AV Education on RHT
Part I: All About The Making of a DVD-Audio Disc
Written by Mark Waldrep, Ph.D.
Readers of online publications like Audio Video Revolution often read reviews and comments regarding new releases on both SACD and DVD-Audio, the new multi-channel, high-resolution audio formats. Theres always the obligatory listing of tracks and a discussion of the sonic quality of each title and a breakdown of the features included on each disc, but rarely do consumers get details on the production procedures and challenges that go into producing a title in these new formats. It might be nice to know the recording process involved (analog vs. digital stages), the number of mixing choices made during a production and the depth of bonus materials that will be included on a disc. Well, as the producer of many DVD-Audio titles for my own audiophile label, AIX Records, and owner of a production facility that services the DVD production needs of other labels (Rhino, Sanctuary and Savoy Jazz, for example), I thought it might be interesting to explain and discuss the production realities behind a few DVD-Audio titles. The plan is to break down the process into three distinct phases: the pre-production planning, the actual recording, mixing and mastering, and the multimedia development/DVD authoring. This process is also relevant to other new technologies like DualDisc as well as music oriented Blu-Ray or HD-DVD discs but please note none of those formats are currently on store shelves quite yet.
In the interest of complete disclosure and fairness, I should state right out front that my personal preference in the format war between SACD and DVD-Audio skews in favor of high-resolution PCM over DSD. Let me share a few of my reasons for this choice. First and foremost is the fidelity of the sound delivered to our customers. While both formats have the potential to deliver audio fidelity that surpasses CDs, comments that I regularly receive from customers and the reviews that I read put our tracks at or near the top of most lists (we recently took Number One and Two in the list of the Top 20 best multi-channel discs in the May/June issue of DVD Etc. Magazine). Secondly, AIX Records has been producing multi-channel, high-resolution digital audio for many years and has developed a rather extensive capability for dealing with multi-track PCM audio. All other things being equal, the number of equivalent tools in the world of DSD is not yet as great. In fact, a large percentage of so-called DSD tracks actually existed at some point in their life as PCM. When I started making our products, the best available DSD system, the Sonoma from Sony, could record only eight tracks and all post processing had to be done in the analog domain, so going with PCM was a no-brainer. Thirdly, as any current AIX Records customer will attest, I am a strong advocate of delivering feature-rich discs to consumers. This means having video, photos, lyrics and much more on the same disc that plays the new high-resolution, multi-channel audio. As most of you are already aware, DVD-Audio discs usually contain a DVD-Video zone. Producers of DVD-Audio titles can choose to place Dolby Digital or DTS mixes in that portion of the disc for playability in DVD-Video machines, as well as video footage. SACDs are audio-only products; there is no provision for multimedia. The final reason why I chose to release titles in the DVD-Audio format instead of SACD is the vast number of players that can access the audio and video that we put on each disc. Currently, there are over 75 million DVD-Video players and 3.5 million DVD-Audio players (including factory installed car systems), compared to more than a million SACD players reportedly installed in the U.S. Dont get me wrong, SACD can sound very good, especially for stereo music, but as a professional recording engineer and the owner of a specialty record label, I prefer to make and sell DVD-Audio titles.
I founded AIX Records in the spring of 2001 because I wanted to explore the emerging DVD-Audio format with music content that I would produce and own. Back in the spring of 1997, AIX Media Group was the first company to produce and commercially release a DVD-Video title. Yes, we had 100 percent of the DVD business for five days back in March of that year. Since then, weve produced many hundreds of DVDs for movie studios large and small and have maintained a healthy production company in the intervening years. The arrival of the DVD-Audio format offered an opportunity to produce AND own content. Since the cost of making an audio title pales in comparison to producing a feature film, since we have tremendous expertise in audio/music and since Im an audio engineer/musician, the world of DVD-Audio seemed the right place to start a new venture.