Endless Field: "Endless Field"

June 2017

Biophilia BREP0007
Format: 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV download

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
*****

Overall Enjoyment
****

In June 2009, I was speaking backstage at a jazz festival with trumpeter Dave Douglas about how musicians were addressing the changing nature of the music industry. At the time, he was four years into running his own distribution company -- Greenleaf Music -- and was still experimenting with new ways to reach audience members.

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Macy Gray: "Stripped"

November 2016

Chesky 389
Format: 24-bit/192kHz AIFF download

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
*****

Overall Enjoyment
****

From Norah Jones to my friend and homegirl Kellylee Evans, there has been a trend among up-and-coming women jazz singers to make the jump to more commercial music as soon as they make their initial breakthrough. Who can blame them? Pop is where the large audiences -- and money -- live.

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Steven Wilson: "Hand. Cannot. Erase."

March 2015

Urban Nightmare, Audiophile Dream

Kscope/HDtracks
Format: 24-bit/96kHz AIFF download

Musical Performance
****1/2

Sound Quality
****1/2

Overall Enjoyment
****1/2

Steven Wilson's musical expressions have been getting more diverse and colorful as he evolves through and beyond progressive rock. Hand. Cannot. Erase. is tough to categorize. What do we call it -- rock opera, rock oratorio, social statement? Perhaps all of them apply. It was inspired by the story of Joyce Vincent, a young woman who was found dead in her flat in 2006. She'd been dead since 2003. Automatic accounts had paid her bills, and her family supposedly thought she had moved away. Wilson sees this event as the invasion of social media into our lives. As told to Record Collector, "It is a way of withdrawing from human interaction that gives the illusion of being connected." Joyce Vincent was/wasn't there.

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John Coltrane Quartet: "Ballads"

November 2014

BalladsBlowing the Cobwebs off Another Classic Jazz Album

HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers)
Format: 24-bit/96kHz FLAC download

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

When I reviewed Ella Fitzgerald's Ella Swings Brightly with Nelson some months ago, I mentioned that I hoped Bob Witrak, CEO of High Definition Tape Transfers, would look for more jazz four-track tapes that he could use as masters for great-sounding downloads.

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The Gloaming: "The Gloaming"

August 2014

The GloamingBowers & Wilkins Offers HD Musical Adventures at a Low Cost

Bowers & Wilkins Society of Sound
Format: 24-bit/48kHz FLAC download

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

To me, loving music means taking a chance with it in order to discover new artists and explore new paths. Sure it's OK to let Entertainment Weekly or Rolling Stone guide me a bit, but it's when I get off the beaten track that I discover wonders that seem like they were crafted just for me. But I'm into only high-quality audio -- above CD quality whenever possible -- and downloads and specialized formats can cost a bundle. So I was so happy, four years ago, to discover Bowers & Wilkins's Society of Sound. I'd let my membership lapse, but I got back on this summer to find that the roster of artists had completely changed.

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Ella Fitzgerald and Nelson Riddle: "Ella Swings Brightly with Nelson"

April 2014

Ella Swings Brightly with NelsonBlowing the Cobwebs off a Classic Album

HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers)
Format: 24-bit/96kHz FLAC download

Musical Performance
****1/2

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

Just as downloads were becoming a high-quality challenge to other delivery formats, Robert Witrak had the idea to use commercially produced two- and four-track 7 1/2-IPS tapes as masters from which to derive those downloads. Lately HDTT has gotten into overkill, offering DSD and up to 24-bit/192kHz-resolution downloads of material mostly recorded in the 1950s and '60s. I doubt that there's really any material on the original commercial tapes that warrants such high sampling rates, but I must admit that overall, HDTT's releases can sound very good, often eclipsing the sound of corresponding LPs and CDs.

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Coleman Hawkins, Henry "Red" Allen, Marty Napoleon, George Wettling, Earl Warren, Chubby Jackson: "Sweet Moods of Jazz in Stereo"

Sweet Moods of Jazz in StereoDecember 2013

1958 Recording of Jazz Standards Makes a Good Impression 55 Years Later

HDDL410
Format: 24-bit/96kHz FLAC (download)

Musical Performance
***1/2

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

In the early days of stereo, it was not uncommon for a manufacturer of blank tape to produce a few commercially recorded reel-to-reel tapes or vinyl LPs under their own label. Such was the case with Soundcraft, which had enough success with its Dixieland Jamfest in Stereo that it decided to follow up with a two-track reel-to-reel tape of Sweet Moods of Jazz in Stereo.

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Carmen Gomes Inc.: "Thousand Shades of Blue"

March 2013

Thousand Shades of BlueAmerican Blues from the Netherlands

Sound Liaison Studio Showcase Series No. 1
Format: 24-bit/96kHz FLAC (download)

Musical Performance
****1/2

Sound Quality
****1/2

Overall Enjoyment
****1/2

I've been among the prophets saying that high-resolution downloads are the future of audiophile music sales. Surely it will benefit the majors to make high-quality downloads a first choice rather than an MP3 extra, but I believe that individual artists can benefit as well. Most new-to-the-scene performers have little money for middlemen and disc manufacture, yet can get things together for the Internet.

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"KlipschTape"

May 2012

KlipschTapePioneering Audio Still Sounds Fine 58 Years Later

KlipschTape/HDTT
Format: 24-bit/96kHz FLAC (download)

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

Paul W. Klipsch (1904-2002) was one of the most important pioneers in the history of audio reproduction. So was John Eargle (1931-2007). The two giants crossed paths in the early 1950s when they were just starting out. Klipsch initiated his speaker manufacturing company in 1946, which makes it the oldest company still making the same model (and many, many more). He hired his first employee in 1948, and by the early 1950s his Klipschorn speaker had become a symbol of excellence in the audio community. His folded horn, designed to be placed in the corner of a room, was big and expensive. I remember it being something of a status symbol. I had one friend in high school, a Canadian transplant, whose Dad had a pair of the monster speakers and a few of us would go listen whenever we could. At that time I preferred Tannoy speakers, but I remember that the Klipsch sound was clean and clear, perhaps a tiny bit too forward, and big with lots of bass!

At that time there were no stereo discs and LPs were monaural. But there was stereo from commercially recorded two-track tapes. RCA had them, and so did Mercury, EMI, and a few other companies. With his forward thinking and exacting taste, Klipsch thought to make his own stereophonic tapes, mostly to have some reliable software to demonstrate the abilities of his Klipschorns. His tapes were made at 15 inches per second (ips) to achieve the highest fidelity possible, and the first ones were sold in 1954. Within about two years he'd stopped making them.

Recently, Klipsch and High Definition Tape Transfers made a deal to produce a sampler with the best of the Klipsch recordings. The master tapes were in miraculously good shape, so Bob Witrak of HDDT transferred them directly to digital and is offering them as 16/44, 24/96 and 24/192 downloads, and on CD, HQCD, and 24/96 DVD. The result sounds as much like a demonstration disc today as it did 59 years ago. There aren't any hokey ping-pong stereo demonstrations. The program is all music and presents selections from KlipschTape KST 1000, Demonstration Tape, with introductions by John Eargle; KST 1002, An Organ Recital by John Eargle; and KST 1001, Flem Ferguson and His Dixieland Jazz. The disc formats all include the entire 13 tracks, but if you download you can pick and choose from among the three programs and the closing interview.

John Eargle? Yes, that John Eargle, who went on to become a legend himself at JBL and Delos Records. But Eargle was also a very fine organist, and his portion of this tribute is very strong. The Toccata section of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor receives an excellent performance, but it's the recording of Jehan Alain's dramatic Litanies that is exciting to the max and completely satisfying, both in sound and performance. Eargle played on a large Aeolian-Skinner organ in Texas, and its different choirs of pipes were situated left and right of the performer so it's ideal for stereo. And the stereo separation is amazingly good, with a solid phantom center channel and bass that would have been achievable back then on only a 15-ips tape.

The Dixieland jazz sounds great, too, with all the instruments evenly spread from left to right, again with a strong phantom center channel. In short, these tracks don't sound at all experimental, they sound like tracks that were produced with an honest effort to sound like the original instruments. HDTT includes the original notes by Klipsch, and you can easily read that he eschewed any unnecessary fiddling around. He was bent on getting the most natural sound possible. He succeeded.

Whatever format you choose, one can't help marveling at these early efforts by two men who would become legends in the industry. Talk about a good start!

Be sure to listen to: Track 2 of Demonstration Tape presents "The Yellow Rose of Texas" played on a Wurlitzer pipe organ. Note how clean the opening drums and pipe stops are and how the recording has not only stereo spread but also very fine depth. As a bonus, there's a 1954 television interview (audio only) with Klipsch that's a lot of fun.

Find out more about HDTT's released of KlipschTape at their site.

. . . Rad Bennett
radb@soundstagenetwork.com

Claire Martin and Richard Rodney Bennett: "Witchcraft"

June 2011

WitchcraftTwo of Britain's Top Musicians Team Up for an Impeccable Album

Linn Records
Format: 24-bit/88.2kHz FLAC (download)

Musical Performance
****1/2
Sound Quality
*****
Overall Enjoyment
****1/2

Music lovers have always perceived Claire Martin as a talented singer, but this disc proves she has arrived as an impeccable master artist and one of the greatest living voices in jazz. Listen to "Would You Believe," the last cut from this download, if you have any doubts. Richard Rodney Bennett, film-music composer, concert-hall composer, and jazz pianist-singer, is a true musical everyman. You never feel like he's a serious musician "playing down," as his multifaceted talents form an inseparable whole. He and Martin have been performing together for years, and their partnership has created a rare and special collaboration where the superlative product is truly more than the sum of its parts.

For this program, the remarkable duo turns its attention to songs by American composer Cy Coleman, mainly his pairings with lyricist Carolyn Leigh. Three of their biggest hits are here -- "Witchcraft," "The Rules of the Road," and "The Best Is Yet to Come" (performed with wit and a devilishly clever surprise ending) -- alongside lesser-known gems such as "Let Me Down Easy" (a poignant solo spot for Bennett), "On Second Thought," and "On the Other Side of the Tracks." Shifting away from Leigh as lyricist, we find "Nobody Does It Like Me," Coleman's stellar collaboration with Dorothy Fields, and "I'm Gonna Laugh You Right Out of My Life," one of the definitive torch songs of all time, written with Joseph Allan McCarthy.

A Linn spokesperson told me that this session was recorded and mastered at 24/192 and that the 24/88.2 versions (FLAC or WMA) were downsampled. The result here sounds effortless and natural. In the version I downloaded, piano and voices have appealing presence without a trace of shrillness, and subtle shadings and phrasings are delineated with clarity and accuracy. To suit your particular needs and equipment, Linn offers a wide range of downloads for this album. In addition to the ones already mentioned, there are also CD-quality FLAC and WMA, and MP3, not to mention a Hybrid Multichannel SACD! Prices vary from $11.00 for the MP3 up to $27.00 for the 24/192 download. The options are all made very clear in Linn's detailed listing, and as usual with Linn, there are audio previews of each track that you can audition before you buy.

Be sure to listen to: "That's My Style" (written with Peggy Lee) starts like it's going to be a solo for Bennett, but in the middle Martin comes in with "I'm in Love Again." It's an unexpected goosebump moment that will send a pleasant little chill down your spine.

. . . Rad Bennett
radb@soundstagenetwork.com