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Symphony No. 3 'Organ Symphony' [Leonard Slatkin, Vincent Warnier; Orchestre National de Lyon] [NAXOS BLU RAY AUDIO: NBD0045] [DVD AUDIO]
Symphony No. 3 'Organ Symphony' [Leonard Slatkin, Vincent Warnier; Orchestre National de Lyon] [NAXOS BLU RAY AUDIO: NBD0045] [DVD AUDIO]
Price: £11.88

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Organ with Cavaillé-Coll roots, good solo pieces, unexciting organ symphony, short programme, 12 May 2015
Blu-ray audio review: performance: 3/5, sound 4.5/5

This is a Blu-ray Disc with audio and no video except the menu. It is not a "DVD AUDIO" as listed alongside "BLU RAY AUDIO" on Amazon's product page title. "DVD AUDIO" is a nonsensical term to use, as Blu-ray Discs are not usually referred to as DVDs and 'DVD-Audio' (with a hyphen) is a dead format.

The central piece is the Saint-SaŽns Organ Symphony and the appeal for buying another version is the organ. Cavaillé-Coll built a 82-stop instrument for the concert hall in the Palais du Trocadéro as part of the 1878 Paris Expo. In 1939 it was reconstructed in the new Palais de Chaillot by Victor Gonzalez and relocated in 1977 to the Lyon auditorium by Georges Danion. It retains original pipework but also has new pipes and the layout is modern, therefore is not strictly a 'historic' instrument in the usual connotation. In 2013 it was restored by Michel Gaillard from Aubertin and this recording is part of the inauguration celebration.

The stop list of the organ is omitted in the booklet but can be found on Lyon Auditorium's website, which mentions it is the only concert hall organ in France. It has four manuals, 82 stops, 119 ranks, a family of tuba and trumpets (including en chamade) in the Solo, 32' stops in the Grande Orgue and Pédale.

The organist-in residence of the Orchestre National de Lyon, Vincent Warnier is winner of the 1992 Chartres international Organ Competition and is at the Église Saint-Étienne-du-Mont in Paris and Nortre-Dame Cathedral at Verdun.

Lemare's transcription of Danse macabre is further revised here by Warnier to showcase the additional solo stops added after Cavaillé-Coll and orchestral colours and full palette of the instrument. The strong rhythms are effectively brought out.

Cyprès, written 1919 in Algeria is a lament for organ solo and here Warnier showcases the Hautbois and Voix humaine solo stops. Lauriers with orchestra is a tribute to the Allied victory in World War I and combines fanfare in the full organ and orchestral trumpets. It stands up to a repeat listening. Saint-SaŽns conducted the French première of this work at the Trocadéro in October 1920 with Eugène Gigout as soloist.

The Saint-SaŽns rendition is rather ponderous and only picks up pace in the second half. Roaring reeds and full weighty organ sound introduces the second half of the second section (the 'fourth movement'). The orchestra does not make a really big sound and there is too much inner detail of the small notes. I'm unconvinced I hear 32' at the end. There are better versions elsewhere and my reference remains Barenboim with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on DG despite being a synchronised recording with the organ recorded later half the globe away. There is so much energy and momentum it is on the perilous edge of going wild.

The Radio France 24/96 recording is good despite being in a dry hall. The Danse macabre was recorded in 2014 and the rest in 2013. The stereo PCM and 5.0 dts-HD MA tracks can be selected using the coloured button on the remote without the need for a screen (because of this the disc will not resume play after stopping). The organ is in front and the rear channels are ambience only. The runtime of 57'48 is short for CD let alone Blu-ray Audio and there is plenty of room to include more Saint-SaŽns or other French solo pieces, improvisation, demonstration of organ stops or even video of the performance. It is also available separately on CD. Less than ideal choice of conductor and orchestra for recording an organ with a distinguished past. Mainly for French organ buffs.


Easter from King's (The Choir of Kings College Cambridge/Stephen Cleobury) NTSC, Region 0 [DVD]
Easter from King's (The Choir of Kings College Cambridge/Stephen Cleobury) NTSC, Region 0 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Allegri
Price: £13.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Could do better in HD and surround sound with new music and extras, 26 April 2015
4.5/5

This is a recording in December 2013 with congregation for the 2014 BBC Two broadcast "Easter from King's" and takes a similar approach to the well-known "Carols from King's". It includes two prayers, nine readings, four hymns, 13 items of music sung by the choir and closing organ voluntary. Personally I am not too fond of the non-biblical readings but they are not long. I particularly like Cleobury's arrangement of the final verse in the closing hymn "Jesus Christ is Risen Today" with full organ and I think the tuba stop playing the cantus firmus. The music is all old (Renaissance to Vaughan Williams): they could follow the carol service by commissioning something new. It is encouraging to see undergraduates from diverse ethnic backgrounds reading, singing in the choir and playing the organ.

The intended customers for these King's DVDs must be more for people from outside than within the UK. The UK broadcast must have been in HD and if you have it on your PVR then there is nothing to gain from buying the DVD, particularly if like the carols there is a new episode each year. Unfortunately for those not in the UK this release is only on DVD and in stereo only. The video quality is good for SD (NTSC 16:9) and the 16/48 PCM stereo track is full bodied with solid organ support. The texts of the prayers, readings and the music are in the booklet (with English translations of non-English text) but not in the video. The DVDs from King's own label are more competitively priced than previous releases on Opus Arte, but with a runtime of only 73 minutes and no extras it feels a little short.


New Year's Concert: 2015 - Vienna Philharmonic (Mehta) [Blu-ray]
New Year's Concert: 2015 - Vienna Philharmonic (Mehta) [Blu-ray]
Dvd ~ Zubin Mehta
Price: £17.60

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One of the best New Year's Concerts but the worst Blu-ray picture in recent years, 8 April 2015
Concert 5/5; Video 3/5; Audio 5/5

Zubin Mehta, honorary member of the Wiener Philharmoniker which he has been associated for 52 years, returns to conduct the traditional New Year's Concert in Vienna for the fifth time after many years' absence. This year's programme has more of the known favourites and the pieces generally have quicker tempo, stronger rhythm and louder than in the past few years. Mehta conducts with a flowing tempo with a fair degree of flexibility. There are five New Year's Concert premieres.

Mehta is good at capturing the mood of the audience in large public concerts. The audience reacts to him much more enthusiastically than to other conductors in previous years and repeatedly gives rapturous applause after many items. There are glasses of champagne delivered on stage (in the Champagner-Galopp) and the first encore, the Explosions-Polka finishes with a very loud bang that startles me. The traditional verbal address "Die Wiener Philharmoniker wünschen ... Prosit Neujahr!" misses out the 'Ihnen' (you): native German speakers can advise if this is correct. Mehta does something slightly different in the Radetzky March by selectively allowing only a section of the audience to clap in turn.

The 1080i60 picture is soft, immediately noticeable and visually not much better than upconverted DVD and certainly not better than 720p. The AVC encoding uses up to 38 Mbps (the maximum is 40 Mbps) so it is not bit starved. The colour is also more subdued than in previous years. The original TV broadcast which I have on PVR is a lot sharper and vibrant so it's not poor focus, lighting or source problem. Whoever in post-production responsible for the sub-par Blu-ray video should be sacked.

The audio tracks in stereo 24/48 and 5.0 dts-HD MA are well mixed with a large dynamic range. The extras consists of a 20 minute travelogue with music only along the Ringstraße and two ballet sequences.

All in all this is a more joyous and uplifting concert in many years, Mehta's best New Year's Concert and the best since Mariss Janson's New Year Concert. Shame about the picture quality: Sony's Blu-ray quality is a bit of hit and miss and they should do something about quality control.


Various: Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra Meiningen (Works By Beethoven/ Brahms) [DVD] [2010]
Various: Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra Meiningen (Works By Beethoven/ Brahms) [DVD] [2010]
Dvd ~ Daniel Barenboim
Price: £14.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Barenboim, Abbado and BPO, what else needs to be said?, 16 Nov. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Performance: 5/5 Picture: 3/5 Sound 4/5

To state the obvious, the concert is of a high standard. Barenboim, an authoritative Beethoven interpreter on the piano and renowned conductor himself gives a powerful performance of the fifth concerto. It's not perfect in every way but that's hardly the point for a live concert for an occasion. It is only a few years after Karajan's long reign and the orchestra still sounds muscular and full-bodied then. Abbado directs the Berliners to give a cheerful Brahms second symphony that ends with a rousing climax. This is a rare video recording of Abbado conducting Brahms. There are no encores or extras.

The disc is region free, not region 2 as indicated on Amazon. The video is in PAL 576i50. Audio is in PCM stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1.

The TV broadcast (directed by Brian Large) recording is dated and it's easy to see aliasing (steps) and sharpening (halos) artefacts. This has since been re-issued on Europakonzert 1994 Blu-ray but the picture is brutally cropped to 16:9, frame-converted to 60i and the upconverted DVD (from standard definition) is not an upgrade at all (see my detailed review). Buy this DVD.


Europakonzert 1994 [Claudio Abbado, Daniel Barenboim, Berlin Philharmonic] [Euroarts: 2011694] [Blu-ray] [2013]
Europakonzert 1994 [Claudio Abbado, Daniel Barenboim, Berlin Philharmonic] [Euroarts: 2011694] [Blu-ray] [2013]
Dvd ~ Beethoven
Price: £25.94

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "Lovingly restored"? No, brutally butchered! The upconverted DVD is a downgrade, proven by screenshots!, 15 Nov. 2014
Concert 5/5, Picture 2/5

It's a travesty! I am not kidding or afraid to speak out or disagree with others at the risk of upsetting EuroArts fans! Giving 3/5 is being very generous. I have the same concert on DVD (Arthaus Cat. No. PAL 107170, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra Meiningen (Works By Beethoven/ Brahms) [DVD] [2010] - this itself is a re-release of an even earlier TDK DVD) and have directly compared the PQ between the two. The Blu-ray is definitely not an upgrade let alone a significant upgrade! I give you an honest opinion based on facts backed up by proof and will not hide the shortcomings.

In the Blu-ray, the original recording in 4:3 original aspect ratio has been cropped to 16:9 thereby losing 25% of the picture and the smaller picture frame is magnified (zoomed in) to fit the new frame. Video noise is magnified. You can no longer see the two rows of double bass players at the top of the picture: instead you only see the cut-off torsos of the players in the first row. The statement in the other review about no unfortunate cropping of heads is just not true! I have uploaded comparative photos to prove it: see the links in the comments (the photos are now also included in this review, a new feature on Amazon).

If you want to fill the HDTV screen with 4:3 material you can already use your TV or player to stretch out or zoom in. The zoomed DVD picture looks similar to and possibly better than the Blu-ray. What's happened to the director's original intention? Why do these people at EuroArts keep doing it? What makes them think they know better and decide what we want? In the old DVD days at least studios gave us full screen and widescreen versions. What's happened to consumer choice?

Next, the original PAL frame-rate 50i has been frame converted to 'NTSC' 60i (with possible loss of detail as new frames are constructed). The score on the players' desks looks sharper on the DVD. It's easy to see aliasing (jaggedness, steps) artefacts in the Blu-ray in the string players' bows (much less obvious on the DVD). Again, I have uploaded photos. This suggests the source is interlaced standard definition. There is also artificial sharpening (halos, ghosting).

I was an early Blu-ray adopter and used to dismiss claims of people saying Blu-ray looks no better or worse than DVD. Now I have seen it convincingly myself. The difference is striking and immediate.

The concert itself is of a high standard as expected. Barenboim gives a powerful performance of the fifth concerto, it's not perfect but that's hardly the point for a live concert for an occasion. It is only a few years after Karajan's reign and the orchestra still sounds muscular and full-bodied then. Abbado directs the Berliners to give a cheerful Brahms second symphony that ends with a rousing climax. There are no encores or extras.

The cover art is absent and looks so plain and cheap and all the old re-issues are like this. Can't they at least print a concert photo to make it more stylish and fitting for musicians of such calibre?

The other perpetual gripe about EuroArts Blu-ray is the use of BD-Java: as a result the disc takes longer to load and does not resume play. Remember to hit the pause and not the stop button if you take a break.

Keep or get the DVD for a fraction of the cost of the Blu-ray and more importantly, for the video in original unmolested form. The same can be said of other old 4:3 aspect ratio Europakonzert re-issues on EuroArts Blu-ray as cropped 16:9 and I'm not buying any more of them. Enough said.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 15, 2014 11:18 AM GMT


Karajan: Beethoven Symphonies 1-9 (1963) Remastered [Deluxe Limited Edition-5 CDs + 1 Blu-Ray Audio]
Karajan: Beethoven Symphonies 1-9 (1963) Remastered [Deluxe Limited Edition-5 CDs + 1 Blu-Ray Audio]
Price: £37.76

57 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Remastered at 24 bit/96kHz': Emperor's new clothes? Listening, file, waveform & spectral analysis: the truth exposed, 16 Aug. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Performance 4.5-5/5, Recording 3.5-4/5

UPDATE on 22 Nov 2014: I have now done file, waveform and spectral analysis on one whole movement from each of the nine symphonies comparing up to four CD release versions. Details and URLs of screenshots of some results are posted in the comments section (two reduced sized images are now included below, a new feature to upload photos; for large images see the comments section). The results largely corroborate with my earlier listening impressions. Most importantly, the sampled files from the CDs from this new Blu-ray/CD set have IDENTICAL NUMBER OF BYTES AND RUNTIME down to 0.001s from those of the hybrid SACD CD layers and THEIR WAVEFORMS ARE IDENTICAL. File comparisons between these two versions show FIVE OUT OF NINE SAMPLED MOVEMENTS ARE BIT-FOR-BIT IDENTICAL. Spectrograms reveal FREQUENCIES ARE LIMITED TO 12kHz only at -70dB, well below human hearing and CD sample rate limits. I am now 99% certain that the new version is really using the same 24-bit/96kHz digital master as the 2003 SACD set with no further remastering in the majority of the symphonies and perhaps a minuscule amount in the rest.

THE ORIGINAL REVIEW
This long review rather than covering old territories like Karajan, his legacy or the HD audio vs. CD debate instead offers something more original and tries to get to the truth behind the new remaster, based on real listening tests comparing three formats and versions (CD, SACD, Blu-ray) simultaneously and other evidence. The more I look the more suspicious it gets. This release never claims to be a new analogue to digital transfer. The review also outlines some trade-offs of listening to Pure Audio Blu-ray compared to CD and SACD.

HISTORY OF THIS LANDMARK CYCLE
The previous major release versions of the complete set are:
1962 Analogue recording, 1963 LP
1989 digital remix, CD, ADD
1997 Original-Image Bit-Processing (Vol. 1 of the Complete Beethoven Edition)
2003 'stereo and high bit stereo remix', using 24/96 source, hybrid SACD (with No. 9 rehearsal excerpts on bonus disc 6)

ADD RECORDINGS
What ADD means (quote verbatim from the Carlos Kleiber Schubert symphonies 3 & 8 first release CD booklet):
ADD Analogue tape recorder used during session recording, digital tape recorder used during subsequent mixing and/or editing and during mastering (transcription)

THE BLU-RAY AUDIO AND VIDEO SPECS
The new Blu-ray only has stereo tracks, as PCM 24/96 4.6 Mbps. The menu is a static screen in high definition, 1080i60, encoded with AVC at 1.66 Mbps.

THE LISTENING TESTS'
I have the 1963 recordings (reissued around 2000 as Collectors Edition: 463 088-2) and the SACD set (474 600-2) for comparison. This will always be one of the reference sets for a non-HIP recording.

I have done non-blinded comparative listening tests on similar excerpts on various equipment in two rooms (mainly stereo but also in a 5.1 set-up) using both stereo RCA analogue and HDMI connections. At any time I had three players running and switched inputs on the pre-amp. My stereo pre-amp allows quick input switching (instant) but HDMI surround receivers incur delays of up to seven seconds to lock on.

The new remaster on Blu-ray and CDs sounds a little louder (by ear) than the SACDs/CDs by about 0.5dB and the collectors edition CDs by about 1.5 dB. To rule out players' analogue output differences I swapped discs and the difference remains. This immediately poses the problem of precise level matching for comparison.

Allowing for the volume differences, the Blu-ray sounds the same as the SACDs. The collectors edition CDs sound a little thinner and drier than the others but the difference is lessened once volume is matched. All the versions are still recognisable as old recordings. Unlike some people's criticism of the first release CDs I find them quite listenable on decent equipment, in fact rather good for 1963 recording: there is very little background hiss and no distortion. The SACDs and Blu-ray are not a quantum leap step up.

THE 24/96 REMASTER: IS IT NEW?
A brief wiki article on audio remaster would be a useful primer of what it involves, particularly the distinction between analogue to digital and digital to digital transfer.

Unlike the EMI stereo remastered SACDs (which mention new analogue to digital transfer with restoration, editing, equilisation and the engineers involved), there are no notes whatsoever on the remastering process in this set or on DG's website. All the works have already been mixed on digital tape from previous releases. In the absence of any indication we have to assume it's merely a new digital tape transfer to CD and Blu-ray.

The 2003 SACD set was already a new digital remix and remaster using 24/96 source by Emil Berliner Studios (it says so in each booklet of the six SACDs) and this new CD/BD set very much sounds like it is merely using the same digital master. If that is the case (and also thought by some on Amazon.com) the only theoretical advantage (from the purist's point of view) with this release using PCM is it is the native studio master format without conversion to DSD. I say theoretical because the reconstructed analogue waveforms between 24/96 PCM and DSD are very similar and in practice the audible difference is non-existent.

Credits for the Pure Audio Blu-ray are given to MSM Studios (the CDs are still by EB Studios) and it could just be authoring, otherwise the CDs and Blu-ray would be different. It's conceivable they have made some small changes (EQ, volume) here and there to the 2003 master but there is no obvious audible difference and the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

I do not have the Beethoven edition with Original-Image Bit-Mapping (used in 'The Originals' re-issues) to compare with [EDIT: I later have Symphony No. 9 OIBP, see the update note above for details]. These are remixed using 'psycho-acoustical principles' and are meant to sound different. The 'greater presence' using OIBP results in a more fuzzy soundstage at the expense of clarity and instrumental separation. Whether you like it better than the other versions is a matter of preference. The non-OIBP versions are better candidates for comparison with each other.

According to the booklet, the CD movement timings in this set exactly match those of the hybrid SACD set to the nearest second but not the collectors edition. According to my player (no printed info is provided for the BD timings) the BD timings closely match the SACD to within one second. This is good circumstantial evidence that the 2003 24/96 master is used [EDIT: see update note above for further file analysis].

Beware of volume levels on sound perception. Be wary of claims that a new remaster sounds a lot better without hearing it yourself or at least having examined the evidence critically. Case in point: when 'The Originals' came out, many like it. Now the pendulum swings back and people like the new version better. The people who only had the OIBP CDs to compare with would likely also prefer the clarity in the first release CDs had they had the chance to compare them also. [EDIT: see update note above using waveform and spectral analysis to substantiate this point.]

THE EXTRAS'
The symphony No. 9 rehearsal is exactly the same as on the SACD/CD but only on Blu-ray here. It is of limited value if you don't speak fluent German to understand what Karajan said. This set has a new essay "KARAJAN BEETHOVEN SYMPHONIES LP set 1963" by Richard Osborne. Another short commentary "A Note on the Art of Rehearsing" is taken from the last part of a longer essay "KARAJAN * BEETHOVEN * SACD A note on recording technology and the art of rehearsing" by RO in the SACD set. Unlike the CD and SACD sets there are no notes (by RO) for each symphony.

The Facsimile reproductions and photos are new to this set.

THE PACKAGING
This book format with cardboard holders for CDs is the first from DG that I have seen. The outer case is slightly larger than the SACD set, which is the same size as CD sets. The Kleiber and the Strauss remastered CD/BD sets are all in different sizes. I wish DG would stick to one form factor, otherwise how are we supposed to fit them neatly on the shelves?

THE BLU-RAY AUDIO FORMAT
The issues are:
1. This BD takes about one minute to reach the menu, a lot slower than CDs and DVDs. It is due to BD-Java which is needed for special functions like the coloured buttons, Picture-in-picture and BD-Live but none of these is utilised on this disc. I suspect it is needed for the pop-up track info, therefore it is quite unnecessary.

2. It does not resume play, a side-effect of BD-J. Once you stop the disc, it has to reload from scratch. If you don't want that, then use 'pause'.

3. A display screen is required to navigate at least the first time.

4. Filling up one BD with all the tracks does not allow for easy navigation. The tracks (or chapters) are laid out only by numbers like a square grid/table. The track info only pops-up when selected or when clicking 'tracklist'. Otherwise you select by trial and error or consult the the book first or fast forward one by one. Blu-ray players generally don't make direct access to tracks over 9 that easy and there are 41 tracks in all. So it is tedious even with the screen. Requiring a screen to navigate is a big turn-off, just like playing a DVD-Audio, especially in those with stereo only set-up not connected to TVs.

5. When using HDMI it takes longer to lock on and by then the first few seconds of the track is missing so you end up pressing '<< to go back to the beginning again.

6. For those with old non-HDMI receivers or external DACs high resolution audio from copy-protected Blu-ray discs cannot be passed via coaxial or optical cables without down-sampling to 48kHz.

For me, loading a CD or SACD is much more convenient all round. BD to replace SACD in the future? Not sure about that. I was an early Blu-ray adopter and therefore not against it or new technology in any way. Most of the points made above are not the fault of the format as such but rather the software design and authoring of discs. More consideration should be given to make it more user-friendly.

IS IT WORTH THE UPGRADE?'
If you already have the SACDs then no, unless you care for the new printed extras (who actually does?) or if you are a collector of these deluxe sets. If you only have the 1989 or 1997 sets then it depends on how much you like the performance, how important sound improvement (however incremental) is to you and how much you are prepared to spend (reasonable at £25 but not more).

There are many other superb choices in all formats to choose from. I collect many sets and single recordings: Beethoven's music has room for many different interpretations. My current favourite SACD cycle is Paavo Järvi and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen. The other sets I like are: Abbado and the Berliner Philharmoniker (on CD set or separate DVD-Audio discs, a native 24/96 recording, no longer available), and Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra on CD (their Proms cycle is excellent).

Time will tell if this is the start of another long series of 'remastered at 24/96' but my impression of this and the Carlos Kleiber: Complete Orchestral Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon box is more like a re-package rather than complete fresh start from the analogue tapes.

As in the film industry, music studios exploit the upgrade obsession of consumers. I won't rush out in the future to double or triple dip for another remaster on recordings I already have even if it is 24/192 or 32/384 unless the studios tell us clearly that it is a new analogue to digital transfer and what they do with it. If it is just a digital remastering then studios should come clean and tell us why and for what improvement to justify the expense for upgrade.
Comment Comments (19) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 21, 2015 11:47 AM GMT


Carlos Kleiber: Complete Orchestral Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon
Carlos Kleiber: Complete Orchestral Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon
Price: £31.99

13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What's new in 'newly remastered at 24 bit/96kHz' on old 16 & 24-bit digital masters? Listening, waveform & spectral analysis, 13 Aug. 2014
Performance: 5/5 Recording: 4/5

█ UPDATE on 30 Nov 2014 █: I have now done some file, waveform and spectral analysis on Beethoven Symphony No. 5 first movement and Brahms Symphony No. 4 third movement on three CD versions. Details are posted in the comments section. The results based on hard evidence largely reaffirm my earlier listening impressions and reservations on this new remaster. In particular, the spectrograms of the previous versions with 'Original-Image Bit-Processing' look the best and better than those of this new remaster.

≡≡≡ THE ORIGINAL REVIEW ≡≡≡
This long review rather than going through the same old territory on Kleiber, his recordings or HD audio vs. CD instead offers something more original and tries to get to the truth behind the new remaster, based on real listening tests comparing different formats and versions where available (CD, SACD, DVD-Audio, Blu-ray) simultaneously and other evidence. This release never claims to be a new analogue to digital transfer. The review also outlines some trade-offs of listening to Pure Audio Blu-ray.

≡ HISTORY OF PREVIOUS VERSIONS ≡
The previous major versions of the works in this set are (dates for Japanese SACDs on sa-cd.net are missing or imprecise):
BEETHOVEN 5 & 7
1974 (No. 5), 1975-6 (No. 7) analogue recording, LPs,
1985 digitally re-mixed CDs (one for each symphony), ADD
1995 'The Originals' Original-Image Bit-Processing CD
2003 new stereo and surround mix in 24/96, SACD
2004 ditto, DVD-Audio
pre-2010? SHM-SACD 2.0 (Universal Japan)
2014 'High Fidelity Pure Audio' Blu-ray 2.0 24/96

SCHUBERT 3 & 8
1979 analogue recording, LP,
1985 digitally re-mixed CD, ADD
1997 'The Originals' Original-Image Bit-Processing CD
pre-2010? SACD 2.0 (Universal Japan)
2011? SACD 2.0 (Esoteric Japan)

BRAHMS 4
1981 digital recording, DDD, CD, LP and musicassette
1998 'The Originals' Original-Image Bit-Processing CD
2010? SACD 2.0 (Esoteric Japan)

≡ ADD AND DDD RECORDINGS ≡
What these designations mean (quote verbatim from the Schubert CD booklet):
DDD Digital tape recorder used during session recording, mixing and/or editing, and mastering (transcription)
ADD Analogue tape recorder used during session recording, digital tape recorder used during subsequent mixing and/or editing and during mastering (transcription)

≡ AUDIO AND VIDEO SPECS OF THE BLU-RAY ≡
The Blu-ray has stereo PCM tracks, 24/96 4.6 Mbps and 5.0 dts-HD MA. The menu is a static screen in high definition, 1080i60, encoded with AVC at 1.66 Mbps.

≡ LISTENING TESTS ≡
I have the Beethoven 'The Originals' CD (447 400-2), DVD-Audio (B0003116-19) and SACD (471 630-2). Unfortunately I no longer have the first CD releases (No. 5: 415 861-2; No. 7: 415 862-2). I also have the first Brahms CD (400 037-2) and 'The Originals' (457 706-2) and the first Schubert CD (415 601-2). For the performance, the Beethoven is among the very top and the Brahms is simply unmatched for the pacing, drive and energy, definitely dessert island discs. Even the first release CDs will leave you in awe.

I have done non-blinded comparative listening tests on similar excerpts on various equipment in two rooms (stereo and 5.1 set-up) using both stereo RCA analogue and HDMI connections. At any time I had three players running and switched inputs on the pre-amp. My stereo pre-amp allows quick input switching (about 1s) but HDMI surround receivers incur delays of up to seven seconds to lock on.

The 5.0 tracks on the Beethoven DVD-A are louder than those on the BD by about 4dB (judging by ear) on the calibrated HDMI receiver. The stereo tracks on all the CD versions including the SACD and BD sets are about the same level; the BD stereo tracks are a little softer than the CDs (about 2dB). This immediately poses the problem of precise level matching for comparison.

The OIBP sounds a little fuller (as expected for 'The Originals' in general), perhaps louder than the others. Excluding the OIBP and volume differences, the new BD does not sound much different from the older versions. The Blu-ray surround tracks sounds similar to the SACD and DVD-Audio allowing for the volume difference. Overall the recording still sounds somewhat dry and limited in dynamic range and is recognisable as an old recording.

The Schubert and Brahms CDs and the BDs are about the same in volume and sound and similar impressions about the Brahms OIBP version as above.

≡ THE NEW 24/96 REMASTER: WHAT IS NEW? ≡
A brief wiki article on audio remaster would be a useful primer of what it involves, particularly when making the distinction between analogue to digital and digital to digital transfer.

Unlike the EMI stereo remastered SACDs (which mention new analogue to digital transfer with restoration, editing and equilisation and the engineers involved), there are no notes on the remastering process whatsoever in this set or on DG's website. All the works have already been mixed and edited on digital tape. In the absence of any indication we have to assume it's merely a new digital tape transfer to CD and Blu-ray.

Note the movement timings of the Brahms in the new set very closely match those of the OIBP CD but not the 1981 CD. I don't have the Schubert OIBP CD to compare with but the timings are also different from the first release CD. The Beethoven Blu-ray timings match exactly with the OIBP CD and less closely but not far off with the SACD/DVD-A. Not sure what to make of these discrepancies.

The 2004 Beethoven DVD-Audio was already a 24-bit 96kHz remix and remaster (24/96 recording only existed around 1999/2000). The Schubert was already re-mixed on digital tape in 1985 in 16-bit. The 1981 Brahms was a digital recording, only in 16-bit and 44.1kHz or perhaps 48kHz. That is in the master tape, not in 24/96. A 16-bit to 24-bit transfer now does not make it true 24-bit (you don't need 24-bit or 144dB of dynamic range in the final delivery format anyway). Analogue recordings do not have that much dynamic range in fact. Likewise, a 44.1kHz or 48kHz upsampled to 96kHz does not make it true 96kHz. Think about it. I'm not against 24/96 mastering at all but it cannot make up information not already present. It has been routinely used for such a long time that it is the norm and should not be used as a selling point.

≡ THE EXTRAS ≡
There is some bonus material but apart from some 'rare photos' the essay, timeline and audio commentary are freely available on DG's website. Also there are already two DVDs/BDs on Kleiber's life and art.

≡ IS IT AN IMPROVEMENT? ≡
Most importantly, does it sound better than previous versions? The short answer is not really, nothing striking. The Schubert and Brahms surround mixes are new but like the Beethoven the surround channels are mainly ambience. I'm not sure how much effort was put in the surround mix as both the Dolby and DTS encoders can generate surround mixes. It's conceivable they have made some small changes (EQ, volume) here and there but there is little or no obvious audible difference and the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

≡ COMPARISON WITH 'THE ORIGINALS' CDS ≡
A reviewer on Amazon.com finds the Beethoven Pure Audio Blu-ray released earlier this year to be an improvement over 'The Originals' but we already know they are meant to sound different. These are remixed using 'psycho-acoustical principles': the 'greater presence' results in a more fuzzy soundstage at the expense of clarity and instrumental separation. Whether you like it better than the other versions is a matter of preference. The non-OIBP versions are better candidates for comparison with each other. Be wary of claims that a new remaster sounds a lot better without hearing it yourself or at least having examined the evidence critically.

≡ THE PACKAGING ≡
Fitting two discs on each plastic digibook holder is a little clumsy when trying to remove the bottom disc. The size and form factor of the set is similar to Martha Argerich Lugano Concertos limited edition. DG should stick to one form like this one because the Karajan Beethoven and the Strauss CD/BD sets are all different sizes. How are we supposed to fit them neatly on the shelves?

≡ THE AUDIO BLU-RAY FORMAT ≡
The issues are:
1. This disc takes a minute to load to the menu, a lot slower than CDs and DVDs because of the use of BD-Java. This is not ordinarily necessary but is required for the coloured buttons to work.

2. It does not resume play, again blame BD-J. Once you stop the disc, it has to reload from scratch. If you don't want that, then use 'pause'.

3. A display screen is required to navigate. It turns out the stereo tracks are the default and you can select the surround track by clicking the down arrow on the remote repeatedly or simply using the red button. It doesn't tell you that anywhere in the book.

4. Filling up one BD with all the tracks does not allow for easy navigation. The tracks (or chapters) are laid out only by numbers like a square grid/table. You select a track by clicking on the 'tracklist', or trial and error or consult the tracklist on the book first or fast forward one by one. Blu-ray players generally don't make direct access to tracks over 9 that easy and there are 27 tracks in all. So it is tedious even with the screen. Requiring a screen to navigate is a big turn-off, just like playing a DVD-Audio, especially in those with stereo only set-up not connected to TVs.

5. When using HDMI it takes longer to lock on and by then the first few seconds of the track is missing so you end up pressing │<< to go back to the beginning again.

6. For those with old non-HDMI receivers or external DACs high resolution audio from copy-protected Blu-ray discs cannot be passed via coaxial or optical cables without down-sampling to 48kHz.

For me, loading a CD or SACD is much more convenient all round. BD to replace SACD in the future? Not sure about that. I was an early Blu-ray adopter and therefore not against it or new technology in any way. Most of the points made above are not the fault of the format as such but rather the software design and authoring of discs. More consideration should be given to make it more user-friendly.

≡ IS IT WORTH THE UPGRADE? ≡
If you don't have the older recordings then it's the best time ever to get this but you might still prefer the older versions. If you already have them, unless you want the surround mix on all the works, the extras nicely printed out, the studio master or you simply are a collector of these deluxe boxsets then no.

Time will tell if this is the start of another long series of 'remastered at 24/96' but my impression of this and the Karajan: Beethoven Symphonies 1-9 (1963) Remastered [5 CDs + 1 Blu-Ray Audio] box is more like a re-package rather than complete fresh start from the analogue tapes.

As in the film industry, music studios exploit the upgrade obsession of consumers. I won't rush out in the future to double or triple dip for another remaster on recordings I already have even if it is 24/192 or 32/384 unless the studios tell us clearly that it is a new analogue to digital transfer and what they do with it. If it is just a digital remastering then studios should come clean and tell us why and for what improvement to justify the expense for upgrade.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 30, 2014 8:58 AM GMT


Villazon Verdi
Villazon Verdi
Price: £18.62

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars BD-Audio: Stereo only and less than what SACD/DVD-A used to offer, 10 Oct. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Villazon Verdi (Blu-ray Audio)
Performance: 4/5 Value for the money over CD: 3/5

The label "High Fidelity Pure Audio" on the top of the case comes from High Fidelity Pure Audio Group which is led by Universal Music Group. This is a Blu-ray audio disc (not DVD-Audio as listed on Amazon) with no footage of the performance and has exactly the same programme as the CD. You'll see the CD reviews all pasted on this listing for BD by Amazon. Here I'll focus on the technical side so you can make an informed decision whether the extra cost is worth it.

AUDIO: There are three audio tracks: PCM 4.60Mbps (the default), DTS-HD MA and Dolby TrueHD, all 2.0 only, 24-bit 96kHz. They are all identical as the last two are lossless compression and bit-for-bit identical to the PCM. They are therefore redundant unless they are mixed differently by intention (it doesn't say so here).

Note that players will not output 96kHz from optical or coaxial if the BD is copy-protected (they can otherwise) but instead downsample to 48kHz (like they used to do with DVD-A). To output 96kHz you have to use either HDMI or the stereo analogue outputs (which some players no longer have). Then some processors and receivers may downsample incoming 96kHz when room EQ is applied or apply a digital filter cut-off around 20kHz.

The Audio Engineering Society recommends screen-less navigation of audio tracks (the intention is for choosing between stereo and say 5.1): if you have never seen the menu you wouldn't know how to choose the DTS or Dolby stereo tracks instead of PCM (but as pointed out there's no reason to pick anything other than PCM).

VIDEO: The menu is a running video (AVC, 1080p24, 16:9) of a static image of the cover artwork and audio options. There is no track listing or runtime but only an indicator showing the current track number being played.

AUTO & RESUME PLAY: Yes and Yes (which implies no BD-J in use and the disc does load quickly)

REGION CODING: none, confirmed playable on region A player.

LINER NOTES: The booklet I presume would have similar contents as the CD's, with notes and libretto in different languages. There is no specific information about the mastering although inside the case it says in general terms:

"We have carefully sourced original recorded material and mastered it accordingly. Where possible, tracks will be available in 5.1 surround but in order to pay respect to the original material this is not possible for every release."

"Audio is sourced from 24bit/96khz minimum master sources and full technical specifications are given on the rear of the box"

DIGITAL DOWNLOAD CODE: There is a coupon code to download the entire album. There is a sticker on the front printed in French about the download as "mp3 et HD". I cannot verify anything because the website forbids access to users outside the UK/EU: "We're sorry but access is not allowed from your country". The coupon doesn't say it's for UK/EU only. I can't even browse the website: such user censorship by region is really pathetic.

So, instead of CD's 16-bit 44.1kHz audio (which some argue is all you need but that opens a big can of worms) here you get 24/96 instead and a digital download code (redeemable if you're in the right region). The price of this disc is less than 24/96 track downloads from online sites from what I've seen (they charge more for stereo tracks than what you pay for physical hybrid SACDs). At the pre-order price which is little more than that of the CD I'm fine with it but I won't pay more than that for a stereo-only BD under 80 minutes (one hour of 4.60Mbps PCM takes up about 2GB so there's plenty of room on a 25GB BD to hold a lot more content).

The big disappointment is the conspicuous absence of a multi-channel mix which I would have expected to include for a new 2012 recording: really there is no excuse not doing it for the new format when more than 10 years ago SACDs and DVD-As had it. Remember, most SACDs were hybrids with a CD layer and many DVD-As had a DVD-video playable portion with a surround mix. This BD is not playable on CD or DVD player. Some of these BD-Audio titles are already available on SACD and/or DVD-A and there is no point double dipping for the Blu-ray (and likely for less contents) unless it clearly claims to be a new master. Without a multi-channel mix the appeal or value of the disc is greatly diminished.

Apparently nearly all of the initial batch of these titles are stereo only and people have expressed dissatisfaction. This falls a long way short of Blu-ray disc's full potential (5.1 24/192 or 7.1 24/96 audio) and is a missed opportunity to move forward.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 10, 2013 9:03 AM BST


Mahler: Symphony No. 5 [Blu-ray]
Mahler: Symphony No. 5 [Blu-ray]
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £16.59

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stereo only, sceptical about 24/96 and less than what SACD/DVD-A used to offer, 7 Oct. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Performance: 4-5/5 Value for the money over CD: 3/5

The label "High Fidelity Pure Audio" on the top of the case comes from High Fidelity Pure Audio Group which is led by Universal Music Group. This is a Blu-ray audio disc (not DVD-Audio as listed on Amazon) with no footage of the performance and has exactly the same programme as the CD (ADD recording from 1973) which was issued and re-issued previously, the last one in 1996 as 'The Originals' with Original-Image Bit-Processing. The same 1973 recording on CD (not as 'The Originals') is also part of the Berliner Philharmoniker Centenary Edition box which is released about the same time as this BD. It has never been released on SACD. You'll find reviews for the CDs under their listings. Here I'll focus on the technical side so you can make an informed decision whether the extra cost is worth it.

AUDIO: There are three audio tracks: PCM 4.60Mbps (the default), DTS-HD MA and Dolby TrueHD, all 2.0 only, 24-bit 96kHz. They are all identical as the last two are lossless compression and bit-for-bit identical to the PCM. They are therefore redundant unless they are mixed differently by intention (it doesn't say so here).

Note that players will not output 96kHz from optical or coaxial if the BD is copy-protected (they can otherwise) but instead downsample to 48kHz (same with DVD-A). To output 96kHz you have to use either HDMI or the stereo analogue outputs (which some players no longer have). Then some processors and receivers may downsample incoming 96kHz when room EQ is applied or apply a digital filter cut-off around 20kHz.

The ADD indicates that the mixing was done digitally and if it's the same master as 'The Originals' then it is perhaps not 24/96 (did 24/96 exist in 1996 when some CDs from 1990s were using only 20-bit mastering and none with 24-bit?); an old 20-bit mix 're-mastered' in 24/96 is still 20-bit (which is sufficient but I'm just casting doubt on the 24-bit claim). If it's genuine 24/96 it has to be a new AD transfer, mix and master from the analogue tapes.

The Audio Engineering Society recommends screen-less navigation of audio tracks (the intention is for choosing between stereo and say 5.1): if you have never seen the menu you wouldn't know how to choose the DTS or Dolby stereo tracks instead of PCM (but as pointed out there's no reason to pick anything other than PCM).

VIDEO: The menu is a running video (AVC, 1080p24, 16:9) of a static image of the conductor and audio options. There is no track listing or runtime but only an indicator showing the current track number being played.

AUTO & RESUME PLAY: Yes and Yes (which implies no BD-J in use and the disc does load quickly)

REGION CODING: none, confirmed playable on region A player.

LINER NOTES: The booklet is almost identical to the one from 'The Originals' CD. There is no specific information about the mastering, no mention if it's the same as 'The Originals'. Inside the case it says in general terms:

"We have carefully sourced original recorded material and mastered it accordingly. Where possible, tracks will be available in 5.1 surround but in order to pay respect to the original material this is not possible for every release."

"Audio is sourced from 24bit/96khz minimum master sources and full technical specifications are given on the rear of the box"

DIGITAL DOWNLOAD CODE: There is a coupon code to download the entire album. I cannot find out what format it is (presumably mp3) because the website forbids access to users outside the UK/EU: "We're sorry but access is not allowed from your country". The coupon doesn't say it's for UK/EU only. I can't even browse the website: such user censorship by region is really pathetic.

So, instead of CD's 16-bit 44.1kHz audio (which some argue is all you need but that opens a big can of worms) here you get 24/96 instead and a digital download code (redeemable if you're in the right region). The price of this disc is less than 24/96 track downloads from online sites from what I've seen (they charge more for stereo tracks than what you pay for physical hybrid SACDs). At the pre-order price which is 60% more than that of 'The Originals' CD I can just about live with it but I won't pay more than that for a stereo-only BD under 80 minutes (one hour of 4.60Mbps PCM takes up about 2GB so there's plenty of room on a 25GB BD to hold a lot more content).

The big disappointment is the conspicuous absence of a multi-channel mix which I would have expected to include for a new re-issue: really there is no excuse not doing it for the new format when over 10 years ago SACDs and DVD-As had it. Remember, most SACDs were hybrids with a CD layer and many DVD-As had a DVD-video playable portion with a surround mix. This BD is not playable on CD or DVD player. Some of these BD-audio titles are already available on SACD and/or DVD-A and there is no point double dipping for the Blu-ray (and likely for less content) unless it clearly claims to be a new master. Without a new mix or mastering or a multi-channel mix the appeal or value of the disc is greatly diminished.

Apparently nearly all of the initial batch of these titles are stereo only and people have expressed dissatisfaction. This falls a long way short of Blu-ray disc's full potential (5.1 24/192 or 7.1 24/96 audio) and is a missed opportunity to move forward.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 8, 2013 1:32 PM GMT


Wagner/ Kaufmann
Wagner/ Kaufmann
Price: £18.99

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stereo only and less than what SACD/DVD-A used to offer, 6 Oct. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Wagner/ Kaufmann (Blu-ray Audio)
Performance: 5/5 Recording: 5/5 Value for the money over CD: 3/5

The label "High Fidelity Pure Audio" on the top of the case comes from High Fidelity Pure Audio Group which is led by Universal Music Group. This is a Blu-ray audio disc (not DVD-Audio as listed on Amazon) with no footage of the performance and has exactly the same programme as the CD. The near unanimous votes for 5/5 from 35/35 reviewers to date speak volumes. Here I'll focus on the technical side so you can make an informed decision whether the extra cost is worth it.

AUDIO: There are three audio tracks: PCM 4.60Mbps (the default), DTS-HD MA and Dolby TrueHD, all 2.0 only, 24-bit 96kHz. They are all identical as the last two are lossless compression and bit-for-bit identical to the PCM. They are therefore redundant unless they are mixed differently by intention (it doesn't say so here).

Note that players will not output 96kHz from optical or coaxial if the BD is copy-protected (they can otherwise) but instead downsample to 48kHz (like they used to do with DVD-A). To output 96kHz you have to use either HDMI or the stereo analogue outputs (which some players no longer have). Then some processors and receivers may downsample incoming 96kHz when room EQ is applied or apply a digital filter cut-off around 20kHz.

The Audio Engineering Society recommends screen-less navigation of audio tracks (the intention is for choosing between stereo and say 5.1): if you have never seen the menu you wouldn't know how to choose the DTS or Dolby stereo tracks instead of PCM (but as pointed out there's no reason to pick anything other than PCM).

VIDEO: The menu is a running video (AVC, 1080p24, 16:9) of a static image of the artist and audio options. There is no track listing or runtime but only an indicator showing the current track number being played.

AUTO & RESUME PLAY: Yes and Yes (which implies no BD-J in use and the disc does load quickly)

REGION CODING: none, confirmed playable on region A player.

LINER NOTES: The booklet I presume would have similar contents as the CD's, with notes and libretto in different languages. There is no specific information about the mastering although inside the case it says in general terms:

"We have carefully sourced original recorded material and mastered it accordingly. Where possible, tracks will be available in 5.1 surround but in order to pay respect to the original material this is not possible for every release."

"Audio is sourced from 24bit/96khz minimum master sources and full technical specifications are given on the rear of the box"

DIGITAL DOWNLOAD CODE: There is a coupon code to download the entire album. I cannot find out what format it is because the website forbids access to users outside the UK/EU: "We're sorry but access is not allowed from your country". The coupon doesn't say it's for UK/EU only. I can't even browse the website: such user censorship by region is really pathetic.

So, instead of CD's 16-bit 44.1kHz audio (which some argue is all you need but that opens a big can of worms) here you get 24/96 instead and a digital download code (redeemable if you're in the right region). The price of this disc is less than 24/96 track downloads from online sites from what I've seen (they charge more for stereo tracks than what you pay for physical hybrid SACDs). At the pre-order price which is little more than that of the CD I'm fine with it but I won't pay more than that for a stereo-only BD under 80 minutes (one hour of 4.60Mbps PCM takes up about 2GB so there's plenty of room on a 25GB BD to hold a lot more content).

The big disappointment is the conspicuous absence of a multi-channel mix which I would have expected to include for a new 2012 recording: really there is no excuse not doing it for the new format when more than 10 years ago SACDs and DVD-As had it. Remember, most SACDs were hybrids with a CD layer and many DVD-As had a DVD-video playable portion with a surround mix. This BD is not playable on CD or DVD player. Some of these BD-Audio titles are already available on SACD and/or DVD-A and there is no point double dipping for the Blu-ray (and likely for less contents) unless it clearly claims to be a new master. Without a multi-channel mix the appeal or value of the disc is greatly diminished.

Apparently nearly all of the initial batch of these titles are stereo only and people have expressed dissatisfaction. This falls a long way short of Blu-ray disc's full potential (5.1 24/192 or 7.1 24/96 audio) and is a missed opportunity to move forward.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 10, 2013 8:50 AM BST


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