You are reading the older HTML site

Positive Feedback ISSUE 41
january/february 2009


Ultra Extended Playing Time SACD - 4 Hours + on a single disc!
by Teresa Goodwin


For new high resolution multi-channel master tapes or the reissue of Quadraphonic recordings, SACDs are a natural with their multi-channel and Stereo DSD programs. However what about all those two-channel Stereo tapes made before the Quadraphonic era, or after the death of Quad and the beginning of the multi-channel era?

BIS has come up with an exciting product perfect for all of those two channel stereo recordings, Ultra Extended Playing Time SACD - 4 Hours + on a single disc!

SACD has only one output resolution 2,822,400Hz, so no matter the resolution of an original PCM master it has to be upsampled to DSD. DVD-Audio and of course it's video child BluRay can output multiple resolutions of PCM, no conversion of a PCM master is necessary. In DVD-Audio a 44.1kHz recording would sound just like a CD as 44.1kHz is one of the available output resolutions. But in SACD that 44.1kHz master tape is upsampled to 2,822,400Hz DSD. Some may say you cannot create resolution by upsampling and that you are mostly just repeating samples that are already there and to this I would agree. However, the more samples you have the smoother the sound is, this can easily be heard by comparing different sample rates of PCM. So while upsampling to DSD creates no frequencies above 20kHz, it makes what's in the audible range easier to listen to and enjoy and that is what music is all about enjoyment.

This was brought home to me by an SACD of Mendelssohn's complete Concertos on a single Stereo SACD! Playing time is 4 hours, 15 minutes and 55 seconds! BIS calls this an "ULTRA EXTENDED PLAYING TIME" SACD. It is accomplished by using the area reserved for the multi-channel mix to extend the playing time in two-channel stereo. Thus in two-channel stereo it is possible to get over 4 hours of music on a single SACD. The SACD is single layer as a CD layer could only contain 1/4 of the music. I love single layer SACDs, as I have never found a single use for the unnecessary CD layer.

This SACD is from 44.1kHz PCM masters and is sold for the same price as BIS's regular SACDs at a retail price of $19.99. The sound quality is much better than expected based on how unimpressed I am with 44.1kHz CDs. Of course BIS's superb engineering accounts for much of the sound. Even so the sound of solo and massed violins is very un-CD like, smooth with lots of ambiance. Evidently upsampling even 44.1kHz PCM to DSD offers greatly improved sound.

While upsampling from 44.1kHz PCM to DSD subtracts most of the negative effects of redbook CD playback, it does not add any of the positive benefits of high resolution. The results are like a well made recording of music compared to SACDs from high resolution sources which usually sound more like the music itself! Or to put it another way with SACDs from from high resolution sources the musicians are in the room playing their extremely realistic instruments for me. I can hear all the ambiance surrounding them, it sounds like I are there! With low resolution PCM upsampled to DSD, there is something inbetween me and the performers. While this is miles better than the dreadful situation with redbook CD it is still miles away from the musical and sonic qualities of SACDs from high resolution digital and analog sources.

For this reason I support 44.1kHz upsampled to DSD SACDs as the best alternative for masters recorded in low resolution PCM, I just won't be purchasing any more of them myself.

There are now PCM to DSD upsampling DACs and CD players and it is possible they may have the same sonic improvements of software upsampling? I know from my experiments with the 24 Bit 96kHz upsampling on the Xindak SACD player that it helped the enjoyment of CDs but not by enough for repeated listenings. DSD upsampling may just be the answer for those still trying to get their CDs to sound decent?

However it would seem to me that the upsampling would best be handled on the software side using professional equipment (44.1kHz PCM to DSD pressed as SACD) versus on the hardware side (44.1kHz PCM CD upsampled by player to DSD)?

In the first case the Master tape is being upsampled during conversion to DSD prior to pressing of the SACD, in the second case the upsampling occurs after the CD is pressed during playback in one's home. The PCM to SACD upsampling only has to happen once during mastering, with CD to DSD it must be performed each time the CD is played. My guess is the PCM to SACD is still going to sound superior to the CD upsampled to DSD.

The titles so far in BIS's Ultra Extended Playing Time SACD - 4 Hours + SACDs:

Dowland The Complete Solo Lute Music, BIS-SACD-1724
Total Time: 4 hours 15 minutes 44 seconds

Mendelssohn - The Complete String Symphonies, BIS-SACD-1738
Total Time: 4 hours 15 minutes 55 seconds

Mendelssohn - The Complete Solo Concertos, BIS-SACD-1766
Total Time:4 hours 15 minutes 55 seconds

J.S. Bach - Complete Organ Music, 20 hours+ of music on 5 SACDs for the price of 2!, BIS-SACD-1527/28
Total Time: 20 hours 8 minutes 21 seconds

The maximum playing time of SACD does not depend on the original recordings resolution as SACD has only one resolution everything is converted to 2,882.4kHz DSD so there is no reason Ultra Extended Playing Time 4 Hours + SACDs could not be from DSD or high quality analog masters.

So far BIS have been the only company to exploit this sub-format by using the multichannel DSD area to greatly augment the playing time of two-channel stereo. Offering quadruple playing time would not be economically feasible for new recordings. but would be a great way to offer reissues of older recordings. This is really a nice idea for us two-channel high resolution folks. I have thought of many other uses of "Ultra Extended Playing Time 4 hour plus SACDs.

1) Older Stereo DSD recordings. Telarc for instance is setting on about 40 stereo DSD recordings made before multichannel DSD recording equipment was available. Telarc has said they are not going to release these as on SACDs as they are concentrating on Multichannel DSD releases. Well if they offered 4 for 1 on a single SACD, they would sell well enough to make it worth their time and music lovers would be able to hear those two-channel stereo DSD recordings the way they were meant to be heard on SACD. I am sure other recording companies have Stereo only DSD recordings that so far are only available on low resolution CD.

2) Older 50kHz Soundstream recordings. Both Telarc and DMP released a few of these in the past as SACD. It was the first time these could be heard without awkward conversion from 50kHz to 44.1kHz. Soundstream's 50kHz recordings, even though they have less resolution than DSD, are very impressive sounding and I think the Soundstream recordings would be really big sellers at 4 for 1 on a single SACD.

2) Older analog Stereo recordings. Remember Vox Box? Many of their Quadraphonic recordings have been released on SACD by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab, but what about their best Stereo recordings? Can you imagine complete Vox Boxes on a single SACD. Complete ballets on a single SACD? Complete operas on a single SACD? The complete orchestral works of Ravel on a single SACD? The complete symphonies of Brahms on a single SACD with all the overtures thrown in as a bonus? The ideas are endless.

Can you imagine these 4 hour plus single layer SACDs directly taking on CDs in a price war with the kind of promotion that HDTV and BluRay got with kiosks in every department store explaining SACD and why it will benefit everyone? I think it is time to re-launch SACD, and to be serious this time. SACD is also the answer to recording companies woes as it offers copy protection that after ten years still has not been broken. With superior sound for music lovers and superior protection for recording artists and their recording companies, SACD is a win-win situation for everyone!