“I got to ‘hear’ the Sony HD audio player today, feeding their $2K stereo integrated amp and a pair of Monitor Audio speakers. The demo material was a very old Beach Boys track, first played in glorious DSD, which sounded…um…ok…then from a ‘red book CD rip’, which sounded like it had a single-ended noise reduction system applied, softened transients, gated noise around short sounds, etc. The demonstrator claimed the red book ‘threw a veil over the sound’ and how the DSD version ‘opened everything up and improved clarity’. I just cringed.”
A reader sent the paragraph above to me a few days ago. I’m not surprised at the tactics employed by the demonstrator…I understand that everyone wants their stuff to sound the best. But if someone went to the time and trouble to juice the DSD and downgrade the PCM for a demo, then there’s something more sinister going on. It’s true that DSD is a “hot” topic and will be the savior of high-end audio if you listen to the writers at some of the print and online magazines. My very good friend Jim Merod of Blue Port Jazz is all about DSD. They’re uninformed or choosing to avoid the facts.
SoundMagic has introduced an inexpensive DXD/DSD High Resolution Music Workstation that is “affordable and portable”…less than $1000. I’ve heard from a few readers that think the editing tools that have been absent from DSD are now available using Serenade or Pyramix. It’s not true. These systems convert everything to high rate PCM to do things like reverberation, fades, EQ etc and then convert back to DSD for delivery…and raise the price to the extreme because the perception is that DSD is the ultimate “resolution format. It’s all a myth.
The article “DSD Myth” by the guys at Grimm Audio in the Netherlands might not be the most well written piece but it does a very good job of slicing through the clutter of misinformation that pervades the whole area of high-end audio with regards to DSD. I thought I would highlight a few of the most important facts that are contained in the article.
DSD is seductive. As they and others have rightly pointed out having a single bit at a very high sampling rate capturing and reproducing an audio signal that is very close to the analog original sounds wonderful. But only according to very limited conditions…the ones that Sony imaged for the format as it was first used to archive their analog tape collection. It was never intended to be a consumer format. That only happened after DSD was dismissed by the DVD Forum.
If you read the article…and you should…you’ll find a lot of relevant information in the first few of paragraphs.
“The problem is that the format alone does not tell the whole story. Pure, original ‘native’ DSD using truly 1-bit DSD converters for A-to-D AND D-to-A can sound stunning. If the converters are done right technically of course (implementation, layout, components, etc.) and if the subsequent amplification isn’t bothered by the relatively high level of high frequency noise specific to DSD [NOTE: the ultrasonic noise bothers EVERY amplifier].
But most SACD players and ‘DoP” capable DACs are not equipped with 1-bit DAC chips. And of the recordings on SACDs and DSD Internet downloads, the vast majority are not pure [NOTE: less than 15% in fact] native DSD but have seen many different phases, starting perhaps as 5-bits inside the A-to-D converter, being converted to 24-bit PCM for editing and ending as 1-bit DSD after mastering. Meaning they all have undergone one or more conversions including going back to 1-bit DSD, which not a lossless process in itself. If you want maximum sound quality once a recording is in PCM format, you’re better off listening to it in PCM than to a flawed DSD transformation of the latter.”
We talked about format conversions recently. Moving between formats does not improve the sound of recording. Analog tapes to digital transfers work pretty well because the fidelity of the original analog tape is less than that of the digital format. This was the thinking of Sony when they chose DSD for their archiving. DSD 64 does a very good job when used in the specific case of capturing the output of an older analog tape…there are no edits, no processing required etc. Perfect. In every other case, DSD suffers from conversion loss and bandwidth limitations due to the high frequency noise.
We’ll go through the rest of the article over the next couple of days. It’s really important that audiophiles realize what studio owners already know…DSD as a replacement for PCM is just not going to happen.