Candy from Brain Salad
by Jim Bray
Ive just had my socks knocked off by a new audio format.
Its DVD Audio and, though there arent a lot of titles available
yet, the one example Ive heard was amazing and I didnt
even play it on the proper equipment!
The Audio Epiphany came from of Rhinos DVD Audio release of the
classic Emerson, Lake and Palmer album Brain Salad Surgery.
Ive always loved that record, but the CDs sound muddy.
This version, however, is spectacular. Despite the albums nearly
thirty year age, it sounds better than some of todays state-of-the-art
I first heard DVD Audio at the Consumer Electronics Show a few years
back and, while the demo sounded impressive, I never believe somethings
for real until I experience it under real world conditions.
Now I have and, as you may have noticed, I gibber with delight.
DVD Audio is made possible by the huge amount of storage available on
a DVD. That extra elbow room for data allows for more bits and higher
sampling rates which, in a nutshell, means the size and number
of "digital pictures of the music" the recorder takes each second.
Rather than using the CDs 16 bits sampled at 44.1 kHz, DVD Audio
uses 24 bits sampled at up to 192 kHz. The really high sampling is referred
to as MLP (Meridian Lossless Packing) Recording, and it reconstructs the
original recording bit by bit. MLP recording can only hold stereo information
at the moment, but less highfalutin DVD Audio discs
can offer real multi-channel surround sound.
The result, at least on Brain Salad Surgery, is sound thats
incredibly lifelike, highly defined, clean and, best of all, REALLY LOUD!
Audiologists are sure to love the extra business
Then theres the 5.1 channel DVD Audio remix, which offers a whole
new musical experience for those who never experienced quadraphonic sound
back in the 1970s. I loved quad, but it never sounded as good as
this. Thats partly because the Dolby 5.1mix, being all digital,
gives much better separation between the different channels (front left,
center and right, surround left and right, and subwoofer). This means
ELPs wild, studio-created special effects like music swirling
around you from speaker to speaker and synthesizers that jump all over
the place comes through loud and clear, immersing you in the experience.
Thats only one aspect of the surround sound, though. While I havent
listened to one yet, I imagine that a properly recorded and mixed DVD
Audio version of a live album will make you feel as if youre really
at the show!
Remember, when youre at a concert you dont only hear the
music thats being played, you also hear its reflections from walls,
trees, fat people, or whatever else happens to be around. This is something
audio manufacturers have tried to fudge digitally with simulated "concert
hall-type" settings on their receivers/processors, with varying degrees
Theres a caveat to this audio ecstasy, though. To get the entire
benefit of DVD Audio, you need a DVD player and audio system that are
up to the task (you should be able to tell by the DVD Audio logo on the
equipment). The format requires a DVD player with six-channel analog outputs
and your receiver/preamp, naturally, will need corresponding inputs. DVD
audio players are expected to cost around $900.
I havent had a chance to try the real McCoy yet, so my marvelous
Brain Salad Surgery experience was achieved using a conventional
DVD player. I cant imagine how much better it could sound, but Im
willing to try
As with DVD movies, Brain Salad Surgery also includes some
extras, like videos, lyrics, and a photo gallery, though you cant
access them on all DVD players. Fortunately, the bonus material is merely
icing on an already delicious cake.
Unfortunately, the DVD Audio format has a competitor for your hard-earned
after-tax dollars. Sony/Philips' Super Audio CD is a hybrid disc that
contains the normal data layer of a Compact Disc, enhanced with a second,
high density layer. This extra tier of data is where they store the "ultra
high quality" multi-channel sound, text and graphics. I havent heard
an SACD disc, so cant say how good it is, but its probably
I hope it doesnt mean were facing another VHS/beta standards
war. Thats the last thing consumers need.
Jim Bray's technology
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