dimanche 27 décembre 2009

SACD vs XRCD: le surprenant choix de Joe Harley

Lorsque vient le temps de servir le monde audiophile, les étiquettes spécialisées (Analogue Productions, Mobile Fidelity, Audio Wave, Sundazed, etc.) ont le choix des formats: vinyle 45-tours 180g et 200g, SACD, DVD-A, DAD, HDCD, FLAC et WAVES 24/96, etc.

Moins mentionné est le format XRCD, qui n'est pas en soi un format mais un procédé de mastérisation, lequel finit dans le format habituel du CD redbook (16/44.1) tant décrié par la gente audiophile.

Sauf que... sauf que dans ses nouvelles rééditions digitales de classiques de jazz Blue Note, AudioWave, qui vend par le biais du détaillant Elusive Disc a rejeté le format SACD, au profit de la magie de l'ingénieur au mastering Alan Yoshida sur le format XRCD. Choix d'autant plus surprenant que le format XRCD est plus coûteux que le SACD à la production... tout en offrant moins de résolution et en ne permettant pas le multi-couches.

Explication de Joe Harley, le maître d'oeuvre de ces rééditions?
You know....I've kind of avoided talking about SACD but what the hell. I've produced many SACDs...30+ easily. I know the format like the back of my hand. My own feeling is that what you get on the original hard drive with DSD is pretty much unimpeachable. It's damn good. BUT...something goes wacky when you bounce it down for production. I've noticed this for years...and I know some very smart people have tried to fix it. To my ears, the final SACD always sounds a bit "mechanical" for lack of a better word, certainly compared to the hard drive.
XRCD's, as mastered by Yoshida, never have this slightly artificial quality IMO. They have a naturalness and ease that is very appealing and true to the tonal balance on the master tapes. Someone here speculated that we went with XRCD due to some added "license see" with SACD. No. In fact it would have been considerably less expense to make SACDs. The decision to do these transfers with XRCD was an informed one.

That pretty much sums up my feelings on SACD/XRCD. Ed Meitner, Tom Jung, Michael Bishop at Telarc....we've all heard this thing that happens once you bounce the data from the hard drive. I'm not knowledgeable enough on high speed digital theory to know how to even start addressing this issue....but these guys, especially Ed Meitner, are. To the best of my knowledge, no one has really solved this yet.
I recall doing a session at Bearsville NY...it might have been the Ronnie Earl and Friends sessions ("friends” being Levon Helm, James Cotton, Irma Thomas, Kim Wilson) where we were recording direct to DSD. We'd listen to the tracks off the hard drive and just be in awe. When the hard drive was full and we had to bounce to an AIT tape and played back, the whole band goes "what just happened??" It was that obvious.
Anyway, sorry for the diversion, but it got me thinking about my experiences mastering with Alan Yoshida and how the results ALWAYS impressed me for being SO close to the analog experience. As many others have mentioned, there are XRCD mastered by Alan Yoshida and there are XRCDs mastered by....let's just say "others". As with everything related to mastering, the driver of the car is far more important to the finished result than the particular engine being used.
SACD and XRCD are just tools. The guy using the tools is still, in my opinion, the key ingredient.
Think about it. I have a very good SACD/CD player, the latest Ayre CX-5eMP. I have SACDs that sound beautiful and I have SACDs the absolutely suck.

I have XRCDs that sound utterly amazing and I have XRCDs that suck.
The decision to use Alan Yoshida and use the XRCD process was simply that I find it, at this time, to be the most predictable way of getting the results that we (our team) want.
Hope this helps. If someone says "come hell or high water I'll only accept SACD" that's fine. Nothing I say will matter anyway.

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