Thread: The number of stars you use in your SACDinfo reviews.

Posts: 8

Post by sgb October 19, 2003 (1 of 8)
Hello all,

I've been thinking about the star ratings for both the performances and sound quality that the various members assign to the recordings they review; what prompted this thread was the latest addition to the number of reviews for the Kleiber/Beethoven on DG.

Of course, one man's meat is another's poison, and I think it's just as clear that the assignation of a star rating to an SACD review is certainly a personal choice, but, as in the case of the Kleiber, I would be curious to read what determinations the user employs in making his awards.

Certainly, all things are relative, but if one considers the very best SACD recording he has ever heard, would it not seem likely that ONLY those that reach the standard that single recording has set should be awarded the highest number of stars?

How, then, could a recording, such as the Kleiber, be assessed as being inferior to an earlier version in another format, yet be awarded any stars at all?

Certainly vintage recordings that have been transfered from analog must be assessed differently than those that are pure DSD, but wouldn't some of these be worthy of fewer than 5 stars when the reviewer takes his best-sounding analog to DSD recording into consideration?

Post by Khorn October 19, 2003 (2 of 8)
I think that there is a certain "understood, taking into account" factor in posted reviews. We all know that a great 1930's or 40's recording, no matter how techincally well produced, cannot nearly approach a modern recording in a sonic sense. I think that when a "highest" rating is bestowed on a particular recording the "understood" factor comes into play and we judge it on merits that fit within its own parameters of time of recording and things like technology and such.

In other words, I believe it's an understood "Apples vs Apples" thing.

If the above didn't exist, applying ratings would be an arduous task as it would require exact, spelled out specifications as to what and what not to include in the judgement of discs reviewed in each and every venue.

Post by Dinko October 19, 2003 (3 of 8)
Speaking for myself, I attempt to withhold the 5 star rating for those recordings which blow me away, regardless of recording technology or recording era. I'd consider a 5-star disc that which makes me feel as if I am facing the band in front of me. It would have full bodied, rich, natural sound, with good clarity and instrumental transparency, deep - but not overpowering - bass, and well defined upper frequencies which stop short of being shrill and screechy at high volumes.
I'd give 4-stars to a very well engineered disc, which sounds very good, but sounds like a disc being played on a sound system, rather than having the orchestra in front of my sofa.
A 3-star rating would be a well-engineered album, which has slight problems, or is well-made, but unremarkable.
A 2-star disc would have more than a few problems: it could sound muffled, instruments could be lost, some instruments could be too prominent relative to others, there might be distortions, etc.
A 1-star disc would be a sonic frisbee. Nothing going for it, except that the producers/engineers tried but failed.

When it comes to performances, explaining ratings is more difficult. In orchestral music, a first rate performance could easily be unappealing. For example, while fairly well-played technically, Gergiev's recording of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade leaves me completely cold and wondering why I'm wasting my time listening to it instead of listening to a spicier version. So the musicians' playing would ask for a 4-star rating, but Gergiev's conducting might be worth 1 star. Finding the right balance for the performance rating is tricky.

One thing I feel is often ignored in the audio argument: sonics do not always depend on technology. I think that in many instances, the SACD/DVDA focus is more on DSD and 24bit/192kHz PCM versus 16bit & analog procedures, rather than on the actual mixing work involved.
For all the great technology, I sometimes realize that a well-engineered 16-bit CD can sound better than a poorly engineered DSD SACD. Recording technology is irrelevent when you have badly mixed turkeys like the latest Telarc Beethoven Ninth, or the Orchestral Not-So-Spectacular SACD from Chesky. So in the end, I'm not sure that older analog recordings need be assessed differently from newer digital recordings.

Post by Dan Popp October 19, 2003 (4 of 8)
Dinko said:

One thing I feel is often ignored in the audio argument: sonics do not always depend on technology.

For all the great technology, I sometimes realize that a well-engineered 16-bit CD can sound better than a poorly engineered DSD SACD. Recording technology is irrelevent when you have badly mixed turkeys like the latest Telarc Beethoven Ninth, or the Orchestral Not-So-Spectacular SACD from Chesky. So in the end, I'm not sure that older analog recordings need be assessed differently from newer digital recordings.

Dinko makes some excellent points. From the perspective of someone who records for a living, some of the older recordings are actually miles ahead of the new machine-made garbage. Of course, if you're listening to Classical music, that tape hiss and vinyl pop are hard on the ears...there's "no going back" to analog for genres that actually use dynamics. But the pop and rock records that are coming out now - with exceptions - are not better than the masters from 30 years ago. There is *so much* technology involved now that I think it's actually much more difficult to make a gorgeous-sounding pop record. When you have 192 tracks, nonlinear editing and pitch correction, you feel the need to use them. Compared to a 3-track recording of Elvis, there are 1,000 more ways things can get screwed up, so they usually do.

Post by JamieF October 20, 2003 (5 of 8)
Yes, I've noticed that the awarding of stars tends to be very polarized - all or none. I guess they're never going to mean much when there is no editorial control. Then again, I've only posted one review, and that was because it was a disc that I felt was particularly good, and there were no other reviews of it.

Of the SACD's I own (60 or so [and only one Sony]), none would get 5 stars for sound. While the fidelity of some of these is excellent, none match my best CD's for convincing soundstages - a mixing issue.

Stars for performance need to be taken with a pinch of salt - what does a performance rating for Dark Side of the Moon mean? You either like it or you don't. For classical, if you are more audiophile than music appreciator you'll probably gravitate towards performances that emphasize drama and excitement to the detriment of other qualities (applies to many reviews here).

To add to Dinko's guide for sound, I'd probably rate performances as follows for classical:
5 - a performance that strongly appeals to me and has received critical acclaim
4 - a performance that is very appealing
3 - a serviceable performance
2 - a pedestrian performance
1 - only get it if there is no alternative
0 - a complete dog, AOL does cheaper beer mats

Post by nucaleena October 20, 2003 (6 of 8)
JamieF said:

Yes, I've noticed that the awarding of stars tends to be very polarized - all or none. I guess they're never going to mean much when there is no editorial control. Then again, I've only posted one review, and that was because it was a disc that I felt was particularly good, and there were no other reviews of it.

Of the SACD's I own (60 or so [and only one Sony]), none would get 5 stars for sound. While the fidelity of some of these is excellent, none match my best CD's for convincing soundstages - a mixing issue.

Stars for performance need to be taken with a pinch of salt - what does a performance rating for Dark Side of the Moon mean? You either like it or you don't. For classical, if you are more audiophile than music appreciator you'll probably gravitate towards performances that emphasize drama and excitement to the detriment of other qualities (applies to many reviews here).

To add to Dinko's guide for sound, I'd probably rate performances as follows for classical:
5 - a performance that strongly appeals to me and has received critical acclaim
4 - a performance that is very appealing
3 - a serviceable performance
2 - a pedestrian performance
1 - only get it if there is no alternative
0 - a complete dog, AOL does cheaper beer mats

Jamie, you gave 5 stars for sound to the 16/Tallis, which I haven't heard yet but say that otherwise none of your 60 would get 5 stars for sound due to unconvincing soundstage (amongst other things). Please let me recommend a few which might change your mind, - the Fone disc "Primo est apostolis" for choral/sacred/early music, the Opus3 Brahms clarinet (or the Hyperion Domus french trios) for chamber and the Chandos RVW 4th for orchestral. The latter might not be to all audiophile tastes for sound (though I think its a terrific orchestral image) and the former might be a bit eccentric at times (but only at times) but if the Brahms doesn't make you give 5 stars, I'd be amazed.

Post by sgb October 21, 2003 (7 of 8)
Thank you all for your contributions to this topic all of which are of considerable merit.

I would have to note that several of my own reviews have received five stars for sound, although those ratings are not relative to a single disk that would serve as my own standard (to which the others would need to measure up to).

I would also agree that in coming to my ratings for sound quality, I often consider similar or the same recordings in other formats, and that there are several CDs that can serve as examples of the best that medium can provide. Hanson's The Composer and His Orchestra from the Mercury Living Presence series comes to mind as one of the most musically natural digital recordings in my collection.

Post by JamieF October 21, 2003 (8 of 8)
nucaleena said:

Jamie, you gave 5 stars for sound to the 16/Tallis, which I haven't heard yet but say that otherwise none of your 60 would get 5 stars for sound due to unconvincing soundstage (amongst other things). Please let me recommend a few which might change your mind, - the Fone disc "Primo est apostolis" for choral/sacred/early music, the Opus3 Brahms clarinet (or the Hyperion Domus french trios) for chamber and the Chandos RVW 4th for orchestral. The latter might not be to all audiophile tastes for sound (though I think its a terrific orchestral image) and the former might be a bit eccentric at times (but only at times) but if the Brahms doesn't make you give 5 stars, I'd be amazed.

No, I gave Spem in alium 5 for performance and 4 for sound. Expensive list of suggestions - I don't have any of them (I have all of the other Chandos RVW symphonies though). I may give them a go.

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