pl | en

Krakow Sonic Society


MEETING No. 100:

Audio Video Show 2015



he Krakow Sonic Society is a group in which people’s opinions and ideas are shaped, where we have an opportunity to listen to different devices and get to know new technologies together. Since we meet in our private homes, the number of participants in such meetings is limited, which I regret. The events which originally constituted a basis for the Krakow Sonic Society were known as “Audioszołki” (Eng. “Little Audio Shows”). They were popularized about ten years ago by the “Audio” magazine and were open events that took place in audio salons. However, certain things cannot be changed and must be accepted the way they are (as Paulo Coehlo might say :).

Therefore, the last year’s unnumbered meeting of the Krakow Sonic Society which took place during the Audio Show 2014 exhibition was some kind of compensation for those years – even though it was imperfect, it was already something. I already knew then that we had to have another such meeting during the 2015 exhibition. We found a pretext for it quite quickly – Raveen Bawa, a representative of the dCS company, let me know soon afterwards that a novelty was being prepared: after many years of absence, a Compact Disc player was to become part of the company’s offer again. We immediately arranged to have a listening session together during the Audio Video Show 2015 exhibition.

dCS Rossini

Offering a CD player at a time when the technology is regarded to be obsolete and “passing away” is a risky thing to do. Who would need a “thing” like this? At the moment, being a cultured music lover and an experienced audiophile means having either a turntable or an audio file player as the source in one’s system. Physical media used for recording digital signal (CD, SACD, DVD-A and Audio BR) are not taken seriously, they are “bad”. Even a cassette player is more desired than a Compact Disc player.

This diagnosis of mine is exaggerated, of course, and certain elements of the whole issue are overemphasized. However, I think that I am not the only person who sees things in such a way. So, why do companies that know the market of high-end audio devices very well keep on promoting physical media? The fact is that although both Rossini and top-end Vivaldi play files, it does not make them file players – it is their secondary role.

The answer is simple: people who I respect and whose opinion is important to me think that physical media sound better than files. We experienced that with Raveen (read HERE) and the CEO of Maim has talked about it lately in an interview for the “HIFICRITIC” magazine, while Cambridge Audio, an exceptionally watchful producer representing the base and medium price range, has recently proposed a very nice CD transport, the CXC model.

For those who are taking part in the crusade and carrying a holy banner with a crossed out silver disc, all of the above is a fairytale which consists in hopelessly sticking to what we already know. However, let me remind you that, not so long ago, the supporters of vinyl and reel-to-reel tape recorders (technologies that “progressives” stopped buying a long time ago) were treated in a similar way.

The emergence of a new Compact Disc player on the top high-end market is no surprise to me. However, it requires a brief explanation – it is not a Super Audio CD player, like all the earlier dCS transports and players, but a Compact Disc player with a dedicated CD transport. There are two reasons for that, in my opinion. The first one is the enormous cost of the Esoteric SACD VRDS-NEO drive used in the Vivaldi. It costs the company a few thousand euros, which means its price is two to three times higher in the device sold to the end customer (these are the realities of running a stable company). However, the Rossini is significantly cheaper. Another reason is the availability of Esoteric transports. As far as I know, dCS is the only company, apart from the manufacturer itself, that has access to them, but only to a limited extent.


Having access to such a sophisticated Compact Disc player, I had to make use of it. So, I offered visitors at the Audio Video Show 2015 exhibition a meeting with the CD in the main role. We met twice, at 12 and at 1 o’clock p.m. on Sunday, in the Audiofast room. On entering, visitors had to show their admission tickets. The topic of the meeting was a comparison of different CD versions of albums released by The Beatles, with a little addition. During the listening session, we used the following:


RUBBER SOUL | Drive My Car
1. Japanese version, 1987 remaster | Apple/Toshiba-EMI TOCP-51116, (2000) | CD
2. European version, 2009 remaster | Apple/EMI Music 84414 2 5, “Sampler” (2009) | CD
3. Japanese version, 2009 remaster | Apple/EMI Music Japan TOCP-71006 (2009) | CD
4. Japanese version, 2009 remaster | Apple/EMI Music Japan TOCP-71006 (2009) | SHM-CD

REVOLVER | Here, There and Everywhere
1. Japanese version, 1987 remaster | Apple/Toshiba-EMI TOCP-51124, (2000) | CD
2. European version, 2009 remaster | Apple/EMI Music 84414 2 5, “Sampler” (2009) | CD
3. Japanese version, 2009 remaster | Apple/EMI Music Japan TOCP-71007 (2009) | CD
4. Japanese version, 2009 remaster | Apple/USM Japan TOCP-76972 (2009) | SHM-CD

ABBEY ROAD | Come Together
1. Japanese version, 1987 remaster | Apple/Toshiba-EMI TOCP-51122, (2000) | CD
2. European version, 2009 remaster | Apple/EMI Music 84414 2 5, “Sampler” (2009) | CD
3. Japanese version, 2009 remaster | Apple/EMI Music Japan TOCP-71013 (2009) | CD
4. Japanese version, 2009 remaster | Apple/USM Japan TOCP-76978 (2009) | SHM-CD

DOUBLE FANTASY | I’m Losing You lub Woman
1. Japanese version, 2000 remaster | Apple/Toshiba-EMI TOCP-51122, (2000) | CD
2. Japanese version, 2010 remaster | Apple/USM Japan TOCP-71013 (2009) | SHM-CD (marked as a CD on our handouts by mistake)
3. Japanese version, 2010 remaster | Apple/USM Japan TOCP-76978 (2009) | Platinum SHM-CD (marked as a SHM-CD on our handouts by mistake)

The meeting

The procedure was clear and simple: I played the same song from four CD versions of an album, one after another. After each such round I asked the participants to describe their impressions, then we voted for the best version and later there was time for expressing opinions. Sometimes I asked listeners for details, wanting to learn something more. We tested three different CD versions of John Lennon’s Double Fantasy for dessert. While, when it comes to The Beatles, an ABCD comparison was used (A, B, C and D known), we listened to Lennon’s album in an ABC mode, not knowing which was A, B and C – that was proposed by one of the listeners and it was a good thing to do. Those who entered the room were given pieces of paper with a list of the songs and their versions to make tracking the changes easier. Unfortunately, when it comes to Lennon, I made a mistake in the description – mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!

I must say I had a wonderful time. Such meetings are very stimulating and refreshing. I have the impression that most of the participants felt the same and I sincerely hope that they were enriched by the meeting in one way or another. Below you will find a few opinions that have been sent to us (I asked for them after the listening session had finished).

However, before we move on to that, it must be said that voting revealed a few constants. First of all, almost everyone pointed out that there were smaller or bigger (but always present) differences between all the album versions. The biggest gap that we noticed was between the master versions of 1987 and 2009. Apparently, it is still the key element of the puzzle – the quality of the recording and then of the master version is of key importance. Secondly, the listeners (not everyone, but the majority) most often mentioned decreasing differences between the European version, the Japanese version and the SHM-CD (all of them: master of 2009).

It was interesting to know what listeners thought of each of the versions. The master version of 1987 and the SHM-CD of 2009 were evaluated most highly. The European version with the new master and its Japanese equivalent of the year 2009 were most frequently not considered in voting – however, not always. Listeners pointed out much higher selectivity of the new versions, as well as better differentiation of instruments and vocals – everything was simply clearer and more dynamic. The older master version was characterized by fluidity and musicality. Only the SHM-CD version provided, according to some of the listeners, similar fluidity combined with the advantages of a new master.

As regards the Lennon’s album, we could choose one of the two songs – I’m Losing You or Woman. The group at 12 o’clock chose Woman and the group at 1 o’clock – I’m Losing You. Trying to guess which version was being played at a given moment was fun and it demonstrated that people need to familiarize themselves with every novelty, just like with any system that they use. However, it was fun, of course. If it encourages you to make such individual attempts – the aim has been reached.

Vox populi, vox Dei (The voice of the people is the voice of God)

During the listening sessions everyone could have their say. So, please treat the comments below as information supplementary to what was happening in the listening room.

Michał Z.

I had the pleasure to participate in the 100th meeting of the Krakow Sonic Society during the Audio Video Show 2015 exhibition. The conclusion that can be drawn after the listening session is that there are differences between all the versions. The pressing process itself had an impact on the sound of all the album versions that we listened to. In my opinion, the sound of the first releases was the worst in the majority of cases, although in the case of the blind test of Double Fantasy I liked the oldest version best. As regards Abbey Road, the master version was very badly recorded and “dirty”. In this case, I liked the Japanese version best (3.), while the European version was too polished and a bit artificial. When it comes to Revolver and Rubber Soul, I essentially hesitated when it came to choosing between the Japanese CD and SHM-CD version of 2009. It was also possible to notice that versions no. 3 (?) of all the albums had a quite similar sound signature – more “weighted down” than in the case of the SHM-CD and, in some cases, people might have liked it better.

Marcin Bobula
Krakow Sonic Society

The 100th meeting of the Krakow Sonic Society, organized during the Audio Video Show exhibition, took place on November 8th at12 o’clock. The meeting was held in a room at the Polish National Stadium. As I had already attended similar meetings organized in Cracow a number of times before, I approached it with a peace of mind, although the circumstances were completely different. The listening room was totally different (not necessarily as well acoustically adjusted as the rooms of the Krakow Sonic Society members), there were many more participants and I was also completely unfamiliar with the system. Despite that, I decided to take part in this event. It was fun, as listening to music has always been and will always remain my pleasure, and a pleasure means having fun.

In order to give others a chance to experience music better, I sat in the last row, which is not such a good location when it comes to acoustics. I am not going to elaborate on the details of each presented song. I will only say that the differences between the presented versions, both Japanese and European ones, were marginal, in my opinion. Only the SHM-CD version brought about big changes. There was more space, while the tone and microdynamics were better. Naturally, I regarded these features as advantages. The same pattern could be observed in the case of each album. Only the last “blind” listening session was different. However, in that case, one of the versions was recorded on a Platinum SHM-CD. Here the differences were more noticeable.

After each round of the listening session, Wojtek always asked us if there had been any differences in what we had heard. Of course there had been some differences, but I asked myself different questions: ‘Why do albums with the same remaster, 16-bit and 44.1 kHz recordings sound so different?’ and ‘Would I like to pay three times more for a SHM-CD (not to mention the Platinum version)? To answer the latter one: I would buy a SHM-CD version only in the case of my favorite albums: Diana Krall, Dire Straits or Norah Jones.

Anyway, it was worth listening to how much can still be extracted from the “old disc” condemned by some to be displayed in museums. I personally think that the CD will continue to remain the source (as good as any other one) in many audiophile systems, including mine.

Stanisław P.

I came to the meeting of the Krakow Sonic Society at 12 o’clock. As for me, the first CD releases sounded best. dCS Rossini, as I think, is such a high-end system that it can show many nuances on discs.
I listen to a lot of music from CDs, originally recorded on analogue tapes. That is why the first CD release always sounds much better for me. It is simply because the master tape was not so degraded at the time when it was recorded. At The Beatles there was also much more information about the musicians themselves and the instruments, it was closer to nature. When it comes to the last song, I do not have any strong opinion about it, but I think that the Platinum SHM-CD version was the most faithful.

Marek Dyba | „High Fidelity”
The 100th meeting of the Krakow Sonic Society from a non-objective point of view of a non-fan of both The Beatles and the CD format

A few days before this year’s Audio Video Show began, I had received an email from Wojtek, in which he invited me to the 100th jubilee meeting of the Krakow Sonic Society, which was to be held in Warsaw that time (I thought that it was a bold thing to do for an inhabitant of Cracow). Well, I thought that if the boss was telling me to go, I would go. :) From my point of view, it would have been hard to call the subject of the meeting interesting – it was not only related to comparing different types of the obsolete CD format (Wojtek must be grinding his teeth right now) but also connected with the music of The Beatles. I appreciate the band’s contribution to the development of music in general, but I do not consider their music to be worth listening to. It is because there is so much more interesting music to discover (yes, I know I am exposing myself to being lynched by fans of The Beatles:)).

However, I thought it might be an interesting sociological experiment – in the end, when a group of audiophiles gather together to discuss any topic, there are usually as many opinions as there are participants in the discussion. So, it was interesting to see if that would happen again this time, or whether the meeting would constitute an exception to the rule (that would confirm the rule anyway). I came to the meeting right after the recital of a lovely and talented Italian vocalist, Andrea Celeste, who sang live to the accompaniment of music played from an analogue tape through an FM Acoustics system. And it was after such a WONDERFUL experience that I had to to listen to that terrible CD.

My mean nature of a Scorpio from Silesia counted quietly on having a bit of fun, at least on participants from Warsaw and Cracow possibly revealing their everlasting dislike towards one another and quickly moving from words to actions. To my disappointment, even though we met at a sports stadium where adrenaline usually rushes through people’s veins, nothing happened – the saying that music (even The Beatles – ok, I will try to stop making such remarks) soothes the savage beast proved to be true. However, it does not mean that the meeting was not interesting. It was, since, according to my assumptions, individual listeners’ opinions were very different and often contradictory.

We listened to four versions of a few songs chosen by Wojtek (from four different album releases), after which the listeners were to express their preferences and try to justify them. And that was interesting – what sounded most natural for some of the people, was most artificial for others. What was most spatial for some of the listeners, was flat for others. Some chose the “ordinary” CD as the only right option (one that they would buy for themselves – that was a criterion that Wojtek asked us to use when choosing the preferred version, thus excluding me from active participation in the discussion), others only took “sophisticated” CD versions into consideration (depending on the given album, either the Japanese version or the SHM-CD, or even the Platinum SHM-CD in one case). Some would sacrifice everything to be able to get the most ordinary European edition, others were only satisfied with the Japanese version. For some, the obvious choice was the older mastering of the same material, for others the “younger” mastering was the only acceptable option.

Of course, the differences in sound evaluation partly resulted from the differences in the participants’ experience of listening to music, different efficiency of their hearing apparatus, specific location in the listening room and personal preferences. Even taking all these factors into account, such contradictory opinions of different people must have been a bit surprising, showing clearly how little objectivism is associated with the whole process and how much results from different personal determinants. However, this is good, as such diversity makes the world interesting, provides us with topics for discussion and the opportunity to have an argument, on the condition that the form of such a dispute is as nice as the one used during the meeting of the KSS. Then, it simply constitutes an interesting experience for every participant.

To cut a long story short – the 100th meeting of the Krakow Sonic Society confirmed two commonly known truths. First of all, audio (i.e. the way we perceive sound) is damn biased – every person hears things in their own way, or perhaps everyone has their own truth regarding what they have heard. Secondly, The Beatles still have a lot of fans and unite generations, as the age of participants in the KSS meeting ranged from about several months (there was also such a fan) to around 80 years (there are also probably older fans as well, but circumstances must have prevented them from coming).

As far as I am concerned, I confirmed myself in the conviction that The Beatles will never appeal to me, no matter how sophisticated CD versions are used (it would have probably been easier with vinyl discs or analogue tapes) and regardless of any high-end system equipped with dCS, Audio Research or Wilson devices. This is simply not what I like. However, the experience as such was interesting indeed and the role of an impartial observer suited me very well under the given circumstances. Judging by the facial expressions of the remaining participants (the room was full), they were all, including Mr. Jarek Orszański who willingly shared his views, having a wonderful time. I assume that this was Wojtek’s main intention when he decided to organize that meeting.

A few words about the 100th (and my first) meeting of the Krakow Sonic Society

A great idea, congratulations! Many more such events should have been organized during the exhibition. I have decided to refrain from writing down my subjective evaluations of the presented versions for two reasons. First of all, I do not think that anyone would be willing to read the content of 120 tables with ratings from two sessions. Secondly, in my opinion, the listening session mainly proved (under the given conditions) that the system led to incredibly diversified impressions/perceptions depending on the place where one sat/stood/squatted.

I assume that the people who came to the meeting were mostly experienced listeners, aware of what to pay attention to, so I do not believe that it was a coincidence that the “left half” of the room preferred one version and the “right half” – another. I was sitting in the middle and I agreed with either the “right half” or the “left half” (in turns), although sometimes my impressions were quite individual (e.g. when we were listening to the old master of Revolver, I heard that space definitely opened up and the soundstage moved far beyond the speakers). The sound of the new masters was cramped and narrow, flowing between speakers, but both “wings” of the room claimed that it was exactly the opposite. However, I cannot exclude the possibility that there is something wrong with me. It is a natural phenomenon in democracy (though it has certain painful consequences).

As soon as I got home in the evening, I could not help taking my wife, a bottle of wine and two glasses to the cellar where I have my listening room. There I put Rubber Soul on the platter of my turntable and I was very surprised – the song Drive my car was not there (!!!). That is, it is not part of my favorite edition (Capitol Canada). Unfortunately, I do not know the tracklist by heart, so I thought: ‘we were tricked by the Editor who played a track from another album and nobody noticed that – what a lark!’ However, since I have a total of 5 different editions of Rubber Soul on vinyl (including two Japanese versions; the old EMI/Odeon edition is unrivalled), and the remaining ones include Drive my car, I breathed with relief that everything was ok anyway.

Krakow Sonic Society

Any meeting of the Krakow Sonic Society that takes place outside Cracow is always an interesting experience for me. I am glad that, as regards the methodology of listening, such meetings do not differ too much from what we do in Cracow, even though there are a few dozen participants instead of a few or several ones. Thanks to this, everyone who took part in the listening session devoted to The Beatles could see what hard work we often do and what small differences between the sound of individual samples we have to struggle with.

Of course, in the case of the majority of the four albums that we listened to during the 100th meeting of the Krakow Sonic Society, the differences were quite significant, in my opinion. However, it seems to me that the diversity of contradictory opinions expressed by listeners who gathered in the room shows that a participant’s choice of the best version is determined by their sound preferences and probably also by their experience of taking part in listening sessions. To be more specific: from my point of view, the sound of editions pressed in Japan was instantly recognizable, always characterized by certain specific “calmness” and smoothness. For me, the most irritating version was always the one from the “Sampler” – importunate and digital in comparison to its Japanese competitors. 

I must honestly admit that when it came to John Lennon’s & Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy, I did not manage to guess which version was the Platinum SHM-CD in the blind test, although I regard it to be the best variation of the CD format that has been created so far. I partly blame the fact that I am not familiar with this album and that there was a mistake in the handout distributed before the meeting (it was not anyhow stated that any of the three versions was the Platinum SHM-CD).

I must also praise the acoustics of the room at the National Stadium in which our listening session took place. I just needed three seconds of an introduction in the form of Modern Talking music to realize how excellent the sound of the system was. Of course, both Wilson Audio and dCS provide top-end equipment that I value a lot, but both in Warsaw and during the High-End exhibition w Munich I witnessed “sound failures” on the part of these devices a number of times. Here everything sounded very well, at least in the case of the albums that we listened to during the jubilee meeting. I hope that in a year it will be possible to carry out an equally interesting listening session during the next Audio Video Show and that the atmosphere among the audience is going to be as nice as it was this year during the first round of the listening session that I attended.

The end

I thank you all very much for the meeting, I was really pleased. Next year we will also surely prepare something, perhaps even in two different rooms – we have already come up with some ideas. Please do not feel embarrassed then, come to me and talk – I will gladly get to know you and shake hands with you. It is because what matters to all of us is only music, “served” in the best possible way :) This is something that needs to be taught starting from one’s earliest days. So, the greater is our pleasure today when we are sending a certificate of a Honorary Member of the Krakow Sonic Society to the youngest participant in the meeting:

As requested, we are sending you details regarding the youngest listener who attended the 100th meeting of the Krakow Sonic Society. The listener is called Julia and she is14 months old. That was her first audio exhibition – on Saturday she spent 8 hours at the Stadium and on Sunday she was there for a shorter time, but she was lucky and managed to listen to The Beatles even though she had no ticket. It was a very nice meeting, see you next year!
Best regards,
Julia, Anna and Hubert

My best regards to you again and, hopefully, see you next year!!!

Wojciech Pacuła