After months (almost a year) or researching Dolby Stereo vs Dolby Digital and DVD vs Laserdisc sound I finally was able to borrow a Pioneer CLD-3090 and a hand full of discs. Having spoken with people within the field of recording and those who owned and serviced LD players 'back in the day' I wanted to confirm something that I had heard as rumor, myth and folklore for years: Laserdisc used Theatrical mixes that were louder and more explosive then those found on BD and DVD. The notion is that while BD certainly uses higher bit rates, and DVD uses digital neither format could compete in the 'you're at the theatre' sound dynamics. BD and DVD releases are often remixed or re-Eq'd for home use often watering down the soundtracks to comply with the crappy speakers often found in HTIB's and televisions. Laserdisc never had this issue as the format was entirely marketed to enthusiasts, with the idea being that the consumer would have a screening room and equipment able to handle the dynamics of a theatrical cut. What you heard on Laser was EXACTLY the level heard at a local Cinema with no water down effect. This is part 1 of hopefully an on-going process.
The two discs used were THX editions of Empire Strikes Back and Top Gun. I happen to own Empire on DVD and did side by side comparisons. The equipment included 1 pair of Dynaudio Speakers, a Yamaha RXV3900 receiver with Sim Audio amplification and a rather crappy 32" Toshiba LCD television. The BD player was connected via HDMI into the receiver. The LD player was connected via S-Video and analog connection into the receiver and the picture was output using HDMI to the display. ONLY the analog tracks were used when comparing the Laserdisc's, both LD discs had AC-3 tracks however I don't have a demodulator and could only use analog.
First up was Empire Strikes Back. I actually had planned on watching the movie simply on LD first but was enticed to dig up the DVD quickly as I was hearing things at a much higher dynamic then I expected. Two scenes stuck out. The Hoth battle scene and the carbon freezing scene. For the Hoth battle I noticed that when the AT-AT's walked you could hear/feel the impact of the feet pounding the ground, it was clear but huge sounding. I had my gain on the Yamaha set to -30db and the impact was present, the drama intensified. I popped my DVD into a BD player and quickly searched for the same scene. I compared using the DVD's default DD EX soundtrack. The thump was there but it sounded like the volume had been choked out. Certain things were louder then others, soft sounds appeared louder but those dynamic loud lifts were missing. Everything seemed somewhat watered down. I then selected the Stereo analog track on the DVD, this actually sounded as good if not better on only a two speaker system, but again something was missing. The LD seemed like Cola while the DVD was Diet. The sheer volume, peaks and dynamic of the LD was lost when I switched to the DVD counterpart. Same for the Carbon freezing scene, as the action ramped up and the scene came to a crescendo the LD had me pinned back, I felt like was I was at a movie theatre, things got loud quickly. The DVD was simply there, the climax of Han being frozen was almost lost, it wasn't nearly as dramatic, the LD simply blew it out of the water. All the information was there but on just such a small scale.
Next up I put in Top Gun, THX. I don't have the standard DVD version but I will be purchasing on Blu Ray. The opening tittle sequence is as dynamic as I've ever heard my system on any material. It literally energized the room and it was VERY loud but very very clean. I stopped turning the volume up at -20db as I feared the wrath of my neighbours. And this was simply the two channel PCM soundtrack. While I can't do a direct comparison yet I hope to in the coming weeks. The opening scene of Top Gun on LD is demo worthy of any material I've come across. It simply ignites a smile across ones face. The power of the soundtrack is so clear, the bass response so dynamic.
I will continue to try and run these tests when I have time, I won't be running out to buy a LD player just yet as the picture quality is a real let down. Part of the problem I imagine is that most flat panel televisions have likely gutted any attempt to put in even decent comb filters to help the performance of the picture. It is a fun little test however and I encourage anybody with an LD player to dig it up and pop in a few discs, you might be surprised on what you have had tucked away for many years.