Monday, November 5, 2012

Souvenir Parts I & II on Blu-ray Audio

Just a couple of days ago I turned in my annual year-end wrap-up for my Vinyl Anachronist column for Perfect Sound Forever. If you follow that column, you'll know that I give out awards for Best New Release in the LP Format, Best New Reissue in the LP Format, Best Cartridge and Best Turntable. (Most years I throw in some sort of special one-time category just to make it interesting.)

For this year's Vinyl Anachronist Award for Analog Excellence--spoiler alert--I'm choosing the fantastic "hi-rez" LPs from 2L Recordings in Norway. Here's a preview of what I said in the column, which will appear on the Perfect Sound Forever website around December 1:

"I now own three of [Morton Lindberg's] “DXD 352.8kHz/24bit Direct Metal Master 180 gram audiophile grade vinyl” recordings—Souvenir Part 1, Souvenir Part 2 and Quiet Winter Night—and I can’t say enough about the overall sound quality, the clean and quiet pressings, the outstanding performances, the novel arrangements of the musicians and microphones and even the recording venues, which are primarily Norwegian churches. So I award all three with the award."

I go on to add:

"I’ll also give a brief plug to the Blu-ray audio disc versions of these titles and the incredible value they offer. For instance, the two Souvenir recordings are available on a single Blu-ray at a significantly lower price. One of the Blu-ray titles, Thomas T. A. Tellefsen’s Complete Piano Works, fits over three hours of music on a single disc. Yes, they’re trying to trick you into loving Blu-ray."

In talking about the Blu-ray Audio version of the two Souvenir recordings, I'm not sure what to add. (The review of the first one is here, and the second is here.) These are truly magnificent new classical recordings that stretch the sonic possibilities of the medium. With 2L's Blu-ray recordings, however, I'm noticing the following advantages:

1. These recordings are quiet, ghostly quiet. Even CDs and SACDs sound noisy in comparison. Some audiophiles may think they're hearing less air, presence and detail in these recordings, but the vast improvement in dynamic contrasts--upon careful and measured listening sessions--will reveal the opposite.

2. When I said "Yes, they're trying to trick you into loving Blu-ray," I meant it as a huge compliment. The sheer value you get with these recordings, especially in the context of the two-fer-one deal you get with Souvenir, is staggering. If Blu-ray Audio gains popularity in the coming years, these deals may disappear. You're not going to find this high level of sonic performance for these prices anywhere else. Go Blu-ray now.

There is one minor disadvantage. I still have to make qualifications (aka bitch) about my playback equipment, the now-famous $68 Samsung Blu-ray player. I made an important discovery last week concerning the Samsung: as a redbook CD player, it absolutely sucks. I'd rather use a vintage Sony CDP-101 than the Samsung to play CDs. Unlike the Sony, which was bright and harsh in the worst digital way, the Samsung sounds muddied and muffled and furry and fuzzy with CDs. Throwing one of these Blu-ray Audio discs into the Samsung is like noon on a SoCal day in early June; the overcast skies burn off and the beautiful California sun shines through. But I still have my doubts that the Samsung offers anywhere near the same sound quality as the Oppo universal players, for instance. So the disadvantage is the sudden and expensive urge I have to invest more in this format.

Morten Lindberg of 2L keeps sending Blu-ray discs my way, however, and I don't want him to stop. I just received Stale Kleiberg's David and Bathsheba and Eivind Buene's Possible Cities/Essential Landscapes (a very strange avant-garde piece, and I mean strange in a very wondeful way) on Blu-ray, and even the Samsung can't muddy up the sheer brilliance of these recordings. Morten even sent along a hybrid CD/SACD of Kenneth Karlsson's The View Was All in Lines, so I can enjoy that with my reference Unison Research CDE CD player.

An excellent universal digital player or at least a high-quality DAC is in my near future, and Blu-ray is to blame. If you have the capabilities, take the plunge and buy at least one of 2L's releases. I think the Souvenir is the one that will convince you of the excellence of the format.

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