Half the information on CDs is analogue

I would like to argue that one of the reasons that some transports sound significantly better than others is because much of the information on a given CD is actually analogue (analog) information.
An excellent transport does not just read digital information: 1s and 0s (offs and ons); it must be sensitive enough to pick up the other information that has been stored as a physical property of the CD medium. This 'physical' information, like the tiny bumps in the groove of a vinyl record, is analogue information.

Before I say more I'd like to hear what others think.
In some sense that idea is correct.
The pits and lands edges are created by a mechanical process (or in the case of a digital copy, by a laser)
and are subject to ANALOG style errors. Also the pits and lands are read by a device taht travels in an analog manner past the pits and lands.
This is usually called 'jitter'.
Beyond taht, sounds sort of 'mystical'?? What sort of other analog information are you trying to pull out?
The pits only serve to provide digital iformation which requires translation. The reason for integral or external DACs is to translate the digital (not analog) to analog otherwise you couldn't get anything from the pits. If you mean analog is defined as something physical with a surface that provides information in a digital format. Then OK I guess? but that is not what analog means to virtually everyone else.
Because the disc is, in a sense, an analog representation of a digital data stream, the raw data is imperfect. But we don't listen to raw data. Corrupted data is to be expected, and the signal information is encoded with an error correction algorithm that yields "clean" data.
Reading a CD is an analog process. The waveform produced is similar to a square wave and gets transformed into O's and 1's.
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One of things that I was refering to is the "analog eye pattern".
Contrary to popular opinion, tranports take analog information from a CD and 'build' a digital signal. Only then is the digital signal sent to the DAC for conversion back to analog.
The sound coming from our speakers is only going be as good as:
1. the transport's ability to pick up the raw analog input signal as a reflection of the laser bouncing off the CD (the 'eye pattern').
2. the transport's ability to use this analog information to create and generate a digital bit stream that is a close approximation of the digital bit stream that existed in the recording studio.
Fascinating. Is there a reference in the audio, or preferably, engineering press you could point out? I always thought the thing that separated good from great transports was the degree to which they reduced and/or corrected misreads, which can be due to sloppy CD manufacturing processes, dirt, etc...
The CD data retrieval process is actually very different from phono playback.

Under normal conditions the CD transport will retrieve an exact copy of the digital data used to create it (think CDROMs - computers won't tolerate a "close approximation" of the original data). The CD contains a large amount of redundant data in the form of Error Correcting Codes (ECC).

Data is not read from the CD in a linear fashion like a record groove. The data is stored along and read in in blocks. Each block is protected by ECC code and contains subcode (including timecode - this displys in the transport time window).

Also the laser doesn't translate individual pits into bits. Instead pit patterns, called symbols, translate into bit patterns. These pit patterns are designed to be easy for the photodector to read. Finally the blocks of data are not recorded linearly but are reordered and spacially seperated from each other on the disk. This reduces the likelyhood of a scratch rendering the disk unusable.

The transport reassembles the data blocks in the correct order and uses the ECC codes with a mathematical algorithm to detect and correct all single symbol read errors and detect almost all multiple symbol read errors.

For multiple symbol errors the player may resort to error concealment, where it generates some best fit data to fill the gap. Worst case it mutes the output momentarily (a skip). Multi-symbol read errors are extremely rare on disks in reasonable condition.

The biggest issue with transports seems to be clocking accuracy of the output datastream. With proper engineering this can be almost independent of the physical reading of the disk. The transport can read ahead of the actual listening point, buffer the data in memory, and clock it out at a highly accurate rate.

Good eye pattern helps the accuracy of symbol reading and reduces the need for error correction.
Numbers are real too
Some numbers are "Imaginary". SQRT(-1).

CD uses Solomon Reed coding to protect data integraty ....


This means that small analog imperfections have no influence on how the CD sounds, as the data is completely corrected for errors...
Sdatch, I have found this book very useful.

Principles of Digital Audio, fifth edition by Ken C. Pohlmann. McGraw-Hill.

I got it from the library. (It is $60 at Amazon.) It covers not only CD, but DVD, DVD-A, SACD, MP3 and a lot more. There is a good amount on transports as well.

It didn't make me an audio engineer but I did learn enough to calibrate my BS meter.

Put your CD player on top of your speaker and listen to how wonderful error correction sounds.
Using a mathematical algorithm to fill in gaps and help plot a wave by taking 'best guesses' sounds exactly how you'd expect it sound.

Exlibris...Your mention of "gaps" and "best guesses" indicates that you have no idea how R-S error correction encoding works. Go study!!
Nice summary, Ghostrider45.

From the wiki link:
"In the same sense that one can correct a curve by interpolating past a gap, a Reed-Solomon code can bridge a series of errors in a block of data to recover the coefficients of the polynomial that drew the original curve."

I am afraid the IAR stuff does not agree at all with mathematics and science.

There are indeed many deficiencies in digital, it is far from perfect;

- proper filtering must be applied in the studio prior to digitizing a signal in order to avoid aliasing (stuff that is not filtered folds in around the Nyquist frequency).

- high out of band noise is common on most DAC's and must be heavily filtered (this is not ideal but generally not a problem for well designed gear with oversampling etc.)

- clock jitter can affect sound particularly if the jitter is not random. (again proper design has corrected this in most, if not all, commonly available gear)

Contrary to IAR, the details in the waveform are NOT lost in digital. In fact they are preserved much much more precisely than analog.....way better S/(THD+N) and way better channel separation.

If you don't believe it then STOP using your COMPUTER now .....becuase it is ALL based on similar technology....your disc drive uses Solomon Reed type algorthims too!!!! Almost all digital technology uses these concepts to make digital copies extremely accurate.....1000's of identical copies can be made with never a single error.

In fact digital is so good that the whole entertainment industry is scared of how downloading and piracy of digital data can undermine the control of legal distribution of high quality music and video.

In fact digital or binary type coding is so good that it forms the basis for all lifeforms that we know of on this planet! Yep, your DNA is basically a digital coded string in the form of a double helix - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double_helix

The genetic code consists of three-letter 'words' (termed a codon) formed from a sequence of three nucleotides (e.g. ACT, CAG, TTT). These codons can then be translated with messenger RNA and then transfer RNA, with a codon corresponding to a particular amino acid. There are 64 possible codons (4 bases in 3 places or 4*4*4 possible "digital" states) that encode 20 amino acids. Most amino acids, therefore, have more than one possible codon. There are also three 'stop' or 'nonsense' codons signifying the end of the coding region, namely the UAA, UGA and UAG codons.

DNA does not appear to use Solomon Reed encoding but it is very robust digital code, such that every cell in your body contains the same digital information, which is why cloning is possible....something way scarier than music piracy, IMHO.
Bob Reynolds: I adamantly believe that transports have a sound of their own. Whether or not they are discernable has to do with how different they sound and / or the resolution of the rest of the system and / or one's hearing acuity.

My Brother and i have conducted testing using several different transports. Some of the differences were not only quite audible, but quite staggering as far as how different the same discs sounded with the transports being the only variable. We were even using impedance matched cabling, so RF based digital reflections that cause jitter were taken out of the picture.

There was something else that we both learned while doing this. The primary sonic characteristic that we heard from each of the players ( when being used as a player ) were also prominent when using them strictly as a transport. When a machine sounded warm and round as a player, it also sounded warm and round as a transport, etc...

As such, the only logical thing to surmise from all of this was that the transport mechanism, laser assembly, power supply circuitry, digital correction circuitry, etc... contributes a LOT more of what we hear than what most people think. Sean
It's odd that something so perfect usually sounds so bad.
In some metaphysical sense there is no real distinction between analog and digital information, but practically speaking, particularly if we exclude the printed info on the CD disc/packing, 100% of the data (music) contained on a CD is digitally encoded. I honestly don't see how someone can get so confused on this issue.
I'm just trying to figure out why there is such a huge difference in the sound of various transports.
Some computer geek ought to record the digital data stream (after error correction)as generated by two or more transports. Then write a program to time slip one file until it syncs up with the other, and then do a bit by bit compare of the files. I bet they will match perfectly.

There may be other transport characteristics which affect sound. Jitter is often quoted. What if one transport ran slightly faster or slower than the other. Quite small pitch changes affect music.

I have found differences in DAC's but these are usually very subtle, most often a slight difference in the treble and often not enough to make me worry that much. The only relatively much larger differences I have come across are all associated with analog gear (particularly mechanical systems that vibrate; such as speakers, listening room and turntable cartridges, and to a lesser extent tube amps, which add a bit of their own nice flavor to the sound).

My comments are relative - no doubt there are differences between CD players and improvements can be had for big $$$ but I would have difficulting in calling these differences "huge".....is there a particular CD player that you have in mind that sounds hugely different from others?

As far as digital sounding so bad...perhaps this is a matter of taste. IMHO, I find digital sounds more accurate and detailed....some might call this harsh and brutal but my perception is that it is more realistic....too each his own. When I used analog I used to buy Japanese pressings because they sounded better but now that I use CD it makes no difference where the CD was pressed (althouogh the quality of recording/mixing and mastering remains very important)
Here's a simple task that most everyone with a stand alone CD burner or computer based burner can do. That is, if they have the desire and means to do so.

Take an analogue source, record it onto a CD and then compare the original analogue source to the digital "cloned" recording using the same playback equipment. If you can't hear the difference between the original and the "digital clone", you better check into the office of an audiologist for a very thorough exam. You are either going deaf and / or are thoroughly lacking in listening skills.

Until one has done something like this, making comments about this subject is useless and a waste of everyone's time. Anybody that has done something like this will know why older analogue recordings pretty much HAVE TO BE remastered when released on CD. That is, they have to apply TONS of equilization in order to get something that even remotely resembles the "natural" tonal balance that was lost when converting to digital. Sean

PS... making digital to digital copies typically results in excellent copies. When going from analogue to digital, even using the shortest and purest path possible, it all goes to hell.
Sean...Did it ever occur to you that the "TONS of equalization" that you say is applied to digital recordings may actually be the removal of equalization that was applied to make vinyl sound good? There are several digital recording labels that claim to use no electronic equalization or other processing at all.
I'm comparing apples to apples here. In the tests that i performed, i used live analogue recordings that i had made. These recordings had no form of compression, equalization, etc.. performed on them. I then converted them over to CD via an audio based digital recorder that i have. The end results were that the digital "clones" weren't clones of the original analogue signal at all, but bad recordings that barely resembled the originals in terms of tonal balance.

Using this same digital recorder, i've made very good "dubs" of other digital recordings. As such, the losses incurred going from analogue to digital are FAR more severe than when working strictly within the digital domain. This is probably why so many of the early "AAD" discs sounded SOOO bad. That is, they were recorded and mastered in analogue form, but sold as recordings in digital form.

Given that i've had similar results using other digital based recording devices that i have access to, i know these results to be both consistent and repeatable. This is why i said what i did above i.e. others can find out for themselves by performing just such a test. Sean
Sean, please name your digital recorder. The implications of your comments is that A/D conversions cannot capture any analog signal, whether a line feed from a microphone or the output of a tape deck. Even professionals who prefer analog recordings have admitted that high resolution digital is more faithful to the original sound.

Take an analogue source, record it onto a CD and then compare the original analogue source to the digital "cloned" recording using the same playback equipment. If you can't hear the difference between the original and the "digital clone", you better check into the office of an audiologist for a very thorough exam. You are either going deaf and / or are thoroughly lacking in listening skills.

By your definition I am deaf and thoroughly lacking in listening skills. I admit that I often can't tell whether my AKM ADC & DAC converters are in the signal path or not. What equipment are you using that you hear such a huge difference....a PC sound card?

Currently, I do not find differences in DACs to be subtle. I find many DACs to be un-listenable and others to be quite good. Some DACs sound 'confused' while other sound 'right.' When it comes to transports, some sound threadbare and anemic while others are full-bodied and create an excellent sense of space. I have also experienced significant differences between digital cables (see my review of the Stealth Varidig Sextet, for example).

When I first started building a high-end system, however, the difference between various digital front ends was indeed subtle.
What many want to argue is that the difference between a good sounding digital front end and a bad sounding one essentially comes down to jitter (jitter in the time domain). In other words, its easy to get all the information off a disc, CD players, DVD player, CD drives in computers, all do an excellent job of extracting the information from CDs. The hard thing is to deliver all those bits of information to the DAC at precisely the right time.

I actually find it hard to argue with this.
After all, if the crappy CD drive in my computer missed picking up the information off a CD, the program (or whatever was on the disc) wouldn't run! I also understand how hard it is to deliver all those bits of information to the DAC at precisely the right time in order to make music.

What conclusion does this lead to?
It leads to the conclusion drawn on an excellent site on jitter (jitter.de) that is written by the maker of excellent digital equipment.
Here it is argued that all you need is a transport (any cheap transport will do) to send digital information, timing errors and all, to an EXCELLENT clock that is positioned right in front of the DAC. The excellent clock will re-clock all the perfect data that has been sent thus removing all the jitter. The DAC will then have all the information, nearly perfectly timed aligned, to then convert to analogue.

This sounds really good in theory and it will be my hypothesis going into a controlled experiment to see if it is actually the case.
If the experiment shows that different transports sound significantly different when feeding the same clock and DAC, we will have to scrap this hypothesis. I know that it will be hard for some of you to do but the scientific method demands it.

Some suspect that we will be looking for a new hypothesis after my ML 31.5 CD transport ends up sounding better than my DVD player. If this is the case, then, in the name of science and the honest and noble pursuit of knowledge, we can all start working on a new hypothesis. And those who continue to argue that transports DON'T make a difference because, in theory, they SHOULDN'T make a difference, will be politely ignored.
Onhwy: The digital recorder that i was using was a stand alone TDK CD-R Audio burner. I purchased this unit based on the reputation that the TDK computer based burners had at the time i.e. as being the best and most reliable at the time for pennies on the dollar. Most of this had to do with their software, which included specific "tricks" to minimize errors, data correction and "glitching" due to a lack of buffering.

From what i can remember, i think that the ADC's and DAC's in this unit were made by AKM, which is the brand that Shadorne mentioned above. I would have to pull this unit apart to make sure, which i will do if you guys really want me to.

Obviously, this is not a "high tech" or "ultra resolving" unit. Then again, the original analogue tapes were made on a DC powered portable monophonic Marantz unit. Even so, the recordings made on the Marantz unit sound more realistic in terms of tonal balance than the direct feed "dubs" made via the CD burner. As i previously mentioned though, the digital dubs should have simply recorded what was being presented to it, NOT shifted the tonal balance in quite noticeable fashion.

As far as recording using a computer or sound card based device, i wouldn't bother. That's why i bought the stand alone Audio based burner. Sean

May be your system is very resolving and sensitive to changes. I have never heard the slightest difference in one digital cable from another.
Shadorne...Me neither. Perhaps we are lucky. They say that having absolute pitch hearing makes a lot of music, which is off key, sound bad.
Sean, I don't question your specific results, but do they really warrant the blanket statements you've posted about in this thread and others about analog to digital conversion?
> TONS of equilization...

Digital music is not alone in the area of needing special equalization when CD's are produced.

Keep in mind that in the production of all standard vinyl LP records, the RIAA equalization curve has a 40 dB range of boost and cut that is applied to the signal. It is not a straight linear drop.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:RIAA-EQ-Curve.svg

In playback of an LP, the phono preamp must apply perfect inverse equalization and also assumes the record production plant equipment perfectly applied the RIAA curve to start with.
Aside from RIAA equalization, lots of tricks are used to make vinyl sound good. The one I like is RCA "Dynagroove". We all know that the contact pressure of the stylus is huge, and vinyl is flexible. RCA figured out that flexure of the vinyl is predictable from the modulation being cut, and developed some kind of secret algorithm to compensate. Of course the cartridge compliance would affect the flexure, so their compensation would only be right for some "average" cartridge.
The point that i was trying to make was not that digital sucks ( it definitely can ) or that analogue is better ( it definitely can be ), but that i ( and several others ) could hear MASSIVE differences between the two. As i also mentioned, this was not just on one occassion or with the specific gear mentioned. I used that as a reference because it was still fresh in my mind. On top of that, i could easily reproduce those same conditions again using the identical equipment in question. Given that the other gear that i've done this with was not mine, i don't have access to it and / or the specific makes and models.

Please bare in mind that my comments about "digital", at least within the confines of this thread, pertain strictly to "redbook" CD and "redbook" CD standards. I do think that DVD-A and SACD are superior with FAR more potential for better sonics than redbook CD's, but i'm not holding my breath or believing that either will become industry standards. Until something like that happens, i will continue to believe that quality analogue recordings and playback remain the audiophiles "best friend". Sean

The point that i was trying to make was not that digital sucks ( it definitely can ) or that analogue is better ( it definitely can be ), but that i ( and several others ) could hear MASSIVE differences between the two.

quality analogue recordings and playback remain the audiophiles "best friend".

It is all too clear that your meaning is "redbbook CD digital sucks", even though, in your round about manner, you pretend otherwise.

These beliefs fly in the face of engineering and technical progress. Clearly digital technology is everywhere in every facet of our lives....from cell phones to cars to business systems to most medical equipment in hospitals. If analog was MASSIVELY better then why is digital so pervasive?? Some kind of conspiracy perhaps....I don't think so.
Shadorne...For many, if not most, applications, a digital implementation is both superior in performance and lower in cost. However, one cannot jump to the conclusion that this is true for every application: eg: audio. (But I do agree with you, mostly).

Sean...Not all Redbook CDs "suck". I have a few that are really superb, as good as most SACD or DVDA. This has mostly to do with the skill and care (not to mention luck) applied to the recording and mixing of the program.
As to vinyl being "better" it all depends on the meaning of "better". (Sorry Bill). If one is distracted by pops, clicks, and surface noise, and annoyed by having to get up halfway through a side to clean a fuzz ball off the stylus it is hard to appreciate the sound.
Regarding CD vs vinyl...

As one who who has been actively involved in music and audio electronics since the 1960's, I get the impression that many of the modern vinyl adherents seem unaware of just how many medicore and even spectacularly bad LP records have been produced over the years. I can't count the number of just-out-of-the-shrinkwrap records that were full of noise, pops and crackles. It was always tempting for a record pressing plant to extend the life of the stampers too far and/or use lower quality vinyl to save money.

There were also records pressed using distant copies of the master tape instead of an earlier generation. It would sometimes be quite surprising to find the variance in quality between my copy of a record and someone else's.

Of course, I've heard outstanding music from LP recordings, but the shortcuts taken and inherent problems of this system are in their own way the equal of any problems I've seen in the digital arena.
I like the sound of LPs but there are just too many things about the format that frustrate me.
It is disappointing that Laserdisc didn't catch on. It was certainly the most user-friendly analogue medium and I really think it had the potential to sound better than vinyl.
I'm surprised that someone hasn't invented a new analogue medium since its demise. There has got to be something better than vinyl and magnetic tape.
I think I'll start a new thread.
That is one of the 'frustrations' that I alluded to.
I remember dropping $30 to $50 on a few "audiophile" LPs only to find that they sounded awful.
Shadorne & El: I know that not ALL "redbook" cd's and / or cd playback systems suck. I have heard very enjoyable redbook based systems and would like to think that i own a couple of them. Having said that, i think that the mass majority of redbook based recordings and playback equipment are FAR below the standards set by "lowly" vintage analogue gear.

For all of the technology that we have invested in digital recording and playback equipment, it sure seems that progress ( if you want to call it that ) is quite limited in both amplitude and scope. That is, one truly has to work hard to seek out and find quality digital recordings and gear that make one WANT to listen to music and be able to do so for extended periods of time without getting "listener fatigue". When is the last time that you heard someone say that about vinyl ???

On the other hand, vinyl may be a pain in the ass and FAR less convenient, but even "reasonable" analogue based front ends can sound SOOO much more musical, it's not funny. I say this for several reasons and it is not just based on the aforementioned story regarding dubbing analogue to digital, etc....

My girlfriend has a CD that she likes to listen to. I have the same recording on LP. Just for fun, i compared the two using my HT system as the reference. Listening to the digital version and then swapping over to the analogue version literally made me laugh out loud. Not only were the sonic differences staggering, but they were so much in favour of the LP that it wasn't funny. Bare in mind that this was with me using a Direct Drive TT with a servo controlled linear tracking tonearm & a cartridge that i had picked up used off of Ebay for under $100 total. This was fed into the ( non-adjustable ) phono stage of my Pre / Pro using the permanently attached "low grade" interconnects that come out of the TT. In other words, this was FAR from "state of the art" vinyl gear / phono stage equipment.

In comparison, the two different digital front ends that i tried this with are both reasonably well respected "universal" players. One could be purchased for appr $100 and the other sold for just under $1000 when they were new. Granted, neither of these are "state of the art", but the sure in the hell "should be" FAR more advanced and "better sounding" than the archaic equipment and technology that went into the analogue playback gear. After all, digital supposedly has no "wow & flutter", "rumble", "anti-skating", "VTA", etc.... to deal with or mess up.

Needless to say, i've always admired certain characteristics of analogue playback and wished that "digital" could come closer in those areas. After experiencing this, it really made me re-assess "redbook" and the so-called "digital technology" behind it. Quite honestly, it really is a joke for the most part. That is, until you get into the highly specialized and "esoteric" gear that even most audiophiles never stumble accross.

Too bad SACD and DVD-A were pretty much "still-born". Even then, we would still be stuck with the "half deaf" moron's recording and mastering most of this stuff, so how much have we REALLY gained ??? No matter what format one prefers, we are still stuck with the limitations of the recording industry "professionals" mucking things up. Sean

Too bad SACD and DVD-A were pretty much "still-born". Even then, we would still be stuck with the "half deaf" moron's recording and mastering most of this stuff, so how much have we REALLY gained ??? No matter what format one prefers, we are still stuck with the limitations of the recording industry "professionals" mucking things up.

you really don't think highly of any recording industry "professionals" very much, do you? one thing to keep in mind is that the word "professional" implies that they are paid. The amount that they are paid corresponds to how many albums they can sell. the majority of records out there are not mixed/mastered and marketed towards audiofiles, but rather, they are made to sound decent on a small boombox or in your car. they are not made to sound fantastic on a high-end system and end up sounding like crap on anything else.

if all the "professional" audio engineers and professionally made recordings bother you so much, why don't you go and record for yourself. you'd be amazed at the quality you can achieve with a nice stereo pair of mics, a quality pre-amp, an A/D converter, and record at 24/96. no processing, n ocompression, just straight to disc recordings. and then burn your own DVD-A's. that's mostly what I listen to and I've never been happier
Jason: That's a great idea, but i don't really see too many high visibility performers that would be open to the idea of "strangers" recording their live events. While some artists / groups do allow such things, trying to do so at most events will either get you arrested and / or your gear confiscated.

Other than that, better recordings sound good most anywhere, even on bandwidth & dynamic limited systems. Unfortunately, the recording industry doesn't seem to understand this though and tries to keep throwing "bigger" recordings at us. On top of that, the "high end" audio industry really doesn't have any type of unified voice to speak up with, as we as "audiophiles" can't even agree on what "good" reproduction really is.

When "audiophiles" are buying and recommending speakers that show a frequency response tolerance of +8 /-7 dB's and using amplifiers that have in excess of several percent THD at normal listening levels, i have to wonder if even they desire "purity of reproduction" at all. Talk about sending a "mixed message". How is the average person supposed to know what "sounds good" or "sounds right" when those supposedly devoted to "high fidelity audio reproduction" don't even know what it is??? Sean
> How is the average person supposed to know what "sounds
> good" or "sounds right" when those supposedly devoted to
> "high fidelity audio reproduction" don't even know what it is?

Such touching devotion to the common man! ;-)

The real question is why should audio be free of disagreements about the truth of their chosen field when the rest of the world cannot reach agreement on their passions?

I know people who people who don't think some popular comedians are funny. I know people who think the highest rated (and most expensive) restaurant in my city is "so-so." I know others who look at =very= expensive art and state "my kid could do better than that!"

Ultimately music is an emotional experience. The particular brand of speakers you are enamoured with are tops on your list because they do a good job of delivering the audio cues =you= need for your best listening experience. For me and others, they may fall short since we are looking for other triggers.

Similarly, we can be more forgiving of some of a medium's or device's shortcomings than others. The background quiet of digital material is very attractive to some while others don't care that vinyl has an inherently higher noise floor.

Or highs. Not a lot of people are aware that LP records actually lose high frequency response as they wear during play. The RIAA considers it an acceptable standard for the high frequencies on a record to drop to 18 KHz after three plays, 13 KHz after 25 plays and as low as 8 KHz after 80 plays. (However, it should be noted that a properly configured turntable of good quality is not this rough on records but some loss is still occurring due to the physical contact of the stylus with the groove walls.)

That would never be an acceptable standard for digital recordings but is a fact of life in the vinyl world.

The big problem with many music recordings these days is that it is ultimately a business driven by money. The majority of people who buy music are not audiophiles. Record companies want their tracks to stand out on radio play lists and other environments where close listening is not at the forefront. In those cases, dynamic range and a natural sound can kill a song. This is the same as the fast food and restaurant industry pursuing cost efficiencies that are at odds with fine cuisine.

That said, there is still a lot of fine music out there that can be enjoyed in spite of whatever shortcomings we encounter.
These types of threads always get me a little riled up because of the amount of misinformation and pure bulls**t that people spew. So that you know where I'm coming from, I'm a full-time recording engineer who uses top-flight digital and analog gear on a daily basis.

To begin with, the difference between a 16-bit, 44.1kHz recording and a 24-bit, 96kHz recording is pretty subtle. Multi-track recording to 24-bit is extremely important because it results in a significantly easier mixing and mastering process and a drastically reduced noise floor, but the difference between a 24-bit stereo file and a 16-bit stereo file is very slight. The S/N ratio of most recording and reproduction gear (including most DACs and especially microphones) barely exceeds that of a redbook CD anyhow, and I challenge anyone to find any recording with more than 96dB of dynamic range (which would be a recording who's loudest passages have an amplitude 2,000,000,000 times greater than the softest). As for higher sample rates, the audible advantage to getting the sample rate above 44.1K is getting the filter (a low-pass filter is involved with all A/D conversion) out of the audible frequency range. Most converters (especially in the pro world) oversample and get the filter out of the audible range anyhow.

The main differences that you are hearing in your SACDs and DVD-As is in the mixing and mastering. Most redbook CDs are compressed to hell (just import a track from a CD into any audio editing program and look at the waveform), meaning limited (read no) dynamic range, not compressed as in MP3s, especially compared to the old analog releases. This is because people expect to put a CD in their car or stereo and have it be as loud as the rest of their CDs. It's also an attempt at having the loudest track on the radio. Most SACDs and DVD-As are mixed and/or mastered with audiophiles in mind, meaning enhanced dynamic range, and a more natural presentation.

As for the poster who said that extreme equalization was needed to make digital recordings sound natural, you actually have it backwards. RIAA equalization was already mentioned as it pertains to LPs, but you might be interested to know that significant equalization is also applied to multitrack analog tape to even out the frequency response. Digital requires no such EQ, and is usually as perfect and natural a representation of the original event as is possible.

Even most engineers that prefer analog tape as a recording medium will admit that the aspects that they like about tape are tape saturation (resulting in natural compression as the tape is driven with a hot signal) and harmonic distortion, two things which make the recording LESS natural.

In short, there's really nothing wrong with redbook as a medium. SACD offers some improvement through DSD, and DVD-A offers slight improvements through higher bit-depths and sample rates (although they are very subtle), but incredible sound is possible via redbook. The problem with most bad sounding recordings is in the mastering (due to *gasp* PUBLIC DEMAND), and somewhat in mixing. Part of what many of you consider the problem to be with most commercial recordings is that realistic and natural reproduction of an acoustic event is NOT the typical goal.

These are just the opinions of someone that works with analog and digital audio of all types all day, every day, and who produces CDs for a living.

I totally agree with you. Brave of you to enter the fray. Unfortunately whatever you care to point out will be dismissed as "digital dogma" by many on these forums.

My efforts to explain what is well accepted by most professionals and supported by both science and lab measurements, almost always ends up producing these kind of retorts.

BTW: Both formats can produce excellent sound, IMHO. Digital, if properly used has greater potential. Although the loudness wars have produced some recordings on CD that are worse than what you can find on vinyl.

Your point about the recording/mixing/mastering being important is so true. More important than CD vs Vinyl, IMHO.

For example, Doug Sax masters were good in the days of vinyl (Sheffield labs) and are even better today with digital....

This difference is so big that some remastered CD's are worse than the original vinyl (especially if the CD was mastered to sound loud).

Here is some info on why some CD's sound pretty bad on audiophile systems and lists some that make the "honor roll" for good sound (this does not mean that Redbook is a poor medium but that professionals are deliberately producing compressed material for poor quality systems);

I don't suppose there is any way for us consumers to undo the damage that is done at the mastering level?
I guess the reason that some of us grasp at staws to get better sound from our systems is because we know that we are stuck with the recording that we've purchased. The only thing we can control is the playback.