I compared SACD to DTS and was surprised

QuadraphonicQuad

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LuvMyQuad

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As some of you might know I have been ripping my music collection to network storage recently. There are reasonable solutions available for ripping virtually all high definition formats with the exception of SACD. To be able to rip SACD requires a modified PS-3 and a significant amount of know-how, neither of which I currently possess.

Of the SACD’s I own and wanted on the NAS most, were my multichannel Elton John and Billy Joel albums. I got excited to learn from a friend that he had PS-3 backups of some of these disks, and that he had no problem making me copies to load onto my NAS. I was a bit disappointed once I found out that the copies he actually had were only DTS transfers. In essence, they were DTS CD’s down sampled from the original recordings. When converted to flac, the files were only 16/44.1, just like a redbook CD, but with 6 channels. I considered discarding them and consigning myself to having to dig out the actual disks whenever I wanted to listen to this music. But since I already had these DTS transfers, I thought it might be interesting to have a listen and compare them directly to the SACD versions from which they came.

To me, only something that switches to allow for an A/B comparison works for this kind of thing. My auditory memory is much too short to attempt a comparison without mid-song switching. I have done this kind of comparison many times using LP’s and digital sources of the same music in trying to discern analog vs digital “sound”. For this comparison I would be switching back and forth between the 1 bit, 2.4mHz SACD stream as reproduced by my Oppo BDP-83 SE and the 16/44.1 kHz flac stream supplied by the QNAP NAS. I used the Oppo’s internal D/A converter and listened through its 5.1 analog outputs. For the NAS stream, the signal was decoded by my Emotiva pre pro. Although both streams used the same equipment from the analog preamp stages through the speakers, there is a difference between the two D/A conversion streams, but it is the only way I have to accomplish an A/B test. Besides, I fully expected the difference in formats to dwarf the difference in D/A conversion performance. I set up preliminary volume trims as close as I could by ear (there was an 8 dB difference) and set one source about 20 seconds ahead of the other and then let it all fly, swapping back and forth between the two sources at will. I chose only a pair of songs to focus on, namely, “Honky Cat” by Elton John and “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” by Billy Joel. I A/B’d each song about 4-5 times, with an emphasis on certain passages.

So, on to the big reveal. Did I hear a difference between the two streams? Yes I believe I did. Was the difference between the two streams dramatic? I would have to say no, or at least much less than I expected. I will try to explain my findings.

In nearly all instances the differences I heard were limited to subtle changes in detail and tiny changes in image quality. And all favored the true SACD playback. Voices and instruments sounded slightly more real. It was much like a comparison of early solid state to a good tube component back in the days of LP, only much less pronounced than those comparisons would often reveal. In those evaluations the tubes would typically produce a less grainy sound. I did not hear differences in the overall tonal balance nor did I hear any additional distortion that would sometimes manifest itself with tube equipment. Just a tiny bit less grain, and a tiny bit less sheen. Imaging with the SACD also seemed a bit more precise, though there were times when I could not detect this and the two streams seemed to image the same. Still, overall I came away with the impression that the SACD was able to better project sound from a point in space. But still these imaging difference were very minimal and not always constant.

Just to be sure, I repeated the testing with volume levels adjusted so the NAS had a bit more advantage by giving it +1 db additional volume. My conclusion was the same. As long as I stayed focused on the quality I was listening for, the SACD sounded ever so slightly better in spite of the reduced volume.

Now, I do feel I need to qualify all of this. The truth is, if I had not been able to A/B the two sources and had to rely on my auditory memory, I would have said they sounded identical. It took a lot of focus and repeated listening to isolate the differences in sound I believe I heard. This is not typically the kind of thing I do when listening to music for pleasure. Had the sound reproduced by the lowly DTS transfers been the only choice available (ie: if I thought it was the SACD from the start), I would have been perfectly happy with it. I never would have questioned it. It’s not like I could have said, “this doesn’t sound as good as an SACD should”. In the overall scheme of things, these differences were easily dwarfed by the difference you might hear by swapping out a component in the signal chain, and far far less than you might hear when changing out speaker systems or taking steps to improve your room response. For all I know, some or all of it could be due to the differences in D/A conversion that was applied. I also have no knowledge of the transfer details involved in processing the SACD stream into a DTS stream. What I am saying is, without the ability to directly A/B the two sources in quick succession and being able to repeat the same 10 second sound snippets, I would never have detected any difference at all. They were that close. This is in spite of my expectation bias where I fully expected the SACD playback to trounce the DTS transfers in many respects. Remember, I nearly tossed the DTS transfers without even listening to them.

This all gave me a different outlook regarding why I have always felt that DVDA and Bluray seemed to sound more satisfying to me than SACD. To me SACD sounds much like redbook CD. For me, SACD’s biggest advantage was it supported multichannel sound, not that it sounded any better in terms of absolute fidelity.

Anyway, your mileage may vary on this, and for many of you I’m sure it will. Needless to say, I’m no longer considering tossing those DTS transfers. They are on the NAS to stay.
 

Kal Rubinson

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If you are comparing the formats based only on old archival sources, the outcomes depend entirely on how the files are created and not so much on the format. Pigs' ears and all that.
 

LuvMyQuad

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Kal, I'm not sure what you mean by "old archival sources". One source was commercial SACD disks that I have had for years. The other was a transfer of those disks to DTS, which I admittedly do not know the history of.
 

0tto

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i guess Kal meant way how the copy from SACD was made.
it was direct rip to .iso by PS3 or analog recording through sound capture card to HDD.
in any case conversion to DTS indeed has significant impact not on the image but on sound fidelity,
particularly if lots of natural acoustic elements involved into recording.
 

Kal Rubinson

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Kal, I'm not sure what you mean by "old archival sources". One source was commercial SACD disks that I have had for years. The other was a transfer of those disks to DTS, which I admittedly do not know the history of.

AFAIK, neither "Elton John and Billy Joel albums" made any multichannel or SACD originals.
 

LuvMyQuad

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i guess Kal meant way how the copy from SACD was made.
it was direct rip to .iso by PS3 or analog recording through sound capture card to HDD.
in any case conversion to DTS indeed has significant impact not on the image but on sound fidelity,
particularly if lots of natural acoustic elements involved into recording.

Well it is multi-tracked rock, so I agree it is probably not the best example of natural acoustic elements to judge with... but it is the music I'm interested in. And again I don't know how the DTS stream was converted. I guess the thing I'm questioning is what is being called significant impact. I think there is no doubt there is a difference. But I've heard much bigger differences between 24/96 DVDA and lossy DTS streams for sure, but listening to an SACD converted to DTS for me is a first. And my initial conclusion is that the audible differences are subtle at best.
 

quicksrt

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AFAIK, neither "Elton John and Billy Joel albums" made any multichannel or SACD originals.

Billy Joel did make some albums with multi-channel mixes released during the original quad era. These would be considered originals.
 

LuvMyQuad

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AFAIK, neither "Elton John and Billy Joel albums" made any multichannel or SACD originals.

I think what Kal is getting at is, there are no Elton John or Billy Joel recordings that started life as being recorded in DSD. All of the released multichannel recordings from these artists come from analog multitrack recordings. As opposed to a recording that might be recorded in DSD from the start with its hi-def data stream preserved and stored on a SACD. Correct me if I'm misunderstanding your meaning, Kal.

So following the thought process a bit further, a recording which began as DSD would be much less sympathetic to a down conversion to DTS. Yes? That makes sense to me. But my point is, with the recordings I mentioned, the down conversion from DSD to low res DTS seemed to do very little damage.
 

Kal Rubinson

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What I am saying is that the results of conversion, mastering and formatting of the analog originals to digital multichannel is as dependent on the skills and processing of the people doing the work as it is on the format in which it ends up.
 

holland123

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At low or even mid volumes there may only be small differences, but turn up gain to at or near live listening levels and HUGE sonic differences become woefully apparent between original SACD release and a DTS copy. differences are even greater with DVDA and DTS.
 

quadsearcher

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At low or even mid volumes there may only be small differences, but turn up gain to at or near live listening levels and HUGE sonic differences become woefully apparent between original SACD release and a DTS copy. differences are even greater with DVDA and DTS.

Exactly my experience.
 

4-earredwonder

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At low or even mid volumes there may only be small differences, but turn up gain to at or near live listening levels and HUGE sonic differences become woefully apparent between original SACD release and a DTS copy. differences are even greater with DVDA and DTS.

DTS was somewhat revolutionary in the very late 90's and certainly was sonically superior to DD 5.1 but as soon as DVD~A/SACD entered the picture, both formats VERY comfortably eclipsed LOSSY DTS. With the advent of BD~V, DTS introduced DTS HD Master Audio 5.1...a lossless format FOR A REASON. It was superior in every respect to LOSSY DTS.

I REALLY, REALLY wish that all current 5.1 remixes would honor the refined and significantly improved LOSSLESS formats by eliminating LOSSY DTS 5.1 from their releases. It was OF ITS TIME and is NO LONGER RELEVANT. NUFF said!
 
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