The other night I heard The Tallis Scholars—the world's foremost exponents of Renaissance polyphony—sing in the Chorus of Westerly's performance hall, in Rhode Island: an 1886-vintage former Roman Catholic church with nearly all of its original horsehair plaster intact (footnote 1). Even sitting back in the cheap seats, the sound was glorious. I have never heard a vocal ensemble sing with more finesse, pitch security, or blend of tone.
Wilson Benesch, distributed in the US by The Sound Organisation, is a Sheffield, UK-based engineering firm that made its début in the audio world by making a tonearm from carbon fiber. (See Jonathan Scull's report on his visit to the WB factory in December 1996, Vol.19 No.12).
Home Entertainment 2004 West in San Francisco might have been called off last November, but I wasn't about to let that stop me from taking a trip to visit the wine country—except that the wine country in question turned out to be the wine country of Southern New England.
Imagine two people who have been audiophiles for 20 years. When they first met, Audiophile #1 had just decided that he would do his best to buy a system that he could keep for the indefinite future, without anxiety about upgrades. Let alone get off the "equipment upgrade" merry-go-round, he never wanted to get on it in the first place. Audiophile #1 also decided that having a truly great music system in his home was more important to him than buying a new car every three years. He found a dealer who sold systems based on value rather than on price. He ended up both exhilarated and intimidated, not only at the amount of money he had spent but at how good his stereo system sounded. He then stopped messing with it, sat back, and enjoyed the music.
Morten Lauridsen's magisterial work for chorus and orchestra, Lux aeterna, appears in a fresh new recording, in truly excellent sound, on England's Hyperion label. The vocal ensemble Polyphony is accompanied by the Britten Sinfonia; both are led by Stephen Layton. Better yet, in addition to the CD-only version, there is a separate SACD/CD hybrid release (Hyperion SACDA67449), meaning that it is backwardly-compatible with CD players. Furthermore, the SACD layer contains a surround-sound program in addition to the stereo one.
Firms that specialize in architectural acoustics usually concentrate on the big jobs—churches, schools, and auditoriums. Rives Audio is unusual in that they specialize in "small-room" acoustics, for residential listening rooms and home theaters. Rives is unusual in another way: they consult on a nationwide and even international basis.
I recently spent a few days filling in for a local engineer, recording middle-school and high-school bands and choral ensembles. This was a requirement of the statewide music-educator adjudication process. (Don't laugh; recording high-school bands is how Telarc got its start.)
In my October column, I began putting together a stereo system for a hypothetical high-school music teacher who wanted to reproduce in his or her home perhaps 80% of the frequency range and dynamics of live music, but who wanted to spend only about 20% of what an ambitious audio system would cost.
Mark Wilder, senior mastering engineer for Sony Music Studios, looked expectantly from John Atkinson to Bob Saglio to me and asked, "Are you ready?" As it had been my inquiry that had resulted in this mind-boggling, once-in-a-lifetime, peak-experience get-together, and as no one else was speaking up, I replied, "As ready as we'll ever be."