AUDIO SHOWS Dr. AIX's POSTS — 13 October 2014

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I hadn’t originally planned on returning to the Los Angeles Convention Center on Sunday for day 3 of the AES Convention, but just afternoon there I was making my way upstairs once again to the sessions area. I wanted to attend Workshop “W10 – DSD and DXD: Extreme Resolution Productions Discussed”. This particular presentation has been done several times before with Dominique Brulhard of Merging Technologies heading a group of producers/engineers that use DSD and DXD in their productions.

Merging Technologies, as you might remember, is a Swiss company that designs and builds very high-end converters and a DAW that allows individuals to work in DSD and DXD. In fact, I believe they are the only “solution” for working in DSD unless you count a completely analog workflow and simple conversion at the end as a “solution”.

Dom was joined by my friend Morten Lynberg of 2L in Oslo, Norway, Jared Sachs of Channel Classics in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, John Newton from Soundmirror in New York and Robert Friedrich from Five Four Productions in Ohio. Each of these engineers/producers was given a chance to talk about some of their work and play some examples for those in attendance. And the surround system that was assembled was absolutely first rate with PMC speakers at the tail end. They were placed too far apart but the sound was still very impressive.

The session was very informative in spite of it being pretty much a commercial for Merging Technologies and the DSD format…which I find somewhat problematic for a workshop at an AES event. If the session had focused on High-Resolution Audio Production using any format, it would have been much better.

Here’s the most important fact that should have been made clear during the presentation. DXD is PCM, plain and simple. When Morten states flat out that he prefers DXD to DSD, he’s saying that PCM is his preferred format. Yes, he downconverts his native PCM 352.8 kHz/24-bit recordings to DSD and PCM at lower rates so that he can appeal to the widest possible audience but he does that for business reasons…not for sound reasons. If I wasn’t so stubborn, I would jump on the bandwagon and get into the business of charging $42 for a DXD downloaded album. That’s what 2L is charging and according to Morten they are selling a healthy amount of DXD downloads.

Dominique started the program with a rather lengthy introduction on the subject of DSD and DXD. His obvious goal is to convince engineers that switching to his workstation with its ability to record and edit in DSD using PCM as an intermediate format and then returning to DSD is a good thing to do. He talked about Merging Technologies new Horus converters, the increasing number of DACs equipped to handle DSD, portable players like the Astell & Kern or iFi Nano, and tried to place DSD on a par with PCM for production of new high-resolution masters. Polling the engineers on the show floor regarding formats for production, I don’t think Dom would be surprised to learn that virtually every commercial recording is made using PCM. But that’s not a big surprise because as he freely admitted…there is no way to natively work in DSD.

Engineers, including the assembled panelists of respected engineers and producers, have limited choices if they want to release albums in the DSD format (at any multiple). The panelists explained these production paths in detail, as they all seemed to operate differently. They can record to PCM (DXD) at 352.8 or 384 kHz/24-bits, do all of the production work in PCM and then slice out any flavor that they want to make available. Or they can capture at DSD and then convert to either analog or PCM (DXD) to complete the production work. A third option may be what Cookie Marenco does at Blue Coast Records. She records on analog tape and then mixes to DSD at the final mixdown stage.

I have a hard time understanding why the world needs or wants DSD when practically every production (85% of them) involves analog tape or PCM encoding. Doesn’t it just add to the confusion around computer audio and delivery formats? Even the gentlemen from the labels that spoke on Friday let the audience know that there are many DSD masters around. And the number of productions coming from the group on this panel is less than 1000.

To be continued…

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About Author

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

(3) Readers Comments

  1. . . . until you *hear* DSD on a DSD-capable DAC that does not convert to PCM somewhere along the way. Then you understand why people want DSD and will pay a premium for it.

    • John, thanks for the comment. I have heard lot of DSD and can’t say that I agree it sounds better than high-resolution PCM. I would ask though knowing that virtually everything you’ve ever heard in DSD went through a PCM or analog tape stage…doesn’t that say something about the better sound of DSD?

  2. “I have a hard time understanding why the world needs or wants DSD when practically every production (85% of them) involves analog tape or PCM encoding. Doesn’t it just add to the confusion around computer audio and delivery formats?”

    Of course it does! And I disagree with “John” above who tries to imply that audiophiles are lined up to abandon PCM and rush to DSD. It seems to me that many DSD supporters (numerically not that many actually) are old vinyl guys who were digital nay-sayers when CD’s first came out, and now DSD/SACD gives them a way of saving face in the current digital age. This is not to say that many great SACD’s haven’t been produced, but this continuing DSD fetish seems so redundant and useless.

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