Duet: And Two to Carry Your Soul Away Page 5

The central cardioid and omnis were around 6' from the violin in all three works. Ida Levin was centrally placed in the Schulhoff, and about 3' to the left and in front of the Steinway keyboard in the other two works. The image of her instrument should therefore be halfway between the center and the left-hand loudspeaker in the Janácek and Enescu sonatas; the piano image, which should be broad and rather amorphous, should extend from stage center all the way to the right-hand loudspeaker position. The mikes were 8' from the chapel floor in the Schulhoff, and just over 9' from the stage floor in the violin and piano sonatas, just below the line of the piano's open lid.

Ida likes to tune slightly sharp of concert pitch, so A=442Hz was used in the solo work. But piano technician Michael Blackwell, who kept the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival's Steinway in great shape throughout all three days of recording, didn't want to take it higher than the A=441 for which it had been set for a concert the previous day featuring the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival's new music director, Marc Neikrug. So that's what we decided upon!

Following choice of hall, microphone, and mike technique, the next influence on what you hear from a CD is the choice of analog/digital converter. Following the favorable impression I had gleaned from its use on Stereophile's 1997 Rhapsody CD, I had bought a dCS 900 24-bit A/D converter, which I had updated to the latest (902) status prior to the November '97 Ida Levin sessions. This converted the omni outputs, fed by 60' of balanced Cardas cable and amplified by an ultra-quiet solid-state Millennia Media HV-3B preamp, to digital. The cardioid outputs were fed by 50' of Canare balanced cable to Stereophile's 20-bit Manley ADC via a transformerless Forssell tubed mike preamp. The preamps and A/D converters were out in the hall and connected to the Nagra-D in the control room by 65' of Canare 110 ohm AES/EBU cable. As all four tracks needed to be locked to the same sample clock, the dCS converter was slaved to the Manley via Madrigal AES/EBU cable and a Meridian 518 digital processor to minimize interface jitter.

Monitoring at the sessions was through Stax Lambda Pro and Sennheiser HD580 and HD600 headphones, the latter driven by HeadRoom Cosmic and Max headphone amplifiers. A Mackie VLZ-1202 mixer allowed us to hear the mix of the three mike outputs during the sessions and thus find the optimal placement for the array, but was not in the recording path.

All the editing of the session tapes was done with the Sonic Solutions hard-disk editing system set to 24-bit resolution to preserve as much of the original quality as possible. As with previous Stereophile recordings, I used the Sonic Solutions "track offset" function to time-align the four tracks. (This was made easy by starting each reel of tape with Wes Phillips slapping a slapstick in the exact center of the soundstage.) The central mike track, fed to both left and right mixer outputs, was reduced in level so that it provided just enough common-mode signal to "lock" the image in place. I also ended up, in the violin and piano works, mixing in just a smidgen of the rear-mike track to both channels, which reinforced the bloom of the hall. For the Schulhoff solo sonata, the supportive nature of the Chapel of Loretto acoustic was sufficient with just the three front-facing mikes.

Once the master edit list for the CD had been assembled, the problem remained of how to reduce the 24-bit data to the 16 bits mandated by the "Red Book" CD standard. Simply dumping the output of the computer hard disks to DAT or CD-R, thereby truncating each digital word from 24 to 16 bits, both reduces the sense of recorded space and adds a feeling of "digititis." During the preparation of the master, therefore, the digital data were "redithered" using the Meridian 518, which applies a choice of noise-shaping curves to the music data. By shifting quantizing noise up to the inaudible 20kHz region as it reduces the master's 24-bit word length to the CD's 16, the 518 preserves as much as possible of the original's resolution in the midrange.

The end result? The B&K omnis give a low end that is positively Stygian! No compression was used in the production of Duet. The dynamic range is therefore extreme, from the softest whispering of Ida's violin at the end of the Janácek Ballada to Diane Walsh's thunderous hammering of the Steinway at the climax of the Enescu sonata. Yes, the imaging on Duet is a little more vague than would have been produced by a Blumlein mike array, but it's not untrue to what you would have heard had you been there in the Loretto Chapel or St. Francis Auditorium. And some of the wandering of the violin image is real—Ida moving in response to the music's passion.

Duet costs $15.95 plus S&H. See the "Recordings" section of this website to place an order. Enjoy!