Written by Tony Reif
(Producer, Songlines Recordings)
When NativeDSD started making the Songlines high-res back catalogue available, I was very interested in checking out their Higher Rates Program. All our DSD recordings are from the 2000s and are therefore DSD64. Would I hear a significant improvement when remodulated by NativeDSD’s engineer Tom Caulfield at DSD256 or 512? The full-range audiophile stereo system that I listened on is the creation of my friend Nic Morelli and it has been one of my reference systems for decades. It is almost entirely self-built, and Nic continues to improve and upgrade digital playback. His main DAC is a Signalyst-design DSD DAC, and he works hard to eliminate as much digital noise from the chain as possible.
“Nemesis”, the first track of the eponymous album by Canadian jazz composer Mark Nodwell, is a 2001 analogue recording that was mixed in analogue to DSD and mastered by Dawn Frank at the Sony SACD Project in Boulder.
So it’s Pure DSD, and was therefore remodulated using the Signalyst HQPlayer Pro. We didn’t have DSD128 to compare, but at DSD256 the sound opened up considerably: there was more space around individual instruments, creating a more coherent and spacious soundstage; we also noticed more fine detail and improved dynamics. The big revelation for us though was DSD512. It sounded so…organic. There were further significant improvements in ambiance retrieval – each instrument stood clearly in its own space with its own bloom. And the instrumental timbres themselves preserved an analogue smoothness and realism that was very seductive. Yet nothing was smoothed over – textures were actually more palpable than before. To sum it up subjectively, we could “hear into” the music in a deeper, more relaxed way.
Our second test track was “LB” from Wayne Horvitz Gravitas Quartet’s Way Out East.
This chamber jazz group (piano, trumpet, cello, bassoon) was recorded in DSD and mixed in analogue in 2005, then mastered in Pyramix in DXD. It has therefore been remodulated up to 256 using the Pyramix Album Publishing software, but Tom also produces a DSD512 version using HQP. We wondered whether the fact that this recording had gone through a DXD post-production stage would limit the benefits of remodulation. But no – we heard the same types and degrees of improvements at 256 and 512 that we’d experienced with “Nemesis”. The 512 sound was just wonderfully present, and it was a joy to follow the counterpoint and relish the instrumental colours as the players wove the music together.
Our conclusion: if you have a modern, sophisticated DAC that’s optimized for DSD playback then please give remodulated DSD files a try. Certainly these legacy DSD recordings on Songlines never sounded this good back when they were recorded.