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Robinson's Positive Feedback Brutus Awards for 2018: Part the Fifth, and Final

01-25-2019 | By David W. Robinson | Issue 101

Ye Olde Editor (photograph by John Robinson)

By way of explanation…

The final batch of my Brutus Award announcements for 2018 was significantly delayed by a major project that had to be attended to by the entire PF Web team:  the transfer of the entire PF site and content to an entirely different Web host, with a major upgrade of its platform hardware package. Anyone who knows Web-based publishing and its IT-related challenges understands that making such a shift is a really serious move. Had it not become quite necessary, I would not have undertaken it.

It took a team of five people working for nearly three weeks to get the job done, confirm the proper configuration, swat the bugs, and tweak the settings. Nevertheless, we were able to get the job done, and are generally very pleased with the new Web framework.

But it did mean delays. Apologies for the gap that this introduced before the publication of this final batch of my Brutus Awards for this past year.


Walker Audio Procession Phono Amplifier (latest revision)

Well, to no particular surprise on my part, Lloyd Walker's latest generation of product upgrades turned out to be another set of brilliancies. Lloyd had contacted me earlier in the year about new revisions to three of his designs:  the Procession Reference Phono Amp, the Velocitor, and the Reference Motor Controller. Was I interested in trying the upgrades?

Well, hell yes!

The work would be done by Walker Audio in Pennsylvania, and so (after some delay) I bundled up the three components, including all three of my Velocitors, and shipped them to Lloyd for upgrading. A handful of weeks later, they returned to me, ready to go.

And so I went.

The upgraded Procession was noticeably improved over its earlier version. It took a day or so to fully bloom, but once it warmed up and hit its stride, I was pleased by the enhanced quietness, detail, and spaciousness that I heard…and its predecessor was already world-class. The configuration of the playback is about as purist as it could be:  A few inches from the silver twisted-pair phono loads directly to the Procession, and from there a couple of feet down to the Line 1 RCA input of the darTZeel CTH-8550 Integrated Amplifier. That's about as tight as you can make it for turntable connectivity.

Lloyd's separate continuous-action loading knobs make it easy to dial in precisely the loading that works best for you. You can find exactly the best loading by ear, and stay there. You can see those controls in the photograph above…the two knobs at the base of the unit.

Listening to the new Procession was a revelation, and brought more improvements to the already amazing playback performance of his turntable system.

Walker Audio Velocitor ss Power Line Enhancer

Walker Audio's Power Line Enhancer is the Velocitor. I've been using three of them ever since Lloyd Walker and Fred Law delivered them back in the mists of time…you know, like 2004!

These have been upgraded several times over the years since then. Each time, the Velocitor has become more transparent, livelier, and especially quicker. Transients in connected devices always benefit; things slew about faster.

This latest generation has been dubbed "Velocitor ss" by Walker Audio. It is definitely the quickest and most transparent power distribution that they have produced to date. I have two in our reference stereo listening room, and one in our reference desktop system room (which is my office). I wouldn't want to do without them.

Walker Audio Reference Ultimate Motor Controller (latest revision)

The Walker Audio Proscenium Black Diamond Level V Turntable system is a linear-tracking, fully air-suspended, mass-loaded, and silk belt-driven. The heart of the belt drive is the precision provided by the Ultimate Motor Controller, which powers and monitors the drive motor that's firmly placed next to the turntable. (You'll see the Walker belt-drive motor standing on its adjustable platform in the photograph below, to the left of the platter.)

The new Ultimate Motor Controller seems to be more precise than ever, with world-class level linearity, and no discernible level of cogging. Set it…forget it! Killer stuff, this.

There's simply no doubt at all that Lloyd and company have once again advanced the state-of-the-art in these three upgrades. Walker Audio therefore deserves Brutus Awards for each of these very fine upgrades to their product line.

Done, and gladly!

Record Labels

This year's crop of Brutus Awards for record labels in 2018 is going to look a lot like the list from 2017, with an addition or two. The reason for this is quite simple:  These high-end labels are persevering in producing brilliant new productions and sterling reissues, year in and year out. 2018 turned out to be another great year for excellent music, as I summarize below.


Morten Lindberg and company continued in their tradition of producing a number of releases from the Scandinavian realms, with fresh new music from intriguing composers. This year was no exception, as I received a number of sample Blu Ray Audio/SACD combo packs.

As I've noted for years now, Morten's productions, recorded in DXD (352.8kHz PCM) are always glistening models of audio beauty. His venues are outstanding, and the musical values expressed in his work have been consistently exemplary across many years now.

To tell you the truth, there have been so many 2L SACDs of excellence this year...they arrive every few weeks here...that I can't really pick among them. And so much new music, in modes and from composers that I've not familiar with, that every disc is a revelation. Stereo and surround versions...you choose. What's not to like?!

Enough said! Morten and 2L definitely deserve another Brutus Award from me this year.


René Laflamme at Munich 2018

If you love jazz and DSD, 2xHD must be a name that is already on your list of sources…or should be! Once again the team of André Perry and René Laflamme have produced a goodly list of transfers from analog to DSD, with great artists like Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Bill Evans, Sarah Vaughn, and Chet Baker (among many others) in the mix. The stream of great transfers seems to add new titles every month, which is a hard thing to do, and quite brilliant in its own right.

The transfers have been lovingly done, using state-of-the-art equipment from Nagra and Merging Technologies to bring our analog treasures over into Single, Double, and Quad DSD. I consider 2xHD's work to be an example of how to do things right when it comes to authoritative presentations of important jazz archives.

2xHD's work is available at multiple music portals, as you'll see at their main Web site. I strongly encourage you to go to your favorite site on this list and support their fine work.

Meanwhile, a Brutus Award to 2xHD for their ongoing treasure trove of excellent albums in DSD!

Analogue Productions

Chad Kassem at Blue Heaven Studios. Salina, KS, 2017

I suppose that a Brutus Award to Chad Kassem and company requires not much explanation at all to anyone who knows audiophile recordings and who's doing many of the very finest LP pressings, DSD transfers, SACDs, tapes, and new production work in the industry. I suppose that anyone who's queued up one of his 180 or 200 gram Quality Record LPs doesn't need to be told why I am repeating this Brutus Award this year. And no one who's loaded an Analogue Productions SACD or cued an Ultra Tape needs any preaching to the choir about the glories of great A&R done right.

On the Quality Record Pressing production line, October, 2017…

Nope, I don't have to explain this.

So I won't.

Here's another Brutus Award for Chad's Analogue Productions, and all of the associated enterprises associated with his work. Well earned, well deserved, and gladly given.

Blue Coast Records

Cookie Marenco of Blue Coast Records at the LA Audio Show, 2017

Cookie Marenco is an experienced producer, with many years of experience in the music biz. Her team at Blue Coast Records has been producing great work in DSD with many talented artists over a lot of years now. She specializes in recordings that are immediate, direct, and done without tons of "fix it in the mix." Musicians who are talented, confident, and unneedful of click tracks, 96 channels, and twelve months to mix a single album appreciate Cookie's approach to the art of production and recording.

I've known Cookie for years, and love what she does. Her A&R tends towards the acoustical, folk, and contemplative music ("New Age"?). In a world stuffed full of performers who can't quite perform, tone correction, bit blipping, sampling, and crude production values, Cookie understands art and beauty. Thank God!

Heck, just for Fiona Joy's albums alone I'd be willing to give Blue Coast Records a Brutus Award!


Blue Note Records

Joe Harley (left) and Don Was of Blue Note Records receiving the 2018 ARYA on behalf of Wayne Shorter at the LAOC AS Gala in December of 2018

In the middle of a list of old friends, here's a new label…but one very well known to jazz lovers and audiophiles everywhere. Blue Note has been a very important recording company for decades, with a pile of artists and albums to their credit.

This year, it was the new title by Wayne Shorter, Emanon, which really caught my ear this year. As Chairperson of the Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society's Audiophile Recording of the Year Award (ARYA) committee, I was involved in the evaluation and listening to this multi-LP set, and was knocked out by the jazzic brilliance of Shorter and his group. Three LPs! Ultimately, it took the first-ever ARYA.

And next year, Blue Note is planning a fantastic new series of LP reissues, the "Tone Poet" set. I expect that we're going to have to ready new awards for Blue Note at the end of 2019!

All by itself, Emanon is worthy of a Brutus Award…Blue Note carries the prize!

Channel Classics

Jared Sacks (left) of Channel Classic and Brian Zollner of Bricasti Design at AXPONA 2015

Jared Sacks of Channel Classics is no newbie to the world of fine classical music. Nor is he a stranger to my Brutus Award list. I've been recognizing the superior production values that Jared and Channel Classics have been bringing to the table for years now. Jared was one of the pioneers of classical recordings made in DSD, with his SACDs and DSD downloads setting a standard for excellent production and artistry in the recording arts. Jared is a master of both, and has a trove of more than 200 recordings over at NativeDSD.com. You'll find the main body of his SACDs and downloads at the Channel Classics Web site.

I have praised Jared's work extensively in past years. I won't repeat myself here; I'll just amen it, and give Channel Classics another Brutus Award for its stellar efforts once again in 2018.


Year after year, one of the most surprising and gratifying sources of DSD music for our library here has come from Bob Witrak's marvelous site, High Definition Tape Transfers. Bob has been producing tape transfers to DSD and PCM for a long time. His sources…classical and jazz, mainly…are not the same titles that you're going to see from other reissue sites.

He has access and licensing to recordings by great artists and excellent performers that you'll know…Fritz Reiner, Janos Starker, Bruno Walter, Charles Munch, Erich Leinsdorf, Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Cootie Williams…but with recordings that you'll not find in DSD/PCM elsewhere.

Bob works meticulously to make his transfers, and has made important moves to provide a great environment for doing the work. His art speaks for itself; all that you have to do is to listen to the results.

That's what I do all the time; HDTT is one of our premier sources for reference music here. I can count on the very best with some titles that I wouldn't otherwise see in DSD.

And it's time to give Bob another Brutus Award for doing the right thing for so many years!


Jonas and Jared Sacks of NativeDSD.com (image courtesy of NativeDSD.com)

Here's one of the 800 lb. gorillas of DSD sources on the planet. Not just a music download site…NativeDSD.com is a true DSD music portal. With 65 labels as of the date of publication, and over 1500 albums in DSD, NativeDSD is a wonderful collection of great recordings from a number of labels that are committed to providing selections from their archives in Single/Double/Quad DSD.

And what a fine trove it is! Jonas and Jared have a sparkling team, composed of professionals who handle everything from post-production and packaging to marketing and industry relations. They are extremely active in advancing the cause of DSD and high production values. It's a pleasure to work with the folks at NativeDSD.

You'll always find something new at NativeDSD, since new titles arrive pretty much every week. I am a particular fan of their Quad DSD albums, and of their multi-channel recordings in various resolutions.

Killer work! Another of my Brutus Awards for NativeDSD in 2018…with great satisfaction!

Opus3 Records

Jan-Eric Persson of Opus3 Records:  portrait, RMAF 2013

Jan-Eric Persson of Opus3 Records has been quietly releasing wonderful recordings that he's been making since the 1970s. Simple, purist, usually single-point stereo microphony, done directly to two-channel RTR at 15 IPS analog. This is about as clear and clean as it gets, and Jan-Eric is a past master of the naturalness and ease of exceptional recordings.

Eric Nordstrom and Jan-Eric Persson at RMAF 2014

I've had a fine friendship with Jan-Eric at a long distance for years now. I have a number of his LPs and SACDs, and some of his RTR tapes, as well. DSD downloads, in up to Quad DSD now…oh yes! I've even done transfers of his RTR tapes to Quad DSD right here. In every case, the quiet brilliance of Jan-Eric's touch as a master producer and recordist shines through. And his discography…classical, jazz, folk, blues…all have the power to touch the soul. I mean:  Eric Bibb!

For example.

If you haven't been to Jan-Eric's main Opus3 Records site…or to his DSD downloads site…then do yourself the favor of visiting them. You'll find some very tasty recordings there!

Jan-Eric, my friend…another Brutus Award for your sterling work here in 2018.

Reference Recordings

Reference Recordings is no stranger to the pages of Positive Feedback or to my Brutus Awards. Prof. Keith Johnson has been making splendid recordings in the classical vein for decades now.

The originator of the HDCD™ process in the reigning days of 44.1kHz/16-bit CDs, Johnson would go on into high resolution PCM, with DSD in SACD releases following. I have been a particular fan of the RR SACDs, which have a clarity and dynamics that I really enjoy.

I particularly liked two of the SACDs from RR this year:


How can you miss?! A great recording of Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony doing Beethoven's Third and Strauss' Horn Concerto No. 1…and a collection of John Williams' movie music…definitely front row stuff!

Better yet, you can get RR's recordings all the way up to Quad DSD over at NativeDSD.com. Those of you who, like myself, strongly prefer Quad DSD whenever we can get it, will certainly be well served by purchasing these recordings over there.

This is the sort of wonderful production work on SACD that I can get behind. And so Reference Recordings receives another Brutus Award from me in 2018 for lighting up my ears!

Yarlung Records

Bob Attiyah of Yarlung Records at the Los Angeles and Orange County Gala, December, 2018

Here's another winner of a Brutus Award who does not require much of an introduction. Over the past handful of years, Bob Attiyeh's Yarlung Records has been pushing out world-class recordings in both analog (LPs and 15 IPS RTR tapes) and up to Quad DSD.

Bob has an uncanny and intuitive grasp of how to produce his recordings in such a way that his team and his artists seem to be in complete harmony. I would say that's no particular surprise, since…knowing him for years now…I think that this reflects the kind of person he is. He cares deeply about music, performers, recording technology, and how to create the very best recording out of these elements. In fact, in all of my time listening to Yarlung Records on Quad DSD, LP, and RTR tape, I haven't heard one album that I didn't enjoy very much.

Two titles hit me with special force this year:

Both the Junga-Lee A Private Recital in Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Lysy & Lysy South America really moved me. Like the Yuko Mabuchi Trio had done with innovative jazz, the Junga-Lee treatment of a broad and rich array of classical music on organ touches the soul. And as to the Lysy and Lysy:  Caramba! It takes me far inside, to deep contemplation. In fact, I carry that album in Quad DSD around with me on my Astell & Kern A&ultima SP1000 Portable Player. Fantastic!

The transforming power of music, perfectly produced, recorded, and rendered. Truly magnificent!

Kudos once again to Bob Attiyeh and company at Yarlung Records, and a 2018 Brutus Award from me with great delight.

Anderson Audio

Jim and Ulrike Anderson of Anderson Audio NY (image courtesy of Anderson Audio NY)

One final, rather late entry in my Brutus Awards for 2018:  Anderson Audio. In the fall of 2018 I received sample albums and a visit from Jim Anderson of Anderson Audio in NYi. Jim works in tandem with his partner Ulrike Schwarz to produce and record albums. Jim had got in touch with me as the Chairperson of the Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society (LAOC AS) Audiophile Recording of the Year Award (ARYA), as he was interested in submitting several recordings as candidates for the 2018 ARYA.

As it turned out...rather remarkably...Jim was going to be driving through Portland on his way to Seattle, and could actually deliver several of the LPs personally. We had an excellent conversation, and then he went on his way. 

But I'll freely confess that I had never heard of Anderson Audio of NY before.

It's a big world, you see.

In listening to these recordings with Jim, and also afterwards, I admit that I was very impressed. I was especially taken with the two albums below:

True confession time:  I had never heard of either of these composers. (Big world, again.) But they were exceptional musically, and the production/recording values were absolutely top-notch. Michael Fremer, a member of our ARYA committee, emailed me that he was pretty impressed with them too, when I nominated these albums for consideration. 

Orchestral music lovers would really love both of these albums. That's a pretty safe guarantee, amigos.

These titles didn't win the ARYA, but that doesn't mean that I can't give them a Brutus Award in 2018, as I close out the year.

So ordered; so done!

And onwards into 2019...

David W. Robinson:  portrait by John Robinson

All photographs and image processing (except cover images) by David W. Robinson, unless otherwise noted. Classic Alice in Wonderland drawings by Sir John Tenniel, in the public domain.