Saint-Saëns – Symphony No. 3 with Organ : Kansas City Symphony – Review (vinyl, SACD, HDCD, Qobuz, SACD 5.1)

Here is the album of Saint Saens’ Symphony No. 3 with organ performed by the Kansas City Symphony under the direction of Michael Stern and recorded by Reference Recordings. Reference Recordings is a publisher that works with the audiophile in mind. For this 2015 album (recorded: June 20-21, 2013), the recording was made in high resolution digital 24 bits 176.4 kHz. It is available in stereo and also in 5.1 surround version which is a specialty of Reference Recordings for many years. One of the particularities of classical music is that there are different interpretations of the same score depending on the orchestra and the conductor. This symphony n°3 of Saint Saens will be completed by other albums presenting a different interpretation.

For this review, we will compare 5 versions, the SACD 5.1 and stereo versions, the HDCD version, the Qobuz version in Hi-Res and the vinyl.

Below you will find the description of the different editions, as well as the measurements of each edition in the following chapters.
The synthesis of the review and the samples are available here

The album is composed of 6 tracks:

  1. Symphony no. 3 in C minor, op. 78 “Organ”: Adagio – Allegro moderato
  2. Symphony no. 3 in C minor, op. 78 “Organ”: Poco adagio
  3. Symphony no. 3 in C minor, op. 78 “Organ”: Allegro moderato – Presto
  4. Symphony no. 3 in C minor, op. 78 “Organ”: Maestoso – Allegro
  5. Introduction et rondo capriccioso in A Minor*
  6. La muse et le poète*

* not available on vinyl

First we will analyze each edition in detail (technical and qualitative analysis), then we will compare the successive editions with their dynamics and assign a final score, and you will be able to listen some samples.

The streaming versions may evolve over time, those presented here correspond to the version tested at the date of publication, or update of the review.

Review of the editions:

Part 1: Presentation of the editions

Part 2 : Waveform and dynamique comparaison

Parts 3 : Spectrum comparisons

Part 4 : Spectrogram comparaisons>

Part 5 : Spatialization

Part 6 : Summary, scoring and Sample

Part 1: presentation of the editions

Ed 1: Vinyl – 2015
Presentation

The vinyl is available as a double LP in 45 RPM (ref RM-1514), it was made from the 24 bits 176.4 kHz digital master from Reference Recordings

Ed 2: SACD – 2015
Presentation

The SACD (ref RR-136) is a hybrid version with an SACD 2.0 and 5.1 layer, and an HDCD layer. It is the stereo SACD track that is tested in this Ed 2

Ed 3: HDCD layer from SACD – 2015
Presentation

The SACD (ref RR-136) is a hybrid version with an SACD 2.0 and 5.1 layer, and an HDCD layer. It is the CD layer that is tested with the HDCD decoding allowing to have a 20 bits 44.1 kHz track.

HDCD layer from SACD – 2015
Ed 4: Qobuz Hi-Res – 2015
Presentation

The Qobuz version is presented in Hi-Res 24 bits 176.4 kHz, as indicated by Reference Recordings, this version corresponds to the Master version.

Qobuz Hi-Res – 2015
Ed 5: SACD 5.1 – 2015
Presentation

The SACD (ref RR-136) is a hybrid version with an SACD 2.0 and 5.1 layer, and an HDCD layer. It is the stereo 5.1 track that is tested in this Ed 5

SACD 5.1 – 2015

Part 2 : Waveform and dynamic comparaisons

Waveform

The waveform represents the 6 tracks of the original album, except for the vinyl which contains only 4 tracks.

The graphs below represent the waveform of the vinyl version with only 4 tracks. This version is very dynamic, like the other editions.

The waveforms of the three digital stereo versions (SACD, HDCD and Qobuz) are very dynamic, without any trace of clipping or dynamic range limitation.

As with the digital stereo versions, the waveforms of SACD 5.1 are very dynamic on all channels. All channels are exploited, but the bass channel.

Dynamic

Dynamic represents the ability to reproduce a wide range of sounds from the softest to the loudest. The target is to compare the dynamics of the music and not of the media (CD, digital files or vinyl).

For our 5 editions reviewed have obtained the following Dynamic Range (DR) :

Vinyl – 2015SACD – 2015HDCD layer from SACD – 2015Qobuz Hi-Res – 2015SACD 5.1 – 2015
GlobalDR15DR15DR15DR15DR14
MinDR13DR11DR11DR11DR11
MaxDR16DR18DR17DR18DR17
Symphony no. 3 in C minor, op. 78 “Organ”: Adagio – Allegro moderatoDR16DR16DR16DR16DR16
Symphony no. 3 in C minor, op. 78 “Organ”: Poco adagioDR13DR11DR11DR11DR11
Symphony no. 3 in C minor, op. 78 “Organ”: Allegro moderato – PrestoDR16DR16DR16DR16DR14
Symphony no. 3 in C minor, op. 78 “Organ”: Maestoso – AllegroDR13DR13DR13DR13DR12
Introduction et rondo capriccioso in A Minor*DR17DR16DR17DR17
La muse et le poète*DR18DR17DR18DR17

We find for all the editions a very high dynamic with a DR15 or DR14. We notice that the vinyl has the same dynamics as the digital stereo versions which confirms the beautiful work of cutting of the vinyl.

As a reminder, the scale goes from 0 to more 20, but the dynamics are considered good from 12, quite good between 10 and 11, and deteriorate below 10.

Part 3 : spectrum comparisons

Spectrum

The Spectrum allows to check the tonal balance of the music (balance between treble, medium and bass sounds) and to detect process that may have been carried out during the recording, the mixing, mastering or manufacturing phases. It is also possible to detect frequency interference issues.

The vinyl and Qobuz Hi-Res spectra are superimposed (except for a gap below 60 Hz, green zone) until about 10 kHz, beyond this frequency the vinyl level is higher (yellow zone), beyond 30 kHz, the vinyl level remains higher than the digital version in 24 bits, this is due to the background noise of the vinyl reading.

The spectra of the stereo SACD layer and the HDCD decoded CD layer are almost perfectly superimposed up to 22 kHz (yellow arrow), the limit of the CD due to the 44.1 kHz sampling frequency. There is a very slight variation (max 1 dB) between 1 kHz and 5 kHz (yellow zone).

The spectra of the SACD stereo layer and the Qobuz Hi-Res version are perfectly superimposed up to 25kHz. Beyond 25 kHz, there is the rise of noise in the high frequencies (yellow arrow) due to the principle of DSD64 used in the SACD.

The spectra of the SACD 5.1 layer show a use of the whole of the channels with a filtering of the bass channel (LFE) towards 120 Hz (green arrow). Beyond 25 kHz, there is the rise of noise in the high frequencies (yellow arrow) due to the principle of DSD64 used in the SACD.

Part 4 : Spectrogram comparaisons

Spectrogram

Spectrogram is another representation of frequency versus time of a track. For each channel (right and left), horizontal axis represents time, and the vertical axis represents frequency. The amplitude is represented by the intensity (brightness) of the color of each point in the image.

The spectrogram below represents the vinyl edition with frequencies that rise above 20 kHz (yellow arrow). Above this frequency (white arrow), we find a signal which is composed by the music and the distortion generated by the vinyl playback principle.

The spectrogram below represents the SACD stereo layer. The yellow arrow shows that the signal rises well above 20 kHz. We also find the characteristic noise of DSD64 beyond 25 kHz (white arrow).

The spectrogram below represents the CD version decoded in HDCD. This spectrogram shows a frequency limitation at 22 kHz (yellow arrow) due to the 44.1 kHz sampling rate of the CD. There is no signal above this frequency (white arrow).

The spectrogram below represents the Qobuz Hi-Res version. It is the cleanest spectrogram with frequencies that go up beyond 20 kHz (yellow arrow), and even to more than 30 kHz (white arrow) without any noise in the high frequencies like SACD.

The spectrogram of the SACD 5.1 track is in conformity with the spectrum. We find a frequency that rises above 20 kHz (white arrow) for all channels except the LFE which is filtered around 120 Hz (green arrow). As for the stereo SACD, we find the noise beyond 25 kHz specific to the DSD64.

Part 5 : Spatialization

Spatialization allows you to define the sound distribution of the music on all the channels. The spatialization indicator and the description of the graph are described here.

The spatialization represented below is a measurement on the whole SACD album in 5.1. The surround channels bring a complement of spatialization which we find on the whole of the pieces allowing an immersion in the concert.

Distribution of the channels of the SACD layer 5.1

Spatialization : ●●●●o (4.1)

Part 6 : Summary, scoring and Samples

Ed 1: Vinyl – 2015

Very nice pressing of the vinyl with reduced surface noise. The rendering is very dynamic with a good global balance, the bass is present, but the extreme bass remains behind compared to the digital versions.We find a very nice rendering of the sound scene.

Rating:

  • Dynamic: ●●●●● (5)
  • Bandwidth: ●●●●● (5)
  • Surface noise: ●●●●o (4)
  • Restitution: ●●●●o (4)

Sample : ”Symphony no. 3 in C minor, op. 78 “Organ”: Maestoso – Allegro” 24 bits 88.2 kHz:

Ed 2: SACD – 2015

Very beautiful restitution of the stereo SACD version resulting from the master in 24 bits 176.4 kHz. One finds here all the extent of the orchestra and the power of the organ. This version is similar to the Qobuz version. The variations in listening depend on the conversion of the DAC between DSD and PCM.

Rating:

  • Dynamic: ●●●●● (5)
  • Bandwidth: ●●●●● (5)
  • Restitution: ●●●●o (4.5)

Sample : ”Symphony no. 3 in C minor, op. 78 “Organ”: Maestoso – Allegro” 24 bits 88.2 kHz:

Ed 3: HDCD layer from SACD – 2015

The CD layer with HDCD decoding presents a clean restitution but less detailed and precise than the SACD and Qobuz versions, especially on the orchestral masses.

Rating:

  • Dynamic: ●●●●● (5)
  • Bandwidth: ●●●●o (4)
  • Restitution: ●●●●o (4)

Sample : ”Symphony no. 3 in C minor, op. 78 “Organ”: Maestoso – Allegro” 24 bits 44.1 kHz:

Ed 4: Qobuz Hi-Res – 2015

The Qobuz version is the version that is closest to the Master in 24 bits 176.4 kHz. Technically, it is the cleanest version. Listening to it, it is similar to the SACD version, but the result always depends on the DAC used and its way of processing the PCM and DSD signals.

Rating:

  • Dynamic: ●●●●● (5)
  • Bandwidth: ●●●●● (5)
  • Restitution: ●●●●o (4.5)

Sample : ”Symphony no. 3 in C minor, op. 78 “Organ”: Maestoso – Allegro” 24 bits 176.4 kHz:

Ed 5: SACD 5.1 – 2015

The SACD 5.1 version brings the full energy of 6-channel playback, with room-filling sound. The support of the LFE channel brings all the energy of the organ. It is a very beautiful version which deserves to be listened. Reference Recordings has mastered surround sound as shown by the Grammy for the best Surround Sound Album received in 2011 for Britten’s Orchestra.

Rating:

  • Dynamic: ●●●●● (5)
  • Bandwidth: ●●●●● (5)
  • Spatialization: ●●●●o (4.1)
  • Restitution: ●●●●o (4.5)

Sample : ”Symphony no. 3 in C minor, op. 78 “Organ”: Maestoso – Allegro” 24 bits 88.2 kHz:

The sample is in 5.1 wav format, if you can not play the sample in your navigator, you can save it, right button menu and “Save Audio As…” and play it with an external player.

It is a very beautiful album of the symphony n°3 of Saint-Saens with organ, we find in this recent recording of 2015 all the energy of the orchestra and the power of the organ what makes very demanding its reproduction. In spite of its very beautiful rendering, the vinyl does not equal the high resolution stereo formats (SACD and QOBUZ), in term of precission, extension in the bass and silence of the reproduction. If you are equipped with 5.1, the SACD 5.1 version brings an additional dimension to the reproduction.

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Detail of the ratings :

  • Dynamic :
    1. Significant dynamic compression, DR less than 7
    2. Compression of the present dynamics, DR between 7 and 9.
    3. Correct piece DR >=10
    4. No dynamic compression (DR >12), dynamic rendering
    5. No dynamic compression, high DR and very dynamic sound rendering
  • Spectrum :
    1. Spectrum cut and less than 15 khz
    2. Spectrum cut at 15 khz
    3. Spectrum not conforming to the original and cut (not HD) or original but limited bandwidth (but less than 20 kHz)
    4. Spectrum conforming to the original (but not HD)
    5. Spectrum conforming to the original with HD resolution (higher than 24kHz)
  • Surface noise (only for vinyl):
    1. Continuous audible noise
    2. Audible surface noise except on passages with a high level of noise
    3. Reduced surface noise, barely audible on low level crossings
    4. Low surface noise, very good quality
    5. Very low surface noise, no defects, almost inaudible on the quiet passages (exceptional disc)
  • Spatialization :
    • Between 0 and 5 for 5.1 or 7.1 channels configuration
    • Between 0 and 10 for Atmos configuration (7.1.4)
    • For more information on spatialization, you can read the article describing this parameter here.
  • Restitution :
    1. Low quality of the restitution mixing dynamics, clarity, separation of voices and instruments.
    2. Average quality of the restitution mixing dynamics, clarity, separation of voices and instruments.
    3. Quality of the restitution mixing dynamics, clarity, separation of voices and instruments. Good record.
    4. High quality of the restitution mixing dynamics, clarity, separation of voices and instruments. Very high level disc.
    5. Maximum quality of the restitution mixing dynamics, clarity, separation of voices and instruments. Exceptional disc.

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