What is the best kind of DSD for the $?


#1

After a few week of getting use to the DS Jr., i unpacked a few DSD albums given to me about a year ago and had a listen for the first time (Roon to DS Jr to Pass to Harbeth) . I was most impressed - I did not expect such noticeable improvements in air and presence. I have 24/96 and 24/176 tracks but those improvements over red book didn’t seem nearly as significant as DSD.

So…now i am curious. What is the best DSD for the $? Can anyone advise? Let me expand…

I have some HD Track 24/96 remasters that, to me, sound not much different that the originals. It is like they take the original and add the extra sampling and maybe a little new mixing and call it 24/96. To me that seems more like repackaged red book. However, when you find an original 24/96 recording (that is recorded in 24/96 from the start), then i believe i do hear a difference. Perhaps it is merely the quality of the recording that from the onset was done with care?

Is it the same for DSD? I realize this is subjective, but any informed views? Is PCM converted to DSD as good as recording in DSD? Can you take an old blues album from 1959, convert to DSD and get the magic (quality) of a 2015 DSD recording? How can one tell the providence of DSDs? How does one select quality DSDs? Are all DSD of similar quality?

I really wasn’t looking for the DSD experience, but now that i have it, i am totally turned. If i want to build on it, i appreciate views on how to best to do that. Perhaps there are some relevant articles to read?


#2

Hans, you ask some very important questions.

Regarding older recordings: if a good analog source (master tape, ideally) is converted to DSD with skill and care, the results can be outstanding. I have several albums of this type; one that comes to mind immediately is the DSD version of Cat Stevens’s Tea for the Tillerman.

PCM recordings can sound very good when converted to DSD, but I don’t think there is any reason to pay a premium for this. In most cases you’re just as well off playing in the original format.

I buy DSD recordings only from sources that are transparent about how the recording was made. You’re safe with anything from NativeDSD.com. Blue Coast Records is a model of transparency. With some other sources, you have to read very carefully, and even then you may not know exactly what you’re getting. In such cases I don’t spend money.

I generally like DSD, but I also acknowledge that the skill of the recording and mastering engineers is always the most important thing in a recording. I have some albums recorded at 24/96 PCM that sound absolutely amazing. I agree that upsampled redbook originals typically offer little value for the money (exceptions do exist, of course).


#3

Great question and observation. Indeed, there are a number of high resolution audio downloads to purchase that are nothing more than upsampled red books - which is a shame because paying extra in the hopes for something better leaves one feeling short changed.

Having written that, there are even more legitimate sources that take the other approach, giving you access to the original higher resolution masters the red books were made from. That’s legit - and while better, much depends on the recording to appreciate their full value. Not all sound significantly better, but many do.

Converting from PCM to DSD doesn’t buy you much, in my opinion. But, original DSD masters played back through your DAC can be significantly better sounding - like that trapped on the SACD layer.

We recently introduced a new transport called the DirectStream Memory Player that will unlock those long trapped DSD mastered layers for you, but that product’s not yet out. I’ve been listening to it for some time now, and we demonstrated it at the recent RMAF show. Definitely an ear opener to hear those layers.


#4

As far as I read on and about quite some SACD’s, there are usually also many PCM hires sources used for the SACD layers. So no guarantee that they are based on a DSD recording, correct? It’s just difficult to find out, but on some of them they mention a 24/96 recording.

Isn’t it true that there can be analog tapes converted to DSD used for the SACD layer, or DSD recordings, or PCM sources and that whatever SACD exists of music that was recorded after the analog recording era and before the DSD recording era must be PCM sourced?


#5

This (from a Beethoven Quartet) is a great recording, but one of the not so rare examples of a label using PCM sources for their DSD masterings. Some use very high sampling rates as 2L, others 24/96.

Not that it bothers me, I think it’s just quite hard to identify pure DSD recordings (other than the “few” listed at NativeDSD.com)

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#6

To be true DSD recording one must record in DSD, make no changes (no EQ, no mixing, etc.), and release it in DSD. The modern equivalent of direct-to-disc. I cannot name any off-hand.

Blue Coast Records uses a hybrid approach; recording in DSD, converting to analog for editing, and then transferring the analog back to DSD. Analog is a very different medium from DSD (lesser S/N. impulse response, frequency response, etc.) and ultimately you are listening to high quality analog. They are fine recordings however with excellent sound.

DSD editing work stations either convert the entire file to DXD (high resolution PCM) for editing, or converting just the edited portion to DXD (as a practical matter, this is often pretty much the entire file such as when apply EQ or compression). Transcoding to and from PCM to DSD can be high quality but remains a lossy process.

Of course, there are also excellent analog recordings transferred to DSD as already mentioned. These can sound great. They can also be merely adequate.

But we are faced with these same type of choices with high resolution PCM or even just Redbook. The source is the most important, followed by the quality of the transfer to PCM.

I would concentrate on how good a recording sounds, not how it is made. There are lots of reviews out there. Or do the really crazy as I do - focus on the music. Then it is merely a nice perk when the recording happens to be really good.


#7

Thanks for the info ELK!

So (analog recordings transferred to DSD aside) based on Ted’s note, that it’s preferable to use the original PCM format (to be converted by the DS DAC) to a DSD converted when there’s a choice, this means to me, there’s nearly no pure unconverted (for editing) DSD product available. Following this note…for those DSD products, if it would exist, a recording done in the PCM format used for editing of the DSD recording would be preferable to the edited DSD product.

What’s the advantage of a DSD recording & product then, except that SACD players need the format?

I’m with you that the recording quality is more important than formats anyway! I just don’t understand the DSD hype (at least when using a DSD converting DAC like the DS) if everything except analog recordings is converted (probably worse than the DS would do) from PCM anyway.

The remaining advantage of a DSD/SACD file or disc with a DAC like the DS would be the ability to listen to analog recordings in the best way. If recorded digitally, these files/discs would sound better if they would have been recorded in the PCM format used for editing anyway (or in case of the DS in the highest PCM format supported by the DS).

Just a theroretical view…


#8
Elk said To be true DSD recording one must record in DSD, make no changes (no EQ, no mixing, etc.), and release it in DSD. The modern equivalent of direct-to-disc. I cannot name any off-hand.

Blue Coast Records uses a hybrid approach; recording in DSD, converting to analog for editing, and then transferring the analog back to DSD. Analog is a very different medium from DSD (lesser S/N. impulse response, frequency response, etc.) and ultimately you are listening to high quality analog. They are fine recordings however with excellent sound.

DSD editing work stations either convert the entire file to DXD (high resolution PCM) for editing, or converting just the edited portion to DXD (as a practical matter, this is often pretty much the entire file such as when apply EQ or compression). Transcoding to and from PCM to DSD can be high quality but remains a lossy process.

Of course, there are also excellent analog recordings transferred to DSD as already mentioned. These can sound great. They can also be merely adequate.

But we are faced with these same type of choices with high resolution PCM or even just Redbook. The source is the most important, followed by the quality of the transfer to PCM.

I would concentrate on how good a recording sounds, not how it is made. There are lots of reviews out there. Or do the really crazy as I do - focus on the music. Then it is merely a nice perk when the recording happens to be really good.


One that I know of who records directly to DSD and releases DSD files: David Elias

BlueCoast often records directly to DSD and releases those files. They also sometimes do what you describe. This is based on Cookie’s statements in newsletters she’s emailed to subscribers.

By no means are there are lot of direct-to-DSD recordings available, but they are there; I have some of them. Acoustic Sounds, BlueCoast, and NativeDSD are the only sites I know of that are clear and up-front about the provenance of the recordings they sell even if they can’t determine where the original recording came from (that’s for Acoustic Sounds; BC and Native have, to my knowledge, never not known the provenance of what they sell).

Some of the best DSDs I have were created directly from the original analog tape recordings (generally 2-inch tape): Norah Jones (the DSD downloads mastered by Gus Skinas from original tapes not the SACDs and not the DSD files from the SACDs), Diana Krall, Santana (Abraxas), to name a few. To my ears, original-tape-to-DSD nearly always sounds better (more pleasant, less clinical, to hyper-generalize but, again, not always) than tape-to-PCM if and only if the DSD engineer is exceptionally good and is given the time to do the best job they can do. (I’ll buy Gus Skinas-mastered DSDs pretty much blind, if the artist’s music is anything I’d like in the first place.)

Not taking away from your closing statement, of course. A good product is a good product, regardless of the format it’s in. I got into DSD a few years ago largely because it satisfies my pragmatic/engineer side, and I stumbled into an exceptionally good-sounding DAC+headphone amp+headphone combination (I didn’t realize this until some years later after I’d experimented with other combinations). Since then, I’ve heard some incredibly good Redbook and PCM downloads, thanks to updates to the DS and the LANrover. It might just be that dealing with DSD is a bit of a pain, and more expensive, so most of the people willing to bother are also really good at it for one reason or another, so the results tend to be exceptional more often than not. :slight_smile:

-Jim


#9

When saying that by these facts I don’t understand the DSD hype, I might be a special case.

  • Because even having ~600 high quality DSD albums of different sources, this just makes a small part of the music collection and the music I listen to. It is of limited interest to me if just a hand full of labels offer pure DSD (not rarely of less than exceptional music or interpretations).
  • Because I favor listening to the analog sourced DSD albums by their vinyl equivalents as I consider them as superior in most cases (I have many in parallel). That's why DSD of analog recordings is of limited interest for me either. This is certainly different for those just using digital source equipment.
So I'm happy to be able to listen to a lot of DSD-converted (by the DS) red book and hires PCM files and to PCM-recorded or edited, forth and back converted DSD tracks. But the small amount of pure DSD albums don't really have relevance. My conclusion is, DSD media/files as an improvement to PCM makes most sence for analog recordings brought to those just listening digital.

#10

Pure dsd is not what I and many like. I don’t know why . But converting never did it for me , Here is something for some to try

Take a PCM or dsd or rip of choice that sounds good to start and record it to a good analog tape recorder . Then convert to dsd it will sound better than the original format in most cases. Of all the dsd I own the cherished is from tape in anolog format. Anolog productions is a very good place to get this dsd as well as cookies place putting one of them on is an uplift in mood as soon as it starts.


#11

I think the label 2xHD does this more or less generally.

I didn’t make serious comparisons between hires PCM and DSD yet. DSD always has nice ambiance. Sometimes I’ve got the impression DSD has little less top end openness and is a little more recessed there, but with another recording it’s different again. I don’t have a fixed opinion, both sound really good with the DS, also red book very close. No need for me to think about it.