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May 2011
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Audiolics Anonymous Chapter 138
Pure Power PP 2000 Regenerators and music.
Article By Bill Gaw

 

Iguza Falls  Hello to my fellow Audiolics. As I wrote an article on the passing of Allen Wright as a substitute for this articleÖ it is the end of January as I begin writing this tome. Yes, have just spent an hour plowing and shoveling out of our third major and sixth snowstorm of the season. With these storms, New Hampshire has now broken a record as snowiest January in these parts. And our illustrious fearless leader, Steven R. Rochlin is off somewhere where its summer. Hope youíre enjoying yourself Steven Ė NOT!! (Editor Stevenís Note: I was in a few South American countries enjoying the Iguazu Falls, Rio and other points in far warmer climates. Hope you like the picture, as it was sunny and around 85F with a nice cooling breeze from the 70+ waterfalls surrounding me).

While the snow is indeed beautiful, the time and effort spent in getting rid of it leaves less time to enjoy my system. On the other hand, the snowstorms have reminded me of a finding from several years ago, that my system sounds much more natural when the snow is falling, even with my three PurePower PP2000 regenerators in the system.

What is it about a snow storm that can clean the electricity of noise? Is it because there are fewer factories and businesses open to add noise to the electric lines? Or does the snow on the lines in some way act as a suppressor of the noise being carried? Who knows? The question was presented on an Internet discussion board and several other suggestions were given, one being that it may just be the snow on the roof and surroundings that eliminates noise from the environment and allows us to hear deeper into the recording. But I guess that it was worth the hour of effort cleaning up after the storm to get the several hours of added enjoyment from the clean electricity.  Plus, the tube ampsí glow seems to warm even more when itís snowing outside.

Today,  two of my PP 2000 power regenerators are going back to the factory for updates, so the system will be down for a couple of weeks. This is not such a bad thing as today my right ear became blocked with ear wax. I can always tell when the ear is close to closing up, as that sideís channel starts losing volume and high frequency information. Anyway, while trying to clean the ear out using Q-Tips, a piece of the wax attached to the eardrum, which immediately caused significant hearing loss and the necessity to forgo listening to the system until I have my nurse flush it out. For most of you though it will require a visit to the doctorís office for ear irrigation. So remember to clean out your ears every once in a while to get rid of the wax and try not to push it against the eardrum while doing it. Q Tips may not be the best way to go. Rather go to a drug store and get an ear wax removal kit with bulb syringe to irrigate it out.

Also, protect your ears in any noisy environment. You may love rock concert levels all day long through your in-the-ear headphones at 30, but youíll suffer with tinnitus and hearing loss in your 60ís when youíll have more time to listen. Some federal organization has surmised that 25% to 50% of the younger population already has significant hearing loss due to the above. This was brought home to me as my hearing went away, I couldnít listen to my system, and I had to actually talk to my wife all night. "The Horror."

 

The Ring Without Words - POOR
While Iíve extolled on the virtues of Blu-ray concert recordings in the past, and was hoping that this new technology, allowing 24-bit/96kHz 7.1 track playback with 1080P video, would be immune from recording problems, Iíve finally found a disc which has reminded me that nothing is perfect.  What I mean by that is not the tape hiss that plagued analog tape, the tics and pops of vinyl, or the jitter induced anomalies of early digital recordings, but the abuses of multi-mic'ing, overindulging in analog or digital manipulation of the audio, and incessant bouncing back and forth of multi camera video.

Until now, I had been amazed at the quality of both the video and audio of the approximately 30 Blu-Ray discs which Iíve had the pleasure of evaluating, but Iíve finally listened to and watched a recording that comes close to the worst of the past. Interestingly itís from a company that has previously produced some of the best discs Iíve heard, EuroArts. I refer to a recording by Lorin Maazel and the Berlin Philharmonic of his compilation of orchestral music from Wagnerís Ring called The Ring Without Words.

First, something good about the recording. It appears that Mr. Maazel has done a superb job of  transcribing Wagnerís orchestral  music, and that each member of the Berliner Philharmonic appears to have played their hearts out. According to the EuroArts web site:

Strongly influenced by the comments of Richard Wagnerís grandson, Wieland, about the importance of the orchestra in the Ring, Lorin Maazel eventually agreed to produce a symphonic synthesis of the tetralogy, which he called The Ring Without Words. It is a seventy-five-minute orchestral distillation that is designed with the express purpose of bringing the magic of these monumental music dramas to a new audience of musically sensitive listeners through the sumptuous playing that he draws from the Berlin Philharmonic. Recorded live at Philharmonie Berlin, 2000.

 

Too bad the recording engineers have let them down. For a 24-bit/48kHz. recording, the soundstage does not exist, thereís no depth or perception of space, and each instrumental group is in its own envelope. The high frequencies almost sound like early digital, and there is no bass impact. Yes, everything does get pretty loud every few seconds, but it just doesnít thrill. Finally, there appear to be several layers of curtains between the orchestra and the listener.

Then, thereís the video. The European engineers seem to have a fetish about showing their ability to pick out soloists, and tend to switch cameras every minute or so. While this has the advantage that one can see the soloists in action, it does become distracting trying to correlate it with the constancy of the audio soundstage. On this recording they seem to switch cameras every 10 to 30 seconds, which became distracting even to me, who enjoys watching the individual musicians. That was my interpretation as I tried but failed to listen through the whole 75 minutes in one listening session. On the other hand I started doubting my ears, as their site also gives statements from reviews such as:

Spectacular in its vividness [...] Wotan makes a passionately romantic farewell to his daughter, with the Berlin strings creating a movingly powerful climax [...] Maazel's rather aggressive pressing on in Siegfried's Rhine Journey [...] gives great impact to Hagen's call and Siegfried's Funeral Music [...] Audiophiles who like blazingly spectacular sound and plenty of adrenalin flowing in the music-making, should find this worth trying. Certainly the heavy brass sounds are very tangible. Gramophone

Then I took a thorough look at the video. There were at least 18 microphones, with at least one over every instrumental group, with several over the brass for instance. No wonder there wasnít a soundstage or ability to pinpoint a musician in the mťlange.

Then thereís the conductor. While I enjoy most of Mr. Maazelís recordings, watching his facial expressions only detract from the experience. While showboating is the norm these days for conductors who have grown up in the video age, heís really over the top on this one. Before cameras, with the conductor facing only the professional musicians, there was no need for them to overplay the facial expressions. While on videos from the 50ís,Toscanini may have given a scowl or two to some errant player, and Munch may have looked like he was ready to weep at certain passages, Maazel seems to be playing to the camera every time it is on him.

Since this appears to be a recording made for European television, it could be that the rest of the problems revolve around digital manipulation to limit frequency and dynamics for the average television system. It has been a gripe of mine that most if not all of the major Blu-ray concert recordings have been using 48 rather that 96 or 192 kHz, when even crappy movies are being presented in 96kHz. Again, maybe itís because of the European tie-in to television as the main source of cash for these endeavors.

Maybe when the American orchestras come into the 21st century and start producing Blu-Ray video rather than SACD recordings, this will be corrected. Just imagine being able to see and hear Boston, San Francisco or any other American  Symphony Orchestra concerts at home in 24-bit/96kHz 7.1-channel audio, rather than just listening to them on SACD or PBS FM transmissions. WOW!!

Anyway, this is the first Blu-Ray that I not only canít recommend, but also recommend not purchasing, which upsets the hell out of me considering that itís the first recording of a possibly excellent piece of music. Save your cash for the next recording of the work.

 

Beethoven Symphonies 4, 5, & 6
On the other hand, this Blu-Ray with the Vienna Philharmonic directed by Christian Thielemann, recorded at the Musikverein in Vienna, is one of the best sounding recordings in my collection. It is a recording of a concert for European television by C Major Studios for Unitel Documentaries and the ZDF (Zweite Deutsche Rundfunk). Originally produced for television, it has been transcribed to Blu-Ray for the poor culturally deprived Americans who are lucky to get a concert two or three times a year from PBS in low definition standard Dolby Digital sound. Thus,  it does suffer somewhat by the incessant changing of the picture as the producer moves the video from one orchestral section to another, but its audio rendition of the orchestra in its home hall, one of the, if not, the best in the world, is superb.

     

The orchestra is at its normal superior level, and the microphone placement is far superior to the above recording. While it is difficult to make them out, it appears that they are using two spaced omnis above the orchestra, with several microphones on short booms near the various groups. Interestingly, Maestro Thielemann places the violin section on the left and right of the stage with the violas on the right, the cellos dead center facing the hall and running towards the back of the stage, the woodwinds and brass behind them and the bass fiddles running across the back.

The tempos are also interesting, sort of like the three bears, in that the fourth tends  to be a little draggyin the first and second movements, the fifth a little speedy in the first and cut off at the beginning as the conductor got a little ahead of the audience, and the sixth just right. Iím not saying the tempos are incorrect, just different from what Iím used to. Itís almost as if Celibedache is directing the Fourth, Toscanini the Fifth, and Bernstein the sixth.

In addition there is a discussion between Maestro Thielemann and Joachim Kaiser, one of the highest rate music critics in Europe, in several languages, including English, of the various works with musical illustrations from the disc. Very impressive!

All in all, this is an excellent buy at about $40 for the disc, and I hear that the organization is going to do the remaining Beethovenís. Considering I paid $40 a piece for single symphonies on laserdisc in 16-bit/44kHz stereo with 480i picture quality 20 years ago, these discs are a bargain.

 

Der Ring Des Niebelungen Ė SUPERB
While purchasing other goods from Amazon.com, I happened to notice that C-Major had produced the entire Ring Cycle with Zubin Mehta with the Orchestra de la Communitat Valenciana. Since I purchased another ring cycle on Blu-ray a few months ago, I was reluctant to spend another $160 on this one. On the other hand I was enamored with the sound on the above disc from the same company.

Well, that was one of the best but also possibly one of the poorer decisions of my life. The audio and video are both superb with Mehta directing superb musical performances. The only problem is that in the typical fashion of the day, they have set up a staging that would put the Gods in a Valhalla from the twenty-second century. But I must admit the performance does draw one in both with the audio and the visuals. The only problem is that now I have to find the $160 to get the complete set. Oh Well!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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