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DVD-Audio & SACD Mastering
David Glasser of Airshow Mastering & Charlie Watts of Enterprise Mastering

In the seminar Surround Mastering, David Glasser of Airshow Mastering and Charlie Watts of Enterprise Mastering explained how SACD and DVD-A are mastered. From their talk, it was very apparent that the two formats are far more complicated than CDs to master, but for vastly different reasons.

Charlie Watts went first, showing us an extensive diagram of how a DVD-Audio disc is mastered. Unlike CDs, DVD-Audio mastering involves more than just one or two 2-channel mixes. The audio alone requires three different rates: 96kHz, 24-bits for the highest resolution, 48kHz, 24-bits for the Dolby Digital and DTS encoders (which are done at the end as turn-key productions, with no special remixing for either process), and 44.1kHz, 16-bits for the CD version of the release. The multi-channel mixes are also checked two channels at a time with headphones to ensure that no subtle glitches make it to the final mix. DVD-Audio releases often have video components as well, be they still images or short videos. The navigation menus must be designed and programmed, along with any web links on the disc. A DVD-Audio release becomes much like a complicated computer program, which has to be extensively tested to make sure that everything works. I was quite impressed at the organization of the entire process, which takes from 29 to 62 hours per title, but if production houses were any less organized, they'd probably be overwhelmed by the complexity of an average DVD-Audio release.

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To conclude his portion of the talk, Charlie made some interesting points about DVD-Audio:
  1. Surround sounds better to both artists and consumers. Once they've heard surround, no one wants to go back to two-channel. Surround sounds better because some traditional two-channel techniques aren't needed any more. For example, surround alleviates the need for the extreme compression found on CD releases, because of its higher resolution and the realization that surround discs cannot be played on the radio.
  2. Car surround is becoming more popular, and may drive the market.
  3. Surround is digital radio compatible, which also feeds into the car market.
  4. Surround is hard to copy and artists like that. Six channels of high-resolution audio is too large to download, and therefore not conducive to widespread piracy.

David Glasser then took over, and told us how SACD is mastered. In comparison to DVD-Audio, SACD would seem to be quite simple. SACD discs have three audio components: a multi-channel mix, a two-channel mix, and a CD mix, but SACD has no video, menu system, or web content. Indeed, David says that SACD mastering is only slightly more complicated than CD mastering.

So why is it so hard to master SACD? The main reason is that there are almost no tools for mastering SACD due to its Direct Stream Digital (DSD) encoding. One of David's slides during his presentation detailed his wish-list for SACD mastering tools, and it basically contained almost every tool PCM editors take for granted, with the most egregious one being the lack of recordable SACD media. Apparently with the need for such media known since the birth of SACD, the lack of SACD-R extends and complicates the whole mastering process because artists cannot take home preliminary copies of works being mastered for approval. However, all is not lost, as there are three paths to a SACD release, only one of which requires native DSD tools (which are coming): 

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  1. Native DSD, but with limited tools available like the Sony Sonoma system.
  2. Analog mixing with only one digitization done at the end to convert to DSD.
  3. PCM mixing with one conversion to DSD done at the end.
The last two paths have rich toolsets for mastering and processing, and David felt that DSD purists who maintain that a pure DSD path is required for a good SACD release are misguided.

Indeed, both David and Charlie were format-agnostic, because they felt that both DVD-Audio and SACD offer no compromise with respect to the master tape, and were happy that high-resolution multi-channel formats are available. []

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Show report last updated: 7th September 2003.


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