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Horch House Launches DSD Wafer Cards

07-11-2015 | By Brian Moura | Issue 80

One of the interesting exhibits at the recent High End Audio show in Munich earlier this year featured Horch House. For those of you who aren't familiar with the company, Horch House is the analog audio division of Lutz Precision, a worldwide leader in auto making equipment based in Austria. While it probably seems a bit odd for such a company to be involved in high resolution audio, it is largely explained by the interests of one of the company's Managing Directors.

Volker Lange - 360h
Volker Lange, Managing Director, Horch House (Photo Credit: Horch House)

Volker Lange is not only the Managing Director Purchasing for Lutz Precision, but he is also the Managing Director of Horch House. Lange is a fan of high quality audio and more specifically analog tape, first with a pair of Revox PR-99 tape machines and more recently a Studer A80 Studio Analog Tape Recorder in 2012. From there, Lange began looking for high quality analog tape copies of albums to play on his new A80 and this ultimately led to the formation of Horch House.

Horch House began by selling copies of Jazz, Blues and Classical albums on Analog Tape, carefully transferred from the Analog Tapes of the record labels and repackaged handsomely. The next step was transferring these analog recordings to Vinyl LP for sale.

Moving Into Digital Music

At High End Audio in Munich the company not only showed their Analog Tapes and Vinyl LPs for sale but also a new line of high quality music files in single rate DSD 64fs as well as 24-bit/96kHz and 24-bit/192kHz WAV files. The DSD and WAV music files allow the company to enter the digital music market and to share their analog conversion expertise with listeners for a fraction of the price of the Analog Tape copies.

For example, the album Sunshine of Your Love by Ella Fitzgerald sells for 24.50 Euros (24/96 WAV files) to 34.50 Euros (DSD 64fs files) while the Analog Tape edition sells for 398.00 Euros. The Vinyl LP editions of the albums are also in this range, selling for 33 Euros in the case of the Ella Fitzgerald album. All prices include VAT for European customers.

Ordering From Horch House

Unlike most music sites today, Horch House does not offer music downloads. Instead they sell their analog to digital downloads on USB Wafer Cards. A wafer card is a flat data card the size of the credit card that has a USB connector that unfolds to connect to your computer.

I was intrigued about this new offering from Horch House so I visited their web site and selected 3 albums to order. To order, you send a list of the desired albums to Horch House, they provide a cost of the order with shipping, you send them payment and the wafer cards are sent to you from Austria Post. The wafer cards arrive in the mail in a little over 2 weeks from Austria to California.

DSD Wafer Cards in Box
DSD Wafer Cards In Shipping Box (Photo Credit: Brian Moura)

The Wafer Cards Arrive

When the 3 USB Wafer cards arrived, I was very impressed with the packaging. Each album comes in a plastic box, with each wafer card secured by a white cradle which also elevates it from the bottom of the plastic box. The plastic boxes each have a plastic slip cover and are packaged with bubble wrap to cushion their travel. Classy and definitely precision.

Ella - Wafer Card in Cradle
Sunshine of Your Love by Ella Fitzgerald in White Cradle & Packaging (Photo Credit: Brian Moura)

The Ella Fitzgerald album Sunshine of Your Love was marked as a DFF set of files but was actually a set of DSF music files that included metadata to enhance the files while the other two albums came in the untagged DFF file format. I listened to all three albums in the form they arrived in (DFF and DSF) and then converted the albums by Joe Pass and Hans Theessink & Terry Evans to DSF format with album art and information using the excellent DFF2DSF Converter free software from Jussi Laako at Signalyst and the metadata editing program Tag and Rename by Soft Pointer (see web links below for more information on these handy programs for your music library).

Analog to Digital Conversion is Key

The key question around any digital music files is their provenance. What source was used and how was the conversion done? The Horch House web site tells us "Horch House offers a completely extraordinary listening pleasure for the friends of digital music playback. Under the motto, "truth in sound", we convert directly (natively) from the analogue master tape into the respective digital music format. No PC or Mac computers are used during our whole production process. This approach, alongside the best quality analogue-digital converters, contributes to unmatched musical enjoyment."

Grimm AD1 DSD Converter

Grimm AD1 Analog to DSD Converter (Photo Credit: Grimm Audio)

Digging a bit deeper, I asked Volker Lange about the process to create the company's DSD Downloads. He told me that the process involves playing the Analog Master Tape on a Studer A80 Tape Machine. From there, Horch House goes directly to the Grimm AD1 Analog to DSD Converter. The DSD stream is recorded with a Tascam 3000 DSD unit.  Lange notes that they are using just the recorder in the Tascam, the conversion is done by the Grimm. The digital side of the process is synchronized by an atomic clock.

The Grimm AD1 is a single rate DSD (DSD 64fs) converter known for its musical and warm sound and a favorite of many in the recording field including Steve Hoffman, a respected mastering engineer and Jared Sacks, the managing director, producer and recording engineer at Native DSD and Channel Classics Records. The Horch House process of going direct to the Grimm AD1 is an excellent complement to the Analog Master Tapes that they have access to. Let's take a more detailed listen to the results of this transfer process.

Intercontinental - Joe Pass - 360x360
Intercontinental – Joe Pass (Photo Credit: Horch House)

Now here's an album that almost cries out for a high quality audio edition.  Intercontinental features Jazz guitarist Joe Pass along with Eberhard Weber on bass and Kenny Clare on drums. Recorded at MPS Studios in 1970, this album is a wonderful collection of pop standards and original compositions.

The music on Intercontinental ranges from the mellow jazz to upbeat swing numbers. The sound on this Analog to DSD transfer benefits immensely from the Horch House process.  Using the Grimm AD1 converter provides the listener with a very warm and rich sounding album. The album starts off with "Chloe" which has some fine brush work on the drums in the left channel, the bass in the right channel and Pass on guitar in the phantom center with some very chords.  "Meditation" offers a mellow bossa nova vibe while "Stompin' at the Savoy" offers the mellowest version of this big band favorite I can remember. All in all, the album is full of sonic detail, you can easily hear Pass on guitar, the drummer's detailed playing and brush strokes, the deep bass and the depth of the recording. This is one to just cue-up, sit back and enjoy.  Ahh….

An interesting side note about the Intercontinental music files. As I was writing this article, I noticed that another music web site had added this album to their list of music downloads in DSD and FLAC that were "digitally mastered". I checked with Horch House and learned that the other DSD download was not their edition of the album since they are using an analog transfer from the master tape, not from a digital master. The lesson here is that it pays to give close attention to the provenance and sourcing of music files before buying.

Delta Time - 360x360
Delta Time – Hans Theessink & Terry Evans with Ry Cooder (Photo Credit: Horch House)

Delta Time has an international theme as European blues and folk singer Hans Theessink partners with Southern blues singer Terry Evans. The duo gets some guest star power from guitarist Ry Cooder on three tracks on the album: "How Come People Act Like That," "Blues Stay Away From Me," and "Shelter From The Storm". It turns out that Terry Evans has been a backup singer on Ry Cooder's recordings, so Cooder returns the favor here.

While many listeners think of Jazz and Classical recordings as benefiting the most from high resolution audio recordings in Analog and DSD, a well recorded blues album is often just as effective. That's certainly the case here. What you have is two vocalists and two guitarists at the top of their game. It may sound relatively simple but the recording is very detailed and brings you some fine vocals and performances by Theessink and Evans.

Check out the songs "Delta Time" with straight ahead playing, singing by Theessink and some backing vocals and "How Come People Act Like That" which brings both Evans and Theessink to the lead vocals and brings Ry Cooder into the mix with some rocking guitar. The transfer of the Delta Time album from Analog to DSD is just excellent. This is definitely an album to any blues fan's collection.

Sunshine of Your Love – Ella Fitzgerald
Sunshine of Your Love – Ella Fitzgerald (Photo Credit: Horch House)

Sunshine of Your Love by Ella Fitzgerald was produced by famed Jazz producer and founder of Verve Records Norman Granz.  It is a collection of the singer's live performances at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. The album features many well-known standards taken from the Jazz, Pop, Big Band and Bossa Nova genres. Ella is backed by the Tommy Flanagan Trio and the Ernie Heckscher Big Band on this recording.

The DSD Download captures Ella's voice and performances quite well on a number of the tracks. I especially enjoyed "This Girl Is in Love with You," "Watch What Happens," "Old Devil Moon," "A House Is Not A Home," and "Trouble Is A Man" where Fitzgerald's vocals are the star of the song. There are also some excellent bossa nova and big band numbers here to enjoy as well.  This is an excellent accounting of her Jazz stylings and range.

The album was somewhat controversial at the time of its release due to the inclusion of title track on a Jazz recording.  While I'm always interested in new takes on music, I have to say I agree with those who feel that songs like "Sunshine of Your Life" and "Hey Jude" are best left to other singers and performers. Still, this album is a very enjoyable addition to any listener's collection.

A New Entrant in the Market

It's always nice to see a new company like Horch House enter the marketplace with superior quality and superior sounding releases. I'm looking forward to more DSD releases from them in the months ahead. For now, I have my next order in for 4 more DSD wafer cards. That's definitely something worth waiting for.

Horch House

Grimm Audio AD1 Analog to DSD Converter

DFF2DSF Converter

Tag and Rename