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No. 162 November 2017

WINSTON MA | FIRST IMPRESSION MUSIC
THE LAST INTERVIEW

n May 24, 2016, Mr. WINSTON MA passed. For a long time he suffered from a severe illness, but the illness allowed him to keep working. With my longtime e-mail friend in mind, I listened to almost all the releases from his FIRST IMPRESSION MUSIC label, as sort of my personal tribute to him. The reflection of this process was more frequent than usually usage of those discs for my "High Fidelity" tests. I think that he would like the idea of celebrating his memory by listening to music he released - music was the whole world for him.

His favorite albums Mr Ma released multiple time using various formats – on the picture the Autumn in Seattle on XRCD2 and UltraHD

He understood it similarly to us, i.e. as the unity of form and content, where in the case of recordings the form is the way of reproducing the recorded material. To the pursuit of the ultimate goal he devoted his whole life. Suffice to say, that the music with the First Impression Music, Lasting Impression Music and Golden String logos - the last two are sub-labels – was released on gold, silver, encoded in HDCD, XRCD2, XRCD24, K2 HD, SACD - also multichannel – and CDs marked with a DXD logo on which he released materials mastered at the 352,8 kHz sampling frequency. His opus magnum was a series of discs with the Ultra HD logo, with material subjected to 32-bit mastering.

He was, so to speak, a positive obsessed, and he released his favorite titles (the ones he had license rights to) again and again every time he found something that allowed him to push the limits of sound quality even further. He was an active member of the informal "mastering club" and was the first to introduce to the market many of the most important audio technologies – suffice to say that the first XRCD24 release in 2002 carried FIM logo and the same happened in 2007 with the K2 HD.

HDCD releases – on a black CD produced by Sony (on the left) and on gold (on the right)

Although he was a great expert and a fan of analogue sound, his main interests were digital transfers and music released on CDs and, for some time, on SACDs. He was an expert in this area, and perhaps that is why he became a partner in a venture, which was to bring in the best possible way many of the older Telarc releases. On this trip his companions were a group of sound engineers who founded Five/Four Productions, that held together sixteen Grammy Awards: Michael Bishop, Robert Friedrich and Thomas Moore.

In 2011, he realized the dream of his life and released the Long Play box, with seven titles under the common title "Analog is Forever". Mr. Winston was extremely proud of them and had reasons for it. Released on 200g vinyl, it was offered in four versions of varying quality: on "standard", black vinyl, as "First 1000 pressings" also on black vinyl, on transparent vinyl (meant to eliminate all impurities as vinyl is originally colorless) and on one-sided transparent vinyl. Today, even for the basic versions one has to pay a high price, and the best versions can not be even found on the second hand market (the price when launched was $ 1800 per box).

| DECCA: SUPREME STEREOPHONIC LEGACY

In mid-2014, Mr. Ma began realization of his second professional dream, which involved a special box containing Decca recordings. The 1960s was, according to him, the best period in the history of classical music recordings, and the best label was Decca. Selected titles had already been released on XRCD24 and these are the best versions of these recordings. This time it was to be something completely different: a four-disc box (originally it was supposed to contain 5 discs) with selected recordings and two books: Decca: Supreme Stereophonic Legacy, which depicts the phenomenon of the British label, and Decca Legacy. Volume I ~ IV, with four Ultra HD discs and their long descriptions, as it was, he said, the best technology that he knew.

Another approach to new technologies were hybrid SACDs

It was a particularly important project for Mr. Ma. In mid-2014 he sent me pantons, i.e. graphic designs prepared for printing - packaging, inscriptions on discs, etc. He was very pleased with how the whole thing would look and - above all – how it would sound. This release benefited from his best developments and technologies including Ultra HD 32-bit mastering, FIM PIT ART and PureFlection. FIM PIT ART is a way to label albums so that it is difficult to sell a counterfeits - something that FIM had to fight all the time. This technique made it possible to place under the plastic layer the inscriptions made of metallized foil.

PureFlection is a set of actions aimed at perfect preparation of a glass die for pressing CDs. Mr. Ma was the first person I knew to speak loudly about what many labels do not want to hear about to this day: the material brought to the label, either on CD-R or in the form of files, is different from what the final customer gets on CD. Obviously the latter offers lesser quality. Therefore some titles he prepared were available in several versions.

The most famous are the special editions of the "First 2000 pressings". The issue has been known since the XRCD: the glass matrix is wearing off and can be used only to make just 2000 copies. The labels notoriously use them to make 10,000 copies or more because making glass matrix is very expensive. The next level was a gold disc coated with a special anti-vibration spray. And the highest level were Master CD-Rs with the name of the purchaser placed on them. One was not allowed to sell them.

| THE LAST INTERVIEW

The workload the FIM owner undertook was unbelievable. However, he has always found time to write to his friends – including me - a few words about his new releases and plans for future, and to add a short notes with his tips and thanks to the disc he sent. So today those discs are more than just music medium, they also carry memories.

Decca is Mr Ma's favorite label – photo presents XRCD24 (on the left) and K2HD Mastering (on the right)

His numerous occupations prohibited me from conducting a long interview. Most of the information I had about him came from a few articles that - even before FIM became a recognizable international company - came from Positive-Feedback.com. Who would have thought that this American magazine would some day publish my reviews too? (More HERE).

Beginning 2013, however, we decided to do something about it, and we agreed with Mr. Ma that I would send a series of emails containing one question at a time, and whenever possible, he would write me back. At first everything was going well, and then she became aware of her illness ... As early as March 2013 he wrote to me that he was taken to a hospital by an ambulance, and he spent two weeks there completely separated from the world and his work. After that he spent a month away with his daughter recovering. And that's how it was for him from that moment on.

The Three Blind Mice label was valued by Mr Ma as highly as Decca. Photo presents a sampler with selected track from this label's catalog, in UltraHD Limited Edition version („First 2000 pressing”)

After the unexpected information about Mr. Ma's passing, for a long time, I could not accept that. I completely denied the fact that for two years we'd been exchanging emails that combined were to constitute an interview we both really wanted to happen. When I was finally ready to face it, it turned out that I could not find our correspondence - in the meantime, the company handling the HF mail made some the changes and moved some emails to its archive, and I could not retrieve the emails I needed.

When I finally was able to retrieve all our correspondence, it turned out that most of the interview was prepared and accepted by Mr. Winston. It seems this is one of the last, if not the last, interview with him. Let me present to you, this brief conversation that took us a long time to perform, in such a form, with the hope that it will either introduce or refresh the image of this remarkable man and recall at least some of his accomplishments. Enjoy.


WOJCIECH PACUŁA: Let's start with the most important question today: is the new distribution channel, the download of files with recordings mastered by FIM ready?
WINSTON MA: Yes. It is time to present FIM music by the latest technology: hi res download. I spent some thousand dollars to ask the help of some “special” specialists, but to no avail. Recently, I have asked another specialist to help. It seems he would not betray me this time. I hope I may have the FIM Club site appeared in a few months.

Jazz in the Panwshop is an audiophile classic. Mr Ma released it several times – photo presents the K2 HD Mastering version on silver (on the right) and the ultimate edition, the 3-disc UltraHD Limited Edition (on the left)

I know, if done right, the sound quality from hi res download should be better than playing a CD for “average audiophile”, though I still think for some more years ahead, if someone has the best music system, and he plays the best sounding disc, he should still hold the fort that best CD still sounds best.

What is PureFlection?
I shall send you a separate email talking about the details. […]

FIM UHD CDs now sound undeniably better than ever! FIM's first priority is to locate a factory that at offers the latest technologies throughout its entire production chain, from the best A-grade polycarbonate materials, to testing and accurate quality control tools.

The factory must produce a detailed specification sheet which ensures the discs produced demonstrate the same quality as the original recording.

To assure us of the best results, FIM has enlisted the help of one of the most experienced mastering engineers in the industry to craft the glass disc for the final replication process. Winston Ma continually maintains close rapport with him, as well as the original recording engineers, the mastering engineers and the manufacturer to achieve consensus regarding musicality and the sound spectrum.

Sub-label Golden String with silver (on the left) and gold (on the right) discs

FIM's glass mastering-disc engineer maintains expertise in the latest technologies: he currently uses a special blu-ray recordable mastering thermal process technique to create small smooth grooves which result in precision fidelity. He is meticulous in ensuring the best track pitch and the distance between the spiral of the pits, to reduce the amount of noise the tracking servo in the drive picks up from adjacent tracks, thus ensuring the best parameters on Cross Talk (XT) by minimizing the servo noise of the Drive during playback of the replica results.

To further ensure the best quality, FIM stipulates the most extensive test specification requirements. Pure Reflection (PureFlection) discs show in every CD booklet the full spectrum of specification of a given CD in the following categories:

  • BLER (17 items)
  • BERL (9 items)
  • Physical (6 items)
  • Jitter (6 items)
  • E22 Graph and
  • BLER Graph

The concept of UHD 32-Bit PureFlection is the transformation of a superior sound into something truly exceptional, enhancing the experience without interfering in it. Sit back, relax and listen to the new sound of a UHD 32-Bit PureFlection CD!

[The text regarding PureFlection in almost unchanged version is used also in FIM's booklets – Ed.]

Mr Ma was very proud of the Samplers of the The Producer’s Choice! series, that is why these are exclusive, luxury releases (leather and so on). These recording were released again and again each time he developed a new, better way to achieve improved sound quality…

I found many similarities between PureFlections and Blu-spec process, despite Ultra HD mastering – am I right?
There are some similarity, but a lot of distinction between two. Perhaps, one of the reasons why Sony, Hong Kong has asked FIM to produce CDs of UHD 32-Bit Pure Reflection process. They sound great. I know blu-spec discs a bit. Sony is such a big technology company, I do not want to compare. FIM is small, though we have already been producing hi res CDs for a number of labels.

How about master tapes from Sony – did they loaned them to you?
I have not used any Sony master tapes for either CDs or LPs. I know they may only do a CD for you to sell. On the other hand, we did 3 titles of UHD 32-Bit Pure Reflection Process CDs for Sony, Hong Kong. They sold them in Hong Kong Audio Show in August. Sony HK has now asked us to do another 6 discs. We have scheduled to produce them by December.

Some titles were available on plain aluminum disc, on silver (on the right), and the best version was the Master CD-R (on the left)

How do you master the tapes?
It is not easy to explain in a few words. Besides, every title is different; every engineer has different value judgment and every manufacturer has different logistic arrangement. I also have different opinions on sound.

[It's one of the questions Mr Ma never managed to fully answer – Ed.]

Question regarding your vinyl releases – are they produced from analog master tapes or not?
Most of LPs are mastered and checked by the best engineers available in USA. A few of our LPs are from digital sources because of the beautiful quality of the music and the sound. They just shine. I shall send you a few and you will know. As you know I also make cartridges and have sold all my Black Ebony models. I think I know what best LP sound should be and I think FIM LPs have good sound. It is not easy to guarantee good sound. You might be caught in a bad situation and cannot solve the problems.

A Blu-ray released with First Impression Music logo – the An Enhanced Evening concert

For FIM, the mastering engineer is Doug Sax while the control engineer is Michael Bishop. If you know a bit more about engineers in US or in the international community, you would understand why FIM finds only the best engineers for their jobs. “The control engineer” is the name I created to take the burden of making sure the LP sounding the best possible. Doug is known a great guru while Michael has been maintaining the number one Grammy Award Engineer for many years. FIM has the fortune of having the help of some best engineers, including these two supermen. Currently our LPs are pressed by Quality Recording Pressings

Please tell us about your audio system.
My system changes from time to time to coup with the latest development in the audio world. Having said that, I have been using some equipment on a long term basis because I believe this equipment have been one of the best I can find. I shall include some photos in my package to you. […]

Promotional materials by FIM explaining the technologies they use

Please tell “High Fidelity” readers 10 albums they should listen right now.
If you are talking about FIM albums, I would recommend the following titles of FIM flavor:

River of Sorrow,
Grooving Classics,
Nature’s Concerto,
Autumn Yearning Fantasia,
Red Cliff Capriccio,
All Star Percussion Ensemble,
Producer’s Choice Vol. 3,
Autumn in Seattle,
Jazz at the Pawnshop Vol. 1- 3,
The Best of Play Bach.

This is FIM's top achievement in digital media: the Decca box; What you can see are the renders and pantons sent to me by Mr. Ma

In December 2013 a wonderful Monty Alexander Stir it Up album will be released - One of the best sounding albums in the industry! And in 2014 we plan to release the most prestigious and invaluable album package: The Incomparable Decca FFSS Reference (5-disc). Let's add a complete session River of Sorrow (Complete): 6 sides, 3 records, 45 rpm, 200 g „Virgin Vinyl” for standard version, as the Limited Edition and Ultimate Disc will offer: 12 sides, 6 records, 45 rpm, 200 g „Clear Vinyl” and the name of a buyer engraved on the record.

The LPs Mr Ma released in the form of boxes, different versions; the best one achieve crazy prices on internet auctions

FISRT IMPRESSION MUSIC in „High Fidelity”

FIRST IMPRESSION MUSIC, Inc.
fimpression.com

WOJCIECH PACUŁA
Chief editor

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Our reviewers regularly contribute to  “Enjoy the Music.com”, “Positive-Feedback.com”“HiFiStatement.net”  and “Hi-Fi Choice & Home Cinema. Edycja Polska” .

"High Fidelity" is a monthly magazine dedicated to high quality sound. It has been published since May 1st, 2004. Up until October 2008, the magazine was called "High Fidelity OnLine", but since November 2008 it has been registered under the new title.

"High Fidelity" is an online magazine, i.e. it is only published on the web. For the last few years it has been published both in Polish and in English. Thanks to our English section, the magazine has now a worldwide reach - statistics show that we have readers from almost every country in the world.

Once a year, we prepare a printed edition of one of reviews published online. This unique, limited collector's edition is given to the visitors of the Audio Show in Warsaw, Poland, held in November of each year.

For years, "High Fidelity" has been cooperating with other audio magazines, including “Enjoy the Music.com” and “Positive-Feedback.com” in the U.S. and “HiFiStatement.net”  in Germany. Our reviews have also been published by “6moons.com”.

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ALL PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE TESTED DEVICES ARE MADE USING THE EQUIPMENT OF THE COMPANY



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