HE 2002: SACD Update Bob Ludwig, ABKCO Stones Releases

HE 2002: Yesterday as a surprise speaker, Sony introduced senior vice president Jodie Klein of ABKCO records to their press conference, the owner of twenty-two album titles from the Rolling Stones produced during the sixties and early seventies.

During his address, Klein mentioned that while the ABKCO titles had been released in 1986 on compact disc, the record company had seen no reason to re-release the albums again using ‘modern’ technology despite customer appeals, stating that the “…improvements in technology had only been incremental since then [1986] so we didn’t feel that there was a compelling reason to go back to market with these classic albums – until now.

With the power of Sony’s DSD technology the ABKCO albums have been re-mastered from the original recordings and will be release on hybrid, backwards compatible, SACD discs. The new albums will be available in stores on August 20th with a suggested retail price of $18.95 for single album packages.

One thing by the end of the press conference became extremely clear; the increase in capacity at Sonopress, currently the only manufacturer of hybrid SACD discs and the new partnership between Philips and Crest to produce SACDs in their Hollywood, CA facilities is starting to make more sense. Sony and the SACD market in general is preparing to capitalize on customers buying the new titles and perhaps as a result, buying into their high-resolution format as well as deciding to replace their CD player with a new SACD player.

Immediately following this announcement journalists at HE 2002 were taken as a group to listen to a few selected tracks from the upcoming albums on a system comprised of Eggleston Sound Works Speakers, Manley tube amplifiers and Transparent Audio cable. The recording sounded extremely clear and pristine, though not quite as I remembered the original. Unfortunately we weren’t given much time to really listen carefully to the material, so while the playback system appeared impeccable it was hard to determine exactly how good the upcoming releases will actually sound.

But time marches on, and today’s SACD Update gave us the opportunity to learn more about the ABKCO releases and the background to the discs’ fidelity.

Bob Ludwig of Gateway Mastering, a member of the panel in today’s seminar is also the person responsible for the Rolling Stones re-mastering process. After playing a few tracks (more on that later), he went on to talk about why the new discs sound the way they do. He said that they had re-mastered the recordings not necessarily at the highest fidelity possible today (using modern restoration techniques), but rather in the ‘spirit’ of the music. While the project team went back and used the original master recordings, they also auditioned all the releases that have been made over the years to get a ‘feel’ of the music. In essence, what this means is that when a recording was found to be below standard, they didn’t try and make it sound perfect since even the graininess has long been considered part of the the music.

Unlike the custom tailored and extremely well designed system of yesterday, the tracks we heard today were replayed on a system that consisted of Bella Canto equipment, Paradigm speakers and Kimber cable. While all the company representatives admitted this was not the perfect system for the space (they were calibrating it the entire time) it still sounded good. In fact, while I thought that today’s reproduction did not sound as detailed as yesterday’s experience, Robert Bienstock, who is also covering the Home Entertainment 2002 show for High Fidelity Review felt it actually was better then yesterdays performance. Like all critics, we all have our own tastes, but one thing is for certain, the upcoming ABKCO releases will certainly be something to listen out for…