DSD Downloads: What Exactly Are You Getting?

November 21, 2013


My hat’s off to Chad Kassum. He has negotiated a deal with Sony Music to release albums from their vault in DSD format on his SuperHiRez.com website. The first one is Santana’ Abraxas. So the question is whether it is worth $25 to repurchase this classic album, since most likely you already have it on LP, CD and/or SACD, either the original versions, or one or more of the many subsequent audiophile remasters. The question comes down to provenance. You don’t want to buy the same thing again in another format. So here is what appears on Chad’s website:

“DSD file created by Gus Skinas from the original Sony Super Audio CD cutting masters.”

Sounds great, right? Not so fast. It begs the question: where did the SACD cutting masters come from? Did the “cutting masters” come directly from the analog tapes (good) or from the digital masters prepared for the CD (bad). Who knows? It is common knowledge that many, if not the majority, of SACDs issued by Sony Music back in the day were simply Redbook CD files upsampled to DSD. Was Abraxas one of them? Well, I won’t be coughing up $25 for yet another copy of the album until the issue is clarified. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. If DSD downloads are to be successful, the provenence of the source is going to have to be absolutely transparent. Sony Music is not getting off to a very good start.

It is critically important that you read the information about any download, from Chad Kassum’s site or any other, to see what you are getting. For example, these are the notes on Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto – Getz and Gilberto from Chad’s site:

“Mastered by George Marino at Sterling Sound from the original analog master tapes to vinyl and PCM. The DSD was sourced from the PCM. George listened to all of the different A/D converters he had before he chose which to use, and he felt the George Massenburg GML 20 bit A/D produced the best and most synergistic sound for the project.”

The A/D converter used was the Massenberg GLM 9300, which has a maximum sampling rate of 44.1kHz/48kHz. In other words, the DSD file you are paying a premium for was upsamped from, at best, a 48/20 PCM file. I admire Chad’s honesty in disclosing that information, but why not just skip the conversion and offer the file as a 48/20 PCM download? Does the music sound better simply by virtue of upsampling it to DSD? If you think so, I suggest you download Korg’s free AudioGate sample conversion software and upsample all the CDs in your collection to DSD. Imagine that, thousands of DSD audio files of your favorite music without having to spend a dime. Better yet, just use JRiver Media Center (if you can get along with the interface). It will do the upsampling for you automatically. Then all your files will be DSD. Whether they actually sound any better, I’ll leave up to you.