Dual-layer SACD Gain Issues

I've got a puzzle that developed in another thread and I think at this point it's worthy of a thread of its own. I recently purchased a dual-layer SACD of Angela Hewitt's Chopin Nocturnes (Hyperion SACDA67371/2). I enjoyed the performance but was disappointed with the sonics. I found that I was having to boost my pre-amp up to 3 o'clock to get realistic sound levels (typically most piano CD's run around 11-12 O'clock for similar volume), and the sound was a bit distant and slightly fuzzy for lack of a better descriptor. It lacked immediacy and dynamics to my ears. In the other thread there was at leas one person who had the CD-only version of the same performance and was surprised at my impressions. Unfortunately my player is not able to toggle to the CD layer for some odd reason so I brought it over to my friend's system and tried it on his player which is CD-only. The very same issues occurred with his system - preamp at 2 o'clock in his case (norm would be 11 according to him) and sound was distant and not sharply defined. So this morning I burned a copy CD (direct copy burning program that copies a cd from one drive to another) to send to Newbee (who has a copy of the CD-only version) to compare with his disc. I put the copied version of the CD into my player to confirm the burn and lo and behold not only did it play, but it had transformed the sound and seemingly solved the issues!!! I could play the burned CD at 11 o'clock and the sound was more immediate, dynamic and focused. I put the original dual-layer SACD back in the player to confirm that I wasn't off my rocker and sure enough back was the soft and distant version of the same performance. I don't have any issues with the few other dual-layer SACD's I own, so it's not a player issue, on top of which the original dual-layer had the same kinds of issues in my friend's CD-only player. So what gives!!???!!! Can anyone shed any light on what might be at play here?
What is the software that was used to copy the CD? Some of the software that claims "direct copy" really extracts the CD to audio format native to the platform. Then the volume normalization and other adjustments can be unintentionally made by the operating system either during the extraction or burning.
What is the software that was used to copy the CD?

I used Toast Titanium 5.2.3 (pre-implementation of Jam enhancement) for Mac using the disc-to-disc copy option (Disc-at-once chosen in the preferences) with "error correction" checked. It requires two CD drives at this setting, one with the original and one with the blank. It does utilize a disc cache. I was under the impression that this would yield a verbatim copy of the disc.

I found that burned reproductions of a CD is oft times better than the original...don't know why.
I found that burned reproductions of a CD is oft times better than the original.

I too have found that occasionally burned CD's sound subtly better than the original. "Subtly" would be the operative word here: This is not at all a subtle difference, in the case of the Hewitt dual-layer. It is quite profound to my ears, and the gain issue indicates to me that something else may be at play.

Newbee and I have been corresponding a bit on the issue, and he hazarded a guess which I doubt he'd mind if I shared here as I think it is a good one:

IMHO, actually a wild guess, when a multi-channel SACD is made, the two layer playback for Redbook playback might be nothing more than the extant SACD playback of the two front channels in the MC layer. There is obviously different recording techniques used to record multi channel performances than two channels, without regard to whether it is plain 2 channel SACD or Redbook.

Now I don't know that this is a "multi-channel" SACD, as he suggests. I'd thought it was just 2-channel for both layers. Regardless, the difference does sound to me as if the recording were miked slightly different. The SACD sounds almost like the mike(s) are back at mid-hall or back further, while the burned CD version sounds more "in-the-room" immediate...or certainly closer to a front-row seat. Not only is it more immediate, but it is better focused and dynamics are improved.

What still puzzles me, given this or a similar theory, is why the Dual-layer version exhibited the same drawbacks the SACD layer yields on my player, when played on my friend's CD-only player?

It sounds like you have your player set to play back in surround mode but are using a stereo system. It is also true SACD has more dynamic range than CD and will appear to be lower in volume.
It sounds like you have your player set to play back in surround mode but are using a stereo system. It is also true SACD has more dynamic range than CD and will appear to be lower in volume.

Thanks for the suggestions Rwwear! I'll double check all settings, but mine is not a multi-channel player (Modwright Platinum Sig. Sony 999). As I said, no problems like this with any of the few other multi-layer CD's that I've played on it.

As far as the greater dynamic range making it occur lower in volume - I will put a sound meter on a few passages today to check if my perceptions are misleading as you suggest. I'd swear there is at least a 5db difference if not more. I would say, and I think I already have, that the SACD version is lacking in dynamics and impact, whereas the CD version is more immediate, dynamic and impactful (is that a word?) to me.

Rwwear - I went into my SACD player's setup menu and discovered that there are indeed accommodations for surround sound that I had forgotten about. I'd set it up initially and forgotten about it. In my audio setup I have the following settings and options (can anyone help me with adjusting these properly for 2-channel?):

Audio Att: Off/On (I have it off)
Audio DRC: Standard / TV Mode / Wide Range (I have it on Wide Range)
Audio Filter: Sharp / Slow (I have it on Sharp)
Downmix: Dolby Surround / Normal (here's where I may have erred - I had it on Dolby Surround)
Digital Out: on/off (I had it on because I had hooked up a DAC at one point and forgot to turn it off)

I believe I had these settings this way from the previous owner's advice. I'm thinking I should not have had the Dolby Surround turned on in the "Downmix" category. I'll give the SACD a spin now and find out if it changes anything.

Stand by...more to come.

Good idea, but no dice, at least not simply in the Dolby Surround setting. I tried again and the same differences occurred. This time I used a sound level meter. Indeed, as I suspected there is at the very least a 6db difference (probably more as it was pegging the meter beyond +6db at times) between the SACD (dual-layer) and the burned CD. Same issues with sonics occur to me as well. Any further thoughts would be most welcome.


I used Toast Titanium 5.2.3 (pre-implementation of Jam enhancement) for Mac

The current version seems to be 9. Is 5.2.3 OS X binary or are you running it in 9.x emulation mode? Universal binary or PPC?

The reason I'm asking these is because OS X seems to provide a number of API for manipulating audio files. JA stumbled upon one while measuring Benchmark DAC, and it was confirmed by Benchmark tech.


If the Toast was running in emulation mode, it's highly likely that the emulation layer was not using proper API when performing verbatim copies.

If you take the CDR copy and make a copy from that, will both CDR sound the same or will the copy of a copy sound yet different?
Thanks, Jylee. I'm using Leopard. The version of Toast I mentioned is compatible and does not require emulation (I don't even have 9.0 emulation on my box). I'll check out the article and try making a copy, but I have never notice any copies sounding any different. Since Toast's disc-to-disc copy is intended as a data-copy option why would any application interface come into play that actually raises the gain of an audio disc? Sorry if I'm a bit slow on the uptake here, but you're going into depths that I am not familiar with. I can certainly copy the copy and see if there's any difference...are you suggesting that may be worth the effort?

Have you played the same disc in another SACD player?

No. I don't know anyone nearby with one. I have only played it on an Electrocompaniet player that is CD-only where it sounded as it does on my SACD player.
It sounds to me as if the disc could just be defective. Can you return it and try another?