Saturday, July 9, 2011

Blue Man Group "Complex" DVD-Audio

I love DVD-Audio recordings in general, and "Complex" is no exception, even though about 1/3 of the songs are pure dross.  The ones that have passion really do it.  Good luck finding one of these, it wasn't easy for me, and then I ended up with 2 because I started with a used copy, then finally found NOS.

This DVD-Audio has 3 modes, 5.1 DTS, 5.1 MLP, and 2 channel LPCM.  As I have my Oppo BDP-95 set to default to DVD-Audio, I get 5.1 MLP if I just insert and press enter.  Trying to select any other option is a puzzle box.

For example, to select DVD-Audio, you would think that you would press right, then up.   However, the correct sequence is right, then left.  Unfortunately, DVD-Audio's are almost always like this, each one is a unique puzzle box, especially to the dedicated 2 channel listener.  But fortunately since I've set DVD-Audio as default, all I really have to do is insert the disc and press Enter.  Play doesn't start the disc, you get an "invalid selection" icon if you try to press play.  Unfortunately DVD-Audio's usually assume you always have video turned on to see things like that.

Fortunately, there is a "Display" button on the Oppo which brings up a reassuring set of informational displays on the top and bottom of the screen.

Over on the right side, it shows the bitrate and audio selection.

Otherwise, I'd get a constantly nagging doubt that I didn't make the right audio selection.  The Denon 5900 shows channel information and some other information in the player window.

I can't even remember how I got to LPCM.

I seem to like the MLP 5.1 option best anyway.  Even though I listen in stereo only on Living Room system, the stereo outputs appear to do automatic downmixing of 5.1 content.  The stereo outputs are entirely separate from the 5.1 channel outputs...and it's much better that way.

Playing in either LPCM or DTS 5.1 sounds more harsh.  DTS 5.1 sounds particularly nasty, with what appears to be volume level compression as well, possibly a choice by the mastering engineer.  But one uncontrolled factor is that those two modes do play louder, perhaps 3dB louder, and for totally fair comparison I'd need to determine the exact level difference and compensate for it.

It generally has been my experience that the MLP choices, which usually offer the highest bitrate, sound better, despite worrisome downmixing in many cases like this one which has no dedicated 2 channel MLP mode.  Possibly I simply like a more blurred sound that may result from downmixing.  It does sound smoother, but equally if not more detailed.  It's like turning the "sharpness" control on many TV's (like by 34XBR960) to minimum.  Greater than zero "sharpness" is usually an artificial peaking which is a kind of picture distortion, though on some sets you do actually get artificial blurring below a certain setting.  You have to use a test disc to be sure.

Boy have these things gotten complicated.  And it's no wonder that DVD-Audio was never a big hit, for these.  But I try to scarf up all the DVD-Audio discs I can because they're usually great, except for the ones that only have DTS 5.1.

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