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SACD vs DVDA vs FLAC pt #1 - The Nightfly, Donald Fagen.


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I promised this a while back, and actually completed it in October with my audio buddy Travis.  The initial question - What sounds better, SACD or DVD Audio?  I happen to have three (3) different albums in both formats, AND I have all three on CD (FLAC) as well.  
 

I will start by saying that this sounds like a fun challenge, but I assure you, it was anything but. I found it difficult, annoying, and frustrating AND it had the added bonus of pretty much burning me out on these albums.  In fact, I was so annoyed with the whole challenge that I neglected to even write it up here.  Then a couple days ago, @MLB111 kindly inquires about the results. Shit. I suppose I should publish them, if for no other reason that to dissuade anyone else from venturing down this path. To make matters worse, I cannot locate my original notes - but I can remember a lot of it, so I enlisted my son’s help (he’s just getting in to the hobby, and starting to learn the ins and outs of high quality audio). I’m  going to break it up into 3 parts - one for each album, mainly because it’s tedious and exhausting, as you’ll soon see. 

 

The system - Oppo 105 to BillD C1 to Silver 9t pair, to NHT 2.9 speakers.  Kimber and MIT ICs, and MIT Terminator 4 speaker cables. 
 

The album - The Nightfly, by Donald Fagen - SACD, DVDA, FLAC. 
 

Whenever I do something like this, with media OR gear, I tend to listen to the overall presentation of course, but for the real substantive  measures, I tend to focus in on the smallest, most subtle details I can find in the recording, and compare those details - wether it be between speakers, amps, or in this case, SACD and DVDA. * I cannot stress this point enough before I continue - the differences between these discs (SACD & DVDA) are so subtle and so slight that even identifying them was exceedingly painstaking.  Further, these differences would most likely NEVER manifest in normal listening and comparison For Nightfly, I found the most differences in two tracks: Track #1, I.G.Y., and track #5, New Frontier. 
 

#1, I.G.Y. = at the 52 second mark, right as the intro ends, and the trumpet fades and the vocals start, there is a very slight cymbal that is completely different that the prior cymbal cadence. It’s one strike, slightly left of center and a couple feet behind the speaker plane. The same cymbal strike happens again at 1:25, 2:10, and a few more times later in the track (sorry, I didn’t feel like listing them all).  This cymbal is more prominent in the DVDA. It is a bit more “buried” in the SACD version, and not as defined.  At the 2:08 mark, there is a snappy bass “flurry”.  The SACD presents this with a tiny bit more “pop”, and a better “edge” the the string plucks.  As I listened to this track for perhaps the 20th time in this sitting (ugh), I turned to my son half way through and said “is that a tambourine ?”  I have listened to this track many times in the past, and I don’t EVER remember a tambourine.  Back to the start of the track, and sure enough, no tambourine. It actually comes in at the 1:28 mark. It’s subtle, and EASILY mistaken for a cymbal. The DVDA does a better (slightly) job of defining the individual cymbal-ettes (?) around the circumference of the tambourine than does the SACD. 
 

#5, New Frontier = At 1:30 (and again at 2:40) there is a distinctly different guitar sound solid.y in the left channel. It’s tone is so different that it is almost distracting. The SACD did a better job of blending this into the overall presentation - However I’m not positive that’s a good thing, so take it for what it’s worth. In the intro, there is a cowbell in the percussion. On the DVDA, it sounds more like a cowbell - on the SACD, it lacks some of the “metallic” overtones, rendering it almost more like a wood block, than a cowbell. There is also a harmonica solidly in the right channel in the intro. On the DVDA, this harmonica is considerably more forward and distinguishable. On the SACD, it is markedly buried in the mix of other sounds in the right side of the soundstage - THIS is the most significant difference in the two discs.

 

Overall, the edge here goes to the DVDA - the subtleties noted above, and a very slight edge in overall clarity and separation of the many instruments is the reason I feel the SACD comes up ever so slightly short. Again, I cannot stress the small measures here - it literally took hours to determine the differences. As for CD and/or FLAC, the differences there are significant - width of sound stage, detail in the specifics listed above, and overall dynamics give a clear edge the either of the high res formats over CD or FLAC. 

 

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Mark I'm not sure if I should say "thank you" first or apologize first.  But, either way I appreciate your effort and it will make it easier for me to know which direction to go.  My hearing is not top of the line (neither is my hearing aids) however, I would very much like to be able to hear the nuances and subtleties you describe.  That won't happen but at least I have a better understanding as to what is possible sonically.  In all the years I have had an interest in "hi-fi" I can say I probably NEVER had my system set up properly.  I did not chase components but usually stayed with one system.  My first was a combination  of a Yamaha integrated amp and Yamaha tuner.  A B&O turntable and Klipsch Heresy speakers.   These were later replaced by Yamaha M-2s, T-1 (?) tuner,  C-4 pre and Infinity RS11a speakers and a Yamaha cd player.  Believe it was there first iteration. .  I enjoyed the system but never ever had it set up right. 

 

Again Mark thank you for writing it up and posting.  I very much appreciate it.

 

Mike

 

Edited by MLB111
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Thanks for the effort. I would never want to be a reviewer. As you said, I makes you never want to play that music again. That said, having a system that CAN resolve cool details in music is hair raising and addictive. 

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Every so often, I hear an album on my system that actually overwhelms me, saturates me to the point that I have to stop listening. It's chocolate that is so good on the first bite, that a second bite is just decadent. What amazes me is that it isn't often found on SACD, but rather really well made CD or a FLAC file. I have heard not DVD A, but have heard that it is impressive. This stuff runs me in circles, seeking what is best. Turns out, the medium doesn't always matter. 

  Hearing new instruments as you stated about the tambourine, really makes me wonder how I could have missed it after listening so many times.

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4 hours ago, MLB111 said:

In all the years I have had an interest in "hi-fi" I can say I probably NEVER had my system set up properly.  I did not chase components but usually stayed with one system.

 

I can understand this completely! I chased Yamaha gear from the 80’s until 2010. Then I decided I wanted some Carver gear. I purchased new Paradigm speakers and started collecting gear. My problem all these years until about a month ago, was speaker placement. I have never set my speakers up correctly for the last 40 years. Gear was always hooked up right. Since my speakers are setup correctly, I am hearing things in the music I haven’t heard before. I guess an old dog can learn new tricks.......😀

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My system was actually ok.  However, my speaker placement sucked.  So when I could hear (lo those many years ago) I missed everything because I was a dumbass.  Now even with good speaker placement (when/if I get things up and running) I will miss everything because my hearing is shot.  O well spending money on stereo stuff is better than another wife.  At least you can turn it off.

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I was a dumbass in my late teens/early 20’s with my car stereo, and I know I don’t hear as much now as I could be hearing, had I listened to people 30 years ago that were telling me I was damaging my hearing.  That’s why I cringe and gently try to enlighten people I see making the same mistakes now that I made so long ago.  Ultimately though, everyone gets to make their own decisions...

 

even with damaged hearing, Id venture a guess that you can still hear quite a bit...

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