Santana: Abraxas (DSD)

From the original album's back cover, "We stood before it and began to freeze inside from the exertion. We questioned the painting, berated it, made love to it, prayed to it: We called it mother, called it whore and slut, called it our beloved, called it Abraxas...." from Demian by Hermann Hesse

Santana's Abraxas, originally released in September 1970, was the band's second album and it rocks hard. It also percolates with Latin rhythms and boogies with jazz-tinged influences but overall I'd say it rocks. Hard. We just saw the release of a remastered version of Kind of Blue (see review) from HDtracks and now Acoustic Sounds has begun tapping Sony's DSD vaults (are we in a golden age of music-loving goodness or what?) and one of the first offerings is Abraxas. The question on many people's mind's is, "How does it sound?". Stunning, is my answer.

This DSD download version of Abraxas is taken from the 1998 remastered SACD release, "DSD file created by Gus Skinas from the original Sony Super Audio CD cutting masters." according to the Acoustic Sounds website and includes the same three additional live tracks, "Se A Cabo", "Toussaint L'Overture" and "Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen," recorded at the Royal Albert Hall on April 18, 1970 found on the SACD release. While some have complained about the sound quality of the SACD, I find this DSD download to be lush, rich, wet, and ripe. Damn near tropical. The overall album's DR Value is 11 which matches the 1998 remaster but comes up short of the LP version according to the Dynamic Range Database which scores a 12 but I do not find this to be an issue.

This is another recording that has been reissued a number of times but I've only owned the original LP so I cannot provide any comparisons between the digital releases. What I can say is the band, which includes a number of percussionists and up to nine members for "Incident at Neshabur" is super tight and listening to Abraxas, an experience which continually begs for more volume, is spine tingling get-up-and-dance pulse-pounding chakra-massaging fun.

In my experience, now having heard DSD played back on a couple dozen DACs and systems, there are some consistent qualities that appear to follow DSD around. Chief among them are a very natural and relaxed sound, an unrestrained ease to dynamic swings, and a rich tonality coupled with an astounding sense of resolution. Abraxas, played through the Auralic Vega DAC is no exception as it embodies all of these qualities. Percussion positively pops, Santana's guitar is searingly present, cymbals sparkle, and everything sounds as if its coming from a real, dimensional place that's as colorful as Mati Klarwein's album cover art. Now some people have presented some seemingly convincing arguments explaining why DSD cannot possibly sound all that good and my sense is these same people have either never listened to DSD or they are simply too biased to enjoy it. When it comes to listening to music, ideas and theories pale in comparison.

You can pick up your very own copy of Santana's Abraxas in glorious DSD from Acoustic Sounds.

kenmac's picture

Abraxas, Caravanserai, Santana III, Barboletta: Santana's golden experimental acid exotic phase! They could do wrong back then.   

Blu's picture

What other business, has a stupid system in place that prevents sales. Surely it's time they overhauled it in this so called global era.

Steven Plaskin's picture

I find myslef in agreement with Michael's findings concerning DSD sound quality. I welcome anything that adds to our enjoyment of music and is so easy to implement.

Paul W's picture

Abraxas includes some of my all-time favorite music, but the SACD I have is noticeably distorted.  (Columbia CS 65490, mastered by Vic Anesini of Sony.)  To me, it doesn't seem like a problem with DSD, but distortion in the 1970 source material.  Is a truly clean version available?

Rich Davis's picture

I think the distortion is very noticeable on tracks Mother's Daughter and Hope Your Feeling Better, which is kind of annoying, but is the original vinyl like that? If so, then it's the original source.  Those are the two of the more rock oriented songs and I think that's when they were pushing the tape pretty hard.  At least, that's what it sounds like.  They would do the same thing on early Journey albums.

Some of the recordings back in the late 60's and early 70's, they liked saturating the tape a lot.  Plus there isn't as much bass in certain frequencies.  It's kind of weird to listen to.  I'm listening to the 24/176 version and I don't know how much different it is to the DSD version.

ster4610's picture

Would you say that DSD sounds better than PCM 24 192?

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I'm tempted to skirt answering the question by saying something like - it depends on the quality of the original recording, the transfer process (if the original is analog tape), the DAC, and your personal preferences. Which it does. So a good quality 16/44 recording will trump a crappy DSD or HD PCM recording and a PCM recording played back on a great-sounding PCM-only DAC will sound better than a DSD recording played back on a crappy DSD DAC.

But I will answer your question this way - if the same album was available in PCM and DSD and both were sourced from the same master tape, I'd buy the DSD version. For example, I recently bought Miles' In A Silent Way in 24/192 and it sounds great. But when I saw that its available in DSD my initial reaction was drats! Or something along those lines.

And before the stones start flying, this is not the same as saying one format sounds better than another since that kind of statement discounts the other important factors I listed above. Rather, my preference for DSD is a personal one and a generalization all wrapped up in one.

Rich Davis's picture

I think it depends on the DAC and content.


Not all content is mastered by the same people at the same time for all formats.  They might have one recording that was remastered years ago on PCM 24 bit and then years later, they'll have a different engineer using different equipment using DSD.

Even with these 24 bit remastering jobs, there are a lot of variables that take place like the engineer and the associated equipment they are using.


I've noticed a lot of studios (Abbey Road, EMI, others) have been updating their AD/DA converters with DAD (they go up to 24/384 and DSD128) and they seem to agree that they are currently the best sounding AD/DA converters on the market for the recording industry, but we don't always know which masters are created using these AD/DA converters..

I think your question may need much further explanation and I don't know if it is categorically going to be a "yes" or "no" answer.

ster4610's picture

Well put. Hope the stones stay on the ground. I also listen though an Auaralic vega and will try the Abraxxas DSD.  Wish I owned the vinyl to compare both.

rexp's picture

Just use a VPN connection to get a US ip address, I use StrongVPN, around $10 a month subscription, enjoy!

boulderskies's picture

Since this thread has veered to and from its original subject (Abraxas) and into DSD, I dont feel guilty asking if someone mind pointing me to current listing for DSD DACs.

Thank you,


boulderskies's picture
Rich Davis's picture

the 24/176kHz version found on HDTracks to the DSD version?  I have the HDTracks version and it sounds great, but I'm wondering if it's worth paying extra and having to buy a DSD DAC to replace the one I have.  I mean, it's a great album, but I would have to see a lot more improved sound over 24 bit and see more releases on DSD for me to want to buy a more expensive DAD and my catalog all over again.


I personally thought some tracks on the album that's been released to be excellent, but some not that great.  Probably due to them being live recordings where the vocals weren't mixed very loud, or there was a lack of bass in spots.  Maybe because of degrading tape.


CoreyM72's picture

This thread is about 3 years old. Just added some info.

CoreyM72's picture

Best practice is not to convert PCM from DSD. Labels that sell 24/176 PCM from DSD are a scam. I only say that because you are flipping the bill for the software the labels or the engineers purchased to convert the audio in the first place. The option is there if the SACDs (DSD) are unavailable for purchase.

I've been trying to explain this for years:
Analog master tape to DSD or PCM 24/192 sound great as flat transfers (no digital remastering required).

Almost all CDs require digital remastering and are remastered. See above

Comparing DSD to PCM 24/192 only works when the same master tape is used, DSD is not zipped (no DST), and both formats are pure bitstream.

I prefer WAV over FLAC (no need to unzip)
I prefer RAW DSD over SACD (unzipped DST thanks to PS3 SACD converter)

I don't want my Denon receiver or Oppo doing an unnecessary work when audio is involved.

As for 24/192 that format is for those that want to get as close to the master tape as possible but 24/96 or 24/48 is really all one needs. Give me a digital copy as close to the master and I'm happy. I would go all analog but vacuum tubes (solid state is for digital) can't be found at local 5 & dimes anymore. Hehe

CoreyM72's picture

So yes... I can tell the DSD (SACD 1999?) version of Abraxas sounds much better than the degraded PCM conversion. There is a new MoFi Abraxas SACD I'd like to checkout as well.