“UHQCD”? Hi-Res CD? Oh no, run, it’s another CD format.
Seriously, you may ask? (And rightly so). Aren’t CDs dead and on their way out?
Well, yes and no.
Yes CDs are in a death spiral in the U.S. but in Japan they are still a viable music format and sell quite well thank you.
Just what exactly is an UHQCD anyway and why should I care? Well my dear friends, I’m glad you brought that up.
According to the CDJapan Website (CDJapan is one of the top online sellers of Japanese CDs) the UHQCD was developed:
“… through an effort to improve audio quality by simply upgrading the materials used in ordinary CD discs to higher quality materials … these improvements made it possible for mass-produced CD discs to reproduce audio with greater precision.”
“Hi-Res CD is a high-fidelity CD which combines MQA technology and UHQCD format (currently available exclusively in Japan only) together for the first time in the world. With this combination, Hi-Res CD realizes the high-resolution and compatibility at the same time.”
(Note: From WhatHiFi.com: MQA stands for Master Quality Authenticated. It’s a method of digitally storing recorded music as a file that’s small and convenient enough to download, or even stream, without the sonic sacrifices traditionally associated with compressed files.)
Got all that lol?
The addition of the MQA technology supposedly allows the true sound of the master tape by using equipment that decodes it. I gather MQA was mainly developed for streaming but somehow these new UHQCD discs use the technology as well. (Don’t ask me how, I’m not quite sure).
Honestly even my head spins spitting out all this tech speak and I’m not that well-versed in it but this new format is intriguing to me, so obviously I bought a few samples. (I can never get enough CDs apparently!).
Anyway, UHQCD discs will also play in any CD player so naturally I thought why not buy a few? So I dipped my toes in the water so to speak and four of these beauties are now sitting on the coffee table in front of me courtesy of some Amazon gift cards.
(Note 2: I should never dip my toes in as I really like the sound of these CDs and that’s a good but mostly bad thing as I’m tempted to buy more!)
Last December several Ringo Starr and George Harrison titles were released in the UHQCD format in Japan and until now I was pretty much unaware of them as it was only in the past month I even learned of their existence.
The four titles I bought include Ringo Starr’s “Ringo” and “Goodnight Vienna” as well as George Harrison’s “Living in the Material World” and “Dark Horse”. These are all Japanese imports and not made anywhere but in Japan.
Now it’s not like I needed more copies of these albums but I’m always on the quest for “the best” sounding versions of my favorite albums and damned if I might not have hit the jackpot.
After listening to these UHQCDs they really sound very similar to the SHM-CD format. There’s a presence to the bass and drums especially that just doesn’t seem to come across on the regular CD pressings of these albums.
For comparison sake I played the songs “So Sad” and “Dark Horse” from the “Dark Horse” album from the 1992 Capitol CD, the 2014 regular CD version, the 2017 SHM-CD and the new UHQCD version.
For me the clear winner was the new UHQCD. As I said above there’s just a presence to the bass and drums and a warmth that seems to be missing from the other CDs I tested.
Actually the 1992 CD and the 2017 SHM-CD sound very similar. They seem to share the same mastering as the new UHQCD is taken from the 2014 George Harrison remasters as it has the same sound and the same bonus tracks.
The newer 2014 mastering is the clear winner for this album and the UHQCD just sounds better than even the 2014 regular CD which does come close but still lacks some of the presence on the new UHQCD. version.
The same thing goes for the songs from the other three albums especially “Living in the Material World” which sounds much better on the new UHQCD than even the SHM-CD though it’s very close to the 2014 CD version but still sounds better.
As for the Ringo CDs I’m not sure if these are new masterings or not but they are certainly better sounding than the regular CD versions on Capitol Records though the DCC version of the “Ringo” album may still be the best version out there though this CD sure sounds terrific and is very close in sound to that wonderful CD.
Again as I’ve said before when comparing these new CD formats the difference isn’t night or day and may be as some have said a willful sonic hallucination but playing these CDs one after another sure does seem to highlight the sound of the UHQCD for me anyway.
Now of course you have to be somewhat of a rabid fan, or freak as the case my be, to even care about such comparisons but for the fellow freaks out there in Webland if you have a favorite album by either Harrison or Starr and are curious about how they sound give one a try and see for yourself.
As I said they’re available through Amazon, at the moment anyway, and can be ordered quite easily.
As always there’s photos above of the four UHQCDs. Notice the groovy plastic outer cover slip that goes over the CD case. It’s certainly something I’ve never seen before and must be common to the UHQCD format.
Until next time be well and enjoy spring and daylight savings time!!!