For a number of years now the Japanese have been issuing high end audiophile releases in the SACD format. These have been judiciously chosen titles, taking the original analogue master tapes wherever possible and making flat transfers using the DSD process, rather than the usual PCM digital transfers. DSD is the natural process for SACD production. These discs, though expensive must be popular as this year has now seen whole catalogues rather than the odd title being issued in the format. For instance Roxy Musics studio albums were issued earlier this year. Now Van der Graaf Generators studio work gets the same treatment. Maybe on the face of it a strange choice as VdGG were never big sellers in their heyday apart from maybe Italy. But in terms of how their work sits within the classic progressive rock canon of the 70's they are an important band. They never made a bad album when signed to Charisma. Peter Hammill's songwriting was bold, epic and singularly impressive as was the band surrounding him. Obviously the Japanese appreciate originality and quality songwriting and musicianship.
Hammill himself remastered the catalogue back in 2005. For many it wasn't a total success. Overly compressed and EQ veering towards the bass too much, it was in yer face stuff. These new discs represent a much more natural and balanced sound, with the dynamic range much more well judged. The results are increased clarity and detail. As I have said before about these SACD discs, I feel they offer a rare glimpse into how the actual master tapes sound. This is the nearest us mere mortals will ever get to hearing these original recordings as they exist on the finished masters. I know DVD-A and blu-ray can offer PCM up to 24 bits, 192kHz resolution, but there is something about SACD that sounds more natural, analogue even. They somehow "feel" so much better, even on my not-so high end system. These Japanese discs are pricey, but when you hear the clarity they offer, for me it is a more exciting listening experience compared to CD, vinyl or even high resolution stereo on DVD or blu-ray. That together with the Japanese detail for packaging do make these issues a very worthwhile investment.