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A view on Blu-ray Audio discs by Daniel Lalla

The Rolling Stones - Let It Bleed [Blu-ray Audio]  

 

  

  

 

Review by Daniel Lalla

 

Producer: Universal Music Group (ABKCO Records)

 

Disc:

Region: FREE! (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)

Total Music time: 0:42:20

Disc Size: 8,959,098,880 bytes

Audio: 2.0 Stereo LPCM or DTS-HD 24 / 192 or Dolby TRUEHD 24/192 (24 bit depth and 192 kHz sampling rate

Chapters: 9 (one per song)

Case: Transparent Blu-ray case

Release date: March 3rd, 2014

 

Extras:

A foldout with photos and lyrics and extensive description of the recording process of the album. A paper with a code to access the Blu-ray disc digital downloads online
Produced By: Jimmy Miller

 

The Rolling Stones - Let It Bleed Track Listing:
1. Gimme Shelter (4:31)
2. Love In Vain (4:21)
3. Country Honk (3:06)
4. Live With Me (3:33)
5. Let It Bleed (5:28)
6. Midnight Rambler (6:51)
7. You Got The Silver (2:51)
8. Monkey Man (4:12)
9. You Can't Always Get What You Want (7:25)

 

Comparison material:
There are essentially 3 options for an album this important
1. The
Blu-ray audio at 24/192 audio Universal 018771812425
2. Japanese SHM-SACD UIGY-9021 featuring the DSD remaster in DSD format
(The 2002 ABKCO SACD with DSD remastering is long out of print)
3. There is a HDTracks version as well at a 24/176 quality

 

 

RIAA Sales: Double platinum in the USA

Singles: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” charted at # 42 in 1973
“The three verses (along with the varied theme in the fourth verse) address the major
topics of the 1960s: love, politics, and drugs.” – from Wikipedia. I agree.

Awards: # 32 on Rolling Stone magazines top 500 album list
# 24 VH1 greatest album list
# 27 The Guardian greatest album list
#28 Q Magazine’s all time best British albums

Charting: UK number 1, displacing Abbey Road ! Charted for 29 weeks
USA Billboard number 3. Charted for 44 weeks.

Interesting trivia : There is just too much to talk about with this classic album.

• The day after its release was the famous Altamont incident captured in “Gimme Shelter” available through the Criterion Collection. That event was widely seen as the end of the sixties, in many ways.
• “Gimme Shelter” was the Stones’ response to the political unrest of the sixties and backlash to the Vietnam war. Richards wrote the song and from his memoir Life: "I wrote 'Gimmi Shelter' on a stormy day, sitting in Robert Fraser's apartment in Mount Street. Anita (Pallenberg) was shooting Performance at the time, not far away... It was just a terrible f--king day and it was storming out there. I was sitting there in Mount Street and there was this incredible storm over London, so I got into that mode, just looking out of Robert's window and looking at all these people with their umbrellas being blown out of their grasp and running like hell. And the idea came to me... My thought was storms on other people's minds, not mine. It just happened to hit the moment."
• This is the first Stones album to be named after one of the tracks on the album
• This is the last Stones album to feature Brian Jones on two tracks. He died July 1969.
• The inner sleeve features the lines “THIS RECORD SHOULD BE PLAYED LOUD” and “HARD KNOX AND DURTY SOX”
• The cover artwork was inspired by the album’s working title “Automatic Changer” and is a surrealist sculpture by artist Robert Brownjohn. The rear shot shows the back of the same piece in shambles. The future queen of British TV cookery shows, Delia Smith, baked the cake on the front cover.
• The album was released on LP, reel-to-reel and 8-Track cassette
• The album is regarded as the Stones at their best in the 1968 to 1972 era, with “Beggars’ Banquet” just prior, and was followed by “Sticky Fingers” and “Exile on Main Street
• “Love In Vain” was written by King of the Delta Blues legend Robert Johnson and features some of the most bittersweet guitar sliding ever, mimicking the Doppler effect sound of a train at the station pulling away. Ry Cooder played the mandolin on the track.
• "Country Honk" is a Hank Williams-style country version of "Honky Tonk Women", which was released 5 months earlier, the day after Brian Jones’ death, as a single. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” was the B-side. The original version features dual-citizen and sometimes-Quebecer Nanette Workman (credited as Nanette Newman)
• This was the last Stones’ album to receive an official mono release, rare and valuable now.
• From Songfacts (unconfirmed): Keith Richards' fingers began to bleed as he played acoustic guitar for hours while Mick Jagger worked with an engineer on the drum track. The title came from Keith's desire to record his track. At least that's the story the band tells. Here's an alternate meaning: The phrase "Let It Bleed" is intravenous drug user slang for successfully finding a vein. The syringe plunger is pulled back and if blood appears, is called letting it bleed.
• The sentence ''and there will always be a space in my parking lot'' was about Marianne Faithful, Jagger's girlfriend, who used the euphemism ''parking lot'' to talk about her private parts.

 

 

Audio: I’m going to get a little technical here, as this is a great case to discuss the two major competing digital formats: PCM or DSD technology

The Blu-ray audio disc has one unusual feature. It’s the inexplicable fact that they used 24/192 for this release. Why? The Stones’ catalogue was remastered in 2002 using DSD technology and SACDs were released for the classic era albums and the related hits compilations. Fortunately, they did not stop there and all the 70s and 80s era albums were released in Japan on SHM-SACDs at much greater price. The
SHM-SACD discs are DSD only releases, with better quality optical material, and using green label sides without any artwork on them for pure and improved reflective qualities.

Standard digital recordings can be thought of as plotting the signal on a graph paper, with the y axis represented by 24 bits in this case, and a value plotted every 1/192000th of a second (at 192 kHz) on the Y axis.

So explaining DSD is a little weird. It’s a one bit sampling technology. So think of it as a single bit, on or off, telling the system if the next little chunk of the audio is louder or quieter. So how can that possibly work? The answer is that you sample in the MEGA-hertz range (2.8224 MHz), at much, much higher resolution than audible audio. So you recreate the waveform with a ‘moving’ bit, i.e. moving up or down. You have 64 times as many samples as you would in a 44.1 KHz CD for example. So your wave can move up or down, in theory, in 64 steps for every 1 sample on a CD. The sound engineering and math people estimate that the effective bit depth is about 20-23 bits, but many say the reproduction of the waveform is more accurate and more ‘analog-like’

So it is quite clear that if a recording was made digitally using PCM, it should REMAIN that way. There is nothing to be gained and only potentially information to be lost by converting it to DSD. Those albums would, in theory, be best released on a PCM format like
Blu-ray audio, or DVD-Audio, or a PCM HDTracks download. If the original album master is analog, then it is a choice: PCM or DSD? Audiophiles have been arguing endlessly about this, with some talking about ‘tired old SACD’ (which I find laughable) or arguing the benefits or 96 versus 192 sampling rates in the PCM domain. My contention is that the 24 bit depth is a marked improvement over 16 bit CD technology. It results in a much greater signal-to-noise ratio and gives extra headroom over CDs for an uncompressed release, yet still being full of detail. My personal preference is that in the case of analogue masters, DSD has generally won out, but it is clear that the choices made during mastering are really what is MOST important. You can use a lousy master or massively punch up the audio (brickwalling practice) to make it sound louder. Audiophile releases are not immune from this.

On the HDTracks release, the used 24/176.4 release for “Let It Bleed”. Why does this make sense? Because it is a mathematical multiple of 44.1 and so is DSD’s 2.8224 MHz sampling. So, in theory, this PCM rate makes more sense as during the conversion you fall on direct common multiples which should make it easier for DSD to PCM conversion. In this range and high resolution depth, the question is, does it even matter?

Fortunately, the
Blu-ray audio seems to have been wonderfully mastered. The DSD masters done in 2002 were just simply stunning. The recordings took on new life with a punch and depth never heard before. Tight bass and crisp highs and unreal amounts of detail were opening like restoring a painting. I have the Virgin Records remasters of Stones albums from the 70s and 80s using Apogee remasters and they were disappointing. The original CDs suffered from a blandness that should never be associated with a band this important..
The
Blu-ray, to my ears, sounds every bit as good as the Japanese SHM-SACD. I occasionally think I hear a difference in the DSD, and go back and re-listen carefully – it’s all there in the Blu-ray, as far as I can tell.

 

 

Analysis: Someone was nice enough on the internet to have done a full dynamic range analysis on the SHM-SACD. It’s mastered right close up to 0 dB and the DR scores show a lot of variability from 8 to 13, reflecting the differing styles of music and recording styles in these songs. Although the volume level on the Blu-ray is slightly lower overall, the DR scores are identical. This, and the fact that they list DSD technician on the information, just cements that they used the DSD master as the origin for the Blu-ray.

Analysis of “Gimme Shelter” on both SHM-SACD and Blu-ray shows no compression whatsoever, even on this loudest track on the album. It’s clear in all the tracks that great care was taken to avoid the brickwall approach. THIS WAS DONE RIGHT AND THEY ARE CORRECT: “THIS RECORD SHOULD BE PLAYED LOUD”.

Curve: Blu-ray Track one – correctly mastered!

Dynamic range analysis: Blu-ray and SHM-SACD

 

 

IThe Stones said “THIS RECORD SHOULD BE PLAYED LOUD”.
I would add: “THIS Blu-ray SHOULD BE BOUGHT IMMEDIATELY”

It won’t get better than this and the SHM-SACD for a digital release. You can get a sound that is, for all intents and purposes, as good as the Japanese SHM-SACD for the price and get a digital download as well. If you are a purist, you will want the SHM-SACD since it IS the DSD used for the remastering in 2002. In theory, it should be the best. It should also, in theory, be better than vinyl releases based on that 2002 DSD remaster, unless you like the way vinyl or your particular cartridge/phonostage setup color the sound. Yes, I said that. I love vinyl, but if you think about it logically for a second, if the remaster is digital DSD, how can the vinyl be better without ‘adding’ something to the purity of the music?

Music:
5 stars – Not pop but a more pensive, musically smart group were revealed
Sound:
5 stars – For the era of the recording, and using DSD remasters, hard to imagine they could have done better

Once the download servers are back on line I’ll report back and tell you what format the digital download is. If it is not 24/192 and you use a music server, I would have to then recommend HDTracks 24/176.4 release, which also comes from the Stones directly and should sound every ‘bit’ as good. (no pun intended). But you lose the wonderful artwork of this classic release.

 

Summary:
This is an important album. If you want pop songs, look elsewhere. If you want to see what the Stones were capable of, this is one of the best places to start.
For the audio quality, it’s too close to call – the Blu-ray audio is much cheaper than the SHM-SACD
 

Format Release: DR Score Notes
Blu-ray audio 10 Ranges 8 to 13
SHM-SACD 10 Ranges 8 to 13


  

Daniel Lalla

April 6th, 2014

  

  

 

Tools Used:

MacPro with iTunes 11 using AudirvanaPlus.
XLD used for all file format conversions where needed.
AudioLEq Version 3 (paid version) for analysis and histogram
Output through TEAC UD-501 USB DAC (driverless in Mac OSX) with direct DSD support
Parallels Windows partition with Foobar 2000 with SACD and Dynamic Range plugins, using TEAC ASIO driver
Some album information is drawn from Wikipedia and other sources on the internet.

Daniel Lalla

 

     

 




 

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