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No. 106 March 2013

or what a music-loving audiophile dreams of

I listen to music every day, at least for a few hours at a time. Sometimes I do this professionally, when I’m testing products or reviewing CDs, and sometimes I do it for my own pleasure – half the records are new, and the other half are old. There’s tons of it, and I face a daily dilemma of what’s worth listening, and what will have to wait. Many CDs end up in a box labelled “someday”. I spend about as much time in front of an audio system as some spend behind the wheel, on the phone, at the cash register, in uniform, in a swimming cap, with scissors in hand, in front of the computer, or at the gym. Contrary to the meagre list of professions above, I have the comfort of freely choosing my work environment – the listening room. Or nearly freely.
Every married person, or person living with SOMEONE, be it their significant other, flatmate or parents, knows this very well. Life verifies our intentions and limits them to what is actually possible, and we must settle for smaller – or bigger – compromises. And this is normal and good. When I thought about my workplace, however, I thought I have power over it.
Why? Probably because I like my house, I like being in it, and I like the way my listening room looks, and the way that my system is set up is largely up to me, and what I have is OK at the very least. The room in which I listen to music and test new devices is multifunctional, and my whole family uses it. It’s got an area of about 30 m2 including the open hallway. The audio system is placed along the longer wall, and two big shelves of magazines and books stand on either side of it. The entire left wall is taken up by shelves with CDs and LPs. In front, there’s a plasma TV suspended between the bookcases, at a height of about 1.5 m. It’s an important part of my life, I won’t claim otherwise. We all love books and we probably have too many of them. Both my wife and I are philologists, and a few years ago our son joined us in the process of stacking our rooms up with paper; fortunately, he’s just bought himself the Kindle Paperwhite, a PaperInk touch-interface reader, and he’s promised to limit his whole library to that device. Thank God – one player out... Anyway, the TV is one of many compromises I had to make, wanting to work at home, and not having the luxury of a separate listening room. With time, I started valuing it, because it means constant contact with others, and that my work is part of my family’s life. Since all of us watch a lot of TV shows and movies, the second most important thing in the room besides the big plasma television is a sofa – another compromise. When we’re watching a movie or have guests over, it’s perfect, and does its job very well. However, it’s also kind of a perfect place for me to be alone and listen.

I’m not the only one like this, many manufacturers, reviewers, and music-lovers have a similarly arranged house, where there is no separate place for listening only, which no-one besides you would have access to.
To illustrate this type of perceiving and experiencing music, I will quote a fragment of my correspondence with Mr. Shirokazu Yazaki, an engineer from SPEC Corporation, whose RSA-V1 amplifier received the “High Fidelity” Best Product 2012 Award. Because I’m a great fan of his designs, wonderful class-D amplifiers which sound like excellent tube amplifiers, we write to each other from time to time. I’ll start with the first email from Mr. Yazaki in which he introduces himself, thanks for the award, and writes a little bit about what he’s currently doing, followed by a description of a meeting that took part in his house – a meeting dedicated to amplifiers he’d built for his friend. Only listening to music can bring such joy as seen on the attached photos – listening to music with friends, of course. And all of it on a sofa and a few chairs.

Dear Wojciech-san,
We are so happy to have heard your information, our RSA-V1 was made a selection for your Best Product 2012, thank you again!! Poland is so far away from Japan, but so familiar for us because of beautiful masterpieces of Chopin. So we exceptionally feel honor for winning the prize of your Best Product. Because that the existence value for the amplifier is only how the music could be reproduced and I suppose RSA-V1 had passed your critical musically evaluation, if that's so, our musicality in our heart and your musicality in yours is the same, it's incredible true delight for us!! Please let me introduce myself, my name is Shirokazu Yazaki and I'm in charge of engineering director of SPEC CORPORATION. In that new company I also developed and designed "Real Sound Processor, like as RSP-101, 301 for home use and C3, C3EX, C3W for car use. […] In addition, RSA-V1 had been already version upgraded to RSA-V1 DT in our domestic market. DT means designer's tuned. We think total musicality was so improved.

Dear Wojciech-san,
I sincerely hope your peace and fine health through this year and also I could have a chance to meet you on High End 2013 in Munich!!
Today I would like to introduce my audio-life of recent date. New Year's party for enjoying the music by my audio system held on last Saturday 19th. Main feature of the party is the new single power tube mono amplifiers that I made them last year for my friend's asking. It was so difficult to get a collection of vintage rare tubes, such as Western Electric 310A/B, 274B and GEC DA30. But I could get them fortunately. I could not describe how beautiful and real the sound was and it will be some reference for our development of new D-class amplifier.

Best Regards, Shirokazu Yazaki

Like I said – you can even do it on your sofa. Please take a look at the photos numbered 02, 03 and 04 – everything is pretty straightforward. But…
If I closed my eyes, and let my imagination run free for a minute, I would picture myself in one of my two dream chairs. One of them is the classic Eames Lounge Chair. You probably know its shape from many different audio advertisements, among other places. One member of the Krakow Sonic Society, Rysiek, owns one. The history behind this incredible chair’s design is just as interesting as its shape and make. The first of these chairs was made as a present for Billy Wilder, a film director. It was designed and made by a couple of designers: Charles Eames and Bernice Alexandra “Ray” Eames. This short-lived project was presented to a wider audience by Herman Miller’s company, which began its production in 1956. As John Marks write in his article about the best Christmas presents, the chair immediately became the icon of the “Modern” style, along with the LC4 and Le Corbusier Chaise Longue (John Marks, That Time of the Year, “Stereophile”, December 2012, p. 59).
It’s the chair of my dreams. However, it takes up a lot of space around it and in front of it, and – what’s more – it’s very low, lowering the listening point, and compromising the true sound of the audio system. However, if I didn’t listen to music professionally, but just as a hobby – it would be my first choice. It would only take 4,500 US dollars (for an original one).

In a hypothetical situation, in which I, a reviewer, am allowed to do anything at home (and not “almost” anything), I would be interested in another chair – even rarer and more expensive. Do you remember the CanCans headphone stand from Klutz Design? I have three different ones, they are great and I also use them for photo-shoots, when I test headphones or headphone amplifiers (see HERE). Cecilia Lütz and Michael Hollesen, the designers and the company owners, this time designed a chair. Not just any chair – a dream chair, a reference chair. Externally, it was made with music reviews in mind. That’s where the comfortable headrest, sitting space and hollow arm-rests to neatly hold remote controls come from. The couple writes on their website:
“[The chair] is intended for a select group of people who in their love for music demand more from what they are sitting in. It is a beautiful piece of furniture that deserves to take a “first row seat” in front of your sound-stage.”
Its beautiful appearance is met with an equally beautiful name: Ballerina Sweetspot – and an equally beautiful price: 11,500 US dollars, plus VAT. In the luxury goods department, prices don’t really matter – the most important thing is that Cecilia and Michael’s chair can be easily placed next to Herman Miller’s chair – and our only choices become: relaxing and listening to music, or listening to music and relaxing.


In February’s editorial titled Musical stock-taking for the very first time I published a few short CD reviews, which didn’t fit in regular, long articles. I anticipated your reactions apprehensively, but it seems you’ve been quite accepting of this form of presentation, thinking it’s better than nothing. This time I’d also like to present a few new releases, and announce that a “real” CD review of Random Trip from Nowe Nagrania, Mikolaj Bugajak’s label, is coming in the next edition of “High Fidelity”. It will contain an interview and an alternative mix of one of the tracks which should become exclusively available to “High Fidelity” readers sometime in March. I highly recommend all the CDs briefly reviewed below, especially to those who feel strongly about a given music genre – the weak stuff is a waste of time!

Jethro Tull

Thick As a Brick
Chrysalis, 461923, CD + DVD (PCM 24/96), 2012

This record, originally released on March 3rd, 1972, contained a single suite divided into two parts (CDs didn’t exist back then…) appeared last year as a beautiful 40th Anniversary Set. It consisted of two discs – a CD and a DVD, as well as a fantastically prepared booklet with the original “St. Cleve Chronicle” and a multitude of photos from the time. The DVD contains a few different version of the album: a multi-channel 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital mix, as well as – what’s more important to us – PCM 24/96 files with two more versions, this time stereophonic – a new re-master and a 1972 master converted to digital format.
The sound of the CD is very good, selective, defined and well-set on soundstage. There’s a lot of treble and upper midrange, but there’s enough “solid ground”, a bottom end that sets everything in the right place. The spirit of the times was well captured here, and some modern thoughts about mastering are included, too. The new version of the record was prepared by Steven Wilson, known chiefly for his band Porcupine Tree, but also very active in the recording studio. He’s responsible for all the new editions of King Crimson, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Jethro Tull records, including high-resolution versions.

Sound quality:
CD – 7-8/10
DVD 24/96 – 9/10

Clan of Xymox

Kindred Spirits
Metropolis Records, MET 832, CD, 2012

Although the CD was released on the 9th of October, 2012, the release date on my copy is 2011. Interesting... Ronny Moorings’ previous CD, Darkest Hour was released in 2011, right? (More on the album HERE). Such a fast release of another album was possible only because it was kind of a side project. This time this gothic/dark wave band decided to release a cover album. It’s a difficult task to undertake, and many fail, yet everything sounds pretty good here – it’s all quite nice to listen to, actually. Even a cover of A Question of Time by Depeche Mode is done well, although I usually don’t find it digestible.
The musicians are:
Ronny Moorings (vocals, keyboards, guitar)
Yvonne de Ray (keyboards)
Mojca Zugna (bass guitar)
Denise Dijkstra (keyboards)
Agnes Jasper (keyboards)
Mario Usai (guitar)
The feeling of the CD reminds you of the band’s best days, as the ones on Clan of Xymox and Medusa, which is really good. The sound isn’t particularly outstanding, but that doesn’t really matter. The CD is available in a traditional box or in a digipack. Buy the latter – it’s prettier.

Sound quality:

Pro Pacem

Hesperion XXI • La Capella Reial De Catalunya • Jordi Savall
Alia Vox, AVSA9894, 1997-2010/2012, SACD/CD

Another wonderfully released CD by Alia Vox – or Jordi Savall, this time dedicated to peace. The disc is a diorama of nineteen centuries of wars. You will find here invocations, Gregorian chants, the motets by Binchois, Josquin, Guerrero and Evo Pärt. The booklet contains texts about war in different languages. Thus – it’s music for peace, talking about violence… An incredible publication, both visually and sonically. A real gem. It was released on the 3rd of December, 2012.

Sound quality:

Karajan & Kallas

4 Great Operas
EMI/Esoteric, ESSE-90072/80, 9 x SACD/CD

It’s difficult to talk about this publication without getting emotional. This set, which costs 800 American dollars on contains the essence of opera music, four albums of Maria Callas and Herbert Von Karajan, in Strauss’ Salome, Verdi’s Aida, Bizet’s Carmen and Pucini’s Tosce. The two last discs honor Callas, and the first three are in honor of Karajan. The box was published as part of the MasterWorks series, prepared by Esoteric for the past five years, from the 20th anniversary of its creation. The said operas were prepared for the 25th anniversary. I have almost all the discs in the series and they are model editions to me – both editorially and sonically.

The material was re-mastered at JVC Mastering Center, in other words where the XRCDs are made, and Kazuie Sugimoto is responsible for the sound. The re-master is made on DSD files – the final disc is a SACD/CD hybrid (please refrain from frowning and give it a shot). Esoteric’s D/A D-01VU converter and the G-0Rb Master Clock (Rubidium), as well as the Mexcel series cables from Acrolink are used during work on the new versions. You can see interesting things on the pictures from the studio, such as the fact that the top covers have been taken off all the devices. The four corners of the DAC and the master clock unit sport small pyramids of quartz and wood on top of which, at some distance from the device, sit heavy metal plates (copper?), while the playback amplifier doesn’t have a top cover at all.

The music is sheer craziness, a true classic. Its new sound is equally touching. The publication is horribly expensive, granted, but as long as you can afford it, it’s a must have! The discs were pressed in Japan, and that’s also where the printing was done.

Sound quality: 8-9/10

Wojciech Pacuła
Editor in Chief

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"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.

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