Universal Music Group's Blu-ray/Hi-Res Initiative

Thumbing their collective nose at pundits who predict the imminent demise of physical media, Universal Music Group has begun reissuing select back catalog and new releases in Pure Audio (audio only) Blu-Ray 24/96 and/or 24/96 download formats. The first of the classical titles appeared in February, with more rolling out all the time.

To get the skinny on UMG's plans for Blu-ray and hi-res, I conducted two separate interviews with folks in the UK. The first, with Barry Holden, the extremely committed and highly articulate VP of Classical Catalogue at Universal Music, appears below. A second discussion with Joshua Phillips, High Fidelity Pure Audio Product Manager for UMG's pop catalog, and Olivier Robert-Murphy of the Pure Audio Association, will follow.

Barry Holden: The five Decca Classics audio-only [Pure Audio] Blu-ray titles we announced in February—

• Dvorák: Slavonic Dances, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Iván Fischer;

• Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.6, "Pathétique," Wiener Philharmoniker, Gergiev;

• Mahler: Symphony No.8, "Symphony Of a Thousand," Wiener Staatsopernchor Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Georg Solti;

• Mahler: Symphony No. 2, "Resurrection," Ileana Cotrubas, Christa Ludwig, Wiener Philharmoniker, Zubin Mehta; and

• Vivaldi: The Four Seasons, Janine Jansen—

are the first of a much larger release schedule. We expect to get to 35 titles by the end of 2014.

Serinus: I assume you've tested the market, and you've found that people are eager for audio-only Blu-rays?

Holden: That's semi-true on our part. We've conducted a proper pilot study in France only; in all other markets, we are simply going for it. As you well know—the law of Steve Jobs, I suppose—there's only so much market research you can do with a product that is unfamiliar to the consumer.

We have taken some research soundings, as well as examining the desk research that's available to all of us, to tell us how many Blu-ray players there are in the world. Because of the numbers, we know we don't face the same hurdle that we did with SACD. We have our SACD numbers historically, so we have some evidence of what we were able to achieve. It wasn't really bad, despite Universal eventually walking away from the format. The numbers weren't terrible, but there came a time when it wasn't justifiable to re-press. So we're putting that data together with the greater hardware player base of the Blu-ray format, making an informed guess, and taking a bit of a risk. But it's alongside similar hi-res initiatives, such as the high-resolution digital downloads.

In a sense, this is an equivalent product to the hi-resolution digital download, which is a 24-bit product in stereo. There, we already have digital business partners—retailers—such as HDTracks and the other two players in the states, the two in Japan, one in France, one in the UK, one in Poland, and two in Germany. In a sense, we're releasing the Blu-rays as the physical equivalent of downloads.

Serinus: What specifically did the pilot study in France tell you?

Holden: There is an audience for classical. Hi-res releases are less likely to work on solo artists such as Jonas Kaufmann and Rolando Villazón, and more likely to work on the great classic recordings of the past by Von Karajan, Kleiber's immortal Beethoven 5 and 7. Those are the albums that stood out in the French study. We learned what albums the market is interested in.

As a result, there won't be many solo vocal albums on Blu-ray. . .

Serinus: Boo!

Holden: Having said which, we have to keep an eye on the Asian market. They don't do choral, they don't do vocal, and they really don't do opera. Ever been to Japan and seen an opera?

Serinus: But way, way back in the "first" vinyl era, it was from Japan that you could the best pressings of the vocal releases in EMI's Great Recordings of the Century series.

Holden: Our Japanese company still leads the way in terms of audiophile products, but we want to give these releases the best chance in all markets. And Japan does instrumental far more than vocal.

Let me qualify that. I do intend, by the end of the year, to put out some full-length operas on Blu-ray. We just remastered the Pavarotti catalog in 24/96 in our newly acquired Abbey Road studios. We've got his great recordings with Karajan, and the great La Bohème, Turandot, and Madama Butterfly from the late 1960s and early 1970s.

I intend to put out hardback editions of those, with two CDs and the Blu-ray at 24-bit. One of the other things that's coming up for us from consumer and retailer surveys is that there are other ways of cutting this Blu-ray audio format than the way we've currently niched on. We want to use its length a little more creatively and imaginatively, and to partner it sometimes with CD so that people have both options.

Five years ago, we did a beautiful CD hardback edition of the Pavarotti/Freni/Karajan La Bohème, with integral libretto in a hardback. This will be another version of that with a Blu-ray included. They'll be jolly thick, and I'm already sweating over our manufacture price and what I'll have to charge to retailers. But that's the intention, and we hope to bring a number of those legendary Pavarotti operas out in the fourth quarter.

It's the "50 Years on Decca" this year, and we're throwing everything we can at Pavarotti to try and help the consumer remember what a fantastic core classical artist Luciano was.

Serinus: One of your first five Blu-ray releases, Janine Jansen's recording of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, has been available for a while as a 24/96 hi-res download from HDTracks. Do you plan to issue other titles as high-resolution downloads?

Holden: I want everything that's on Blu-ray to be at HDTracks. There will be bumps along that path, but not for long, I hope. However, not everything that gets to HDTracks will necessarily make it to Blu-ray. We'll just have to wait and see. We're absolutely committed to 24-bit, and to driving 24-bit where we can. (That has costs for us, of course.)

What I'm saying to Deutsche Grammophon and Decca is that our best chance of making back our investment is to at least make them all available at HDTracks and other retail partners as hi-res downloads, and on Blu-ray where we think it's right and justifiable. As to titles that will be released as both Blu-rays and downloads, there is no specific plan as to which version will appear first. I wouldn't be surprised if, one we work the kinks out, more came through download channels first, because it's actually a bit quicker and easier for us. The Pure Audio we have to author, create onscreen menus, and do other things that take time and require a bigger investment on our part.

Serinus: Why have you chosen PCM 96 rather than PCM 192 or DSD???

Holden: We had to get to a standard that we thought we have a better chance of achieving for as wide a range of titles as possible. The engineers on our side felt that 96 was the right and justifiable level to achieve. Of course, we do have some titles in 24/48 and 24/44.1. But by and large, we thought that 24/96 is the best possible quality we could achieve across the widest number of titles. There just weren't that many titles that we have at 192. So there had to be a line drawn in the sand where we said, realistically, we're not going to be able to reach that far at this point.

Serinus: I assume your releases will be drawn from either analog masters or recent digital recordings that originated in 24-bit.

Holden: Correct. We won't pull the wool over consumers' eyes, and won't be touching our early digital catalog. The Mehta Mahler, for example, is analog, and the Gergiev "Pathétique" late digital and 24-bit. I don't think it was higher than 96.

Two years ago, we told our labels not to record in anything less than 24/96. There will always be exceptions, especially when they've brought in a recording that did not originate with us. There will also be engineers who may record in DSD or at 192, but our minimum standard is 24/96.

Serinus: When do you expect to have the great Solti Mahler 8 at HDTracks?

Holden: It shouldn't be that long, given that it's now out in Blu-ray. But there are bumps along the way, because we are dealing with a digital supply chain at Universal Music Group that wasn't built initially for 24-bit. Thus, we're having to manually work around this obstacle until our digital supply chain is upgraded. While you and I might consider upgrading a priority, those guys over at the digital supply chain don't view it with quite the same urgency.

What's exciting to us is that, in contrast to our pop colleagues, the classical hi-resolution download element is far more significant, and has a bigger share of voice. We're always excited to see hi-resolution digital download retailers advance their cause. Nonetheless, the pop division is also having a go of it with hi-resolution material.

Serinus: I think the main issue facing people who download classical titles is the absence of sufficient and consistently organized metadata. People want to know the year something was recorded, the venue and recording engineer, etc. Currently, we classical music lovers are forced to type that stuff in manually. Many people who aren't retired, including myself, simply don't have the time.

Holden: I know. It's such a shame. We come from such different places than our pop brethren and the majority of the people who have designed the digital services we currently use. The lack of sufficient and consistently organized metadata is the bane of most classical collectors' lives. I don't have an easy solution, I'm afraid. [Note: At Linn's 40 Years of Linn event at Elite Audio Systems in San Francisco, the company announced that it is developing a new application for iPad and computer that will handle classical music metadata much better than anything currently available.]

I do know that we own that data, and are trying to make it available to consumers. Meanwhile, the wonderful DG online catalog is beautifully rich with data: who recorded it, where, when. Every detail under the sun that you and other consumers want to know exists, is beautifully maintained, and can be found at deutschegrammophon.com and deccaclassics.com.

Go to deutschegrammophon.com. Go into our catalog, the fourth item from the left on the top menu bar. Go down to album formats, and then choose the drop-down menu item, "Blu-ray audio." Let's see what comes up. Take Mehta's Mahler No.2. Click on it, then click on one of the movement tracks, and all the metadata will come up.

We've done our homework; we just can't find easy ways to share the data with everybody, and we can't always find partners who want to share it. But the producer is there, the recording producer, the balance engineer, the format, recording and release dates . . . everything.

I'm told there's some sort of open-source software being worked on to help our partners access that data, and some of the better ones are doing so. But the majority of retailers are pop-based. All they care about is the song title and how long it lasts. When you buy something through Apple, what do they call it? We call it a symphony, but they call it a "song."

Serinus: If people go to your site, they can find out what's coming out next on Blu-ray. I currently see 26 titles listed.

Holden: It's a beautiful site, and all the metadata you've ever dreamed of is actually there.

Serinus: When I go room-to-room covering audio shows and ask for classical vocal music, everyone who has any opera offers the same recording: Anna Netrebko's Sempre Libera. That's all they have, because it's available on HDTracks in 24/96. Without trying to beat a dead horse, as it were, let me ask if you know of any new opera titles coming out in Blu-ray and hi-res, other than the Pavarotti.

Holden: Judging from the album sales so far, the back catalog releases, which are my specialty, are going to be predominantly orchestral and concerto material—stuff that's going to work in the Asian markets as well as in the US and Europe. Nonetheless, some labels will do hi-res and Mastered for iTunes downloads—downloads more so than Blu-ray audio releases—of front line [current] vocal releases.

Postcript: Having just conducted a search on HDTracks, I can confirm that, from the DG and Decca catalogs alone, Renée Fleming's recent album, Guilty Pleasures, which includes the most over-the-top, emotionally overwrought, preposterously arranged rendition of "Danny Boy" you are ever likely to hear; Jonas Kaufmann's award-winning Wagner recital, which was one of my Records-to-Die-For this year; Anna Netrebko's recent Verdi album; Rolando Villazón's recent Mozart concert arias album; and Yannick Nézet-Séguin's recording of Mozart's Così fan tutte are all available as hi-res downloads from HDTracks. There are also some brand new classical instrumental titles, the latest of which are Julia Fischer's Sarasate and Bryce Dessner: St. Carolyn By The Sea/Jonny Greenwood: Suite From "There Will Be Blood." And there are many more to come.

Thank you, Barry. Thank you as well to the dealers, distributors, and manufacturers who download these albums and add them to the list of titles available for audition at audio shows and retail outlets.

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COMMENTS
Doctor Fine's picture

OK I will admit to being lazy and I could probably figure this out myself if I wasn't a little blah-say about High Res...  I already have a 24/96 SPDIF DAC.  I currently do NOT have a Blu-Ray player in my audio rack (I have one out in the theater room though).

 

Would I simply buy a cheap Blu-Ray player and plug its SPDIF out into my DAC and set the Bly-Ray player to output 24/96?  Will an Oppo or cheap Sony output SPDIF 24/96 on its SPDIF out?

 

I want to USE my audio DAC because it is the best sounding DAC I have and they don't make it any more naturally... (Lucid 9624). It is better than my Bryston DAC by a mile. More life. I am OPTIMISED for CD playback, you betcha.  I have been waiting for the format wars to drop dead so I can decide what to do beyond vinyl which is my current go-to high res source...

 

Guys like me might be interested in purchasing truly worthwhile High Res tracks on a DISC with a BOOK.  We old fossils LIKE physical medium.  It makes us all warm and gooey.  Even as a niche (or especially because it IS a niche) there is money left on the table here by the industry which has been bemoaning that nobody wants to buy anything anymore.

 

Well here's an idea.  Make something we WANT to buy and tell us how to use it easily and we WILL buy it.  We have tons of money.  Just nothing to BUY...

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

You put the Blu-ray disc into your dedicated Blu-ray player or multi-format player, e.g. an Oppo, and push play. If you want to use an external DAC, check the directions that pertain to your particular player. But don't assume that all players' transports are equal; they are not. Try using the latest version of the Marigo mat on your media for better sound. 

Tip's picture

The Oppo's S/PDIF and TosLink outputs downsample higher sample rates to 48 kHz and truncate the bit depth from 24 to 16 bits.  (As far as I know, all DVD and BDP players have done this since HDCP was enacted.)  You have to use the HDMI output to get 24/96.  Another option if you have an Oppo BDP-93/103 is to buy the Audiopraise Vanity93/103 (http://audiopraise.com/products.php) that replaces the eight analog outputs of the Oppo with four digital outputs (this is what I've done for my BDP-103.)  You then can use the Oppo's set-up menu to select PCM mode set the sample rate and bit depth, plus convert DSD to PCM -- same as for the HDMI output.

jimtavegia's picture

I suppose this is because of the large qty of Blu Ray players in the market place, but to me, this is a lost opportunity that could have been marketed long ago. 

I guess we should applaud the release of any music on a physical format in 2014. 

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

The only DVD that offers 24/96 audio is DVD-Audio, and that is a dead format. Blu-ray, on the other hand, has become the defacto video format for everyone except Mac users - stubborn, stubborn Apple, especially given the fact that Steve Jobs is no longer with us - and has plenty of room for two-channel "Pure Audio", i.e., audio only, in either 24/96 or 24/192. 

Archimago's picture

Jim is correct. 24/96 2.0 was always an option with DVD. Just 24/96 5.1 and 24/192 2.0 needed DVD-A.

Although I prefer the harder surface of blu-ray disks, DVD would have larger range of compatability and probably easier SPDIF outputs for DACs rather than HDMI.

jimtavegia's picture

You can burn, as I have done and continue to do, put 2496 wav files on DVDs  (DVD-r) with Sony DVD Architect.  It is not rocket science.  They play back on most DVD players. I've been doing this for years now. More foolishness from the industry noted for foolishness. It is just another way for the industry to charge $25 to $30 for something that could and should cost $15 a disc. 

I have a number of SoundKeeper Recordings in 2496 that sound great. 

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I confess to the error of my ways. DVDs can carry hi-res audio.

At the risk of being shot down again, the problem, as has just been clarified for me by two people far more versed in DVD matters than I, is that most commercial DVD players do not contain DACs that process 24/96 or higher; rather, they downsample to 24/48. Perhaps your machine can handle 24/96 without downsampling. If so, more power to you. 

Is it perhaps another error that I do not spend much time with DVD or Blu-ray? At this point in time, I watch DVD on my computer, because the TV is disconnected. In fact, there's never been a flat screen TV in the house. The only time I watch TV is on the elliptical trainer at the gym, where, when I'm not reading Stereophile or another magazine, I stare at close-captioned CNN and marvel at that network's ability to wring far more drama out of the most mediocre events than Puccini could possibly wrangle out of Tosca or Cio-Cio San. Forever etched in my mind is an image of Wolf Blitzer (or whatever his name is) in the "Situation Room," reporting on a hurricane while automated lightning kept flashing on repeat sequence behind him, over and over, for hour after hour. Someone in CNN's graphics department was very proud of that lightning. I suppose, had I watched CNN at home on a high-definition TV, that it would be even more finely etched in my brain.

low2midhifi's picture

I just switched to Stereophile after looking at Universal Classics’ website for information on the recently released historical recording of Tchaikovsky’s ballet suites, released on Blu-Ray audio by Universal Classics.

I purchased the Blu-Ray/Pure Audio Carlos Kleiber/VPO recoding of Beethoven’s 5th and 7th symphonies, nearly the instant I became aware of this format’s existence before the 2013 holiday season.  I own the last redbook CD edition of these two works.  I can report that the Blu-Ray disc offers a vividness, sense of depth, and sharpness of detail that surpasses what the already excellent CD edition has possessed in all of its incarnations since the early 1980s. 

Was the Blu-Ray version of the recording “better” to my ears?  My answer is yes.

I plan on purchasing more of these Universal Classics Blu-Ray discs as Arkivmusic, Music Direct and Amazon.com release them this year.  Universal Classics, as any devoted classical listener knows, is not just releasing “any old” analogue recordings from its vault in this format.  Whatever the longevity of this format—I hope it lasts—no one will regret purchasing a few, or more than a few, of the Blu-Ray discs either available for sale now, or, as Music Direct shows on its site, those Universal Classics Blu-Rays in the pipeline for 2014.

I own a DAC, though I mainly use it for radio streaming (Radio Nacional de Espana’s Radio Clasica is among the best classical stations I have ever heard; Radio 3 de Espana has a broader variety of music than I thought could be conceived in a single station).  I also use my DAC for other free streaming sites and, I’m not ashamed to admit, to listen to many a 1980s and 1990s music video, or to see videos of others’ audio set ups.

I have not warmed to the concept of downloads and ripping. There still is no dominant file standard.  There are additional complications of computer hard-drives and/or external network/streaming devices, additional software programs, redundant file back-ups, dedicated second computers.  I have had the concept peddled to me, or heard the recordings, in numerous articles, dealer seminars, and audio expositions.  At present, the whole thing is still too cumbersome, time consuming, and apparatus-intensive for me.

The sound of downloaded tracks is good, I'll not deny it. If some people like downloads and ripping, then they should pursue the exploit if it is what gives them their best sonic experience.  I'm not a "this is going away, that is going away" either/or advocate. Transaction constrained dealers--despite passionate statements made at download seminars--should not advocate for the demise of what their customers purhcase.  Smart dealers will sell CD players, turntables, DACs and other computer audio gear to customers who want them.

For the foreseeable future, the near-default audio option for me is putting a CD into a tray, though internet streaming is gaining fast.  Many people have significant collections of CDs, some of which have been decades in the making.  Also, CDs have a breadth of repertoire that the various download services will take years, if not decades, to match. 

There is a vast online marketplace for new and used CDs. I could pick a page at random out of a Penguin Guide to Classical CDs. I could pick the first CD listed on the page.  Then I could go to Amazon.com, and most likely find at least one used or new copy of this randomly selected CD available for sale.  As in the 1980s it remains true today that a compact disc should last for over a century, unless damaged, before its lamination layers become compromised.

For this reason—the enduring CD—I see this Blu-Ray venture by Universal Classics as a direct appeal to those of us who will continue to buy, sell and trade CDs. 

As a hi-fi customer, and a Stereophile reader, the CD  (SACD and, now, Blu-Ray disc) is alive and well, and I continue buying music in this format.  The Blu-Ray option is a promising new format.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Several people have raised the question, either in private emails or on other forums, as to why, when 5.1, 24/96 masters were available, UMG instead chose to remaster and re-release the material solely in 2-channel 24/96 Pure Audio Blu-ray format (and as 2-channel 24/96 downloads). After all, they could have instead issued a dual-layer Pure Audio Blu-ray that held both 5.1 and 2-channel layers, both mastered in 24/96.

Barry Holden has just informed me that, from here on, when 5.1 masters are available, UMG's hi-res Blu-rays will offer both 5.1 and 2-channel, 24/96 playback options. In addition, probably not before 2015, UMG will re-issue in 5.1, 24/96 Pure Audio Blu-ray format whatever 5.1 material has already been released soley in 2-channel, 24/96 Pure Audio Blu-ray format.

I know that this annoucement leads to further questions, one of which is, for titles already released, how can people who own 5.1 systems tell if the source material was intiially recorded in 5.1, and will thus become available in 5.1 24/96 Pure Audio Blu-ray format in the future? I will have more to say when I hear back.

Ah, Barry is still online. I've also learned that UMG no longer records audio-only 5.1because there is not enough interest in the wider market to justify the expense. Hence all 5.1, 24/96 Pure Audio Blu-ray releases will be of older catalogue material. 

Kal Rubinson's picture

"Ah, Barry is still online. I've also learned that UMG no longer records audio-only 5.1because there is not enough interest in the wider market to justify the expense. Hence all 5.1, 24/96 Pure Audio Blu-ray releases will be of older catalogue material." 

Hmmm.  So, "in the wider market" of Blu-ray video, where UMG continues to record operas. ballets and concerts in 5.1, that music will never appear on a Pure Audio Blu-ray even though it is in UMG's possession.  That means that I will continue buying regular UMG BDs and playing the HD 5.1 audio with the video off.  

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Well, not exactly. But it is interesting to note that many critics and attendees alike decried the sets for a Metropolitan Opera production of Tosca a few years back, folks who saw the HD broadcast couldn't figure out what all the fuss was about. That's because, in their case, a camera editor's perception trumped reality. 

This is not to dismiss opera on Blu-ray, which I consider a major contribution to the art form. The sound is hi-res, and the picture can be spectacular. Opera was intended to be seen as well as heard. Whether composers intended us to see every bead of sweat on singers' faces is another matter entirely.

Two nights ago, I attended a live amplified performance by the very hip cellist, Maya Beiser. Two of her world premieres were accompanied by film, Everyone I spoke with afterwards found the films irrelevant, distracting, far too self consciously artsy, and the like. A number of us reported that we listened with eyes closed. IMO, the only advantage of the films was that, when the music got boring and repetitive, I had another way to occupy my mind. 

When all is said and done, High Fidelity Pure Audio Blu-rays are a suitable, appropriate, and easily utilizable carrier for hi-res audio content. For people not into downloading, or those of us who like to handle and hold something that we can call "our own," they are a major advance.

Yes, Blu-rays can also deliver hi-res 5.1 audio content. And yes, so could and can SACD and DVD-A. But there are fewer releases in those formats these days, especially in DVD-A. As Jared Sacks of Channel Classics, one of SACD and DSD's chief evangelists recently stated in his interview on this site -- see http://www.stereophile.com/content/jared-sacks-dsd-present-and-future -- he is hoping to be able to release his hi-res content via his NativeDSD download site rather than on SACD physical media in the future.

Kal Rubinson's picture

Thanks, Jason, I do know about all that but none of it addresses my point.  Let me restate it as a question:

If, "in the wider market" of Blu-ray video, where UMG continues to record operas. ballets and concerts in 5.1, why will that music never appear on Pure Audio Blu-ray even though it is in UMG's possession?

A trivial reply is that it is already on BD and that Pure Audio BD is unnecessary.  

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Hence, dear man, I shall let you answer your own question ;-)

Kal Rubinson's picture

No problem.  The question, dear man, was not addressed to you but to UMG.

jimtavegia's picture

Every DVD player in my home does 2496 including a 10 year old Magnavox.  If one just looks in the specs one can see if the DA is 2496.  Even my old Sony DVP NS 755 is and has a 12 bit 108 mhz video chip, which make it a find video player for such an old model.  I own 2 of them and when new at $250 were great buys. There is no mistaking when a 2496 disc is being played.  One may have to check and make sure PCM is selected in the menu.

I just downloaded a Lynn Stanley disc from an AnalogPlanet recommendation from BluCoast  in 2496 wav and burned in on a DVD-r and it sounds great, and I now have a physical copy.

That Sony DVD Architect program is only $39 and is a great buy.

Thornhill's picture

I'm dissapointed not to hear about any plans to use the massive storage capacity of Blu-ray as an alternative to multi-disc CD boxes sets. 

Even if the source resolution is 16/44 I'd still prefer a single Blu-ray disc instead of a 20 or 30 disc box. And assuming that it's a lot cheaper to produce a single disc than a box set, hopefully some of those savings will be passed on to consumers. 

It's also dissapointing that there won't even be the *occasional* new 5.1 recording. Oh well. 

Frans's picture

Bang on - the best way to prevent piracy is to create something collectible that people want to have. I would like to be able to buy anthologies that have lots of extras, cover art, lyrics, and screen savers. The audio-only aspect should only be true when you are playing it in screenless mode.

Thornhill's picture

There are plenty of ways to make a Blu-ray anthology release special, such as including video interviews and other special features a la what has been done for decades with LaserDisc, DVD and now Blu-ray. In fact, it's becoming pretty common for CD releases to include a DVD with video interviews and clips from the recording session. It seems like it would be cheaper to just put it all on one disc. 

As for lyrics, with opera recordings I'd much rather have the libretto on the video track, displayed on a monitor, synced up with the music (Naxos has done this with some of their choral releases), or a PDF file I can download for my computer, iPad, etc. Both are much easier to read and follow along with than the micro print in librettos designed to be small enough to fit into a CD box or slip case. 

jlaubza's picture

I've bought a few surround sound discs (chamber music and piano concertoes) and downloaded some 5.1 recordings from Scandinavia.

Honestly, not worth the money, except for the 2L recordings. Both the Chamber works and the Piano Recordings were pointless in 5.1. Think about it. How much of a chamber group can actually be heard coming out of surround channels and how much real LFE is there for the subwoofer?

The piano concertoes I think were a rip although the brand name was reputable. I've heard some recordings that I think were synthesized into 5.1 format from stereo and I think the Piano Cs were an example. Frankly, my Dolby processor on my Denon amp does a better job.

The Scandinavian jazz recordings however were brilliant and worth the bucks for the sense of space they created. But these are very studio bound and designed to make the subwoofer rattle the rafters now and then whereas classsical concerts are limited in sound scope by the concert halls they are recorded in.

I've heard a Phil Collins concert on a DVD and indeed, the cheering and clapping audience were more or less in the room, around me but the performers were still over there, on the stage and stereo was just as effective. (I'm commenting on format, not recording standard, which in any case was 24/48).

5.1 for movies however is a different experience altogether and it is obvious that 5.1 was developed for movies, certainly not classical recordings and does its best when used for action movies. I'll never forget the solid realism of the first cannon shot in Hunger Games Blu Ray. Anybody know of a genuine modern surround sound recording of the 1812? I'll give it a go and maybe change my mind.

In the meantime, I have concluded that unless I buy a specialist Scandinavian recording, 5.1 recordings for especially classical music, are a wash.

Thornhill's picture

So you've listened to a few surrond sound recordings, and now you're going to pass judgement on the many thousands? Tomorrow, why don't you go to a Japanese restaurant and let us know if this sushi thing is just a fad. 

You also completely don't understand the LFE channel. 

 Think about it. How much of a chamber group can actually be heard coming out of surround channels and how much real LFE is there for the subwoofer?

The LFE channel is a relic 1970s and '80s movie theater audio equipment.

Most surround sound music recordings are 5.0. If you own a subwoofer, the bass management of your AVR will send plenty of information to the sub, even in chamber music (at this moment I'm listening to a 5.0 recording of Martinu's sonataa for cello and piano; the sub is in constant use). A piano goes all the way down to 27.5 Hz, a double bass 33 Hz. I doubt there are many bookshelf speakers that go much below ~45 Hz. 

Daniel.nx211's picture

You know, I really just *DON'T* get this. 

5.1 for audio isn't about the back 2 channels creating some sort of supplemental audio tracks to accent the front sound stage.  It's about having a mic *IN THE CENTER OF THE SOUND STAGE* and therefore having the ability to enable recording and playback of *3* discrete front channels!  It's an *IMAGING* advancement that a 2.0 recording, either CD or Blu-ray Audio will *NEVER* be able to offer!  And you don't think that it would be a *TREMENDOUS ADVANCEMENT* over a 2.0 recording?  Have you ever listened to a 5.1 Blu-ray concert recording and listened closely to its *FRONT* sound stage? It's not about the back two channels, it's about an additional discrete front *CENTER* channel providing *CENTER STAGE IMAGING* that is *FAR BEYOND* the capability of *ANY* 2.0 speaker set-up no matter what its cost!  Really, no kidding!  Aren't there any other people here that have heard and understand this?  Well, I can tell at least one other dude here has. Audiophiles and audiophile publications should be so enthralled with the concept that they feel compelled to beat this idea into the brains of audio industry professionals so that they, in turn, can push this idea out into the brains of the mass market.

I can still remember the original advertisements for SACD when it was new.  Four speakers for audio playback, the new stereo?  I remember thinking what kind of music is going to be coming out of the back two channels when I listen to a recording of a SACD orchestral, symphonic or even a 4 or 5 member rock band???  Yes, I understand the higher bit and sampling rates, but the purpose of the back two channels aside from that is what???  If I want wrap around sound from a 2.0 channel audio CD, I'll just put on some headphones, right???

And here we have some audio executive dude, pretty much near the top of the audio recording food chain, who is more than happy to settle for 2.0 channel recordings of a brand new audio format, Blu-ray Audio?  How much expense would there really be to just add one more mic in the center of the stage to enable at least a 3.0 recording?  Perhaps we have the wrong kind of people at the top of the audio recording and distribution industry which need to be replaced by people who have ears and minds capable of understanding the *IMAGING ADVANTAGES* of a 3.0 recording verses a 2.0 recording so as to offer the public something *NEW* that cannot already be accomplished by some 17 year old DVD/CD player with 24/96Hz audio playback capability.  I have one of those kind of disc players, its a Sony DVD/CD player and it even has two separate optical arms, one tuned specifically for video, and the other tuned specifically for CD audio playback that is arguably superior to most modern Blu-ray players for playing back audio CD's, notwithstanding the higher bit rates of the Blu-ray audio channels.

And why am I so frustrated with this thread and the lack of understanding and apathy for a potentially *SIGNIFICANT* advancement over 2.0 channel stereo recordings that we've been listening to for what, the last 70 years?  3.0 channel recordings are really that much of a paradigm shift above the way that we listen to music today.  It really makes for a more ideal *FRONTAL* sound stage.  And this discussion and its lack of apathy for a potentially *HUGE* advancement above stereo is being hosted by one of the country's most premier audiophile publications web site - which includes a number of very intelligent, discerning and articulate audio system evaluators and presumably a similarly understanding audience.

Do you really think that 24/96 2.0 channel Blu-ray audio music disc play-back, with its higher than CD bit rate, together with some ultra-high-end speakers and amps, are going to provide you with *BETTER* center-sound-stage-imaging than some 3.0 channel discrete recording and playback on a low or mid-fi system???

And now, with a growing installed *base* of high-quality, 5.1 discrete audio channel capable players in the world, it doesn't occur, to the powers-that-be, to offer at least a new 3.0 high quality audio disc format?  You know, give people a *SUBSTANTIVE* reason to purchase something new and better than what is, more or less, already available.

Thornhill's picture

I kind of agree and kind of disagree with you. 

With the rear channels, their purprose is to help spread the stereo image wider than you get with just two channels. Since the advent of SACD, people who have never heard a suround sound recording declared all that the rears do is pump in ambient sound (or attempt to make it sound like you're surround by the musicians). Nobody ever pushed back against this disinfomration, and as a result, surround sound has largely been viewed as a novelty. 

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