It’s always worth paying a visit to Ray Kimber’s Iso‑Mike room, where he plays recordings made with his novel miking array. This year was no exception, where he had a four‑channel setup built around four of Sony’s new state‑of‑the‑art SSAR-1 speakers ($27k/pr) and Meitner electronics. One of the things I always like about Ray’s demonstrations is that he plays really beautiful music, typically classical and acoustic. This year I heard an except from Beethoven’s Op. 130 played by the Fry Street Quartet (more later) and also Robert Silverman’s traversal of the Mozart piano sonatas.
But the real knockout came when Ray put on some recordings he made of motorcycles and racing cars from a track somewhere in Utah. I work in the movie industry (an editor), and I’ve dubbed films on the most sophisticated soundstages in the world, and never—repeat never—have I heard anything to equal this. The precision of the surround‑space was such that you could stand outside the array of speakers and still here into a solid space of seemingly perfect coherence. Sitting inside the space was almost unnerving, as the vehicles approached, went round, and then tapered off into the distance, only to return again.
Of course, this is not music, but such capability certainly pays dividends when it comes to listening to music. I have often remarked that one thing I don’t like about many multi-channel setups I’ve heard is that what you hear in the rear channels too often sounds like a ghost image, lower in level, of the orchestra in front of you—something you never hear live. Not so with Ray’s setups: you are in the space.
Ray sells several of his recordings. This year I picked up a new one (CD/SACD/SACD Surround Sound four channel) from the Fry Street Quartet in an exceptionally imaginative program that begins with one of the Beethoven’s early quartets (Op. 18, no. 5) and the most lyrical of his late ones (the 132), then proceeds to two 20th Century works—Stravinsky’s Three Pieces for String Quartet and Ned Rorem’s fourth quartet—and concludes with a quartet written at the beginning of this century, Mark Scearce’s Y2K. That’s a name not known to me, but his quartet is a really terrific piece that serves as a fitting conclusion to this splendid program. By the way, the Fry Street Quartet is no audiophile vanity group. This is a serious, accomplished, and prize‑winning ensemble that has performed the world over in first‑class venues to excellent reviews. Its Carnegie Hall debut was at the invitation of Isaac Stern and its European debut was a concert tour of the Balkans sponsored by the U.S. State Department. Currently in residence at Utah State University’s School of the Arts, the Fry play with outstanding flexibility and expressiveness, and great depth of feeling and beauty of tone, and the recording is very realistic. Highly recommended. (http://www.isomike.com/fsq_2disc.html)