Chesky's 24/96 DVDs & HI-FI '98

"What the heck is that icon trying to tell me?" I had switched on Denon's new DVD-3000 player—a cute "Welcome to DVD World" message scrolled across its display—and put a disc in its drawer. The icon, which looked at best like a Japanese character and at worst like a child's drawing of a house (complete with windows), was lit up in light blue on the display. But the game was given away by the magic words "96kHz 24 bit" illuminated in red below the mysterious icon. For this was no DVD movie, but a test pressing of Chesky's new Super Audio Disc, The Super Audio Collection & Professional Test Disc, which makes use of the DVD-Video specification's provision for including a two-channel, linear-PCM signal encoded with a 96kHz sampling rate and a word depth of up to 24 bits. (Contrary to what you may have read in the popular press, using DVD-Video to carry high-definition sound quality does not introduce a new and incompatible standard.)

The disc features nine tracks from Chesky's recent catalog, all originally recorded by engineers Bob Katz or Barry Wolfson. It also contains test tones assembled by Muse Electronic's Kevin Halverson. Like the first four SAD releases from Classic Records (see "Quarter Notes," Stereophile, March '98, p.169), the disc was "authored" for the DVD-Video medium by Steve Thompson, once with Dolby.

Most of my previous experience of 96/24 sound quality had been with the Classic Records DVDs, which were mastered from analog tapes. However, I also have the 96kHz versions of Stereophile's Rhapsody digital mastertapes, which, courtesy of Canorus and dCS, we were able to record on two Nagra-Ds in parallel with the recorder used for the 44.1kHz/24-bit tapes from which we mastered the CD. And nothing I heard from the new Chesky SAD ran counter to my earlier impressions: that even without surround sound, two-channel 96kHz/24-bit sound quality represents a significant step forward from CD. From the sheer tangibility of the opening double-bass notes on Sara K.'s "Brick House" on the Chesky DVD to the realistic string tone of David Chesky's orchestral Psalm II (Reflection), the higher-resolution digital signal produced a sound more akin to that from good analog or, in fact, from reality, to that you get from CD—even from very good CD.

And this, remember, was from a relatively inexpensive DVD-Video player. While it was operating at 96kHz, even the best digital decoders are noisefloor-limited to at most 19–20-bit performance. I know, of course, what you are thinking: that if 96/24 sounds this good from an integrated DVD-Video player, what would it sound like if the 96/24 datastream was fed to a separate processor with high-end pretensions? That, unfortunately, isn't currently possible. Pressure from the record industry has led DVD manufacturers to concede that the high-resolution digital audio data will not be available outside the box "in the clear," as it is in the CD world. The Denon player's linear-PCM output, for example, is restricted by code on the discs to 48kHz/16-bit data. It will be possible to transfer the 96/24 datastream from one box to another in encrypted form via something like a FireWire link, but at the time of writing that still lies in the future.

Chesky's SAD is scheduled to reach stores in May, and I recommend that those of you with DVD players pick one up. But those who want to hear 96/24 first will also have plenty of opportunities at HI-FI '98, which takes place at the Westin Los Angeles Hotel at LAX from June 12 to 14. In addition to a seminar on the new media, both Classic Records and Chesky will be playing their Super Audio Discs, while PopeMusic will demonstrate surround sound with 96/24 digital resolution. And Sony will not be backward in coming forward to show what their DSD-based Super Audio CD can do. Come to Los Angeles and listen to the sonic future!

As with previous Shows, HI-FI '98 will have a full schedule of seminars and workshops: English reviewer Paul Miller, Stereophile's test & measurement consultant, will show how digital measurements reveal the problems lurking behind the 16-bit/44.1kHz CD standard, and Joe Piccirilli, president of The Academy Advancing High Performance Audio & Video, and Andy Regan, vice president of Meridian America, will talk about the basics of buying and setting up your first high-quality audio system. In addition, Stereophile columnist Lisa Astor will lead a discussion on how the High End shoots itself in the foot with its "Toys for Boys" attitude; High Definition Television authority Joel Brinkley of the New York Times and Stereophile Guide to Home Theater will give his perspective of developments in HDTV; Russ Herschelmann, contributing editor of Stereophile Guide to Home Theater will share his extensive knowledge on how to tune a listening room; designers of analog, amplifiers, and loudspeakers will discuss the art and science behind their creations; and the assembled editors and contributors of both Stereophile and Stereophile Guide to Home Theater will be on hand to answer questions.

And don't forget the real thing: From the time the Show opens at 10am on Friday to the time it closes at 6pm on Sunday, there will be a continuous program of live music, all free of charge to Showgoers.

The 22 concerts include: M•A Recordings, sponsoring Miroslav Tadic and Vlatko Stefanovski; MartinLogan, the Uptown Mandolin Quartet; AudioQuest and Vandersteen, Robert Lucas; AudioQuest, Audio Power Industries, and VTL, Doug MacLeod; and Stereophile, pianist Robert Silverman, the Water Lily Gospel Trio, and violinist Ida Levin premiering the works on her new Duet CD. (See the in-depth article on the making of this recording on p.71.) Friday night sees the Bill Holman Band performing in the Westin's Grand Ballroom, sponsored by JVC Music/XRCD, and on Saturday night, AudioQuest and NHT will present soul singer Terry Evans—an event not to be missed. See you there.—John Atkinson