Music in the Round #79 Recordings in the Round

Sidebar 2: Recordings in the Round

It's been five years since I've had the time and space for this feature. I can't hope to catch up with all that's happened since, but in reviewing surround gear for "Music in the Round" I've used and mentioned the most notable surround recordings as references, and reviewed the recordings themselves in "Records to Die For." When the last installment of "Recordings in the Round" was published, we were still dealing mostly with SACDs and the very first Blu-ray Audio discs. I now prefer to download files, but most surround downloads are also available as physical discs.

Prokofiev: Symphonies 3 & 4
Challenge Classics CC72584 (SACD/CD, 24/352.8 FLAC download from 2015. Bert van der Wolf, eng. DDD. TT: 58:00

Prokofiev: Symphonies 6 & 7
Challenge Classics CC72714 (SACD/CD, DSD64 download from 2016. Bert van der Wolf, eng. DDD. TT: 72:22

Both: James Gaffigan, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra

These first two releases in a projected cycle of all of Prokofiev's symphonies are both blockbusters. First, James Gaffigan's view of these works is passionate, and he's more overt about that passion than is Valery Gergiev in his traversal. This is Prokofiev with weight and wit. In particular, symphonies 3 and 6 stand with my favorite performances, by Abbado and Weller, respectively (both on Decca LPs). Second, the Netherlands RPO carries it all off with power and precision. Third, the engineering by Bert van der Wolf is spectacular, with a spacious soundstage and formidable bass. He recommended the 24/352.8 FLAC over the DSD download; I found the difference subtle, but slightly preferred the DSD with the exaSound e28 DAC.

Schumann: Manfred
Vocal soloists; Münster Concert Chorus, Münster Philharmonic Chorus, Münster Symphony Orchestra; Fabrizio Ventura
Ars Produktion ARS38192 (SACD/CD). 2016. Annette Schumacher, prod.; Manfred Schumacher, Martin Rust, eng. DDD. TT: 65:32

Described by Schumann as "a dramatic poem with music in three parts," based on the poem by Lord Byron, Manfred is an odd, extravagant production recorded in a series of live performances in 2015. The familiar overture is nicely paced and well performed, but many better are available. The rest consists of 14 melodramatic arias, choruses, and incidental music interleaved with six sections of spoken passages in German). It appealed to me because I long ago imprinted on two mono Columbia Masterworks LPs of a dramatic recording in histrionic English, with the Royal Philharmonic led by Sir Thomas Beecham. Here, the soloists, and the Münster orchestra and choruses, are more than competent as conductor Fabrizio Ventura offers us this unfamiliar and lovely music. This recording makes great use of multichannel: the orchestra and soloists are up front, a phantasmagoria of spirits and ghosts swirling around the listener. Despite my continued enjoyment of the whole thing, I suggest sampling it online before purchase.

Biber: The Rosary Sonatas
Rachel Podger, violin; Jonathan Manson, cello, viola da gamba; David Miller, theorbo, archlute; Marcin Swiatiewicz, harpsichord, organ
Channel Classics CCS SA37315 (2 SACD/CDs). 2015. Jonathan Attwood, prod.; Jared Sacks, eng. DDD. TT: 2:14:26

I am addicted to these sonatas, and buy every recording I can find. There are many good ones, several in multichannel, including three new ones in the past year alone. I've settled on this one for its balance. There is already so much joy and intensity in the music that adding more is as compromising as is conveying less. Rachel Podger plays beautifully, and the supporting ensemble is superb: they proceed through this musical and emotional journey with passion and resolute focus. Jared Sacks's recording is utterly transparent.

I also recommend two other outstanding DSD recordings of these sonatas: Riccardo Minasi (ArtsMusic 47735-8) and Ariadne Daskalakis (BIS 2096). Buy at least one of them!

Steinar Granmo Nilsen: Early Romantic Horn Sonatas
Danzi: Sonata in E-flat, Op.28. Ries: Grand Sonata in F, Op.34. Von Krufft: Sonata in E.
Steinar Granmo Nilsen, natural horn; Kristin Fossheim, fortepiano
2L 113-SBD (SACD/CD & BD-A, DSD 64 download from 2015. Morten Lindberg, prod.; Morten Lindberg, Beatrice Johannesen, eng. DDD. TT: 68:00

You must hear this. Most of us are used to hearing valved French horns in an orchestra or band, and occasionally a natural (valveless) horn, particularly in some recordings of Mozart's concertos. What most have not heard is a natural horn up close, as here. The Ries sonata begins with two pianoforte chords that set up an expectation of scale; the entry of the horn blows it away. It's large, it's sharply defined, and you can almost feel Nilsen's blast of air. More than that, the music is delightful, with charm, melody, and drama. If you like Beethoven or Mendelssohn—or, better yet, Beethoven and Mendelssohn—you'll enjoy these three works as the sound of Nilsen's magnificent horn in your room never looses its grip on your audiophile ears.

National Brass Ensemble: Gabrieli
Gabrieli: Selections from Sacrae Symphoniae (arr. Tim Higgins), other works. Williams: Music for Brass.
National Brass Ensemble
Oberlin Music OC15-04 (SACD/CD, DSD64 download from 2015. Michael Bishop, eng. DDD. TT: 68:29

This brass spectacular is the latest in a distinguished line. The patriarch was the 1968 stereo classic The Antiphonal Music of Gabrieli, performed by members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the Chicago Symphony, and organist E. Power Biggs, and is now available as a stereo SACD (Sony Classical SS 89173). The music pretty much demands multichannel recording, and there have been several outstanding SACD offerings, including Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort & Players' Music for San Rocco (SACD/CD, Archiv 477 086-2) and the Berlin Brass's Berliner Dom: Music for Brass & Organ (SACD/CD, Pentatone PTC 5186 509). Inspired by the 1968 recording, this spectacular new release includes many of the same works, as well as a newly composed piece by John Williams that fits in well. The National Brass Ensemble is entirely new, its 26 players drawn from a wide array of professional orchestras (see Recorded direct to DSD at Skywalker Sound Stage by Five/Four Productions, with Michael Bishop (of Telarc fame) at the controls, the playing is exuberant and precise, as is the crystalline delineation of the instruments' sounds. The clarity and directness are in refreshing contrast to the more reverberant venues of the Archiv and Pentatone recordings, but this is a matter of taste. Each is quite wonderful in its own way.

mtymous1's picture

Connaker wrote about the software side (Windows Server Essentials 2012 R2 and Audiophile Optimizer) in this article last year:

The step-by-step is available here:

ksalno's picture

I bought one of these with the power supply and upgraded USB card last year. It works as advertised and as you described. It sounds pretty good, although I have a CAPS server running a similar configuration of software that sounds just as good and cost half as much. However, you are right to point out that the hardware is woefully under-sized for such an expensive box. As long as all you want to do is run Roon Server under AO optimized Win 12 Server it works. If you start trying to add things like Room Correction, UpSampling, or other optimizers - it runs out of gas very quickly. HQPlayer - forget about it! Same for Dirac or Acourate Convolver. It just doesn't have the HP to do any sort of complex processing. It is probably best suited to the be the AudioPC in a dual PC setup using JPlayer and something with a lot more power to do all the heavy lifting prior to sending the audio stream to the SoTM for streaming to the DAC. I never tried it in this config because for me, it's too expensive to use that way. Other manufactuers have put out much cheaper devices for doing this type of light weight streaming.

jumbleknot's picture

I found this article very interesting. I have two questions around the use of the tX-USBexp:

1. The exaSound e28 advertises “Time–smearing jitter, that killer of realistic temporal reproduction, has been pushed down to miraculously low levels via the ZeroJitter™ asynchronous USB interface.” Since you are using a DAC with an asynchronous USB interface, I am unclear as to the primary benefit of the tX-USBexp. Is the “ultra-low jitter clock” in the tX-USBexp even meaningful when hooked up to a DAC via asynchronous USB? Is the primary benefit the “special filter circuits” and “Ultra low-noise Voltage regulator” that the tX-USBexp also advertises?

2. In November 2015 you wrote an article on the UpTone Audio USB Regen. I know you weren’t able to test this with your exaSound e28, but I am wondering how the UpTone compares with the tX-USBexp. It sounds like they are performing similar functions, but the UpTone can be easily added to an existing server at roughly one third the price (roughly one tenth the price if you consider the sPS-1000 power supply as part of the equation).

Any insight would be much appreciated.

Kal Rubinson's picture

It is not clear to me that either of these devices has a substantial effect when using the e28. In the case of the tX-USBexp, however, I do know that it gets the USB output separate (directly from the motherboard) from other USB devices which I might use simultaneously and, thereby, avoids interaction with them. Whether the independent power supply is a further help is not clear but the Regen made no substantial change.

jumbleknot's picture

Where/how do you get your multichannel FLAC files and other digital multichannel files? I really enjoy multichannel music, but my only real source is via SACD and Blu-Ray (the former I am not aware of how to rip to my computer, and the latter is almost entirely video concerts that I rip to MKV files). I have a large library of 2 channel FLAC files ripped from CD or downloaded from HDTracks and PonoMusic. I would really like to be able to have a digital multichannel music library that is similar to my 2 channel digital music library.
Thanks for the help!