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The Nordic Sound: 2L Audiophile Reference Recordings(2009)
Discover what the unique Nordic Sound is all about!
DXD recording, Blu-ray audio only disc + Hybrid SACD.
For more about The Nordic Sound: 2L Audiophile Reference Recordings and the The Nordic Sound: 2L Audiophile Reference Recordings Blu-ray release, see the The Nordic Sound: 2L Audiophile Reference Recordings Blu-ray Review published by Greg Maltz on May 3, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 5.0 out of 5.
The Nordic Sound: 2L Audiophile Reference Recordings Blu-ray Review
2L's impressive "sampler" dual-disc SACD/Blu-ray package features a range of fantastic recordings and compositions from a Gregorian Chant to Mozart to Britten and beyond.
Reviewed by Greg Maltz, May 3, 2009
Boutique audio labels often release samplers showcasing the sound quality of the full range of their recordings. In the case of Norwegian label 2L, the bar has been set very high for impeccable DXD recordings delivered to audiophiles in formats at the highest limitations of digital audio technology. As described in the previous reviews of TrondheimSolistene: Divertimenti, Mozart-Grieg: Works for Two Pianos, Vol. II and Magnar Am: Sonar, 2L offers dual-disc SACD/Blu-ray sets. The new sampler, called The Nordic Sound, proves that only one or two other labels such as Winston Ma's FIM serves up recordings so detailed and impeccably produced featuring world-class artists and superior audio engineering.
2L ensures that a range of digital audio options are offered in its releases for compatibility and for audiophiles to compare different formats and components (or tweaks) on their systems. The Nordic Sound features mutichannel 5.1 as well as stereo 2.0 on hybrid SACD as well as a Blu-ray disc that includes 5.1 and 2.0 24-bit, 192-kHz PCM and a 24-bit, 192-kHz 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. The SACD also includes a CD layer. Each of these versions is sourced from the same DXD recording. The main benefit of DXD is the optimal impulse response capable of capturing the ambiance around the instruments. 2L embraced this recording technology with its minimal microphone approach that simultaneously is both a throwback to and an advance over recording engineers from the golden age of classical labels like RCA Living Stereo and Mercury Living Presence.
While a handful of audiophile labels have taken up the mantle of SACD, it is dead as a mainstream format, even though Sony built into SACD the features necessary for success--backward compatibility with CD, and both two channel and multichannel support. The bottom line is that lower resolution downloadable MP3s took off and not only snuffed out SACD but did tremendous damage to the "big five" music industry and retail/distribution establishment. On the heels of SACD's failure to become the successor to CD, Sony introduced a format it hoped would become the successor to DVD: Blu-ray. To 2L's credit, the label's SACD/Blu-ray sets, including the sampler, offer a unique opportunity to evaluate the formats and codecs with reference-quality recordings. Kudos to 2L for producing such fine recordings on SACD and Blu-ray in a way that fully capitalizes on the advantages of both formats.
The sampler starts off with a piece from TrondheimSolistene: Divertimenti. All of 2L's DXD recordings are represented. The tracks are as follows:
1. Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 4 In D Major Kv 218 - Allegro
2. Mozart: Sonate In D-Dur Für Zwei Klaviere Kv 448: Allegro Con Spirito
3. Nordheim: Colorazione (Excerpt)
4. Ĺm: Vere Meininga (Excerpt) - Ellen Sejersted Břdtker
5. Gregorian Chant - Crux Fidelis, Consortium Vocale
6. Islandsmoen: Requiem - Lacrymosa, Kristians and Symfoniorkester
7. Islandsmoen: Requiem - Confutatis, Kristians and Symfoniorkester
8. Gjeilo: North Country II - Ola Gjeilo
9. Plagge: Duels For 2 Violins
10. Slĺttetrall: Springar Etter Gudmund Eide - Berit Opheim Versto
11. Carter: Sonata For Violoncello And Piano - Moderato
12. Bartók: Sonata For Solo Violin - Fuga, Annar Follesř
13. Vivaldi: Recitative And Aria From Cantata Rv 679, Che Giova Il Sospirar, Povero Core
14. Schönberg: Sechs Kleine Klavierstücke Op. 19 (1 and 2 Excerpt)
15. Haydn: String Quartet In D, Op. 76, No. 5 - Finale - Presto, Engegĺrdkvartetten
16. Ives: Overture & March 1776, Kristians and Blĺseensemble
17. Britten: Simple Symphony, Op 4 - Boisterous Bourree, Trondheimsolistene
18. Sandvold: Orgelimprovisata Over Deilig Er Jorden, Kĺre Nordstoga
19. Nystedt: Immortal Bach, Ensemble 96
Each of the selections provides a unique aural landscape. For example, track 17, the first movement of "Simple Symphony" by Benjamin Britten, is an unusual purely orchestral work from a British composer known more for stormier songs, serenades and operas. Britten's rare instrumental pieces are among his lightest and most accessible--ideal for those listeners new to classical. The sampler also includes an excerpt of, "Vere Meininga" or "Be the Purpose". It was originally written for Chinese harp, and rearranged by Am for the European harp. It is a concerto backed by a string sextet--two violins, two cellos and two violas--as well as recition by Hildegunn Riise, which I believe is in Norwegian. Bodtker plays electric and acoustic harps in the piece and describes the composition as "insistent, powerful and existential, bringing out the dramatic qualities of the instrument. In the cadenza, the electric harp with all its effects carries on a dialogue with its acoustic counterpart, as if the new and ancient world were melting together. A Mongolian shepherd's song winds its way between the strings." Many of the other tracks also exude excellence in composition, performance and engineering.
The Nordic Sound: 2L Audiophile Reference Recordings Blu-ray, Audio Quality
One of the great advantages of reference-caliber samplers is that they serve as system stretchers to gauge the performance of your gear and any tweaks made to your system. As fate would have it, I had just received a pair of Electra Glide "State of the Union" (SOTU) power cords from manufacturer Scott Hall. Nearly 10 years ago, I found that Electra Glide cords had a significant impact on my system, fleshing out tones from top to bottom and allowing my components to perform optimally. After auditioning several cables, I first settled on the Electra Glide Fatman, which optimized the reproduction of bass as well as the stereo soundstage--an indication of higher frequency performance--showing advantages throughout the dynamic range. Over the years, Hall perfected his cords, moving from the Fatman to the Ultra Khan to the Ultra Kahn II to the Statement, finally evolving to the new SOTU design. The new cords feature many new processes and components, including natural unbleached cotton casing and organic dielectric materials (see photo above).
Evaluating 2L's fantastic recording, Britten's Boisterous Bourree of his "Simple Symphony", using a stock cord powering my Classe Omega SACD2 player, and then using the new SOTU cord, it became apparent that Scott Hall has created an amazing audiophile product. The imaging opened up across the soundstage, delivering more high end detail in addition to midbass presence. The presentation of massed strings was optimized with the SOTU, essentially allowing the digital front end to help the speakers disappear, throwing images effortlessly. Sounds that were stuck to the speakers with the stock cord imaged freely with the SOTU, allowing the recording to shine.
Optimizing one's system is very rewarding when evaluating 2L's recordings. One key to the label's success is that all its engineers have a deep affinity for music and all play instruments themselves. Their ears are developed, their attention to detail is excellent and 2L succeeds where many recording engineers fail--in microphone selection and placement. 2L uses DPA microphones, Millennia Media amplifiers and SPHYNX2 converters to a PYRAMIX station. The label credits Digital eXtreme Definition (DXD) as the digital tool behind its recordings: "a professional audio format that brings 'analogue' qualities in 32-bit floating point at 352.8 kHz." The technology delivers an unprecedented 11.2896 Mbit/s per channel (that's four times the data rate of DSD--the technology behind SACD). According to 2L, this leaves headroom for editing and balancing before quantizing to DSD for SACD or PCM for Blu-ray.
Standout tracks for evaluating one's system include the Arne Nordheim "Colorazione" excerpt, the tracks from TrondheimSolistene: Divertimenti and for vocal performance, the "Gregorian Chants". So how do the various BD codecs compare to each other and to SACD? First I listened to the 24- bit/192 kHz 5.1 PCM track. I was quickly seduced by the heft of the strings, pianos and voices, and palpability of individual instruments. Nowhere was this more impressive than in Bartók's composition, featuring dramatic shifts of volume, tone and tempi, all imaging gorgeously with the improvements afforded by the SOTU. The midrange liquidity was good, perhaps a touch too sweet and not analytic enough for my taste, but that is the result of the recording venue. I tend to like my recordings a touch drier. But this is a minor quibble and some of the tracks on the sampler provided more reverb than others. Strictly from the perspective of the surround mix, I can't help but feel it is an opportunity lost for the label, but hopefully a 7.1 mix from 2L will be forthcoming. Although 2L engineered Sonar for more conventional five channel surround sound, the mix is anything but conventional.
Though I expected the multichannel SACD content to sound the best of all, it actually performed no better than the lossless PCM content. Perhaps that's because the DSD is converted to PCM and output via HDMI, thereby eliminating any practical advantages of SACD's 2.8 MHz sampling. The DTS-HD MA track was defined, but I noticed it gave up a modicum of tonal realism compared to the PCM track. Overall there was a slightly different tonal character to the aural landscape and less extension on the highs, but it was an almost imperceptible difference. I know the theory that DTS-HD MA is the same as PCM, but I did hear a difference. Perhaps it is attributable to a digital watermark that DTS engineered to ensure the music can be tracked when illegally copied. On the caboose, of course, was the CD layer included on the SACD. Not horrible, but I cannot understand listening to this content when 24/192 PCM is included. Maybe in the car?
The Nordic Sound: 2L Audiophile Reference Recordings Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Several conclusions can be made after evaluating 2L's fantastic sampler on a high end system. The first is that the Norwegian label is now arguably the finest recording group currently in operation with digital audio offerings that push the limits of technology. Another conclusion is that the "death" of SACD is not the end of high-resolution digital audio. On the contrary, Blu-ray delivers an excellent medium for 24-bit/192 kHz PCM multichannel audio. Yet another conclusion: 2L consistently shows throughout the tracks in The Nordic Sound that multichannel delivery trumps two-channel. Nearly all of the tracks reveal amazing samples of audio engineering as well as virtuoso musicianship. And these reference recordings offer an excellent opportunity to evaluate one's system. In my case, I was able to hear the advantages of Scott Hall's new Electra Glide SOTU power cords, which provide advantages in imaging and bass performance when powering digital front end and amplifiers. Last, but certainly not least, the sampler delivers a rich variety of tracks from TrondheimSolistene: Divertimenti, Mozart-Grieg: Works for Two Pianos, Vol. II, Magnar Am: Sonar and many more, allowing listeners to figure out which of 2L's offerings would be worth exploring in greater detail. Highest recommendation.
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