Here's a new feature for you - periodic reviews of high-resolution music available on Blu-ray and/or download. For the inaugural installment I'll look at three releases from AIX and three from 2L. While musical genres, performances, and audio recording methodologies differ widely between these two labels, they both share one very important characteristic - they deliver a level of fidelity that represents the current state-of-the-art for commercially available recordings. Other audiophile labels that we'll look at in the future will include MA, Blue Coast, and Chesky Records.
The AIX discs were conceived, produced, and mixed by Mark Waldrep. He gives you three mixes to chose from; a 5.1 Dolby TrueHD "stage" perspective, a 5.1 Dolby TrueHD "audience" perspective, and a 2.0 96/24 stereo mix. Each has its charms. The stage mix was the most immersive and if your rear channels are up to it spreads the wealth of musical information more democratically around your room. The audience mix is more what I'm used to hearing at a concert or in a recording, with the emphasis placed on the front three channels since the performers are more in front of you. The two-channel 96/24 version is the most retro mix, but the added resolution more than makes up for the lack of additional channel information.
Chamber Music Palisades
Debussy / Sonata for Flute, Viola & Harp
Brockman / Feast of Fives
If you drawn more to classical than pop music, this is the AIX recording for you. Recorded in one take just as if it was a live concert this disc accurately captures the sound of a small chamber ensemble from multiple sonic perspectives. The sound is superb and the music is interesting enough to bear up well under multiple viewings.
Pachelbel Canon Acoustica
With Laurence Juber, acoustic and electric guitar; Carl Verheyen, electric guitar; Jim Cox, Hammond B3 and piano; Alberto Lopez, percussion; Cliff Hugo, acoustic bass; John Ferraro, drums
If you abhor Pachelbel's cannon this is not the disc for you. But if you can't get enough of those catchy descending and ascending arpeggiated melody lines then you will get a kick out of hearing the AIX All Star Band's interpretation.
The AIX All Star Band - Goldberg Variations Acoustica
With Dean Parks, electric guitar; Laurence Juber, acoustic guitar; Jim Cox, piano and organ; Kevin Axt, bass; M.B. Gordy, drums; Alberto Lopez, percussion
Jim Cox's arrangements of Bach's Goldberg Variations work very well musically, but I would rather just listen to the music rather than watch the video of the players. It doesn't look like they are having much fun playing this challenging music. But then again having an opportunity to watch studio legend Dean Parks play live is a treat.
2L specializes in classical Nordic music composed and played by Norwegians. Within this musical niche founder and principal engineer Morten Lindberg hasn't had any problem finding material. 2L's ambitious 2011 release schedule displays the breadth of this "narrow" musical category. The Blu-Ray releases have two discs. One is an SACD format while the other is a Blu-Ray.
If you want to hear what different formats, resolutions and mixes sound like, 2L offers an entire web page of sample files you can download for free. All of 2L's material is available via disc or download.
Vladimir Ashkenazy, conductor; Emily Beynon, flute, Catherine Beynon, harp
Once you get past the sappy title you'll discover some surprisingly muscular modern classical music. You'll enjoy comparing the two different dimensional perspectives of the 2.0 and 5.1 mixes as well as SACD with DTS HD MA. The recording quality is superb - this title made HP's 2010 super-disc list.
Organ and harmonica duos are a rare commodity, and that may be a good thing. But if you love the sound of a big 'ol pipe organ rattling your rafters, this is the disc for you. Personally the sound of an organ and harmonica together gives me hives, but the sound here is sumptuous and the organist wears sharp-looking shoes.
Ole Kristian Ruud, conductor; Annr Folleso, violin
The Norwegian Radio Orchestra mounts a splendid performance that shows off the entire spectrum of the orchestra's colors and dynamics. While the music is modern and at times highly atmospheric it also has backbone and forward momentum that should engage even more traditional classical listeners. The sound is huge.