2L's Final Frontier: Vinyl
2L, the Norwegian label that made audiophile history in 2006 when one their early high-resolution SACDs, Immortal NYSTEDT, received Grammy Award nominations for "Best Surround Sound Album" and "Best Choral Performance," has taken a big step back to the future. After releasing a number of recordings packages that feature both hybrid SACD and hi-resolution Blu-ray discs, as well as making their DXD (352.8kHz/24-bit) recordings available for download, 2L has just ventured into the black hole known as vinyl.
The company's first LP, Souvenir Part 1, has just been released in the US. Also available as a hi-res two-channel FLAC download from HDtracks , and in 5.1 format from HighResAudio and Klicktrack, the recording showcases Grammy Award nominated chamber ensemble TrondheimSolistene (The Trondheim Soloists) performing music by Tchaikovsky and Nielsen. The Direct Metal Master, 180gm audiophile grade vinyl pressing, recorded in DXD (352.8kHz/24 bits) "to preserve analogue qualities in the digital domain," contains Tchaikovsky's beautiful Serenade for Strings in C, Op. 48, and Nielsen's Suite for Strings, Op. 1.
In May, the company will release Souvenir Part II, pairing Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence with a short work by Nielsen whose Danish title translates as By the Bier of Young Artists. After both LPs are on the market, the four compositions will be issued on a single Pure Audio Blu-ray release. Meanwhile, a complete track from the first album is available for free download in both DXD and DSD from 2L's "Test Bench."
"The most interesting thing about our vinyl project is how it emerged," label founder and recording engineer Morten Lindberg, 42 this year, explained by Skype. "I hadn't even thought about vinyl when we bused to a small village to spend five days recording in an 11th century church. Then, one evening in the dining room, one of the young women in the orchestra, maybe 20 years old, asked if we could possibly do vinyl. This is very significant; it really shows that young people are fueling the vinyl revival."
Upon his return home, Lindberg bought his first record player since he was 15. After 20 years of working in the digital domain, and dealing with "digital correctness," he spent six months buying lots of vinyl, listening intently, and discoursing with the "old guys in the industry" about vinyl's strengths and limitations.
Upon completing his research, Lindberg decided to work with Pauler Acoustics (Stockfish Records) in Germany to create Direct Metal Masters of his ultra high-resolution DXD recordings. Pauler Acoustics's video about their Direct Metal Mastering process, narrated in German, is available on YouTube.
"We found a huge difference between Europe, where you do copper cutting, and the U.S., where you do soft vinyl cutting," Lindberg reports. "With the DMM copper plate we gain a better high-frequency response, less surface noise and greater dynamics than from the traditional lacquer lathe. Engraving direct in copper also saves a generation of electroplating."
The final 180-gram audiophile grade vinyl was pressed by Pallas in Germany. "I thought that, with a few adjustments, we could build the vinyl from our usual digital image," he says. "But I found that, because of one of the limitations of vinyl, we have to do it differently. Below 300Hz, you can't process the signal in stereo because you will get a [vertical] movement of the stylus that will make it jump out of the groove. Pauler told me they have to limit the bandwith of bass information and put it all into the middle; this is why bass and kick drums are always in the middle on vinyl. Thus, we recorded using an extremely stable center microphone for the bass. We then added soundstage information from our side mikes to increase width, and EQ'd it all so we didn't double the bass information. I don't know if anyone else is doing this."
Lindberg made special note of the Nielsen Op.1, which is a first recording of a new edition of the work. Formerly called "Little Suite," the piece was composed, one movement at a time, for different concerts that took place in the Tivoli in Copenhagen over a span of six months.
"At the time he wrote it," Lindberg explains, "Nielsen's ambitions were modest. But given the work's shape, and the fact that it's 15 minutes of gorgeous music, the editor of the new edition didn't feel that it deserved to be called 'little.'"
Lindberg also pointed out that the TrondheimSolistene recorded Tchaikovsky's Serenade by splitting up the different sections of the orchestra, with each musician seated next to someone playing a different voice. This created an entirely different soundstage than is usually heard in this music.