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Toy Matinee DVD-A/DTS Review

by December 07, 2006

Audio Format: 5.1 48/24, DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0
DVD Format: SS-SL
Length: 46 minutes
Release Date: 05/29/01
Packaging: Super Jewel Box
Region Code: 1
Studio: DTS Entertainment
Catalog Number: 1030DVDA

I can remember a few years back hearing a song on the radio from time to time that I absolutely loved, but never knew the name of it or artist who sang it. All I could remember was a few lyrics that stuck in my head. The style of this song reminded me of a cross between Steely Dan and the Alan Parson Project. I vowed that one day I would find out who this band was and acquire an album of theirs. However, a few years passed the song slowly faded off of the radio and out of my memory. That is until I scored a copy of the latest DVD Audio Disc from a band named Toy Matinee. Not knowing who this band was, I was eager nonetheless to just finally hear DVD-A in all of its glory.

I accidentally skipped to track #8 whilst I was setting up the DVD-A player to play the DTS track of this disc. To my surprise, I heard the first few notes of the long forgotten and favored song "This is the Ballad of Jenny Ledge". I couldn't believe it! I finally found my song that I have been searching for so long. I was smiling high because I now had in my possession the song that I loved so much, and best of all it was recorded and mixed excellently in 5.1 channel surround sound.

Song & Tracklisting

1.Last Plane Out (Last Plane Out)
2.Turn It On Salvador (Turn It On Salvador)
3.Things She Said (Things She Said)
4.Remember My Name (Remember My Name)
5.The Toy Matinee (The Toy Matinee)
6.Queen Of Misery (Queen Of Misery)
7.The Ballad Of Jenny Ledge (The Ballad Of Jenny Ledge)
8.There Was A Little Boy (There Was A Little Boy)
9.We Always Come Home (We Always Come Home)

Multi Channel Audio: DTS vs MLP???
I was blown away by the separation of all the instruments from the front and surround speakers. Everything sounded so natural and unforced. The clarity of the cymbals and guitar reminded me of nothing that I heard in my CD collection. In fact, out of my entire DTS CD collection, I would venture to say that so far this is one of the best sounding discs I have heard.

After listening to my beloved song in its entirety, I reconfigured the disc to play the MLP 5.1 surround track. What I heard now was a slightly more open soundfield, and smoother pans and transitions between the front and rear channels. The Snare drum sounded more real, and natural, and the bass extension sounded slightly fuller. I realized however how difficult it is to compare DTS and MLP soundtracks, even on the same disc for a variety of reasons:

  1. Different levels for each recording.
  2. Performance Variances Between Digital to Analog Converters (DAC's).

I suspect that only the most revealing audio systems and a keen pair of ears will actually hear any major audible differences in fidelity between the two soundtracks. Furthermore, the differences I heard were subtle at best. In addition, DTS has a principal advantage in that the bitstream can be passed directly to your Receiver / Preamp Processor where bass management and digital delay may be implemented and then processed. In high end systems where the DAC's in the Receiver / Preamp are superior to those of the DVD-A player, the slight audiophile advantage of the MLP Lossless Compression Scheme becomes nearly nullified. It will also be interesting to compare the new 96/24 DVD-A DTS Discs with a DTS 96/24 Decoder to see how much further the DTS format may evolve, and if it will converge in fidelity with MLP. I strongly believe that until DVD-A Players come with a digital output for MLP, and the Receiver / Preamp can decode the bitstream, MLP will never reach its full potential of promised 96KHz / 24 bit resolution multi channel surround. For more information about our concerns about the shortcomings of DVD-A, please review our article on DVD-A vs. SACD , and our second followup, DVD Audio & SACD - The Royal Scam Part II .

While listening to the disc in MLP, I noted that if I sat too closely to one particular rear speaker, the surround image went slightly askew when sound panned between that particular speaker and the others. I did not notice this problem when I listened to the DTS track decoded digitally via my external Preamp/Processor. This is primarily due to the lack of digital delay compensation for MLP since the signal cannot be processed digitally by the Preamp / Receiver. Thus, I cannot fault MLP technology for this, but its implementation. You can thank the Record Companies who don't want us normal folks to have a high resolution digital output because they feel we may exchange copied discs with each other and not buy them individually. The same fear is resulting in new CD's that are copy proof, and worse, not playable on some CD players.

Bass was almost overly abundant via the subwoofer when the disc was configured for the MLP soundtrack. One reason for this may be the lack of bass management for MLP and thus higher than normal frequencies pass through to the sub depending on how the recording was mixed. In most cases, simply turning the gain down on my sub resolved this problem. I did not have this problem whilst listening to the DTS version thanks again to the signal being processed digitally with bass management and time delay handled by my Preamp/Processor. Track #3 "Things She Said" is a very melodic track loaded with textures and progressive chords nicely captivated into multi channel surround. It really provides the enveloping effect that multi channel surround has been promising for years, but hasn't always hit the mark. This disc is one good example of hitting the mark right and every track delivers a pleasing, non overemphasized surround experience that takes you beyond conventional two channel stereo and gives you a sweet taste of the future. I like what I hear and I want to hear more of it. Much more.

The Winner Is...
So you're probably wondering which multi channel format to choose when listening to a DVD Audio Disc and given the choice of more than one option. Though the question may be phrased easily, there is no simple answer. Because of the implementation shortcomings of MLP DVD-A, there may be cases where the DTS soundtrack will be the preferred choice. For example, if you have all small, or bass deficient speakers, and your DVD-A player and/or Receiver do not process bass management in the analog domain, than the DTS soundtrack may be the way to go to ensure that all the bass from the disc with be faithfully reproduced by your subwoofer and therefore avoid straining your speakers by alleviating them from the bass duties. Assuming bass management is not an issue for your system, you may still prefer the DTS mix over the MLP mix, or vice versa, just because of personal preferences or the quality of the mixing and transferring processes. My point is, you should listen to both soundtracks carefully and determine which one sounds best to you, and which one is most compatible with your system configuration and set-up. In my experience, both formats truly offer better than CD resolution, and the world of multi-channel audio keeps getting better. In addition, the nice thing about DVD-A discs that offer a DTS soundtrack is that they can be played on all existing DVD players that will also play DTS DVD movies. So if you have a DTS decoder on your Receiver or Preamp/Processor and a DVD player that can read the DTS soundtrack on a DVD, your good to go. You don't have to worry about buying any new hardware or multitude of cables to configure your system, just simply put in the disc, select DTS and press play and listen.

Now all I ask is to bring on the Titles...


About the author:
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Gene manages this organization, establishes relations with manufacturers and keeps Audioholics a well oiled machine. His goal is to educate about home theater and develop more standards in the industry to eliminate consumer confusion clouded by industry snake oil.

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