Jared Sacks: DSD Present and Future Page 2

Serinus: Do you find Andreas Koch of Playback Design's explanation of the superiority of DSD over PCM satisfactory?

Sacks: He goes more into the technical side. To me, DSD's superiority has to do with emotion, depth, and how the sound leaves the speaker. It's not a block anymore in the way it dissipates. When you listen to PCM, you can literally hear it as a block of sound coming out of the speaker. That doesn't happen with DSD. There's air around the sound. At the end of the day, we are talking about the air around the sound.

To me, recording like wine tasting. If you take a course in wine tasting, you learn how to describe it, because the other person has to understand what you mean. It's the same in a recording session. You make a sound, the musicians come and listen, and they have to describe what they're listening to. We have to understand each other and the adjectives being used, because, at the end of the day, I can't open up a book to figure out what they're saying about what they're hearing on their violin's E string. I have to go back and physically move something to get it right. There is no book; it's trial and error based on years of experience.

Especially in our world of audio, your business is to find language to describe the sound of a speaker or amplifier that other people can understand. It's no different when trying to describe the difference in sound between PCM and DSD.

Serinus: When you talk about DSD's superiority as a conveyer of emotion, does that mean that when people listen to DSD, it feels more like music—it feels more "right?"

Sacks: Absolutely. Everyone listens differently, of course. At a concert, you have the extra visual perception of the orchestra in front of you. But if you really listen, you ask what makes the hall sound good. Why do I get goose bumps? It's because you're not only getting the direct sound; you're also getting the reflections from the side and the back, which is what we are trying to capture with multi-channel. But, as a stereo listener, you only have your ears, and you have to do it in another way. DSD, especially with its dynamic range, which can't be surpassed, gives it to you. Because of the higher frequencies, we're also talking about the air around the sound. It's the air around the music, and especially the localization that allows you to pick out where the instruments are, that are superior.

If I listen to our Mahler No.1 from Budapest, I think we've been especially successful with the depth and the clarity of sound. Those are just adjectives. But at the end of the day, it's the emotion, and how one perceives it. There's no other system or format that gives me that.

Serinus: Who is recording in native DSD?

Sacks: Pentatone, Harmonia Mundi, BSO, and Alia Vox for starters. BIS doesn't and Linn doesn't. Even the Concertgebouw does not, because they have to use the equipment the radio station uses. Some discs from Challenge Classics—he's an old student of mine—are native DSD. There are maybe 15 small labels in Germany, as well as Exton from Japan.

On the recording front, there's also some new equipment, a mike preamp and A/D–D/A converter from Merging Technologies called Horus, that will be easier to handle because it's all in one box. While expensive, it's a lot cheaper than it was in the past. That will make a big difference.

I record at 64Fs, 2.8 million times a second. More recently, it has become possible to record at 128Fs and 256Fs. Audiophiles may think at twice the samples, it's going to get better. That is the case up to where we are at 64. Going to 128 will raise the noise level an octave so it's easier to deal with, but in terms of the audio spectrum, I don't think it's necessary. I will have to do some listening tests.

In our business, we have to do post-production, but not all the time. I always make a mix-down into stereo. The surround channels go directly to an A/D converter, so they don't go through a mixer, and I try to leave them like that. Then I make a master without going through post-production (without going through the sigma-delta converter again).

The moment I have to change levels or do some EQ, I have to go through the mixer, and that means going through the sigma-delta again, which lowers the quality. Of course, it's all high DSD, but you have to go into DXD if you do post-production, and there's really no way around it. This problem will be solved in the future. But we are talking about further research, which costs money, at a moment when there is not much to be made selling to recording companies.

When you listen to my raw data, and you compare it to the post-produced recording, there's a difference in the air around the instruments and the depth. There's a degradation of sound. It's slight, but it's there. It's unfortunate, but there's nothing we can do about it, because we have to go into the sigma-delta processor again. As with any other audio signal, if you have to keep on processing, it will change.

You may ask, given that, if there is a difference between the sound of 192 and DSD? You have to have a really good system, and it also depends on the repertoire, to hear the difference. I still do, especially because of the dynamic range. When I down-sample to 192, you can hear that it's PCM, absolutely.

My Grimm converter is so good that, when combined with my specially made mixing board, the battery-powered microphone preamps I've used for the last two years, and the new van den Hul T-3 cable, the sound is just incredible. You really hear it on my Mahler 1 recording. The sound stays so open, and the air continues, even in the loudest passages. The emotion and depth of sound just envelop you.

I feel I'm getting as close as I've ever gotten to the live event. And I also notice it on the reviews. I've been recording with this combination for two years now, and the reviews in both Europe and the US praise the sound quality.

Serinus: The improvement in sound with DSD can be heard even after editing in DXD?

Sacks: Yes. I can send you the raw of that last five minutes of the Mahler and you will not believe the difference. People are asking me for the original masters.

What's exciting is that, in 2012, when I first started offering DSD files, there were only two DACs that could play them. Now there are well over 60 companies with DSD DACs. It makes me feel that perhaps I've been part of making it happen.

Now I'm going around, trying to get them to produce multi-channel DACs. Mytek, Oppo, and ExaSound are in the lead, but I'm talking to lots more companies. We're certainly moving in a multi-channel direction.

In the future, I would like to go back to making "normal CDs" so I can be competitive, and have CDs available at concerts and for the general market. This is not going to happen any time soon.

The problem has always been that because I made a hybrid SACD, which I have to sell at normal CD price, my profit margin is minimal. By contrast, I can make a DSD download available in both stereo and multi-channel download versions for almost the same price.

America's problem is actually at the dealer level. For years, they didn't want to deal with SACD, and they didn't want to educate anyone coming in; that has continued to be the problem. So we need magazines and websites to educate the listener. Since what you never hear you do not miss, I organize regular listening sessions at my studio to let people hear what they are missing!

Serinus: Do some of your recordings contain raw data that has made it through without post-production?

Sacks: Yes, many of them. For starters, there's the new recording of the Ragazze String Quartet playing Haydn, Schubert, and Widmann; the fairly new recording of violinist Rachel Podger playing solo (Guardian Angel); violinist Ning Feng's Solo 2 disc of Prokofiev, Bartók, and Hindemith; and the Amsterdam Sinfonietta playing Shostakovich and Weinberg.

Serinus: What is your playback system for listening?

Sacks: Fifteen years ago, I purposely bought a very average but very linear Dutch Audio Design two-way speaker for recording. I have to carry stuff, and I'm always in spaces like churches with absolutely terrible acoustics in the listening room. So you need to get down to basics. I bought 10 of those speakers at one time, five for my studio and five for location, and I only use five speakers and amplifiers when I work with big ensembles because it's too much to carry all these years.

In my other studio, I have a multi-channel B&W 803D Diamond Series loudspeakers and Classé five-channel amplifier, a custom-made preamp, and van den Hul cabling. I do all my editing on the speakers I have on location. I edit in stereo; the only time I listen to multi-channel is the moment I make the masters. Since 95% of the people who listen to my recordings listen in stereo, that, to me, has to be the best. Adding multi-channel is actually very simple process.

Sometimes, for the stereo, I add a bit of the ambience from the surround because the hall did not work well enough. After I make the mix-down, I go to my kitchen or my office or one of my sons' boom boxes. Especially with vocal, such as Barbara Hannigan singing Britten's Les Illuminations. I'm not one to try to create the Heifetz Effect of here I am with the violin and somewhere back there is the piano and the orchestra. I really want the voice to be part of the ensemble, yet be able to understand the diction. So I take special care on that, and listen at low levels to see how it sounds in the different rooms.

Again, I make my stereo mix as good as I can at the recording location, but I do add the solo tracks to other tracks that I can use later if necessary. So in my stereo mix, I can always add, I can't subtract. Sometimes I'm in a very bad location room where it's difficult to tell if I've got the balance right. Knowing that, I put the solo track on a separate track in case I need to work with it. But that means that I cannot make it into a Native DSD master; I have to do post-production and go into DXD. The music always comes first.

Serinus: Am I correct that if someone has your files in 192 and they buy a DSD DAC, all they need do is pay the difference and you'll give them the DSD version?

Sacks: Yes. They just pay the difference between the different resolutions.

You know, this is an incredible time because it's the first time in the 120-year history of audio that the consumer can have the same quality as the producer through a simple download. The problem in Holland is that tax is 21%. We charge 25 euros for a download. We also have a coupon code system where every purchase adds points until you have enough for the code that is good for 25% reduction on your next purchase of one complete recording.

We have started NativeDSD.com. This is a co-op site special for only natively recorded stereo and multichannel DSD files from any genre. Every label gets their own section to promote the recordings. The files are DSF files, meaning the metadata will be tagged in the file that is compatible with software players like JRiver. We will not only include normal 64Fs DSD, but we are now signing up labels for 128Fs and 256Fs. DXD files will also be included when recorded in this format. You can expect a lot of labels' recordings to be added in the months ahead.


Supperconductor's picture

I have several Channel Classics titles in my collection as DSD downloads. I was initially interested in sampling the sound quality but was mightily impressed with the musicality. Everything I've bought has great performances and sounds great even on my non-DSD gear.

labjr's picture

Classical Radio New England is WCRB. Though due to a business deal in 2006, they've moved from 102.5 to 99.5 on the dial and transmit from different location further from Boston which didn't benefit listeners. Then in 2009, WCRB was purchased by WGBH which then removed classical programming from WGBH. So there's less classical programming than ever in the Boston market.

mark levinson's picture

I agree, an excellent interview. Hard to believe I didn't know about Jared and Channel Records until now. Thanks to Jason and Sterephile for introducing us.

There are a bizarre number of parallels here. He and I both are:  American musicians playing brass intruments (he horn, me flugelhorn) who started small music-based companies; moved to Europe; work with our mates; have a passion for making quality recordings of classical music and reproducing them; have a connection with Switzerland and the EU; are early adopters of DSD, made some of the first SACD's, and worked with Sony and Philips in that regard; and are not afraid to go off the beaten path. I intend to learn more about Jared and Channel Records starting right now.

The only drawback to DSD is that there are no DSD mastering tools, so engineers have to do one of three things:

1. record in DSD and do no mastering.

2. record in DSD, convert to high resolution PCM, use high resolution PCM mastering tools, and convert to DSD for making SACD's. 

3. record in DSD, convert to analog, master in analog, and convert to DSD.

Good results can be obtained with all the above, but real DSD tools would be great to have. Sadly, DSD does not lend itself to manipulation.

I recorded the SACD "Live Recordings at Red Rose Music" in 2000 with no processing at all, just pure DSD. When the musicians finished playing, that was it. This SACD was used to introduce SACD in the US. 

Just recently, my Swiss company Daniel Hertz introduced Master Class, audio software for Mac. Master Class is intended to make PCM sound and feel more like analog and DSD. I have been using this technology in my own mastering for some time, but it was not in a form that could be sold. Master Class is a commercially available version, easy for non-technical people to use. I have found that with Master Class, PCM recordings can be more or less like DSD.

It is great to see that DSD is alive and finally being developed and appreciated by dedicated people like Jared and his Channel Records, and that Jason and Sterephile are bringing this to the public's attention with such well written articles.