The State of True High Definition records, 2017

Discussion in 'Music and Recordings' started by Peti, Sep 17, 2017.

  1. Peti

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    I’ve been thinking for a while to put together a comprehensive, but by no means complete, list of Hi-Def audio labels so as to offer choices for top-notch sound quality to be purchased for pleasure, or for demonstrational purposes (when the neighbour comes around to justify the amount you’ve spent on your rig.:))

    I’ve been working on this list for a few weeks in the very limited free time I have, but today I have a full day off, so I sat down and finally put it together, at least the first part of it. I was thinking to post it on Head-Fi, but to me this website embodies the future of HF - Tons of info with minimal meaningless comments.

    I’ve always wondered by attending Audio shows/expos, why many of the vendors utilize music of sub-optimal quality to demo their gears. Led zeppelin II might easily be a cornerstone of hard rock music, but just because (in optimal case) the master tapes got transferred into a 24-192 bit bucket, it won’t magically fill up the storage space and will sound better than the old vinyl at home.

    It’s physically impossible as the best analog recorders have a dynamic range of about 70-72db. In digital terms, that’s less than 12 bits if we assume that one bit equals to 6db. And that’s the first generation master tape – each time you make a transfer, you lose a few dbs. If the engineering is done right, however, it can easily sound great, but it’s not High-Definition in my book. The core fidelity is locked in the recording when it actually happens and later on there’s nothing can be done to increase that core fidelity of a recording.

    So, before getting onto the list, I would like to lay down the premise that truly High-Def music is which was recorded (when the musicians were around), mixed and mastered (if needed) in Hi-Def (at least 24-88.2). With that being said, you won’t see in this list the usual names, such as HDTracks, the Pono Store (is it not already dead by the way?), et.al.

    If you really think about it, it's a shame to see the state of true Hi-Def records in 2017. Considering the fact, that 24 bit recordings are around since 1996 (the first one was a Pat Metheny album from that year) and that Hi-Def carriers and hardware are around since 1999 (SACD - roughly 24-88.2) and 2000 (DVD-Audio 24-96) and the major labels (Warner, Universal, Sony) are still pushing this over compressed, dynamically dead cd recordings (with a few exceptions), our only hope lies in these niche, independent labels.

    So this list will contain mostly underground labels with True Hi-Def stuff at their disposal, I’ve come across through the years. Before I got into this hobby, I’ve hardly thought about female jazz singers or experimental music, let alone to listen to them, but, alas, most of the True Hi-Def stuff comes from those genres and classical.

    And finally, as I’ve said in the beginning, I’m here to learn about more labels like these, too, so, if you have other candidates to be included in this list, by all means, let the community know about them below. That being said, let's get down to business!



    Naxos Records (https://www.naxos.com/)

    I assume that this label is one of the most well known on this list, and rightly so. By far not all the recordings available on Naxos are true Hi-Def material (recorded, mixed and mastered in Hi-Def)but the quality is in general exquisite. Marin Alsop’s take on Dvorak’s 9th with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is a regular in my player. Highly recommended label.

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    Da Capo Records (http://www.dacapo-records.dk/en/)

    According to Wikipedia, “Da Capo Records is a Danish classical music and new music record label. It was founded in 1989 to promote the classical and new music of Denmark and represents itself as "the Danish National label" ("Danmarks nationale pladeselskab"). The board includes university and Danish Radio appointees. Da Capo also produces jazz and experimental music.”

    I have yet to obtain an album from them but it will be most likely one of the orchestra or choir pieces.


    San Francisco Orchestra Records Shop (https://www.shopsfsymphony.org/shop/SFS-Media/)

    Same applies to this one. Only some of the recordings are true Hi-Def, but in general, these recordings are highly praised when it comes to quality regardless of resolution. Please note that just because a recording was not recorded in True Hi-Def, it doesn’t necessarily mean mediocre quality. Not at all.



    AIX Records (http://www.aixrecords.com/)

    Dr. AIX (Mark Waldrep) is a singular entity in the utterly deceptive world of so called High Definition music. He creates genuinely Hi-Def records from scratch in his own studio (which is super close to me in the SF Valley – one day I would love to experience his 5.1 system) with the artists performing LIVE and capture the sound right on the spot without any excessive mastering.Talking about natural sounding audio reproduction!

    At times he records in large churches or halls. Ravel’s Bolero is best captured in his Audio-DVD. I have heard many versions of this masterpiece but they can’t get close to Mark’s record. Not to mention listening to Bolero on vinyl, the first 1-2 minutes you only hear analog hiss and pops due to extreme dynamic range of this classical piece and the limited dynamic range vinyl can handle. Do yourself a favour and visit his store. If you have a more than decent 5.1 system, he should be the first to buy music from.

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    Yarlung Records (https://www.yarlungrecords.com)

    I have bumped into this Los Angeles based audiophile recording company through my research of the best solo piano record. They have many other albums in their catalogue, but this one is the most praised one on online forums. Just breath-taking. They also cater native-DSD, vinyl and tape enthusiasts, too.

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    Stockfisch Records (http://www.stockfisch-records.de/)

    If you ask me a year ago, I would have described this label as Germany’s best kept audio secret. I have a few albums in my collection from this label and all I can say is that you can’t go wrong here, whichever album you purchase from them. They have a very unique experiment combining the pleasant distortion (smoothness) of analogue with digital technology, from which you can read more here.

    I own both of their demo albums of this DMM-CD scheme, and I love them to the last bits. A truly singular experience indeed.

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    Hint: they have a cooperation with Pauler Acoustics, the so-called Infinity Demo Discs. To my best knowledge, they are not available through their website. I have bumped into them, however, on second hand online shops for relatively cheap. I did a compilation from the three Infinity demo discs for driving. Fabulous!

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    2L Records (http://www.2l.no/)

    2L hails from Norway and they are the pioneers (in my mind) of DXD. I think they were the first ones make recordings in that super high PCM format. (It’s an altogether different question if you will ever need more than 88.2, though). Anyhow, aside from this, their records are truly epitomizing the Hi-Def mentality. Generously from 2L, free samples from their records can be downloaded for free here, so you can decide if you like their style. Frighteningly real sound what they produce, if you ask me.



    Pentatone Records (https://www.pentatonemusic.com/)

    Another one from the more well-known labels of true Hi-Def. When you hear recordings from this label, you will instantly understand why they are one of the most popular labels among the Steve Hoffman forum residents. Highly recommended.



    Naim Records (https://naim.bleepstores.com/)

    “...leave in mistakes, provided the intention is good... I want the people, the human beings. I want the smell of cigarette smoke in the atmosphere and I want the feel of hot bodies. The last thing I want is a perfectly made-up corpse. It’s a different philosophy, and I know it sometimes frustrates reviewers.”

    Words of the founder of this independent label. I currently own one recording from this label but I have had the luck of listening to many of them and it was no question that this one had to be included in my list.
    [​IMG]
    The one in my possession is truly a priceless item to evaluate your system. They detail each and every song regarding hall characteristics, etc. - amazing. Check it out:
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    [​IMG]
    Hint: The new website of this label is coming soon and said to be a blast.



    Premonition Records (http://premonitionrecords.com/)

    Mostly jazz. Not my cup of tea, but the quality of this recording label is beyond doubt. If you are into the genre, this is a must.

    [​IMG]


    Chasing the Dragon Audiophile Recordings (http://chasingthedragon.co.uk/)

    Hailing from the United Kingdom, this is one of the lesser known labels in the USA as far as I have seen. This needs to be corrected. Catering to both analogue and digital fans, this relatively new company has been impressing European audiophiles from its inception. As a big binaural fan, my first purchase from them will be one of those recordings.

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    MDG Musik (http://www.mdg.de/)

    MDG, Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm, to be exact. Remember when I was talking about Germany's best kept Audio Secret? You got it, this little gem is the one. Let me just start by saying that if you are an organ (church organ) conoisseur and want the best recordings available, start here:

    [​IMG]

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    This release has two volumes and I have the first one, only, but boy, it sounds eerily realistic. To be blunt, organ didn't sound that good through music reproduction to Yours Truly's ears. Read more about their 2+2+2 recording style here. If you like classical I strongly urge you to check this label out. It is guaranteed that you will not regret obtaining music from them. My only gripe is their insistence on SACD, but long live Foobar and its accurate converter to PCM! :)



    Unamas (http://unamas-label.net/)

    A Japanese (starts good!) audiophile label focusing on Jazz, and to a lesser extent, classical and traditional Japanese tunes. Mostly 24-192, when it comes to recording, so you can be sure that each and every note and even the highest cymbal sounds are recorded. They have a very unique surround concept going on on some records. More here.


    Part two is coming soon as I don't want to make the first post too long.
     
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    Last edited: Sep 19, 2017
  2. Peti

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    To be continued...

    Channel Classics (https://www.channelclassics.com/)

    From their website: “Channel Classics Records is a quality record label based in Holland. Director, producer and recording engineer is Jared Sacks. Having grown up in Boston Massachusetts, schooled at Oberlin Conservatory and the Amsterdam Conservatory of music with 15 years experience playing French Horn, Jared decided to make his hobby of recording a profession in 1987. The label started in 1990 with the name Channel Classics coming from the street he lived on in Amsterdam.”

    It think it sums it up pretty nice. Mostly Classical. My favourite is Mahler’s 9th from the Budapest Festival Orchestra and Ivan Fischer. It is a highly regarded classic.

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    MA Recordings (http://www.marecordings.com/main/index.php)

    They offer various genres in various formats: CD, DSD, XRCD, Vinyl...you name it, they have it. Their artists range from Hungarian folk (that lead me to them) to classical and solo instruments. The common denominator is the superb audio quality.



    Reference Recordings (https://referencerecordings.com/)

    The name says it all. They don't exaggerate a bit. They are most famous for their classical records but delve deeper and you'll find gems like Fiona Boyes and Doug Mcleod. When visiting their site, make sure to check out the "audiophile corner". Some of their samplers can be found for relatively cheap on auction sites so you can get a taste of this truly remarkable audiophile label.

    [​IMG]



    Blue Coast Records (http://bluecoastrecords.com/)

    As their website says, they specialize "in recording direct to DSD and tape to capture the natural acoustic sounds of our artists." They used to do a monthly get-together with their artists in their San Fransiscan studio to play and record live, which recording would be available right after on their website. Not sure if they still doing it though. Browse through their offers here. A sound initial investment would be one of their samplers, like this one:

    [​IMG]

    "Blue Coast Records’ first release features exceptional acoustic recordings performed live in the studio without the use of headphones, overdubs or digital effects. Label founder, and five time Grammy-Nominated producer/engineer, Cookie Marenco, assembled a cast of world-class performers, engineers and technicians familiar with her passion for audio excellence and appreciation of skilled musicianship.

    The recording sessions led to a patent-pending recording technique called Extended Sound Environment (E.S.E.). Originally conceptualized for the surround environment, E.S.E. makes use of room and direct microphone placement to optimize full tonal response from the instruments and character of the room while allowing the musicians to position themselves to hear and respond to each other without the use of headphones. Attention to eliminating phase, blending the room and direct mics, creating balanced dynamics, monitoring while recording in surround all under Marenco’s production guidance brought stunning results that truly places the listener in an audio hologram of the music."



    Chesky Recods (http://www.chesky.com/)

    Probably the most (in?)famous name in the Hi-Def music business (mafia?). On one hand, Dr. Chesky set out to buy the license of the big three labels (Warner, Sony and Universal) and take the master tapes (best scenario) of their albums, digitally transfer them in a large bit bucket and sell them for premium prices. Advertising these albums as Hi-Def is iffy, to say the least.

    On the other hand, he has an endeavor of making probably the best sounding TRUE Hi-Def music currently available. Especially amazing the binaural series, case in point:

    [​IMG]

    I suspect Dr Chesky is having HDTracks to support a steady $ flow so he can focus on his passion making truly astounding Hi-Def music for Chesky Records, but this is only speculation on my side. Either way, some of the best sounding recordings of all time can be found in his label. Make sure to check it out!

    [​IMG]



    Opus3 Records (http://www.opus3records.com/class_wind.html)

    This is a Swedish label focusing on classical, jazz and folk pieces, and they do a good job releasing amazing sounding takes on famous and lesser known music. their sound recording philosophy is rather unique, saying that "Opus 3's recording technique has been specially developed for acoustic music and is based on using the natural acoustics of authentic environments such as churches, concert halls, jazz clubs and so on. We match the venue to the music, so to speak, as opposed to the common studio practice of adding an artificial reverberation afterwards and so on."

    Read more here.



    Harmonia Mundi (www.harmoniamundi.com)

    According to Presto Classical Harmonia Mundi is "described by the New York Times as “one of Europe’s finest independent record companies”, harmonia mundi’s origins date back half a century when, in 1958, a French journalist with connections to the book trade, Bernard Coutaz, decided to found his own publishing house for music. A year later the label had released its first recording, Chants From The Slavonic Liturgy.



    The largest independent producer of classical recordings in France, the artist roster for Harmonia Mundi reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of classical music superstars. With ensembles including The Academy of Ancient Music to Trio Wanderer, Al Ayre Español to Theatre of Voices, Les Arts Florissants to Tokyo String Quartet, artists such as William Christie, Philippe Herreweghe, René Jacobs, Andrew Manze, Kent Nagano, Dorothea Röschmann, Andreas Scholl, Andreas Staier and Alexandre Tharaud, leading chamber groups, choirs, orchestras – the list is virtually endless and covers most musical periods and classical genres."

    I am intimately familiar with this release, and I can say that they render piano sound as good as it gets when it comes to music reproduction.

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    Cybele Records (https://www.cybele.de/)

    Yet another German audiophile label, Cybele Records stems from Düsseldorf.

    [​IMG]
    They are specializing in classical music, namely contemporary music. Founded in 1994, their motto is "Klassik der Zukunft" (Classics of the future), focused on contemporary composers and advanced recording technologies such as SACD and surround sound. Their website is in German though, just a caveat. When you contact them in English, however, they reply in English.



    Blue Note (http://www.musicmattersjazz.com/)

    Exclusively Vinyl and Jazz. Not much I can add, except that Jazz fans swear for this label when it comes to top-notch audio quality. I'm neither a Jazz, nor a vinyl fan, so I don't have much personal experience with this one!

    [​IMG]



    Maple Shade (http://shop.mapleshadestore.com/Classical/products/10/)

    This brand sells both its own hardware and software, when it comes to music. Not sure about their HDMI cables but when it comes to purist recordings, not much gets better than this label. From classical through country to world music, they have a lot to offer to demanding audiophiles.

    [​IMG]
    Make sure to check'em out. Free samples are available, too. Links are posted with the track listing for each CD



    ORG Music (http://orgmusic.merchnow.com/products/bycode?code=LP)

    This site handles like 4 minor audiophile recording labels' releases. I don't have much experience with this one, either. During my researches through the years, however, I have bumped to them from time to time and only read exquisite reviews. If you happen to have first hand experience with this branch, please, let us know below.

    [​IMG]


    Acousence (http://acousense.de/index.php)

    Yet another German minor label. Their website is available in English, and when you contact them they respond in English, too. Classical and Jazz are the name of the game here. If you are in to the sound of tuba, this is a MUST. Check it out here.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]


    Lessloss Music (http://www.lessloss.com/steinway-sons-grand-piano-recording-p-202.html)


    I'd like to learn more about this outfit before committing to any purchase. They sell both hardware and their own recordings. Their Steinway & Sons Grand Piano recording has been brought up many times during online discussions about the best sounding piano recordings.

    [​IMG]

    You can take a chance here with this unique recording.



    Sheffield Lab (http://www.sheffieldlab.com/)

    My personal favourite based on the number of albums I own of this label. Clair Marlo, the McNeely-Levin-Skinner Band, the Sheffield Lab Drum & Track Disc, Sheffield Lab - MDMS System Conditioning and Degaussing CD, the A2TB Test Disc - these are all audiophile 101. Make sure to spend some time discovering their offers, when you see the Sheffield sign on a disc or vinyl you should know that you get quality!

    [​IMG]

    Ohh, I almost forgot their direct cut LPs. I'm not into vinyl, as I said, but a digital rip of this album is in my collection, nevertheless. A stunningly real sounding recording!

    [​IMG]
    May this label live long!



    Impluse (http://www.impulse-label.com/blog/)

    [​IMG]

    This Jazz label is strongly connected to John Coltrane. Pretty much that's it. Oh, and the extraordinary sound quality. Make sure to check it out if you are into Jazz.



    ABC Records (http://www.abcrecord.com/en/)

    Nope, I'm not talking about the American major media empire here. This is one of the finest source of analogue music, especially if you are into the reel-to-reel craze. If you are a digital guy like me, this is the section you need to check out. Friendly costumer service with broken English (at least when I was dealing with them back in the day).

    [​IMG]



    Wilson Audio (http://www.wilsonaudio.com/wilson-audiophile-recordings)

    Yup, it is that famous US Midwest speaker company. They have their own music label to produce first grade audio materials. I am most acquainted with their various sampler cds and if that is any indication of their other releases, you can't go wrong with this label. Consistently very good quality since 1973, not bad!





    Decca Classics (http://www.deccaclassics.com/us/)

    They sell both regular resolution cds and also Hi-Def stuff. Mainly classical. If you think of the fact that it was originally established in 1929 (Uk) and 1934 (USA) and they are still around putting out top drawer quality recordings, it is alone should be enough of a guarantee to buy from them. Again, if you are looking for classical pieces, this site must be checked out.



    Good International Co. (http://www.goodco.co.kr/page.php?PID=nsyW5cZiss)

    I've left this for the last because it is kind of an enigma to me. I have tried to contact them in English but no response as of today. I must try Korean next time, I reckon. Or if we have someone around who is fluent in Korean to talk to them...

    Anyhow, I have heard only good about their releases and I want to try them. Help needed here! :(


    Well, that's it folks. Hope you have found something useful for your audio journey here and it wasn't for in vain to put this list together...
     
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  3. Peti

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  4. Peti

    Peti Facebook Friend

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    Actually, sometimes I regret I don't have a decent turntable...:)

     
  5. Hammy

    Hammy Friend

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    I've noticed that HDtracks has both volume 1 and volume 2 of this in 88.2 PCM. It's almost certainly converted from the SACD specially for HDtracks by Bruce Brown at Puget Sound Studios. I'm very tempted to get this. By the end of tonight I likely will. I kinda really like pipe organ. Especially well recorded pipe organ. And most especially BWV 582. So it's pretty much a done deal. But part of me is saying "hey, you need to man up and buy a SACD player that can rip SACDs and learn do this SACD ripping thing yourself instead of paying $18 a pop for HDtracks to do it for you".
     
  6. Peti

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    Damn, if I'd only known that I wouldn't have bought the SACD for myself as I'm totally not into that, I'm 100% PCM. I'd suggest to get the first disc first from HDTrack, see if you like it indeed. Due to that 2+2+2 recording style they sound rather quiet and the volume need to be pumped up to be properly heard. Otherwise it is the best sounding organ recording from what I have heard, and I have heard quite a few records. Let me know how you like it.
     
  7. Hammy

    Hammy Friend

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    I have no will power. So I got volume 1 from HDtracks. I listened to Bach's BWV 582 first. Haven't listened to the rest yet.

    It's a nice and unique recording perspective compared to my other pipe organ recordings. This recording has much more of an audience perspective than almost all of my other pipe organ recordings. As a result it does end up sounding more natural as you would normally hear a pipe organ if you were in a church or hall listening to it. Most other pipe organ recordings put mics up closer to the pipes. In a position that you'd only be able to hear if you stood on a 20 or 30 foot ladder near the pipes rather than sitting in the audience. It's nice to have a recording that sounds more like a pipe organ does if you're sitting in the pews. It is a different sonic perspective from that listening area. Downside is that I found it more difficult to follow some of the parts played on the higher frequency pipe ranks (like what's normally played on the swell keyboard) are kinda lost. On pipe organ recordings that have the mics closer to the pipes those higher frequency ranks are more easily heard and aren't so overwhelmed by the larger ranks. There is no right way or best way to record a pipe organ. This recording does sound more natural than my other recordings of BWV 582, but I also miss the ability to easily follow some of the fugue lines that I can more easily hear in closer mic'ed recordings. Six of one, half dozen of the other. This one is neat though because it sounds so much more natural than any of my other recordings of BWV 582. Long term I think this more natural sounding recording is going to win out over the others.
     
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  8. ipm

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  9. Peti

    Peti Facebook Friend

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    So which album did you get after all?
     
  10. ipm

    ipm Acquaintance

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    I ordered this CD on amazon.

    DAVID FUNG THE PIANO : A JOURNEY FROM HUBRIS TO HUMILITY

    Its not in my hands yet but it should be by Monday. I thought it may be cool to listen to given the piano discussion on another thread I contributed to a while ago. I may order others directly (i.e. not amazon) if I like this one. I don't know much about piano so this may be fairly educational, actually.

    I also ordered Acoustic Live by Nils Lofgren, and The Ultimate Demonstration Disk by Chesky. These CD's are soon to come as well.

    By the way, do you know of any good opera recordings?
     
  11. ipm

    ipm Acquaintance

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    I have a few CD's from Blue Note. All are good.

    The last one I obtained was Speak No Evil by Wayne Shorter. Before that was Somethin' Else by Cannonball Adderly.
     
  12. Metro

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    Well that's an understatement. Naxos has been in business for 30 years and have a huge, massive catalog. Probably no more than 1% of it is hi-def.

    Naxos is best known for disrupting the classical music business with their budget CDs, starting from the 1990's. Classical sales at the time was dominated by a few large labels focused on big name orchestras and musicians, and selling CDs in the $12-$15 range. Naxos came on the scene with $3-$5 discs and recording unknown musicians and regional orchestras. In Tower Records (remember them?) there would be Naxos rotating display racks loaded with their CDs, set apart from the full price CDs. I saw perplexed customers asking the staff, "Are these any good?", "Why are they so cheap?". Even more significant than low prices is that Naxos records a wide repertoire of obscure and lesser known works, making much music commercially available for the first time.
     
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  13. Peti

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    Looking forward to hear more impressions on that David Fung album!
     
  14. m.i.c.k.e.y

    m.i.c.k.e.y Facebook Friend

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  15. Peti

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    Now we are talking! Eudora Records looks particularly promising to me!
     
  16. Metro

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    CSO Resound (http://www.symphonystore.com/cso-resound/) is the private label of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, featuring recordings of live concerts. Their online shop doesn't have a download option, but hi-res downloads are available on vendors such as HDTracks and Presto Classical.
    https://www.hdtracks.com/music/label/view/id/78/
    https://www.prestoclassical.co.uk/classical/labels/406/browse?format=3

    BTW, I discovered this label through streaming services (they are on Tidal, Spotify, Google Play). One recording not to miss is by their renowned brass section.
    [​IMG]
     
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  17. Peti

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    Splendid! Lots of suggestions of Hi-Def labels I have never heard of. Keep'em coming folks!
     
  18. m.i.c.k.e.y

    m.i.c.k.e.y Facebook Friend

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    Nativedsd.com usually maintains a database of download sites, equipments, software for DSD and other high-res files. You can access them at this link:

    http://www.nativedsd.com/database
     
  19. Peti

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    As an addendum to Impulse Records, I just obtained an album from them.

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    I've heard so much about this guitarist when I lived back in Europe. His guitar style was truly trailblazing. I have found out that a new 20bit K2 mastering is out so I hunted it down on the second hand market.

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    That's another score for Impulse! Records, I must say. With a healthy DR11 it sounds spacious and pleasant, the re-mastering was worthwhile, to say the least. Highly recommended.



    :punk:
     
  20. Peti

    Peti Facebook Friend

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    Recently got ahold of the (in)famous Solti - Venice recording (If memory serves me it was recorded back in 1959). Analogue Productions has remastered this gem from the original master tape and made it available both in Lp and Hybrid SACD - the first time in a digital format. A wonderful piece to gauge the ability of the resolution of your rig, it was in my collection as an lp rip before to determine the resolution of my audio rig. How? Listen carefully, especially when you hit track 4, around 0:58.

    The album was recorded in the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, Uk. A subway line (tube -as Londoners say) runs under the concert hall and it can be heard if you have a truly revealing system.

    I must say that the remastering was worthwhile, bot most importantly the annoying pops and clicks are gone - I'm in the pink!

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