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Positive Feedback ISSUE 56
july/august 2011

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Our readers respond…we respond right back!

Send your comments to either drobinson@positive-feedback.com or dclark@positive-feedback.com


David,
It's been a while ...

I just read Teresa Godwin's "High Resolution Audio, What is Next?" and I must say it's a fairly slanted piece and, IMHO, not worthy of publication on PFO. You're probably aware that the author has fairly limited tastes. What this article does is chronicle the decline in sources for "her" music (notably Telarc) while ignoring the vast bulk of new releases. The overall SA-CD release rate, while admittedly changing in makeup, has been pretty steady for years with new labels releasing on the format all the time. The article contains errors of fact such as Harmonia Mundi no longer releasing SA-CDs when five new titles are listed on SA-CD.net for release over the next few months. There's also no mention of standout labels like Alba, Alia Vox, Caro Mitis, Challenge (just a few off the top of my head) purely because their titles aren't to her taste. Nor is BIS mentioned because of long-standing feud with the owner. So what in essence we have in this article is bitterness masquerading as factual assessment, which it demonstrably isn't. I sincerely doubt this what you want for PFO.

Stephen Best
www.SA-CD.net

Stephen,

First let me say I find your website sa-cd.net indispensable, it is the most important tool for an SACD collector. I am sorry you did not enjoy my article on high resolution audio in all forms and the extreme important of the finest audiophile labels to demonstrate what each format is capable of. That being said I will address all of your concerns.

1) Yes my article is slanted from an "audiophile" viewpoint. All of my writing is and will always be! 

2) My tastes are not limited I just prefer the sonic realism of audiophile recordings over commercial recordings. I love classical orchestral music the most but I also like orchestral pops, movie music, jazz, blues, bluegrass, country, classic rock, modern rock, pop, easy listening, Spanish music, Mexican music, Latin music, African music, Irish music, Early Jewish and Arabian folk music, and folk music from most other parts of the world. However I don't like everything in a genre, I pick and choose. It is within the classical world that I take the most grief for not liking chamber music, opera and Mozart. However I believe my musical tastes are wider than most of the world's population including yours!

3) I did indeed mention the new SACD releases from a few of the remaining audiophile labels, the new super expensive SHM-SACDs and many of the best sounding boutique labels such as Chandos, Channel Classics, Exton, Linn, PentaTone and Tacet.

4) I am glad to hear Harmonia Mundi is releasing SACDs, I am sorry I missed this as I spent over 40 hours researching and writing this article. However, Harmonia Mundi still releasing SACDs does further prove my point that boutique classical labels are sticking with SACD more consistently than audiophile labels.

5) I have tried SACDs from Alba, Alia Vox, Caro Mitis and Challenge, and still own one from Challenge "Mahler: Symphony No. 1 - Jan Willem de Vriend". I covered all the boutique labels under the paragraph titled "SACD boutique labels" though I only listed my favorites as the main thrust of the article is the future of audiophile recordings in high resolution and what form that might take. Even though the Caro Mitis are recorded by Polyhymnia I was very disappointed in them sonically, even though I like most of Polyhymnia's excellent recordings for Telarc and PentaTone.

6) BIS was mentioned but not by name as it too is a boutique label and NOT part of the main thrust of my article which is about the mass exodus of many of real bona-fide audiophile labels from SACD. I have written articles about BIS for Positive Feedback: Ultra Extended Playing Time SACD - 4 Hours + on a single disc! and High Resolution Computer Music Reviews and Updates

I have no feud with BIS' owner Robert von Bahr he just does not handle criticism well. It all began in 2005 when I discovered something wrong with the sound of the "complete Peer Gynt 2 SACD set" and why it didn't sound as good the first three Grieg BIS SACDs. I never considered BIS's DSD recorded SACDs on the same sonic level of other DSD recorded SACDs but they were still excellent. Robert confirmed with Peer Gynt that he switched from DSD to PCM, I still occasionally purchase BIS PCM SACDs of repertoire not available on other labels after all a PCM SACD is better than no SACD at all. He has even released a couple that sound decent at 24/44.1kHz and he is now recording in higher PCM resolution. However most of my complaints about BIS cannot be solved by just raising the sample rate, as the early BIS DSD recorded SACDs while better overall than the new ones are not sonically equal to the challenge of the SACD format. It has to do with engineering and needless post production he engages in that diminishes the sonic realism he could otherwise achieve.

7) I did a lot of research on this article and other than the aforementioned Harmonia Mundi what other errors did I make?

8) Yes I have a lot to be bitter about when most of the audiophile labels recording in high resolution analog or DSD have dropped SACD like flies! Most of the new labels to SACD have been small independent and boutique labels who mostly record in PCM and most are not using "natural" audiophile standards. Plus the ton of unaffordable SHM and other SACDs from Japan, it's enough to make a music lover cry.

9) I personally believe that Positive Feedback is an audiophile oriented magazine and that is why I write. Getting the most realistic and enjoyable sound is not just about the equipment we use it is also and to me even more importantly about the quality of the recordings we play.

Cookie Marenco, founder of Blue Coast Records is very enthusiastic about DSD however it appears the future is DSD downloads. I hope this is what all the audiophile labels who have left SACD are tooling up for and not just audiophile LPs. 

There is always hope for the future.

Happy listening,

Teresa


Dear Mr. Nack,
You explain that YG's Anat III has a superior (passive) X-over, one of the reasons why it happens to be such a brilliant speaker; nonetheless we all agree that at a conceptual level the best crossover is no-crossover, as in (most) ESLs.

What, in your view, may be the contribution of the fact that the Anat III is effectively a (partly) active speaker?

In that context, do you feel that that, at a conceptual level, it might be a logical next step for YG to 'go active' by adding a dedicated amp to the main module to deliver us the holy grail with a fully active loudspeaker?

My sincerest regards,

Ronald

You ask many good, thoughtful, questions. I will take them one at a time.

Yes, at a conceptual level, the best crossover is no crossover. In practice, it may not be. I will be putting up an article shortly on YG's Signature mod that discusses this in more depth.

I felt incorporating an active sub-woofer was a major step forward. The bass exhibits no integration or coherency issues: Somehow YG managed to make it seamless. With that out of the way, the active sub can be tailored to your heart's desire. In short, a major burden was lifted from the main amp's responsibilities.

A fully active speaker is an intriguing idea. But to my mind, there is no single Holy Grail sound-wise. Personally, I like the idea of picking an amp to my taste. And then being able to flip it later on, if something else comes along.

Regards,

Marshall Nack


Sirs,
In the current issue Andy Schaub's review of the Pure Music software he mentions The Astounding Eyes of Rita, a CD by Anour Brahem and Staffani Bollani. I have been aware of Brahem since I bought an ECM sampler record year ago, that record turned me on to Thimar, with Dave Holland and John Suman.

This one of the great 'side effects' of reading audio reviews: being turned onto more music! Anour Brahem was bouncing around in the basement of my memory, but now I have something new by him to seek out. And to top it off, he finishes with a quote from the Status Quote 60's song, "Pictures of Matchstick Men."

I recommend all three of the above to anyone not familiar with them. Not everyone will like them, but you may be lucky.

Thanks Andy,

Steven Lynn


David, 
I wish to extend by compliments and my thanks to Roger Gordon for his wonderful article on the recent Impex Records vinyl reissue of the Bernstein’s performances of the Ravel and Shostakovich Piano Concertos on Columbia. Roger did a marvelous job providing concise observations about the comparative virtues of several alternative performances and a nice review of the sonics to expect from this reissue. He deserves our thanks followed by a resounding request for more, please!

Best wishes,

Rush


Sirs,
The big idea that Bose brought to car audio was the realization that, though the "room" had major flaws, its characteristics could be totally known in advance, and at least partially compensated for. Bose (and probably its competitors, by now) works with car makers to optimize speaker placement at the design stage. It's hard to do that with off-the-shelf aftermarket components.

Ivan Berger


Sirs,
Interesting to read the Gingko Clouds piece. For years I've used ... Corks! Cork has quite amazing qualities and works, it seems, in similar ways to the Clouds. AND... after you've drunk the wine... it costs nothing! Don't use the plastic replica corks! Real Cork comes from a biosphere that supports wildlife and a long lived culture, in Spain and Portugal. I use that as excuse to go there now and then! The Cork forests are so peaceful!

Chris Skelton


Sirs,
Teresa Goodwin's column on "High Resolution Audio, What is Next" is a tune that she has been singing since SACD was first released. It's like hearing Hotel California on a Classic Rock station it's old and boring. If SACD is your flavor, there are as many new choices today as when the format was first introduced 11 years ago. The problem is she wants them to be priced at $15 each, well it's just not going to happen. Audiophile products carry a premium, always have. When Mobile Fidelity first introduced their albums back in 1979 they were priced at $12.99 when a standard LP sold for $4.99.

Her constant put down of Redbook playback only goes to prove that she has not owned a current state of the art player. Notice I used the term owned, sure she has made reference to hearing expensive players but in my opinion the only way you can assess the aural benefits of a piece of gear is to live with it. Equally I'm convinced that Teresa has not had the benefit of hearing 44.1 files played back using a dedicated music server with one of the latest DAC designs.

As a committed audiophile and music collector, who thought he'd never give up on the playback of physical media, my eyes have been opened. Storing ripped CD's and playing them back using SSD drives, battery power and optimized software produces sound equal to most physical high resolution media.

She goes on to make the statement, "A lot of dedicated analog lovers have never heard SACD or believe it is just a multi-channel format. In addition some who embraced SACD at the beginning have since switched back to analog LPs and Reel to Reel tapes due to SACDs general lack of marketplace acceptance." What "dedicated analog lovers" is she referring to, the current batch of twenty-something's who have latched onto the LP for it's retro coolness? Those who have returned to vinyl would probably be using it to subsidize their playback capabilities rather than as a replacement for SACD. Now if you want to talk about the niche within a niche market then can we talk Reel to Reel. Reel is not a serious option for anyone except the committed fanatic (and yes I own mastering quality playback decks).

As a person who has his favorite recordings in most available formats along with the associated equipment for playback, I can confidentially say that Redbook CD is not the devils stepchild nor is SACD the Pearly Gate.

Tom Caselli

Fair enough, Tom; your point is one that a number of ‘philes adhere to. Certainly audiophile-grade SACDs (and a number of the CDs, for that matter) are not likely to be $14.99 any time soon. Even the high-resolution downloads from sites like HDTracks (http://www.hdtracks.com) are in the $20-$30 range. Audiophile-grade LPs are likewise spendy.

In fact, audiophile-anything is usually spendy. It goes with the turf when you demand excellence.

Personally, I definitely prefer SACD playback to Redbook format, regardless of the source, optical or computer-based. And yes, I've owned and have listened to an awful lot of these over the years. (Right now, it's the superlative Playback Designs MPS-5 for SACD and CDs.) With DSD-based computer files around the corner now, the gap between DSD and Redbook will grow once again.

I assume that when you speak of "ripping" CDs to hard drive, that you aren't speaking of lossy compression, correct? Lossy formats are just lousy formats, as far as I'm concerned. Good for trains, planes, and automobiles…not much else.

As to "dedicated analog lovers": I think that it's good news that there are some twenty-somethings undergoing their first experience with the format, and the fun of finding great vinyl. Some SACD users may have switched back to LPs, but I'm not sure that we have a handle on the stats here. Personally, I never gave up on LPs…kept my collection going and growing over the past 40 years… even as I heard the audio world change for the better with DSD. I've got tons of SACDs on hand here, with more coming all the time. (Right now, I'm listening to one of the latest batch of SACDs from Analog Productions, Jimmy Smith, et al., Back at the Chicken Shack. Bloody wonderful…love that Hammond B3 in DSD!)

The niche-within-a-niche world of RTR: I would have to agree with you there. Despite the Herculean passion of Dan Schmalle and company at The Tape Project, there's simply no way that RTR will ever be anything other than what it is right now: a niche, within a niche, within a niche. I wish it was otherwise, but it isn't a mass-production consumer format, and never was. I love RTR… have three open reel machines here… but was never able to get The Tape Project to follow through on my offer to purchase a modded machine, get the Doc B. electronics, and subscribe to their tapes (which have since become awesomely expensive; it is my understanding that they are behind schedule, as well).

Finally, I would tend to agree that Red Book CDs on state-of-the-art playback isn't too bad, but would tend to disagree with your low-balling of SACD playback, ceteris paribus. Assuming a well-mastered DSD and SACD, there is no comparison between the two to my ears.

And, as I said, I think that downloadable DSD is in the pipeline. That will be extraordinary.

All the best,

david


Steve Lefkowicz,
Good to see your are back writing for PFO!

I like the show report especially the emphasis on the affordable.

Attended my first show last year - the 2010 Dagogo show in Emeryville. Tonian speakers were quite impressive.

Are you going to come up north to attend the 2011 Dagogo Audio Show July 15 thru 17 in Burlingame (near the airport)?

Craig Stenstrom


The Higher End

About the "expectation of privacy" and those emails to Positive Feedback Online

Ye Olde Editor

We do like hearing from you, our readers. It adds a great deal fun to what we do, encourages our editors and writers, provides information we may have missed, and correction that we may need. This is all to the good.

Your communication with us these days is almost always via the highly rational path of email. And we do read it, responding to the constructive correspondence—which is most of it, really—as quickly as possible. (The destructive stuff is routed directly to the bit bucket. Didn't yo' mama teach you better than that?!) Dave Clark and I are generally pretty rapid in getting back to you if a response is needed from us, or in re-directing inquiries to the appropriate person at PFO if it needs to go to an editor or writer.

By the way: please understand that the writers and editors at PFO are helpful folks, eager to assist their fellow audio/music lovers, or they wouldn't be doing what they're doing. Nevertheless, PFO is not an audio consulting service. Please do not clog the gears with complex requests for assistance with the sourcing of audio gear in your personal setting. Remember too that PFO is not, and has never been, an audio ombudsman. If you are having problems with a particular vendor, company, or dealer, please avail yourself of the normal channels for such resolution; no audio publication has the time or resources to take on such a responsibility for consumers. Enough said.

With an increasing flow of emails to Positive Feedback Online, and upon evidence of some recent confusion on the part of our email correspondents, it's become necessary to re-state the ground rules by which we operate here. So gather round the campfire, friends…

Any time an email, or an exchange of emails, is both constructive and of potential wider interest, we exercise the reserved right to publish it in "Reverberations," the letters section of PFO. This is, after all, a publication, a "journal for the audio arts." We are seeking to further educate and entertain our readership in our common love for fine audio, and contributions in the form of emails/letters from our readers are one way that we accomplish this goal. When you write to any of us… our essayists and reviewers included… we assume that you are aware of our nature as a publication, and that you write to us in the light of that knowledge.

This means that—unless you request confidentiality explicitly in your email or letter—there is no expectation of privacy here at Positive Feedback Online.

To put it another way: Any email or letter sent to this journal will be considered fair game for publication, unless you state in the document itself that the contents are private/confidential.

So… our default is PUBLISH.

The reverse is also true: the editors do reserve the right not to publish an email or letter. We are not obligated to publish your letter or comments simply because they are submitted. And hostile, negative, sarcastic, destructive emails or letters are never published.

So…sometimes we DON'T PUBLISH.

Finally, our subtitle for "Reverberations"—"Our readers respond—we respond right back!" is not a guarantee that we will always respond to an email or letter that is published. Often we do; sometimes we don't… usually when we don't, it's a case of res ipsa loquitur.

So finally… sometimes we PUBLISH WITHOUT RESPONSE.

I think that makes things clear. Having said all of this in the name of clarity, keep those cards and letters coming in!

All the best,

David W. Robinson

Editor-in-Chief

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