HE 2003: Mobile Fidelity Sneak Preview of 1st Surround SACD

HE 2003: During Home Entertainment 2003, Mobile Fidelity announced that they plan to release their first Hybrid Surround Sound SACD disc on August 26th. The upcoming SACD will be Ravel: Bolero and Assorted Orchestral Works by Stanislaw Skrowaczewski conducting the Minnesota Orchestra (Mobile Fidelity UDSACD 4002).

Those of you who were fans of Quadraphonic Sound in the 1970′s will recognize this as one of the many Classical Music Quad recordings released in the QS Matrix Format by Vox Records. According to Mobile Fidelity Vice President John Wood, they elected to start their SACD Surround releases with this album because of its sonics and their desire to issue a quality audiophile title to kick off this new venture for their company.

Visiting Paul Stubblebine Studios
Mobile Fidelity arranged for a preview of the Ravel Surround Mixes during the HE 2003 show. The previews were held at Paul Stubblebine’s Studios in Downtown San Francisco, which is located just blocks away from the show. Joining me for the preview was Mobile Fidelity’s Vice President John Wood, Chief Engineer Shawn Britton and Marketing Director Colie Brice.

Arriving at the studio, I had a chance to talk with Paul Stubblebine. Stubblebine worked as a vinyl LP mastering engineer for CBS Records in the 1970s and has been active in the field ever since. Most recently he is known by many in the audiophile community for his work with several audiophile labels including mastering work on several SACD titles for First Impression Music (FIM).

A Sneak Preview of the Ravel Surround SACD
We went to Paul’s Mastering Suite and sat in front of his Sony Sonoma DSD Mastering Station to preview some of the mixes of this upcoming Surround Sound SACD. First up was Ravel’s composition of «Daphnis et Chloe».

The track featured very nicely detailed playback in the front channels with the rear channels being used primarily for ambience. The sonics of the playback were very impressive, especially in light of this being from a 1970′s analog master tape. Towards the end of the selection, a female choir appears in the rear channels. This proved to be very effective and a bit unexpected. (The choir was so clear I thought at first that they were rehearsing in a room behind us!). After the playback, Wood explained that the female choir had been placed in the rear channels in the original 4 channel recording in accordance with the composer’s original intent.

Next, we were treated to the last half of Ravel’s «Bolero». As with the first track, this selection also featured very nice detail and imaging. Of particular note were the clean playback of the flute and the brushes on the drums. The orchestra was arrayed nicely across the front speakers with crisp separation and it built nicely into the selection’s dramatic finale.

Finally we heard what will be a bonus selection on the Surround SACD. This is a 5 channel version of «Daphnis et Chloe». It features a center front signal that has been derived from the original left and right front channel signals using a German processor that uses Ambisonics technology for that purpose. This version of the composition was also effective and provided more of a spread soundfield. It will be interesting to see how audiophiles react to the two differing versions of this selection when the SACD is released in late August.

Some Details About The Project
After the listening session, we had a chance to talk a bit more about the project. All of the tracks on the SACD are being taken directly from the original 4 Channel Analog Master Tape. With the exception of the bonus track, all of the tracks on the SACD will be played back in 4 Channel form.

Stubblebine told us that he has been a long time fan of Surround Sound music but felt that the matrix formats of the 1970′s really didn’t offer the discrete separation or the sonic quality to really make it a compelling product. With today’s technology, he now feels that he can offer the music listener a very high quality, engaging experience. He is enthused about the results of the Ravel master tapes to DSD and is looking forward to the disc buyers reaction to this release.

Comments from Mobile Fidelity
John Wood indicated that Mobile Fidelity has access to more of the Vox Classical 4 Channel Masters if this initial release proves successful in the market. He also said that Mobile Fidelity is exploring both Classical as well as Pop, Rock and Jazz albums as candidates for future Surround SACD titles on the Mobile Fidelity label.

In a press release about this upcoming Surround Sound SACD, Mobile Fidelity said «This historic Vox recording of Stanislaw Skrowaczewski conducting the Minnesota Orchestra is considered a stellar recording by audiophiles all over the world. The full sonic spectrum of this recording masterpiece is finally unveiled as four channels of stunning detail, shimmering imaging, and sensuous ambient information that enables listeners to experience the producer’s original sonic intention for the first time! This Ultradisc UHR SACD also features a special, full length bonus track of «Daphnis et Chloe» featuring a female choir placed in the rear channels in accordance with the composer’s original intention. The packaging includes both the original liner notes and newly commissioned technical liner notes by the recording’s Grammy winning producer and recording engineer Marc Aubort.»

Based on what I heard in Stubblebine’s Studios, I’m certainly looking forward to this upcoming Surround SACD from Mobile Fidelity. It should be a fine debut for this new series of Mobile Fidelity SACDs.
Preparing to Listen to the Ravel Surround Tapes at Paul Stubblebine Studios in San Francisco. John Wood, Vice President of Mobile Fidelity (Standing), Paul Stubblebine, Owner of Paul Stubblebine Studios (Seated Left) and Brian Moura, High Fidelity Review (Seated Right)