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In the Forum: Didital Things
In the Thread: Today’s SACD - music for oscilloscopes.
Post Subject: Paul McGowan cries about SACDPosted by Romy the Cat on: 4/1/2010

Paul McGowan, the head of PS Audio send his newsletter with his comments about SACD. The comments are childish and in many way absolutely ignorant. I hate what the industry professionals twist the facts and go into pure falsification in order to boost status quo of their collages and associated partners. But the most I hate when the Morons present objectively wrong information and brash out the opponents with the comments like “they may be correct but they aren’t listening to the music”. What the fuck this hi-fi junky would teach others about listening music!!!? The music that Paul mentions with pride during the Colorado Audio Society gives a very clear indication where he stays.

Perhaps instead of expressing his “reference” but absolutely ignorant opinion about the subjects he is uninformed Mr. McGowan shell concentrate his time on making his own products better – namely to make the PS Audio Power Plant to sound acceptable? Then it might give to Paul some credibility to talk about the subjects where he is less competitive. Anyhow, here is a fragment from Paul McGowan newsletter:

"I happened to be invited to one of the Colorado Audio Society meetings at the facility a few weeks back.  Terri and I came over for the tour before going to dinner with some of our management team and I was so taken with what I saw that not only were we quite late for dinner but it wasn’t long before I was back to discover more.

SAC has been a part of the production of the vast majority of SA-CD’s on the market. The chief wizard behind SAC is a soft spoken, brilliant mastering engineer, Gus Skinas.  Their involvement spans various combinations of recording, editing, mixing, mastering and authoring.  In some cases, SA-CD projects are edited, mastered and authored in the Boulder facility by Gus Skinas. Other times, SAC will work with the great recording and mastering engineers like James Guthrie and Doug Sax by supplying equipment and support as well as editing and authoring services - as was the case with Pink Floyd “Dark Side Of The Moon”, Diana Krall “The Girl In The Other Room”, Aerosmith “Toys In The Attic”,  and Ray Charles “Genius Loves Company”.   Sometimes SAC even produces SA-CD projects from start to finish, for example Anthony Newman / Graham Ashton “Music for Organ, Brass and Timpani” and David Elias “The Window”, both released on SAC’s own Sonoma label.  Lately, Gus has been working together with Steve Hoffman for Acoustic Sounds to release several Nat “King” Cole albums on SA-CD. Some of these SA-CD’s include the original three-track recordings on the multichannel layer, with stereo and mono versions on the stereo layer.

Gus and I have become fast friends and I am now the newest convert to DSD recording.  Not necessarily SA-CD (more on that) but pure DSD done right.  So here’s a little history so we’re all on the same page.

DSD (Direct Stream Digital) is about the closest binary encoded medium to analog ever devised.  It is based on Pulse Density Modulation (PDM) rather than Pulse Code Modulation (PCM) which all CD’s and high-res WAV audio are based on. 

PCM takes snapshots of the analog audio stream and converts each singular snapshot into a number.  That number is a representation of the voltage in the analog signal at that exact moment in time.  When we want to playback the PCM stream we need a decoder (DAC) that can convert the number into a voltage and make playback snapshots appear in the same order we grabbed them during the recording.  This is a pure code/decode system that tries its best to duplicate analog.  It gets reasonably close if we use high sample and bit rates throughout the entire chain, as in 192kHz 24 bit high res audio files.  But, let’s face it, it isn’t analog.

PDM is more like a continual stream of bits that are moving at a rate 60 to 120 times faster than red book CD’s are sampled at and the density or grouping of these bits gets more or less depending on if the voltage in the analog signal is getting higher or lower.  It is really simple, there are no snapshots and coding taking place as we have in PCM.  PDM is so close to analog that you can actually take a PDM stream, run it through a simple low pass filter and listen to it through your preamp.  That isn’t possible with PCM.  PDM became DSD when Sony added some of its great engineering refinements to it.  Both PDM and PCM have been around for about the same amount of time.

SA-CD is basically PDM with a complicated encryption scheme to keep you from copying it.  There’s nothing other than the copy protection scheme that makes SA-CD different than DSD; they are the same thing.

What’s so great about DSD?  It’s analog without even a hint of digital.  The closest thing I can relate it to was in my days in the recording studio where the feed right out of the microphones was just so real it was startling.  DSD captures this analog perfectly.  There’s not even a hint of digital in the stream - it’s truly amazing.

A few of the people I have mentioned this to are a bit skeptical.  They’ve heard SA-CD and know it can vary from good, to great, to bad and everywhere else - just like every other recording.  What I have discovered is that many SA-CD’s suffer from a number of common malady’s including: converted to PCM first, recorded in PCM in the first place (then transferred to SA-CD), poor mastering off the analog tapes, etc.  Even pure DSD masters, done improperly can sound harsh and digital.  Gus told me many times he had to bite his lip as others used the incredible Sonoma DSD recording system to master off an analog tape and played around with EQ, loudness, etc. only to basically destroy what was on the tape in the first place.  Many engineers and mastering people fail to see the world as you and I do: in terms of purity and high-end.

To further confuse the issue, many people hook up an SA-CD player using the digital outputs of the player into their DAC and hear no difference.  OK, that makes perfect sense because there’s no such thing as digital outputs on an SACD player (not legally anyway).  What you get is the PCM layer at 44.1kHz because many SA-CD’s have a dual layer with a standard Red Book version on them.  Lastly, most SA-CD players have Ho Hum non-high-end audio outputs.  You have no choice but to rely on whatever Sony or Philips decides is “high-end”.  Even the impressive Oppo player with its HDMI SA-CD output needs a receiver with the decryption chips and output stages to listen.  How many receivers do you have in your high end system?  Ed Meitner’s beautifully built SACD/DSD products are state of the art but most of us can’t afford them.

When we came out with the PWT/PWD combo we decided against SA-CD because of the digital rights management issues and the restrictive nature of doing things the way Sony demands.  I still stand by that decision, but now understand that the real heart and soul of SA-CD is DSD and DSD is an open format just like WAV.  I am writing this piece to inform the world about DSD and how analog it is.  Compared to high resolution WAV, DSD is clearly better.  Not light years, not thousand shades, but better.  More analog.  The “experts” will wail and gnash their teeth telling you that DSD has higher distortion and more noise than PCM and is a technically inferior format.  They may be correct but they aren’t listening to the music.  I can tell you categorically: DSD needs to stay alive just as high resolution WAV has a permanent place in our lives. 

I know a few of our fellow high-end manufacturers get it: like Ray Kimber who went out and purchased an entire Sonoma recording kit and Meitner DAC setups.  Many of you visiting the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest might have heard some of Ray’s fine recordings.

Over time PS Audio will find a way to support DSD because at PS Audio, the music matters most. "

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