September 11, 2009

CD Shoot Out! SHMCD vs CD.

Any body here a Zeppelin fan?

This started out as a little conversation with The Wise One, whom contributes his thoughts here frequently. Ever the music lover, especially the Rock variety genre, he passed me 2 CD packs of the same album, titled The Songs Remain The Same by Led-Zedppelin. One, a pristine Japanese pressing, the other another Japanese pressing with a little gold SHMCD label in front. Both albums appear to have similar packaging quality but the SHMCD version uses textured surface board instead of the usual variety.

I started by listening to both CDs casually in the car just to get a feel of the music in the past few days. The Led-Zedppelin group was at their creative peak when this live concert was held in Madison Square Garden, New York in 1973. The concert had a raw, energetic feel to it, and especially on the long solos on the second CD, that'll be sides 2,3&4 for your analog fans. Of all the songs featured here, I loved Daze and Confused the most!, for reasons only known to me. It's a half hour extravaganza of solo guitar rifts, feed backs and synthesizer display. Moby Dick is my next favourite, featuring a long solo drum roll quite like those from the good ol' Dave Bruback's Castelion Drums in Live at Carnegie Hall!, only with electric guitars blazing full on panning the left and right of sound stage! Then of course every one's favorite Zedppelin song, Stairway To Heaven.

Spot the SHMCD? the one on the left, note the little gold label with a big "S". The one on the right is a high quality Japanese pressing of the same recording.

When I played both CDs in my main hifi rig for comparison. The sound quality of the SHMCD was startling! It had a certain quality that is very close to a well set up high end analog rig sound. The sound had body feel and most importantly emotional content was presented "full on".

The bass is more robust, well filled,tuneful and very analog like. The mids are projected a little more forward in to the sound stage, making the vocals stand out and every word highly audible and intelligible from the rest of the music. The highs on first listen seems a little rolled off, but on closer inspection proves not the case. Gone are the Cd's dryness in the highs, replaced by airy sound stage.

The transparency factor of the SHMCD is way,way ahead of the normal CD version. I heard so much more spatial cues, vocal details and sound staging and imaging space missing on the regular CD. I could say the CD data loss or compression is as high as 30-40% compared to the SHMCD. However, I do suspect that if played back on a, lesser system, one would probably not feel such a big difference, and would think that I am high on certain substance to make such a statement. I'd admit to being high on the substance of music!

I also felt the sound from the normal CD seemed thin, shrilly high mids, especially when the lead vocalist, Robert Plant screams his lungs out! Bass is hollow and the mids recessed in comparison to the SHMCD.

Now, The Wise One tells me that the SHMCDs cost about 40% more than your average audiophile CD release! If even a music lover/collector of his magnitude complains, then it must be expensive! But I would say, at most, the price is similar to new vinyl releases.

There is now XRCD, HDCD, SHMCD, and HQCD(of which I am told is very similar in sound quality compared to SHMCD) in the market. The now more quality choice than before when it comes to software recordings.

Audiophiles and music lovers, rejoice!, for I think there's never been a better time when it comes to choices.


GCK said...

Big E, good review. I like to get my hands one the vinyl (if there is). Does Wise One has vinyl?

junchoon2989 said...

i just crack open the two prince SHM-CDs i bought over a week ago. purple rain is minor improvement, but sign o' the times (SOTT) are miles better! the SOTT is in a mini-LP paper sleeve packaging to boot, near exact replica of the LP. i guess i can sell off the LPs now, even though i never have a TT! :)

TWO, r u getting SHM-CD, and Blu-spec CDs as well??


The Wise One said...

GCK, SHMCDs and HQCDs are just that - cds. These two formats are all about the quality of material that the CDs are made of, so vinyl is not a subject here. Please take note that SHMCDs and HQCDs are only available in Japan. Hopefully, the formats will be made available to the rest of the world.

WPS, yes, I'll be getting the HQCDs which is the equivalent of SHMCDs. I have not come across blu-spec CDs at the moment.

I'll be getting

uncajesse said...

Hi, just wondering if you guys are making 110% sure that the two disks to be compared are sourced from the EXACT same ADC conversion & source/master??

If not, then any comparison is completely worthless. Also it's worth noting that the CD player itself (how it's reading the CDs) would then be what you are hearing as a difference between the two. Not the actual CDs.

If you rip both CDs (after confirming they are from exactly the same ADC source) with a great ripper like EAC Secure, or dbPowerAmp Secure, with no errors during ripping, and then compare them bit for bit... That they will be exact.

So I guess I'll end with my recommendation to try getting a good $1-2k DAC, like a Prism/Mytek/Lavry/Apogee/etc... and play back some properly ripped FLACs. :)

For a real treat, check out 2L freebies:
and also some of their award winning 96/192 recordings. Available on blueray and FLAC download, and some of the highest quality purist recordings on the analog side ever done.

Archimago said...

Hi guys... Old topic, I know but just to set the record straight for posterity's sake, let's look at the Dynamic Range Meter outputs shall we?

I have Led Zeppelin IV in both original release CD and SHM-CD.

Album: Led Zeppelin IV

Original CD circa 1990:
Analyzed: Led Zeppelin / Led Zeppelin IV (1990 First Pressing, FLAC)

DR Peak RMS Duration Track
DR13 -1.84 dB -18.23 dB 4:57 01-Black Dog
DR12 -1.90 dB -15.84 dB 3:41 02-Rock and Roll
DR11 -3.97 dB -19.21 dB 5:51 03-The Battle of Evermore
DR13 -1.82 dB -19.24 dB 8:02 04-Stairway to Heaven
DR11 -3.12 dB -16.83 dB 4:39 05-Misty Mountain Hop
DR11 -1.43 dB -15.44 dB 4:44 06-Four Sticks
DR12 -3.64 dB -19.88 dB 3:36 07-Going to California
DR11 -2.57 dB -15.77 dB 7:08 08-When the Levee Breaks

Number of tracks: 8
Official DR value: DR12

Samplerate: 44100 Hz
Channels: 2
Bits per sample: 16
Bitrate: 876 kbps
Codec: FLAC

2008 SHM-CD - same remaster as in this article:
Analyzed: Led Zeppelin / Led Zeppelin IV (Japanese SHM-CD 2008, FLAC)

DR Peak RMS Duration Track
DR9 0.00 dB -11.91 dB 4:58 01-Black Dog
DR9 0.00 dB -10.51 dB 3:41 02-Rock and Roll
DR10 -1.48 dB -15.24 dB 5:52 03-The Battle of Evermore
DR11 0.00 dB -14.86 dB 8:03 04-Stairway to Heaven
DR9 0.00 dB -10.10 dB 4:39 05-Misty Mountain Hop
DR10 0.00 dB -11.13 dB 4:45 06-Four Sticks
DR10 -3.57 dB -17.44 dB 3:32 07-Going to California
DR9 0.00 dB -10.91 dB 7:09 08-When the Levee Breaks

Number of tracks: 8
Official DR value: DR10

Samplerate: 44100 Hz
Channels: 2
Bits per sample: 16
Bitrate: 924 kbps
Codec: FLAC

1. SHM-CD significantly louder - at least 2dB difference on average.

2. SHM-CD has samples up to 0dB and is dynamically compressed DR10 vs. DR12 of the original CD.

3. Obviously, the 2 are different mastering source and who knows whether other alterations like EQ'ing have been made.

While I think they did a reasonable job with the SHM-CD remastering on the Led Zeppelin series, IMO it's all about the remastering affecting sound quality. The "SHM-CD" vs. "regular CD" label and material differences are irrelevant.