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Subject: Re: More audiophile releases
From: Maxwell Paley <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Maxwell Paley <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sat, 29 Jul 2017 22:27:21 -0700

text/plain (269 lines)

When it comes to sound quality, what one listener finds exceptional brings forth a “meh!” from another and this has always been the case.

It’s a matter of equipment, ears, perceptions and taste. That’s why, if you’re reading someone’s reports and deciding how to spend your money, it’s good if you can find someone who’s heard the things you’re interested in and with whom you can chart some history and know “he listens for the same things I do” or “he and I hear similarly.”

When talking about high res (something beyond CD standard 44-KHz, 16 bit) digital audio, not only does the playback chain in general make a difference (amp, speakers, etc.) but specifically where and how the digital signal is converted to analog can also make a huge difference. 

For example, and just throwing out examples rather than trying to make any kind of a judgement when I don’t know somebody else’s equipment, if you’re doing the decoding on the individual playback devices (like a Blu-Ray player, CD player, etc.) the DAC on one might be better than that on another. If your CD player DAC is better than your Blu-Ray player DAC, CDs might generally sound better.

The DAC for high res formats, whether you use the one built into your player or run the digital signal over optical or HDMI to a main processor or external DAC, makes a huge difference in comparing formats like PCM vs. Dolby TrueHD vs. DTS Master. This is one of the main reasons why one person finds a certain format “sounds better” than someone else because they might be hearing radically different things from their equipment’s rendition of something like Dolby TrueHD.

But beyond that, some people just hear differently and perceive different things.

Up until very recently, good analog recordings have conveyed a sense of the physical presence of performers in my listening room in a way the best digital have not. In my room, on my equipment and to my ears, that sense of presence on these recent Bly-Ray releases is “astonishing.” To your ears, in your room and on your equipment, it might not be.

Max Paley

> On Jul 29, 2017, at  9:08 PM, Don <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> Interesting different opinion of the blu-ray Elektra abd Salome.  Funny how
> one reviewer finds it "astonishing" while another says there isn't much
> difference from the latest CD incarnation.  It convinced me not to blow the
> bucks to buy any of the new blu-ray reissues.
> I compared the new blu-ray audio version to the latest CD incarnation from
> 2007. I listened in PCM rather than Dolby TrueHD because PCM sounded better
> (the Dolby TrueHD track is very audibly compressed - the volume goes
> crudely down at the rampaging, unison, fortissimo orchestral
> ‘Aga-MEMMMM-non' motif that opens the opera, specifically on its third,
> loudest and prolonged chord, the 'MEMMMM'.) There is slightly more detail,
> the sound is slightly crisper and there is slightly more bass on the newly
> remastered blu-ray, but not more ambiance or any deeper or different
> soundstage. The improvement, if any, is not dramatic. If it were dramatic,
> the new remastering would have been suspected of being excessively
> manipulated - the last release was already remastered at 96 kHz/24-bit and
> was excellent. You would need a very high-end setup to hear the slight
> improvement, even on headphones. Personally, I regret this purchase and all
> my other purchases of the new 2017 audio blu-ray releases with Nilsson
> (Salome and Tristan), having the previous 2006/7/8 releases already. YMMV.
> On Sat, Jul 29, 2017 at 8:33 PM, ls111553 . <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>> I am limiting my SACD/Blu-ray buying to two monthly items. The Callas
>> Carmen is on its way from Taiwan and the Salome came in last week. The
>> Warner SACDs seem to run out sooner than the Blu-rays, maybe because they
>> are only being released in Japan. So my August choice is the Kna Parsifal
>> and maybe the Callas Barber of Seville. As you remarked, the previous CD
>> release of the Parsifal is excellent, so I am not expecting a huge
>> improvement. But any upgrade on these beloved recordings is more than
>> welcome!
>> Cheers,
>> Luis
>> On Sat, Jul 29, 2017 at 9:52 PM Maxwell Paley <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>>> The postman brought more goodies.
>>> On Blu-Ray Audio there are the Solti “Salome” and “Elektra.” These Decca
>>> opera blu-ray packages come with booklets that are, by current standards,
>>> lavish. They also come with a standard CD rendering of the new
>>> remasterings. So far, I’ve only listened to the Blu-Ray discs, but
>> imagine
>>> that the standard CDs must benefit strongly from the remastering work,
>> just
>>> as people were extremely enthusiastic about the Warner Callas reissues on
>>> CD that were also made available on SACD and high res download (Warner
>>> doesn’t seem to be into Blu-Ray audio at this point).
>>> I have very high quality LP copies of both of these Solti Strauss operas
>>> and also the exceptionally good Speakers Corner reissue of the “Elektra”
>>> from a couple of years ago. For beauty of sound, that Speakers Corner is
>>> still probably my favorite, but in terms of sheer clarity and stunning
>>> dynamics, these Blu-Ray issues are tops. Both of these recordings have
>>> sounded fairly magnificent in any format in which they were issued, but
>> the
>>> sense of clarity and presence is that of removing a veil between listener
>>> and performers. The big advantage is that you just plain hear more of
>> what
>>> the performers are doing in terms of subtlety and nuance. This comes out
>>> particularly strongly in the Elektra/Klytemnestra confrontation as one
>>> hears more softness and warmth from Resnik as well as more variety of
>> color
>>> from Nilsson.
>>> The ability to “see” the performers on the stage in front of you is
>>> astonishing. It’s distinctly more so than on any recent recording, since
>>> recordings aren’t being made with that kind of specificity of
>> localization
>>> of the performers any more.
>>> The booklets have several recording session photos that I hadn’t seen
>>> before and hadn’t remembered from the LP booklets.  Two of my favorites:
>>> Nilsson sitting on an exercise bike pumping away between “Elektra”
>>> sessions. Another is Culshaw talking to Eberhard Wächter close up: the
>> look
>>> on the producer’s face, regarding the handsome baritone, could be termed
>>> “appreciative” at least.
>>> The Warner SACDs from Japan, of the Giulini “Don Giovanni,” Beecham
>>> “Carmen,” and Klemperer “Magic Flute” all show similar improvements in
>>> dynamics and clarity. In each case, the presence of the singers in one’s
>>> listening room is palpable and it benefits hearing the detail of the
>>> interpretation. The Giulini might have sounded yet a bit more open in
>> sound
>>> had it been done in Kingsway Hall (where the Klemperer “Flute” was
>>> recorded) rather than Abbey Road. In 1959, EMI and Decca were having to
>>> battle for slots open in Kingsway Hall and both had very heavy recording
>>> schedules.
>>> The Salle Wagram’s big, open acoustic is very evident in the “Carmen”
>>> release with a very broad stereo spread that easily stretches the full
>>> width of my listening room plus. The greater level of audible detail
>> helps
>>> Victoria de los Angeles and, somewhat, Nicolai Gedda. It doesn’t
>>> particularly help the Micaela, Janine MIcheau, onetime prima donna of the
>>> Paris Opera, who sounds like she’s doing her best to sound 20 years
>> younger
>>> than she is. The sound also conveys Beecham’s wonderful sexy swagger in
>>> this music.
>>> Also on SACD is one of those frightfully expensive Esoteric releases,
>> this
>>> time of the 1980 Abbado/DGG Verdi Requiem using La Scala forces with
>>> Ricciarelli, Verrett, Domingo and Ghiaurov as soloists.I recall that this
>>> recording was thrown together rather quickly when another set of sessions
>>> (a “Boheme” I believe - either Bernstein or Kleiber) was cancelled
>> shortly
>>> before starting and the hall, orchestra, engineering team and some of the
>>> soloists were available.
>>> Soundwise, there’s a certain murkiness and over-reverberant sound
>>> (particularly of the chorus) from the movie studio hall used. I wish I
>>> could read Japanese and understand exactly how Esoteric makes these SACD
>>> releases because I highly doubt they get access to the original tapes (of
>>> analog material).
>>> But I find this performance beautifully conducted and shaped, maybe even
>>> better than Abbado’s later recordings of the work. There are a few lapses
>>> of intonation from Ricciarelli and (surprisingly) Ghiaurov that I was
>>> surprised to see make it onto the final cut. Ricciarelli is still near
>> the
>>> top of her game, but lacking the purity and steadiness she had just a
>>> couple of years before. Verrett is clearly not the big, dark “prison
>> warden
>>> mezzo” that this music seems to want but she’s cutting and intense and
>>> manages to adjust her timbre and phrasing to work very nicely with
>>> Ricciarelli in their duets. Domingo is in quite lovely form and produces
>>> the sort of pure head voice for the ‘Hostias” that I rarely heard from
>> him.
>>> Ghiaurov is good but starting to slip and there are a couple of
>>> surprisingly rough attacks.
>>> But in terms of the pacing and shaping of the work, this one is high on
>> my
>>> list and approaches Toscanini.
>>> For those promoting latter day vinyl, there is something of a truth to be
>>> faced. Yes, vinyl can sound wonderful. But to get high quality
>> reproduction
>>> from analog LPs takes a hell of a lot bigger investment than it does to
>> get
>>> high quality reproduction from CD. You need a really fine turntable, arm,
>>> pickup, phono preamp and a way to keep the records clean. To me, all
>>> nontrivial.
>>> Anyway, for those who have forked out what is needed, there was a release
>>> late last year worth mentioning. It was a limited edition and may not be
>>> available from standard channels but these things always pop up on eBay
>> or
>>> elsewhere.  Also not opera: it’s a rather remarkable issue of the four
>>> Brahms symphonies played by the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Rattle.
>>> This is not the same as the EMI/Warner CD set of these symphonies by
>> Rattle
>>> and the BPO. This was from a set of concerts in which a total of two
>>> microphones, crossing each other in classic “Blümlein” pattern were
>> placed
>>> about a meter behind and four meters above the conductor with their
>> preamps
>>> fed directly into a Neumann V50 cutting lathe. So the recordings are
>> direct
>>> to disc, 100% analog.
>>> The sound quality doesn’t immediately jump out at you with its clarity
>> and
>>> depth, as some of the Kingsway Hall classic Decca recordings engineered
>> by
>>> Kenneth Wilkinson did. You need to turn the volume up to full level, or
>>> they’ll sound a bit washed out. Once you get it right, you’re pulled
>> right
>>> into the performance like few other recorded experiences I’ve had. You
>> feel
>>> the sweep and soar of the string sections and the butterfly fullness of
>> the
>>> Berlin horn players. You get every bit of salty tang out of the oboes and
>>> clear but ample sound of the clarinets. The performances have tremendous
>>> sweep and power and even when they’re slower than usual, as in the second
>>> movement of the fourth symphony, it’s fluid and delicate slowness, not
>> dull
>>> and heavy.
>>> They’re served up in lavish sleeves, booklet with high quality photos
>>> pressed onto thick paper, all very RCA Soria Series style.
>>> Max Paley
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