The Ron Kane Files

Writing About Music

Thursday, June 05, 2008


6-5-08 SACD vs. SHM CD?

Will the format wars never ever end?

Whenever I found them inexpensively, I picked up a few “DVD Audio” ( = DVD-A ) discs – Simple Minds, Frank Zappa, Motorhead…I was intrigued by the “SHM CD” ( = Super High Material CD ) from Universal Japan, until I read that it is merely a ‘shinier’ CD and not a new mastering process…not exactly a ‘new format’, but…something new on the fading CD horizon. Should I order the over US$40 SHM-CD of 10cc “Original Soundtrack”?

I also recently obtained a SACD ( = Super Audio CD ) of Peter Gabriel “Security” for a very low price (under US$5). All of my other SACD titles (Rolling Stones, Can etc.) have been ‘hybrid SACD’ – which means compatibility. The PG title? My CD player didn’t know what to do with it – “No Disc” it said! The Universal website is rather clear about which SACD’s are ‘hybrid’, uh , I didn’t know about it. The PG disc wants an SACD player. I am not against buying a SACD player – I understand that they can output ‘SACD stereo’ (as in, a mere two channels).

I must confess, it seems like we are talking about quadraphonic – or some other equally incompatible format, here. Multi-channel CD player into a multi-channel amplifier? Sound familiar? They’re moving my TV closer and closer to my stereo system! Menus on DVD-A’s? Gotta see a screen!

The mysteries of the Peter Gabriel CD await me. I never listened to PG #4 (i.e. “Security”) when it came out in ’82 – I was otherwise occupied at that time. It’s a late enough (1981/2) recording – so, it should sound really good. I also got re-mastered regular CD’s of the first two Peter Gabriel albums – really the only two I am familiar with.

So, everybody else waits for LP’s to go away (they won’t), waits for the death of CD (it may take a while), waits for digital TV (we all gotta go sometime!)…and I’ve got an SACD that I can’t play.

I like to buy re-mastered CD’s of records that I like. I like the (sometimes) improved sound and the improved packaging – particularly when the Japanese do beautifully made little paper album covers (i.e. kami sleeves). I’m a good customer – first I bought the LP, then probably an imported LP…then eventually a Japanese-pressed LP. The 80’s brought my initial CD of any given title, the 90’s (and to the present) my 2nd CD purchase (i.e. the re-mastered edition or kami sleeve edition). How many more times am I going to have to buy my favorite titles?

I turn 50 in a few months. Maybe it’s time to draw the line in the sand. No new formats! Read my lips! No more ‘special edition re-masters’! No more kami sleeves? Ooh, I really like the kami sleeves, can’t I just buy a few hundred more?

Music has a ring through my nose – and I will follow it, wherever it goes. Bend over!


Anonymous Jim Donato said...

PG4 was a full digital recording at the time so I fail to see how 24/96 distribution of the title can sound any better than 16/44 - since that was S.O.T.A. in 1982. Now had it been an analog title, then all bets would be off! SACD remastering makes great sense for analog recordings since the sky's the limit there.

As for the art on the disc, it is the last classic PG album for me. LOTS of creative Fairlight work [which, ironically, was an 8 bit format at that time!]. So that means that even CDs of Fairlight heavy stuff of the time sound "dirty" and "flat" since the Fairlight records sound at much less the resolution of the CD itself. PG used a Series II CMI at the time which recorded in 8 bit at 2.1-30.2 KHz, well below CD resolution.

The first 4 PG issues, all in a row, are quite a body of work he certainly never matched or bettered. #3 in particular is a high water mark of creative rock music.

8:40 AM  
Blogger Ron Kane said...

Never heard PG3 or PG4. I figure I will start my exposure to it via a SACD.

6:46 PM  
Anonymous Jim Donato said...

I envy you for hearing PG3 for the first time on SACD, being that its an analog recording it should be amazing. But I feel sorry for you for having gone 28 years without having heard it! In its historical context the album was the proverbial bomb in what seemed like a whole YEAR of bombs. As I've stated before, I though it one of the 2-3 albums of the year and I like it even more now!

7:10 PM  

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