DSD Love Fest?

As I promised at the close of yesterday’s post, there was an informational session held at the end of the day at T.H.E. Show Newport Beach on Saturday hosted by the editor of Positive Feedback Online, Dr. David Robinson. Panelists included Jim Merod of BluPort Records, Andreas Koch of Playback Design, Cookie Marenco of Blue Coast Records and Tom Caulfield of Channel Classics. The name of the panel was “DSD Downloads: From the Studio to Your Home”.

As you might imagine, I’m very interested in this topic and at 4:30 in the afternoon, I left my sales table at the Atrium Hotel and headed over to hear what the panelists and moderator were going to say. As a lifetime member of the LA & OC Audio Society, the co-sponsors of the entire event, I had reached out to the seminar planners about participating in one or more of the panels. I was to be included to be able to present another point of view.

I am regularly involved in the educational portion/seminars associated with the various audio shows that happen throughout the year. I was the keynote speaker and gave a technical presentation at the AXPONA and show earlier this year and gave the keynote at the Latin American Audio Engineering Society in Bogota, Columbia last year. I was graciously invited to participate on panels at the New York Audio Show, the Montreal SSI event, the RMAF in Denver and the TAVES show in Toronto. However, the planners told me that there weren’t any opportunities available at T.H.E. Show Newport Show. They had room to add a video segment from a DSD advocate from Channel Classics but not for a lifetime member of the society. Oh well.

To be fair, the Society has agree to let me moderate and organize a panel at next year’s event on the subject of HD digital music downloading (and by then HD streaming of audio). I can assure you that I will be inclusive and reach out to supporters of DSD as well as PCM and MP4SLS (the new streaming format for HD-Audio).

So I showed up a little late at the DSD seminar and stood just inside the door as Dave introduced the members of the panel and let them talk about why they have chosen DSD and how they work with it. Cookie has a lot of experience producing and recording records with her present company and when she worked at Windham Hill. She also worked extensively with Gerry Kearby, the late founder of Liquid Audio. I knew Gerry quite well and saw the original power point presentation that he put together, which launched the world’s first legal music download service. Cookie records to analog multitrack and then transfers her projects to DSD for SA-CD release and DSD downloads. Her method must produce a sound that she enjoys but I personally cannot figure out why anyone trying to record and deliver audiophile quality recordings would capture to the very limited dynamic range of analog tape.

Then Tom Caulfield spent some time (too much time going through a series of slides about producing recordings for Channel Classics) talking about recording, mike placement and equipment. He works as part of the engineering team with Jared Sacks, the head of the label. Tom played a video message from Jared in which he talks about Phillips approaching him in 2000 to help them explore DSD 64 and SC-CD (he lives in Holland…Phillips’ home turf). More recently he has bee recording AND mixing his sessions using native DSD encoding. I was particularly interested in a few of his comments. He claims that because of DSD that, “technology is no longer in the way of the music”.

I would have loved to ask him what he means by that…it seems to me that simply putting an HD-Audio PCM-based DVD or BD disc in a hardware player is without any sonic or operational barriers. The same goes for playing PCM HD files on a music server. In fact, many companies have been doing that for a long time. My own iTrax site launched in the fall of 2007 and delivers PCM HD files that play very easily in the new HD capable DACs.

More important and telling was the discussion of his methodology. He stated, “An important element of how I work is at the recording station, of course in the analog stage, I’m making my mix. I’m doing this to keep the integrity of the DSD signal. So this means the least amount of postproduction work needed. When I have to go into postproduction or through the mixer this means, indeed, going to DXD, a kind of high frequency PCM, but there is a difference. So whenever possible, I keep it in the DSD domain.”

What he’s referring to is the fact that despite the assurances of others, there are no tools (and there never can be because of the format itself) to handle the postproduction needs of DSD. As John Siau stated in his interview, engineers are required to edit, equalize, fade and process dynamically virtually all new recordings…and this simply cannot be done in DSD. Jared goes on to state that he (and others that use DSD) have to move to DXD (which as he readily states is actually PCM at 352.8 kHz and 24-32 bits). I have to wonder how many truly “virgin” DSD releases there are. I will look into the “provenance” of the many SA-CDs but my sense is that most of them have tasted PCM along their production path. If that’s true then why use a 1-bit DSD encode to capture a selection of music. If you love the format’s sound then simply output to that flavor.

Tom then went through his slides discussing his particular way of recording classical music. The Channel Classics approach uses a “stereo mike array” with perhaps a few spot mikes placed strategically around the ensemble.

Andreas Koch of Playback Designs then spoke briefly about the format. He said it’s basically like getting “a new format” because DSD is now independent of the physical SA-CD disc. He sees many advantages to DSD, which he described as “more fluid” than PCM. He predicted the arrival of many DSD downloadable tracks as more companies come on line with their catalogs.

Finally, it was Jim Merod’s turn. I should state that Jim and I have been close friends for many years and have shared more than a few stories from our audio engineering pursuits. I have the highest regard for Jim personally AND professionally…this is a man who practices what he preaches and who knows music (and a lot more).

He opened his remarks by saying, “I guess I have to go against the grain of everything that’s been said here so far!” Jim went on that by stressing the technical aspects of music recording and delivery that we fail to unite behind the essence of what music recording really is. Jim is a strong supporter of DSD and believes it is the best format for, “bringing forward the bloody excitement of the moment of the musical creation itself!” At 71 years of age, Jim is passionately in search of the best way to capture the magic of music making and delivering to equally passionate music fans. I share his enthusiasm and share the same goal.

It was during Jim’s contribution to the session that he then gestured to me. He gave a brief introduction to the crowd about my accomplishments and the wonderful recordings that I’ve produced followed by, “I’d be interested in what Mark has to say about this.”

Here was my chance to offer an opposing view to the members of the panel. I’ll share my brief comments in tomorrow’s post. I’ve written too much today. But I can tell you that at the close of the session a half a dozen audience members followed me back to the Atrium Hotel and wanted to know more.


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.

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