Three Years Working with DSD/SACD Recordings

by | Nov 1, 2004 | Special Features | 0 comments

Three Years Working with DSD/SACD Recordings

I was fortunate to be living and working in Holland when Philips started to look for record labels for promoting their newest technology for DSD recordings. In June of 2001, Philips asked if they could set up a parallel recording room during my recording with Pieter Wispelwey and the Saint Saen cello concerto in Bremen Germany. We recorded on two complete systems. It is one thing to develop a new technology for the consumer and make SACD players, it is another world and even more important to make software (CD’s) available. This recording – CCS SA 16502 was released in February of 2002 and was the first commercial hybrid SACD on the market.

The first thing that comes to mind when listening to SACD recordings (either stereo or 5.0 – I do not use the sub woofer channel ) is one of being more emotionally involved with the music. Yes we can speak about more clarity, depth, spatial transparency coming from the speakers, but to me it all comes down to not having the recording technique being in the way of the music. The music comes first.

At recording sessions, the important steps for me is to first create the stereo balance. If this is right then the multichannel setup is very easy in comparison! For the three extra speakers one uses three microphones (these also go directly to the converters and not through any mixing desk). Setting the surround channel microphones is dependent on the hall, the type of ensemble playing and the reflections. In multichannel the challenge is to recreate the hall that one is recording in. A good sounding hall with it’s first reflections and ambience is what we are always trying to capture in the right proportions with our microphones. When sitting in the hall, one is not conscious of these reflections coming to you as a listener. And so it should be when listening to multichannel at home. The musicians are still in front of you and you will only notice the surround speakers if switching to stereo. I am a little jealous of popular music producers who have no restrictions on how to use their 6 channels!

Having played in orchestras myself for years I have developed a sense of sound imagery that could be deemed as very personal. Of course during sessions I create the sound together with the musicians, and everyone has their preference. But listening back to my recordings from the last number of years, one could say I am sitting in the 10th row and not the 20th. I want to feel the dynamics, the energy. If this means hearing some breathing, or keys of the woodwinds, then is that also a part of the music. It remains a balance between direct sound and the ambience of the hall and everyone has their own taste and involvement.

The only part of the chain I have no control over is how the listener has his setup at home. I have not re-released older recordings on SACD because I do not want to confuse Channel Classics listeners about what they are getting. Since the first release, we have only recorded new recordings direct to hard disc in DSD. The PCM layer being made from the downsampling of DSD stereo masters. There has been a good deal of misuse of the term DSD in confusing consumers. Because the last process (like the DDD of PCM) is DSD for playback, people are being confused in thinking that the front end (the recording) is also recorded in this medium. Many labels are releasing SACDs where one has to look very carefully (if one is told at all) to find that the recording has not been originally recorded using DSD sampling.

There is still a great deal of work to be done on the technical side of recording with SACD, especially in more flexibility of external software and compatibility with other systems. If one looks at the development of the PCM CD, it has been 30 years on the market and is still being improved! There is no way back for me, even with all the long nights yelling due to software crashing (all in the life of beta testing!), but it is all worth the efforts when one hears the results…

— Jared Sacks
Producer/recording engineer/founder
Channel Classics Records

[Be sure to register for our giveaway this month of a dozen Channel Classics SACDs to AUDIOPHILE AUDITION readers! See home page.]

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