(Thilo Wagner, piano; Jean-Philipe Wadle, doublebass; Florian Herman, drums)
This may be a recording first: the jazz trio thru the three selections on side one of this direct disc twice, than did the same for the three tunes on side two. They then selected the best side of each and that became the master for the direct disc – as George Goebel used to say, “You can’t hardly get them no more.” At the same time a two-channel DSD master was made and that became the SACD, with a downsampled-to-44.1K copy as the CD layer on this hybrid SACD. There are longer-than-usual breaks between the tracks and you hear the trio preparing for the next tune. There’s no stopping on either side between the tracks, and of course no tape to be edited, which results in the optimum fidelity possible. These normal direct disc artifacts are also preserved on the optical disc.
The German trio is thoroughly professional and swings well, but don’t expect Bill Evans-level creativity. The piano is a Fazioli grand, being heard increasingly on recordings (along with Bosendorfer), and way superior to Steinway in the treble end. Since all three formats came from the same exact source at the same time, we have here a fine opportunity to compare the three formats with some enjoyable and familiar music. I don’t think the ability to A/B a SACD with the same material on direct disc has been done before.
I found the CD to be considerably higher in level than either the stereo SACD or direct disc versions, making comparisons a bit more difficult. The SACD layer had a richer piano sound and more “air” around both the piano and drums. The lowest notes of the acoustic bass had more solidity. Track 3 opens with a rather loud figure on the drum set; on the SACD option you could hear more evidence of the volume/size of the drum set than on the CD option. The distinctive timbre of the various drums was also more pronounced.
Switching to the direct disc produced more presence and the doublebass notes were felt even more strongly than on the SACD. The piano had even more “air” around it and the timbre of the different strings was more pronounced. The deepest bass was so strong that I had to reduce the level on my “butt-shaker” transducer mounted in my sofa. Though LPs and phono cartridges lack the separation of digital, I heard no noticeable loss of separation of the three instruments across the sound stage.
After listening extensively to both and switching back and forth, I stopped and carried out a few tweaks on my Integra universal player which I had not previously done. I turned off the video circuitry, I switched to the DVD output – a direct two-channel analog out, rather than the 6-channel out of which I had been using only the front channels. Finally, I zapped the SACD with my MapleShade Ionoclast (a heavy-duty Zerostat) and placed my Marigo Audio Signature Stabilizer Mat on top. I also used my RadioShack sound level meter to more closely match levels.
Repeating the SACD/direct disc comparison, I found the two now almost totally identical. The only hint I had of the direct disc being played was a very slight hiss in quiet sections, due to having the level turned up quite high on the low-level disc, and a couple of places where there was an extraneous noise on the left channel – perhaps due to “horns” on the grooves of the disc receiving its first playing. Considering the vinyl version is a very limited special edition and commands the highest price for a single new LP I have seen, I would recommend the SACD-only version if you have decent two-channel SACD playback. On one of the two-channel-only SACD decks it may very well surpass the sonics of the direct disc, although I realize it’s heresy to say that.
– John Sunier