I'm just listening, as I type this, to Rachmaninoff's P.C. 2 on a Mercury SACD. I have compared this to the regular CD issue and can hear a significant improvement. I have been in this business long enough to know that listeners, particularly those with recording engineering experience often hear what they expect to hear or what they want to hear, and I can be as guilty of this as anyone else. In my opinion, one area where SACD really shines is in low level detail. PCM digital deteriorates significantly as the level is reduced. There is a fairly notorious CD demonstration of this where a piano solo is played at proper level and then reduced in 20 dB steps. At each step, the playback is restored to the original level so one can hear the damaged caused by quantization distortion. When the level has been reduced to -60 dB, the instrument is no longer recognizable as a piano - it sounds more like a synthesizer. This, of course, is caused by
the fact that as you reduce level, you use fewer and fewer bits. I have never been able to find out authoritatively if DSD suffers from the same degradation but since it only employs one bit I can believe that it doesn't, at least at any audible level. Even recording at 24 bits significantly improves quantization distortion. But getting back to SACDs, where I hear a perceived improvement is in enhanced high frequency response - not caused by the extended high frequency response of the medium which can go out to 100k, (I am no longer a youngster and I can't hear much above 14k, which is well within the CD range), but because of the harmonic detail which gives a sheen particularly to string and brass instruments. (I realize that using words like "sheen" when dealing with audio is almost useless but hopefully the word conveys what I mean.) This is quite noticeable at the beginning of the last movement of the Rachmaninoff Concerto which has a
fairly quiet opening in the cellos. The rosin sound is more apparent than from a CD. As you can perhaps imagine, if you have a playback system playing back even a loud orchestral recording and you disconnect your woofers and mid range speakers so that only the tweeters are operating, you will hear a lot of high frequency hisses and buzzes but at a fairly low level, (actually I suggest you don't try this at home because it can be damaging to amplifiers). This means that even with loud music, these elements are down to being reproduced by very few bits on a CD. On an SACD these frequencies are much more accurately reproduced hence the perception of an improved high frequency response.
One more point, a lot is said about the problems with not using the original playback equipment. I would just like to comment that I think anyone would admit that a Studer A-80, (a popular mastering machine), has far better flutter and speed consistency specs than an Ampex 300. I think ideal mastering will occur if the electronics with the original specs, (which may mean using the original heads), are fitted onto a modern machine. In the notes of the SACD I'm listening to it says that the mastered SACD was compared with the original tape played on Wilma Cozart Fine's personal Ampex 300. That should be fairly accurate. I agree with Tom Fine that if the SACDs had been made using the original sources on the original playback situations, the final product would have been that much better.
> From: Tom Fine <[log in to unmask]>
>To: [log in to unmask]
>Sent: Sunday, June 3, 2012 8:22:04 PM
>Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Mercury Living Presence
>Carl, you are correct that it was B&W 808's with big amps, I think by Mark Levinson, maybe Cello
>brand? That system got LOUD, like full orchestra in your face loud. The studio had a nice stereo
>spread and reliable soundstage and frequency response, so the 3-2 mix could be done with reliability
>and repeatability. I've described the audio chain before, so I'll just say it was very direct and
>there was no DSP stuff after conversion.
>The playback equipment and digital technology used in Germany were different. I think the SACD's
>sound like the same tapes played back on a different machine, not a huge difference in sound (so if
>you're hearing one, check your CD player regarding playback of the original CDs) but more
>"solid-statey" compared to playback on an Ampex 300. The first two issues have "un-Mercury" 3-2
>mixes (the 2-channel SACD layer), not enough center channel in the mix. The last two batches sounded
>better (more like the original CDs) in all respects, but I still prefer the CDs because they are
>-- Tom Fine
>----- Original Message -----
>From: "Carl Pultz" <[log in to unmask]>
>To: <[log in to unmask]>
>Sent: Sunday, June 03, 2012 8:00 PM
>Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Mercury Living Presence
>> At Edison NJ, they had B&W 808s and, iirc, B&W amps and a Cello Audio Pallet
>> used as a line amp/switcher - not too shabby.
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List
>> [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Clark Johnsen
>> Sent: Sunday, June 03, 2012 1:07 PM
>> To: [log in to unmask]
>> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Mercury Living Presence
>> On Sat, Jun 2, 2012 at 11:21 PM, DAVID BURNHAM <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>>> Why would they not have heard these differences when they issued the
>> Two possible answers: 1) Recording studio audio systems generally s*ck. 2)
>> Wishful thinking.
>> I recall that back in the late Seventies Victor Campos asserted that he had
>> found a cartridge that made LPs sound "just like the master tapes" (of
>> which he owned numerous good copies). That cartridge? A mid-priced Audio
>> Technica. Yes.
>> A couple years later he had a Sonus Blue... much better!
>>> Dave b