Tom Jung: I Want More!

Tom Jung of DMP (Digital Music Products) is known as one of digital's early adopters. He's also an outspoken proponent of Sony's Super Audio CD over DVD-Audio. As I was intending to review Sony's first SACD player, the SCD-1, I invited Tom to Kathleen's and my Manhattan loft to investigate further. Tom and son Paul, who's responsible for DMP's sales and marketing, arrived with a passel of big drives, a DSD computer controller, and electronics designed by Ed Meitner (footnote 1).

In brief, the Direct Stream Digital encoding system used in Super Audio CD uses a 1-bit, delta-sigma–modulated word, sampled at 2.8224MHz (64x44.1kHz), without the usual brickwall antialiasing filters or decimation filter. According to Sony, the use of aggressive noise-shaping in DSD results in a frequency response that extends to over 100kHz, with a dynamic range equivalent to 24-bit linear-PCM (pulse code modulation) digital. Tom Jung (footnote 2) argues that this is a much simpler process, one that's really more like analog (footnote 3). "In comparison, PCM-based DVD sounds broken!" he told me, so I asked him what had been the story behind DMP's use of DSD?

Tom Jung: Early on—about four years ago—we were invited to a private demo of DSD at Sony's New York Studios, along with a few other industry people. Mike Bishop from Telarc, John Gatski of Pro Audio Review, Bob Ludwig, and Bruce Swedien were there. We were able to listen to the live feed from a jazz quartet. The signal was recorded and played back with DSD and with some of the latest 20-bit converters and a few of the older 16-bit machines. We all agreed the live signal was best, but close behind was DSD. And quite a ways behind that was the 20-bit sound. And of course, on the street it was still a 16-bit world.

I've had an experience like that only once before, back in about '76 or '77 in Minneapolis. 3M brought a new recorder to the studio I was involved with at the time. It was a prototype of what turned out to be the 3M digital recorder. We were recording a jazz quartet direct-to-disc and I thought it was a perfect opportunity to hear the new machine. They ran it in the background, and after the first side was recorded we went back and played back some of the digital. We also backed it up at 30ips on analog tape. After about 10 seconds, I got the same kind of feeling I got when I first heard DSD.

Jonathan Scull: What produced the goosebumps?

Jung: Well, back in '76 it was the absence of wow and flutter. No matter how you slice it, it's still there in analog machines. And you can hear it, especially with the piano. Digital's absence of wow and flutter sounded more like what was coming off the studio floor. Of course, at the time we couldn't compare it with the lacquers because they were all carefully packed and sent to the manufacturing plants. But we did compare it with the analog tape, and everybody in the studio thought there were things they liked better about digital. But as time went on I came to realize that digital sounded maybe a bit confused...

Scull: No pun intended?

Jung: [laughs] Anyway, something we had in analog was missing. So no free lunch, but overall digital was a better thing from the get-go.

Scull: Ah, a chink in the armor. What was missing, do you think?

Jung: Well, information. You know the way PCM or any digital works—it breaks the analog signal down into little pieces. And I've learned that the smaller the pieces are, the better it's going to sound. That, and a lot of attention to detail all the way 'round. And, given that, to me DSD just sounds better. In fact, one of the biggest problems with PCM digital today is the analog circuitry that surrounds it. But PCM can sound very good if the analog is really done right both on the A/D and back again.

Scull: All right, Tom, hot-seat time. What does sounding "very good" mean? Do you want your recordings to mimic what the mikes heard, or what the master tape sounds like, or to re-create the actual acoustic event?

Jung: Well, even with DSD and the other technology we have available, it's still not even close. When you have a big band in a studio with five saxophones, four trumpets, four trombones, all playing together, well, there's a real complexity of harmonics going on there. It's not an easy thing for our ear/brain mechanism to cope with, so you can imagine how tough it is for some paper cones and aluminum tweeters, capacitors, chokes, and what-have-you. I guess it's as good as it gets this way, but we're still not close to the real thing.

Scull: So what are we close to, if anything? Listening to your DSD masters directly off the hard drives, I felt as close as I ever have to being right there at the tips of the mikes.

Jung: [laughs] True, that's very close, and we're getting closer all the time...My goal is to try to make the technology disappear between the music performance and the listener at home. I want to eliminate the speakers, the amplifiers, the whole production chain—digital bitstream or analog pipeline—whatever. There's a lot of things between that live performance and a listener, and more often than not there are too many things. So one approach is to do it as simply as possible. But then again, I don't believe you can record a jazz quartet with two microphones. I just don't. It doesn't sound right to me.

Scull: Why is that?

Jung: Because in my work I think in terms of overall balance. Studios are not necessarily well balanced. The acoustic instruments play a lot softer than the drums, for example. You have to balance all that and put it in perspective in the recording. I don't do a lot of mikes. In fact, I try to use as few as possible. Different engineers have different styles, you know.

Scull: Of course. Yours?

Jung: I would say mine leans toward the minimalist side, even recognizing that I can't get the results I want with just a pair of microphones even when doing a quartet or a trio. I mostly use five or six microphones in that situation, mixed to stereo.

Scull: Paul mentioned earlier that you'd done a project using a "Decca tree" arrangement [three Neumann M-50 omnis in a spaced-triangle configuration—Ed.].

Jung: Yes, with a band we put together called the DMP Big Band. We got original charts of Duke Ellington and recorded them with a Decca tree, which is a bit of a twist. But, you know, I come from the world of classical recording. Some of those sensibilities still prevail in the work I do today.

Scull: Can you briefly tell us about your trek through the business?

Jung: I started 35 years ago in a recording studio as a disc cutter out in Minneapolis. It was the kind of place that offered everything—remote services, disc cutting, even a pressing plant. I got a real good basic education about what goes into making a record. And then I went from disc cutting into location recording. We did a lot of "package products." We'd go out and record a band, a choir, or an orchestra, then master it and make x number of records. Most of these projects went from start to finish, and I was involved in every step along the way. That included going to the pressing plant and trying to figure out why they couldn't make records with a quiet surface. But—you can't imagine—the presses were actually standing there on dirty, filthy floors! [laughs]

So when the CD came along, I was actually happy just to see that awful noise go away, something that I really fought all my early career. The studio stint ran about 10 years, then a producer and I started a studio complex in Minneapolis called Sound 80. We built it from the ground up, with five studios.

Scull: What year was that?

Jung: 1969. Then my wife and I figured, if we were going to make a move to one of the bigger markets, this was the time to do it. We looked in L.A. and San Francisco, Nashville and New York, and decided finally that we wanted to do a jazz label in New York. That was the place to be. So we packed up the kids and took off. My wife was involved with recording studios on the business side, and she was also up for a change. We moved to Connecticut, and we've been there ever since.

We did our first DMP recordings in 1982. We had a fair amount of experience back in Minnesota doing film sound work and music. In New York, every chance I got, I put my hands on digital equipment. We'd run both digital and analog during recording sessions.

Scull: You were digital from the beginning?

Jung: Yes. I bought my first digital recorder in 1982, a Mitsubishi X-80 with a sampling frequency of 50.4kHz! That was a great-sounding machine. I took it with me wherever I went and did projects for several Japanese labels. We were doing the groundwork necessary for putting our own label together. I didn't want to go back and struggle with trying to get good LPs manufactured, so digital it was.

Scull: Do CD pressing plants give you what you want?

Jung: Well, you can't just send a master tape to a CD plant and expect to get back what you sent them. You have to go there and see what they do with your tape. How they downsample or modify the signals, for example.

Footnote 1: See "Industry Update" in the November 1998 Stereophile (p.26–33).

Footnote 2: David Lander subsequently interviewed Tom Jung for Stereophile in June 2004.—Ed.

Footnote 3: You can learn more about DMP and DSD at


hollowman's picture

Digital recording won over respectable companies like dmp and Telarc for important (= audiophile) reasons. And this appreciation for digital recording dates as far back as the late 1970s (as noted in this article).

Recording engineers like Tony Faulkner and Alan Parsons have, similarly, endorsed digital recording AND playback for decades.

It's important to note this in light of analog/vinyl's strange renaissance.

dalethorn's picture

Not so strange when you mention vinyl to disparate people who are musically aware but aren't audiophiles, and get a fairly consistent report of "something musical" that's "not quite there 100 percent" in digital - or at the very least, digital that's found in all but the very exclusive hifi shops. And it's not just vinyl - audiophiles are spending big on tube amps these days. As long as the focus is on digital "accuracy and resolution" only, we might continue to miss that something.