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Brief Impressions: HDTracks’ City of the Sun, to the sun and all the cities in between

02-29-2016 | By David W. Robinson | Issue 84


All of us who love music and audio have some sort of history that goes way back into our past. In my case, it was my Dad's love of all things classical and flamenco related in the vast world of the guitar. I grew up listening to Segovia, the Romeros, Sabicas, Montoya, and Bream, on our family's very early 1960s stereo console system. It was typical:  Made to look more like furniture than like audio gear, but at least it was a stereo unit, execrable though it was.

It was there that I grew to love the guitar, an instrument that my Dad tried, but could never do more than just a few basic notes with. He'd give it up only a few months after Mom gave him a Gibson…I don't even remember the model number of the guitar that he had.

But I do remember those albums, and I cannot listen to guitar music of almost any kind without feeling the powerful pull that I have known from my childhood.

And that's the sort of thing that HDTrack's high-resolution PCM download of City of the Sun's album, "to the sun and all the cities in between." I have to say that when HDTracks offered me a review sample of this recording, I wasn't sure of what to expect. I had never heard of the group, and didn't even know the genre that was headed my way. I told the folks there that I'd give it a try for a brief set of notes if I liked it.


City of the Sun turns out to be a trio of musicians: Two guitarists and a percussionist. John Pita and Avi Snow are the guitarists, while Zach Para handles the impact work. They are all young, and they've come from diverse places on the planet, but they also seem to have hit a groove with one another, playing together in New York City since 2010, that great whirlpool of musical creativity and energy. Apparently, in doing so, they somehow came to the attention of the Chesky team, and ended up making this recording with them.

This album was recorded using Chesky's Binaural+ technology. Binaural+ is something that David Chesky has been talking with me about for several years now, on and off. He's quite enthusiastic, since he believes that the single-microphone binaural approach that they use provides an experience of spatiality that is superior to standard stereo microphony or any surround sound methods.

The best of the resolutions that I was offered in this download was the 192kHz/24-bit .FLAC. No DSD, which was disappointing, but them's the breaks. I downloaded the proffered files, and spent several days listening to them. Since my time has been limited (again) lately, I did the main body of listening evaluation on one of our new nearfield chains:  The Aurender W-20 Music Server feeding our Playback Designs IPS-3 Integrated Amp with Quad DSD DAC and up to 384kHz PCM via a Kubala-Sosna Realization reference USB cable, cascading to a pair of Evolution Acoustics MMMicro One speakers courtesy of the splendid Skogrand Beethoven reference speaker cables. This is high resolution kit, for sure, and would give me an excellent sense of the virtues of this recording.

For headphone playback, I took City of the Sun on the road with me to Palm Desert. Home base was the Astell & Kern AK-380 portable Quad DSD DAC and player, feeding the ALO Audio Continental mini-tubed headphone amp and Single DSD DAC to the Blue Microphone Mo-Fi powered headphones (see my review elsewhere at Positive Feedback HERE). This is a combination that is warm, always musical, and a balm for the weary jet traveler who'd just like to shut out the sonic chaos of a typical flight.

The combination of these two playback systems would allow me to triangulate both the musicianship of The Children of the Sun and what Chesky's Binaural+ system had to offer music lovers and audiophiles. I spent a number of hours listening to this album using both systems…I even stripped down to simply the AK-380 and the Mo-Fi's, which is as simple as things can be.

So? What was the result?

Well, I have to admit that I was surprised.

I guess that's to be expected, since I had no idea of who these folks were. Regardless of the playback chain, when I listened to it, I really dug what I was hearing. It's hard to categorize the music. It's all acoustic guitar and subtle percussion, with a rich, reverberant feel. For me, listening put me into a trancelike state, as I contemplated the circling progressions, that were, at once, both repetitive and new, all at the same time. I can hear influences that sound flamenco-like in places; in other moments, it's like a dash of world music with Spanish and Latino spices in the mix. The melodies are lyric, with strong supporting rhythm progressions and terrific percussives.

The music is entirely instrumental…no vocals. At first, this was unusual to my ears; I kept expecting someone to break into song. But as the album progressed, I settled into the groove of letting songs without words wash over me. The result was soothing, relaxing, and meditative…great for the soul. So much so that a possible chore (reviewing music is not always pleasant or a lot of fun) turned into a smile, delight, and a nodding head. There is youthful joy here, a dance of some gifted musicians with their instruments, and the one-of-a-kind camaraderie that comes with being in a band together, and making music from soaring souls.

When it happens, that's magic.

Sonically, if to the sun and all the cities in between is an indication of what Chesky Record's Binaural+ has to offer, then I'm impressed. Whether I was listening nearfield, or taking it in via headphones, the soundfield that I experienced was exceptional. Yes, I might prefer that it was recorded to DSD…David Chesky and I have talked about this more than once…but even in 192/24 .FLAC, this recording show spaciousness, a wonderful sense of decay, and an echoing ambience that is hypnotic. This is damned exceptional work!

No doubts at all for me:  City of the Sun's to the sun and all the cities in between is a fine album, and has earned a "very highly recommended" from me. Take it to the bank.

Buy this one, and let your soul fly away….

[All images courtesy of HDTracks.]