Recording and Playing Back HD-Audio: The Korg MR-2

I’m running low on time today…one of my former students, longtime friend and senior engineer at AIX for over 10 years came by to help sort out some wiring questions for our new studio tenant. Dominic was my associate for all of the production and engineering of our line of almost 100 HD-Audio recordings. He was also the man behind the building of our state-of-the-art studio and soldered hundreds of Elco and other connectors to make this place sing.

About 15 months ago, he was very seriously injured in a freak traffic accident (he was hit by a motorcycle as he tried to help another rider on the freeway) that left him comatose and badly injured for many, many months. It’s a miracle but he’s making his way back from a shattered pelvis, broken shoulder and trauma to his head (they took sizeable piece of his skull off to allow for swelling and then put it back 3 months later). It’s been a challenge but he’s doing great these days and it was great to see him, have lunch and get some valuable information about the way the various panels are wired in the studios. I had no clue how things were wired…although I figured out enough to keep on working.

I got an email from a reader that wanted me to know about the portable high-resolution recorder/player made by Korg. It’s called the MR-2 and features built in microphones, preamps and the ability to capture audio in PCM up to 192 kHz/24-bits and “SACD ultra-high quality 1-bit DSD at 2.8224 MHz”. The unit fits in the palm of your hand, includes an analog limiter, low-cut filter and bass equalizer. The sound is stored on SD or SDHC data cards, which can then be transferred to your DAW. Pretty amazing little unit…lots of flexibility and highly portable.

However, the opening line of the promo blurb on the product page says, “Experience the difference of DSD fidelity.” Why couldn’t the marketing types at Korg simply promote their machine as a high-resolution, 2.0-channel stereo recording device and leave the spin about DSD’s “alleged superiority” for users to judge. I really don’t get it and I seriously doubt that any of the copywriters really know anything about the professional world of audio engineering. I guess strictly speaking I should encourage people to “experience the difference”…if they hear what I hear…PCM is the only way to go.

The web page about DSD Audio on the Korg site says defines DSD as the following:

DSD – astounding audio quality

DSD is the highest quality audio format available today, using Direct Stream Digital technology to faithfully reproduce the original sound. Today, DSD is used by recording and mastering studios around the world as the preferred audio format for recording and mastering. We encourage you to try out the MR-2 so that you can experience DSD audio for yourself. When recording DSD audio, the signal is recorded without further conversion, and can then be played back in its original format, ensuring that every sparkling nuance of the sound is reproduced. This means that a DSD recording is able to preserve the sound in a form that is closest to the original sound, making it suitable as a future proof archive that can support changes in formats through the years. Top engineers and mastering experts proclaim that DSD offers the closest representation of analog warmth and the presence of the original recording than any other format.

I know it’s part of my regular rant but just how much of the preceding paragraph is actually true? None!

• DSD is NOT the highest quality audio format available today! It is one flavor of encoding technology among many but it suffers from HF noise as I repeatedly stated. Some people like the sound of DSD but that doesn’t elevate it to the “highest quality” tier.

• DSD is NOT even known let alone popular or preferred by most recording and mastering studios around the world. The professional world is virtually 100% PCM based. The only studios I’m aware of are specialty houses that cater to audiophile labels or Sony’s own archiving facility or associates. The reason is there are no tools to work with DSD in its native format…you have to stay in the analog domain or switch to PCM to do most standard studio processes.

• “When recording DSD audio, the signal is recorded without further conversion, and can then be played back in its original format, ensuring that every sparkling nuance of the sound is reproduced.” — DSD has to be converted just like PCM does…although it does avoid some of the filtering required by PCM. The representation of the information is different but DSD is no closer to the analog sound than any other digital format. You can’t plug it into an amplifier and simply turn it up to hear a playback. And just how “sparkling” can a recording be that has the DSD HF noise covering it up?

• “Top engineers and mastering experts proclaim that DSD offers the closest representation of analog warmth and the presence of the original recording than any other format.” — This is not what the engineers that I know are saying…in fact, most of them have never heard or worked on a DSD project.

I’m OK with individuals liking DSD as a format for recording or delivering audio or music but the hyperbole (I’m being polite, here) is just unnecessary and not helpful. Providing the users of this piece of equipment the choice to record in DSD or HD PCM is the right thing to do. But just leave it at that. Or at least let a real professional have equal time extolling the virtues of HD PCM as the “highest quality audio format available today”.

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.

5 thoughts on “Recording and Playing Back HD-Audio: The Korg MR-2

  • September 17, 2013 at 5:12 am
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    Hi Mark

    I’m afraid I disagree I have an Oppo BDP95 for some time and play SACDs exclusively as I cant stand CDDa anymore whilst I have some of your discs DVDas you sent me around a year ago and agree they are the best audio quality I have heard to date , I still like DSD from SACD when and only when it is a true DSD recorded concert or venue.
    PCM likewise when done properly is excellent as your discs attest too , but many pcm recordings and DSD converted to PCM on some so called SACD players are frankly very bad due to the conversion process.

    I think taking into account your hatred of DSD that it is slightly unfounded SACDs still represent the best mass market available product that you can purchase especially with the demise of DVD Audio and the flop that is Blu Ray Audio, as all of these discs or at least the majority were remastered using the 1 bit process and most even if not all new recordings are DSD recorded , to my ear these are excellent despite the high end noise ( which is pushed up so far that a sixty year old like me whose lucky to detect 15Khz is not bothered .

    Also DSD is not the end as you probably know, their DXD DSD with extra bits added lol my point is that the format is a work in progress unlike PCM which has been around for donkeys with no significant development that I am aware ( correct me if I’m Wrong)

    Despite all this I think being very liberal that there is a place for both PCM 24/96/192 and DSD DSD 64 etc us hi fi nuts can do with all the HD formats we can get after a like time since the demise of Vinyl listening to the horror which is red book CD.

    I put on an old Vinyl British LP called liquorice Allsorts which featured the who Hendricks and a band called Golden Earing playing Radar Love the other day in a fit of nostalgia after a a couple of DSD SACD of the who’s Tommy the rock opera .
    Anybody who wants to know how long us audiophiles as you Americans call us have been living in the dark ages should play this recording

    kind regards

    John Lawson Walsh
    Maidstone UK

    Reply
    • September 17, 2013 at 10:44 am
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      John, thanks for commenting and the positive comments on my own recordings done with HD PCM. The truth is that there are great recordings and bad recording done in a wide variety of formats…including PCM and DSD. It’s a point that I’ve been making a lot lately. I agree that there is a place for all formats. I know I will never record using DSD for reasons that I’ve repeated on this site often but that doesn’t mean that other won’t. Both DVD-Audio and SACD are dead formats…the future is downloads.

      However, I may transfer my PCM tracks to DSD if there is a market for them. It seems people are willing to pay a premium for anything DSD. And since 85% of all SACDs are NOT native DSD 64 recordings but some flavor of PCM or analog tape transfer, it doesn’t make any sense to me but if I can charge up to $75 for an album or $5 per track, I might consider it. I’m not a hater of DSD…I just find the technology flawed as do many of my engineer friends.

      My argument against the Korg marketing people is that they are spinning the relative merits of DSD without regards to any factual analysis.

      I should add that there is no such thing as DXD DSD. A DXD recording is a straight PCM track using a high sample rate and long word lengths. It has nothing to do with DSD.

      Contrary to your comment on PCM being a static format, you’ve missed the mark. We’ve moved from 16-bits to 24-bit delivery with 56-bits internal processing. The filtering has been refined such that the new Benchmark DAC2 delivers up to 130 dB of SNR…things that weren’t possible a few years ago.

      PCM is the dominant audio encoding format and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Virtually all professional studios use PCM. It may be that DSD produces a sound that is pleasant to your ears but they problems associated with the production of native DSD releases is not worth the effort in my mind.

      I also believe that well done CDs can do a great job of delivering music…again it’s the skill of the engineers along the production path that make all the difference.

      Reply
  • December 10, 2014 at 1:45 pm
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    LOL LOL LOL! That guy, Mark, should just leave music industry altogether. He doesn’t know a thing about digital/analog media.This is ridiculous what he wrote. I own Korg MR-1 and MR-1000 recorders so I know how amazing they can sound. PCM Audio? Are you kidding me? Even 24 bit / 196 is not enough for faithful hi-end reproduction, unless you only record hip-hop junk. Regards,M

    Reply
    • December 10, 2014 at 3:43 pm
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      There’s a world of opinions out there…you are certainly entitled to yours.

      Reply
  • March 4, 2015 at 1:21 pm
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    ” DSD has to be converted just like PCM does…although it does avoid some of the filtering required by PCM.”

    I would like you to elaborate on what filtering is avoided? Also, if you consider low pass filtering to be conversion, then you are correct. The DSD carrier waveform, unlike PCM, only requires the removal of high frequency content so our downstream electronics are not fried. You could do this with a simple analog RC filter. That’s it. All you need is a switch and an analog filter.

    Try that with PCM and see what happens. Not that anyone actually ‘converts’ DSD this purest of ways.

    The closest we have is for example what Burr Brown does. The DSD waveform is low pass filtered, but the nature of the filter is a bit more complex. One might call it a hybrid analog/digital filter, or even a digital filter accomplished via analog means. It is a moving average filter with an 8 bit long delay line, followed by unequally weighted groupings of bitswitches that apply the filter coefficient. The output of each grouping is summed into a filtered analog signal. The frequency and slope of the filter can be altered by changing the switch groupings.

    But in the end, it is still DSD conversion by applying a low pass filter.

    Reply

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