JV's Reviewer Background

Jonathan Valin -- Wed, 11/18/2009 - 02:16

 Musical Interests:
Classical chamber and orchestral music from the baroque through the twentieth century (with a special interest in chromatic, atonal, and serial music of the early-to-mid 20th century), some folk music of the late 50s and early 60s, some acoustic and electric blues, some rock of the 60s/70s/80s, some small combo jazz (particularly piano trios), some pop/jazz vocalists (e.g., Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughn), some film music, some Broadway cast recordings, some contemporary pop/country (e.g., Rosanne Cash, Shawn Colvin), some bluegrass, some world music, some techno.

Listening concerns:
1.     Realism triggers: Whatever makes me feel less like I’m listening to recorded music on a stereo system in a small room and more like I’m listening to real musicians at a recital or a concert in an actual hall or club.
2.     Realism inhibitors: Whatever makes me feel more like I’m listening to recorded music on a stereo system in a small room and less like I’m listening to real musicians at a recital or a concert in an actual hall or club.
Music background:
 Long-time concertgoer (orchestral, chamber, opera, recital, choral, pop, rock, folk, jazz, Broadway); avid reader; love music.
17’ x 16’ x 10.5’ plaster-and-lath room on third floor of very old house, with hardwood floors and thick brick outer walls. Room selectively treated with RPG Abfusors and Skylines, Shakti Hallographs, Synergistic Research ART system, A/V Room Services Metus, other tweaks. Electricity via 20-amp dedicated lines with new service.
Current reference equipment:
Loudspeakers: Magico Q5, MartinLogan CLX, Raidho C1.1, Magnepan 1.7 and 3.7 and 20.7
Linestage preamps: Constellation Audio Virgo, Audio Research Reference 5SE, c-j GAT
Phonostage preamps: Constellation Audio Perseus, Audio Research Reference Phono 2SE
Power amplifiers: Constellation Audio Centaur, Audio Research Reference 250 and Reference 750, conrad-johnson ART, Lamm ML-2, Odyssey Khartago
Analog source: Walker Audio Proscenium Black Diamond Mk III record player, AAS Gabriel/Da Vinci MkII turntable with DaVinci Grandezza MkII tonearm, Acoustic Signature Ascona with Kuzma 4P tonearm
Phono cartridges: Ortofon MC A90, Benz LP S-MR, Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement
Digital source: TBD
Cable and interconnect: Synergistic Research Galileo speakers cables and interconnects, Synergistic Research Tesla power cords
Power conditioner: Synergistic Research Tesla II
Accessories: Synergistic Research ART system, Shakti Hallographs (6), A/V Room Services Metu acoustic panels and corner traps, ASC Tube Traps, Critical Mass Systems MAXXUM amp stands (2), Critical Mass Systems MAXXUM equipments stands (2), Symposium Isis equipment stand, Symposium Ultra equipment platforms, Symposium Rollerblocks, Symposium Fat Padz, Walker Prologue Reference equipment stand, Walker Prologue amp stands, Shunyata Research Hydra V-Ray power distributor and Anaconda Helix Alpha/VX power cables, Tara Labs PM 2 AC Power Screens, Shunyata Research Dark Field Cable Elevators, Walker Valid Points and Resonance Control discs, Clearaudio Double Matrix record cleaner, HiFi-Tuning silver/gold fuses

Peter Ayer -- Mon, 11/23/2009 - 16:37

 Thank you for this description.  I have always been interested in learning the dimensions of your room considering how large some of the speakers you review are.  For instance, it is interesting to me that you have had excellent results from both the Magico Mini II and also the Magico M5 in the same relatively small room.  I also would have expected a much bigger room from your review of those exotic mbl Extreme speakers.  These reviewer profiles are a very helpful addition to the website/forum.  I particularly appreciate the "listening concerns" section and how it differs for the different reviewers.  Great idea.

Warren (not verified) -- Mon, 11/23/2009 - 17:26

Hi Jonathan,
The inertness, mass and varied textures of your walls, floor and ceiling, the judicious room treatment and tallish ceiling belie the size of your room; there were none of the myriad problems one virtually always hears in a suburban tract home listening environment with these kinds of length and width dimensions. When I visited for several days, the room came across as consistently quite neutral and out of the way, allowing me to focus entirely on the music making from your system.

Jonathan Valin -- Mon, 11/23/2009 - 17:59

 Hey, Warren!
The room does sound neutral and, as I said on another thread, I think it has as much (or more) to do with the solidity of its construction than its dimensions, although at about 2856 cubic feet it is actually a bit larger, overall, than Robert's room at 2740.5 cubic feet.

Hiendguy -- Tue, 11/24/2009 - 02:07

Mr Valin,
After reading your posts on the Japanese state of the art amps, and pre-amps,ie.(BAlabo,Tecnical Brain), which sounds "the best"?  Also after all of the great ger you have auditioned in the past with the M5's which amp, and pre-amo combo gets you closer to the "Absolute Sound"?

Jonathan Valin -- Sat, 11/28/2009 - 05:21

I will be reviewing all the contenders in the course of this coming year and picking my own favorite, but I can tell you already that each brand has a unique set of virtues (none of the contenders sounds alike) and that each will appeal, primarily, to a different kind of listener. All of them are terrific.

Hiendguy -- Sun, 11/29/2009 - 00:16

Mr. Valin,
I'm jealous man! I wish I had your job, I cant imagine being able to listen to WORLD"S FINESTGEAR in the privacy of my own home, listening to my kind of music, travel to the countries that make the gear, etc. I love your reviews man ,keep up the good work, and keep em coming my friend,
P.S. And they call that a job?

rlw3 -- Mon, 11/01/2010 - 16:58

If all of "the best" gear even at this price level sound different then are they all a little colored in their own way? Leads me to believe all gear is colored. Furthermore the whole recording process is a little flawed at least a little bit;starting with the mics used to record. Live music is live music and reproduced music will never be that same entity. It can still be very good to excellent and satisfying.

rlw3 -- Mon, 11/01/2010 - 16:58

If all of "the best" gear even at this price level sound different then are they all a little colored in their own way? Leads me to believe all gear is colored. Furthermore the whole recording process is a little flawed at least a little bit;starting with the mics used to record. Live music is live music and reproduced music will never be that same entity. It can still be very good to excellent and satisfying.

Jonathan Valin -- Sun, 11/29/2009 - 19:13

Thank you for the very kind words.
Yes, the job certainly has its...plusses. But don't forget that I also edit every word that is printed in the magazine--at least once and often twice in manuscript, once in individual layouts, and three times in entire magazine layouts. Trust me: I spend a lot more time working than listening. We all do.

Hiendguy -- Tue, 12/01/2009 - 04:16

Mr. Valin,
Thanks for the insight, I'm sure there are many facets of your job that require a bit more than just "kicking-back" and getting lost in audio nirvana; but hey, I guess you can still have the system up-and-running while fulfiling "some" of those things that you just "have" to do. Hang in there man! I enjoyed reading about your trip to Sweden so far, I have a question about DaVinci Labs, with a cost of $400k for his entire system, is it all "hand-made" in extremely limited numbers? Also do they build in the location you visited? Thanks,
P.S. If you ever need any help editing, coffee, an extra opinion, hey whatever , I'm not far.......lol!

Jonathan Valin -- Tue, 12/01/2009 - 14:31

Yes, the entire Da Vinci system is all hand-assembled in Da Vinci's shop in Muri (see pix on my blog thread), although some of the parts are hand-made by many different Swiss and European concerns.

Rad Beranek (not verified) -- Sun, 12/06/2009 - 21:09

Hi  guys, as a long time subscriber to TAS, I always wondered  why their reviewers ( especially Mr. Vallin) are shy about revealing their clinical ear frequency sensitivity - this throws the game for me.

Jonathan Valin -- Tue, 12/08/2009 - 15:50

 I'm not at all sure what you mean by "clinical ear frequency sensitivity." (Are you?) But if what you mean is "how well do I hear?" I have my ears examined every year by my ENT guy, and as of last fall  I'm still hearing out to about 16kHz with no anomalies on pure-tone audiometry tests.
BTW, I haven't been shy about revealing this. In fact, I've mentioned it several times in various threads (and I believe I'm the only TAS reviewer who has done so). 

Sam -- Tue, 12/15/2009 - 07:35

TAS or Jonathan Valin, could you please elaborate more on Mr. Valin's background (musical and academic), past work/Jobs, work involved in the field of music...etc?... Like Robert Harley did on his Background gave a lot more detail and insight into his life and background.

Jonathan Valin -- Tue, 12/15/2009 - 14:35

I am (or was) a novelist by profession. I wrote eleven mystery novels and won several awards for them. I also taught creative writing at the university level as a teaching fellow and a visting professor. I have a Masters degree from the University of Chicago and was ABD (all but dissertation) when I stopped working on my Ph.D. after my first novel was published. I've also written for TV and movies.  
My background in music is primarily as a listener. I have done some amateur recording (lots of it, actually), but nothing like Robert, who was and is an engineer.

Peter Ayer -- Tue, 12/15/2009 - 16:20

 I am not surprised by your writing background as I have always found your reviews well-written, i.e. clear, informative, and interesting.  Now, as a writer of mysteries, perhaps you could shed even more light on the fascinating developments from Wolf et al (an aluminum bodied 250lb Mini III with the new tweet)  ;^)  Eagerly awaiting your impressions of CES.

Jonathan Valin -- Sun, 12/20/2009 - 12:03

 I'm looking forward to CES, too, Peter! It should be...interesting.

hla (not verified) -- Mon, 01/18/2010 - 11:19

Mr. Valin:
My apologies, I posted this blog entry originally in your Magico M5 thread but see that it belongs better here. So here is my question again. Many thanks and sorry for the confusion.
Have you written about the ARC Ref CD8 anywhere in a blog or review? I have a solid state system (Magico V3, Spectral electronics DMA-360s and DMC15) and am considering replacing my Naim CD player. I heard it recently in comparison with the DCS Puccini + clock and took away a very favorable impression of the ARC. While the Puccini seemed perhaps more precise it also seemed much less full and natural. I wonder if you have any points you would make. Much of the music I like best nowadays is smallish vocal groups or solo vocals with acoustic accompaniment. I also like a lot of solo piano music. I read your review of the ARC Ref CD7, and was interested in your point about the possibility of the ARC's tubes adding analog-like coloration which sounds like bloom rather than actually resolving low level information on the disc. Has your thinking on this evolved or changed after listening to the ARC CD8 which is said to be more resolving than the CD8 (I have not heard the CD7 myself)?
Many thanks

Jonathan Valin -- Mon, 01/18/2010 - 21:13

I haven't yet written about the ARC CD8, though I plan to. You obviously have a VERY fine audio system and I'd hesitate to recommend something to a guy who's obviously got excellent ears and excellent taste in gear. What I can tell you is that  I really like the Puccini/U-Clock (and like the Scarlatti stack a bit more). I wouldn't hesitate to use either as a reference. I haven't really put in enough listening time on the CD-8 to make a fair comparison with the dCS, but if you prefer it to the Puccini then by all means go with what you prefer. Have you listened to Spectral's CD player?

hla (not verified) -- Tue, 01/19/2010 - 22:54

Many thanks for the advice. I am indeed very fortunate to have the stereo that I do have but not perhaps the ears you credit me with! I will of course as you suggest in the end trust my own judgment on the ARC, but the difficulty is that one only hears these things briefly and I am sure that extended and perhaps repeated listening helps to sharpen one's view. I have only just seen and finished browsing the review of the DCS Puccini/clock that you and Robert Harley just published in the Feb TAS. Very nice article, thank you. I look forward to your CD8 review. I have indeed heard the current Spectral player and I understand they have a new player due out in 2010 which I will be quite keen to hear too if I can. Have you or anyone else at TAS looked at Playback Designs MPS5 (CD/SACD player cum DAC)? Also, if I may ask another question, what do you think of using solid state electronics (e.g. Spectral) with the ARC CD8 and Magicos? Judging from your reference equipment and from your CD7 review, I would guess that you might have tried mixing and matching in that way. The reason I ask is that from what I hear mixing tubes and solid state is something that is not necessarily considered a good thing. I have no experience with tubes myself but did like the ARC CD8 during a brief listen through a solid state amp and what was perhaps a tube ARC preamp. I did not hear the combination enough to be sure though about the comparison to the Puccini. It was more of an impression than a definitive opinion.
Many thanks again.

Haroon (not verified) -- Tue, 01/26/2010 - 21:11

Mr Valin: you had Magico mini II prior to M5. Do you still like M5 better than Monitor mini II and why, becoz you had refered in one of your post that you dislike bass and mini II were the  best speakers you have ever heard for music. Do you still listen to full range music including pipe organs and some music by peter gabriel, depechemode etc.

Jonathan Valin -- Wed, 01/27/2010 - 10:26

I don't "hate bass!" I love bass. Good Lord, even a solo piano sonata can have very deep-reaching bass notes (and powerful low-end dynamics). What I don't like is the way some loudspeakers reproduce bass-range instruments in typical listening rooms. I don't like the rise that is sometimes deliberately built into the midbass, particularly if it is accompanied by a suckout in the power range of the upper bass and lower midrange (roughly 100-500Hz). I also don't like the way some of these speakers--in part because of their design--exacerbate room nodes in the 60-80Hz range, producing a huge hump that fudges resolution in the midbass and obscures the bottom octave. All other things being equal, I'd rather listen to a bass-shy two-way, like the superb Mini II, or a bass-shy 'stat like the CLX, that doesn't have these frequency-response/room/distortion problems.
OTOH, what was so impressive about the M5 was that it carried many of the virtues of two-ways and 'stats (coherence, disappearing act as a sound source, low distortion, high resolution, etc.) into the bottom octave, while adding the dynamic range and scale and sheer density of tone color of a large multiway dynamic speaker. The M5 sounded like a gigantic Mini II.

Haroon1 (not verified) -- Wed, 01/27/2010 - 11:48

Thanks for the reply. I own WP8 (room was 14 X 20 ) and upgrading to Maxx 3 soon as moving to  large room (18X 22). Do you really think these speakers will not portray Bass accurately? and will accompany room modes going into all octaves. I am low bass lover and would rather not listen to speakers that does not portray full range spectrum (but thats me). Fully understand your liking for magico line

Jonathan Valin -- Wed, 01/27/2010 - 12:05


I think the MAXX 3s are superb speakers (I also like the Sasha W/p). You should get a very accurate and musical sound from either in a room that size.


Haroon1 (not verified) -- Wed, 01/27/2010 - 11:48

Thanks for the reply. I own WP8 (room was 14 X 20 ) and upgrading to Maxx 3 soon as moving to  large room (18X 22). Do you really think these speakers will not portray Bass accurately? and will accompany room modes going into all octaves. I am low bass lover and would rather not listen to speakers that does not portray full range spectrum (but thats me). Fully understand your liking for magico line

prepress -- Wed, 01/27/2010 - 11:57

Hello Jonathan,
I read the review of the Odyssey Khartago (TAS #195). In that review, you gave the Stratos monos a brief mention. Did you hear enough to form any specific impressions? The Stratos is on my short list of amps I've begun to investigate should I decide to make a change later this year. I currently use 2 pair of B&K M200 Sonatas and am not unhappy, but a touch of "upgrade-itis" is moving in on me.

Jonathan Valin -- Wed, 01/27/2010 - 12:07


I will be reviewing the Stratos Monos separately in the future. To my ear, they are very similar to the Khartagos--perhaps a touch more refined with somewhat better soundstaging. Odyssey's products are simply excellent--and great bargains.


prepress -- Thu, 01/28/2010 - 05:25

 Thanks for the initial insight, Jonathan. I admit I'm not crazy about the long break-in times I read about elsewhere (including the Odyssey manual), but otherwise these Stratos monos seem to be a good deal. Especially since I don't think I'll be able to afford or accommodate the other main contender, the McIntosh MC501 monos. So right now, it's the 501, then the Stratos, if I don't decide to stand pat. Were these the Stratos Extremes you had, or the regular Stratos? I also hope there'll be an opportunity in the review to gauge how much power they consume. I might go for two pair to bi-amp, as I do with my current amps.
For the heck of it, the rest of the list is the Emotiva XPA-1, Cambridge Audio 840W, B&K Reference M200.1, and Parasound JC 1. The same cost concerns that apply to the 501 apply to the Parasounds also, plus they run very hot so even though they could squeeze into my rack, they'd not have nearly enough room.

Jonathan Valin -- Sun, 07/04/2010 - 01:23


I'm sorry that I didn't reply to this post in a more timely way. I didn't realize you'd asked this question.

Because I like CLXes doesn't mean that I'm not still high on Sound Labs 'stats, BTW! You have superb speakers, buddy, but I think you already know that. As for amp options, certainly the ARC 610Ts (even though they're a little out of your price range) are a must-listen. However, because of the M-1's big bass and difficult load I had better luck with solid-state than some tubes with my Sound Labs. I would think the BAlabo BP-1 MkIIs would be a superb combination with any Sound Labs, but they are unbelievably expensive as are the Soulution 700s, which would also be a spectacular pairing. Coming out of the ether and back to earth, I'd look at the usual suspects in solid-state amps, like the X350.5 stereo amp from Pass Labs, the EVO 600e monoblocks from Krell (one of the best combos I've heard in my home was a Krell FPB 650 and the Sound Lab M-1), the 850 monoblocks or 1060 stereo amp from Boulder, the DMA 360 Series II monoblocks from Spectral, etc. In tubes, I've already mentioned the ARC 610 T but also consider the VTL MB-450 Series II.

Let me know what you decide to do (or what you've already decided).


Sam -- Sun, 07/04/2010 - 02:01

Jon, you mention the DMA360 series II. Have you heard them? If so When? with what other gear? Where? and most of all what are your thought about it. Thanks.

Jonathan Valin -- Sun, 07/04/2010 - 16:50

I have never heard any Spectral gear in my own system, but I have heard it repeatedly at trade shows and at dealerships and at certain friends' homes. I haven't actually auditioned the 360 MkII, but Robert (and some other friends) recently heard it at  Overture driving the Magico Q5s and were suitably impressed.
Given my lack of first-hand experience with Spectral, I'm loath to comment on it, save to say that it has always sounded exceptionally clean, clear, fast, and spacious. As with ARC gear, its overall tonal balance is, I think, going to be the crux for potential purchasers. I know that Robert was very high on the entire Spectral system when he reviewed it (the only reviewer to review it since Robert last reviewed Spectral, ten years ago), and he and I tend to hear things very much alike.
I put the Spectral on the list because it is an obvious candidate in the price range that SL_Owner was shopping in.

JA FANT -- Fri, 10/29/2010 - 23:35

JV, how about posting photos of your system?

Jonathan Valin -- Sat, 10/30/2010 - 01:28

I was planning to do this in a blog on Monday, when the Magico Q5s (finally) arrive. I'll post one here as well.

Jonathan Valin -- Wed, 11/03/2010 - 23:25


What you're looking at is a photo of the Q5s on the day of their arrival, taken from a few feet in front of the listening position, before I started fiddling with positioning and room treatment. The amps are ARC's 610Ts, the preamp is ARC's Reference 40 (the power supply is on the top shelf to the left, the linestage immediately below it on the second shelf), the phonostage (on the second shelf behind the right amp) is ARC's Ref 2 Phono, the CD player (hidden behind the left hand amp) is the Soulution 745, the record player is the Walker Proscenium Black Diamond Mk II (with Orotofon A90 cartridge). In case you're wondering, the large item on the gigantic tongue depressor between the Qs is a Vibratron--part of Synergistic Research's Acoustic ART room-treatment system (you can see other parts of the system on the back wall and on the floor in front of the speakers). To the left is an AV RoomServices Metu acoustic panel, which goes against the door behind the left speaker. The cabling, interconnects, and power cords are currently Synergistic Research Galileo, which I will be reviewing soon. Unshown are two pairs of Shakti Hallographs--indispensable for room/speaker tuning--and large stacked AV RoomServices bass traps in the corners of the listening seat wall.

nunh -- Thu, 11/04/2010 - 00:14

Fascinating closer look at one of my favorite writer's/ reviewer's/ editor's listening room (as well as this very cool thread of thoughts) - thanks!

Jonathan Valin -- Thu, 11/04/2010 - 02:09

 Thank you, nunh, for the lovely compliment!

Sam -- Thu, 11/04/2010 - 04:02

JV, the pic not showing... just a red cross in a small box.  can you upload again? thanks.

Jonathan Valin -- Thu, 11/04/2010 - 10:13

I just fixed it.

john195 -- Thu, 11/04/2010 - 10:35


Sam -- Thu, 11/04/2010 - 15:20

JvWhat size are ur Asc tube traps in the corners? The don't look huge like some others have. Do u just have those two or are there more Asc traps in ur room not shown in pic. (and great pic btw) thanks.

Jonathan Valin -- Thu, 11/04/2010 - 17:02


The AS Tube Traps are 12" rounds. I just use the two of them, but they are very effective in helping to smooth out midbass response.


Peter Ayer -- Thu, 11/04/2010 - 16:14

Thanks for the picture.  It looks great and I'm sure will start to sound quite nice soon.  I really enjoyed the photos of the moving boys lugging those M5's up those stairs.  Do you have pictures of the uncrating/moving process for the Q5?  Another question:  I know the Walker has been your reference for quite some time and I understand why after having heard it sound great as part of the system in the TAD room at RMAF.  Have you tried the other Walker items in your system, particularly Lloyd's phono amp and AC power box?I am interested in reading how they compare to other upper-end components.  Thank you.

Jonathan Valin -- Thu, 11/04/2010 - 17:05


It does sound nice! (I'll be posting a blog about the Q5s with pix of their delivery in a few hours.)

I have tried other Walker products, though I haven't heard his phonostage preamp in my system in quite some time. It certainly sounded excellent at RMAF.


Amandela77 -- Sun, 02/20/2011 - 07:38

While searching for new music on Amazon, I came across some newer CD releases ("red book", not SACD) of older analogue recordings from the DDR. They appear on the Berlin Classics label, and feature many of the DDR composers hilighted in your "For Music Collectors Only!!! 15 Great Novas" report from several years back.  Most of the releases apper to be boxed sets, and a brief samplig suggests high quality A to D transfers.
This is edgy, lovely sounding stuff. I'm gonna give the sets a try. The series includes 4 boxed sets dedicated to vocal, chamber, and symphonic works, and cover the gamut, from atonal angst to neo-romanticism.    Prices average about $25 per boxed set.


Jonathan Valin -- Sun, 02/20/2011 - 14:20

 The Berlin Classics sets are, as far as I know, the only way to get Nova recordings on digital. I've sampled several of them myself and the transfers are quite good.
You know it's annoying that no one in Europe or over here ever thinks to reissue some of these great discs on vinyl or high-res download. How many times do we need to see yet another reissue of Kind of Blue or The Pines of Rome or every single Blue Note ever recorded? I could name several thousand recordings on labels like Hungaroton, Supraphon, Melodiya, Panton, Praga, Muza, Italia, CRI, Music Makers, and, yes, Nova--not to mention hundreds on well-known labels like RCA, Mercury, Columbia,Decca, Argo, L'Oiseau Lyre, DG, and Philips--that will never be reissued because no one has the balls to do so. How 'bout investing in some great music that we haven't heard a zillion times before? How 'bout a reissue of the Mihaly Cello Concerto, which is so drop-dead gorgeous that every single reader of TAS would swoon upon hearing it (and which would probably cost all of a $1.95 to secure the rights to)? How 'bout reissues of the Bacewicz piano quintets on Muza, the Ruth Crawford Seeger string quartet on Columbia, the terrific Festival Quartet recordings on RCA--all of which would be cheap to acquire? 
I wish I were a wealthy man, because I would most certainly put my money where my mouth is and secure the rights to and reissue recordings (on LP and high-res digital) that are lesser known but every bit as wonderful, musically and sonically, as the warhorses that the reissue mills trot out by the score. Every once in awhile, someone steps out into the ether. Just yesterday I got a test pressing of the Shostakovich Second Piano Concerto with Bernstein and the NY Phil from Bob Pincus and the folks at IMPEX (which seem to be picking up where the now-defunct Cisco label left off). Pincus has shown some commercial daring in the past. It was because of him that we got those terrific Baez and Ian and Sylvia titles a few years back, and while the Shostakovich is certainly not an unknown quantity it has, to my knowledge, never before been reissued on vinyl in spite of the fact that it richly deserves to be. This is a trifecta LP: great music, great performance, great recording. Be sure to buy it when it is officially released. The music is by turns impishly delightful, thrilling, and swooningly gorgeous (the second movement may be the single most beautiful thing Shostakovich ever wrote), and the performance! If there is a better rendition of this music on LP or digital, I haven't heard it (and I've heard a few). Now, Bob, how about the Barber Violin Concerto with Bernstein and Stern? How about the Crawford Seeger quartet? How about the Mihaly and the Bacewicz and the Bennett Piano Concerto and the Festival Quartet doing Beethoven, Faure, and Brahms and the Meyer Violin Concerto (with Oistrakh, no less)? How 'bout looking at the thousands and thousands of worthy LPs on non-standard labels that no one ever seems to pay attention to? 

Amandela77 -- Sun, 02/20/2011 - 23:28

Amen, brother:

The good folks at Supraphon began re-issuing in 24/192 re-masters their vast analogue catalog on CD several years ago. I have about 20 of their so called "Gold Edition" releases and think highly of them. Alas, neither the Hungarians nor the Russians have been as aggressive in mining their old Hungaraton and Melodiya catalogs, respectively.

You are spot on to lament the lack of commercial imagination when it comes to reissuing Golden Age classics. The novice dipping his or her toes into the rich legacy of 20th century recorded music could not be faulted for believing, albeit falsely, that the legacy begins and ends with a small New Jersey based jazz label.

Nor does this pattern of negligent disregard apply to classical music alone. The great jazz releases of the 70s and early 80s on proud labels like Black Saint, SoulNote, Steeplechase, Enja and HatArt all deserve equal recognition, yet music lovers under 35 don't even know this stuff exists. I should note that many of these gems command top dollar on the used market.

I visited the loft of a senior MusicDirect salesman a couple of years ago to sample a new Avid table, BAT electronics and Focal speakers. I took along a copy of a Steve Lacy LP ("Windows" I think, on Soul Note). The performance and the sonics blew us away. I suggested to the MD rep that they would do a great service to music lovers if they reissued some of these gems on their Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab label. He agreed but reminded me that the reissue segment of the market sticks to a conservative business plan to ensure relatively predictable rates of return on their investments. The problem is that the reissue folks know what sells and have become quite adept at creating manufactured scarcity by repackaging the same old recordings.

What we need is a wealthy maverick willing to risk some "green" to mine the somewhat more obscure but arguably more rewarding alternative veins of the 20th century's vast catalog of forgotten analogue treasures. I would be the first to open my wallet.


Jonathan Valin -- Mon, 02/21/2011 - 00:18


Though a relatively poor man, I would eagerly contribute to such a project, too. For years now I've been proposing that we at TAS (and before that at Fi) help fund reissues on vinyl and high-res on our own Absolute Sound label, partnering with one of the established reissue/new-issue outfits (such as MoFi or Analogue Productions or Chesky or Reference Recordings) and marketing the discs/downloads through our own Web site and through established retailers who specialize in reissued vinyl and high-res. Who's in a better position to pick little-known but musically and sonically supremely worthy music--classical, pop, folk, and jazz--than many of our writers and readers? Of course, the trouble is that there is financial risk involved in such a venture--which is precisely why the reissue mills stick to the tried-and-true. But if we could finance such a venture via "subscriptions" (as, for instance, the San Francisco Symphony is attempting to do with a projected complete Mahler cycle on vinyl) and get the cooperation (read, low-rent assistance) of first-class mastering and pressing facilities, we might be able to "guarantee" a modest return on investment while providing our readership (and any other interested parties) with a very affordable "subscription series" of concerts on LP/disc/download that would continue to enrich their musical lives for years to come.

It's a pipedream, but it's one in which I would gladly invest my time and talent, such as it is.


Amandela77 -- Mon, 02/21/2011 - 08:51

What a lovely pipe dream. Here is a sad tale to add irony to this dilemma. Years ago I taught at a mid-level Midwestern University. A friend in the IT department knew I was an audiophile so decided to piss me off over lunch one day. He had worked at the school for years and so had witnessed the media storage "revolution" from analogue to digital. Because the school, Northern Illinois University, boasts a fine music program (the CSOs business manager is an alum), they recorded in-house concerts routinely. The media storage shift apparently involved the dismantling and chucking of loads of solid state and tubed equipment from Revox and the like, including professional-grade reel-to-reel decks, tube mixing boards, turntables (Technics SP 15s), the works. Not chucked as in sold used to collectors and hobbyists, at least according to my source, but chucked to garbage bins as relics of another era. I suspect this tragedy occurred all over the country in the early 80s as digital emerged as the wave of the future. There went your low-rent re-mastering studio.

My former hometown orchestra, one you know well, the Cincinnati Symphony Orch. (I now live in Florida), has just created its own in-house label called Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Media.They have teamed with Naxos to assist in product distribution, and have retained the engineering talents of a team of former Telarc luminaries. Part of the project will involve the re-mastering and sale of some of the CSO's live recordings, most of which are lovely analogue gems, a catalog that stretches back decades. Imagine being able to purchase a hi-def download of a classic Tommy Schippers or Max Rudolph concert at a reasonable price. Word on the street is that the sonic quality of these archived "live" recordings is first-class as the CSO in-house production staff rivaled Telarc in their recording skills. I have heard some of them re-broadcast over the years on WGUC's classical arm, and they all sounded superb. They have no plans to do vinyl, only CD and hi-def downloads, but what a worthy effort.

I like your subscription idea a lot. Ideally, TAS would partner with MoFi, Acoustic Sounds, Chesky or a similar outfit to assist in the re-mastering process as they have the technical resources to do a job of this scale properly. The subscriptions would finance the first round of releases, allowing the joint venture the opportunity to test the business model without risking too much venture capital. I think this is how the Tape Project folks financed their initial efforts, at least partly.


Jonathan Valin -- Mon, 02/21/2011 - 14:28


Do we know each other?


Amandela77 -- Mon, 02/21/2011 - 19:08

We have never met, brother. I know you only through your writings. I grew up in Mt. Healthy, have family in Hyde Park and North Avondale, and consider Cincy my spiritual home. I visit 2-3 times a year, sometimes just to see a favored cousin and catch the Symphony in action. I am thinking of attending next-year's RMAF, which would be my first high-end conference. Would love to meet, share a beer and talk shop....


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