Sound Liaison Responds About DSD Pricing

I don’t mean to single out Sound Liaison with regards to the pricing of DSD conversions of their high-resolution 96/24 PCM masters. Their recordings are actually spectacular (maybe because they make them at 96 kHz/24-bit PCM?). We share many techniques when it comes to capturing a live performance. Yesterday, I wrote to them and inquired about the additional expense of the DSD conversions. Here’s what they said:

“Hi Mark,

The pricing for DSD is a combination of the extra work it takes to make an accurate DSD master and the disc space it uses (you need DSD-dff and DSD-dsf both).

Plus it’s the market…in general; a DSD master is more valuable then a PCM master. But I agree that the PCM is the most original so from that point of view it should be more equal.



I agree that it does take additional work to convert a high-res PCM file to a DSD in both DSD-dff and DSD-dsf, but compared to the production time spent actually making the recordings and completing all of the post production stages associated with the original master, the conversion is really not that big a deal. The iTrax site offers 21 different versions of each of my tracks…talk about production time and disc space!

The other statement in his response resonated with a number of readers yesterday in their comments. Thanks to the dozens of misleading and highly biased reports done in audiophile publications and present on the “love fest” DSD panels at various audio trade shows, DSD is being promoted as “more analog-like” (which isn’t true…a study determined that listeners couldn’t tell the difference between a PCM and DSD encoded file of the same source. Read my post on the study by clicking here.) and therefore deserving of a higher price. The market is driving the price premium for DSD according the Frans and many readers pointed out the same thing.

It’s a business decision. No surprise, I guess. The guys at Sound Liaison are offering customers a choice between a downconverted DSD file and the original “more equal” high-resolution PCM file. No one is making visitors to their website spend the additional dollars for the DSD file.

I wrote back to Frans and thanked him for his response and I invited him to make his wonderful tracks available through iTrax.com. I’m not sure they will agree but if they do, I would have to decide whether to offer the PCM and DSD files or stick with the better format and leave the DSD conversions for someone else to post. I also asked him about the process they use to do the conversions.

Reader Phil made a great suggestion in a comment yesterday. He wrote:

“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.”

I’m going to figure out how the best way to make the conversions to DSD and post a couple of examples on the FTP site. I’ll let you decide which you prefer.


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.

18 thoughts on “Sound Liaison Responds About DSD Pricing

  • If folks really want to listen to DSD they can buy the PS Audio Direct Stream DAC, it converts everything inputted (CDs PCM files, etc to DSD for free. All that and it only costs $5,999.00 to degrade the sound of all your digital sources.

  • Édouard Trépanier

    Frans, at Sound Liaison, is a very honest person. Pricing DSD to its marketed value is a legitimate business decision. …even if PCM is better!

    • Indeed, as business model, which obviously works, why not, but it’s cheating customers, exploiting their misconception. Simply not wise as a long term business model. There are always people around, like Mark, cover up such practices.

      • You’re right that making DSD versions of PCM originals is a little sketchy…especially if you’re charging more. I’m going to write a post about this whole issue.

  • Chris Wright

    Well there we have it. It concerns me that we may be heading for yet another format war, where the inferior technology wins. Anyone remember VHS and Betamax…

    Hopefully there will always be space for PCM and DSD, but if the incorrect perception that DSD is better develops, especially if it can achieve a price premium, well don’t be surprised if future hi-res releases aren’t focused on PCM.

    Why does it always have to be this way?

    • Not going to happen…the professional world of recording will not adopt DSD. PCM is firmly in place.

      • Chris Wright

        Well that’s certainly music to my ears – quite literally 🙂

  • I have several of the indeed stunning sounding Sound Liaison files, in my opinion these guys really know what they are doing. As you said, Mark, the sound is spectacular. I consider the ”Thousand Shades of Blue” download with Carmen Gomes a must have if you really want to hear what audiophile recording is all about.

    My experience with the other 24/96 pcm files I downloaded and the quick and personal response to questions asked, is also beyond reproach.
    I was however a little disappointed when they started to offer flac and dsd files. Their original slogan was
    something like ” one to one copy of the original studio master with no conversion whatsoever.”
    But I guess they had to give in to pressure from the market, but in doing so they lost a little of their original pcm idealism. The DSD blog on the Sound Liaison website does try to explain how and why they decided to offer DSD as well.
    However, I do applaud their frank and open answers, they seem to be completely transparent. No bullshit.

    • I agree…they do fine work and were completely open and honest about their thoughts on conversion.

      • I find it amazing that SL can openly admit that they are overcharging (cheating) customers for the DSD files and folks here respond with a “hey.if they can get away with it, that’s OK”? No wonder hi end audio pricing is so over the top.

        • I don’t see it as “cheating” or “openly admitting” a mistake. They are a small quality minded company that has made the decision to include DSD offering. They’re not hiding it. Some people will willingly pay the premium and others will know better…it’s fine.

          • Mark, Selling a degraded sounding DSD conversion of a better sounding PCM file for a higher price is just another form of snake oil peddling. Just because people are willing to spend the extra money to buy it cause they “don’t know better” doesn’t make it OK, it’s a deceitful and immoral.

          • They’re reaching for a market segment just like other labels do. At least these guys are making recordings using the right technology and offering a choice.

    • Peter,
      please don’t compare the FLAC versions with the DSD versions.

      There is no conversion of the original sound files involved in FLAC encoding. It’s just a storage format which retains the exact bitstream you would get from a WAV file itself. It just employs some algorithms to losslessly pack the files and put it in a container (which as an added bonus can be enriched with metadata tags). You can compare it to using a programm like ZIP to compress data files. When unpacked what you get is exactly what was put into it at the beginning. No information is lost in the process. There is no difference in the resulting audio compared to a WAV file.

      Best regards,

  • I agree that Sound Liaison are making some of the best sounding recordings out there. The SQ is incredible.
    I also agree that their analogue signal chain conversion to DSD is not necessary. I will always prefer the native PCM studio master, but hey if they can make an extra buck selling DSD and in the process keeping their
    ” One to One copies of the original studio master” reasonably priced, I won’t blame them.
    They seem to be a small company with only a couple releases per year, I mean this it not SONY or HDtracks.
    And DSD €15. – $16.82 US
    PCM €10. – $11.21 US
    FLAC €10. – $11.21 US” is actually cheap.

    • It’s cheap for a sampler…

  • peter apperup

    At this moment they are selling WAV, Flac and DSD for the same price for €10/$11.
    Very impressive recordings indeed.

  • [Quote] (Sound Liaison have managed to strike a balance between intimacy of the performance and the soundstage in the big way, better than numerous other albums on which the sound engineers have tried the same! Really well done. This is a superb recording in every respect: tonal balance, timing, spatial delineation etc. And it’s a pleasure to listen to!

    No Spotify, no Tidal
    Note that the albums by the Sound Liaision are not available on streaming services such as Spotify and Tidal. Why? Here’s the explanation: “Because the audio quality on these streaming sites is simply not good enough, and the music of the Sound Liaision does not fit the spotify mould where the chorus of a song tends to start within 15-30 seconds. A slight effort in order to obtain the music, makes the searcher value more the music itself. And last but not least, we want to pay our artists their fair share of the profits being made.”


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