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Thread: Solti's Ring on SACD -- the ULTIMATE?!

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    Senior Member GrosseFugue's Avatar
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    Exclamation Solti's Ring on SACD -- the ULTIMATE?!

    Hi, I've read how Solti's Ring, even despite Decca's James Lock's 1997 remaster, still doesn't sound like it should; is too compressed. I've enjoyed the set, but I can totally see what they're saying; there's potential for a much larger soundscape, something to really blow your lid off.

    Jack Lawson from Music Web hails the new CD/SACD hybrid remaster from the Japanese label: Esoteric. http://www.musicweb-international.co...SD90021-34.htm
    It makes my mouth water! I would LOVE to have this. But it costs $800. Also I'd have to invest in an SACD player to really get the most out of it. If only I was a millionaire!

    Has anyone here heard this set? Is it true BLISS?

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    Senior Member Itullian's Avatar
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    no, i haven't, but i had the set on lp back when, and the cds don't even come close.
    but 800 is ludicrous.

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    Senior Member Kontrapunctus's Avatar
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    It would be more blissful if it were multi-channel instead of stereo.

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    Senior Member Amfibius's Avatar
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    As it turns out, I own a copy of this SACD. I also have it on vinyl and the later release. I made this post on another forum some time last year when I received my set:

    --

    Yesterday, my copy of Wagner's Ring cycle, remastered by Esoteric on SACD arrived. Many thanks to David.M for giving me a heads-up that these were still available on Elusive Disc. I ordered the set at the end of November and paid $60 for express delivery via USPS. It arrived nearly 7 weeks later! I was in contact with Jason from Elusive Disc, who offered to ship me another copy, gratis, if the first one did not arrive. Top marks to Jason for outstanding customer support.

    In any case, I am talking about the legendary recording of the Wagner Ring cycle, conducted by Georg Solti with the Vienna Philharmonic, and recorded by John Culshaw between 1958-1964. It was praised for its outstanding sound quality, and for a while even outsold popular albums by Elvis. Wagner nerds might debate which is the best performance - Knappertsbusch, Keilberth, and Furtwangler are also highly regarded - but there is no question that every Wagner afficionado must have a copy of this particular performance.

    In any case, I now have three copies of the same performance - on vinyl, RBCD, and SACD. This is not necessarily a comparison of the formats, although it does showcase what can be achieved by each format. This is because the mastering is different - the vinyl was taken from the original analogue master tape; the RBCD is a 1990's remaster from the analogue master tape; and the SACD is a 2009 remaster, taken from the original analogue tape, but this time in DSD format.

    My boxed set on vinyl is a rare release from the 1970's with a brass relief etching on a substantial cardboard box. The thing weighs a tonne - probably about 10kg! The discs inside are pristine and unscratched, and totally silent. You get a beautiful booklet and a lovely libretto.

    On digital, there have been two remasters. The first was done in 1985 and was universally acknowledged to sound horrible. The one I have was remastered in 1997. The reviews at the time said that it was a substantial step up from the original digital remaster from the 80's. It does not sound bad by any means, but it is nowhere near as good as modern classical recordings on digital.

    When the set was released, it was very expensive - about $350 for 14 discs. In 1997 money. As you can see from the picture, the production copy was not very impressive. The CD's are held in paper sleeves within cardboard boxes, which are packed into another cardboard box. The libretto is printed in small type - very difficult to read in a darkened room.

    The Esoteric remaster was made in 2009. The Japanese engineers obtained the original master tapes from Decca and remastered it on DSD using their own equipment. There is a series of Esoteric SACD's, which is supposed to be the pinnacle of classic recordings of classical music - the best performances, with the best sound quality, remastered on the latest and best technology. Sort of the Criterion Collection, but for classical music. This set comes with all the operas, an accompanying documentary on DVD on the making of the 1958-1964 recording, a book called "The Ring Resounding" by John Culshaw, and the Libretto printed on two books on beautiful paper.

    Besides the cost ($1299 from Elusive Disc!!) there is one serious downside. Everything is printed in Japanese.

    So what do they sound like? Well: vinyl is best, SACD second best, RBCD is dead last.

    The quality of the sound on vinyl was a real eye-opener. Dynamic, rich, layered, clear, and extraordinarily expressive. It is hard to believe this was recorded in the late 50's, because it is better than most modern recordings on digital.

    The SACD follows quite closely behind, however for some reason it sounds more sterile even though you can hear as much detail as you can with the vinyl. The dynamics of the attack are still there, but the leading edge lacks aggressiveness and sounds much smoother. This could be distortion on the vinyl, or the Esoteric engineers missed something in translation, or that my playback equipment isn't good enough. Or maybe digital still has a way to go. I am not sure what is responsible, but SACD still isn't as good as vinyl.

    That the RBCD finished last was no real surprise. I have known for years that this CD, despite sounding thin and having a brittle top end, still manages to sound muffled in the midrange. However, this is a sad indictment of the modern classical industry that it still sounds better than many modern recordings - for example, nearly every Deutsche Grammofon digital recording from the 1980's right up to the early 2000's, which was when they got their act together. Modern DGG sounds great, but not close to the quality of the SACD of this recording.

    So there you have it

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    Senior Member GrosseFugue's Avatar
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    Amfibius, thank you for that very detailed follow-up! (BTW, did you ever try out the remasters at Pristine Classical?)

    Does anyone know if Decca's got plans to re-re-master the set anytime soon?

    It's been 15 years now since the last one and technology has gotten much better since. I don't know why they don't. Seems like an easy way to rake in some cash (and even make a PROFIT!). You know collectors would be flocking like mad to buy it. Decca recently put out a CD omnibus called: "Decca Sound" -- http://www.amazon.com/Decca-Sound-Va...d=GXMGKMQXBBBG You'd think if they're going to that much trouble they'd at least consider doing the same for their best selling album of all time!
    Last edited by GrosseFugue; Feb-05-2012 at 02:06.

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    Senior Member bigshot's Avatar
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    SACDs are a complete waste of money. Any advantage in sound is so far below normal listening level, you'd never hear it unless you turn the volume up to deafening levels. I did a controlled comparison between the redbook and SACD layers od a DSD Pentatone hybrid SACD. After level matching, there was absolutely no difference. All of the differences I found between CDs and SACDs were differences in mixing and mastering. The format is no better than CD.

    SACDs are a boondoggle designed to get you to buy recordings you already own a second time.
    Last edited by bigshot; Feb-05-2012 at 06:49.

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    Senior Member bigshot's Avatar
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    By the way. The main difference between the original release and the remaster of Solti's Ring was that the original was a straight transfer off the master tapes. The remaster had a little bit of hiss removal. Other than that, they are identical. The CDs sound much better than the vinyl, particularly the LPs produced during the 80s with Ring Resounding included in the box.
    Last edited by bigshot; Feb-05-2012 at 06:51.

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    Senior Member Amfibius's Avatar
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    GrosseFugue, I haven't heard any of the remasters on Pristine Classical. I had to google it after you mentioned it ... sounds intriguing! The only problem is that I have no way to play downloaded music on my system. I would have to order the CD

    Oh, and there are cranks who say that SACD's don't sound any different to CD's. There are also cranks who think that there are no discernible differences between MP3 and CD. All I say is: if you can't hear a difference then don't buy it. To each their own.

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    Senior Member bigshot's Avatar
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    I am not a crank. I work in the entertainment business and I've recorded, edited sound and supervised sound mixes. I know what the difference is between high bitrate sound and redbook. An engineer freind and I spent a month putting together what we needed to do a controlled A/B comparison. I'm not just talking about my "impressions". I've done the legwork to know for sure what the difference is.

    If you know about digital audio, you know that the increased resolution of high bitrate audio extends downward in the dynamic range. At normal listening volumes, the sound is exactly the same. The reason music is recorded at a higher rate is to allow room to boost the level of elements in the mix without running into the noise floor. If you are just listening to music on headphones, you would have to raise the level to the volume of a woodchipper at close range to hear a difference. If you did that, it wouldn't matter because you would incur hearing damage.

    Audiophiles regularly point to numbers on a page when they talk about good sound quality. But they usually have no clue what those numbers mean. The difference between a well mastered CD and the same recording on SACD is completely indistinguishable. If you think you hear a difference, it's something other than the bitrate that you're hearing.

    By the way, Pristine Audio adds "sweetening" in the form of synthetic stereo digital reverbs to their transfers. If you like that, they're great. I prefer less intrusive techniques.

    I know of at least three LP versions of Solti's Ring. The first came in a box with a die cut window in it and had the graphics in the booklet of the CD remaster. The next version included the Disks that identified the leitmotifs. The last version included a hardback of Ring Resounding. The best sounding LP was the second set with the leitmotif disks. The earlier set is usually damaged by early stereo stylii, and the later version had more noisy surfaces. The set you have there appears to be the UK version of the third release. That would date to the late 70s/early 80s. I had the US version of that same release and I gave it away after comparing it to the first CD release. The noise floor was much better on the CD and the LP tended to have more distortion in the inner grooves.
    Last edited by bigshot; Feb-05-2012 at 10:04.

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    Senior Member GrosseFugue's Avatar
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    Bigshot, you say even the first CD-release is better than the LP's?! WOW. And I've always heard everyone praise LP's to the sky. But wasn't the first CD-release really bad and brittle sounding?

    And SACD's are really no better? Again -- WOW. And yet so many people (even renowned musicians and critics) swear by it and there is a whole sub-industry selling SACD players, etc. Are these people really just imagining an improvement? If it's truly a con-job it sounds like the ultimate con. How is that possible?

    You sound like you really know your stuff, have the background, etc, so I'd appreciate your insights about these issues.

    Also, as a soundman yourself wouldn't you agree though that a new remaster of The Ring is warranted considering all the advances in technology? Certainly, there is room for improvement, yes?

    PS -- you mentioned you didn't care for Pristine Classical's methods. What do you think of Eduardo's at Furtwangler Sound? http://furtwanglersound.com/

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    Senior Member bigshot's Avatar
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    I haven't heard anything by Furtwangler Sound.

    Check out Solti's Ring at your local public library. It sounds fine. The only thing you can do to improve it is to remove the tape hiss from the master, but that doesn't really bother me. That's why I didn't buy the remastered set after comparing a friend's copy to my set and finding only a minor difference in noise reduction.

    SACDs aren't for sound engineers. They're for audiophiles who trust what stereo equipment salespeople tell them. Double blind testing doesn't lie. CDs are all you need for normal listening.

    Test showing SACDs sound exactly like CDs except at greatly increased volume levels beyond the limit of comfortable listening...
    http://www.aes.org/e-lib/browse.cfm?elib=14195

    Remastered does not always mean better. The new stereo Beatles box is slightly compressed compared to the original release. That is the main audible difference. It pays to have a pair of CD players and two preamps to do direct line level matched A/B comparisons. The results might surprise you.
    Last edited by bigshot; Feb-06-2012 at 10:53.

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    Senior Member Amfibius's Avatar
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    Well, getting back on topic ... have you actually heard the Esoteric remaster of the Ring, or are you talking out of your ****?

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    Senior Member bigshot's Avatar
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    There is no point releasing it on SACD. It won't sound any better because of the higher bitrate. See link to the AES above.

    It really doesn't matter though because the format is dying... except among audiophools.

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    Senior Member Kontrapunctus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bigshot View Post
    There is no point releasing it on SACD. It won't sound any better because of the higher bitrate. See link to the AES above.

    It really doesn't matter though because the format is dying... except among audiophools.
    You might be a nice guy, but such pronouncements make you sound like a total a$$hole.

    Anyway, I used to do professional recording, too, so I know a thing or two about sound. I have bought a few SACD versions of older RBCD recordings, such as Heifetz' Brahms and Sibelius Violin Concertos on RCA. The SACD version sounds as if a veil has been lifted: I hear far more orchestral detail, more hall ambiance, and greater stereo imaging, particularly through my Stax headphones. I rarely buy RBCDs anymore unless the music simply isn't available or it contains a particularly illuminating performance. I don't care what tests "prove": to my ears, SACDs offer superior sound. If you don't hear it, then that's fine, too.

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    Senior Member bigshot's Avatar
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    When you did professional recording, did you record in bitrates above 16/44.1? Do you know what the difference is between redbook and high bitrate? At normal volumes the resolution between both is identical. (Google Nyquist Curve). The difference between CD sound and DSD is almost entirely at volumes at or below the noise floor of your listening room. It isn't audible with headphones unless you turn the volume up to ear splitting levels. This isn't arrogance, it's a fact.

    The difference you heard between formats on your Heifetz SACD is all due to mastering. If you bounced the SACD down to 16/44.1 and burned it on a CD, it would sound exactly the same.

    The only advantage of the SACD format over CDs is its multichannel features. But even those are poorly implemented because they hobbled the format with analogue outputs. It's impossible to buy an amp with analogue multichannel inputs for under $1000. Everything uses optical or coax digital. For stereo, SACD is a total waste of time. No one can hear the difference between identically mastered CDs and SACDs. That has been proven in double blind tests, as the paper I linked to from the AES shows.
    Last edited by bigshot; Feb-12-2012 at 10:39.

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