Category Archives: HD

Surrounded by Flutes

Those readers who follow regularly will know that I’m a big fan of surround sound, not just for theatrical blockbuster movies, but for music, too. When surround first came out it was often used to exaggerate direction by placing instrumental choirs and soloists in the rear channels when the music didn’t call for it. But there are a number of compositions that do require instrumentalists in locations other than the front. These include the Berlioz Requiem, with its four brass choirs placed in the corners of the church or Leonard Bernstein’s Mass. Surround is indispensable to these compositions if they are to be heard correctly.

Shadow of Sirius

Now here comes Naxos with a Blu-ray collection of contemporary wind band pieces that all use surround to encompass an audience and heighten its listening experience. Steven Bryant’s Concerto for Wind Ensemble has three concertino groups surrounding the audience; Joel Puckett’s Shadow of Serius – Concerto for Flute with Winds and Percussion, places very effective echo flutes all around the listening area; and John Mackey’s Kingfishers Catch Fire adds brilliant trumpet fanfares in the rear to the finale. The playing of the University of Texas Wind Ensemble under the direction of Jerry Junkin is all first rate and not only is the recording surround, it is also HD, recorded and delivered at 24 bits/96kHZ. It’s not always an easy listen (I welcomed the familiar jazz patterns in the 3rd movement of the Bryant composition) but always an exhilarating one.


HD Recordings are Out There – Here’s Exactly Where To Find Them

(It’s been pointed out that just to add to the confusion, some people say “High Resolution” instead of “High Definition.”)

I wrote a few days OK about AIX Records CEO Mark Waldrep and his war on mislabeled HD recordings, noting that though I agree with him 100 percent on the issue, he often skews his remarks to make it seem like there are only AIX HD recordings and just a few other labels, and that’s simply not so. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of HD recordings with higher bit and sampling rates and I’ll give you some links to find them. As far as downloads go, I’ll start with Mark’s iTrax, since he’s the one that got me going on this. At iTrax you can find all of the AIX catalog and a few other great labels like 2L. And of course, all AIX recordings are available as HD DVD-Audio discs. With surround channels yet.

Reference HRX

The very closest you can get to a master tape recording is HDx from Reference Recordings. These look like CDs but are really data discs that when played through a player such as the OPPO universal units, will decode the master tape digit for digit. You can’t get closer than that. Reference Recordings has the magnificent Eije Oue/Minnesota recordings to offer and I’ve said it before and will say it again, Oue’s version of Rahmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances is the best in the catalog and one of the top ten best recorded discs of all time.  Now I find that Reference Recordings are handled internationally by Naxos and that brings me to ClassicsOnlineHD.LL, where you’ll find a huge number of HD titles on dozens of labels. If you prefer hard copies, you can look up the SACD and Blu-ray disc versions at the Naxos site. In addition to Reference Recordings, be sure to pay special attention to Chandos, BIS, Oehms, LSO Live, Pentatone, and Naxos own Blu-ray discs if you’re looking for the highest fi. If Naxos doesn’t have it, and you’re looking for classical downloads  try Linn Records or Eclassical. You’ll find some duplication with the Naxos site; competitive pricing might sway your buying decision. They all  have easy download methods, by the way. Both sites have many labels and are very transparent about bit and sampling rates used. Most of the Linn downloads are also available as 24bit/96kHz SACDs with surround tracks. And whatever you do, don’t miss out on the incredible line of recordings from MDG, which is to me sort of like the Reference Recordings of Europe, in short, the best and almost all true HD.

Naxos Blu Gliere

So is HDtracks, which is a good source for pop and jazz downloads, most of the time. The site is run by Chesky Records and the owners surely know what HD is, they record all of their own new recordings at higher bit and sample rates, but the major labels they deal with, in trying to have a site representative of all music, sometimes throw curves at them. Generally if you see a recording over 25 years old that is being called something above CD quality, it is being mislabeled.  But in general HDtracks is on the money these days, a recent 24bit/96kHz Bruce Springsteen compilation identifies the specific racks that were sourced from 16bit/44.1kHz masters and converted. A much appreciated example of transparency!

I’ve probably left a lot out here but the main thing I want you to take away is that there are great recordings out there and they are not all 50-year old classics. There are exciting recordings being done today, using higher bit and sampling rates that were not available 30 years ago. They will not be found in the MP3 camp. MP3 “quality” has set recorded sound back too many years to count, substituting quantity for quality. The 45 rpm records I owned 60 years ago probably sounded better.

HD Recordings are Out There – Lots of Them

I wonder if “LP” caused one tenth of the confusion back in the 50s that ‘HD” is causing now. The definition is really simple. An HD (high definition) recording is one where the original has been recorded with higher bit and sampling rates than a CD, which is 16 bit/44.1 kHz. So in a practical world it would mean that anything 24bit/48khz and up would be HD. The recording must also be delivered via an HD capable medium, i. e. SACD, Blu-ray disc, DVD-Audio, or digital download (CD, vinyl and reel to reel tape are not HD capable). Now here’s where the rub comes in. Many SD (standard definition) recordings sound absolutely great, and many have been up-sampled to the HD realm. Does that mean they’re HD? No! They are still SD recordings being served up in HD guise. Try this analogy. Say you have a pint of water. If you put it in a gallon bucket, you will still have a pint of water, though you can purify and alter, or even flavor it before you dump it in the oversize container. But it’s still a pint of water. In the same way an SD recording can be re-mastered with greater care than it originally received and it might even sound better for that care, but it will not be HD.

John Gorka

Mark Waldrep, the CEO, producer, and recording engineer of AIX records has made it his crusade to let everyone know that a large number of recordings that are sold as HD, simply are not. I’ve applauded his own 24bit/96kH discs (first DVD-Audio, now Blu-ray) as some of the best in the industry (John Gorka’s The Gypsy Life is my favorite), making full use of the higher rates and surround to boot. I also applaud his crusade to inform people about what’s doing on through his Real HD-Audio website. He’s even putting out a book and companion Blu-ray disc that will allow listeners to directly compare the same audio tracks in different samples ranging from MP3 on up.

Steven Wilson Hand Cannot Erase

But Mark’s rhetoric has gotten shrill and negative to me and he’s become somewhat quarrelsome and ego-centric about the whole issue, making it seem AT TIMES like there are no HD recordings except his own and those from 2L, and a few others. This just isn’t so, and that’s why I am here, to point you in the direction of some great HD discs and downloads. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of them. I’ll be back with a list on the next post, but in the meantime try the Steven Wilson Blu-ray pictured here on the kscope label. It’s surely HD and also surround, showing Wilson as a master of both. If you’re into audio and good music, stop reading about what’s being done wrong and revel in this disc. I’ll be back with more.