A new release of one of the most celebrated classical recordings – Allegri’s Miserere by The Tallis Scholars – is designed to broaden the appeal of high-resolution surround sound
The brave new world of high-resolution audio is a minefield for the unwary traveller, or indeed the under-informed would-be guide. It seems every time an article appears online regarding the future of music at home, first we line up to spot the howlers or information gaps, and then we demand to know why the particular niche of the market to which we cleave has been criminally ignored by the latest hardware arrival or ‘state of the market’ overview.
You see, the world of high-resolution audio covers a multitude of formats and definitions: one man’s hi-res is another’s better-than-MP3 CD-quality; for some the ultimate format is 24-bit/192kHz, ignoring the fact that 32-bit/384kHz hardware and recordings are already available; while for others any product not supporting DSD in its various forms is dead in the water.
And then there’s the whole problem of stereo vs surround: should we be concentrating on the best two-channel playback we can achieve, or going for what is basically an AV system optimised for audio.
If it’s a nightmare for the manufacturer of any new high-resolution equipment: it threatens to be out of date as soon as it’s announced. Or, if you’re lucky, before it’s released – which at least gives you the chance to hold fire, spend times getting things right, and then launch (as happened with the Marantz NA-11S1).
And it can be just as bad for the music enthusiast: either you need to keep multiple format-copies of your music, or make sure you have hardware capable of playing everything you manage to throw at it. The latter could be harder than it seems, unless you choose an AV receiver with great care, ensuring it’s able to handle all your stereo and surround recordings; the former may be a simple solution – provided, that is, the labels or sites from which you buy offer multiple download formats for a one-off payment on a ‘buy the best, get the rest thrown in’ basis.
Head spinning yet? Already thinking ‘Gawd – no wonder I’m sticking to CDs’? I wouldn’t blame you!
However, there is one format designed to avoid these problems, and having been pioneered by Norwegian label 2L – one of my favourite classical music sources – and Munich-based studio msm, it’s now showing signs of being more widely adopted. That format is Pure Audio Blu-ray.
No video, just audio, and the disc offers two versions of the Miserere, complete with its split choral forces and soaring high Cs echoing around the chapel of Merton College, Oxford, and a selection of works by Palestrina, including the Missa Papae Marcelli.
On the disc are 5.1-channel surround versions in both DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby True HD, along with PCM stereo – all at 24-bit/96kHz resolution.
And playing them is as simple as bunging the disc into a Blu-ray player, all-in-one Blu-ray AV system or even a computer with a suitable drive, selecting your soundtrack of choice via the on-screen menu, and off you go.
Or, if you want to be purist about it, you can do it without a screen involved: the different formats are colour-coded on the back of the Blu-ray case, and you can simply use the colour buttons on your remote to select the one you want to play.
Want more? The disc also offers further formats for download to a home computer and playback via network music devices, or the computer itself. Using the mShuttle system you merely have to key in the IP address of the Blu-ray player in a browser on a computer on the same network, and then a variety of stereo sound formats, along with artwork and booklet, can be downloaded.
So that’s just about all the bases covered in one handily packaged format – but why still a disc in the download age?
Steve Smith, who has produced all The Tallis Scholars’ hi-res recordings, says ‘The availability of the set on Blu-ray is an important move in making high-resolution and surround sound accessible by more listeners – unlike previous format launches millions of customers already own the equipment needed to play these discs.
‘One player for both high definition pictures and high resolution sound must be the right way to go.’
And no doubt with an eye to the impending festive season, he adds ‘High resolution downloads are fine for audiophile specialists but they don’t work well as gifts. Pure Audio Blu-ray opens new opportunities.’
It’s a persuasive argument to me, but what do you think?
Allegri’s Miserere & Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli by The Tallis Scholars will be released by Gimell on Pure Audio Blu-ray (GIMBD 641) on December 2nd
Some 40 Pure Audio Blu-ray titles are already available or soon to be released: to find out more, visit the dedicated Pure Audio Blu-ray website
Written by Andrew Everard