Why do they do it?

Seventh Sojourn coverI was looking for fine music — multichannel if possible — to listen to earlier today. But I didn’t want to switch on the projector or a TV to navigate through menus, so that ruled out (sort of) DVD Audio. I had a flick through the SACDs and the very few DTS CD encodes, and settled on one of the latter: The Moody Blues, Seventh Sojourn, which has a bunch of excellent songs. But for some reason I’ve never actually sat down and listened to this disc, even though I must have bought it five or more years ago.

This disc is physically a CD, although it can’t be called such because although the tracks look like PCM to the outer world, the encoding is DTS. Play it on, say, a DVD or Blu-ray player — or even a CD player connected via S/PDIF — with the output set to bitstream and your home theatre receiver will detect that it’s a DTS bitstream, not PCM. If it makes a mistake then you will get a very high level of very nasty noise.

Now DTS is a very respectable codec. At the 1509kbps bitrate used on discs like this is it actually lossless much of the time, going lossy only when things get too busy. Not only was DTS the codec used on this disc, it was actually produced by DTS Inc. (back in 2001 the insert says).

So one way or another DTS is responsible for the poor sound quality of this disc. I’d say it was the mixing and EQ rather than the codec, which really is pretty transparent. The problem is with the tonal balance: it zings. There is sibilance in the vocals and the cymbals on some of the tracks — especially ‘Isn’t Life Strange’ — are very nearly painfully … well, not so much forward, because the surround mix has them largely overhead. But far too strong and strident.

Of course, to confirm this I had to check that the system was operating properly. That involved playing Janice Joplin on SACD, The Police on DTS-CD, more Moody Blues (Days of Future Passed) on DTS-CD, Deodato on CD and King Crimson on DVD Audio. Ah, the sacrifices one has to make!

Oh, they all sounded fine. I’m afraid the DTS-CD version of Seventh Sojourn really is quite poor. Although, to be fair, I don’t know what the original sounds like so perhaps it’s supposed to sound that way.

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3 Responses to Why do they do it?

  1. Anthony says:

    Interesting that you didn’t like the ‘ top end ‘ production on this. The link to the attached forum here: http://www.quadraphonicquad.com/forums/showthread.php?7897-Moody-Blues-SEVENTH-SOJOURN-SACD, provides votes on the SACD version with some punters stating that they preferred the DTS-CD over the former due to it’s top end with it’s ‘airy’ presentation. People on this forum have indicated the possibility of getting ‘dud,’ copies of other products and maybe you are an unlucky one of them. I have a similar experience within a DVD-A of REM’s ‘Reveal’ title with others raving about it and with me scratching my head regarding what I perceive to be a fairly absent low range in the mix (curiously out of place as compared to the other DVD- A’s I own within the REM range.) makes me wonder if the one I landed was defective in some bizarre way.

  2. I’ve just rechecked, Anthony. It doesn’t seem likely to be a dud, unless DTS accidentally released a substandard mix into wild. I wouldn’t know what the SACD version sounds like, but this one isn’t ‘airy’, it’s overblown in the treble department and those cymbals towards the end of ‘Isn’t Life Strange’ are verging on ear-piercing.

    Having said that, I’ve just relistened also to the same track on an old stereo CD compilation, and some of the problems seem to be the same. The mix isn’t as treble hot, but there’s this weird phasing effect which makes the image float around in space, including to the sides, in a highly unstable way, and the voices and drums sound at times as though they’ve been heavily processes, with all nuance squashed out and a fair bit of harshness placed in instead. I suspect that some heavy-duty analogue processing was applied back in the day in order to achieve some effect or other that the producers thought to be cool. Instead sounds like it is a sixth generation analogue copy.

  3. Mark says:

    Could it be down to engineer having dodgy hearing with too much hf loss over the years?

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