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Monthly Editorial by Marc Mickelson
February 2003

RIP Stereo DVD

Among the many press conferences held at CES was one by Classic Records that announced the audiophile label would no longer be releasing 24/96 DVDs under the DAD moniker and instead would offer DVD-As, presumably in multichannel format. Given that Chesky, who also championed the 24/96 DVD format under the SAD title, has stopped manufacturing the discs, it appears high-resolution two-channel PCM digital as an entity unto itself is dead.

For those of you wondering, DADs and SADs are the same thing: video DVDs with two tracks of PCM 24-bit/96kHz audio and no video. This allows the discs to be played back on standard DVD players (which can often output the digital bitsream for decoding by a high-quality external DAC) and doesn't require DVD-A functionality. We at SoundStage! have a reviewed a few of the discs, and their sound was universally terrific. Just last night, in fact, I was enjoying The Weavers: Reunion at Carnegie Hall [Classic Records DAD 1041] and Chris Whitley: Dirt Floor [Classic Records DAD 1010]. The sound of both was immediate and highly detailed. It was easy to discern that these were not CDs but something that sounded obviously better.

If the sound of 24/96 DVDs is so good, why has the format died off? SACD and DVD-A have slowly gained consumer steam, and mostly from the fact that they are multichannel formats. The Chesky and Classic Records DVDs were two-channel recordings, albeit very good ones, so the utility to non-audiophile buyers was just not discernible. Who would buy a DVD of the same music that could be purchased on CD for less money? Only audiophiles, a small market. SACD and DVD-A were conceived as multichannel formats, even though many early SACDs were stereo only. If people are going to pay more money, they want more of something to offset the cost. In the case of DVD-A and SACD, it's more channels of sound -- not that all of those channels are used properly to increase the sense of space a recording has to offer, for instance. Often, instruments that would normally appear in front of the listener are moved to the back channels. Apparently mainstream music buyers must like that sort of thing.

But interestingly, while Chesky and Classic Records will no longer release 24/96 software, such two-channel audio does live on. As you may know, DVDs can hold a lot of data, so to increase compatibility (and perhaps in some cases appease two-channel audiophiles) various companies that produce DVD-As have been including high-resolution two-channel mixes on their discs along with the multichannel mix that's more than likely the reason people are buying the discs. Sometimes this is indicated on the disc's packaging, while at other times you won't know that a two-channel mix is present until you pop the disc into your DVD player and have a look at the onscreen menu. Either way, it's surprising to me to discover how often high-resolution multichannel and two-channel music exist on the same disc. I've found DVD-As from Capitol, Hi-Res Music, DTS, Nishimura, AIX Records, and Silverline that offer multiple mixes, including one that's two-channel 24/96.

Classic Records is selling off many of its DADs at a 40% discount, and I for one will be buying a few of my favorites before they're gone for good. These discs, given their DVD-Video heritage, will always be playable in some way, and I trust the job Classic has done in terms of the sonics. But I will also be checking out DVD-As for two-channel 24/96 mixes, hoping to find that at some future point they will be a standard part of every DVD-A. More choices when it comes to how we play back our music are a very good thing.

...Marc Mickelson

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