Review by sgb May 8, 2006 (9 of 16 found this review helpful)
|For those readers here who are not familiar with this recording, what follows is the essence of an email sent to some close audiophile friends. Most of them have owned the Maazel Telarc recordings in both vinyl and CD issues previously, and they share my high regard for the quality of the performances here. This concerns the Tchaikovsky portion of the present release only.
First, let me say that I have written in my magazine column that it would be foolish to spend money on an older PCM digital recording reissued as an SACD. My rationale was and is that there is very little to gain by taking a recording made at a lower rate and reproducing it at a higher one. In the case of this recording, though, the original bit depth was 50 kilobits (not 44.1) so there is at least some small amount of improvement to be heard potentially. Whether or not most humans could identify a pair of -- and distinguish between -- identical recordings made at these two different rates is doubtful. I am not the least bit dubious, though, about wondering whether any number of audio journalists and self-professed golden-eared hobbyists would love for you to believe they can hear such differences, and even make such a claim, but I will not.
I listened to the entire third and fourth movements of this recording many times. The SACD is not quite as loud as the old 1986 CD, but the differences in levels are very small. It took me a while to become satisfied that I was not allowing the level to interfere with my own perceptions of the sound quality. Once I had learned where I needed to place the volume dial for each disk to make them as close as possible, I was ready to listen critically. I should also mention that I compared the CD layer on the hybrid Telarc SACD, and found that it was different from BOTH the original CD and the SACD layer on the very same disk. I might be hearing here the inadequacies of the hybrid disk technology. Mark Levinson wrote many years ago that both layers suffer on a hybrid disk. That is why all of his releases were single layer. (I have never understood why an audiophile would want that CD layer anyway, but they are an odd lot.)
There is no clear cut winner, even though there are differences between all 3. The bass is a bit more prominent on the original CD than on the SACD or its CD layer. To leave it at that would not tell the whole story. There's more texture and depth to the less prominent tympani of the SACD and the CD layer that cohabits with it, but the woofers are moving a bit more air on the old CD. Frankly, this is a little more exciting to listen to. The SACD has the slightest touch more air around the brass and woodwinds, but, strangely enough, seems ever the slightest bit drier.
The pizzicato strings of the third movement sound largely identical on the two disks (and all 3 samples). I was hoping here that the interplay between the flutes and strings near the end of the movement would give the edge to the more expensive SACD, but that did not happen. I found that in both cases, the interplay was as good as any audiophile could hope for with either disk.
In the end, I think it's too close for me to call the SACD sonically superior to the the earlier CD. I should have expected this to be the case since logic dictates that the original SoundStream recording wasn't as resolute as it might have been to justify reissuing it to SACD. But, hey, the name of the game is to make money, so it is fair for Telarc to sell something to somebody who already has it on an earlier release, no?
But now to the real surprise. File this under the "how can this possibly be" category.
I could not remember if I still had the old Telarc record (many of these had been lost or stolen when my goods were in storage due to a fire in 1986). I still have it. This afternoon I found it on the shelf, put it on my cheap little Technics SL-10, and proceeded to be blown away. It simply was superior to the 3 all-digital samples in every way imaginable. Again, how can this be? It's a digital source converted to analog and pressed on vinyl, for heaven's sake! I simply DO NOT believe what I am hearing here. The record is in great shape too.
I simply do not usually see any reason why anyone would buy an LP of a digital recording in this day and age. There is no reason to do so, but here you are.
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