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As Good As It Gets - Music from Tonian Labs

01-25-2024 | By Larry Cox | Issue 131

Is your system where you want it to be? How would you know? There are a number of "test records" for you to get a sense of your progress that feature pink noise, white noise, and other noises can help you do that. If your perspective arises from science or testing, those can be good choices. For me, I know what acoustic instruments should sound like, and that's my preference. And I'm not sure exactly how pink and white noise translates to tuning my system to sound the way I want it to. I'd prefer music that sounds realistic, not the absolute sound, but something that reflects a commonly heard experience. Today, I'm writing about Tony Minasian's recordings which I think do just that.

Tony is a recording engineer and designer of some remarkable and excellent speakers under the name Tonian Labs. I first encountered Tony at Alexis Park in Las Vegas when importer Ray Lombardi was showing Gamut electronics with Tony's speakers (Tonian Labs). They weren't polished looking speakers, and I wondered why Ray was showing with these at CES. But, Lombardi and Minasian's system was one that I remember more than twenty years later. Great stuff. Truly remarkable performance. As I recall, his speakers were very detailed, but in a way where "errors," if discovered, were mixed in musically, i.e. noise that didn't sound like noise. Given the clarity I recall now, there was darned little noise. Tony has continued his speaker building, but now under the name "Tonian Oriaco" speakers. They received a lot of praise at the June 2023 THE Show in Costa Mesa.

Tony has produced some great recordings, notably Drums and Bells (HERE). This is a remarkable recording that let me know what my system could do. Tony has since put together several more great recordings. These recordings will let you know whether your system is a horse with more potential that you should keep, or one that's ready for the glue factory (sorry PETA). The recordings show dynamics to lust for, timbre that sounds fully realized without a distorted tonal fingerprint. This short note is an introduction not a review. As I tried to write about Tony's recordings I discovered I am bereft of the knowledge that would provide insight to a reader; sorry about that, and you're welcome that I spared you an ugly, public struggle.

What we have on hand here are four CDs from recording engineer Tony Minasian. None are recorded in greater resolution than 16/44.1. Before I pretend to have something to say about the music, let me say something about the recording quality. It's uniformly excellent. Tony makes a strong argument that 16/44.1 is sufficient. Someone needs to connect Tony and his technique to some main stream music, that would be a boon to us and that first lucky artist. On to the disaster that is me writing about music.

Not Together featuring Brad Dutz (percussion) and Chris Wabich (Drums)

Promotional literature calls this "a conversation between two percussionists" (elusive disc). To reiterate, tone and timbre here are very good. There is some deep bass one the twenty-one tracks recorded in 2021. The recording quality is exceptional and could supplement and even might take the place of a Stereophile Test CD if you just want to use acoustic instruments as your test bed.

For me, this is a CD for sort of a successor to Drums and Bells. If you don't own Drums and Bells, maybe you'll want to pick this up instead. If there is a style or genre, it escapes me unless the style is two talented musicians noodling around and occasionally warming up some coals, though not catching fire. I don't expect what's recorded to be re-recorded by anyone else, but imagine there are artists out there begging to be recorded at this quality. It seems the talented musicians only exert themselves musically on occasion. Having said that, the sound quality is what is most striking about this CD. My wife was continuously distracted by the sound of this CD two rooms away because it all sounded so realistic—sounds, rather than music.

Isolation featuring Jasper Dutz (woodwinds) and Brad Dutz (percussion)

This is the most "audiophile" CD of the five. The music is a mix of musical instruments; primarily bass clarinet and saxophone. As with all of Tony's recordings, the tonal balance is not tilted up to create superb clarity. Timbres are as good as I've ever heard, and I mean EVER, conjuring up a startling experience of real instruments playing right in front of you.

You've heard of the "test" that a really good system sounds like even more real in another room. This CD, played at a moderate volume level is excellent. My wife, who enjoys music but often prefers silence to allow for more reading, remarked, "Wow! That sounds really great And that's not an LP!" She appreciates the sound of a real piano more than a hyper audiophile rendering of the same.

I Saw You Dancing featuring Chris Wabich and Dimitris Mahlis (Oud)

Six tracks that mix the sounds of oud (a short necked, fretless stringed instrument associated with Arabian music) with unidentified percussive instruments. The latter include metal instruments with a stretched fabric/skin with remarkably clear timbre. It's a full rich sound. Another instrument featuring high frequency metallic sounds shows both a strikingly clear timbre but also excellent resolution.

Random Excitement featuring Brad Dutz (Drums) Michael Abraham (Guitar) and Tony Green (Bass)

This CD hews closer to an experimental jazz album. Sonics are to die for, if the musical composition isn't not going to be mainstream. I particularly like track 3, "Which Way." Starting with struck percussion, a bass line enters, followed by what sounds like an electric bass guitar. This is the most musically interesting, to me. Rhythm is well displayed by the three musicians. "Which Way" is the track that had me circle back and listen to all of the CDs more carefully and with musical interest.

If you want to know what your system can do, any and all of these recordings surely will let you know. 

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