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Monthly Editorial by Marc Mickelson
May 2003

The Case for DVD-A

Last month in this space I discussed SACD and presented what I see as the format's greatest asset: the sound. While various pundits poo-poo SACD and DSD, it's hard to argue with success, and you need to do no more than listen to just about any SACD to hear that it's a format for the future.

This month, I have a more difficult task in front of me: discussing the merits of DVD-A, more for the sake of pointing out what's right with the format than strict fair play. This is more difficult than doing the same with SACD because there are not as many DVD-A titles available, and those that are don't, as a group, sound as good as the bulk of SACDs. That's right -- say what you want about the technical issues surrounding the subject, but DVD-A doesn't have the sonic chops of SACD at this point.

While a number of issues could be the culprit here, I suspect that DVD-A's lack of sonic acuity is due mostly to how the format is being used by a good number of the companies creating and selling DVD-As. So often the DVD-As you see for sale are repackaged mixes of poor-sounding CDs or obscure performances by known acts -- the sort of stuff you see in cardboard bargain bins at the grocery store. A good many SACDs, on the other hand, have CD counterparts, but the recordings chosen benefit from the added resolution that DSD can provide. Yes, there are poor-sounding SACDs that seem thrown together for the purpose of making a fast buck, but this is more widespread with DVD-A, perhaps due to the enormous success of the DVD format.

I don't want to paint all companies producing DVD-As with the same brush, however. Two labels, Nishimura and AIX Records, have produced multiple DVD-As that rival SACDs in terms of sound quality and program material. I suspect this is so because both labels are small and have no access to old tapes that they can simply reuse for "new" DVD-As. Instead, both labels record their own material with sound quality in mind. If you're looking for recommendations, try Nitty Gritty Surround [80008] on AIX Records, or Organ: New Dimensions [DVD-A-002] from Nishimura. While you may still prefer the SACDs in your collection, you will find much to admire in both of these recordings -- and the others from these two labels.

In the end, I suspect SACD and DVD-A will both survive, and as more and more universal A/V players come to market, you'll simply buy your music and play it with little thought as to its format. But if DVD-A wants to stake out some of the sonic high ground that SACD has under its control right now, more and more labels will need follow the lead of AIX Records and Nishimura and produce serious music for high-rez and multichannel listening and not just try to sell us whatever marginal music they have in stock at the moment.

...Marc Mickelson

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