George Benjamin, Lessons in Love and Violence; Stéphane Degout, Barbara Hannigan, Gyula Orendt, Peter Hoare, Samuel Boden, Benjamin conducting the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House (Nimbus)
Sibelius, Kullervo; Helena Juntunen, Benjamin Appl, Thomas Dausgaard conducting the Lund Male Chorus and BBC Scottish Symphony (Hyperion)
Pierluigi Billone, FACE; PHACE (Kairos)
Antón García Abril, Six Partitas; Hilary Hahn (Decca)
Kaija Saariaho, True Fire, Trans, Ciel d’hiver; Gerald Finley, Xavier de Maistre, Hannu Lintu conducting the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra (Ondine)
Carl Hockh, Violin Sonatas; Mikołaj Zgółka, Jarosław Thiel, Aleksandra Rupocińska (NFM)
Antony Panteras, Collected Works Vol. II (2005–2018); various performers (Immediata)
Yes celebrated the band’s 50th anniversary over the last year with an extensive tour. This year, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers are back with a new double live album that was recorded during the group’s anniversary tour. YES 50 LIVE will be available from Rhino on August 2 as two CDs or four LPs. For a limited time, Rhino.com will also have exclusive color vinyl versions available while supplies last.
For a decade, the Audio-Technica LP120 has been among the world’s most popular entry-level turntables, enticing freshly-addicted vinyl users with its classic looks and appealing features.
But it has been put to sleep — mercifully, some cranks would argue — and replaced by the AT-LP120XUSB. The new model is meant to be strictly for home use, abandoning the nods to DJ culture made by its predecessor.
But what exactly are you getting other than a bunch of new letters? There aren’t a ton of differences, but all are welcome, including a price tag that’s $50 cheaper at $249 retail.
— The biggest change is that the built-in phono preamp has been upgraded; the original was an issue for some users, who resorted to ripping it out.
— The tonearm base and headshell have been redesigned to improve resonance issues, and thus tracking.
— The motor has lower torque, so you don’t quite get instant stops and starts, but this isn’t a DJ turntable so you don’t need them.
— The 120X is more compact, which is nice for the space-challenged, but also feels a bit less robust now that it’s several pounds lighter.
— It’s available in all black, including the tonearm, which looks very badass. I’m not sure why a black dust cover isn’t an option. Imagine that stealth vinyl bomber sitting on top of a Kallax in someone’s first apartment. Chick. Magnet.
— Because it’s no longer meant to be an option for DJs, the reverse function is gone. Oh well. Another DJ-related feature, the cueing light, has also changed. Instead of being a permanent fixture, it’s an RCA jack and the light is attached to an RCA plug. Use it or not.
— The included cartridge is now the AT-VM95E, an upgraded version of the AT-95E that has higher output (4.0 vs. 3.5), a body designed to reduce resonances and, best of all, threaded mounting holes. You’ll never have to fumble with those damnable tiny bolts again, because all you need are tiny screws.
Setting up the 120X was fairly straightforward, unless you’re an assumptive dumbass like me.
Everything popped out of the box easily and the table was sitting on its shelf in a couple of minutes — only I couldn’t find the headshell, cartridge, counterweight, and dustcover hinges. I immediately assumed that Audio-Technica had failed me, but a couple of frantic minutes later I found everything squished inside one of the foam packing inserts. The moral of the story is don’t be dumb like me.
The arm balanced with no fuss, and I set the vertical tracking force (VTF) at 1.8 grams. I then pulled out my very fancy Clearaudio Weight Watcher digital tracking force gauge and sure enough: 1.8 grams exactly.
The already-mounted and presumably aligned cartridge had some issues, however, and needed a minor adjustment. As it was aligned out of the box, with the cantilever skewed, inner groove distortion would have been emphasized, which is a complaint LP120 users have had.
Long story short: Never assume your cartridge has been properly aligned, and teach yourself to do the job ASAP. There’s a learning curve involved, but it’s a crucial part of being a vinyl user. Not knowing how to do it is roughly analogous to owning a car and not knowing how to put gas in it.
Everything else was smooth sailing. The 120X didn’t misbehave other than making a couple of random mechanical noises during its first 10 hours, which never came back.
The phono stage is definitely better. I listened to the 120X primarily through a pair of powered Totem Kin Play speakers, very nice sounding units that do some remarkable things. Unlike other powered speakers, the Totems have a high-quality phono preamp built in, which made it easy to compare against the AT pre.
I’ve really enjoyed Totem’s phono stage — and the 120X more than held its own in comparison. While the Totem’s preamp did a better job nailing the sound of voices and some instruments, such as piano, the 120X wasn’t that far behind at all. It also sometimes sounded punchier and more dynamic, which may be due to its goosed-up output.
The original LP120 had some problems but fulfilled its primary purpose, which was to offer a decent turntable for new users with shallow pockets. Some issues were addressed during the ‘table’s run, such as a faulty anti-skate control, but the phono preamp remained pedestrian and people continued to have problems with warped platters.
The 120X is no different, and compromises had to be made to meet the $250 price point. There’s a lot of plastic. The tonearm is very basic and likely couldn’t handle a significantly nicer cartridge. I didn’t test this theory because it seems kind of moot. No one is buying a $250 turntable and then mounting a $500 cartridge.
My platter is perfectly flat but that’s a really small sample size, so we’ll have to wait and see. I also didn’t experience any random humming, buzzing or tracking issues. The tonearm lift is also takes a little finessing.
Overall, the 120X also does exactly what it’s built to do. It still isn’t a fancy turntable like a Rega Planar 2 or a tricked out U-Turn Orbit, but both of those are substantially more expensive. However, it is a notably improved turntable and even $50 cheaper than its dear departed brother.
This article was produced in partnership with Audio-Technica.
The post Audio-Technica’s New LP-120XUSB Has More Going For It Than Extra Letters appeared first on Discogs Blog.
Franz Schmidt, Variations on a Hussar’s Song, Piano Concerto, Chaconne
Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, Alexander Rumpf, Jasminka Stančul (piano)
Franz Schmidt is one of those “Surprised by Beauty” romantics of the 20th century whose (re-)discovery is still ongoing. Latest exhibit: This CD, unearthing a world-premiere in the form of the Fantasy for Piano and
There’s nothing inherently evil about using digital tools to make vinyl records — although for some collectors, the mark of the beast will always be a CD’s bitrate.
While it’s true that a high-resolution digital master made to take advantage of vinyl’s dynamic range will result in a very nice-sounding LP, a record that’s been cut directly from the master tape and then carefully pressed more often results in unfiltered magic.
The process is also more difficult, more expensive, and more nerve-wracking. But for Vinyl Me, Please, the extra effort is worth the end result, and the vinyl subscription service will expand its catalogue of records that are AAA, the code used for recordings that are recorded to tape, mastered from tape and released on vinyl.
Two of May’s VMP reissues are AAA. Al Green’s Call Me, a classic of physical and spiritual yearning, is part of VMP’s Classics subscription series. And this month’s Essentials series offers Experience Unlimited’s Free Yourself, a lost classic of Washington, D.C.’s go-go scene.
VMP’s Cameron Schaefer is quick to point out that VMP isn’t turning into an audiophile label. It’s simply trying to be the best possible version of itself. “I think we’re unique from other clubs or reissue labels in that our main customer base is younger and generally approaching it more from a music discovery angle than an audiophile/collector lens,” Schaefer said. “With that said, we know that how the record is produced and all the details around that process impact how the record is experienced at the end of the line, so we’ve been working hard the past several years to push the envelope on quality.
“Experience Unlimited and Al Green were some of the first records we really highlighted the AAA angle in the marketing, even though they weren’t the first AAA records we’ve done. Some people were very excited by this, others didn’t care, but all agreed that the sound quality on both was excellent, which is ultimately what matters to us.”
For those who do care, there’s even better news: From this point on, all Classics series LPs will be AAA, while the Essentials series will be catch-as-catch-can. VMP’s Levi Sheppard said the Classics series was the sweet spot for AAA, because it will focus on jazz, blues, and soul titles, all of which were originally recorded during the glory days of analog.
Upcoming AAA releases for June include Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s Gospel Train (Classics) and Phoenix’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (Essentials), and the Classics series is booked up with AAA releases through the end of 2019.
“It’s one of those things where, for a certain kind of person well-versed in high-end audio, an AAA release has a lot of value,” Sheppard said. “For others it’s more of a value-added kind of thing.”
For analog guru Michael Fremer, it’s all of the above and then some. The founder of Analog Planet and longtime writer for Stereophile is a staunch advocate for AAA — when done correctly.
“The primary advantage is that the listener experiences the source as it was created, not digitized,” Fremer said. “The claim that digitization is transparent to the source is nonsense, I don’t care what the resolution. This is easily demonstrated. There are some advantages to digitization depending upon the tape’s condition but generally the sound is worse and I rarely have difficulty identifying the source when I play a reissue cut from digital regardless of the resolution.”
So how does this all work?
For an all-AAA release such as Gospel Train or Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, the mastering and pressing is nearly identical to records that aren’t AAA. There is one crucial difference. Following is the process in a nutshell. Think of it as mastering for dummies.
Step 1: Only original master tapes are used. The tapes represent the first “A” in AAA. Ideally, the tapes will still be in as-new condition.
Step 2: Here’s the crucial step. For decades, it’s been common practice to make a digital master recording from the tapes, and the digital master is then used to cut the lacquer. It’s easier, less expensive, and when done right will make a really nice sounding record.
Many mastering engineers use tape playback machines that have a digital delay built in. As the engineer listens to the tape to make sure all is well, the delay is being used to cut grooves into the lacquer.
But true AAA releases cut the lacquer directly from the master tape. For its Classics series, VMP will use Sterling Sound’s Ryan Smith, who utilizes a cleverly modified ATR-102 playback machine that allows him to monitor the tape via an analog preview tape head while cutting the lacquer directly from the master tape.
That’s the step most often skipped. When a hype sticker claims “mastered from the original analog tapes,” Fremer said that it often means an ADA chain: tape, digital master, vinyl. It should be noted that hype stickers are, you know, hype.
Step 3: The master lacquer is then sprayed with silver and given a nickel bath, which is way better than a Nickelback. The electroplated lacquer is now a metal master, and when the metal master is peeled apart we’re left with two sides: one with grooves and one with ridges.
Step 4: The one with ridges is our stamper, and that’s what makes your LP. A biscuit of vinyl is pressed onto the stamper, and when popped off we can see that those ridges have become grooves, which takes on a double meaning in the case of Call Me.
Fremer added that the AAA chain is “only as strong as the weakest link,” and that’s where the condition and availability of the master tape comes into play. Sheppard said that finding tapes and getting permission to use them is the hardest stage of AAA, admitting that many labels see the master tapes as “sacred.”
Schaefer concurred, but seems to appreciate the adventure involved. “In many cases, the master tapes for some classic albums are literally priceless, so it’s understandable the anxiety that comes with letting them leave your hands,” Schaefer said. “Sometimes we have to get creative. In the case of Ayalew Mesfin, an Ethiopian funk legend, we bought him airfare so he could hand transport his master tapes on the plane with him to United Masters in LA. He literally didn’t let the tapes out of sight.”
This article was produced in partnership with Vinyl Me, Please.
The post Vinyl Me, Please Goes The Extra Mile For Its All-Analog Releases appeared first on Discogs Blog.
‘I always think of my books as music before I write them’
It is clear, from her novels and essays, that Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) was musically minded. A glance at her letters and diaries confirm the integral role that music played not only informally, but as a serious means of shaping her personal views on writing, feminism and sexuality.
Life and influences:
Born in London, Woolf acquired a basic musical education from a young age. She continued to listen to music throughout her life and she kept a record of her experiences at musical events. It was at such events that she cultivated a love of musical performance and begin to consider how music relates to language, communication and expression.
Influenced by Wagner’s treatment of musical motifs in his operas, Woolf dreamt of modelling music’s form of total expression in her writing. Musical references could shed light on aspects that could not be expressed by the power of words alone.
To Woolf, music possessed a kind of hyper-proximity to the truth. Musical allusions in her novels permitted her to comment on society.
As early as 1915, Woolf began to challenge the traditional place of women within musical composition and performance in her novel The Voyage. Her close contact with composer Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) further consolidated her growing feminism. Smyth was a suffragette and radical activist for equality who went on to study music despite the disapproval of her father.
In Night and Day (1919) Woolf covertly calls the power of patriarchal society into question, with allusions to Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Cassandra exemplifies the feminine model of 'musical accomplishment' with her flute playing, and conversations on music between Jacob and Bonamy emphasise priveleged educations of male characters.
Referencing the opera Siegfried, Woolf contrasts Wagner’s anti-Semitism with the sympathetic attitude towards Jews in her novel The Years (1937). A further comment on the imperial activities of Edwardian society features in Jacob’s Room (1922) with a performance of Tristan. That Woolf engaged much with Wagner's work throughout her life suggests that diegetic references are serious, despite there only being few.
More recently, Max Richter released Three Worlds: Music from Woolf Works (2017) – a three-part record composed for the Royal Ballet production, and based on Woolf’s best loved novels: Mrs Dalloway, Orlando and The Waves. Woolf’s voice seems to ring through the record, with fragments from her letters and diaries featured throughout.
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