More Fun DSD Approaches

Yesterday’s post presented a few ways that record companies produce and release DSD recordings. You can check out the entire post yourself by clicking here but simply put I laid out two approaches: convert source high-resolution PCM files to DSD through an analog conversion chain (D/A/A) or record directly to DSD and then do multiple conversions in order to mix and process the material in the analog domain. The sonic results of all this bouncing back and forth between analog and digital is a reduction in the fidelity of the ultimate file. Why bother?

For those wondering how other labels record and release DSD or DSD recordings, you can check out the labels listed on the Native DSD Music website. This site is a good resource for those looking for DSD productions of various sorts.

The label 2XHD is a record label that I’ve discussed previously. They use their “proprietary system to process music masters originally recorded in analog or DSD or other format, to DSD in order to produce a unique listening experience”. The two owners have assembled a well-equipped studio that they use to convert sources to analog, master those conversions with analog compressors and equalizers before converting once again to DSD. I have no doubt that they are using the very best cables, tube processors, and state-of-the-art DACs etc. but I think the approach is more about hype and branding than it is about maintaining the “dynamics of the original master”. Any conversion compromises the sound. And the name 2XHD is completely misleading.

One of the largest contributors of DSD recordings to the Native DSD Music site is Channel Classics. It’s no surprise since the site is owned by Jared Sacks. I know Jared and his work is absolutely first rate. He’s a musician that has spent decades living and recording in Europe. When Sony came along with their SACD initiative, Jared was one of the original supporters…and he continues to believe in DSD. And his production methodology is one of the very few that can actually work within the constraints of DSD.

Jared brings his studio with him on his recording adventures. He lives in the Netherlands and loads up his car with microphones, preamps, converters, a mixing board, recording equipment (DSD), and a complete monitoring system so that he can set up his portable studio on location. He places microphones around the ensemble and then mixes all of the source live as he records the output of his mixing desk…of course, to a high-end DSD system. I’m impressed. His method works but it’s the recording equivalent of walking a tightrope without a safety net. The blend of all of the source microphones has to be right at the time of the recording. There is no going back and pushing up a solo line or balancing the low strings against the upper strings. The postproduction process does involve simple editing (which requires a momentary conversion to PCM) but in essence he’s capturing a live performance. His approach is very close to my own but rather than mix everything in that moment; I capture all of the tracks in isolation and take my time mixing after the sessions are over.

Then there’s 2L. Morten Lindberg founded, owns, and operates his label in Norway. He does amazing work and charges premium prices for high-resolution and ultra high-resolution audio files. But he doesn’t record using DSD. You might not know that if you read the marketing materials from Merging Technology, the company that makes the Pyramix system and peripherals that he uses. It’s very common for DSD/DXD to show up in SACD or DSD literature. In fact, Merging Technologies invented the DXD (Digital Extreme Definition) specifically so that SACD focused labels would have a postproduction tool. It’s deliberately meant to be confusing. No one in the DSD camp wants to admit that they have to resort to PCM to get any work accomplished in their flawed format. DXD is not a format. DXD is highrate PCM.

With all of this PCM stuff being used to create DSD files and downloads, it might seem obvious that DSD isn’t really what it pretends to be. Why not produce and distribute the original source files in PCM and avoid all of the conversion and inconvenience?

Morten prefers highrate PCM to capture his awarding-winning productions. Then he downconverts to DSD and lower rate PCM. Not native DSD at all.

To be continued…

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.

11 thoughts on “More Fun DSD Approaches

  • May 14, 2015 at 3:31 pm
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    All the technical info is terrific.
    Ultimately though, the answer to “Why DSD?” lies in a set of virtually immortal quotations from two of the top audio designers on earth. One is a tube guy, one is a speaker + solid state electronics guy, both revered experts in their field. No need to name them, but everyone who reads this column knows of them. The discussion was over electronics, and here are the diametrically opposed but still individually valid statements that seem relevant to me re: Why DSD?”
    As follows” There is no GOOD distortion” juxtaposed against “Everything has distortion. Whose distortion sounds good?” Perhaps it is the euphonic colorations added by the DSD process, in other words, a distortion, but one that is liked for its’ effect on the final result. I can’t come up with any better way to put it.

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    • May 14, 2015 at 4:46 pm
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      Craig…Why DSD? Because it gives audiophile reviewers, high-end equipment companies, and consumers something else to chew on. Audio designers aren’t making the recordings and don’t seem to have a clue how the actual record production process works. Some want everything boosted to reveal more “low level detail” (yes a real quote) or the believe DSD is more “analog like” when it was studied and no one could tell the difference. So what is it really…a sales opportunity. It started because Sony was pissed off about losing the new format war and so they tried to make a go of their own format. Even they’ve given up on DSD and admitted is was a mistake…so should everyone else.

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      • May 14, 2015 at 5:39 pm
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        I was just trying to explain the sonic reasons why DSD is described as “analog like,” for better or worse. As a general rule, SACD’s have a silky sheen not found on a pure LPCM. If I were making my living as you do, I sure wouldn’t want to work with folks that “don’t hear any difference” though. That would lead to unpredictable results IMHO.
        DSD has a coloration that some people like. Relative to my earlier comment above, this would be described as a “distortion that sounds good”, somewhat like an awful lot of other devices found in studios, Aphex, ‘reverb unit of the month’ etc. This distortion has now become a tool, or so it seems to me, for better or worse.

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        • May 15, 2015 at 10:05 am
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          I understand the defense of DSD involves exactly the kind of generalizations that you’re making in your comment. However, they aren’t true…they are the result of marketing spin, attributions by listeners ill-equipped to detect the differences, and the fact that most SACDs or DSD files are made from different masters. The same recording encoded as DSD 64 and PCM 96/24 is indistinguishable by listeners of all stripes and experience.

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      • May 14, 2015 at 7:26 pm
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        I believe the high end reviewing community sees DSD as a back door that they can use to back off on the anti-digital stance they’ve taken for many years now. Analog was king and digital was a harsh, hard sounding format that couldn’t compare to the sweetness of analog. But I think, for many reasons, they realize this is a road they cannot continue down forever. But now they see a way not to have to admit they were wrong, but to villeinize PCM and find a savior for digital in DSD. You hear it stated over and over now in Stereophile and TAS, DSD sounds analog like and has the sweetness, that certain something, that PCM was always missing. DSD Labels are lying and hiding the real signal paths of their DSD files so as not to mention the dirty word PCM.
        Mark, as you, I wish it wasn’t so but I think PCM is in serious trouble. Like so many other things in this industry it has nothing to do with the truth but more with marketing and keeping the snake oil spewing reviewer gods in their vaulted positions.

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        • May 15, 2015 at 10:09 am
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          Sal, I’m not concerned in the least that DSD will ever be anything more than a flawed format that audiophiles and the audiophile press will continue to lust after. PCM is used in virtually 100% of the commercial recording studios, movie productions, audio for television, and even DSD delivered music. The real question is how long will the DSD crowd hold on to their false format?

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  • May 14, 2015 at 4:40 pm
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    It does seem DSD or SuperAudio, which I have is marginally better than a CD.It could also mean the tracks I have on SuperAudio were better to start with. You mentioned Sony developed this technique for archiving. Does this mean an SACD disc will age better than a PCM CD ?

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    • May 14, 2015 at 4:49 pm
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      DSD is marginally better than a CD, if you have the proper Low Pass Filtering in place to remove the ultrasonic noise that will cause havoc with your equipment when it tries to deal with large amounts of 40 kHz sound. The SACD were most likely better because they were made with better masters and more care. DSD was an archive format for other reasons than longevity.

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  • May 14, 2015 at 6:18 pm
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    As I think I’ve said before here, I’ve never been impressed with the sound of any SACD/DSD recording I’ve either owned or had the opportunity of listening to.

    It always seems to my ears that a layer of detail and clarity is missing from this format.

    Thanks to you Mark, I have a much better idea of why this is. DSD does indeed seem to be the new hifi industry snake oil.

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  • May 15, 2015 at 4:09 pm
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    Mark, I was wondering where the brief conversion to PCM occurs with Jared’s production methods.

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    • May 16, 2015 at 8:37 am
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      Any editing between multiple takes requires conversion to PCM.

      Reply

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