Slightly better than a CD

I’ve been playing with NAS drives lately, focusing on their abilities as music servers. That prompted me to see if I could get some of my high resolution music into a usable form.

And indeed you can! Some of it, anyway. Apparently there are ways of ripping SACD if you have the right kind of drive. But for high resolution PCM on regular DVDs and for DVD Audio it’s perfectly possible to rip the music and turn it into high res FLAC. Indeed, in the latter case, high res multichannel FLAC.

WARNING: most devices which support FLAC, even in its 192kHz varieties, do not support multichannel FLAC. Fortunately the Oppo BDP-103AU does.

So I’m building a library of more easily accessible high resolution stereo and multichannel music and I start on Telarc’s redone version of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. This, says the packaging, is provided at 88.2kHz, 20 bits for the surround version, and 88.2kHz, 24 bits for the stereo version.

It was originally recorded using Sony’s Direct Stream Digital system (it’s also available on SACD), which facilitates porting music out to PCM with sampling in multiples of CD’s 44.1kHz. And what I discover now is that the stereo version is most definitely not 88.2kHz, it is actually 44.1kHz.

This appears to have gone unremarked in the dozen years that this disc has been around. Which isn’t surprising. Back when it came out there simply weren’t the tools available to interrogate the data to find out the real technical specifications.

That could actually make it an interesting test: does 24 bits offer discernible improvements (or even differences) compared to 16 bits? The average level of the 1812 itself is fairly low (to provide headroom for the cannon later on), so if anything is going to benefit from increases low level resolution, this would be it.

I’m not exaggerating about the need for headroom for the cannon. Here’s the left channel of the 1812 in this version:

Newer Telarc 1812 - left channel

That little bump right in the middle is a smooth lyrical section, rich in sound. But it never manages to hit a peak of more than -19dBFS and averages -35dB. The biggest cannon bang at the right hand side peaks at -0.12dB!

Here’s a closeup of that peak:

Closeup of cannon peak in Telarc 1812

In real life, of course, the cannon would be way, way louder. Years ago I went to a performance of the 1812 at Duntroon here in Canberra. They let loose with artillery (blanks) and fireworks. In that section the band may as well not have bothered playing.

UPDATE: Other weirdnesses. The Overture itsef runs for around 15:45, and it’s listed as such on the box. But the on-screen panel says 14:23.

The flip side of the disk is DVD Video format and has the music in DTS and Dolby Digital surround, and stereo PCM. This last is encoded at 16 bits, 48kHz. Why that? DSD isn’t as comfortable downsampling to 48kHz. Won’t 44.1kHz work on DVD Video?

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