Project K622 Page 4
First, as I said, the creation of high energies of EHF noise from the A/D noiseshaping is bad engineering practice, but it is essential because DSD is a 1-bit system; it would not have enough dynamic range to reproduce music without noiseshaping. If you want a 1-bit, 64Fs recording system to emulate a 20-bit PCM system between 20Hz and 20kHz as far as noise and linearity are concerned, then the noise has to go somewhere else, and there is a lot of it to try to sweep under the carpet.
Equipment designers have several options as to how to deal with the EHF noise from DSD. If you remove it completely, the problems disappear, but the overall record/replay DSD signal path ends up inferior to hi-rez PCM and not massively better than the 44.1kHz CD format. If you do not do anything about removing DSD's EHF noise, the sound with the right or lucky choice of following amplifier can be very transparent, but some other amplifiers will choke and sound bad, or may even burn out under the pressure.
For studio guys like me, the second consideration about DSD comes down to practicalities. We live in a world of home-computer and network technologies, where 1-bit DSD is out of step. The digital audio world today is full of PCM hardware and software, much of it at very attractive prices and easy to use. DSD technology is generally tweaky and often expensive, and so far not compatible with how multitrack nonclassical material is recorded.
Atkinson: The K622 LP is "pure" analog in that Stan Ricker cut the master from your spliced analog tape. Antony wanted the SACD to be a "pure" SACD. Did you take care to ensure that the workstation used to assemble the DSD master didn't convert the data to high-speed PCM?
Faulkner: Antony's SACD master tape was edited by my friends at Finesplice on their Sonoma editor. It was edited pure DSD—I would have been unhappy to send the recording to someone using a workstation that converted the DSD stream to high-sample-rate PCM for the cross-fades and any other processing. This practice is garbage, in my opinion, and symptomatic of generic problems with the implementation of 1-bit audio in the real world. DSD was sold as "squeaky clean," yet there are digital editors that convert to/from PCM for processing. There are also consumer players that do the same sort of mischief to pure DSD at a lower resolution than the studio editors.
Atkinson: Did you have to adjust your mike technique to allow for LP cutting problems, such as the excessive vertical modulation that can result from the use of spaced omnis?
Faulkner: No, not here. We spread the concerto over two sides, which is luxurious and avoids some of the worries you are talking about. With our forthcoming Green Room LP releases (footnote 1) we are spreading an hour or so of music over four sides intentionally, to minimize the impact of cutting problems in the LP format. Short LP sides mean higher manufacturing cost, but bring big sonic advantages. And while manufacturing LPs is expensive, I love both the expansiveness and freedom of the sound and the expansiveness and freedom of the packaging, which is a luxury after the sawn-off postcard size of CD artwork.
Atkinson: What would you recommend Stereophile readers listen for when comparing these four different digital renditions of the same music?
Faulkner: We all listen for different things. Start with high-frequency transparency, the reproduction of dynamics, soundstage depth. Remember that if you reproduce CD material on SACD and DVD-Audio players, often the replay quality for CDs is not at the same level as a CD-only player in the same price category.
Most important, appreciate the music making on K622—that was what motivated the comparisons. I have my personal preference, but everyone will prioritize the advantages and disadvantages according to their own tastes. You are being asked to choose between a Lexus and a Harley—it is quite possible to enjoy both!
Warm sound, frozen fingers
Once I'd gotten over my awe at working with Robert, Antony, Adrian, Tony, and the Michaelangeli, the three sessions flew by, with me frantically marking up my score during each take, both to ensure that each measure was covered and, more important, that we had a performance in the can. Antony's sweet, rather husky-sounding "pre-war 1010-bore" clarinet was in tune with itself to a much greater degree than the more forceful Rossi instrument he had used for the Mosaic sessions, and this made my role as producer much easier.
More important, Antony was in touch with the music to a degree I have rarely witnessed. He got the Concerto's sublime slow movement—one of the high spots of Western culture—basically down in one take, with just a few touch-up passages required. The sound of the mike feed Tony had captured was to die for, and I spent much of that misty day last November marveling at my good fortune at being able to be involved in such inspired music making.
Tony had burned CD-Rs of the takes for me as we'd gone along, and I uploaded these to my Apple iPod to listen to on the flight home. By the time I'd arrived in New York, I was pretty sure how I would ask Tony to assemble the performances, and was fantasizing about what could lie ahead for the team: the Copland or Finzi concertos, perhaps—or, after I'd had a couple of Glen Morangies, Bernstein's Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs...
So you can understand how shocked I was to learn, when I next spoke to Antony, that the K622 sessions had been his swan song as a clarinetist. I had known about his having a pinched nerve in one of his wrists, but had assumed that, with surgery and physical therapy, the problems he'd had with his fine motor skills were a thing of the past. Sadly, the K622 sessions were Antony's final fight against what had become apparent was going to be an inevitable loss of function.
Antony hasn't given up making music; he has treated himself to a Fazioli grand and has thrown himself into learning to play the piano with the same manic passion he applies to churning out his line of Musical Fidelity products. But K622 marks the end of this particular road.—John Atkinson
How to buy K622
Both the 180gm LP and hybrid SACD versions of K622 are available from our secure "Recordings" page, each priced at $19.97 plus S&H. Enjoy.
Footnote 1: Green Room LPs are available from Acoustic Sounds.