DSD Files…Why Are They More Expensive?

Would you pay more for a DSD file than for the original 96 kHz/24-bit PCM source? That’s what the folks at Sound Liaison want you to do. I received an email announcing a new release from the company just in time for the 2015 Munich Audiophile Event to be held on the 14th and 15th of May in Germany. Their new release is a music sampler compiled from their first two years worth of releases and will be made available free to visitors of the NAGRA booth during the show.

The email also extols the virtues of their recording space, which has been used since the 1960’s. The room has a rich history and hosted names like Wes Montgomery and Clark Terry. Having a great sounding room is essential for making great sounding acoustic recordings and I have no doubt that MCO Studio 2 is a wonderful place to make a record…although I wonder if they have to use artificial reverberation to liven things up. From looking at the pictures, it just doesn’t seem large enough to produce the sound of an acoustically rich concert hall.

The email closes with the following:

“All the music was recorded in 24bit 96khz PCM and mixed and mastered in 96khz/24bit PCM. There are however two exceptions; Andre Heuvelman’s ‘After Silence’ was recorded in 88.2kHz/24bit and is, for practical reasons, presented here in an upsampled version. Tony Overwater and Bert van den Brink’s ‘Impromptu’ was recorded simultaneously to two different recorders in PCM and DSD.”

The sampler is available at a special introductory price:

DSD €15. – $16.82 US
PCM €10. – $11.21 US
FLAC €10. – $11.21 US

When I noticed that they want more for the DSD 64 conversion from the PCM original (33% more), I had to wonder why? I’ve written to the company and asked them how they arrived at the premium price for a file that was converted (actually downconverted) from high-resolution to DSD 64, which I regard as just slightly better than a standard CD. From the recordings that I’ve heard from Sound Liaison, they’re doing excellent work. I can only guess that the “buzz” around DSD enticed them into that market with their PCM conversions.

I should probably convert my high-resolution audio tracks to DSD 64 and reap the financial gains. I know other labels have higher prices for DSD downloads. It makes no sense to me.

You can review all of the high-resolution, digital music download sites and see for yourself. But here are a few examples:

Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy featuring Elton John will cost you $7 more in DSD 64 than a 96 kHz/24-bit PCM file. The original recording was done at Caribou Ranch, in Nederland, Colorado (my sister who still lives just down the Canyon from Nederland visited Caribou during her years at CU in Boulder) from June to July 1974. This was the period when 24-tracks tape machines ruled pop/rock multitrack recording, so Elton’s album was recorded on analog tape and the mixed to analog two track. The frequency response and dynamic range don’t exceed the specs of a compact disc so purchasing a high-resolution transfer won’t get you any additional fidelity.

One of the latest albums by my friend Morten Lynberg at 2L is titled, “Astrognosia & Aesop”. It contains tracks composed by Magne Amdahl as performed by the Norwegian Radio Orchestra. If you want to download the DSD 64 stereo version, it will cost you $30. The same tracks at 96 kHz/24-bits are $6 cheaper. I’m pretty sure that Morten only recorded a single master for this release and I know that he prefers to use DXD at 352.8 kHz 24-bits (which as we know is actually PCM) at his sessions. All of the available formats are derived from the same PCM master.

You can even purchase the original 352 kHz/24-bit files if you want them but that will set you back $42 for the 5.1 surround mix.

I can’t understand why the DSD versions are more expensive…can you?

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.

37 thoughts on “DSD Files…Why Are They More Expensive?

  • May 11, 2015 at 2:53 pm
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    Would be nice if there was information about the digital mastering process from analog tape even though you state — “The frequency response and dynamic range don’t exceed the specs of a compact disc so purchasing a high-resolution transfer won’t get you any additional fidelity.” when comparing the sound of the original “Captain Fantastic” CD and the new digital downloads. i.e. – provenance.

    Reply
  • May 11, 2015 at 2:59 pm
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    There appears to be very little logic in pricing. I am still wondering on a purchase of a new album I want. It was recorded at 48/24. I can buy a 96/24 version for $20 or the CD for $10. So, why would I pay a premium for what is clearly an upsampled version. On the other hand do I want a downsampled version even at half the price especially since it is not an even downsampling. Although the vendors are not clear on the recording resolution I was able to find it on another website.

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    • May 11, 2015 at 4:04 pm
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      It’s typical audiophile practice. Get as much as you can while the getting is good.

      Reply
  • May 11, 2015 at 3:04 pm
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    Thanks for exposing this fraud. This is an outrageous practice and all too common. One question: Wouldn’t a high res (96/24 or better) digital copy of a high quality analog master prove to be superior to a CD 16/44?

    Also, what do you think of Meridian’s MQA? Do you think you might consider using it on your recordings?

    Charley

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    • May 11, 2015 at 4:06 pm
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      Yes, theoretically it could be better. But you would have to start with a very good original master tape. And sadly most masters are copies and not good enough. As for MQA, I’m trying to find out more but hearing nothing back from Meridian. I don’t think it will mean anything for me.

      Reply
  • May 11, 2015 at 3:11 pm
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    Because the audiophiles will buy into all most any BS you can shovel at them and pay glady for the snake oil. See my post yesterday yet? How long till the next “new and improved” format comes along that they can milk more money from for the same music. I think MQA might be in line for that.

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  • May 11, 2015 at 3:21 pm
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    Are they passing along any costs with having license to DSD encoder? The files sizes are larger so hard drive storage add costs, though these days I would think this is very small portion of total costs.

    Or as with any consumer product you always pay more for a product that is considered more exclusive or rare. So maybe since DSD is for a smaller market than PCM, the prices for some recordings actually reflect the rarity or uniqueness. This is independent of the actual content or specification.

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  • May 11, 2015 at 3:23 pm
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    Hi Mark,

    I just have to add my already standard rant for the ridiculous prices of ALL so call High-Resolution Downloads. It’s absolutely true, DSD should cost no more than 24/88, 24/96 or 24/192 (whatever that last sample rate is to be good for), NOR should any of the 24bit PCM formats cost more than a CD!

    ALL downloads, disregard of sample rate and bit depth, should cost LESS than an CD! This is mere common sense: there’s no plastic discs, no plastic jewel cases or digipacks, no printed booklets, no transportation and import/export costs, no brick and mortar store costs, etc. attached to a download. If anything, a download should cost significantly LESS than any physical media, which carries with itself a messy and environmentally UNfriendly costs.

    If you’re gonna be angry at DSD files costing more because someone pretends them to be audibly superior to HIgh-Resolution PCM files, then you have to be just as angry at High-Resolution PCM files costing more than a CD. and NOT just because the quality is the same and because of provenance, but because the REAL costs are radically smaller, AND because we are doing our environment and OURSELVES a favor by downloading and keeping it digital. The same way we can and absolutely should avoid printing documents, we should stop buying
    plastic when we can avoid it. And only as a very last reason, because we can at least potentially get better quality audio with files that exceed the storage capacity of our physical media, and because we no longer have to buy a DVD or BluRay player with DRM and regional codes and crap, just a use a computer already available software.

    You have agreed on the excessive cost of 24bit downloads vs CDs before, but you have yet to pronounce yourself regarding the environmental cost of CDs, DVDs and BluRays. Keeping up – and pretending to maintain and raise – the production of the plastic annoyances in a high speed digital broadband era is frankly ridiculous. We have the chance to avoid filling more dumpsters and littering our planet with plastic, yet audiophiles insist on having their little fetishes and brag rights.

    I had a considerable Vinyl and CD collection, but I’m slowly getting rid of most of them. Now I have everything in my external hard drive and have even reduced my stereo rig considerably, to a Macmini, D/A converter, power Amp and speakers. I was even thinking of shrinking it even further to a pair of active speakers and a DAC. This is the direction I see digital audio and downloads going in, and higher sample rates and bit depths; sadly not towards more fidelity and better recordings – you have, above all, clearly proven that.

    While Americans think development is a bigger SUV, Europeans think its getting rid of their cars that run on fuel, and get into car sharing with the neighbor, you know, those small electric cars you can park wherever you can park your stroller. It’s not so much about the luxury of convenience as it is about improving and minimizing energy and cost. Two different mindsets altogether.

    I would absolutely pay the, in my opinion totally fair, $34,50 USD of your BluRays, but I don’t want any more discs that further contaminate my environment and steal real estate from my cats or kids; I’d gladly download them and I have the broadband to do it within reasonable time, it’s also not like I’m in a hurry or that I’ll pay more for the ability to have everything at the snap of my fingers, that’s your American mindset again. I’d download your material just to support the existence of a multiformat product that includes video. That alone justifies the time it could take. But you insist on the plastic, while I have gotten rid of all the plastic I can in my home.

    I’m not saying computers and downloads will have NO footprint; every Google search can be quantified in liters of water, etc. But it’s one hell a of a difference from downloading a file, to driving in to town to buy a plastic disc at the store, that flew all its way from another country, where it was printed, packaged and shipped.

    Summing it up: if you’re gonna be angry at uber expensive DSD files, be angry at uber expensive 24bit PCM files too, and hence advocate for their pricing being the same as that of CDs and/or LESS. But not just because people shouldn’t pay more for a different product with the same (audio) quality, but because the costs are also smaller or at the very least the same, and because we do good by buying downloads instead of plastic.

    Cheers!

    Reply
    • May 11, 2015 at 5:01 pm
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      There’s more information required to adequately respond. I don’t support having my downloads priced at the same level as a CD rip. Think of it this way, I put a great deal of time and resources into my products…in terms of actual capital and time. I’m not going to sell more than a thousand or two of any one title. In order to break even on any particular titles, I’ve got to push the price a little. And I believe that my pricing is fair for what you get. Compare the price of XRCDs at $30 or vinyl LPs for even more. It’s not the cost of the plastic and packaging that makes records expensive. Those costs might add up to a dollar…really. It’s the cost of production, mechanical and artists royalties, advances, promotion, and other non tangible things that make limited quantity items cost more. If I knew that I was going to sell tens of thousands of a disc or download, the price could be lower.

      As for the whole physical vs. downloads…environment vs. eco-friendly issue…unfortunately, a lot of my customers want a physical disc. That’s changing slowly but still necessary.

      Reply
      • May 11, 2015 at 5:54 pm
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        Hi again, Mark,

        I totally agree with your prices, as I mentioned in my post:

        “I would absolutely pay the, in my opinion totally fair, $34,50 USD of your BluRays, but I don’t want any more discs that further contaminate my environment and steal real estate from my cats or kids” (…)”I’d download your material just to support the existence of a multiformat product that includes video. That alone justifies the time it could take. But you insist on the plastic, while I have gotten rid of all the plastic I can in my home.”

        I believe your releases in particular to be well worth the $34,50 USD, and fully understand the reasons mentioned above regarding the expectation of sales you have for each production. I also fully understand why your production costs are radically different to other labels and recording arrangements, but I doubt most labels have the same costs unless we’re talking about classical music with full symphony orchestras.

        What you are discussing is the extra $6-8 USD for a DSD format over a 24/88 or 24/96. These $6-8 USD are completely unjustified, and based on the BS we both well know about. But you’ve called out the exact same kind of BS behind the whole HRA market. HRA adds up to $10 or more USD on any recording with respect to the CD price. In both cases we are charged for no improvement whatsoever.

        If the production and material costs are already included in the CD price tag, then we could at least see the material costs (disc, case, booklet, transportation, brick and mortar store margin, etc.) dropped from a download. Even if it only amounts to $2 USD. And in the best of cases, if the DSD and PCM HRA formats amount to the difference in sound quality they stand for, it doesn’t cost more to do those recordings. If we also subtract the mastering and mixing costs, when it comes to avoid excessive mixing and mastering to preserve maximum fidelity, we have yet another reduction in the costs that should be reflected in the end price.

        Instead, we have what you have been exposing as BS from the very beginning: a BS price for a BS product upgrade. Now we just have another category of so called premium improvement called DSD, that piles another $6-8 USD on top of the already BS HRA price!

        My inevitable question to the last part of your answer – “As for the whole physical vs. downloads…environment vs. eco-friendly issue…unfortunately, a lot of my customers want a physical disc. That’s changing slowly but still necessary.” – would be: is there an extra cost for you to provide the material of your BluRays as downloads, and would you be prepared to offer that, which could eventually motivate others to buy your productions as downloads?

        Cheers!

        Reply
        • May 12, 2015 at 10:21 am
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          It does take substantial labor to put an album on the iTrax website…about 4-6 hours per album. I do make virtually all of my recordings on the iTrax.com site and if people purchase the physical discs they can get a coupon for the downloads without additional charge.

          Reply
        • May 12, 2015 at 12:32 pm
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          I agree that downloads are technically better than physical discs, but the physical disc tokens provide more legal ownership rights than are available with downloads. Even the excellent usage rights policy on the iTrax site leaves questions such as “If I die, will my wife have usage rights to the downloaded music on our media server?”.

          Another advantage of the AIX discs over downloads is the inclusion of multiple mixes on the disc.

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          • May 12, 2015 at 8:42 pm
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            Under the heading “downloads are technically better than physical discs”, theoretically (and technically) they should be bit-for-bit identical, shouldn’t they? I recently discovered an anomaly that I can’t understand. The DR Database (http://dr.loudness-war.info/) lists Ahmad Jamal’s “Saturday Morning” (2013) from a lossless FLAC download source (88/24) with a DR of 10 (min. 8, max. 13). I recently bought the CD (44/16) and ran it through Foobar’s DR meter and it registered a DR of 11 (min. 10, max. 13). Shouldn’t the download have had the same dynamic range as the CD? I found a similar (but opposite) inconsistency with Hiromi’s “Move”. The DR Database lists it having a DR of 11 (min. 9, max. 12) from an unknown source / “other lossless codec”. My HDTracks 96/24 uncompressed PCM WAV download registers a DR of 12 (min. 11, max. 15). Anyone have any thoughts on why the discrepancy?

          • May 13, 2015 at 1:14 pm
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            It’s most likely because the CDs and high-resolution downloads are not the same audio. One may have come from the original tape and one from the safety copy.

    • May 11, 2015 at 11:34 pm
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      You don’t seem to understand the concept of a motorcar.
      Toys run on batteries, cars run on gasoline, alcohol, or nitromethaine.
      That’s true weather you drive an American Corvette or 707 HP Dodge Hellcat or EU Jag, Bentley, MB, Lambo, etc, etc.

      Reply
    • May 12, 2015 at 5:55 am
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      I commend you on your comments, you have hit the target with the thoughts on pricing of
      music downloads which should be less expensive than a CD considering no need for the
      the extra expense of the processes which were necessary to bring the physical media to
      the store shelves or to deliver by mail the physical disc on which the media is contained.

      Reply
  • May 11, 2015 at 3:40 pm
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    Mark I think the higher price for DSD could.be a reflection of what they think the market will bear and/or a reflection of higher web hosting costs inherent to the much larger DSD files. In the latter case, the price may simply be akin to the higher price of 96/24 or 192/24 files compared to 44.1/16 files. Maybe a bit of both…

    Reply
  • May 11, 2015 at 4:24 pm
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    Seriously, if it’s more $$$ expensive, it has to be better, right ? Create a marketing avalanche and the lambs will follow. Repeat that process and you have a a new “norm”. No one wants to be different, follow or get out of the way. Want to know why they didn’t sit in your Axpona exhibit ? You’re in the way. Sad, but the power of advertising wins the day, quality aside. Provenance needs a BIG name !

    Reply
    • May 11, 2015 at 4:33 pm
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      It’s sad but true. The DSD machine is in full swing and winning the promotion war. Just look at the articles and posts in the magazines and the websites. It gives people something to write about and separates more people from their money. The Sound Liaison guys aren’t doing anything wrong…they saw that they could convert their 96 kHz/24-bit audio to DSD and win some fans…who wouldn’t do that?

      Reply
  • May 11, 2015 at 4:40 pm
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    Obviously, you’re not going to take part in this “Golden Fleece.”

    What you could do is sell DSD downloads for *less* than your PCM downloads, with the notation that:

    “If your system is capable of playing 96/24 PCM, that will get you better sound than DSD can, since with 96/24 PCM you’ll be listening to the music as we originally recorded and mixed it, without the removal of high frequencies above 22 KHz that DSD requires. With 96/24 our downloads give the full overtone structure of the instruments and voices (up to 48 KHz) that lets them – and the room they’re playing in – sound real.”

    Only if PCM is priced *higher* than DSD will these folks have any chance of recognizing the real relative values of the formats.

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    • May 11, 2015 at 5:28 pm
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      I like that idea! thanks Phil.

      Reply
      • May 11, 2015 at 11:22 pm
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        Yea push back a little. WOOT

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      • May 12, 2015 at 12:12 am
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        By the way, you could also make available both DSD and 96/24 PCM versions of your free demo downloads to let folks A/B them on their own systems at no cost to decide which version they prefer before committing to buy one or the other. You could even extend this to include 44/16 (standard CD), 48/24 (the format of choice for feature films), 320kbps mp3, and 128kbps mp3 versions, so folks can audition a fuller range of choices and hear the differences.

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        • May 12, 2015 at 10:25 am
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          I already allow 21 different versions of my tracks…and you want more?

          Reply
  • May 11, 2015 at 5:52 pm
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    Surely part of the marketing exercise here is to make DSD seem superior simply by dint of its higher price? All my DSD encounters down the years, including owning a high end Musical Fidelity KW SACD player at one stage, and more recently one or two DSD demo tracks, have always left my cold. Yet it seems to be gaining traction. Of course I have to remind myself that the audio hobby is one where simply talking something up equals sales (cables, power leads etc.).

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    • May 12, 2015 at 9:11 am
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      You’re right, unfortunately. Consumers see a higher price and they think it must be better.

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  • May 11, 2015 at 9:21 pm
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    Because DSD fans have self-selected for gullibility, and Canada Bill Jones’ motto states it is morally wrong to allow suckers to keep their money.. Frankly, by audiophile scam standards this is small potatoes, see power cords and interconnects for an illustration.

    Reply
  • May 12, 2015 at 12:01 am
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    Sound Liaison makes some fantastic recordings. I have a few. The Impromtu recording has some of the best sounding piano I have heard. When I saw it was available in DSD I asked about it and they told me they made two separate recordings from the mic feed unlike their other DSD offerings which were converted from PCM. They sent me one track for free in both to evaluate of Impromtu. After careful listening, I downloaded the entire album in…. PCM wav.

    Reply
  • May 12, 2015 at 1:13 am
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    The price of DSD is determined like anything else — PERCEIVED VALUE.

    In the case of DSD the perception is the deception.

    Reply
  • May 12, 2015 at 11:06 am
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    While I don’t like the higher prices of any of the high end media, physical or downloads, we have to acknowledge that the quantities sold are quite small. Vinyl has had this great resurgence, but if you look at it compared to iTunes downloads, it is a very small percentage.

    Audiophiles, I am not ashamed to call myself one, are a small percentage of people who listen to, and buy music. I have played music for people, and they are able to hear the difference. “It is like Billie Holiday is standing there between your speakers”. That guy got it, heard it, then said “well I’m more of a music lover, you’re into the sound”. The thing is, yes I’m into the sound, I got there because I was and am a music lover.

    I’m 60 years old. I still have the first records I bought, when I got my first stereo, I was 14. I still listen to some of them. I loves me some “Blodwyn Pig”. As a kid, it was Elvis, then the Beatles, and I was hooked. I personally don’t know any young audio enthusiasts. They all have their little devices, and their crappy headphones, or earbuds.
    A while back, online at a car enthusiasts forum, a member asked about headphones. His budget would have gotten him some good phones, and maybe a decent headphone amp. I made some suggestions, only to find out that he was more interested in how they looked, the cool factor, rather than how they sounded. It’s a sad commentary, but it explains why high-rez is not a big seller. They just don’t care. When Neil Young promotes better sound, it is my generation that is listening. We need a Beaver or a Riahnia to tell people that the sound matters. That you are only cool if you are listening to 24/192 or DSD. Then it will start selling. Wouldn’t it be nice if 24/96 was the norm, and MP3 was a thing of the past.

    I have resisted downloaded music, for a number of reasons, but to have a quality high end system, seems complicated, expensive, and the choices are endless.
    Even though I’m on a tight budget, I have started to research whether I could set up something that would sound good, or better than my current sources, and that I could afford, and understand. I would also like to go full surround, but that is not in my budget.

    I believe the sad truth is that they have to charge more for hi-rez to make enough of a profit to make it worth doing. Hardware or software, if you are Sony and you are going to sell millions, you can charge less per unit, it’s economics. A higher price for DSD really doesn’t make sense. If it does actually catch on, we may see it come down. But the small companies like Real HD-Audio, Mobile Fidelity, etc, will still always be a niche market., and they will have to charge more, that is only fair, and to me makes sense.

    Reply
    • May 12, 2015 at 1:10 pm
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      As long as I’m delivering something of value, I think the price can be more than a simple CD or vinyl LP. Thanks.

      Reply
  • May 13, 2015 at 3:00 am
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    I accept all the scientific facts, but there must be something about DSD to make it sound better and therefore cost more. I have many HD PCM based DVD-Audios, Blu-Rays and 5.1 files, but my DSD based SACDs simply sound the best. Not all of them, it depends of the recording and the mix too, of course, but enough for the general conclusion.
    My hardware consists of Oppo 105 player with the direct DSD to analog conversion and then, via Nordost cables, direct to the power amp (Rotel) and speakers (4 Energy floorstanders, JBL center and Mirage sub).

    The point of my article was to show that even people recording hig-res PCM are converting to DSD for the sake of money…not quality.

    Reply
    • May 13, 2015 at 7:10 am
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      But you’re not listening to DSD…you’re hearing either an analog processed original converted to DSD (and PCM would sound just the same) or a PCM file that has been converted to DSD. There’s no arguing that you can prefer one over the other but what you experiencing is the production differences between the items you’re listening to. If it’s “better” to you…fine.

      Reply
      • May 14, 2015 at 4:12 am
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        And what about native DSD recordings? I believe at least some of my SACDs are of that kind. Made, for example, by 2L or Heads Up labels.

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        • May 14, 2015 at 9:39 am
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          There are some Native DSD productions but not very many. 2L records using PCM and converts to DSD. Channel Classics does native DSD recordings.

          Reply

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