There are typically two types of music listener, the consumers and the audiophiles.
Consumers digest large quantities of music using portable MP3 players or online streaming services, on the other hand, the audiophile will be very enthusiastic about obtaining the highest fidelity sound they can (often spending £1000's on high end equipment in the process).
While the writer here is firmly in the consumer camp, I do love it when there is no one in the house and I can put on a CD and crank up the volume on my amp. So when I was asked to have a listen to a couple of new Blu-ray Pure Audio discs I was delighted to have an excuse to turn it up to '11' in true Spinal Tap style!
The albums in question are Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" and Stevie Wonder's "Songs In The Key of Life". These albums are of course nothing new (both were released in the 70's), so rather than add another review to the long list of reviews from the last 40 years, I'm going to talk more about the audio experience and quality.
So while I do consume most of my music on an MP3 player, I have been exposed to Blu-ray audio versions of "Dark Side of the Moon" and "Wish You Were Here" by Pink Floyd.
So what is Blu-ray Pure Audio? Well, let's look at the range of audio formats there are and make a comparison. MP3 quality can vary greatly depending on the sample rate used, but as it uses lossy compression algorithm (to keep file sizes small) it is typically of a lower quality than that of CD. The CD uses 16-bit PMC encoding at a 44.1 kHz sampling rate and is the most popular of all the physical based music media. The Super Audio CD (SACD) is an extension of the CD format offering even better audio quality and 6 audio channels. Though there are over 6000 titles available on SACD the format has never really taken off (though I did purchase "Dark Side of the Moon" on SACD, but the number of copies I own of the Floyd masterpiece is a conversation for another day). At the top of the tree is Blu-ray Pure Audio which provides 24-bit encoding at a sample rate of 96 kHz.
Is this format going to mark the death of CD? Well, no, digital downloads are killing CDs, so this format is pretty well aimed at the audiophile market. To play these discs you will need at a bare minimum a Blu-ray player and a decent amp. There is no reason why you can't play the disc via your TV sound system though it's hardly going to do the format justice. For my setup I use a PlayStation 3 connected via HDMI to my Onkyo amp and a 5.1 speaker setup.
When you insert the disc you are presented with a simple menu, nothing much to interact with as this is very much an audio experience. You play the album (skipping forwards and back like CD) and you can switch in flight between 3 provided audio formats; 2.0 PCM, 2.0 DTS-HD, 2.0 Dolby True HD all at 24-bit / 96 kHz. So whilst you can listen to the 2.0 PCM audio on virtually any amp, you will need an amp that supports DTS-HD and Dolby True HD to listen to the others. However, unlike "DSOTM" on Blu-ray, there are no 5.1 mixes, only 2.0
The sound quality is indeed impressive with both vocal and instrument tracks being exceptionally clear. Just listening to Stevie Wonder's Isn't She Lovely with your eyes closed you would think Stevie was in your living room giving you a personal concert. Listening to all three formats on my setup, the Dolby True HD audio provided the richest experience. The amp switched most of the vocal to the central channel and used the rear speakers to provide a more immersive audio experience. Even with the amp configured in Pure Audio mode (which disables on the on-board sound processor) the audio is still exceptional.
So should you rush out and start replacing your CDs with Blu-Ray Pure Audio discs? Well, in my opinion, no, unless you are a true audiophile with a top notch setup and a really good ear, the difference between audio CD and Blu-ray Pure Audio just isn't worth the cost of purchase. Most of the music in this format is already available on CD and unless you are getting a different listening experience, such as the excellent 5.1 mix of DSOTM, it's just not worth it. Yes, there is a difference in quality, but only those with the money and the setup should bother.
Click HERE to get your hands on this new superior format.