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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