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Denon CD

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology
 

Simple gray rule


A Denon CD worth listening to again and again
 

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1995, The Syracuse Newspapers

I have a soft spot in my heart for Denon, one of the world's oldest recording companies. It made the first digital recording I ever heard and has just earned a another recognition by issuing some of the best-sounding CDs ever made, using a spectacular new process.

The one I've found the most interesting is a recording of concertos played by Chee-Yun, a gifted Korean violinist. (Available in record stores and catalogs, CD catalog No. Denon CO-78913).

Denon's new compact discs are being made using an ultra-fi method called 20-bit digital recording. Older methods use 16-bit recording.

What do you get for four bits? A lot.

The "bits" in digital recording are the things that slice up the sound, so it can be represented as numbers. The more bits, the better the sound, all other things being equal.

If you're familiar with the way your TV displays a picture by scanning each line across the screen a few hundred times, you have an idea of the importance of these digital slices in hi-fi sound.If you cut down the number of scan lines on your TV—which is just what happens when you play a videotape recorded at the slowest speed—the picture gets worse. Likewise, if you use fewer bits when recording digital sound, the `fi" nose-dives, too.

Raising the number of scan lines on a TV, such as the way high-definition TV does it, or increasing the number of bits in an audio recording will, of course, lead to a better result.

But we have a problem here, as any audio engineer can spot right away. Compact discs don't have any way to handle 20 bits. Not a chance. No way. They work with 16 bits, and that's that.

Getting a 20-bit recording to play on a 16-bit CD player—and they are all 16-bit players—is like getting an HDTV picture out of your old Motorola TV. It just can't happen.

But Denon's 20-bit CDs do sound better—much better—than its older CDs. Why?

The secret is in the way those 20 bits are reduced to 16 when the compact disc is made. Just as a better-quality tape in your VCR will give you a better picture, even on that ancient Motorola, a 20-bit audio recording starts out with higher quality, and the recording engineers then use a method of translating the ultra-fi version to the CD.

Technically, it's a lot more complicated than that. For one thing, the process keeps the signal in 20-bit mode as long as possible—right up to when it's put through the 16-bit-wringer when it goes onto the CD. That means all the editing of the tape that is used to make the CD is done in the ultra-fi mode.The main thing is that its new CDs sound stunning.


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