Stockfisch DMM CD & SACD: Vinyl sound in digital format
The past decade more music lovers discover the authentic sound of vinyl again. Proof of this can be found in the sales of vinyl records and record players that have increased every year, and more recently in the development of a new format on the musical horizon called HD vinyl, within a couple of years maybe sold besides regular LP’s.
Stockfisch Records has also experimented with a new technique in their mastering process recently. Actually it is an older technique, but they gave it a new usage, where the typical sound of vinyl can be digitally reproduced via cd and sacd without any of the negative effects associated with the vinyl medium such as distortion, groove noise, horizontal and vertical aberrations, rumble, clicks, pops, and so on. Vinyl lovers got accustomed to these negative aspects.
Of course the better the analog setup the less audible these artefacts become and the more qualities start to appear in the sonic picture. Nevertheless, these negative aspects will always occur in one way or another, unless you are a label called Stockfisch, using the Direct Metal Mastering technique to capture the authentic charms of the vinyl medium, but in the process eliminating the negative aspects associated with the medium.
While DMM has been around for a very long time already, Stockfisch Records has been the first audiophile record label using the Direct Metal Master technique, to offer their final product to the consumer not on vinyl, but in a digital CD/SACD format.
What techniques are used in the Direct Metal Mastering process?
The DMM technique Stockfisch applies starts with cutting the recording onto a copper plate, the so-called “Metal Master”. Immediately after cutting, this copper master record is played and with the best possible transfer technology the result is digitalized. Stockfisch uses a Neumann VMS-82 cutting machine as the original record player. With a normal living room setup tracking errors of the stylus are inevitable because (to some extend) there will always be horizontal and vertical aberrations. With the metal master this is not the case since it is held firmly on the lathe by vacuum suction and no aberration of the tracking stylus can occur.
In the complete process Stockfisch uses only the best possible components. Here’s the complete audio chain in a nutshell:
- EMT TSD-15 pickup – a custom made version of the EMT’s legendary TONDOSE TSD-15, incorporates a diamond made from a square natural rod. This diamond is refined with a highly sophisticated shape with multiple facets resulting in a frontal parabola measuring 17 x 25 µ. This diamond quality secures not only very little distortion, but also very low FIM (Frequency Intermodulation Distortion).
- EMT 997 tone arm
- EMT JPA66 valve preamplifier – in the highest segment of the manufacturer.
- Meitner EMM Labs ADC 8 MK IV – this A/D converter is still regarded as a reference for the best possible conversion to the 1-bit Direct Stream Digital (DSD) format.
- SADIE DSD8 mastering system – records the 1-bit DSD signal in a sampling rate of 2.8224 Mhz.
- Hybrid SACD – the final product is a Hybrid SACD, with both a layer that has the 1-bit DSD information as well as a layer with the 16 bit / 44.1 KHz cd format.
To enhance the tonal quality of the DMM transfer for the DMM-CD, Stockfisch cuts the music programme at 45 rpm and basically only uses the area between the two zero crossings of the cartridge arm. This is the area where the geometry of the pick-up arm is optimal. However, this decision costs a few copper blanks more, as it reduces the running time per side as opposed to the pressed vinyl LP.
With critical listening tests, this combination has proven Stockfisch to be the optimal chain when it comes to obtaining a sound as close as possible to the master.
Stockfisch Records Direct Metal Master video explains the complete process
You can watch the DMM process from start to finish, in a short informative movie made by Stockfisc Records. Especially for fans of the record label, the voice-over is done by none less than Stockfisch troubadour Allan Taylor.
How does DMM sound?
Since we heard about the DMM technique, we were very curious about its sonic results. Günter Pauler – head of Stockfisch Records – was in a kind mood and sent us a copy of the two compilation albums the label has made using this new technique, the Stockfisch DMM-CD/SACD volume 1 & volume 2.
Both volumes of these compilations have an impressive track listing, with representation of most artists that made Stockfisch famous over the years and are well known performers for fans.
This is quite convenient. In this way one can compare the original recording with the DMM version of the songs. My personal favorites on “volume 1” include Chris Jones “No Sanctuary Here” – with lyrics still on topic of todays vast stream of refugees seeking asylum in Europe, and Sara K. with her live performance of “Stop Those Bells”, recorded during her 2002 Nautilus tour, sponsored by B&W. On volume 2, one of the tracks of preference is Paul O’ Brian who covers Joni Mitchell with his version of “Big Yellow Taxi”, yet another song that’s completely “on topic” in ecological terms.
How do these DMM albums sound? Well, to be honest they sound quite nice. Although the original Stockfisch recordings are already of pristine quality there’s something special about these DMM recordings. The sonic signature can be best described as just about how vinyl is supposed to sound if no artefacts or distortions were in the signal path. The recordings are characterized by a charming, slightly warm tonal balance, but without any loss of resolution or inner detail from the original recording. So the DMM technique lives up to its expectation. In our opinion Stockfisch has succeeded in bringing to life only the positive aspects of vinyl. It makes these recordings quite a treat to listen to.
When the compact disc was marketed in the eighties and nineties, one claim of the manufacturers was a “crystal clear sound”, free from the distortions that were present in vinyl. Indeed, digital playback does not suffer from such distortions. Vinyl was then abandoned as inferior and music passionates around the world sold their collection in exchange for the replacement compact disc version of their favorite albums. But on the downside of the compact disc, to be able to reproduce this medium in a profound manner, a decent source and digital-to-analog converter is necessary, something only the last decade raised in attention. A cd transport is also vulnerable to aberration, so with the cd medium, perfection is still hard achieved. Further evolution in the digital domain has made the compact disc replaceable by digital streaming and high resolution files, vinyl now on a rebound and more popular than ever. I believe this evolution will continue to surprise us, with new media around the corner, and old ones on a revival.
But when comparing the Stockfisch cd versions with the DMM, one thing is certain: they both have got that “crystal clear sound” with which the compact disc got advertised in the past. But the DMM has another pleasing factor: that sweet analog sound of vinyl, without its limitations, in a digital form most of us are still accustomed to. Is this the perfect format? No, it is not. Is it a delightful listening experience? Absolutely!
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