30 Hi-Res Reviews - May 2003,
Pt. 1 of 3 - Rock & Pop - SACD and DVD-A
click on any cover to go to review

To start off our May Hi-Res section, we have some pertinent qoutes from C. Jared Sacks, producer and recording engineer for the Channel Classics label based in Amsterdam:

How does one describe the difference in sound quality between normal CD and SACD? It is not just a difference between sampling the sound 44 thousand times a second to 2.8 million. To me, listening in SACD stereo immediately gives that feeling of openness. Depth of sound. The total clarity of the instruments. And of course the large dynamic range. The music is not a block of sound from the speakers but it seems to be there without being able to touch it.

For those of you who have multichannel, the sensation of sitting in the concert hall can now be experienced. There are no rules for creating multichannel recordings but my goal has been to reproduce the acoustic characteristics of the performance space. To create the feeling of sitting in the fourth row. One is not conscious of the surround speakers (only by switching them off would you immediately hear the effect). SACD multichannel creates more emotion in the music - no matter where you sit - because it is not necessary to sit in the hot spot (middle of the triangle from your speakers) to experience this 'emotion.' Many important labels from around the world are all beginning to produce their own SACD recordings. In another year SACD will become standard for most quality labels in all genres!

The Persuasions Sing the Beatles - Chesky Records multichannel SACD244:

What a kick in the pants this is! The original CD release already gets plenty of attention at show demos, but now with the addition of the original un-bitmapped DSD reproduction plus four-channel surround we have a hi-res demo that should captivate a wide variety of listeners. This is one of the world’s longtime best doo wop quartets, doing an entirely a cappella homage to 14 of the Beatles’ best songs. Like Bach, the Lennon-McCartney tunes lend themselves to almost any sort of transcription, but these versions are so successful many may end up preferring them to the original Beatles versions! This session was planned as an R & B Retrospective but along the way the idea of doing all Beatles tunes came up. The Persuasions do some of them fairly straight, but the more complex tunes like Come Together become ear-stretching “voicescapes.” The presence and realism of the four voices is almost uncanny. Jim, Jerry, Ray and Jayotis are really right there in front of you - unless your system is seriously handicapped! Yesterday I wouldn’t have Imagined this disc could Come Together so much better on SACD - Ob La Di, Ob La Da - I could listen to this Eight Days a Week even though I don’t like doo wop! From Me to You, Don’t Let Me Down but get out (or on) and pick one up in honor of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Persuasions! Purchase Here

- John Sunier

JORMA KAUKONEN – Blue Country Heart – Columbia multichannel SACD CS 86394:

This is a stereo/multi-channel SACD of Jorma Kaukonen's 2002 album Blue Country Heart. Jorma was one of the founding members of The Jefferson Airplane. This was one of the more pleasurable albums I have had a chance to review. He is a guitar player, singer and songwriter. The music is bluegrass with a strong tinge of blues. The sound is first rate and the instrumental playing is near perfect. The instruments are rendered with presence and definition. The surround is well done, keeping Jorma’s voice firmly in the front channels. Some of the accompanying instruments are in the rear channels, but it does not take away from the music. In fact it adds a nice immersion factor for the listener. I have only heard one of the songs on the album before, that is “Just Because”. I enjoyed every song on the album however. The stereo layer is a little rolled off sounding. Transients seemed to be dulled a little and dynamics lessened. You also lose most of the ambient feel of the album. This is one disc that I will come back to just for the enjoyment of the music. I highly recommend this disc for both musical quality and sound. Purchase Here

- Clay Swartz

Richard Thompson – Rumor and Sigh – Capitol DVD-A 72434-77932-9-5:

This is a DVD-A reissue of the 1991 Richard Thompson album “Rumor and Sigh”. Richard Thompson is known as a triple-threat musician. He is an accomplished singer, songwriter and guitarist. He was one of the founding members of the British folk rock band Fairport Convention. He has never received super-star recognition, but has a very strong following of fans. I would describe the music on this album as folk/pop/rock. The music is very pleasant and easy to listen to. The surround mix puts you in the middle of the band with Richard in the front channels. Most of the other instruments and backup vocals are in the surround channels. This mix, although unrealistic, does not destroy the music as much as some surround mixes do. The guitar playing is very strong.

The disc can be played with DVD-A stereo or multichannel, Dolby Digital or DTS. The DVD-A stereo produces a much more concert feeling, but lacks a feeling of space of the multichannel. The DTS sound is not as dynamic or crisp by a small margin. It does lessen the amount of stuff in the rear channels, which some may prefer. The Dolby Digital sound is very dead and sounds like elevator music. Two music videos are included on the disc. They are I Feel So Good and I Understand. The sound quality of the videos is deadly dull and picture quality is mediocre. Also included are a biography, discography and web links. I do not have the CD to compare the sound with, but I expect that the DVD-A sound is better. It would take a very good sounding CD to sound better than this disc. The sound is however not up to the level of a good SACD. Whether or not you should buy this disc will depend on how you feel about this type of mix and how important the music on this disc is to you. It is nice that most DVD-A manufactures are putting out discs can also be played on DVD-V players. Purchase Here

- Clay Swartz

Keb Mo – Just Like You – Stereo/ Multichannel SACD Okeh/Epic ES 67316:

This is a SACD issue of Keb Mo’s second album, released in 1996. This album is a departure from the straightforward Delta Blues, of his first album. He uses much more accompaniment than on the first album. Rock and pop influences begin showing up. The music on the album is very likeable and has enough variation to keep you from getting bored. Some blues enthusiasts may prefer that he stick to the traditional blues of his first album, which is a really great album. This album probably will increase the non-blues listeners that listen to his music. The Multichannel SACD sound is very good, though not stellar. Keb’s voice is well reproduced and has a nice sense of presence. His guitar is well recorded and remains in the front channels, except on track 2 which sounds like it was mixed equally in each channel. This gives a weird image of the guitar being in a nebulous area in front of Keb. The accompaniment is heavily mixed in the surround channels. Though not at all realistic for a concert, it does not harm the music too much. The bass is tight but not overly-detailed. The recording has adequate punch. Highs are not quiet audiophile, but pretty well done. The stereo SACD layer may be more to the liking of most audiophiles. It presents a much more realistic concert sound. It is also is a little crisper sounding, with better balance between the players. This album is well worth owning for both music and sound. Purchase Here
- Clay Swartz

Joe Satriani – Strange Beautiful Music – Epic ES86294 Stereo/Multichannel SACD:

Joe Satriani is a true master guitarist. This album was released in 2002. The sound quality is quiet good, with the main instruments staying put in the front channels. The surrounds are heavily mixed in, but if you are in the sweet spot of your surround system the main image still remains in front channels. Much movement toward the rear or side channels can shift the image toward the nearest surround speaker. There is an adequate presentation of a rock concert and a fair sense of life in the recording. I feel the bass impact should have been a little stronger. Satriani’s guitar lacks some of the instrumental detail that audiophiles crave. Part of this is the use of an electric guitar does not have the string detail of an acoustic guitar. This is definitely a guitar rock album. I find this a very uneven album musically; he seems to be trying too hard to show the tricks he can do with a guitar. I feel the music suffers from this on most of the cuts. This is a similar feeling as my feelings about people that over-sing songs, to show off their voices. There are a couple of songs that I can get off on: The songs Chords of Life and Sleep Walk are very nice. If more of the songs were like this, I would be more likely to give this album future play time. When I switched to stereo SACD, I was surprised to find the sound got better. There was a much better front image and there was an increase in detail and listenability. There was less sense of power and dynamics in stereo, but it is a trade I would eagerly make. The stereo layer had a much airier presentation. I did not realize how heavily oppressive the surround mix was before I listened to the stereo mix. Purchase Here

- Clay Swartz

Linkin Park – Reanimation – Warner Brothers DVD-A 9 48326-9:

I went in the reviewing of this disc with great trepidation. I would classify the music as Rap meets Industrial Rock. I like some Industrial Rock but I will admit that I do not like rap music at all. I feel that who ever named this class of music could not spell very well, and left of a letter at the beginning of the word. If the album did not have some strong points, I would have just not bothered. The sound quality is very good. This is surprising considering it is 48 MHz 24 bit. The use of sound clips is very creative. The use of the surround channels is some of the strongest I have heard. With this type of music the need for a strong front channel is not that important. Much of the music is made of sound clips. I actually started to get into a number of tracks before the rapping started. The bass is deep and tight. A well-recorded piano appears on several tracks. For the regular singing on a few tracks it is pretty decent. I must admit that any time the rapping started, I felt like hitting next track button.

The disc can be play in 48/24 surround, 44/24 stereo or Dolby digital on a DVD-V player. The disc defaults to DVD-A on a DVD-A player, and you can chose stereo or surround. The stereo is very wimpy-sounding. I probably will not play this disc except for a surround or bass demo. There are three videos included on the disc. The animated computer video of Pts. Of Athrty is very creative in a Heavy Metal graphic sort of way. I enjoyed watching the dancing on Kyur4 th Ich. The third video is also animated but rather crude. If you like this kind of music, this could be a disc to buy. Purchase Here

- Clay Swartz

Triathlon, Through the Eyes of the Elite - Original music from the film composed and performed by Peter Buffett - BisonHead Records DVD-Audio & video (in a standard DVD video box, no number):

Triathlon was a feature documentary on the now-Olympic-level sport combining in a continuous stretch running, cycling and swimming. Buffett created the entire soundtrack on synthesizer with some added guitar and bass. This disc is claimed to be the first DVD-Audio devoted to an original soundtrack. (Perhaps it came out prior to the Koyanaanisqatsi DVD-A soundtrack.) In addition to the DVD-A and Dolby Digital 5.1 options it is supposed to include DTS, but I was unable to access that track.

However, it does have a real first in my experience - that is that while listening to the aggressively spatial DVD-Audio track of the 13 music cues you can select the video (marked DD & DTS) and view different full-motion video abstract art for each of the selections. I haven’t seen any other DVD-A with motion video; the most you usually get is a still image of something - which with a film such as Koyanaanisqatsi can be frustratingly limiting. The images are your usual trippy video squiggles, but perfectly synchronized to the synthesized music surround you. So it’s a perfect combo of synthesized music and synthesized images.

Tracks: Bullroar, Aquamarine, Drip, Touch the Clouds, Race Day, Spin Cycle, Get Ahold of Yourself, All the Time You Need, Back Draft, Coming Home, Reversal of Fortune, Looking Back, Escape Velocity.

- John Sunier

Charlie Musselwhite - Up and Down the Highway, Live 1986 (with Bob Hall, piano; Dave Peabody, guitar) - Silverline Records DVD-A 288134-9:

The notes don’t say where blues harmonicist and vocalist Musselwhite recorded this album in l986, but it was great audience and he was obviously hot that night. I’m not heavily into blues but if there’s some good ‘harp in it I’ll dig it, and Musselwhite is one of the best on the diminuitive reed instrument. For a trio these performers really kick up a sonic storm, but you can understand every word of the lyrics without a struggle (unlike many blues men). Musselwhite is a bit widely spread in the surround mix, but that seems to be the fashion with most DVD-As for some reason so guess I’ll have to get used to it. Tracks: Hey Miss Bessie, Key to the Highway, Big Leg Woman, Everybody Needs Somebody, Candy Kitchen, Up and Down the Avenue, Need My Baby, Skinny Woman. Purchase Here

- John Henry

****Multichannel fan Brian Moura has created a special non-commercial web site just for other enthusiasts of multichannel Super Audio Discs. If you would like to know exactly what is available in this format both in the U.S. and elsewhere, and what is coming soon, his main page will tell you where you want to go to (scroll down a bit) - with lists for:

Multichannel SACD Albums Now Available
Multichannel SACD Albums - New Releases
Multichannel SACD Albums - Now Available - Only in Europe
Multichannel SACD Albums - Now Available - Only in Japan
Multichannel SACD Albums Coming Soon

Go on to Part 2 of Hi-Res Reviews

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