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Positive Feedback ISSUE 75
september/october 2014


Impressions:  Howard Hanson:  An American Romantic in Quad DSD (DSD256)
by David W. Robinson

[Images courtesy of High Definition Tape Transfers; cartoon by Bruce Walker]

Howard Hanson An American Romantic in Quad DSD

The movement of reference-grade reference tapes to DSD for downloading continues apace. One of the industry leaders in this regard is High Definition Tape Transfers. Bob Witrak at HDTT, who had been working previously in high-resolution PCM, is setting a very high bar for both the quality and quantity of his DSD downloads. If you go out to his site, you'll see a surprising quantity of major artists in classical and jazz…for example, Reiner, Solti, Bernstein, von Karajan, Fitzgerald, Ellington, Basie, Mulligan...and with some excellent performances and recordings done to both Single and Double DSD. (Yes, they are also in lesser PCM formats, as well, but that isn't the focus of my comments.) These are rare recordings, not normally seen in the major catalogs, and so have not been available previously in SACD.

But now, in addition to Single and Double DSD, HDTT has started to offer its catalog in Quad DSD (DSD256) .DSF format. .DSF includes the metadata, including the cover art, which makes playback more artful. Further, no editing was done in the PCM domain at all. This is a pure analog-to-DSD transfer, done with great skill and attention to the purity of the playback chain.

The first of their new offerings in Quad DSD is from their Albany Records catalog:  Howard Hanson:  An American Romantic, as performed by David Craighead and the Rochester Chamber Orchestra. The Producer was John Proffitt, while the Engineer was John Proffitt. These were taken from the original two-track 15ips analog master tapes directly to DSD256 via the splendid new Merging Technologies 8-channel HAPI (in stereo mode) Single/Dual/Quad DSD analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converter, with its Pyramix 9.1.4 digital audio workstation software. This new package from Merging Technologies sets the new standard for analog-to-DSD conversion, as I know from my experience with their hardware and software.

The track listing:

01 Suite Nymphs And Satyr
02 Concerto Da Camera For Piano And String Quartet
03 Concerto For Organ Harp And Strings
04 Two Yuletide Pieces For Piano Solo
05 A Prayer Of The Middle Ages
06 How Excellent Thy Name
07 I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes
08 Praise Ye The Lord

The music is extremely pleasing to me, from the soul-lifting opening of "Suite Nymphs and Satyr" through the luscious dynamics of "Concerto for Organ, Harp and Strings," to the reflective "Two Yuletide Pieces," and rounding out with the biblically-themed tracks 5-8. Every single track is compelling, with music that satisfies the soul at all levels. If you are new to Howard Hanson, this will certainly be an outstanding introduction to his work.

So? How does this recording sound?

The sonic results in this case are simply exceptional. As played back from our reference desktop system here at Positive Feedback Online (Media Center 20 on Windows 7 64-bit with 8 GB RAM, to the Oppo Digital HA-1 headphone amp with its Quad DSD-capable DAC and preamp, to the darTZeel CTH-8550 integrated amplifier, and ending up with the Evolution Acoustics MMMicro One speakers via the Skogrand Cables Ignis speaker cables), the Hanson is unbelievably detailed and transparent. There is unbelievable ease, with nuanced delicacy in the pianissimos, and yet dynamic slam aplenty in the fortissimos.

Anyone who thinks that digital cannot deliver the full sound of an analogue master tape without compromise simply has not heard Quad DSD. If you are looking to see if what I'm saying is true, then you have only to get yourself to a Quad DSD-capable system, and try this DSD download from HDTT. I guarantee you that you will not have heard anything like it.

Just close your eyes:  It's 15-ips open reel tape without the enormous expense, extremely limited sources, tape wear, maintenance, and handling. Much as I love open reel tape, this is a format that will deliver the goods without compromise. DSD256 tops the current heap of audiophile formats, no doubt in my mind at all.

And the cost for this splendid album? Only USD $28.00! You'll find its page directly at

I guess it's clear:  I was very taken by this album, and have listened to it repeatedly since I downloaded it. Top-notch in every way, and carrying my very highest recommendation. Do yourself a huge favor:  Buy this download!

You can send me a fine cigar at Christmas.