July 2012 Issue - page 2

Article Index
July 2012 Issue
page 2
page 3
page 4
page 5
poge 6
All Pages




Are we looking at the end of the Compact Disc? With sales of the physical medium plummeting, has the CD had its day? It’s ironic that the format that was invented to kill off vinyl is struggling to keep its head above water while analogue is probably in better health than it’s ever been. It’s possibly true to say there are more turntable manufacturers out there now than during the format’s heyday in the 60s and 70s. Most of them may be quite small and niche but they are producing some incredibly high quality products. Digital streamers, too, are also increasing in number and, in the main, in quality as well.


Where does this leave the humble Compact Disc? The superior sound quality that was promised when it arrived in the early 80s never really materialised (I still remember Tomorrow’s World smearing jam over a disc then getting it to play). A mid to high-end turntable will beat any top disc spinner. With vinyl there is always more depth, more scale and more enjoyment. There is also the nostalgia factor to consider. Some people like to read the sleeve notes without the use of a magnifying glass. They like to go through the ritual of sliding the vinyl out of its sleeve, checking for fingerprints or other marks and carefully placing the stylus into the groove.


Before this starts to sound like a Marks and Spencer food advert, I don’t feel the same thing with CD. In 30 year’s time no one is going to say, “Do you remember those little shiny discs you put in a machine and pressed a button to hear the music?” Doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it? I think CD will limp on for a few years longer before being consigned to the format history bin, alongside Eight-Track and MiniDisc. Maybe the generation that grew up with it will try and cling on to it like a life jacket floating in the open sea. The generation that had given up on vinyl as old fashioned but can’t quite get their head round iPods may talk about how much easier CD is to use and how can you put something on in the car while taking little Tarquin to school.


In fact, there are kids growing up now who know nothing other than downloads and internet streaming. Though for them I issue a word of warning. Technology never stays still, not even for a moment. There will come a day when these youngsters have grown up themselves and they see some kid walking down the street, nodding away to the latest tunes on invisible headphones as the music he’s hearing has been downloaded to a chip inserted directly into his brain. Watch this space, it could happen.

Matthew Abbott






Philips launched CD in 1983, showing it off  at a press conference in Holland. As technologies go it has had a long lifespan.



It seems that silver discs are going out of fashion, seen as a yesteryear technology. Today we store information in memory. Boxes of cogs and wheels, from CD players to hard drives, are strictly yesterday it seems.


Heavens, I am even hearing that e-mail is yesterday too! Soon, tomorrow will be declared yesterday in an attempt to get ahead. But then that is true too, since the day after tomorrow makes tomorrow yesterday. I don’t think we can win this one! NK




I am still battling my way to get the best sound(s) from digital music. I have written before on my experiences, but things have developed since then and I hope I can contribute some more. I was suffering the ignorance of precisely what SACD and DVD-A recording resolutions were and how best to play them back, when an article in your magazine, by chance, mostly explained it all.


Fair enough; loins girded etc. and move on. Then there are all the various resolutions of digital music that is available for download. I groaned again; quite a few choices there and the inevitable arguments as to what sounded better. We came out of the CD vs HDCD vs SACD vs DVD-A era. Now we have Ogg, FLAC, AAC etc. and various hi-res files at 24/48, 24/96 and 24/192 resolutions, in stereo or surround mixes.


I have realised I am old school in that I want a physical “thing” for my money. Even buying a cheap MP3 seemed hollow as I didn’t feel as if I had anything for my money, so I concentrated on collecting hi-res music on disc. Fortunately for many prog/metal fans, two disc releases with surround mixes on the 2nd disc are quite popular and often in DVD-A format, so I was happy for a while. My trusty Pioneer 656-A get’s good use as a result.

Then a possible Nirvana appeared; rock music on Blu-ray!! Prayers answered I thought!! Full fat hi-res music on a disc I can buy; with a picture; and sleeve notes. I duly ordered the remastered Moving Pictures by Rush, one of my all time favourite albums, and the 2nd disc was actually on Blu Ray in 5.1 surround. The re-master on CD was quite good, but I felt the dreaded dynamic compression had been introduced somewhat, but I wasn’t that bothered. I had the vinyl version and an early CD release.


So, with some anticipation, I put on the Blu Ray. I never finished one play through. It seems that some albums should be left as stereo. True, the sound was very clear and a delight to listen to, but the surround just seemed to separate the strands of the recording. I was left thinking of those TV shows about classic albums, where an engineer plays a little of a recorded track which sounded a bit naff, then you heard it mixed in the whole recording and it sounded fabulous! Well, I put it away and thought, that was a 30+ year old album, maybe I should get something newer.


Then Steven Wilson announces that his new studio album is being recorded for a Blu-ray release. Oh joy! An artist I like releasing straight to Blu-ray, only to find that it has either a 24/96 PCM stereo or 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. So, where are the full fat, uncompressed stereo/surround mixes?


I have been disappointed twice with hi-res on Blu-ray now, but I am not near to giving up. My Rega P3 is still top dog for me and records are wonderful to own. I do like surround music and am sure that I will find some cracking new studio releases eventually either as new, or SACD/DVD-A re-issues or on Blu-ray.


I am just a bit overwhelmed at the variety of digital music files. Surely it dwarfs even the SACD vs DVD-A debate?

Then there is the matter of replay equipment, but that is for another letter. I must say I have felt that you give good advice for us non-techies on how to navigate this mess. Along the way I have picked up some excellent surround discs, despite the above woes.


Paul Clewlow




Steve Wilson 'Grace for Drowning' Blu-ray. "where are the full fat, uncompressed stereo/surround mixes?" asks Paul Clewlow.


Hi Paul. Surround-sound does give a different sonic perspective to traditional stereo, according to how it is mixed. A lot of what is on Blu-ray is taken from live concerts and you get a view from the audience, the rear loudspeakers just carrying crowd noise and general ambient information.  It differs from DVD-A by carrying video, which imposes such a mix, otherwise guitars seen at front would be heard from behind  – and that would seem weird!

DVD-A, lacking video, could and sometimes did carry music mixed into the full surround-field, with sound and effects from behind as well as front – and very interesting it was too at times. Blu-ray music-only discs are not so common and even those I have, from 2L for example, commonly have a stereo mix, although others choose to place the listener within an ensemble. It’s all a bit ad-hoc really, in terms of where you sit with regard to the musicians. What is certain is that with 24/96 recordings sound quality is, in most cases, appreciably crisper and more detailed than CD. You ask “where are the full fat, uncompressed stereo/surround mixes?”. The DTS-HD Master Audio track is in effect just such a thing and it is what you are after. Although ‘compressed’ it is losslessly compressed, so you lose nothing when de-compressed on replay. Lossless compression halves the storage capacity required, although with Blu-ray this is isn’t so much of an issue unless super high resolution 24/192 audio is used together with HD video.


That’s the theory anyway! Looking at I see they say the stereo mix is high resolution 24/96 whilst the surround-sound is audio from concerts, resolution being unstated. I suspect much of it will be 24/48 or 24/96 however, but just how good it will sound in the home depends upon how well it was recorded under live conditions. It all gets complex and confusing.


In all, though, I enjoy Blu-ray for its ever expanding catalogue of music. But most people see it as a video disc little better than DVD in quality terms, but a lot more expensive and unnecessarily complicated, which it is. It is another missed opportunity for Sony, who basically saw it as a great hardware platform for Sony PIctures, yet seem totally unable to exploit its potential – and the world is moving on. NK


Add your comment

Your name:
  The word for verification. Lowercase letters only with no spaces.
Word verification:


Hi-Fi World, Powered by Joomla!; Hosted by Joomla Wired.