Sony developed the DSD format or 2.8224 MHz 1-bit PCM so that they could transfer their catalog of analog master tapes to a digital format without compromising the quality of those source tapes. By recording the 2.8224 1-bit bitstream output of a Crystal AD converter chip, they could produce a digital version of a master tape without committing to a specific sample rate and word length. They had a new digital transfer that was format agnostic. It was a brilliant idea for a couple of reasons.
First, their source catalog consisted of thousands of 2-channel stereo “master” analog tapes. I use quotations here because there are many different versions of the master tapes. But one thing is certain. These analog tapes are all bound by the fidelity of analog tape and DSD 2.8 MHz 1-bit encoding can capture analog tape fidelity without any loss. Why? Because the fidelity of the analog masters is less than that of DSD…and compact discs, if you want to know. The dynamic range of analog tape (first generation, which you will never experience) is around 60-70 dB. That’s it. DSD claims to have a dynamic range of 120 dB. CD can handle 96 dB (93 after dithering) so we’re still covered.
The second reason is that Sony could be confident that as converters improved they could roll out their 2.8 MHz 1-bit archived streams and convert them to analog at whatever sampling rate and word length they wanted. It should be obvious that they only required CD resolution or 44.1 kHz/16-bits but to be safe converting back at 96/24 gave them a wide margin of error.
But Sony wanted much more than just an archive format for their catalog. CDs had been a huge cash cow for Sony and Philips since its introduction in the fall of 1982. They were major intellectual property holders in that format, which meant that they derived a lot of “free licensing money” on the replication of billions of discs and the hardware necessary to play them…CD players. The introduction of a new optical disc format that threatened to eliminate that licensing gravy train caused Sony to rethink there archiving only plans and introduce DSD to the public as a consumer format. DSD was never intended to be a consumer format.
Sony and Philips took DSD to the DVD Forum. The forum had issued a “request for proposal” in the late 90s to all technology companies and research institutions looking for the next audio encoding scheme to move consumer audio to high-resolution and multichannel. The DVD Forum considered higher resolution PCM (96 and 192 kHz and 24-bits) and Sony/Philip’s DSD 64 (2.8224 MHz 1-bit PCM). After extensive evaluation and independent investigations done by experts in the field, the forum determined that PCM met the standards of their RFP and DSD did not. DSD was rejected because of its inherent and substantial high frequency noise, the lack of available production tools, and the lack of production hardware. The DVD Forum experts agreed that DSD was great for archiving but less than ideal as a consumer format. It would have been great if Sony and Philips went back to archiving using DSD…but they didn’t.
Sony and Philips were not happy about the decision so they decided to launch their own high-resolution audio format in 1999. They called the new DSD based format Super Audio Compact Disc. SA-CDs consisted of a multichannel layer combined with a CD compatible stereo layer. In around 1999, they entered the high-resolution audio market with players and productions systems. The DVD Forum introduced the DVD-Audio format about a year later. It was also capable of multichannel and stereo playback in real high-resolution but the new audio format required a new DVD-Audio player. It was not compatible with existing DVD-Video players (at least the highest resolution multichannel files) and CD players.
Welcome to the SA-CD vs. DVD-Audio struggle.
To be continued.