• 02-08-2006, 11:01 AM
    Resident Loser
    What are folks expecting...
    ...from SACD? I'm barely into CDs so this format is not a biggie to me, so if my comments seem dumb, that's because they are and I apologize in advance.

    Doin' the rounds, I've seen a number of unhappy campers complaining about SACD re-issues of older stuff. Comments like "...it's only two-channel..." and "...I'm not surrounded by the orchestra...", you know that sorta' thing.

    Are the record companies supposed to re-process the old stuff to fully use the multiple channels? They've done it in the past with mono stuff and generally sounded like cr@p.

    I mean, maybe a little ambience or something (defeatable, of course) but many seem to expect discrete voices/instruments from all four corners...Maybe on some spacier stuff it would be OK or some sort of performance art schtick...but what about plain old music.

    In some cases it sounds like they're expecting the digital-daze equivalent of early stereo demo discs with ping-pong balls and the steam engines running through your listening room.

    jimHJJ(...jus' wunnerin'...)
  • 02-08-2006, 12:37 PM
    markw
    They want what they want.
    First off, as far as the mono "electronically rechanneled for stereo" thing goes, this is a little different. In my stated example they only had one channel to work with. And, yes, it does sound cheesy. I have two Donovan albums on Pye from the early 60's that used that process. I learned.

    Nowadays, most source was recorded on multiple tracks and thay can now go back and mine these multi-track masters and put any track anywhere they want. IMNSHO, this is not my cuppa tea but people get rich giving people what they want. While this might work for psychedelic groups like PF or music that never existd in real time, say Tomita, Vangelis or Ed Van Fleet, I generally prefer my music straight up. Straignt up front, that is, perhaps with a touch of room ambiance added to the surrounds to enhance the illusion of space.

    But I digress... SACD's main function was to create a more "analog sounding" media for archival uses and the mass market was a fortitious (and hopefully profitable) side effect. Most of the initial offerings were in two channel and it seems that they have bo problem taking music originally released in two channels and remastering it into as many channels as the format will allow. And, taste being a relatively personal preference, many go ga-ga over being surrounded by musical insturments.

    A lot of this reminds me of the early days of stereo when Enoch Light created Command records purely to showcase stereo and epitiomized the ping-pong effect. Rudy Van Gelder did a pretty good job in this area, too. Fortunately, this craze wore off quite quickly in most cases. But, I'm not counting on this here. Gimmicks sell and tmulti-channel seems to be the only thing that's pushing SACD/DVA-Audio sales.

    FWIW, RCA is re-releasing their Living Stereo catalog on multi-channel SACD and issuing the original three channel (Front R/C/L) that they were initially recorded in. Now this is a concept I can buy into.
  • 02-08-2006, 04:49 PM
    Woochifer
    Well, speaking for myself, I primarily bought a SACD player specifically so that I could hear the SF Symphony's ongoing Mahler series (7 out, 2 more to go) in high res multichannel. Those discs have been issued on CD/SACD hybrid discs, so I was already enjoying them on CD before I got my SACD player. However, because they were originally recorded in DSD with a 5.0 mix available only on the SACD layer, I wanted to hear for myself how much the extra resolution and multichannel mix would add to an already great CD version.

    One good reason for my curiosity about multichannel SACD is that I regularly attend concerts at Davies Symphony Hall, and attended one of the recorded Mahler concerts, so I saw for myself how the engineers positioned the mic trees. In my listenings, I can definitely say that the multichannel mix is truer to how the orchestra actually sounds inside Davies Hall than the two-channel version. In seeing the mic placement up close, I also know the seating perspective that the mix attempts to convey (which would be up on the podium, rather than further back in the hall), and in that respect, the multichannel mix also does a better job at conveying a sense of space and location within that space.

    As far as expectations go for SACD, for me they are twofold. First, with the multichannel mixes, I'm simply looking for a more complete musical experience, in much the same way that stereo added a new listening dimension over monophonic. Second, there are more than enough poorly done CD transfers out there that the SACD remastering provides a fresh opportunity to revisit something that the record company might have botched the first time around, and might never have bothered to remaster if not for SACD.

    With multichannel, I've been purchasing DVD-A discs since I got my first DVD player, because all DVD-A discs have DVD-video compatible layers with a DD, DTS, and/or high res PCM track. Even without a dedicated DVD-A player, I've been enjoying multichannel music and high res two-channel for five years. Having the SACD player simply allows me to enjoy the library of SACD titles that are out there, because unlike with DVD-A, SACD requires a dedicated SACD player to hear the multichannel track.

    While there are some multichannel mixes that sound gimmicky, there are plenty of others that create a level of envelopment, depth, and engagement that two-channel playback simply cannot provide if you use the audience perspective inside of a concert hall or club as a reference. It's not about just sticking instruments and voices into all four corners. Even with a more aggressively mixed multichannel track that steers instrumentation into the surround channels, it's often about using the extra channels to either solidify and strengthen the front soundfield by stabilizing the aural imaging and depth perception, or creatively mixing music into a true 360 degree perspective by properly mixing the channels so that they all work together.

    The early stereo approach of segregating individual instruments into separate channels does not work to this effect if applied to multichannel. I will say that multichannel generally creates a more convincing surround effect with newer recordings, or older ones that at some point might have been specifically mixed for discrete quadraphonic playback. A lot of older recordings simply might not have enough discrete tracks available to create a decent sounding multichannel mix, and that might be a source for a lot of the complaints about SACD. That does not reflect on the format itself, but more about how a specific recording might have been done. Just as bad two-channel recordings cannot speak to the overall merit of stereo vs. mono, the existence of poorly done or artistically questionable surround mixes does not therefore invalidate the many benefits of multichannel playback.

    I'm not aware of any multichannel SACDs or DVD-As that butcher the sound as badly as those old "electronically processed for stereo" LPs did. However, I have heard multichannel mixes that dramatically improve the sound quality compared to the original mix, regardless of the merits of the multichannel mix itself. That's because the multichannel mixing requires that the engineer go all the way back to the multitrack master, rather than the two-channel mixdown tape. The original mixdown might have been done on analog tape machines that degraded the audio quality with every successive mixdown. A newer 5.1 mix will likely use high res digital PCM or DSD formats during the remixing process, which minimizes the signal loss compared to older analog mixdowns.

    In addition, some songs might have originally been overprocessed in order to create the stereo imaging effect. The multichannel mix allows for the artist and engineer to do a less processed and artificial sounding mix by taking advantage of the imaging cues that are possible with discrete 5.1 playback.

    Furthermore, in some cases, the original master was actually purposed for multichannel playback, but got mixed down to stereo due to the lack of a multichannel audio format available for home use. The three-channel SACDs that markw pointed out are a perfect example of this, because in those cases, the multichannel SACD represents the original intent of the recording engineer and the closest thing to the original master source. Other examples are quad recordings that originally had to be distributed with encoded rather than discrete surround channels.

    Even if you're not a fan of multichannel, SACD will also provide the option of just listening to a different two-channel transfer. Among the ones I've heard so far and compared to the CD layer or the original CD, the SACD typically provides at least a subtle improvement in sound quality. Considering that most hybrid CD/SACDs now cost about the same as regular CDs, and dedicated SACD changers start at $150, it doesn't take much of an investment to give SACD a try.
  • 02-08-2006, 05:15 PM
    Geoffcin
    I replaced a bunch of my old vinyl with DVD-Audio
    The hi-rez stereo tracks are MUCH better than any audio software available. People like to compare LP's to CD's, but with a good hi-rez stereo transfer your better comparing it to the original master tapes, it's that good!

    I really want to like multi-channel too, but the hoaky "sitting in the center of the stage" mixes I've heard on some multi-channel re-mixes turn me off. It's just so unrealistic compared to what you might hear at a live performance. Of course I'm open to hear a good multi-channel recording too, it's just that my highest quality right now is in stereo mode.
  • 02-09-2006, 09:10 AM
    Resident Loser
    So the consensus...
    ...that I would tend to agree with, would basically be extending the stereo soundfield and in newer recordings adding hall dynamics...I also like the idea of the L/C/R three-channel reissues that markw referred to.

    I'm thinkin' this "problem" may be a generational issue...or at the very least, experience-based. Anyone who is familiar with live music and hi-fi playback, particularly those of us who experienced the mono-to-stereo transition and quad, seem to be looking for higher fidelity and a sound that would replicate more closely the live experience.

    Younger listeners, born into digital sound as the primary delivery system and HT-type of presentations, look on simple stereo (where you are merely a part of the audience) as somehow un-involving.

    An interesting thought just hit...Might there be a certain parallel with behavioral characteristics we have been experiencing here lately and which are all too evident in the real world?

    Most complaints, as I mentioned earlier, seem to be the supposed lack of total immersion within the musical source. Not satisfied with being a nameless, faceless observer of the event, might they be predisposed to need to be at it's center? I wonder if that sort of mind-set (if, indeed there is any corollary) will have any effect on music and it's playback...will music become like video games or the DVDs that have alternate endings; will music be available in multiple, discrete tracks that the listener can then manipulate to his or her own liking, artists/producers be d@mned???

    Or will they just be happy with their iPods and MP3 players?

    jimHJJ(...remember, you heard it here first...)
  • 02-09-2006, 09:39 AM
    markw
    Or it could be evolution. Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
    Remember in the old Days when someone took a microphone pickup and stuck it on a guitar and plugged it into an amp for the express purpose of boosting it's acoustic output to a level that could stand up to a big band?

    Now, fast forward a few years to when some guy named Les Paul* took that one step further and stuck it on solid piece of wood and essentially created a brand new insturment with a whole different sound?

    Now, a few more years in the wayback machine (or should I say the wayforward machine, Sherman) and we now have a whole 'nuther kind of music that used that new sound that Mr Paul had invented.

    About that time Mr Paul comes out with multi-tracking, sound-on sound and the whole electronic shebang and even more new music evolves.

    So, this could just be another rung on the ladder and, while our old fogey tastes might not like it, perhaps our children will love it. Lord knows I can't stand some of my grown son's favorite groups but, then again, my folks didn't like mine either.

    So, it's kinda cyclical. One step may be intended to ehance the existing music and, in time, these steps may actualy cause the music to evolve.


    *Up to recently, Les Paul had played the Irridium in NYC virtually every Monday. He's almost 90 and is amazingly spry and witty for his age, heck for ANY age. But, he was just in the hospital with some fluid in the lungs but seems to be recovering. If ya wanna catch a living legend, this might be a good time. FWIW, BB King doesn't look too good either.
  • 02-09-2006, 01:29 PM
    E-Stat
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Geoffcin
    I really want to like multi-channel too, but the hoaky "sitting in the center of the stage" mixes I've heard on some multi-channel re-mixes turn me off. It's just so unrealistic compared to what you might hear at a live performance. Of course I'm open to hear a good multi-channel recording too, it's just that my highest quality right now is in stereo mode.

    The realistic perspective challenge is one of the reasons behind my hesitancy to join the crowd as well. I remember well the 70s quadraphonic thing that put some performers on the back walls. I've heard one exceptional all-Magneplanar multichannel system but am not convinced that the magic I heard was due entirely to the medium.

    While migrating my main system to multichannel would be space and cost prohibitive, I guess I could take Wooch's advice and try out an inexpensive player with my HT system. On the other hand, I'm waiting for an HD player of some sort to replace the el cheapo Toshiba.

    Too many possibilties.

    rw
  • 02-09-2006, 03:35 PM
    Feanor
    My slight initial diappointment with SACD
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Resident Loser
    ...from SACD? I'm barely into CDs so this format is not a biggie to me, so if my comments seem dumb, that's because they are and I apologize in advance.
    ...
    jimHJJ(...jus' wunnerin'...)

    I bought my first and only SACD player, a Sony SCD-CE775, hoping to hear a big increase in stereo sound quality over CD. My conclusion was and is that the best CDs are close enough in sound quality to SACD for the format to be irrelevant; specifically is is silly to restrict one's selection to SACD for the sake of hi-rez improvement alone. (I grant you that the average SACD sounds more refined than the average CD; only the best recorded CDs approach typical SACD quality.)

    But the clincher for me is multi-channel. Yes, some SACDs have hoaky multi-channel effects, but typically (at least for classical), but multi-channel can put you in a good, 10th row orchestra seat in a way that stereo simply cannot.

    So nowadays I don't insist on SACDs for chamber music, but for large scale orchestral or choral music I'll take the good SACD performance everytime.
  • 02-09-2006, 08:58 PM
    SlumpBuster
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Resident Loser
    ...I'm thinkin' this "problem" may be a generational issue...or at the very least, experience-based. Anyone who is familiar with live music and hi-fi playback, particularly those of us who experienced the mono-to-stereo transition and quad, seem to be looking for higher fidelity and a sound that would replicate more closely the live experience.

    Younger listeners, born into digital sound as the primary delivery system and HT-type of presentations, look on simple stereo (where you are merely a part of the audience) as somehow un-involving.

    An interesting thought just hit...Might there be a certain parallel with behavioral characteristics we have been experiencing here lately and which are all too evident in the real world?

    Most complaints, as I mentioned earlier, seem to be the supposed lack of total immersion within the musical source. Not satisfied with being a nameless, faceless observer of the event, might they be predisposed to need to be at it's center? I wonder if that sort of mind-set (if, indeed there is any corollary) will have any effect on music and it's playback...will music become like video games or the DVDs that have alternate endings; will music be available in multiple, discrete tracks that the listener can then manipulate to his or her own liking, artists/producers be d@mned???

    Or will they just be happy with their iPods and MP3 players?

    jimHJJ(...remember, you heard it here first...)


    I think you raise some insightful points, but I would counter by suggesting that that need to be involved in the experience rather than a mere observer is maybe not a bad thing. I wonder if you aren't going back far enough in your generational analysis. You have to remember that recorded music is still fairly young in the grand scheme of human and music history. The first hit songs were not records, but were sheet music. Before recording you either saw music performed live or you performed it yourself. One could be cynical and suggest that the younger generation needs to be at the center of the performance, or whatever other media they are consuming, because they are self important and egocentric. Or, it could be that after 5 or 6 generations, after the rise and fall of the mythical "rock star," and after the splintering of music into thousands of subgenres, we are seeing evidence of people wanting to return to being in the center of it. Or performing it. Or being in it. If you've ever performed in a band, or symphony, or choir there are definate moments of transendence when you are part of a performance and everything just comes together.
  • 02-10-2006, 10:10 AM
    Resident Loser
    Ok...
    ...there was obviously a point in time when music in the home actually involved making music in the home...every well-to-do domicile had at least a piano and there were times the whole family got together, either as listeners or performers, for the event.

    However, I don't think this was a "me" event, more of an "us" thing involving many. There was a different way of thinking...while there was most likely a certain sense of self involved, I believe it was subservient to the greater good...not as ego-driven.

    I really don't think it is the case today...Given what we see in daily life, I think it's quite the opposite. It certainly didn't happen overnight, in fact I place most, but not all, of the blame on my fellow "boomers"...way too overindulgent with themselves and it's just devolved.

    Is the audience simply observers or are they, to some degree, participants? The performers feed off of each other...I know when I play with others (who I deem to be better at they're respective instruments than I am at mine) my ability level seems to rise to meet the occasion (and hopefully I'm not deluding myself)...On another level, the players and audience create a symbiotic bond that seems to reward both, a feedback loop if you will.

    But, live and playback are two different things. It's like comparing apples and oranges. The former is what it is, a circular fueling happening on multiple levels. The latter is far removed from that scenario. Essentially we have a passive a participant, wanting (in some cases expecting) to be at the center of things with no level of real involvement. That seems, at least to me, to reflect simply an egoist POV...but enough Psychosis 101 for now.

    Now to keep it all legal...I find newer CDs recorded at the higher sampling rates, to be much closer to vinyl playback and improved over earlier generations of digital software.

    jimHJJ(...well, at least it's more audio related...)
  • 02-10-2006, 11:33 AM
    emaidel
    I think this thread, and its postings are quite interesting, and have convinced me, at least for the time being, that I don't want to purchase an SACD player. I also particularly appreciated the references to Enoch Light and Command records as I can distinctly remember how dazzled I was in 1959 when I first heard the first Command album, "Persuasive Percussion" (of which I still own a copy!). I also found the references to quadraphonic sound relevant too, as I was once a strong supporter of quad (I worked for Lafayette Radio at the time, and Lafayette was probably the most gung-ho supporter of quad in existence).

    Like others here, I have no interest in a multi-channel system (save an HT setup I have which I thorougly enjoy while watching films, but have no use for for serious listening).

    Hope to read more, and thanks to all who contributed to this thread.