Music Software/Record Companies/Download Sites
Year in and year out, we audiophiles and music lovers rely on our trusted labels, recording companies, re-issuers, and download sites to provide us with the albums that we love so passionately. We assume that they are operating out of a similar passion (well, with the exception of major record label bean-counters and soulless executives, that is…to the blazes with those bassturds!), and that we can purchase our records from them with a reasonable confidence in their integrity, in the provenance of their releases, and the excellence of their work.
For years now (for example see HERE), I've been recognizing various companies who perform this essential work for us. Since the time is short, I'll cut right to the chase for our 2016 edition, and the end of my Brutus Awards for this year.
This year, I've gotten to spend some serious time with two software packages that have made the online streaming music experience more pleasant. Not "reference-grade," mind you…only streaming DSD does that for me…but at least getting us to the point at which CD-grade, 44.1kHz, 16-bit music can be accessed. (And no, by the way: CD-grade is not "high-resolution audio.") But it's a lot better than various compressed formats that Apple has inflicted upon us over the years.
Online music of better quality does provide us with a huge advantage, one beyond dispute: It does allow us to access easily and quickly tens of millions of songs, and many thousands of albums, in a giant database with a graphical interface. All sorts of information is provided in an attractive format. Simply for the purpose of musical research and exploration, this is an enormous step forward for us all. And that's what I use it for daily.
For online music services, I am awarding one of my Brutus Awards to Tidal's High-Fidelity-level subscription.
For $19.95 per month, I have unrestricted access and the highest quality of music (44.1kHz and 16-bit) currently available for tens of millions of songs. An unbelievable value, and done deal!
Over the top of the Tidal service, I am using Roon as the control interface, in conjunction with the exceptional exaSound PlayPoint Network Audio Player and its integrated Roon engine. The output is fed to the tightly integrated exaSound e32 Quad DSD DAC. While a Roon subscription isn't cheap, the result is an online audio system that is a joy to use: powerful, very fast, and loaded with well-organized information. I now consider Roon + Tidal to be indispensable. Note that Roon also operates at the local area network (LAN) level, and can access computer-based music in your home, helping you organize it into a library with all sorts of metadata. What's not to like?!
And so, for a brilliant control interface for listening and research, the good folks at Roon are awarded one of my Brutus Awards for 2016, with great enthusiasm.
Recordings/Record & Reissue Companies/Download Sites
As far as labels, recording companies, reissue enterprises, and so on go, most of these names will look familiar from past years.
'Cuz they keep on doing what they've been doing! And I'll keep on praising them, year by year, for their unswerving commitment to excellence in the audio arts.
No further extended commentary is necessary; if you'd like to see some of that, check out my comments on many of these company from my awards in 2015 right HERE. No point in rewriting The Brothers Karamazov, eh?
Some brief notes on these Brutus Award winners…
Analogue Productions Ultra Tape Series
No surprises at all here.
Chad Kassem and company just keep on truckin', delivering some of the very best LPs (180 and 200 grams on his own presses at Quality Record Pressings), SACDs, downloads (especially DSD…out to Quad DSD these days)…and now 15 IPS open-reel tapes!...in the biz.
Nobody masters them quite like Chad's team. It's true: "high-def" beats "high-deaf" every time.
And the difference makes a difference, capiche?
There's still no doubt about it: Chad Kassem is The Man. No other gent, no other company like his. Best of the best.
If you can get it here, get it here.
That's what I do.
Jared Sacks continues to produce some of the very finest classical recordings in the world. Every time I listen to his work, crystalline and so very well produced, I repeat the same conclusion that I've been saying for years now: "There it is!"
I'm charmed to recognize Jared Sacks and Channel Classics with a Brutus Award again this year.
While we're on the subject of the Sacks family, Jared's son Jonas and company have been doing brilliant work growing the terrific collection of DSD music over at NativeDSD.com.
Jonas Sacks of NativeDSD.com at THE Show Newport Beach 2016: A Portrait.
They're now up to 47 labels and over 1000 albums in Single, Double, and Quad DSD, definitely one of the great treasure troves for the format on the planet.
Yes, you can even purchase the PF DSD Sampler, Volume 1, over at NativeDSD.com. Note that all proceeds to go NativeDSD.com, its labels, and its artists; no funds go to Positive Feedback at all. Pro bono, ya'll!
If you haven't gone there yet, you really must.
Then you'll see why I'm again awarding them a Brutus Award here in 2016.
Blue Coast Records/Downloads NOW!
What can I say?! Cookie Marenco and folks are doing their best work ever in 2016. Her new production work with artists like Fiona Joy, Alex de Grassi, Meghan Andrews, Jenna Mammina, Tony Furtado, and Keith Knight, with much of it in Quad DSD (DSD256) is really stellar…for the quality of the music and performances, the superb production values, and the excellence of the growing body of DSD titles that she is creating.
Cookie Marenco at THE Show Newport Beach 2016: A Portrait by Robinson.
Over 60,000 purchasers online at her site…you're one of them, right?
Once again, Cookie, her audio engineer extraordinaire Patrick, and all others deserve a Brutus Award from me.
High Definition Tape Transfers
Here's another exceptional DSD (and other, lesser formats) download site. Bob Witrak continues to do himself proud by releasing marvelous transfers directly from tape of rare recordings by very well-known artists. These titles are simply not available anywhere else!
Resolutions are available all the way out to Quad DSD (on some titles), plus PCM and surround formats. Some of my favorite reference DSD recordings are from HDTT. If you haven't been here, you simply must visit Bob HERE.
A Brutus Award to Bob and HDTT…gladly!
Guess what? Morten Lindberg continues to carry on in his unique tradition of producing great new recordings, with his emphasis on the work of Scandinavian composers, both old and contemporary. Morten records in DXD, not in Quad DSD (which would be my preference), but he continues to release SACDs, and some of his titles are available in Quad DSD conversions from DXD.
The elegance and brilliance of Morten's production work speaks for itself. Check out his 2L site and prepare to be gratified by the quantity, quality, and depth of his work.
I cannot praise 2L too highly, year upon year.
A Brutus Award in 2016 for sure….
Opus 3 Records/DSDfile.com
Jan-Eric Persson is one of my favorite recordists in fine audio. A lovely, genial, and gentle presence, with a long passion for the audio arts and the production of great recordings, Jan-Eric is the genius behind Opus3 Records and DSDfile.com.
Jan-Eric was one of the early adopters of DSD and SACD, which he used to reissue a number of his original analog recordings. Since I had so many of his LPs, I was able to check out the SACDs, and enjoy the quality of the work that he had done.
Now he's been issuing even higher resolution DSD transfers…and some new recordings…over at his download site, DSDfile.com. If you don't have any of these wonderful DSDs yet, then it's time to hie thee over to there. You simply must have Jan-Eric's splendid work in your library!
Damn! I'm sitting in the midst of a four-foot-tall stack of SACDs…stereo and multichannel…from the skilled engineers and artists at Audio Fidelity. Killer transfers from analog masters, yes…but, more than that, real music! We're talking excellent A&R here; recordings and artists that I really care about. And with people like Steve Hoffman at the controls of these transfers to DSD, how can it be anything other than audio ambrosia?
As a matter of fact, it can't be.
Great sound…not too lean, not too fat. Some notable releases of excellent titles in multichannel DSD, including some four-channel stuff from the quadrophonic days of the 1970s. Charming!
If you think that SACD is on life support, think again, White man. And check out Audio Fidelity, who hereby receives another of my Brutus Awards, here in 2016.
2xHD is a newer discovery for me this year. André Perry and René Laflamme have put together a new company whose transfers from analog masters to Double DSD have really caught my ear over the course of the year. I've downloaded their work from both Chad Kassem's SuperHirez.com store and Jared/Jonas Sacks' NativeDSD.com.
René Laflamme is at the wheel…
Using state-of-the-art gear, René has done transfers of some great titles, both classical and jazz, with the Double DSD versions showing off the possibilities of that format in a beautiful way. To tell you truth, I haven't heard a single recording from 2xHD that I haven't been really impressed with. I strongly suggest that you browse yourself to either SuperHirez.com or NativeDSD.com and see what I mean. You will not regret it, believe me.
And here's one of my Brutus Awards for André and René, given with gratitude for some really lovely work. Saluté!
Universal Japan SHM-SACD
You know, after years of purchasing their superb SACDs, I still don't know anyone at Universal Japan.
But all is forgiven: Getting a set of seven(!!) John Lennon SACDs delivered in all of their stereo-only, DSD-only glory was a pinnacle of the year.
Plus multiple SACDs from Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music. And The Band. And Tangerine Dream. And Penguin Café Orchestra.
Forgiven. All is forgiven.
And with this award, I return the blessing…to whomever is over there.
I can't complete this set of Brutus Awards without a special tip o' my hat to Bob Attiyeh and Yarlung Records. His production values and remarkable recordings in classic 15 IPS half-track analog tape on a fabulous SonoruS RTR recorder, and then transferred to Quad DSD via a Merging Technologies Hapi Quad DSD ADC and available on the NativeDSD.com site, have been a wonderful treat for me for the past several years. Bob has a lovely sensibility for the music, energized by an inspiring passion for both fine classical and jazz recordings.
This year has seen more brilliant work from Bob, all of which can be accessed at his store on NativeDSD.com.
Bob, this one's for you! A Brutus Award for the Matheson (especially) and other treats here in 2016. Keep up the brilliant work!