James Tanner of Bryston pinged me the other day regarding a discussion on their forum about DSD and specifically about my writings on the topic. I think a lot of DSD advocates see me as the “enemy” to their beloved format. Far from it…I’m unabashed about my preference for PCM (and I’m not alone) AND I have gone to great lengths to explain why I believe PCM is a superior format, but I’m not anti-DSD. I must admit that I really don’t understand why anyone would choose to record in the DSD format but I do recognize that there are consumers that like the “sound” of DSD as being more analog like. OK fine, let’s move on.
One of the links that was in the Bryston AudioCircle thread was to an article by Dr. David Robinson of PFO from 2006. This places the article smack in the middle of the format war between DVD-Audio and SA-CD (Sony gave up on DSD a year later). David is a big fan of the SA-CD format AND is currently pushing the format for digital downloading. I’ve talked about that.
The article was entitled, “Ok, enough of this PCM/DSD Crap”. In it he chastises SONY for their handling of the SA-CD format and the lack of availability of professional DSD systems. I remember this period. He’s right…you couldn’t purchase a professional DSD system at the time. As a studio or label, you might be able to get one for free…if you agreed to issue DSD/SA-CD recordings. Many labels took them up on the offer…Channel Classics, for example.
But he also acknowledges that the SA-CD format at the time was made up mostly of material that had been through a PCM stage. His words, “Frankly, my experience says that the vast majority of commercial SACDs travel at least part of the way through PCM land on their journey. So you may think you are really listening to DSD when you cue up an SACD, while in all probability, you are not.” Now remember this is 2006. I don’t believe that Dr. Robinson would offer the same analysis today.
As for me, I would really like to know how many “pure” DSD recordings there are. By “pure DSD”, I mean releases that were actually recorded in DSD (pick whatever flavor you want…DSD Wide, 64, 128 or 256) and never left the DSD format on their way to your player.
There are around 6000 SA-CD titles, I would bet money that less than 1000 of them are “pure DSD”, which means that the vast majority of SA-CDs aren’t! It kind of makes me wonder why audiophiles, DSD equipment designers and certain writers are so smitten with the format. How many have actually heard or tried to produce a “Pure DSD” project?
The core of the article is stated near the end. David advocates for exactly the process that he previously acknowledged lacks the tools to be a viable professional format. In italicized, bold letters he says,
“Record/preserve it in DSD and then, who cares?
My concern is that we get every possible historical recording archived to DSD as soon as possible, AND that the artists (both performance and recording) can and should make DSD the authoring medium of choice, REGARDLESS of what happens to it subsequently.
Sometime, in a far distant time, in a galaxy far, far away, those DSD master recordings will be re-examined by people with taste, insight and capability, and then finally we (or our distant descendents) will get to hear them as they truly should be.”
BTW It’s now been 7 years since that article and we’re still waiting for SONY or anyone else to offer tools to record, post and release a native DSD project. The best that’s been provided is the DXD format, which as we know is “marketing” term for PCM!
I guess if you believe that DSD is capable of greater “resolution” and sonic accuracy than high definition PCM, you might take that position. I don’t’. The notion of DSD being the ultimate “archival” format is in keeping with Sony’s original concept, but even to imagine that recording engineers and record labels would consider switching to DSD for their productions or that they would transcode everything to DSD for long term storage is ridiculous. They would sooner archive their masters to high quality analog tape…and some actually are!
Maybe those that record and produce in native DSD can archive in that format and those of us that are convinced that PCM offers a better and more universal container for long term archiving can go that way.
For me it would be like storing all of the world’s magnificent imagery using only 16-bit color. Most people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between 65K colors in their palette vs. 32-bit images, which are exponentially more accurate. But I feel better knowing that my audio is in the biggest digital resolution bucket that I can get.
We’ve already acknowledged and I know David Robinson agrees, that it’s not the delivery format that matters anyway…it’s the skill and experience of the people behind the production. But heaven forbid, the professional world would start using DSD to make new recordings or to archive all of the historical tracks of the past.
The whole question of analog or DXD as archival formats comes to mind. Perhaps we’ll talk about that in a future post.