A Comparison Of The SACD, CD, and LP Versions Of Six Titles

DarqueKnightDarqueKnight Posts: 6,129
edited July 2008 in Music & Movies
Introduction

After rummaging through my music collection, I could only find a few instances where I had the SACD, CD, and LP version of a particular title. I was interested in comparing the sound quality of each version.

Evaluation Procedure

The LP version of each title was first compared to its CD counterpart and then to its SACD counterpart. A Radio Shack analog sound pressure level meter was used to determine the preamp volume setting required for a particular track on an LP, SACD, or CD to achieve an average sound level of 90 dB-C.

A track on the LP was listed to in its entirety and notes were made regarding the placement of images within the sound stage and the sonic characteristics of those images. The same things were then done with the CD and SACD versions of the corresponding LP track.

A CD or SACD was started and paused at a point close to its beginning. The preamp was then switched to the turntable input and the LP started. When the LP reached the paused point of the CD or SACD, the CD or SACD was started again. I then could switch back and forth (and sound level match, if needed) between the LP and its CD or SACD counterpart.

CD's were upsampled to a 192 kbps rate. On most well recorded CD's, upsampling provides a bit more detail and natural sound. On poorly recorded CD's, upsampling does not help.

For most albums, I only listened to two or three tracks per title.

Source Hardware

The analog source was a Teres model 255 turntable outfitted with a Graham Phantom B-44 tonearm, Ortofon MC Windfeld phono cartridge, Sonic Purity Concepts record clamp, and Audioquest LeoPard tonearm cable. The phono preamp was a Pass Labs Xono. The MSRP of the turntable/tonearm/cartridge/tonearm cable/record clamp/phono preamp is $16,325. The digital source was a Cary Audio CD 306 SACD Professional Version, which has an MSRP of $8000. Although the analog source's retail cost is over twice (2.04X) as much as the digital source, it did not and does not provide twice as much resolution and listening pleasure. They both provide excellent high resolution playback provided the source material is both well recorded and well transferred to disc.

3_507_big.jpg
Figure 1. You're pretty, but I wish I knew how to quit you.

CD306Pro-Front-Comp-6x4.jpg
Figure 2. Mmmmmmm...SACD's. Such a wonderful format. Too bad
there's not much software available...unless you're into classical.
:(

The Music

SACD-CD-LP-pile-10x7.jpg
Figure 3. The makings of a fun afternoon.:)

The SACD, CD, and LP versions of the following six titles were evaluated:

1. "Time Out", Dave Brubeck Quartet.
2. "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", Elton John.
3. "Kind Of Blue", Miles Davis.
4. "Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy", Elton John.
5. "Headhunters", Herbie Hancock.
6. "Gratitude", Earth, Wind & Fire.

Dave Brubeck's "Time Out"

timeout-10x7.jpg
Figure 4. Delicious 180 gram vinyl, luscious SACD sound and better than average
CD sound.


The SACD and LP sounded excellent..and identical. I could not hear a difference between the two. I mean, when switching back and forth between the turntable and SACD inputs of my preamp, there was no discernible difference in the sound whatsoever. The SACD and LP also registered the same volume on the SPL meter. The CD is a good, 20 bit digital transfer, but there was a noticeable loss of overall detail, a bit of added brightness and some truncation of room ambiance and instrumental note decay. The LP was a brand new 180 gram pressing.

This one is a tie between SACD and LP. The CD came in at a somewhat distant second place.

Evaluation Tracks: 1. Strange Meadow Lark, 2. Take Five, 3. Three To Get Ready.

Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road"

goodbye-yellow-brick-road-10x7.jpg
Figure 5. The LP's sound quality is very poor. I guess it didn't matter since most
people didn't have good audio systems back in 1973.


I do not have the CD version of this title. Two of the songs on the album are included on the "Elton John's Greatest Hits" CD, so that is the CD reference I used.

Whoever did the analog transfer to vinyl was certainly asleep at the control board. This is about as dull and lifeless as an LP can get. Listening to it might suck some of the life right out of your body and shorten your lifespan. There is no sense of Elton banging on the piano keys. No imaging forward of the speaker plane. I hate to hear wonderful music trashed and disrespected by poor recording and/or poor mastering or transfer techniques.:mad:

I know the master tapes were well recorded because the two tracks from this album included on the Greatest Hits CD sound excellent with a spacious three dimensional sound stage and excellent clarity and detail throughout the frequency spectrum, plus great dynamics. The SACD improves upon the CD sound with even greater dynamics, clarity, and detail and a more "live" sound. When I say "live", I do not mean "live" as in brighter sound, I mean "live" in the sense of providing true to life sound...as if the singers and musicians were right there in the room with you. The SACD images had more weight and a quieter, blacker background.

The SACD sounded best with the CD a close second. The LP was not even in the same plane of existence and will not be listened to again except for demonstration purposes.

Evaluation Tracks: 1. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, 2. Bennie And The Jets.

Miles Davis' "Kind Of Blue"

kindofblue-10x7.jpg
Figure 6. I thought I'd try a bit of the ol' 200 gram "super vinyl".

The Classic Records pressing of Miles Davis' classic "Kind of Blue" date boasts 200 gram "Quiex SV-P" (Super Vinyl Profile) "unbreakable" vinyl. It sure was heavy. The record by itself weighs 1/2 pound. The record, jacket and inner sleeve altogether weigh 0.8 pounds. This record's sound was a big disappointment. It was veiled, lifeless, and muted. All the teeth were knocked out of the bite of Miles' trumpet. Coltrane's soaring tenor sax solos were tethered to earth by a thick, heavy rope. Bass lines were blurred and slow. They really did a bad job with this transfer to [audiophile] vinyl.

The original CD version, except for the tape hiss that could sometimes be heard, was much clearer and dynamic than the "audiophile" LP version.

As disappointing as the LP was, the remastered CD was even worse. The sound was dry and cold and exhibited all the clich
"So hot it burns Mice!"~DK
"Polk SDA-SRSs are hopelessly out of date both sonically and technologically... I see no value whatsoever in older SDA speakers."~Audio Asylum Member
"Knowledge, without understanding, is a path to failure."~DK
"Those who irrationally rail against something or someone that is no threat to them, actually desire (or desire to be like) the thing or person they are railing against."~DK
Post edited by DarqueKnight on

Comments

  • DarqueKnightDarqueKnight Posts: 6,129
    edited July 2008
    Herbie Hancock's "Headhunters"

    headhunters-10x7.jpg
    Figure 8. Clockwise from upper left: regular pressing LP, 180 gram vinyl LP, SACD, CD.

    This is the LP that provided my first SDA listening experience. Imagine my surprise at realizing that I had been shortchanged in the imaging and sound staging areas all these years by this recording. The 180 gram LP extended the sound stage by two feet on each side. The 180 gram LP also provided more bass impact and detail, a more quiet background, and more overall clarity and detail.

    Surprise: As good as the 180 gram LP sounded, the CD sounded even better! The CD was more dynamic, provided more overall clarity, provided bass that was more tactile, well defined and articulate, and had more depth than the 180 gram LP. When switching between the 180 gram LP and the CD, I had to compensate for the 2 dB sound level increase of the CD.

    The SACD, which is 4 dB louder than the LP and 2 dB louder than the CD, provided further improvements in sound stage depth, tactile bass and in sound stage three dimensionality.

    In this case, the SACD sounded best with the CD a close second, the 180 gram LP a distant third, and the regular LP relegated to the "demonstration purposes only" bin.

    Evaluation Tracks: 1. Chameleon, 2. Vein Melter.

    Earth, Wind And Fire's "Gratitude"

    gratitude-10x7.jpg
    Figure 9. Living proof that live concert albums need not be an example of and excuse for poorly recorded music.

    Although the tracks on this album were recorded in different concert venues in different states during EW&F's 1974-1975 tour, the recording quality was consistently excellent. I typically avoid live concert albums, but this one does not disappoint.

    The LP, CD, and SACD are all excellent transfers. The LP has more bass detail and a little more overall clarity compared to the CD. The LP is a little more "live/you are there" sounding. The CD is 2 dB louder than the LP.

    Compared to the LP, the SACD provided much heavier images, more details in the background percussion instruments, more bass detail, and more detail from background vocals. The SACD also provided more realistic crowd sounds. Switching back and forth between the LP and SACD was like moving closer (SACD) and farther (LP) from the performance stage. The LP and the SACD were the same sound level, so no volume control compensation was required when switching between them.

    The SACD provided the most realistic and satisfying sound, with the LP a close second and the CD a close third.

    It is interesting to note that this album contains two "studio" tracks. The studio tracks, on either the SACD, LP, or CD, do not exhibit the recording excellence of the concert tracks. "Sing A Song" sounds "ok". "Can't Hide Love" exemplifies the typical overly compressed, "glazed over" sound heard on too many recordings.

    Evaluation tracks: 1. Devotion, 2. Reasons, 3. New World Symphony, 4. Sunshine.

    Conclusion

    A limited sampling from my personal collection has shown my SACD's to be equal to or better than the corresponding analog recording. This is an encouraging result for others, like me, who are put off by the laborious rituals associated with good analog playback.

    In the past, I have discussed the differences between the LP and CD versions of other recordings from my collection. In most of those cases, when the CD sounded better than the LP, it was a case of a well recorded CD being compared to a poorly recorded LP. In my experience, given a well recorded LP and a well recorded CD, the LP usually sounded better, and often much better.

    Some music lovers take the position that digital recording is "bad". They believe that, since digital recording is only an approximation of a continuous analog event, the approximation can never be as good as the recorded event. Fortunately, a digital approximation does not need to be as good as the recorded event. It only needs to be "good enough". Our ears (and eyes) are easily fooled by good, close approximations.

    I understand that much of the "digital backlash" results from the bad taste left by the earliest digital recordings, many of which were noticeably inferior, even on moderately resolving audio systems.

    Digital recording, with proper attention given to Nyquist's sampling theorem AND with due diligence applied to the recording, mastering, and tranfer process, can produce recordings that are equal to or better than an analog recording. This is in spite of the fact that information goes missing between samples and some information is lost due to analog to digital conversion (quantizing) errors. If the sampling intervals are spaced close enough to where our ears (and eyes) can't perceive them, and if the quantizing errors are kept to a minimum, the missing information is not missed.

    It would be great if recording engineers had to adhere to recording standards that would ensure quality playback. However, I understand that the demand is just not there from the general public.

    And so, we patiently wait with eager longing for Such Good Sound.
    "So hot it burns Mice!"~DK
    "Polk SDA-SRSs are hopelessly out of date both sonically and technologically... I see no value whatsoever in older SDA speakers."~Audio Asylum Member
    "Knowledge, without understanding, is a path to failure."~DK
    "Those who irrationally rail against something or someone that is no threat to them, actually desire (or desire to be like) the thing or person they are railing against."~DK
  • dorokusaidorokusai Posts: 25,100
    edited July 2008
    Excellent review.

    You have too much time on your hands. Have you ever thought about painting? I'm available for nude modeling. {holds hand to ear in phone array....CALL ME}
  • DarqueKnightDarqueKnight Posts: 6,129
    edited July 2008
    dorokusai wrote: »
    Excellent review.

    Thank you.
    dorokusai wrote: »
    You have too much time on your hands.

    Yeah, sure, but you talk like that's a bad thing.:confused:
    dorokusai wrote: »
    Have you ever thought about painting?

    Actually, I have been painting since high school.:) I started out doing realistic portraiture in oils and water colors, then gravitated toward abstract themes in computer graphics, acrylic paint and acrylic sculpture. Some examples of my artwork can be seen in my showcase photos:

    1. The computer drawing over my two channel system.
    2. The acrylic sculpture over my home theater system.
    3. The acrylic painting between the CRS+'s in my office at work.
    4. The three acrylic paintings on the walls behind the sofas in my home theater room.

    I'll keep you in mind for one of my future projects.;)
    "So hot it burns Mice!"~DK
    "Polk SDA-SRSs are hopelessly out of date both sonically and technologically... I see no value whatsoever in older SDA speakers."~Audio Asylum Member
    "Knowledge, without understanding, is a path to failure."~DK
    "Those who irrationally rail against something or someone that is no threat to them, actually desire (or desire to be like) the thing or person they are railing against."~DK
  • AndyGwisAndyGwis Posts: 3,659
    edited July 2008
    I agree, this was an excellent review / experiment.

    However, I would be very interested in seeing a similar review on some higher end gear as opposed to your lowly TT and bearable Cary player.

    Just kidding. Your gear looks and surely sounds beautiful. You are also quite talented with the camera. Good read!
    Stereo Rig: Hales Revelation 3, Musical Fidelity CD-Pre 24, Forte Model 3 amp, Lexicon RT-10 SACD, MMF-5 w/speedbox, Forte Model 2 Phono Pre, Cardas Crosslink, APC H15, URC MX-950, Lovan Stand
    Bedroom: Samsung HPR-4252, Toshiba HD-A2, HK 3480, Signal Cable, AQ speaker cable, Totem Dreamcatchers, SVS PB10-NSD, URC MX-850
  • DarqueKnightDarqueKnight Posts: 6,129
    edited July 2008
    I'd sure like to see a similar review from the $100,000 turntable sect of the Brotherhood Of Very Intricate aNd Expensive Stereos (BOVINES).:)
    "So hot it burns Mice!"~DK
    "Polk SDA-SRSs are hopelessly out of date both sonically and technologically... I see no value whatsoever in older SDA speakers."~Audio Asylum Member
    "Knowledge, without understanding, is a path to failure."~DK
    "Those who irrationally rail against something or someone that is no threat to them, actually desire (or desire to be like) the thing or person they are railing against."~DK
  • Polkitup2Polkitup2 Posts: 1,379
    edited July 2008
    Good Stuff, one of my first SACD's was Captain Fantastic. It is an excellent example of SACD capabilities.
  • amulfordamulford Posts: 5,198
    edited July 2008
    Very interesting read. A bit surprising about the poor transfer of the "audiophile" vinyl pressings, as you would think special attention would be paid to ensure stellar performance. The regular pressings I could understand...
    I smell ****, burning ****, glowing cherry red spanked ****.

    RT1
  • cfrizzcfrizz Posts: 12,677
    edited July 2008
    Very nice comparison review. It's what I have always said, if the original was treated with respect the way it should always be, it will come out well no matter what you ultimately listen to it on.

    In other words... it's a real crap shoot!
    Sunfire TGP III PrePro, Sunfire Cinema Grand Signature 405wpc 5 ch. Amp, Oppo 103 BluRay, Rotel RCD-1072 CDP, Sony Bravia KDL-40R510C TV, Polk S60 Main Speakers, Boston VR-920 Center Channel, SVS NSD-12 SB12 Subwoofer, Polk DSW 400 Subwoofer, Polk FXi-3 Surround Speakers
  • Danny TseDanny Tse Posts: 5,180
    edited July 2008
    Excellent review!! Thanks for your effort.

    Regarding the CD version of "Time Out", is this the latest remastered CD version? If it is, then it's also HDCD-encoded. Unfortunately, neither the packaging nor the disc mentioned this. Of course, you'll need a HDCD compatible CD player to decode the HDCD processing. The hybrid SACD version of "Time Out" contains the HDCD-encoded CD version of its CD layer....

    586139418_970f2c8364.jpg
  • DarqueKnightDarqueKnight Posts: 6,129
    edited July 2008
    My Time Out SACD only has an SACD layer. The catlog # is CS 65122.

    My Time Out CD has a CD and an HDCD layer. The catalog # is CK 65122.

    I did not listen to the HDCD layer of the CD. I listened to the CD layer upsampled to 192K. In every HDCD I own, the upsampled CD layer sounded better than the HDCD layer. I will go back and edit the review to mention this.
    "So hot it burns Mice!"~DK
    "Polk SDA-SRSs are hopelessly out of date both sonically and technologically... I see no value whatsoever in older SDA speakers."~Audio Asylum Member
    "Knowledge, without understanding, is a path to failure."~DK
    "Those who irrationally rail against something or someone that is no threat to them, actually desire (or desire to be like) the thing or person they are railing against."~DK
  • F1nutF1nut Posts: 38,309
    edited July 2008
    I was wondering where you've been. I should have known. :)

    Nice write up, as usual.

    SACD is a great format. It's too bad we're getting screwed out of it. Sony, are you reading this???
    Political Correctness'.........defined

    "A doctrine fostered by a delusional, illogical minority and rabidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a t-u-r-d by the clean end."


  • dorokusaidorokusai Posts: 25,100
    edited July 2008
    F1nut wrote: »
    Sony, are you reading this???

    I know it was rhetorical but NO, they are not reading this.
  • DarqueKnightDarqueKnight Posts: 6,129
    edited July 2008
    ...and if they were reading this they wouldn't care.:(
    "So hot it burns Mice!"~DK
    "Polk SDA-SRSs are hopelessly out of date both sonically and technologically... I see no value whatsoever in older SDA speakers."~Audio Asylum Member
    "Knowledge, without understanding, is a path to failure."~DK
    "Those who irrationally rail against something or someone that is no threat to them, actually desire (or desire to be like) the thing or person they are railing against."~DK
  • janmikejanmike Posts: 6,158
    edited July 2008
    Very nice elaborate review. I always enjoy reading your dissertations, I mean reviews. :)
    Michael ;)
    In the beginning, all knowledge was new!

    NORTH of 60°
  • schwarcwschwarcw Posts: 7,125
    edited July 2008
    Thanks for the articulate and informative post. My experiences are similiar in that you can get surprised by what should sound better sometimes doesn't, and yes a good CD can sound better than the vinyl or SACD versions of the same material. I need to get "Head Hunters" on SACD. I owned it on vinyl years ago but it's long gone:(

    Thanks for sharing the info about the art work. I'm going to look at it carefully. I enjoy sculpture more than paint, but I do like a good painting. Hopefully, I will never see Mark in a painting posed as he described. Shame on you!:D:D;)
    Carl

  • SystemSystem Posts: 14,993
    edited July 2008
    Excellent writeup.
  • steveinazsteveinaz Posts: 17,874
    edited July 2008
    Very interesting, thanks man. I wish SACD could make some in-roads, I'd be all over it.
    Source: Oppo BDP-103/USB HDD | Preamp/DAC: Benchmark DAC2L | Power Amp: Parasound HCA-1500A | Speakers: PSB Imagine T2 | Cables: Kimber Hero/8TC; DH Labs D-75 | AC Power: Panamax M5300-PM
  • amulfordamulford Posts: 5,198
    edited July 2008
    Yeah, it's a shame, because it is an excellent format. I'm kinda good w/ it, because alot of the titles are classical, and I dig classical
    I smell ****, burning ****, glowing cherry red spanked ****.

    RT1
  • steveinazsteveinaz Posts: 17,874
    edited July 2008
    I was hoping the acceptance of BluRay would focus new light on SACD...
    Source: Oppo BDP-103/USB HDD | Preamp/DAC: Benchmark DAC2L | Power Amp: Parasound HCA-1500A | Speakers: PSB Imagine T2 | Cables: Kimber Hero/8TC; DH Labs D-75 | AC Power: Panamax M5300-PM
  • billbillwbillbillw Posts: 5,673
    edited July 2008
    I'm not at all surprised that you feel the Elton John SACDs are some of the best recordings you've heard. I've used a few of them as my reference for the last few years.

    FYI: You can still get some of the Elton SACDs through yourmusic.com for very cheap.
    Main 2-ch:
    Sony SS-M9; LSA Statement Amplifier; VPI HW-19 Mk3/Sumiko Premier FT-4/Audio Technica AT15SA; Pass Labs DIY Pearl Phono; Sony SCD-C333ES SACD Changer; TEAC UD-301 DAC; Dell/WYSE 5010 (running Daphile); Sony ST-SA5ES Tuner; Nanotec Golden Strada speaker cables (SR+#79 Shotgun); Audioquest Coral interconnects
  • Danny TseDanny Tse Posts: 5,180
    edited July 2008
    schwarcw wrote: »
    I need to get "Head Hunters" on SACD.

    "Head Hunters" was re-released as a hybrid SACD last year by Japan Sony Music.
    steveinaz wrote: »
    I was hoping the acceptance of BluRay would focus new light on SACD...

    I believe Denon has publicly stated that it will produce a Blu-ray/SACD/CD player by end of this year. However, with the sale of D&M Holdings....
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