Jake Shimabukuro in the dCS Suite at the Mirage

Covering CES with a perpetual smile and fresh ears is usually a challenge. But sometimes, you can feel like the luckiest reporter alive when everything falls into place.

Yes, it'll sound like I'm gushing, but unless you meet him, it's hard to comprehend what a positive and gracious human being Jake Shimabukuro is. Everywhere we went he stuck his hand out and, with a smile, exhibited unending excitement and curiosity at what he was hearing. And watching him play, up close and in person, is amazing. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

We met for breakfast in the Mirage at 9AM and by 10 headed up to the top floors (with large, good sounding rooms) to meet John Quick and the crew at dCS. I hooked up my laptop and after exchanging introductions, settled down to play a couple tracks from Jake's new album, Nashville Sessions. Though it is not officially released in HD audio yet (CD and vinyl are available), the mastering engineer had sent me 24/88 PCM WAV copies of the master that we used in all demos.


The first track we played was "Blue Haiku" which starts out with solo ukulele, soon joined by electric bass and then acoustic drums. The track features moody shifting rhythms and some extended Jake soloing, and to my ears, sounds wonderful with extended bass and unrestrained subtle dynamics throughout. Next Jake requested "Galloping Seahorses" which, though starting with a delicate baritone Ukulele solo (which sounds very much like a Koto in Jake's hands), quickly shifts into high gear with some very dynamic bass and drum soloing and some blindingly fast crescendoing uke arpeggios.

Since this was our first room, we had no baseline yet, but Jake jumped right in: "This was a great experience! When you have a reference like this, you can get as close as possible to the real thing when recording. The challenge is to make it real--that is the goal with every recording--but in a recording studio you don't have a reference like this. The speakers we use probably cost ten or twenty grand, not over $100,000. But with this system, all those little minute details were there, but it didn't distract. It was just part of the music and a very enjoyable experience."


Next, Jake opens his instrument case and tunes up his custom Kamaka ukulele. He confided to me afterwards that he hadn't been this nervous playing live for a while (and this is a guy who has played for the Queen of England): "I realize that this audience, small as it was, was going to listen so close, that it was hard to stay loose at first." He needn't have worried, since his two minute transcription of "Eleanor Rigby" was executed superbly.

He plays softly at first, but as the song builds his body starts to move and the natural dynamics build until the end where he is aggressively strumming the outro chorus in double time, loud and clear. And this is when you realize how good the treated room itself sounds.

Finally, I cue up the recorded 24/192 WAV version of the same arrangement, using the same ukulele and condition (one day old) strings, and we attempt to get a good volume match. I've listened to this track at home with various speakers and headphones, so already know that it is a bit soft on the top end, and cannot approach the dynamics of live, though the recording uses no compression, limiting or other tricks.


dCS' John Quick joins Jake in the sweet spot

John Quick: "To be honest, this is a very good experience for us [as manufacturers] to hear as well, because you make choices. How you set up the speakers in the room, even down to where we put feet underneath the equipment. There are different filters we choose and others things to fine tune the sound, like having just heard you play live, I would actually change a couple settings in our system. The tonality was really good, but we could bring out a bit more of the dynamic range. There are things we can do with the filters to bring out more high frequency detail as well."

Quick finishes with, "This is an invaluable tool. Most of us go to live music for that experience frequently, so we know we're not aiming at the wrong target."

Jake then adds that "It would be such a great project, a collaborative thing, where the manufacturer could really fine tune the setup. Then once you get it set up and you know the reference is right, you can check your progress on a great system and you know it sounds like the real thing . . . I can then just play and record. I've now got the wheels turning about how I can go about the next project."

dCS' David Steven Jr., also in the room with us, then observed "Jake I think what you are saying is right. All we can really do is play back those bits, and there is so much that can be done in the studio with one turn of the dial can help what you are trying to get across if you hear it properly."

We then discussed recording technique a bit and, as if on cue, recording engineer Peter McGrath walks in the room. He then followed us to Nagra's room, also in the Mirage . . .

dCS Suite Equipment List:
dCS Vivaldi Transport $41,999
dCS Vivaldi DAC $35,999
dCS Vivaldi Upsampler $21,999
dCS Vivaldi Clock $14,999
dCS Rossini Player $28,499
dCS Rossini Clock $7,499
dCS Network Bridge $4,250
Dan D'Agostino Momentum M400 mono amplifiers $65,000/pr.
Wilson Audio Alexx loudspeakers $109,000/pr.
Transparent Audio Opus Generation 5 Speaker cables $39,000/pr.
Transparent Audio Opus Generation 5 XLR Interconnects $22,000/pr.
Transparent Audio Opus Generation 5 Power Cords $5,000 each
Transparent Audio Opus Generation 5 Power Isolator $15,950 with Opus power cord
Transparent Audio Opus Generation 5 Reference XL AES-EBU and BNC $3,500 each
Harmonic Resolution Systems (HRS) MXR isolation system $35,000
Harmonic Resolution Systems (HRS) M3X amp stands $3,500
Harmonic Resolution Systems (HRS) Vortex footers $1,200/set

More info on Jake @CES here. You can read all of the Jake @CES posts here.