In the world of music downloads the definition of "High Definition" or HD has never been more elusive. Most audiophiles agree that HD downloads are higher resolution than standard redbook Compact Discs at 16 bit / 44.1 kHz. Yet, many sites consider HD music to be anything better than the what's offered from the iTunes Store. Does anyone honestly think iTunes is the "Standard Definition" (SD) of audio and everything above 128 kbps lossy compression is High Definition (HD)? Unfortunately I have a feeling the answer is yes. Fortunately I was recently introduced to Acousence Records. Acousence appropriately calls it's much of its music High Resolution.* The High Resolution label leaves no doubt we are dealing with something better than 16/44.1. Acousence Records offers true 24/96 and 24/192 material in addition to its redbook CD offerings. Whether you prefer to download your music or purchase a physical disc Acousence Records has you covered.
* In the one case where Acousence uses the High Definition description it clearly lists the sample rate and bit depth as "24Bit - 192kHz - High Definition Master Recording"
Acousence Records has a somewhat limited selection currently, but the material it offers really sounds great. Give me quality over quantity any day. I own a handful of Acousence albums at all sample rates currently available. My favorite offering is the Gustav Mahler Symphony No. 6 A minor Special Edition Comparison Kit. This four disc kit is really neat. It comes with Two redbook 16/44.1 Compact Discs, one DVD + FLAC 24/96 disc, and one DVD Data 24/192 disc. The DVD + FLAC disc will play in a standard DVD player and contains the 24/96 FLAC files to copy to a music server. This is a really cool concept that I haven't seen offered by anyone else yet. For the computer audiophiles looking to compare the same material in several resolutions from 16/44.1 to 24/96 to 24/192, this is the perfect opportunity. I used Max to convert from FLAC to AIFF because iTunes does not support FLAC. Once converted track four of the 24/192 version of this album over two GB in size. This is not a problem for Mac OS X users, but users of Windows XP may have a problem with this file. On my XP music server MediaMonkey would not play the two GB file. Fortunately Acousence includes not only the 31 minute version of this track but a version split into two files. This enabled error-free playback on my Windows XP music server.
Acousence offers its physical discs (CD and DVD) through its own website at Acousence.de, offers downloads through Linn Records, and offers demo downloads here
Even if musical recording in the digital age appears to be more straightforward and more readily available than ever before, musical recordings that deliver the same plastic, realistic, richly coloured sound as an intense musical experience still require special know-how, in terms both of their conception and of the methods and technology used.
In conceptual terms, this starts of course not only in the choice of performers, but also in the choice of production type – live, for example. But equally all decisions in the production process are systematically based on our own product philosophy. These conceal some things that have long ceased to be taken for granted, such as the systematic optimisation of the acoustic situation in front of the microphone, or the positioning of the microphone itself, instead of always looking first for technical solutions. This is equally apparent in the aspiration to record music in the longest possible coherent passages, as this is the only way the performers are able to achieve a high level of musical performance. No editing of the music is undertaken simply out of a desire to achieve perfection if this then reduces the musical effect: there is no compensation for lack of ability by frequent editing. For perfection and expert interpretation alone are not ultimately the goal; they are only means to an end.
Talking about technology in a musical context often seems superfluous or insulting to musicians and music lovers. However, recording of music is indeed in the first instance a technical process. However, this process must be highly complex if it is to do full justice to the highly complex capacities of human auditory perception and convey the entirety of the content perceived when we hear music directly. To retain not just the notes on the sheet, but also the sound structures, the atmosphere and the effect of the performance does indeed also require some very ingenious technical equipment.
But it is the very introduction of digital audio technology that has initiated increasing optimisation towards lighter and cheaper equipment. Nevertheless, this has resulted in a disregard for many important characteristics of our auditory perception system. At ACOUSENCE we have always undertaken very extensive "fundamental research" to find out what the parameters are that are responsible for communicating the most subtle musical details and therefore responsible for the desired intensity of musical experience. This has led to a recording system being developed and continually refined over the years consisting of the best components from the analog and digital worlds.
First come the microphones. Anything not picked up here cannot be reconstructed later, however hard you try. For this reason, we have at our disposal microphones from all the leading manufacturers. We have however always used Microtech Gefell (the original NEUMANN company) and NEUMANN microphones in central positions, because these create a marvellously plastic and highly musical pattern of sound. There are many microphones that are outstanding in technical terms, and which often sound nice per se; but here it is important to draw the line between “measure microphones” and “music microphones”.
In our views on microphones, we do not belong to the "super purists" who generally prefer to work with just two microphones – this can never result in a recording that is artistically of a high standard. Equally, however, too many microphones also spoil the sound and the desired effect too easily, because the signals have a negative reciprocal effect and the natural bodies of sound are destroyed.
For us the ideal is a halfway house. The major part of the sound pattern is provided by a “main microphone system”, consisting of 5-7 microphones, where on the one hand the body of sound is very realistically reproduced, and on the other there is enough creative freedom to adapt the performance situation to the sound medium situation. Otherwise, as few spot microphones (additional microphones in the immediate vicinity of individual instruments or instrument groups) as possible are used, but their contribution is kept to a minimum. They generally only serve to top off the sound or adjust the balance, where this cannot be achieved naturally.
Amplification of the microphone signals, a particularly sensitive part of the recording chain, is carried out by an exceedingly intricate own-build amplifier of fully symmetrical class A design, with a dynamic range over 130 dB, audio bandwidth of around 2 MHz and an extremely complex power supply.
Recording is digital, but is never carried out at standard sampling rates. Contrary to the view enshrined in the development of the CD and specification of the industry digital standard of around 25 years ago, we know today that human auditory perception can evaluate many more minute details in the time domain than can be detected within the frequency transmission range of standard digital technology (the smaller the details the higher the frequencies needed). For this reason we always use digital recording formats with a 96 kHz sampling rate for multi-track recording and 192 kHz as master format. The converters used – APOGEE AD16X and DA16X – have been audiometrically selected specifically for their natural sound quality and musicality. In terms of a digital recording system, PYRAMIX from MERGING TECHNOLOGIES is used, which is well known for the integrity of its sound quality. As an aside: The SACD’s DSD technology is ostensibly superior from a theoretical viewpoint, however this is evidently not the case in actual practice, since the resolution in the time domain for real music signals is poorer that that of conventional PCM technology in 96 kHz and 192 kHz, in particular. This is why we do not use any DSD technology in the production chain.
The mix from the individual microphone signals, i.e., the creation of the final sound pattern, is performed with an analog mixing console that has been extensively modified along high-fidelity lines, with fully symmetrical bus cabling and an audio bandwidth of around 750 kHz. It is of AMEK BCIII type. Its equipment levels are pretty spartan, but, due to short signal transfer and a design taken from the heyday of analog audio technology, it provides outstanding signal processing and summation of the minutest details that, in terms of time as well, is so exact as to surpass the potential of any digital mixing console.
The stereo mix created at the mixing console is then generally recorded at 24-bit/192 kHz resolution. This master is used later for generating the templates for manufacture of the audio media.
Our CDs therefore offer a comparative wealth of detail, both in terms of sound quality and musicality, since they are only converted to CD format in the very final instance. The sound quality and musicality of our classic vinyl discs are of the very highest order, delivering a musical experience of breathtaking intensity.