Audio Lounge, Pune and Bangalore Host Special High End Workshops
In March 2019, Audio Lounge, as a long-standing pioneer of High-End Audio in India, invited the highly respected international journalist Matthias Böde, (from German magazine STEREO), to present a series of entertaining workshops covering a variety of interesting topics from the fascinating world of HiFi.
The Interesting Effects of Compression
Matthias began with some highly controversial(!) demonstrations of the effects of compression to make music sound as loud as possible, which can easily spoil the enjoyment of audiophiles with a disjointed listening experience. Examples of rich and smooth uncompressed music were given, but also dynamic and largely “ironed-out” pieces, further suggesting that compression is not in itself detrimental, but is necessary for a natural sound experience whilst listening to music at home. louder without increasing its peak amplitude. In his luggage were two different versions of Tom Petty’s former “Mudcrutch” project. While the standard version was “DR 8”, there was some parallel with the less compressed “DR 12”. “DR” stands for “Dynamic Range” and denotes the distance between the average volume and the loudest sound. With “DR 12”, the distance is greater, the recording therefore is “more dynamic”. Logically, the “DR 8” version sounded louder, because on average it provides more levels (see diagram – the upper lines show DR 8, the lower DR12). At the same time, when the volume has been adjusted, it is somewhat fuller and energetically “denser”, which is typical for higher compression. While “DR 12” seemed more fragrant, tender and rich in the shadows, the title “Shady Grove” in “DR 8” came across more forcefully, although a clear preference was difficult. It’s a matter of taste. Conclusion: dynamic compression is not in itself ‘wrong’, but a design tool in music mastering. It depends on the type and the dose.
The Real Impact of Resolution
Those who have had no contact with the new hi-fidelity high-bit world were then invited to listen to identical pieces of music in different resolutions. From the best MP3 (320 kBit / sec) over CD standard (16 Bit / 44.1 kHz) up to highly resolved formats like 24 Bit / 192 kHz, with wider bandwidth. For example, “Imagine” in the version by Nils Landgren with its elegiacally reverberating guitar and plenty of acoustic “atmosphere” came across comfortably in MP3. But what was missing showed immediately as Böde (using a completely identical volume level) changed to the CD version – the guitar subjectively lengthened, all elements grew into an expanded space, a space which the MP3 had apparently considered superfluous and eliminated. In full splendor the track shone in the high-bit version, which corresponded to the original recording format of 24 / 96. Further experiments confirmed: high-bit HiFi is not a marketing gimmick, but a method to give the playback an increased authenticity as well as heighten the emotional impact of the music.
An ‘Old Favourite’ – Digital vs Analogue!
While the digital system running out of the Bel Canto streamer and Nagra’s high class D/A-converter HD DAC reproduced the WAV-file of Wolfgang Bernreuthers “For Ole” as detailed, delicate and yet blessed with bold colours, the same track was then played on the SME flagship Model 30 turntable (equipped with the high class Clearaudio MC Da Vinci V2) on LP vinyl with absolutely identical mastering. The digital system sounded sovereign. The SME drew a wide, spatial spectrum and appeared in every respect as incorruptible as neutral. However, the turntable did not sound pushed aside, but still played sensitively down to the lowest levels with tight bass. The analogue system stood apart from its digital opponent with a hint of warmth. The digital contender switched up a gear and now threatened to outdo the SME with the introduction of the high bit files. Next came Monty Alexander’s “Feels Like Being in Love,” in the highest resolution of 24 bit / 192 kilohertz on the STEREO Listening Edition III. Then came a meticulously cut record in the low-loss DMM process (direct metal mastering). And with this, the SME moved even closer to the performance of the Bel Canto and Nagra. It’s always amazing to how a diamond tip gliding through the vinyl groove can provide almost as much information as a state-of-the-art high bit-file. The turntable sounded a little bit rounder; again, it is all just a matter of personal taste.
As a special treat, Matthias Böde played Anne Bisson’s “Four Seasons in Jazz”, recorded in the studio of mastering legend Bernie Grundman in Los Angeles. This was produced using the demanding ‘direct cut process’, it is ergo cut directly on the Lackmatritze of the cutting machine without analog or digital intermediate storage. The price for this was $140 for the 45rpm double LP. No reason to check your bank balance – all 3,000 copies are long gone. Matthias played the quite unique, fresh, catchy “Summer Me – Winter Me”. Hard to believe how “real” and unexpected the piece sounded between the YG Acoustics speakers. We also switched to the great CD version, which was taken from a digital recording that runs parallel to the direct cut. But this time the CD player had no chance, sounding cooler and more distant than the record. For the silver disc, the cost is only $35 – and this is still available!
How Can We Determine What Really Is An ‘Excellent’ Recording’?
Great sound can cost a lot of money. But how can you judge excellence? Three very different pieces were played for demonstration. It is worth noting that everything was controlled by an iPad.
Firstly, a popular song that consists only of voice and bass for testing – the Wham classic “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go”. The sound recording technique captures the two musicians in a highly directional manner, with microphones placed on the edge of the front of the stage giving an impression of immediacy. Quite different, however, is “Attempo” by the Antonio Forcione Quartet. This live title captivates with the ultimate in dynamics, and the skill used in the recording let it really crack. Momentum, however, was not an issue in the ultra-spatial choral piece “With Hjertte Alltid Vanker” by the Palestinian singer Rim Banna and the SKRUK choir from Norway. This recording, made in a Church, enraptures the listener with gentle voices that sound far from the background of the nave. Already, many of the Audio Lounge audience had understood that the best recording did not exist, but that sound technology had to adapt to their respective musical subject. And when, at the end, the tremendous orchestra was heard in Ottorini Respighi’s cycle “Church Windows”, everyone could understand what a perfect recording can and must do.
Finally, there were demonstrations of two unique sound carriers, including a “Crystal” – CD made of pure glass, which does not flutter or show other harmful effects. From this Scotty Wright (alias “Saint Mic”) sang his version of the “Sound of Silence” even more beautifully than on the highest-quality manufactured, bit-identical “Ultra High-Quality CD” (UHQCD). A real highlight.
What our Guests Really Thought:
“I’m a real hi-fi enthusiast and run multiple systems at home. I’m glad that the Audio Lounge is so committed to the theme of good music playback. It is important to convey the endless fascination of humans with sound. Like tonight”.
“There’s never been anything like this in Pune, so I came along with high expectations that have even been surpassed – I could have listened to the music and the background stories forever”.
“My only word for the presentation is: amazing! Today I learned more about hi-fi than in the ten years before and at the same time received a lot of sophisticated audio samples. Thank you!”
Sowmya Chanderasekaran & Kumar Iswaran:
“This insightful event is for us a major step into the fascinating hi-fi world. We have just experienced how much enthusiasm and passion there is. In a time when so much is prefabricated and standardized, one finds authenticity here”.
Namratha C. & Pranab Prasad:
“Apart from the great music examples, I found the background information great. Otherwise you learn too little about that. The high-bit recordings have brought much more colour and information into play and were so much closer to reality”.
The workshops were a great success. With thanks to Ajay Shirke, Sunaina Satelu, Ambalavanan Shanmugam, Matthias Böde, Gabi and Edwin Rijnveld from Siltech-Crystal cables, Ajay Shirke and the amazing team associated with Audio Lounge for holding these very special evenings. We now hope that you will take the time to visit and enjoy much more in our listening rooms in Pune and in Bangalore – the finest in India. Everyone is welcome!
(Written in association with Matthias Böde)