CES 2003: News from SACD Record Labels [HFR]

CES: Products from high end audio manufacturers was the order of the day, when I spent some time at the Consumer Electronic Show’s (CES 2003) ‘audiophile’ exhibit area. As part of that visit, I was able to survey the part of the show set aside for the various web stores that specialize in SACD sales and distribution as well several SACD record label officials who were helping to staff the area. Here are some highlights and photos from that visit.

Acoustic Sounds and Analogue Productions
Chad Kassem’s Acoustic Sounds is one of the better known web sites that sells SACDs. They also produce original blues recordings via their Analog Productions Originals (APO) label on SACD, CD and Vinyl LP and reissues on SACD and Vinyl LP from the Fantasy/Prestige/Milestone catalog on their Analog Productions label. At the show, they were offering $5 off all of their original and reissue SACDs – including those by Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Audio Fidelity
At the Elusive Disc booth I had a chance to chat with Audio Fidelity’s Marshall Blonstein. Blonstein proudly showed his 2 newest Hybrid Stereo SACDs that were released today at the show: Ritchie Valens Greatest Hits and Boogie Chillen’ by John Lee Hooker.

He also talked a bit about the new label design on these SACDs. Rather than the rather loud SACD label scheme used in the first 3 SACD releases, these two feature album art that covers the front of the album booklet – with the DSD and SACD logos appearing at the bottom of the booklet – along with the familiar silver “Stereo SACD” sticker on the disc’s case and the words “Super Audio CD” along the left hand side of the album case.

Blonstein indicated that he received a lot of buyer comments about the covers of the first 3 SACDs. This led him to change the artwork starting with today’s 2 new SACDs. I would say that the new art scheme is much better than the original one.

Audio Fidelity is also working to license and release additional titles on Stereo SACD as well as vinyl LP. We’ll keep an eye out for their announcements of future SACD discs.

Chesky Records
If you’ve attended audio and trade shows in the past, you’ve no doubt seen Chesky’s Sal Cappi offering low prices on Chesky Records releases. CES 2003 is no exception. At CES 2003, Sal has Chesky CDs going for $10 each, SACDs for $15 each and DVD-As for $20 each.

While there were no new titles on display from Chesky, they did release a 2003 Catalog Supplement that announced 4 upcoming Multichannel SACDs from Chesky:

  • Rio After Dark by Ana Caram (Chesky SACD 241)
  • Retrospective by Rebecca Pidgeon (Chesky SACD 242)
  • 4 Generations of Miles by Ron Carter, Jimmy Cobb, George Coleman & Mike Stern (Chesky SACD 243)
  • The Persuasions Sing the Beatles by The Persuasions (Chesky SACD 244)

    Elusive Disc and Groove Note
    Elusive Disc is not only one of the better known web sites to pick up SACDs but they also handle distribution for several SACD labels including Groove Note. Like the folks at Chesky, Elusive Disc was offering $5 off the price of SACDs that usually sell for $25.

    At CES, Elusive Disc released the first two Groove Note titles licensed from Concord Jazz on Hybrid Stereo SACDs: Soular Energy by the Ray Brown Trio and Just Friends by the LA 4.

    Also available at the Elusive Disc booth was the new Spring 2003 catalog from Groove Note which announced 4 upcoming SACDs from the label:

  • I Got The T-Bone Walker Blues by Roy Gaines (GRV 1002)
  • Jacintha Is Her Name: A Tribute to Julie London by Jacintha (GRV 1014)
  • The Dolphin by Stan Getz (GRV 1017)
  • With Love by Rosemary Clooney (GRV 1018)

    First Impression Music (FIM)
    During my visit to the Alexis Park, I also had a chance to chat with Winston Ma of First Impression Music (FIM). At the show, FIM is releasing their latest Hybrid Stereo SACD entitled A Song for You by the Jeremy Monteiro Ensemble with Jacintha and Two for Brazil. This new release is a direct to DSD 2 channel recording with the Meitner DACs and editing on the all DSD Sonoma DSD mastering workstation. The SACD features impressive transient response, depth and imaging as well as some fine vocals by Jacintha and Two for Brazil. It’s definitely worth a listen at the show.

    As is often the case with FIM, they also took advantage of CES to issue a new catalog that shows a host of new SACDs in the months ahead. These new SACD releases will include:
    Hybrid Multichannel SACDs

  • Steve Siu & His Steinway – FIMSACD M035 (Summer 2003)
  • Orchestral Extravaganza by Farberman, Bulgaria Philharmonic – FIMSACD M044 (Autumn 2003)
  • Oh! That Beautiful Harp by Isabelle Perrin, Harp – FIMSACD M045 (Summer 2003)
  • Harp Sweet Harp by Isabelle Perrin, Harp – FIMSACD M046 (Winter 2003)
  • Bird Singing In The Desolated Mountains: Chinese Erhu & Guzheng Ensembles – FIMSACD M053 (Autumn 2003)
  • The Ancient & Contemporary Mood of Guqin – Ancient Tunes & Jazz Favorites – FIMSACD M054 (Winter 2003)

    Hybrid Stereo SACDs

  • The Five Beautiful Songbirds: Best of Ayako Hosokawe, Esther Ofarims, Patricia Barber, Jacintha and Mari Nakamoto – FIMSACD 048 (Summer 2003)
  • All Star Jazz Festival with Jeremy Monteiro, John Whitley, Tsuyoshi Yamamoto, Teresa Rerez, Tony Overwater and Arne Domnerus – FIMSACD 055 (Summer 2003)
  • SACD Audiophile Reference Disc V, Classical – FIMSACD 056 (Summer 2003)
  • The Chicago Session by Jeremy Monteiro & His Trio – FIMSACD 058 (Autumn 2003)

    A surprise entry in the new FIM catalog is news of FIM’s first DVD Audio release. This will be along the lines of FIM’s popular Stereo SACD “Audiophile Reference IV” (FIMSACD 029) except that some of the tracks will be changed since the SACD Reference IV is a Stereo SACD and the upcoming FIM DVD-A release will offer the same tracks in both Stereo and Multichannel. The upcoming DVD-A title is “DVD-A Audiophile Reference Disc VI” (FIMDVD/A 057) and it is slated for release in the Summer.

    Also worth mentioning is Ma’s work with JVC’s new XRCD24 format that converts 24 bit sound on to 16 bit Stereo CDs. Ma is releasing 2 of the classic Sheffield Direct to Disk albums (Growing Up in Hollywood Town by Lincoln Mayorga and Amanda McBroom and Discovered Again Plus by Dave Grusin) in this format at CES this week on his new Lasting Impression Music (LIM) label with 3 more Sheffield classics coming on LIM in XRCD24 format between now and July.

    I asked about the difference between the FIM and LIM labels. It is Ma’s intent to put new recordings on FIM while older, classic reissues will appear on the LIM label. Winston also told me that while the first five LIM releases would be in XRCD24 form, future LIM releases will appear in other formats he supports.

    Interestingly, Winston says that he feels that the XRCD24 format not only has merit, but to his ears it surpasses all known audio formats – including SACD and DVD-Audio! Since Ma usually follows his XRCD releases with the same title on SACD months later, we may get an opportunity to compare these XRCD24 discs to SACD and DVD-Audio down the road.

    Finally, Winston Ma announced that he is entering into a joint venture with Exemplar Audio of Everett, Washington. Their first product will be an upgrade to the popular Sony 775 SACD changer. The upgrade goes for $1,200 and includes adding a 2 channel tube output stage, external power supply and upgrades in several other areas. FIM and Exemplar are also considering developing a high end, universal player that would support both SACD and DVD-A discs.

    May Audio
    May Audio is a distributor for several audiophile labels including Delos, DMP, FIM, Opus 3, Turtle Records and Water Lily Acoustics. They also carry a number of import labels including the BMG RCA Hong Kong SACDs. A
    t CES, May Audio also offers CD and SACD discs they distribute for sale to attendees at reduced prices. This year they have some pretty good deals including the BMG RCA Hong King SACDs for $30, instead of their usual price of $39.98.

    Also available for purchase are copies of the high regarded instrumental Stereo SACDs on Top Music International (Hong Kong): The Vultures by Joe Weed and Round Midnight by Jaime Valle. These two are selling for $35 which is the same price you can get them direct from Top Music, Hong Kong. Still, if you are at the show, these may be of interest as this is the first time I’ve seen them available in the US directly.

    Music Direct and Mobile Fidelity
    Music Direct is one of the more popular web stores for SACD discs with an on line catalog of almost 600 SACDs. They are also well known for their recent purchase and revitalization of the Mobile Fidelity label.

    At CES, Music Direct is offering SACD, DVD-A and CD discs at sale prices. They also are releasing at the show the next 3 Mobile Fidelity Hybrid SACDs: Sonny Rollins Plus 4, Hot Buttered Soul by Isaac Hayes and Blackjack David by Dave Alvin. The Sonny Rollins SACD is a Hybrid Mono SACD while the discs by Isaac Hayes and Dave Alvin are Hybrid Stereo SACDs.

    Songlines Recordings
    While not in a booth at CES, I did have a chance to chat with Tony Reif of Songlines Recordings. Some of you are probably familiar with their single inventory, Hybrid Stereo and Multichannel SACDs of Jazz and World Music.

    Songlines fans will be happy to learn that Songlines has slated 6 more SACDs for release. Reif is hoping that the first 3 new Songlines SACDs will appear around April with 3 more to follow a few months later.