The Right Stuff and Dolby TrueHD Advanced 96kHz

I recently completed a review of The Right Stuff on Blu-ray, which will appear in an upcoming issue of Sound & Vision as well as on this website. Since space is limited in my print review, I've decided to dedicate this blog to how I evaluated the 96kHz audio offered on the disc.

Last year, Dolby announced a new variation on its TrueHD audio codec for Blu-ray, a process that involves 96kHz upsampling of the audio source file. Its purpose is to eliminate some common digital artifacts (see Geoff Morrison's article for a more detailed explanation of how this works).

The process has only been used to date, however, on a few releases. The Right Stuff, originally released on Blu-ray in November 2013, was supposed to be one them. Through a mastering error, however, the process was not engaged. Now, two months later, Warner Brothers has re-released the film with the 96kHz upsampled soundtrack.

Your best bet in making sure you get the newest version is the prominent “Advanced 96kHz gold sticker” on the outside of the package’s shrink wrap. Inside, you’ll have to look at the inner ring on data side (not the label side) of the disc to physically distinguish between the original release and the newer version. There you’ll find two numbers in white. Look between them and there are other numbers in a black. On the older disc this number ends with 42740.1. On the 96kHz Advanced upsampled disc it’s 42740.2. You may need a good magnifying glass for this.

I set up a direct AB test to compare the two versions, which proved more difficult than I anticipated. To keep the contest as close as possible, I used two Oppo universal players, but not precisely the same models: a BDP-95 for the original and a BDP-103 for the 96kHz Advanced upsampled disc. I used the HDMI outputs for both the audio and video, leaving my long-in-the-tooth but still trusty Integra DTC-9.8 pre-pro to do the D/A heavy lifting. According to Dolby, nothing special is required on the playback side to make use of their new process, apart from the capability to decode ordinary Dolby TrueHD. All of the 96kHz jiggery-pokery happens in the mastering of the disc itself.

The first difference I noticed was a nearly 6dB difference in playback level, with the 96kHz version the louder. I later determined that about 4.5dB of this difference was on the new disc itself, with another roughly 1.5dB from a slightly higher gain in the BDP-103’s HDMI output. This produced a total discrepancy in gain of nearly 6dB in favor of the louder 96kHz version.

A level difference this large, of course, won’t do for an AB comparison. To account for it I quickly raised or lowered the volume by 5-6 dB during the 3-4 seconds it took the Integra to re-establish a lock on when switching between the players. But I wasn’t entirely satisfied that I had a technically exact level match. Such a perfect match was impossible, since we know of no consumer disc that has identical, level-matched test tones mastered with tracks having both Advanced 96kHz Upsampling and the conventional 48kHz audio processing—the only way to be sure.

What I did notice, after as near a level match as possible, was an enhanced top end airiness on the 96kHz version. This was most beneficial on small audio details—the clicking of relays in mission control, birds twittering inside the hangar holding the F-104 that Chuck Yeager will fly in an attempt at a jet aircraft altitude record, and the music accompanying John Glenn orbiting the earth and, later, the fan dance at reception in the Houston Astrodome. The upgraded disc’s sound was less sweet overall, and slightly edgier, on both dialog and in the film’s loud, brass-heavy theme music. This was clearly in the source. The main obstacle to a definitive conclusion about the Advanced 96kHz technique was the film’s soundtrack itself. It’s a very good early ‘80s soundtrack, but an early ’80 soundtrack nonetheless.

The changes I did hear, however, made me wonder if the only changes made in producing the new transfer was the 96kHz processing, or if perhaps some added “sweetening” was also applied, perhaps equalization. If the latter were the case, it would make such comparisons meaningless—assuming we’re attempting to judge only the effect of the 96kHz processing. We have no way of knowing if there was any such additional manipulation, but it can happen even with the most innocent of intentions. (“Hey guys, we have a two month bonus; we should be able to improve on this thirty year-old soundtrack!”). In any case, be sure to account for the level difference if you have the opportunity to make a similar comparison.

Overall though, and after correcting for the level difference as closely as possible, I marginally preferred the 96kHz version. To dredge up the hoariest critical cliché, there was just a bit more “there” there. It’s certainly worth looking for the upgraded disc if you don’t already own the Blu-ray. But whether or not it would be worth buying it again if you already own it is your decision.

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COMMENTS
bc70's picture

If you have a time machine, then you should probably know proper english. (In January 2015 I turned in an update to my review of the movie) ??????

"Last year, Dolby announced a new variation on its TrueHD audio codec for Blu-ray, a process that uses 96kHz upsampling of the. Its purpose"

I wish I could have such poor writing skills and get paid.

jeffca's picture

...does it make the script, direction and acting any better?

Sorry that you had to sit through that load of dreck for a tech review. Might as we'll be listening to "Men Without Hats do "The Safety Dance" on a continuous loop.

Uugh!

farcast's picture

Doesn't the Akira Blu-Ray have 96kHz?

earsandeyes's picture

It has Dolby True HD 192/24 audio !

earsandeyes's picture

... so this new Advnced version is a downgrade ?

Thomas J. Norton's picture
Good catch. My time machine was stolen by Mr. Peabody, so the 2015 goof was a simple typo. The missing words were due to an ongoing issue with my Macbook Pro. It sometimes randomly deletes part of my text, ranging from a few words to whole sentences, without my permission. I usually catch this immediately, or at least before it goes final, but not this time. I'm like Dr. Grant in Jurassic Park; computers are simply out to get me.

Anyhoo, correction made. And thanks for the kind words.

Thomas J. Norton's picture
I saw Akira years ago, possibly on a rented LaserDisc! I wasn't crazy about it, but know that it had, and has, an almost cult-like following.

From what I could glean in a brief Internet search, the TrueHD multichannel audio tracks on its November 2013 Blu-ray re-release include an English version at 96kHz and a Japanese version at 192kHz—both of them 16-bits. (TrueHD can carry up to 6 channels at 192kHz/24-bit, but this is the first I've heard of the 192kHz sampling rate being used for a Blu-ray movie's audio). I could find no indication that the 96kHz track uses Dolby's Advanced 96kHz upsampling process. The 192kHz track certainly would not; the process is called 96kHz upsampling, not 192kHz upsampling.

It's possible that both of these tracks were A/D converted from analog originals. This might (depending on the quality of the conversion) give them genuinely higher resolution than the conventional 48kHz/16-bit digital audio found on most Blu-rays. Whether or not this will result in an audible improvement at the consumer end, however, is a controversial subject with many variables.

It's also possible that Akira's original audio was 48kHz digital, rather than analog. Since the transition of film audio from analog to digital, master tracks for movie sound have nearly all been 48kHz/24-bit. But that transition was gradual, and I don't know the details of Akira's late 1980's post-production. But if the source was 48kHz, the only way it could get to 96kHz or 192kHz would be upconversion at the disc mastering stage. This upconversion might offer some benefits, but would add nothing to the actual resolution.

earsandeyes's picture

Bluray.com lists the Nov 2013 re-release as 192/16 but if you go back to their review of the original 2009 release it is listed as 192/24. The booklet with the original release has several articles on "Hypersonic" sound and mentions the original masters contianed frequencies up to 100kHz, that could only be realized with the advent of 192/24 Blu-ray.

msagar's picture

Tom,

Nothing New. Cambridge Audio introduced audio upsampling player a long time ago.

http://www.cambridgeaudio.com/products/azur-752bd-universal-upsampling-b...

LordoftheRings's picture

I'll wait for the 4K and 3D Special Edition, with Dolby TrueHD Advanced of course.
Most probably in 2015.

michaelalanlittrell@yahoo.com's picture

192/24 was supposed to be the promise of Bluray audio codecs when the format was being touted, but only Akira has been released in that sampling rez since Bluray came to the market. Why?

FYI - The Akira 192/24 track is in Japanese, not English (bummer) and has been available for a long time, even before the most recent re-issue.

LordoftheRings's picture

DVD-Audio never took off. So Blu-ray Video, or Audio, with hi-res audio @ 192/24 is simply not worth the expense?

Answer: Money.

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