DSD Tracking, Editing, Mastering - Equipment Used - Experience?

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by Gordon Stanley, Jan 8, 2015.

  1. Gordon Stanley

    Gordon Stanley Active Member

    If you are using a DSD production workflow, what equipment are you using, what have been your experiences, what needs to be done to make this workflow as easy (if possible) compared to PCM workflow?
  2. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    This is a pretty broad question so I will comment on my workflow and what I've heard.

    Mastering Engineers capture to something like a BK2000MR

    I used DSD for a short while to mixdown a hybrid mix. I sold the BK2000MR and bought a second DAW instead. Capturing to the destination SR made more sense.

    Personally I'm not a fan of bouncing nor did I see any point in capturing a DAW session tracked at 96k to 1bit. Seemed absolutely ridiculous.
    The source is what it is, and will never be better than the SR is was tracked at. I mean, how can 1bit improve a 96k session? That is, unless you are purposely changing it through some sort of analog process and then capturing that to DSD. But then you still need to bounce it down.

    Isn't http://www.merging.com/solutions/dsd256-dxd-music running 1bit > I looked at that some time back, but if no one else is able to playback a DSD in the real world, whats the point as well? The problem is, it needs to go online. Living in a bubble for the elite is not what i call smart business.

    I love the idea of being able to capture the best sound possible.
    Why are you interested in DSD today? How do you see it helping your business?
  3. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    I know that the Pyramix system advertises DSD editing, but the only workable procedure I could see for mixing DSD tracks was to perform all the edits and mixing using a standard bit-parallel (PCM) version of the tracks while the system maintained a step-by-step copy of the edit instructions. You then ran an overnight batch job that applied the equivalent edits to the original DSD file as one process, and you listened to the result in the morning.

    When this topic came up a few years back, I asked around some of the other folks I know in the professional audio community about how various mix engineers were actually using DSD. The replies I received were basically the email equivalent of shrugging of shoulders.

    Despite some sonic advantages, I don't think DSD editing and mixing is going anywhere fast.

    PS Don't be put off by a mention of "1-bit". It's only a shorthand way of describing an oversampling process that is used in every audio ADC and DAC.
  4. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Thanks Bos, Remy and a few others always said it like that so I adapted the slang. I suppose I should just say DSD.
  5. Gordon Stanley

    Gordon Stanley Active Member

    Thanks to all for your thoughtful replies. So far I have uncovered the following setups for recording engineers using DSD audio:

    1. Sonoma workstation, seemed to go into hiatus for a while but have 8, 16, 24 track systems for sale with full production capabilities. Prices range from $16,000 to $40,000.
    2. Pryamix system that allows DSD recording but all edits are done in a format they call DXD, which is 354x32bit PCM used for fades, edits etc. then inserted.
    3. A proprietary methodology that Cookie Marenco uses called Extended Sound Environment (E.S.E.) includes recording to DSD or analog tape while musicians perform live in the studio without the use of headphones or overdubs. The music is mixed to DSD or 1/2" tape and the music never enters a PCM digital state. From a conversation with Cookie, the editing is accomplished in analog. The DSD recorder being used is the Pyramix system.
    4. Korg had some pro-sumer 2-track recorders, MR-1, MR-2, MR-1000, MR-2000 that they now seemed to have abandoned. They ranged in price from $700-2000
    5. Tascam has a 2-track mastering recorder called the DA-3000 released in 2014, that allows up to 8 units to be word synched with a master clock to build up to 16-tracks, but offer no editing systems other than bouncing between recorders. This machine, which also records PCM up to 192x24 is solid and retails for $1000. I know of several people using it to archive LPs.
    6. There is one additional system using SACD and DSD files called isoMike, which seems to be primarily focused on a very specific arrangement of microphones and baffles to create a very accurate stereo and multichannel imaging.

    Here are a few other factoids I have uncovered about the business side of DSD and SACD.

    1. Phillips and Sony invented then abandoned the SACD disc based model but Sony has continued to use 1-bit DSD in the ISO format for archiving.
    2. Over the past three years it has come to light that of the almost 7,400 SACDs produced only 2,300 of them were truly DSD, most started as PCM masters, and many of the pure DSDs started as edited analog masters, typically 1/4 or 1/2 inch, 15IPS or 30IPS masters that were equalized via an analog mastering board and then converted to DSD format. A database of recordings is at http://www.sa-cd.net/home. So unlike hi-def video which was soundly criticized until views saw the quality and adopted it rapidly over 2-3 years, DSD and high res PCM have seldom been experienced by most listeners and much of what was offered was frankly a disappointing fraud.
    3. Some high resolution companies continue to convert high res PCM files 192x24 to DSD via "proprietary" systems, and the more honorable ones are stating their process in what they term "provenance."

    The most interesting recent factoids related to the business and listener side of the model I have been discovering are:

    1. There seems to be a growing interest in high resolution digital downloads ranging from quality of 48x24 to as high as 384x24 PCM and DSD in standard 2.86MHz, plus double (5.6MHz) and quadruple (11.2MHz) formats. Most of the recordings are still of the classical, jazz and blues genres. The only conversions of really popular music was that done by ABKO of the Rolling Stones analog masters of their albums and they were sold as hybrid SACDs with no labeling to identify the SACD portion of the discs; these discs are now becomming expensive collectables. A few other popular artists have titles in SACD and DSD downloadable formats including the popular Norah Jones and Diana Krall, who sell millions and also have followings in the audiophile community. Their music is available on MP3, MP4a, LP, CD, SACD, and high res PCM and DSD downloads. It is most interesting that the growth areas in the industry percentage wise are vinyl LP sales and digital downloads, however, they alone won't support the business. Currently the RIAA does not differentiate between low-res MP3 and high-res downloads.
    2. One of the big challenges of DSD was getting to a standard format for exporting DSD files via USB. As of 2013, there is now a common industry accepted format called DoP, which I believe stands for DSD over PCM and it is a method for packing DSD info in to packets and sending out via PCM over the computer's USB. The method works reliably both Macs and PCs and I see comments that systems are being developed for the Linux OS.
    3. There has been enough interest in the last three years that there are now over 100 manufacturers offering digital audio converters (DACs) that support both PCM and the DSD/DoP process, and there are about 10 or so software vendors that offer file management and playback systems that support playback on one of both computer platforms. The DACs range in price from $129 to thousands of dollars, and the software ranges from freeware to about $500.
    4. There are about a dozen large digital download sites now selling classical, jazz, blues and classic rock/pop music as high res digital downloads including some well know ones such as NativeDSD.com, HDTracks, BlueCoastRecords.com, ProStudioMasters.com, acousticsounds.com. There are another 50 or so sites globally and I have no way to evaluate or judge their size and success.
    5. The business model of the SACD won over the DVD-A, which virtually disappeared. The SACD business continues today with a couple hundred new albums (small compared to the PCM CD market) being offered each year mostly in the classical, jazz and blues genres. Recently there has been a bunch of extremely high quality remasters being done by Acoustic Sounds. These are limited production runs, usually offered in three formats, Vinyl LPs often as a 2-disc set of 45RPM, a SACD, and a DSD downloadable file. Retail prices are typically are respectively $50 for the LP, $35 for the SACD and $25 for the DSD download. These remasters are the best of the best classic jazz, rock and pop music of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Chad Kasem, the owner of Acoustic Sounds seems to offer a good business philosophy of focusing on quality music, getting access to the original analog or digital masters then offering the music in the formats his buyers want.
    6. In the past year, the interest level has grown enough to attract the attention of some of the major audio retailers again. Marantz of D&M Holdings is offering SACD players with built in DSD DAC capabilities. Sony a mid-fi giant has just re-entered the market with a well reviewed product call the Sony HAP-Z1ES. They have two models priced between $1,000-2000. Other entrants are Oppo with a top quality Blu-ray player model 105 that plays almost every disc format and serves as a DAC for PCM and DSD files, and Tascam has reentered with some high quality mid-price DACs.
    7. One of the forever challenges of SACD was that it never was allowed to address the mobile or car audience. Now there is an emergence of two solutions. Very low cost, extremely high quality DACs from AudioQuest, iFi and others that allow laptops, tablets and phones to be used as a native DSD source. And now three companies so far are offering walkman type players that handle DSD directly, they include: the jewel like Astell & Kern players models 100, 120, 240 ranging from $1000 to $2400, Sony's new walkman NWZ-ZX2, which I am still trying to confirm will play DSD files, and the Neil Young project PONO, which he announced at CES 2015 will be playing DSD files shortly.

    Concluding thoughts based on what I have found to this point:

    1. Downloadable DSD and high res PCM seem to be emerging as viable business models especially for classical, jazz, blues music genres. The jury is still out on rock/pop.
    2. There is now a reliable and growing infrastructure for the top end of the market to buy, download, play and enjoy both DSD and high res PCM files in mobile, auto, desktop and listening room situations for prices ranging from under $200 for the DAC to many thousands. There is some complexity to the set up and downloading, user convenience is not near what is offered by iTunes.
    3. On average the high end listeners are paying $25-40 for the high res downloads depending on whether it is a new or reissue release.
    4. The studio production workflow is still in a very immature state, making it very difficult if not impossible for the small project studio and expensive and a little daunting for the professional studio, which I believe is a reason that growth has been in those dedicated to the highest quality for classical, jazz and blues recordings.
    5. Rock and pop, which are usually the leaders in innovative ideas for sound, mix, edit and effects are lagging behind in this opportunity to reach a relatively limited, but wealthy audience segment, that may not align well with their typical business model.
    6. Those of you noting that 1-bit is the operative infrastructure even in PCM systems are correct. It doesn't have to be that way, but has been adopted because the system, from what I am told, is more robust, reliable and less expensive to manufacture/calibrate.

    Thanks again for the thoughtful and helpful replies. I hope this stirs up a health conversation on weather studios serving the rock/pop community should investigate DSD.
    bigtree likes this.
  6. Gordon Stanley

    Gordon Stanley Active Member

    In answer to equipment: Currently I am a working retired audio visual producer and training consultant. In the good old days, I had access to an 1/4" half-track Ampex 440 and 1/2" 3-track Ampex MR-3. I found the sound of these recorders amazing and used then to make multimedia presentations with 6-30 slide projectors.

    Today I am more of a audiophile/listener than recording engineer but have an interest in what is being done in the professional environment because it has such an impact on the quality of what I hear. I own and rent a few microphones, I guess a favorite would be the AKG-414, when I have the budget.

    Today I mainly record friends playing acoustic guitar, drums, and piano. I like to do live recordings and and am now seeking a professional mixer mic preamp to feed into a Tascam DA-3000. This is a digital mastering recorder that works in PCM WAV format up to 192x24 and DSD 2.86 and 5.6 formats. (normal and double resolution). I also use the deck to archive some rare collectables from my LP library of jazz, blues and rock from the 50s to present day.

    I began with an early pro-sumer M-Audio 1824 Analog-Digital-Analog converter and DAW software that I stated with and got me re-interested in recording.

    I am thinking a decent analog/DSD workflow might look something like this: (my total budget is about $8-10K)

    1. Rent high quality mics depending on the subject and venue. Like AKG 414, or maybe even Shoeps which I hear are pretty amazing. (until I learn to love a pair of mics, I like the idea of renting and have access to a decent selection in So. Cal.)
    2. Feed a really quiet high-end mic preamp like possibly a Grace M201 that would let me handle simple live recording mic setups including M-S miking.
    2a. If I see that I need equalization for the live recording, seek out a quality analog EQ system, or even consider getting a more advanced mixer like a Toft Audio Mixer ATB - 08M
    3. Record direct to my Tascam DA-3000. Use Korg Audiogate software to do simple edits etc. STOP here and listen.
    4. Later expand Tascam system with a word clock adding 2-6 additional tracks allowing more complex recording. (of course this would require a mix console like the Toft which would allow me to sum, eq, and then master to another DA-3000.
    5. I have not included any compression in this workflow. I know it is useful but find it overdone and image destroying on much of the music I like. However, I would be interested in a recommendation for a really clean compressor if you know one good for voice that doesn't kill the mix.

    I am mostly interested in live recording, have a fascination with pipe organs and really would like to try to have a workflow that stays in the analog and DSD world.
    bigtree likes this.
  7. Gordon Stanley

    Gordon Stanley Active Member

    A couple of updates and corrections:

    1. Cookie Marcenco uses a Sonoma Workstation for her DSD recording.
    2. Sony has a PCM D-100 handheld two-channel DSD, PCM and MP3 recorder using AA batteries with a capacity of 12 hours continuous recording on up to 32 GB of internal memory or plugin SD chips. It records up to 192x24 in PCM and 2.82Mhz or 64X resolution DSD. It has builtin condenser mics that allow AB or XY configurations, or external mics can be connected.
    3. I mistakenly listed DSD freq res at 2.86 when it is 2.8224, double DSD is 5.6 and quad DSD is 11.2. The argument (discussion) continues on the value of the higher resolutions, it does push the high frequency noise high up the band making it easier to filter, but as the PCM fans not, the noise is still there, just moved.
    4. One point of discussion I don't hear too much is the rise/fall time of transients. This is one place that DSD shines compared to all other formats and may be why some people prefer the sound. I have seen one set of audio analyzer photos photos of brief transient impulses and the DSD formats are close to live and all the PCM formats have extensive ringing. They did not have images of DXD or PCM 384x32 formats, which should look better.
    5. I have heard "experts" note that there are very few microphones that record above 40Khz so there is little need of sampling above 94x24, so the debate continues. I know of a couple of measurement mics and the Earthworks M-50 that goes to 50Khz, but alas my old ears only go to about 13.5Khz. So for all those claiming they hear butterfly sneezes, I suggest they post their reports from their audiologist.

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