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Review: DVD audio Elvis 30 #1 Hits

HA probably isn't the place for this. If the mods think that it is, they can move it over to general.


We've had hundreds of posts about "Is CD good enough?" "Does DVD audio sound better" etc etc etc at HA. Most of these threads are filled with speculation and uninformed comment. I haven't seen anyone actually review a DVD-A or SACD disc.



This isn't a CD vs DVD thread

First off: I'm not going to compare CD with DVD-A in terms of technology. If you do want to compare these two objectively, you must have a CD and DVD-A taken from the same masters, and you must know that no additional processing has been performed to either version. As a consumer, you can never know this, so any attempt to compare these formats using consumer releases is futile. Please learn this Hi-Fi magazines!

What I’m going to talk about here is whether this DVD-A release is worth buying. Does it give you "something" that the CD doesn’t have, and is that "something" worth having? If future DVD-A releases follow a similar pattern, is there a future for the format?


So, what's on this DVD-A?

Well, it's the tracks from the Elvis 30 #1s CD, in reverse order (i.e. newest first), in a variety of formats.

There are also 6 bonus tracks - 3 "look how much better the remastered version sounds compared to the originals", and 3 "listen to how nice Elvis sounds in these incomplete outtakes".


DVD-V content

If you have a DVD-V only player, you can listen to 5.1 mixes of the tracks, encoded using Dolby AC-3 (Dolby digital).

There is no visual content. There is not even a menu! You will see nothing on your TV - just a black screen. The black screen is encoded on the DVD-V disc though, and on the USA release I imported it's NTSC. A PAL only TV will roll, but there aren't many PAL only TVs. Amazon.co.uk also sell the disc, and maybe they have a version with a PAL black screen - I doubt it. It hardly matters. It's a black screen! There is no region coding - anyone anywhere can play it.


DVD-A content

If you have a DVD-A player, there are 5 "groups" on the disc.
1 = 24-bit 96kHz 6-channel mix
2 = 24-bit 96kHz 2-channel mix
3 = 16-bit 44.1kHz 2-channel mix of the bonus material
4 = Dolby digital 5.1 mix
5 = Dolby digital 2.0 mix of the bonus material

(I’ll edit this if there’s also a 2.0 Dolby digital version of the entire disc - I didn’t explore that part fully)

In a wonderful bit of mastering, there is no visual content on the DVD-A portion of the disc either. No video, no menu, no nothing. Thankfully, there’s no black screen either, so the player reverts to its default on-screen display in your native TV format, which can be helpful.

In an even better example of stupidity, the "menu" button on the remote doesn't work with this disc (not unusual for DVD-A discs apparently), and the "disc navigator" button (which seems to be used for menus etc on DVD-A discs) simply plays group 3.

That's right - you press "disc navigator" and you hear the bonus material. Unless you manually switch to another "group", that's all you'll hear!


The master tapes

So far, so poor. But now let's talk about the sound...

I've got a confession to make. I've heard the 3-track masters of an Elvis track. Well, a direct 3-track dub of one. The tape was at the AES a few years ago, being played back on vintage studio equipment. It sounded amazing...

I was told at the AES that there are three masters of Love me Tender (and much other material). They were "mastered" live. Straight to mono, straight to stereo, and a back-up to this new-fangled three-track machine we've just got, in case something goes wrong. But it never did. The mono mixes were cut to the hit singles. The stereo mixes made it to later albums. The 3-tracks were used for the CD re-masters.

On the 3-track master tape, Elvis is on the centre channel - that's his mic only on that track. If you listen to just that track, you can hear the quiet echo of the backing group in the studio, and Elvis coming through loud and clear. I'm not a huge Elvis fan, but to hear him sing "solo" like that is very impressive, and very moving.

On the master tape, the other two tracks have a "stereo" mix of everything else - instruments and backing singers. If you listen to just these two, it's Elvis Kareoke!

With three tracks, it’s natural to listen to them through three speakers: left, centre, and right. This work very well.

For the stereo CD mixes, the centre channel is mixed into the other two. They demonstrated that at the AES. Whatever the benefits or otherwise of having a stereo channel, on those recordings it sounded much better to reproduce it through a dedicated centre speaker, rather than mix it to conventional 2-channel stereo (i.e. with a "phantom" centre).

For one thing, the voice is more solid, and you don't have to be sat in the sweet spot to appreciate it. But for another, there is (obviously) some acoustic break-through between the tracks. There's a little of Elvis on the backing tracks, and some of the backing on the Elvis track. If you mix the tracks together, you destructively cancel some of this breakthrough, and the sound just isn't quite as good. If you leave them as separate channels, and let them mix in the listening room, the effect is much more pleasing.


The DVD mix

So, having heard the master, I expected this DVD to be a faithful reproduction of it - probably with some extra echo in the rear channels to justify their existence.

What do you actually get on the 6-channel DVD-A? I’ll tell you: They have mixed the three discrete channels on the master tape down to two! That's right - the DVD-A centre channel isn't used (there's a bit of 21st century echo on there, but it's inconsequential), and there's a stereo mix across the front left and right speakers. The rear left and right speakers have the backing track only, with extra reverb and delay.

The result is "impressive" in the worst possible way. It's harder to hear Elvis. The backing is all around you. It's very echoey. It sounds nothing like the master tape. It sounds worse than the master tape. It does nothing for the music or the performance.

Other material on the disc came from other masters; some more modern, some even older. Similar mixing is used throughout, with the following exceptions:

The Elvis vs JXL remix has the drums in the rear. The Elvis part is very lo-fi, just like the JXL CD.


The first 14 tracks chronologically, which are the last 14 on this disc, were recorded in mono. These are presented with front left and front right equal (i.e. mono), nothing in the centre, and reverb in the rears. Complete waste of time.


The 2-channel mix of everything (group 2 on the DVD-A) is fine. It probably sounds pretty much like the CD version (which I don't have). I like it.

(Since the A:B remastered/not remastered comparisons are in 44.1kHz 16-bit only, comparing these with the 24/96 version is the same as comparing with the CD. I could hear no difference, though switching between groups and tracks isn't the easiest or quickest process - especially as the A:B tracks are switching to yet another different mix half of the time!)


The Dolby digital versions (which is all you will have access to if you have a DVD-Video only player - like most out there) are OK. If you listen to individual channels or channel-pairs you can hear artefacts. Maybe they're hidden with all speakers on. I don't know - I didn't try. I was so unimpressed by this point!


The extras
are interesting...

I can hear the A:B difference easily, but which is better? Which is A and which is B? If I've figured it out correctly, A is unremastered, and B is remastered. "A" sounds like hi-fi, B sounds like a compressed 60s recording, and is presented louder. That can't be right, surely? In fact I’m not sure what they were trying to achieve here. Maybe A is the original stereo version, and B is a new stereo version trying to sound as rocky as the original mono (i.e. hit single) version. There's no information with the disc, so I can't know for certain.

The out-takes are fun, but why fade them out?



Conclusion

So, in conclusion: very disappointing....

Sound quality of the stereo mix: very good, but better than the CD? Probably not.

Surround mix: rubbish. Could have been much better, by doing much less!

Presentation: non existent. The DVD-A comes with the CD booklet (with the tracks in the opposite order!!!!), and a single cover sheet explaining the DVD-A.

Navigation: non existant. On-screen lyrics: non existant.
etc
etc
etc



I've found other reviews on the web.

This one seems to be marketing, rather than reviewing the disc:
http://www.elvis.com.au/ein/review_dvd_elv1s.shtml

This one is slightly less gushing:
http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/read.php?ID=5261
http://www.currentfilm.com/dvdaudio/elvisdvdaudio.html

(it's amazing how many people copy reviews!)


I've read somewhere, and now lost it, that the reason why no complete isolated vocal is included (they were talking about the out-takes, but it could apply to providing a hard centre channel) was because this would allow DJs to sample Elvis and remix him.

So what?! It’s not as if they need a clean vocal anyway! What about allowing his fans (and others!) simply to listen to the recordings in the best possible quality?



If RCA/BMG are trying to kill off DVD-audio, this is a good start!

The sonic benefits of 24/96 vs 16/44.1 will be lost on most, if not all listeners. This can't be what DVD-A is primarily pushed by.

The sonic benefits of a good surround mix will please many people. However, with this release, you would get better results by taking the stereo CD and playing through a Dolby Pro Logic 2 decoder!

The "cool" factor of having nice on-screen menus, supplemental video content, lyrics, simple navigation etc etc are big plus points of DVD-A. There are none on this disc.


In conclusion, this disc hides all the benefits that DVD-A can bring, and gives a scary insight into what a mess the record companies can make of releasing older content in surround sound.

Without good software, a format is doomed. What hope is there for DVD-A unless the record companies buck their ideas up?

Cheers,
David.

P.S. here's another terrible surround release:
http://www.highfidelityreview.com/reviews/...number=19059725

P.P.S. no CD isn't good enough! You can't get lossless surround on CD, or nice interactive menus. Of course, if most DVD-As don't have these, then CD is probably more than good enough - that's my point!

P.P.P.S. one of the first DVD-As, The Corrs, In Blue, is much better in all respects (except the music!!! And a sometimes phantom, sometimes hard centre). Do the Corrs deserve better treatment than Elvis? I think not! (I love the Corrs btw, but this is Elvis - come on!)

sorry for the long post!

EDIT: typo, formatting

Review: DVD audio Elvis 30 #1 Hits

Reply #1
WOW 
Very good post.
IMHO, until now, DVD-A or SACD, have nothing to bring us in terms of REAL quality improvement to justify the extra expense.
The new formats have more to do which recording companies policies and marketing.
I'm not an Elvis fan, but I would love to listen those 3 tracks originals - on vintage studio equipament of course -.
"Jazz washes away the dust of everyday life" (Art Blakey)

Review: DVD audio Elvis 30 #1 Hits

Reply #2
It was of course a massive waste of space, and quality All they need to do is a DVD Video with PCM 3ch pcm audio, and use only 1ch where the source was only 1. You can use all the 24/96khz you want there. Only 44.1khz is not natively supported, but they could simply resample to 96khz. There will be plenty of free space left anyway... Oh yes, they should have added karaoke mode too...
She is waiting in the air

Review: DVD audio Elvis 30 #1 Hits

Reply #3
Unfortunately Joe Average has cheap 5.1 speakers and is content when they all buzz. Used to have a Klipsch Promedia 5.1 set & I was very happy when they were all making noise.

Most people are not looking for accuracy in music, as it only serves as a background for them, and as the market is consumer oriented things are looking rather sad.

Review: DVD audio Elvis 30 #1 Hits

Reply #4
You say that, but an interesting thing happens with new formats: you have to please the early adopters.


If you don't please early adopters, then

1) you don't have many early adopters, and the format never catches on, and

2) the early adopters can be very vocal! 1 dissatisfied early adopter can tell 10, 100, or 1000 people how bad this thing is, and these people probably won't buy it. Ever! (even if it improves).



Whilst it's true that you can never underestimate the general public, it's also true that people won't spend their money unless there is a real or perceived benefit.

I can get all my speakers buzzing by loading a CD and hitting the surround button.

I'm not going to buy DVDs for music unless they offer me a lot more. Better surround, better quality (well, someone will tell me it's better and I'll believe them). text, graphics, menus, pictures, lyrics - lots of flashy stuff which my neighbour hasn't got on his CD player.

Cheers,
David.

Review: DVD audio Elvis 30 #1 Hits

Reply #5
Quote
It was of course a massive waste of space, and quality All they need to do is a DVD Video with PCM 3ch pcm audio, and use only 1ch where the source was only 1. You can use all the 24/96khz you want there. Only 44.1khz is not natively supported, but they could simply resample to 96khz. There will be plenty of free space left anyway... Oh yes, they should have added karaoke mode too...

You're right - they could have done this release on a DVD-V disc, if they just wanted to preserve the 3-track version. Which, apparently, they didn't!


However, most multi-channel releases will have more than 3 channels. It makes sense to use the lossless packing available in DVD-A (but not DVD-V) to store large amounts of audio, so you can release longer works, high quality versions, genuine separate stereo and multi-channel mixes, and/or include some good extras.

DVD-A is also supposed to clear up some navigation issues, and the spec is designed with the idea of making in-car playback easy. This would fail miserably on the Elvis disc!


I think DVD-A is a good thing, but it definitely needs some good software. This Elvis disc is an example of exactly what not to do! If there are many more high-profile release like this, then the format could sink without a trace!

Cheers,
David.

Review: DVD audio Elvis 30 #1 Hits

Reply #6
1.IMHO, recording companies will never use the full potential of DVD-A disks and/or release albuns using true and ORIGINAL multichannel lossless form(closely as possible to the master tapes).
2.As always, the music industry still trying to apply their century-old marketing tecniques.

/edit/ typos
"Jazz washes away the dust of everyday life" (Art Blakey)

Review: DVD audio Elvis 30 #1 Hits

Reply #7
Quote
So, in conclusion: very disappointing....

Sound quality of the stereo mix: very good, but better than the CD? Probably not.

Surround mix: rubbish. Could have been much better, by doing much less!

Presentation: non existent.

A negative point for the buyers is that it's seldom possible to determine the added value of the surround mix(es) before you buy.
There is hope of improvement though, at first stereo was also thought of as a mere gimmick. If you listen to 60's or some early 70's records you find that the a lot of the stereo mixes were disappointing by today’s standards. So maybe in 10 yrs, more and more mixing supervisors will manage to put out nice surround mixes.

I myself still believe that surround and 5.1 is more a cinema/gaming thing. You mileage may vary.
In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.

Review: DVD audio Elvis 30 #1 Hits

Reply #8
Quote
1.IMHO, recording companies will never use the full potential of DVD-A disks and/or release albuns using true and ORIGINAL multichannel lossless form(closely as possible to the master tapes).

Well, then they'll be cutting off their nose to spite their face!


They can't keep re-releasing this material at a premium price forever. The copyright on the earliest Elvis recordings expires in three years. Within ten years, the Beatles start to go the same way.

No copyright means that anyone can release the stuff. Legally. You only have to pay the publishing rights. That's 4.5% of the price. You can legally sell the greatest hits of Elvis or The Beatles for £2, and still make a profit!


However, new mixes gain new copyright - it's a new artistic(!) work. To compete with all the cheap releases, the majors will have to raise the standard of their releases. If they don't sound amazing, look amazing, offer great extras, and (most importantly, because the copyright-free re-issues can't do it) give excellent accurate surround sound, then they just won't sell.

They'll do a good job, because it'll be the only way they can keep making money from older material.

At least, I hope so.

Cheers,
David.

Review: DVD audio Elvis 30 #1 Hits

Reply #9
Quote
Quote
So, in conclusion: very disappointing....

Sound quality of the stereo mix: very good, but better than the CD? Probably not.

Surround mix: rubbish. Could have been much better, by doing much less!

Presentation: non existent.

A negative point for the buyers is that it's seldom possible to determine the added value of the surround mix(es) before you buy.

That's so true! You have to rely on reviews. Well, I'd read the reviews, and they're so wrong! That's one of the reasons I wrote this, though I can't see it appearing in google when you search for Elvis DVD audio, unfortunately.

Quote
There is hope of improvement though, at first stereo was also thought of as a mere gimmick. If you listen to 60's or some early 70's records you find that the a lot of the stereo mixes were disappointing by today’s standards.


Most early stereo is great though. Not always what you expect, but usually very satisfying. As long as the vocals are near the centre!

Quote
So maybe in 10 yrs, more and more mixing supervisors will manage to put out nice surround mixes.

I myself still believe that surround and 5.1 is more a cinema/gaming thing. You mileage may vary.


No, I agree entirely. 5.1 is quadraphonic (which failed!) + a centre and a sub. For a true audiophile, neither centre or sub add much.

I don't think 5.1 will ever be great for music. To be honest, I don't want sound around me. Well, not instruments anyway! But I would like to hear 1960s 3-track recordings with a hard centre.

As I've said many times, I loved 6.0:
http://www.hydrogenaudio.org/forums/index....opic=9311&st=51

Cheers,
David.

 
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