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Format Comparisons

The digital formats offer the ultimate convenience and elimination of most noise. Most CD hardware and software present a cold, analytical sterilized version the of music that is most often downright painful. However some of the newest players with the best software have cured some of these abnormalities.

The best analog hardware and software preserves the original musical event and is nearly as exciting to listen to as the music was live. But to be honest analog can often be a royal pain to use. With this in mind I am offering my personal pros and cons of each format. Only formats that I have owned and used are evaluated.

Analog formats playing pre-recorded software.

FORMAT

PROS

CONS

8 Track Cartridge

Endless loop was a very nice feature for the car. Many 8 Track tapes offered very good sound quality

Higher than normal wow and flutter. With endless loop the tape wound upon it self, causing in time the lubricant to shed and the tape to break. Rewind is impossible and Fast Forward on the few decks that offered it went at only twice the playing speed. This meant that all four tracks that to be approximately the same length so songs or movements were split in two. So what one heard was fading down at the end of one track, a click as the track changed and fading up at the beginning of the next. Very disruptive to the flow of music.

Cassette

Small size, and with auto reverse a better option than 8 Track’s endless loop. Thanks to Dolby noise reduction, new tape types, advanced head and electronics design excellent sound quality. For most music sound quality is as good as the best LPs and often approaches Reel to Reel when played on a superior deck, such as a Nakamichi.

There is still some compression of high frequencies on the most demanding orchestral climaxes. Many high-speed duplicated cassettes have some high frequency losses, although not all.

Reel to Reel

Extremely realistic sound quality especially at 7 and 15 IPS tape speeds.

Tape has to be manually threaded on the take up reel. Some polyester tapes from the late 1970’s to early 1980’s have developed "sticky Shed Syndrome" and tapes from the 1950s – 1960’s break easy.

LP

Sound Quality can be extremely realistic and with Direct to Disc recordings LPs have the fasted transit response of any medium.

Deep bass requires wide grooves, which limits playing time. Cleaning, Scratches warps, surface noise and wear.

Stereo LaserDisc

Very stunning visually and the sound quality from the analog tracks was often excellent.

Playing time: CLV – 60 minutes per side and CAV – 30 minutes per side. Before Digital was invented special effects only worked on CAV discs. After CD was invented Digital tracks were added, meaning one had a choice of the stereo analog or digital soundtrack. After Dolby Digital was introduced the only place to put it was to use one of the analog tracks two channels making the analog tracks on these disc MONO.

8mm Hi-Fi Stereo

Small size, picture quality better than VHS and almost as good as Beta at it fastest speed. 8mm is no longer offered as a home recorder but is still popular as a camcorder.

Very few Movies were ever released on 8mm thus one was unable to rent movies.

Beta Hi-Fi Stereo

Excellent Picture with 3 hours playing time at Beta II and 4 hours at Beta III. Beta I was only on early and professional models.

When time shifting from TV Beta’s slowest speed Beta III with 4 hours had far better picture than VHS’s fastest speed SP with only 2 hours playing time.

Less rentals than VHS, lost war with VHS because VHS played an hour and a half longer that it’s slowest speed as it was physically a larger cartridge.

VHS Hi-Fi Stereo

Very good picture at the fastest speed (SP) 2 hour playing speed on a T120 tape, T160’s were introduced that offered 2 hours and 40 minutes at the highest speed which were not recommended due to the thin tape. T120’s would play 6 hours at the slowest speed (EP). The middle speed (LP) was discontinued.

Picture Quality and Hi-Fi Stereo not as good as Beta.

Digital Formats playing pre-recorded software.

FORMAT

PROS

CONS



Convenient, small size, can be used at home, in a car and when walking. No additional noise added by the format. The best CDs on the best players can sound realistic, exciting and musical.

Sound quality that can offers excellent dynamics and bass but is usually cold, analytical, unmusical and often painful

HDCD (Using the full encode-decode process)

Such as Reference Recordings, FIM, Linn and Opus 3. See below for a simple definition of the HDCD process.

Very accurate and dynamic sound without the painful midrange shrillness of CD and has much of analog’s high frequency shimmer on percussion instruments.

It is still on the cool side of neutral.

HDCD (Using only the encode process or just using the Pacific Microsonics A/D with no encoded-decode)

Examples are most major label HDCDs

You can see the HDCD light up on you deck.

Since these don’t use the full process they sound as bad as regular CDs, cold, analytical and unmusical.

XRCD

Better Mastering

It still is a CD and suffers all of CDs problems, but to a lesser degree.

DAT (48kHz/16 Bit)

Very few pre-recorded DATs, the ones from Direct-to-Tape; Sheffield Lab sounded better than their CD versions. Still had Digital’s signature coldness but not as shrill in the midrange and the highs are a little airier too.

Recordings of LP lose some of the air, warmth and high frequencies but they are listenable and have very little of Digital’s glare, and they sound much better than CD-R copies of LPs. DATs have a problem with wear and can have severe reading problems in as little as 100 plays.

DAD (96kHz/24 Bit)

Very realistic sound with non of CDs sonic problems, non upper-midrange glare, excellent ambiance and smooth extended high frequencies. Sound that often comes close to the best analog. Can be played on any DVD player and at full resolution on all but the very cheapest early model DVD players that didn’t have built in 24/96 D/A converters and would down-sample to 24/48kHz.

Not enough software as many recording companies were leery as it offered no copy protection.

DVD-Audio

From 24 Bit 96kHz masters sound equal to the DADs and at 192kHz even more ambient. Also offers surround sound at 24 Bit 96kHz and lower.

Menus often require TV sets to navigate to the Stereo program if it has one. Packaging, you often don’t know what resolution or if there was a stereo program until you put the DVD in your player and read the Menu and on screen displays.

16 Bit 44.1kHz

DVD-Video

Chesky and Analogue productions offered a few 24 Bit 96kHz music programs with full motion video. These are superb and sound very analog-like but offer something LPs cannot – Video. Also some commercial DVD-Video music programs offer 2 channel stereo linear at 48kHz between 16 to 24 Bit all you will see on the back is "Linear Stereo" you have to put it in your machine to find out the resolution.

Not a lot of software with both linear PCM 2 channel stereo and full motion video. Most DVD-Videos use lossy Dolby Digital and DTS.

SACD

This is the Digital format that sonically is the closest to analog. It has none of the sonic abbreviations of low resolution CD and a very analog-like sound texture with very solid warm deep bass similar that on the best Reel to Reels. The realism in the midrange is uncanny; vocalists especially sound so real.

Most releases now are Classical with a few Jazz. Some have had TOC reading problems, many of the newer machines are supposed to solve this and other issues.

HDCD Process

HDCD are playable on regular CD players but require an HDCD decoder or equipped player for it’s extra resolution.

The extraordinary fidelity of the HDCD process is achieved by identifying and correcting previously misunderstood (or unknown) sources of distortion in digital audio reproduction. These include additive artifacts of the analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog conversion process, and subtractive distortions resulting from insufficient data present in the sampling standard of the CD format. The HDCD process effectively cancels the additive distortions and simultaneously provides additional data to reduce the subtractive distortions.