Tuesday, August 12, 2008

SHM CD's - An Opinion

This was sent to me by Wes Oishi; I do not know where he got it. I would be happy to acknowledge the source and post it, if someone knows. This is a topic on all of our minds, I think...

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What most people seem to expect are macro changes and expect to hear a “wow” factor with the differences. Typically, what I noticed on all rock and jazz copies I have purchased is a better defined imagining focus, better depth and sound staging, a clarity as though a blanket has been lifted off the speakers without being ‘bright’ per se, just cleaner. A better analogy would be if someone had a pane of glass you were looking through. It seemed clean before but someone comes along and cleans it with super cleaner and now you can see through it without glare and pure, defined, images of the forest outside your window. Instrumental lines are easier to follow and more pure. Now, this is typical of the improvements along with low level detail retrieval as though the noise floor has just been lowered a notch or two. Better ‘air’ if you will is provided. This is NOT the case with all of them and you can not expect every disc to be, well, perfect. First, if not mastered properly anything will sound crappy at the hands of a poor engineering job. Second, it will not improve an otherwise flawed recording. It may allow you to hear back through the muck and mire to better hear what the original recording was and if it stunk to begin with, it will really stink now.

The improvements I have found in general are similar to what I have encountered with using “Art Du Son” CD optical treatment on regular CD’s. In every case on each disc I have used it on and that is discs in the hundreds, the improvement was not subtle. Glare, grunge, digital harshness and the noise floor all were improved upon immensely. Better instrumental overtones and far more natural balance is heard.

On one group of discs I found the SHM disc had startling improvements and they were far from subtle. The Police discs. Each one I A/B’d had huge sonic improvements in imaging and sound staging. Tea in the Sahara had a soundstage that was vast, without end, with instrumental lines emerging from pure silence all over the soundstage. Bass was tight, fast, defined and as deep as the foundation on my home. Vocals were pure, no grain. Everything was just fantastic and the best Red Book CD copy I have heard. I also have the recent mini LP version from last year that was DSD mastered. Both the SHM and the mini LP were from the same DSD mastered copies. There was no difference in gain between the two. Both registered the same dB rating on my dB meter at the same gain settings on my preamp. The SHM copy was just so much purer, natural and ‘there’ it was like a revelation. Don’t get me wrong, the mini LP DSD mastered copy was previously the best copy of the recording I had heard until I bought the SHM.

But, by and large the improvements one should really expect as a whole, all things otherwise being equal, are micro improvements. Non audiophiles may not care about those nor hear them. To those who strive for the ultimate sonic nirvana out of a given recording, the SHM pressings hold another improvement in technology not only for CD, but for SACD, DVD-A, DAD, HDAD, Blu Ray, etc.

With every improvement in technology it just brings us one step closer to the possibility of what a given medium could provide. In and of itself is it the sine quo non? No. With other technological advances in tandem does it provide yet another possibility to getting the best Red Book as to offer? Yes.

As I said many months ago I would love to hear a truly audiophile label company put out a superbly recorded, transferred and mastered copy of some of the killer recordings I own with the SHM pressing and see what happens. I am sure it will be positive and another step in the quest for wringing the most out of a given medium.

In the meantime, enjoy.

BTW, listening to some truly gorgeous jazz from Bill Evans last evening I was treated to a superbly warm, yet transparent and pure, recording from the 1960's on the SHM release. Transparent as heck, sweet and warm. Undoubtedly recorded on tube equipment from circa 1966. The imaging precision and defined image placements along with sound staging was quite an enjoyable listen, indeed. No, the gain was not higher, it was the same as another recent pressing of this disc I have as well. It is possible there are, of course, some that have been cranked up, but none of the copies of the SHM’s I own, have, and I own about 30 of them right now, with another 15 on order for September.

Richard Beyer

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