CES 2006: Telarc Christens 32 Track Sonoma Recorder for 2006 SACD Releases

CES 2006: Telarc International and the Super Audio Center have announced that the first recordings made on the new 32 Track Sonoma Direct Stream Digital (DSD) recorder were recently completed by Telarc. The news is not surprising given Telarc’s long time support of the DSD format – both for recording albums destined for release in Stereo and 5.1 Surround Sound Super Audio CD and for albums that wind up as Stereo CD only releases as well. It follows the first commercial folk/rock project done on a 24 Track Sonoma DSD Workstation/Recorder by John Hiatt (see linked article below).

Moving from 8 Track to 24 and 32 Track Sonoma DSD Workstations
To date, Telarc’s original Direct Stream Digital recordings (which Telarc refers to as “Pure DSD” on the back of the corresponding SACD editions) have been done using the original 8 Track Sony Sonoma DSD Workstation and DSD Converters designed by Ed Meitner’s EMM Labs. In this new series of recordings which will begin to appear on the market in 2006, the label teamed up with Super Audio Center Director Gus Skinas to use the 24 Track and new 32 Track editions of the Sonoma DSD Workstation.

2006 Telarc Releases Recorded With 24 and 32 Track Sonoma Workstations
According to Telarc Chief Engineer Michael Bishop, several artists have now been recorded with the new 24/32 Track Sonoma DSD Workstation/Recorder. Key projects in this series include the upcoming album by Jazz pianist Hiromi entitled “Spiral” (24 Track Sonoma), the next album by the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet (24 Track Sonoma), live sessions with jazz singer Tierney Sutton and country singer Junior Brown entitled “Live from Austin, Texas” (both on 24 Track Sonoma) and a big band recording with the John Clayton/Jeff Hamilton Jazz Orchestra (the first session with the 32 Track Sonoma).

Bishop noted that while Telarc continues to reissue some of their early Sounstream digital recordings on 2 Channel Stereo Super Audio CDs, brand new “Pure DSD” recordings that are issued on SACD are ones that feature both 2 Channel Stereo and 5.1 Surround Sound SACD mixes. Telarc label President Bob Woods has decided that only recordings with “compelling Surround Sound mixes” will make it to SACD. And Bishop informs me that in the new series of 24/32 Track Sonoma Recordings mentioned above, only the Tierney Sutton and Junior Brown sessions are not slated for release in Surround Sound Super Audio CD. The others produced the compelling Surround Sound mixes the label looks for when making SACD releases – more about that later in this article.

Launching The 32 Track Sonoma With the Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra
To christen the new 32 Track Sonoma product from the Super Audio Center and EMM Labs, Telarc selected a recording project by the John Clayton/Jeff Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. This album will not only feature the Clayton/Hamilton band but also guest artists including veteran jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli and his son – jazz guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli.

The Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra sessions were engineered by Telarc’s Robert Friedrich who has been behind the console of a number of the label’s award winning Surround Sound Super Audio CDs. Gus Skinas from the Super Audio Center in Boulder, Colorado was on site during the session and says that “The outcome of the Clayton/Hamilton session is an outstanding recording by Telarc’s Rob Friedrich, who was for the most part, oblivious to our anxiety about trying out a new DSD recording beast on such an important session.

To be quite honest, all was not perfect. During our tests prior to the session, we found that we could reliably record 32 tracks to a Lacie Bigger Disk using IEEE 1394A. The new Lacie drive we purchased for the session did not behave at all like the one we tested, so, while we could still record 32 tracks, disk performance was a bit on the edge. Now that we know this is the case, we will use a raid array for recordings over 24 tracks on a single Sonoma. Aside from that glitch, all went very well.

The large studio at O’Henry Studios in Burbank, CA where the recording took place features a ‘hot-rod’ API console which, combined with the Meitner DSD converters on the front end of the Sonoma, produced a stunning multitrack master. The Sonoma’s ability to punch in and out like a traditional multitrack recorder gave producer Bob Woods additional options for dealing with fixes and overdubs.”

Recording Hiromi with the 24 Track Sonoma DSD Workstation
High Fidelity Review readers will recall that jazz pianist Hiromi has issued two very adventureous and lively Surround Sound SACDs to date – Another Mind (Telarc SACD-63558) and Brain (Telarc SACD-63600). Both were well received and Brain was the winner of the 2004 Surround Horizon Award.

As with her previous album, the new Hiromi album was co-produced by the artist and Telarc’s Chief Engineer Michael Bishop who also served as the album’s engineer, 5.1 Surround Sound mixer and mastering engineer. The SACD engineering on the disc was done by Gus Skinas from the Super Audio Center in Boulder, Colorado. According to Bishop, the site of the recording – Blackbird Studios in Nashville, Tennessee is “one terrific studio!”

Skinas described the session by noting that “A stickler for quality, Michael Bishop kept the converters and Mic Preamps in the studio close to the musicians, bypassing the console, and going straight into the Sonoma 24 track DSD recorder via ST Optical cable. When it was time to mix, Michael Bishop went back to Blackbird Studios in Nashville and mixed on the fully discrete Neve 8078 in Studio A. A single Sonoma-24 was used to both playback the multitrack and record the master mix without sacrificing any of the 24 tracks playing the the multitrack. This is because the Sonoma can both play and record at the same time on all tracks – thus eliminating the need for a separate DSD master recorder. It would be hard to imagine a more perfect situation for a DSD multitrack production. Blackbird offers the best of the best where sonics are concerned.

The studio is a virtual playground for the engineer who loves to work with vintage analog signal processors, and Blackbird’s microphone collection is second to none with more than 25 Telefunken 251’s (with the original German AC701 tubes) and more than 25 Neumann U47’s (with the beautiful black VF14 tubes).

Blackbird’s chief tech, Arthur ‘Midget” Sloatman wired Studio A’s Neve with solid silver interconnect cable for the master busses. If you are curious about what kind of sonic quality improvement is possible with DSD recording, this new Hiromi SA-CD is a very good example.”

Hiromi’s Spiral SACD – Coming to CES 2006
Hiromi’s new album entitled Spiral is due out in music stores on January 17th as a “day and date” release in both Surround Sound SACD and Stereo CD formats. Telarc also plans to make the SACD edition of the album available at the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2006) during the first week in January. As in the past two years, Telarc will be selling Super Audio CDs from their Telarc and Heads Up jazz label at the show. (This year they will have a booth at the Alexis Park exhibit area, booth # AP-1).

A Sneak Preview of the Spiral Surround Sound SACD
To underscore the results of their new 24 and 32 Track Sonoma DSD recordings, Telarc sent along a pre-release Surround Sound SACD of the Hiromi Spiral album. It features 7 selections, all written by the young jazz pianist. As noted above, Bishop and Skinas were key players in the production and engineering of the disc with the replication done by Sony DADC at their Terre Haute, Indiana plant.

The 5.1 Surround Sound mix is very well done. On the title track, the recording captures the soft piano tones followed by the subtle bass and drum playing by the backing artists. As the disc progresses, the material gets more adventurous with the 5.1 Surround Sound mix highlighting the interplay between Hiromi and her drummer. It’s a nice showcase for the Sonoma 24 Track system and Surround Sound SACD as well. Hiromi fans will want to get this SACD when it arrives in January.