Virtually every new recording of Mozart's great opera, Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), is eagerly anticipated. The opera is, after all, an indisputable masterpiece, and frequently described as the most perfect opera ever written. Not only does it contain an irresistible flood of melody, with one hummable, ear worm-like tune after the other, but its music also unfailingly serves da Ponte's libretto. This recording, of concert performances that took place in the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden in July 2015, is especially important for two reasons. The first is its star-studded cast of younger and veteran singers, among whom are four extremely well knowns: bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni (Figaro), baritone Thomas Hampson (Count Almaviva), mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie Von Otter (Marcellina), and tenor Rolando Villazón (Basilio).
One feature of this year's RMAF that has catapulted it into the major leagues of audio shows was the sheer number of well-attended workshops and panels scheduled at the Hyatt. Over the course of three days, one room featured "Let's Get Digital" with Robert Harley of The Absolute Sound, "Music Everywhere" by Steven R. Rochlin of EnjoytheMusic.com, "The New Music Label" by attorney Ned Hearn, "Adventures in Digital Formats, Unsampling & Dithering" with our own John Atkinson, "Digital Playback Equipment Design Considerations" with David Solomon of Signal Path International, and "Music Discovery" with consultant Sean Leonard. Many of these were panels, with a host of additional participants.
"I'm still in shock," Reference Recordings recording engineer Sean Martin blurted out during a conference call with his recording engineer stepfather, Keith O. Johnson. "When Jan Mancuso woke me up at 5:30 or 6 to tell me the news, I couldn't imagine who would be calling so early," was Johnson's follow up.
After encountering several rooms filled with overly warm, romanticized tube sound, it was a welcome shock to discover tube gear from Rogue that sounded far more neutral. Alas, the sound from Rogue’s Zeus amplifier (225Wpc, $7495) and prototype reference-level linestage preamp seemed a bit soft around the edges, lacking detail. However, who knows how much of what I heard was due to the plethora of Echo Buster paneling with which the exhibitors had tried to tame the room's acoustics. Paired with the Egglestonworks The Nine ($12,900/pair), introduced at the show, I heard much promise until competition from adjoining rooms forced me to retreat. What I did learn is the speaker uses an 8" Morel woofer, two of the same 6" Morel drivers featured in the company's earlier Andra 2, and an Eggleston favorite, the Dynaudio Ecostar tweeter. Available in virtually any automotive color, the speaker will start shipping in March.
Prediction: The visionary new music, system-testing percussion, and virtual rainbow of colors that distinguish Dawn to Dust, the latest hybrid SACD in Reference Recordings' Fresh! series, guarantee that it will become a hit among music-loving audiophiles who dare play tracks beyond 3 minutes in length. The inventive genius that courses through the recording's three compositionsControl (Five Landscapes for Orchestra) by Nico Muhly, 34; Switch by Andrew Norman, 37; and Eos (Goddess of the Dawn), a ballet for orchestra by Augusta Read Thomas, 52is, in and of itself, enrapturing, formidable, and breathtaking. But when combined with the spectacular coloristic and percussive effects captured by the Soundmirror engineering team, you have a recording virtually certain to earn Dust to Dawn at least one Grammy nomination and countless airings at audio demos.
On Saturday night, Bay Area Audiophile Society coordinator Bob Walters gave me a list of rooms he urged me to visit. Since two were on the 10th floor of the Marriott Tower, on which I had not yet set foot, I resolved to check both out. I'm glad I did. The tenth floor of the Marriott was like a gold mine. All I had to do was walk down the hall to the next room, and more glorious sound awaited me.
The phrase "save the best for last" rang true for me today. After close to five hours of listening, with ears that were beginning to scream, I heeded the advice of Sound Applications' Jim Weil and headed to the large room at one end of the 9th floor commandeered by Boulder’s Audio Federation. There I encountered the most rewarding sound I have heard at the show so far.
The delightful Gilbert Yeung of Blue Circle, minus the Mickey Mouse ears and Snake Oil display I encountered at the last Show, has a thing for circles. I'm not complaining. After seeing boxes upon boxes upon boxes, encountering a surfeit of circles is super. (I have a feeling someone is going to rake me over the coals in the comments section for that one.)
Alan (left) and Simon (right) Zreczny of Audio Consultants
When a retailer entitles his two-day open house, "Innovations in High Fidelity," it's essential that his staff know their stuff. For Audio Consultants, there was no question. With four stores in the greater Chicago area, Audio Consultants is, save perhaps for Magnolia, the largest as well as longest established audio dealer in the region.
Audio Consultants was also the only Chicago area high-end store to abstain from exhibiting at Axpona Chicago. When asked why, Simon Zreczny, who runs the store with his son, Alan, replied, "I don't like to be at shows. I don't enjoy doing them. I'm happiest with my customers. I attend 50 live concerts a year, and I always see my customers next to me."
It's said that your first experience on entering a space sets the tone for all that follows. At LP pressing plant Record Technology, Inc. (RTI), that experience is my encounter with veteran pressman Richard Lopez, who responds to my request for direction. As he leaves his vintage record press to lead me to owner Don MacInnis, Lopez reads aloud the sticker on a box of recently pressed LPs. "WORLD'S FINEST PHONOGRAPH RECORDS," he declares with pride. As I reflect on how few workers today feel so connected to the products they make, I sense that something special lies ahead.