Monster Cable has released a couple of their own CDs in the past, but are now back in the recorded music software business in a big way with their new double-disc combo DVD & CD packages. This one is the first of the initial five we have auditioned so far. Feeling that there are too many problems with the compatibility of DualDiscs, Monster has opted for a separate DVD which can be either entirely audio or include video concert footage, plus a separate standard stereo CD for playing in any CD player including computers, portables and car systems. The cost will be somewhat higher than most hi-res discs.
Some very logical and clever thinking has gone into Noel Lee’s new SuperDisc project. His intent is to promote SSfM (Surround Sound for Music) to a wider audience than it’s been getting at present, and that has our full support here at Audiophile Audition since that’s what we’ve been doing for many years now! He found that dealers usually didn’t have proper surround sound demos set up for SACD or DVD-Audio, so the general public didn’t know about it. Also, the requirement for six separate analog cables from the hi-res players to preamp or receiver was too complicated for most people. [Denon, Sony, Integra and others now have single i.Link connections for that but it is admittedly a niche sort of thing.] He also felt consumers were confused by requiring a different type of DVD player to handle DVD-A discs and that the two hi-res formats “didn’t support multichannel music with up-to-date releases.” [True of DVD-As but I must disagree in regards to SACDs. At least in the classical area they are doing very well supporting new releases!]
“The failure of surround sound music has been the lack of the ability to demonstrate,” says the Head Monster. Right on. Lee also complained of most multichannel mixes putting little information on the surround channels, which problem he has addressed in the SuperDiscs. So it was decided to use neither DualDisc, DVD-Audio or SACD on the SuperDiscs, but instead to provide a surround sound experience which could be accessed by everyone with a DVD player, and even those without a surround speaker system could get a pseudo-surround experience by downloading the computer music files on each disc, which are encoded with Dolby Headphone processing. The timing is propitious because both DTS and Dolby have upped the sampling rates of their codecs not long ago and both now can often achieve an improved transparency with music. Finally, for steadfast two-channel audiophiles, the SuperDiscs provide a 96K/24-bit hi-res uncompressed PCM stereo mix of the music, similar to the few DADs which were issued by Classic Records (and qualifying the SuperDiscs to be truly called hi-res) .
The SuperDiscs feature a number of video extras even when they are strictly audio albums without concert footage. I found these accessible both on my computer CD/DVD-ROM drive and in my Integra DVD player. Noel Lee speaks to us onscreen about the discs’ various features and what gear is required to enjoy them; also on how the discs were mixed in production. There are tips on getting the best performance out of your home theater, and the THX Optimizer tests for both video and audio are included. When played on a standard DVD player, at the bottom of the Song List are four choices for different mixes, similar to the options which have been provided on most of the Aix Records DVD-As. After you select DTS (the default is Dolby if you don’t make use of an onscreen display) you can select either stereo, front row surround, on stage surround, or on stage jazz club surround. The liner notes also say you can use the audio or angle buttons on your remote control to select among these various mixes while the DVD is playing, but I wasn’t able to replicate that with the Integra uni player – having to use the select button on the remote while the options displayed on the screen.
The computer audio files are an innovation on the disc. The Charlie Brown disc has four folders in the WMA folder, covering the three surround mixes plus the stereo mix. In the AAC folder only the on stage jazz club option had files in it. They were encoded at the least data-reduced rate of 320 kbps for best quality, rather than the 128 kbps used on most iPods. The publicity states that Apple Lossless tracks are also provided, but I could find none on this disc. Using the headphone output of my Onkyo SE-U55 D-A processor and my iMac I listened to the various audio files with Grado SR-80 headphones. I heard little difference between the WMA and AAC files and I also heard little difference between the three different surround sound mixes. Perhaps the reason is that this album was not recorded for multichannel to begin with, so the surround channels even on normal DVD home theater playback are probably synthesized or derived from difference information in the two-channel signal. (The other recent SuperDiscs boast a much stronger surround soundfield.) When I switched to the stereo mix I did hear a difference – an improvement of clarity and detail. In fact, this same Vince Guaraldi album was reissued as a stereo SACD by Fantasy, and we reviewed it some time ago. It’s about equal sonically to the 96K stereo mix on this SuperDisc.
Oh yes, the Charlie Brown album: It’s a dozen by now pretty familiar selections from Guaraldi’s original music and arrangements for the first Peanuts TV animation of Christmas 1965 for CBS-TV, and repeated every year since. It’s simple and direct though often swinging music with nothing fancy going on but a good feeling throughout. The original tune Linus and Lucy will be known to most ears. A somewhat off-key kids chorus comes in on the closing Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Seeing as how this is a DVD, it’s too bad a short excerpt from the TV animation couldn’t be included on the disc.
– John Sunier