiling of high frequencies. But as opposed to CD, HDCD or DVD-Audio the slight veiling of high frequencies of cassette sound "natural" and do not obstruct the music.

I no longer believe the difference is frequency extension alone as most LPs which have little or no response above 40kHz still sound further extended in high frequency response than 24 Bit 192kHz DVD-Audio which have a response to 88kHz. Some unknown quality is still missing from Digital to keep its highs from "sounding" as extended as analog.

My Digital Experiences

I get "lost in the music" that is if the playback format does not call attention to itself. I listen in the dark with my eyes closed reclined in my "sweet spot". I can suspend reality and actually see and hear the musicians playing in my room when listening to any analog format.

But alas with most CDs I can never get to this point, as I cannot hear past any of its flaws. Especially CDs incorrect tonal qualities of the musical instruments coupled with its gross upper midrange shrillness and its rolled-off high frequencies making violins sounds like edgy and spiky and high percussion instruments sound subdued. With CD instead of enjoying the musicians I want to kick them out of my home and beg them never to return. CD doesn't play music for me.

7 ½ IPS Reel to Reels and the best LPs have the highest resolution and "you are there" fell. I dislike cleaning LPs, cleaning the stylus and adjusting VTA. This is another reason I am looking forward to George Mann’s new laser read analog format that will offer all the convenience of CD with the superior sound quality of analog.

It was crime what Sony did to the listening public. After switching to CDs music lovers find that they no longer have time to set down and listen to music, the real truth is that they are uncomfortable listening to CDs and do not know why, after all Sony said CD was "Perfect Sound Forever". These self-same people when they rediscover LPs somehow now make time to listen to music, often lots of time!

Finally with my 10th player that plays CDs I have finally gotten listenable, comfortable and realistic sound with the best CDs such as Telarc’s but the majority of CDs still sound as bad as they ever did.

I spent several years listening to SACD only at home and Cassettes in the car.

When my only music source at home quit reading hybrid SACDs I purchased a Music Hall MMF-1 Turntable to tide me over until my SACD player was fixed. By the time it was fixed three months later I was really getting hooked on the beautiful smooth sound of Analog LPs. I plugged in the Sony SACD player and for the first time it actually sounded Digital! I waited a couple of months for it to fully break-in again and it still sounded Digital, I did some comparisons of recordings in both formats and the cheap little $250.00 turntable was more realistic and enjoyable than my $1,500.00 SACD player. I really believed that SACD offered all the sound of analog with all the convenience of CD, well I was wrong!

So I sold the Sony SACD player and listened to LPs and Reel to Reels until I seen the tubed Xindak SCD-2 SACD player at half price and being a lover of tubes and also it being a bargain I jump back into SACDs. Now I had SACDs, RTRs and LPs at home and of course Cassettes in the car. The SACDs with tubes held their own against the LP versions and I was quite happy until the Xindak started to have the same Hybrid reading problems as the old Sony. During the warranty period I sent in for repair twice. And when two years later out of warranty it quit reading Hybrid SACDs for the third time I sold it and all my SACDs. With the funds I upgraded to the Music Hall MMF-5 $629.00 turntable and expanded my LP collection. I have not heard an SACD that can even come close to the sound quality of LPs on the MMF-5.

Comparison Reviews / Notes on LPs and SACDs.

LPs played on Music Hall MMF-5 turntable
SACDs played on Xindak SCD-2 tubed SACD player

Die Röhre, The Tube
Stuttgarter Kammerorchester
Works by Boccherini, Sammartini, Scarlatti, Handel, Vivaldi, Biber & Corelli
SACD / CD Hybrid: Tacet S 74
LP: L 74

This is not only the best sounding SACD I have every heard, it is also the best sounding LP I have ever heard, it is a tubed analog recording. This recording proves that SACD can do bowed string instruments right, it is silky smooth and beautiful but the LP is even more so and is absolutely gorgeous.

The LP has many intricate small sonic details the SACD only hints it and while the strings on the SACD are smooth wait until you hear the LP! Plus the Vinyl is dead quiet on the LP as well.

Bernstein's Fancy Free on Franklin Mint LP versus Sony SACD.

Bernstein conducting Bernstein a Columbia recording from 1961-1964.
Leonard Bernstein , The New York Philharmonic

The LP: Franklin Mint's 100 Greatest Recordings of all Time Volume 6:
Side One: Fancy Free
Side Two: Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, Candide Overture.

The SACD: Sony Classical SS-89043, the above works plus On The Waterfront.

The LP has cleaner and more extended high frequencies; the exciting high percussion sent goose bumps up and down my body! The LP had deeper bass, the LP had more impact and with the LP I could hear deeper into the music. All in all the SACD is a poor imitation of the glorious LP as mastered by Franklin Mint.

Of course the Master Tape was much fresher in 1976 when these Franklin Mint records were made. But the difference was huge!

Gottschalk: Night In The Tropics and Gould: Latin American Symphonette- Analogue Productions LP - Vanguard SACD

Virgil Thomson: The River and The Plow That Broke The Plains - Analogue Productions LP - Vanguard SACD.

These two recordings are what I consider to be of the top five best sounding SACDs released so far and of course one of my two favorite recordings of all time since the 1970’s, the LPs were even better sonically, larger soundstage and a "you are there" presence and more "air" in the highs.

Notes on other SACD and DVD-Audio comparisons:

The RCA Living Stereo recordings, Classic Records 180/200 Gram versions have lower overall noise than the RCA SACD versions. The LPs have almost no surface noise and extremely low tape hiss and when both are combined they have lower noise than the tape hiss on the RCA Living Stereo SACD versions. The LPs have greater impact on percussion strikes, faster transient response I believe? And a little more delicacy in the highs.

Every Classic Records 180 Gram / 200 Gram LP I played is sonically superior to Classic Records 192kHz 24 Bit HDADs. Although their HDADs are among the best DVD-Audios available.

Nearly every Audiophile LP is sonically superior to its SACD version, and most LPs are also sonically superior to their SACD versions. The exceptions would be the Columbia classical LPs and some of the Columbia rock LPs that are inferior to the better-mastered SACDs. As reviewed above the Franklin Mint bettered the Columbia SACD versions as does the pre-recorded Reel to Reel tapes, so if you are analog only the Franklin Mint LPs and the Columbia Reel to Reel are the best choice for Columbia Classical releases.