Tuesday, June 25, 2013
At Last...More Vinyl from 2L Recordings!
It's been quite a while since I received some vinyl from 2L Recordings in Norway--which is a shame because there's so darned good. Not that I'm complaining about the Blu-ray Audio and CD/SACD hybrid discs I've been getting on a regular basis. These new digital formats sound so good that I've stopped thinking "Boy, I bet this would sound great on LP." But I'm obviously a vinyl guy--hence the name of this blog--and I do have my biases. In addition, 2L does an exceptional job with their vinyl releases, thanks to pressings that are "DXD 352.8kHz/24bit Direct Metal Master 180g audiophile grade vinyl 33 1/3 rpm" versions.
So far I've received three LPs from Morten Lindberg of 2L: the two volumes of the exceptional Souvenir recordings (see my reviews here and here) and the splendid Hoff Ensemble's Quiet Winter Night (which you can read about here). It's no surprise that all three of these recordings were nominated for Grammys.
Needless to say, I was elated when the latest shipment from "Norge" came in a big, flat piece of cardboard as opposed to a padded shipping envelope. Records! When I looked inside, I found new copies of Ola Gjeilo's Piano Improvisations (which I reviewed here) and Jan Gunnar Hoff's Living (which I reviewed here). Of course my first response was "format comparison time!" That's what I've done every time I've received a 2L recording in more than one format, whether it be LP, redbook CD, CD/SACD hybrid or Blu-ray.
I did the comparisons, of course, and came to the same conclusions as before. The Blu-ray sounds dead silent, eerily so, and has a smoothness through the treble that's almost preternatural. If you've been listening to redbook CDs and then you switch to Blu-ray, you might think that you're losing and gaining something simultaneously. You're losing a bit of air and presence, especially in the upper ranges, but at the same time the entire presentation sounds so more relaxed, soothing and surprisingly detailed. The CD/SACD hybrid discs gain a little more air in the treble of course. Also--and this may be far more relevant to me than to anyone else--the CD/SACD has a balance that's just more familiar to my ears. When I listen to Blu-ray, my first impression is to feel like there's something alien about the experience, that it's different to the very core. It's how I felt the first time I heard a CD back in 1982. This is cool, but different. I'm not used to this.
Going from the little discs to the big black discs, the differences are surprisingly minimal--especially when it comes to the ol' rematch of CD vs. LP. I'm going to go out on a limb here--and perhaps ask Morten Lindberg for an assist--but they're using these amazingly hi-rez files for the LP masters, so wouldn't these files sound pretty much the same in any format? You know, it's the old "bits are bits are bits" argument. I know that converting to an analog format should make a very basic sonic difference, but remember a few years ago when it was revealed that some new LP pressings were actually sourced from a CD "master"? If you heard one of these, you'll know what I mean when I say they sounded like CDs--but with surface noise.
With these 2L LP recordings, it's the flip side. We're now talking about a very superior-sounding digital mastering that has been transferred to LP through a direct metal master--direct to disc, which is the best way to cut an LP. The sound quality is simply astonishing on every level, although--and I have mentioned this before--that these 2L LPs will sound nothing like your original RCA Shaded Dogs. The 2Ls offer incredible, almost infinite detail and equally extended dynamics. These are LPs for those lost souls who sold their record collections before anyone else, in the mid-'80s when CDs first arrived, and are now wondering if it's time to rediscover LPs. The 2Ls will drive that point home like nothing else in the marketplace.
My observation, however, is this: I think the LP and the CD/SACD hybrid discs of these two titles sound almost identical. I went back and forth, and with the exception of surface noise (note: there is generally very little of that on a new 2L pressing, so it's not an issue) it's hard to tell the difference. If I did manage to hear a sonic difference, I suspect it was because of the hardware and not the software. In other words, my digital player and my analog rigs are made by the same company, but that doesn't mean they sound the same. Those, I believe, are the only differences I heard, the ones due to the machines playing the music.
What does that mean? Should you just buy the Blu-ray/CD/SACD package and forget about the vinyl? Absolutely not! If you have a monster analog rig, you should go with the LP and never look back. These are some of the best LP pressings ever. But unless your digital rig and your analog rig offer very different sonic presentations, I'm not sure that you need to run out and buy both--although it would definitely help 2L Recordings if you did. So don't sweat which format to buy--just make yourself happy. And these fascinating recordings will do just that.