Friday 21 December 2012

Come and see BitPerfect at C.E.S.

Anybody going to the 2013 International CES in Las Vegas? The whole BitPerfect team will be there, in the Light Harmonic rooms. Please drop by to say hello, and let us hear of your experiences with BitPerfect. You will also have an opportunity to hear some of the greatest sounding audio systems money can buy!

Wednesday 19 December 2012

BitPerfect 1.0.5 is Released

BitPerfect 1.0.5 has been released to the App Store.  This is a maintenance update which addresses a number of issues which relate to the Permissions Scan process.  For those users who still cannot get the automatic Permissions Scan to function, there is now an option to set the Permissions manually.  A number of other, relatively minor bugs have also been fixed.  All users are advised to upgrade to this version.

The main features of BitPerfect 1.0.5 are the same as for BitPerfect 1.0.4.

Sunday 16 December 2012

40 Most Beautiful Arias

I wouldn’t normally give a “Rack Filler” CD a moment’s thought, but here I am actually recommending one!  “40 Most Beautiful Arias” is pretty much exactly what it says it is, and at $14 from Amazon for over 2 hours of achingly beautiful music, it is a great deal.

These opera arias are collected from the Warner catalog, and it is pretty much stacked from beginning to end with major international names, including Plácido Domingo, Thomas Hampson, Cecilia Bartoli, José Carreras, Barbara Hendricks, Roberto Alagna, Angela Gheorghiu, Marylin Horne, Karita Matilla, Jennifer Larmore and many others.

The recordings themselves range from good to very good.  Nothing really stands out as being either very bad or truly exceptional.  But whoever has selected 40 arias to cram onto two discs has actually done a very creditable job.  With one exception though, which might make you spill your drink in frustration.  The famous duet from Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers” suddenly stops half way through – an almost unforgivable omission.

A lot of people find opera to be too heavy going for them, and that is fine.  But a lot of those same people do enjoy the occasional highlight aria when they hear them, often out of context.   This album is for those listeners.  It is not designed to make an opera fan out of you, but it is an album you’ll want to play from time to time, just to make you feel good.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

B&W's Society Of Sound

If you haven't already done so, you owe it to yourself to check out B&W's Society Of Sound.

For just $60 you get access to two free downloads every mon
th, usually at 24-bit 48kHz resolution.  The music is an eclectic mix of current release orchestral heavyweights from the London Symphony Orchestra's LSO Live collection, plus an interesting assortment of mostly world music from artists you may not otherwise have the opportunity to check out.  Some are good, a few are great, others meh...  But the recordings are all of the highest quality.

Plus - big plus - you also get to download everything that was released during the preceding 12 months.  That's 48 hi-res albums for $60!!  Certainly the best $60 value I ever spent on music - I'm now in my second year of subscription.

Friday 7 December 2012

That Parted My Hair!

One of the most famous “Demonstration Discs” of all time is Telarc’s 1812 Overture, with Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra.  With its real firing cannons and peals of church bells, it is the ultimate in musical Special Effects!

As early as 1958, Mercury Records, seeking a flagship recording for their “Mercury Living Presence” label released a recording with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra under Antal Dorati, with brass cannons and a real carillon.  The recording was massively popular, and in truth, there was absolutely nothing like it on record at the time.  To this day it remains a well-known and highly desirable collectors piece.

Twenty years later, in 1978, Telarc decided that they needed their own 1812 overture as a flagship for their quality-oriented record label.  They commissioned Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra and pulled out all the stops with their own real brass cannon and bells.  This recording, however, presented the cannon blasts at a much higher volume, with far greater bass energy, and the resultant LP came with dire warnings about blowing the cones off your loudspeakers!

Whether originating through genuine concern, or unabashed marketing hype, the dire warnings spread like fire and Telarc all of a sudden had a major hit on their hands.  It sold phenomenally. Arguably, this recording put Telarc on the map all by itself.

The recording was refreshed for CD by the addition of digitally recorded cannons, but by then the novelty was wearing off and the recording was being criticized for its poor acoustics and for the less than stellar playing from the orchestra.  But the record still had enormous public appeal, so Telarc took the unusual step of re-recording it in 1999, using the same performers.  Indeed the same cannons were used, and were in fact fired by the same cannoneers.  This performance also added a choral introduction by the Kiev Symphony Chorus and a brief (and very effective) choral interlude from the Children’s Choir of Greater Cincinnati.  As far as I can tell, Kunzel was instructed (or chose, I don’t know) to recreate precisely the tempi, sonorities, and presentation of the original.  The only problem is, they’re still not the Berlin Phil.  The string playing in particular fails to impress.

This completely new recording shares a deceptively similar sleeve and cover design to the CD of the original, so it is easy to go out and buy the wrong one.  The key is to look for the accreditation of the Kiev Symphony Chorus on the sleeve.

The new recording is every bit the Audio Special FX reference!  Available as a dual-disc SACD/CD, and as a high-resolution 24/176 download from HDtracks, those cannons still kick butt.  I have just played through both the “original” CD version and the new recording.  The new one is most assuredly the one to have.  The two choirs are fabulous.  The brass and drums have authority, power, and weight.  The balance of the recording is impeccable.  Almost flawless, in fact.  The cannons are particularly impressive, thunderingly, percussively loud, and with real spatial definition, their sound probably limited more by the microphones than by anything else.  You still need to fear for your loudspeaker cones!

As my friend Nigel put it – “Wow! That parted my hair!”.

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Problems with Permissions Scan with iTunes 11

We are receiving reports of problems with BitPerfect 1.0.4's Permissions Scan process with iTunes 11.  As you may already know, BitPerfect 1.0.4 was submitted to the App store for approval long before iTunes 11 was released, and it has not therefore been pre-tested with iTunes 11.  Unfortunately, we are quite unable to reproduce any of these problems on any of our own systems.  We are therefore in the process of collating as much data and customer feedback as we can, and hopefully we will be able to identify the root cause as soon as possible.

Once we know what the cause is, we can determine the best course of action.  Stay tuned.

UPDATE:  Some (but not all) users are reporting that the problem can be resolved by quitting BitPerfect, and launching iTunes manually.  Then, once iTunes has had a chance to get itself fully up to speed, stating BitPerfect again and running the Permissions Scan manually (click on "Change Music Directory" in BitPerfect's status bar menu).

UPDATE:  Thanks to BitPerfect user Bill Riel for pointing this out:  "Like many others I had quite a bit of difficulty getting BitPerfect 1.0.4 to scan my library when using iTunes 11.  It seemed that no matter what I did, at best BitPerfect would start the scan, then immediately shut down before finishing.  I just tried something a bit different: I had iTunes already open **and playing some music**.  I then launched BitPerfect while iTunes was playing, and this time, the scan was successful. I then quit iTunes from the BitPerfect menu, re-launched it and things appear to be functioning as they should."  We have a lot of very helpful users out there.

UPDATE:  With BitPerfect 1.0.5 we now have an additional option to execute the Permissions Scan manually.  Please read the revised User Manual for more details.

Monday 3 December 2012

BitPerfect 1.0.4 is Released.

BitPerfect 1.0.4 has been released to the App Store.  This version includes new features for managing AirPlay Devices, and a number of minor bug fixes.  It also introduces a new requirement for compliance with Apple’s new App Store posting requirements.

  • Users must grant specific permission to BitPerfect to permit access to music files (on first launch only).
  • Feature to stop iTunes defaulting to AirPlay devices.
  •  Icon color changes to reflect playback status.
  • “Retina Display” support.
  • Fix for broken Volume Control with certain DACs.
  • Fix for some small bugs that affect gapless playback.
  • Fix to correct for channel reversal in AirPlay devices.
  • Option to limit maximum sample rate.
  • Option to reverse channels on individual tracks. 

Please contact us if you have any questions, comments or bug reports!

Problems with iTunes 11 ?

Having strange problems with iTunes 11?   This may sound stupid - and little Windows-ish - but try a cold re-boot after installing iTunes 11 and running it for the first time.

BitPerfect is receiving all sorts of reports of erratic and seemingly unconnected problems after installing iTunes 11.  These problems seem to go away after a hard re-boot.

My own bizarre problem actually required me to re-boot my router!  One or two strange episodes can be viewed as a bizarre coincidence, but frankly, I've fielded about a dozen of these today already.

Sunday 2 December 2012

Spare a thought for poor Tim

Way back in May, his 9th floor Condo flooded in freak circumstances during a torrential rainstorm, along with about 15 other units in the building.  He was forced to move out while the various insurance companies involved fought among each other over how to perform the repairs.  He and his girlfriend had to live their lives between a hotel room and their parents' houses.

Repairs took a long, long time. Issues included an insurance company who thought it was a fine idea to replace quality hardwood floors with bargain basement Walmart stock.  They all had to be ripped up and relaid.  Do you remember the Mr. Bean episode where he painted his walls by placing a stick of dynamite in a paint pot on a stool in the centre of the room?  Well, the contractors were forced to re-do their shabby paint job.

Anyway, finally, all of these obstacles are being cleared up, one at a painful time, and we expect him to move back in any day now.

Well, that was Friday's status. Yesterday, his neighbor moved into his apartment and within an hour the water feed pipe to his dishwasher broke, and flooded his apartment.  Whoever installed it had not installed a shut-off valve.  The water just kept on pouring in. The apartment building was more or less empty, and nobody could be contacted who knew where the master shut-off was located.  Finally Tim was tracked down.  He knew where the shut-off was, and more to the point, had a key to that room.

By the time the drama was over, Tim's apartment, and about ten or more others had been completely flooded again.  They are right back to square one.

As I said, spare a thought for poor Tim!

Saturday 1 December 2012

The Armed Man - A Mass For Peace

Karl Jenkins is a contemporary Welsh composer, arguably the most popular living composer specializing in large-scale choral works.  "The Armed Man: A Mass For Peace" is his most popular work, and has been performed over 1,000 times.


The Catholic Mass is a traditional vehicle for choral composers.  At one time, the Church, and Church-based events, were the primary source of commissions for choral works, both large-scale and small.  Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, even Berlioz and Verdi all composed high masses of great renown.  Today, the Mass - in fact the whole body of high-church liturgy - is still a go-to setting for the serious choral composer, simply because, like the symphony, it is a standard musical form where the composer can exercise his chops without alienating the potential audience with an unfamiliar framework.

Karl Jenkins writes in the so-called "crossover" style, where the flowing melody lines and friendly harmonic structures of popular music replace the dissonance, atonality, and temporal chaos of many schools of 20th Century composition.  Crossover composers are often dismissed contemptuously within the academic circles of musical intellectuals, but audiences can seldom be found for works where it is hard to tell when the tuning-up has finished and the performance commenced, whereas composers like Jenkins, John Rutter, and John Williams routinely fill the concert halls.  Those of you old enough may remember the Jazz-Rock fusion group "Nucleus" of the early 1970's.  Jenkins was in the band, playing keyboards and saxophone.  He also played for many years with the prog-rock band "Soft Machine".

"The Armed Man: A Mass For Peace" is a terrifically accessible work, yet for all its clean lines, traditional structure and tonal beauty it still brings something new for the skeptical listener.  Here we have - what? - a traditional Islamic "call to prayers" to kick off a Catholic Mass!  We also hear texts from Indian Hindu and Japanese Shinto sources, as well as verses by Kipling, Tennyson, and even the Master of the Royal Armories of Great Britain (actually, the Royal Armories commissioned the work).  It all comes together with great cohesion.  The concluding track "Better is Peace (than all that war)" is one that you will find yourself whistling for a long time.

Jenkins dedicated the work to the victims of the genocide in Kosovo.  Although it was written in 2000, it will of course be listened to in the context of the post 9/11 world and its need to find functioning social philosophies in the face of apparently irreconcilable forces of religious - and, yes, political - fundamentalism.  "The Armed Man: A Mass For Peace" can only give us hope.

Friday 30 November 2012

iTunes 11

We have completed our initial evaluation of iTunes 11, and we can say that BitPerfect users are safe to download this version and use it with BitPerfect.  There may turn out to be some instances of unexpected behavior, but at the moment we have not encountered anything that is giving us any significant concerns.

UPDATE:  See the following posts:
Problems with iTunes 11?
Problems with Permissions Scan with iTunes 11

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Petition - We Want Our Music Back!

Please join BitPerfect in letting the music industry know we are fed up with dynamically compressed recordings, and that we want our music back!

BitPerfect Contest!

If you go to our FaceBook page and 'Like' us, there is a contest that we are offering for BitPerfect users.  I have a little Art Project I created for my listening room, comprising 15 portraits of prominent musicians past and present who have made important contributions to my own little world.  I call it my Wall Of Heroes.

I have found that many people are able to identify a majority of the faces on the wall, but nobody seems able to name them all.  Interestingly, the ones that trip people up are rarely the same!

So I posted them all on BitPerfect's FaceBook page, and have offered a modest little prize for the first person to correctly identify all 15.  Let's see how you get on!

British Airways send-up

For many years, British Airways ran a series of commercials featuring the famous Flower Duet from Delibes' opera Lakmé.  Here is a wonderful send-up, performed by Nicola Keen and Jan Handley (neither of whom are professional opera singers).  Keen wrote the words.

This will particularly appeal to those who, like me, have devoted substantial portions of their lives to the joys of business travel.

Sunday 25 November 2012

Stadium Arcadium - A Mirror To The Moon

Be honest, when you think of "double album", do you think "Oh yes, more music" or is it "Oh no, more filler"?  Yeah, me too.  But how often do the best double albums turn out to be the best albums, period?  Case in point...


Released in 2006, Stadium Arcadium was the ninth studio album from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who started life as a high school band in 1983.  Twenty years of sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll later, and you would think the Peppers would be all washed up.  2002's "By The Way" might well have encouraged you in that expectation.  But no, Stadium Arcadium is arguably the band's Magnum Opus.

Originally conceived as a three-album project, with releases every six months, the 38 tracks recorded in the studio were ultimately whittled down to 28 for release as one double album.  It makes you wonder how good the 10 abandoned cuts were; I would have real trouble trimming it down to 27.

What makes Stadium Arcadium so good, is that the Peppers borrow from all of their previous styles to, in essence, create a whole which in the context of their career output is truly greater than the sum of its parts.  It suggests that everything the band has done in the past was all leading to this.  There is a new found maturity in the lyrics, some quite exceptional musicianship from all four members, especially guitarist Frusciante who finally releases the shackles and stakes his place in the pantheon of guitar greats.  Flea, of course, is already there (in the Bass department).

So for all that, don't expect to be blown away from the first needle drop.  Like all the best albums, this one creeps up on you slowly.  It is a measure of the band's confidence that the music is stripped of all pretense and allowed to stand up for itself.  Each track is meticulously crafted in - at least by RHCP standards - an almost minimalist style, the occasional flash of unbridled virtuosity having to stand its ground in the context of the song.

Stadium Arcadium won the 2006 Grammy Award for Best Rock Album.

Interesting fact - Stadium Arcadium was recorded in Harry Houdini's old house.  The band members each insist that the house's benevolent ghosts were responsible for the exceptional spirit of creativity and absence of the destructive internecine quarrels that have marked their previous studio efforts.  Unfortunately, one distinctly malevolent ghost ended up crashing the party.  Vlado Meller's mastering for the CD release is grossly, grossly incompetent, being highly compressed and clipped.  A banner carrier for the dreaded "loudness wars".  At least the LP release was mastered by the great Steve Hoffman who really knows what he is doing.  Hopefully, one day, a re-mastered high-resolution Studio Master will be released.

Monday 19 November 2012


Call me unadventurous.  Call me a traditionalist.  Call me a BOF.  Whatever.  But my favourite opera is, without a moment's hesitation, Tosca.

For me, there is no single audio
recording of Tosca that does it justice.  I mean, would you ever buy an audio CD of a famous stage play?  So why is it that Opera recordings remain so popular in audio-only media?  For me, you really need to see the performance.  It is surely hard to fully appreciate it otherwise.  That is why I am here recommending a DVD (also available on Blu-ray). And why this one?  Well, actually, I have just finished watching a broadcast of this performance on the "HI-FI" cable channel in glorious HD on my Home Theatre.  Karita Mattila and Jonas Kaufman headline the cast under the baton of Fabio Luisi and the Bavarian State Opera.  And personally, I really enjoyed Juha Uusilato's romp as Scarpia.

Scarpia is the ultimate villain.  A good Scarpia all but twirls his moustache and ties Tosca to the railway tracks, and the part is a superbly written vehicle for the Bass voice.  It is a role for the operatic Basso to both ham it up and strut his chops.  And, despite your protests to the contrary, Tosca really is an Opera demanding an over-the-top melodramatic performance.

If you want an audio-only version, what would I recommend?  My personal choice is the Decca recording featuring Pavarotti, Freni, and Milnes, with Nicola Rescigno conducting the National Philharmonic Orchestra back in 1972, before Pavarotti rose to prominence as an international superstar.  There are many worthy others.

But do yourself a favour and watch a high-quality performance, such as the one I've recommended here.  And if you're clever, you can even track down snippets of most of it on YouTube.

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Phil Collins' 1976 Mistress

"If Genesis were Phil Collins' wife, Brand X is his mistress."

The Jazz-Fusion movement of the 70's is best known for the giants - Mahavishnu, Colloseum, Chick
Corea, Weather Report, extending, towards its boundaries, to include the likes of Jeff Beck and Miles Davis.  Apparently lost in the euphoria was Brand X, perhaps because it was seen - very unfairly - as Phil Collins' side-project.  Here Phil teams up with bassist Percy Jones, Guitarist John Goodsall, and Keyboardist Robin Lumley, and together they lay down what is surely one of the core oevres of the Jazz-Fusion movement, "Unorthodox Behaviour".

At first listen, what comes across is perhaps that unfair assessment that this is a Phil Collins pet project.  Phil's drumming never fails to underpin and propel the music with his familiar cymbal-driven style.  But what emerges after a while is that Collins drumming is truly at the service of the music, punctuating it, propelling it, clarifying it, anchoring it.

The second thing that emerges is "Ooooh, that Bass!".  Percy Jones' fretless meanderings are thoughtful, original, provocative, and oh so tasty.  Also, if your system has really, really, REALLY accurate and deep bass, he plays with a quite extraordinary presence (Bose Wave radio owners need not apply).

Where Collins and Jones provide a kitchen sink with an essentially funk and rhythm oriented core, the third thing that emerges are all the tunes, the melodic structures, and the weird harmonic progressions that seem somehow so natural.  Guitarist Goodsall and keyboardist Lumley counterpoint the rhythmic foundation with melody, fine tonal textures, and no small amount of virtuosity, while avoiding the excesses of self-indulgence that often mar (or sanctify - according to your preference) Jazz-Fusion.

At the end of the day, Unorthodox Behaviour is nobody's vanity project.  It is a fundamentally collaborative affair.  This line-up played at Ronnie Scott's club in London just before Unorthodox Behaviour was released, and I was there.  I bought the album on the day of its release.  To this day, it remains a staple of my collection.  It is playing as I write this.  Percy Jones' opening statement on Nuclear Burn is just an absolute classic ... if you can play this, you've got bass chops!

If you have never heard Unorthodox Behaviour, do yourself a favour - try to find yourself a copy.

Monday 5 November 2012

The Rite of Spring - a 20th Century Collossus

Let me state it up-front right away.  Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, premiered in 1913, is my favorite piece of classical music, bar none.  It is also, without peer, the single most influential piece of music ever composed.  By anyone.  Ever.  Here is a nice little primer, a YouTube video featuring interviews with members of the London Symphony Orchestra:
Stravinsky takes the organized concept of composed orchestral music as understood at the turn of the 20th Century and throws it out the window.  He asks instruments to play outside of their normal register.  He features unexpected instruments in prominent roles.  Melodies are strained and atonal.  Likewise the harmonies – in fact tonal dissonance is core to the piece.  There is no tonal key.  Pre-conceived ideas of rhythm are chewed up and spat out.   Hardly a bar goes by without a syncopated element.  The time signatures vary wildly – at times changing every single bar.  Odd-beat meters abound – there is even one bar with eleven pounding beats to it (you won’t miss it!).

The Rite calls out to be played with a primal ferocity for which nothing written previously could have prepared the first performers.  It is anarchic music, yet it absolutely demands the greatest skill from the conductor to keep the marshaled forces in place.  He must conduct like a lion tamer, in a cage with a hungry, bad-tempered lion.  The best performances teeter on the edge.  Virtuoso-level skill is demanded across the entire orchestra (well, maybe not from the triangle player … I can say this, having played triangle once in a performance of the Rite).  Individual players are called upon to produce outburst after outburst with confidence and total commitment.  Anything less will sound disjointed, timid, and unconvincing.  Famously, at its 1913 premiere in Paris, a riot broke out!

The Rite of Spring is probably the single most frequently-played and widely-recorded piece of orchestral music in existence.  I have totally lost track of how many recordings there are.  I have many of them in my collection, but there are well over 100 that I have never even heard.  You could spend your entire life doing nothing but tracking down recorded performances of The Rite.  How, then, to pick a recommended recording?

All I can offer is my own opinion.  An opinion that could conceivably have changed by the time you read this!  Regrettably, it is an opinion that does not lend itself to the world of Computer Audio.  Your mileage may vary, but here we go anyway:  The best recording of The Rite of Spring was made by Leonard Bernstein, conducting the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1958.  Stravinsky himself is reliably reported to have exclaimed “Wow!” upon hearing it.  Trouble is, it is not available on CD.  And the LP is long out of print.  My own LP was bought for me as a birthday gift by my son who found it on E-Bay, part of a boxed set issued by Time Life back in the 1970’s (The 100 Greatest Recordings of All Time).  Also, if you know what you are doing, it is possible to track down a well-recorded vinyl rip which can be downloaded from the nether regions of the internet in 24/96 format.  It sounds great on my high-end system.

For those of you intrigued enough to want to learn more, here is an absolutely top-drawer performance on YouTube, featuring the Dutch Radio Philharmonic Orchestra performing live in the famous Concertgebouw concert hall:

This is a dynamic and precise rendition, captured in 720p with some very fine videography (the focus on the long shots excepted).  Despite appearing to have escaped from Orwell’s 1984, and despite spending long periods of time with his head buried deep in the score, conductor Jaap van Zweden extracts a disciplined yet ferocious performance from his mostly young players.  Really, there is not much to complain about here.  Quite spectacular!

Doing a quick Google search, there appears to be a hybrid SACD released by Exton featuring this orchestra/conductor combo, although I suspect it is a studio recording.  I will try to see if I can get hold of it.
Everybody needs a copy of The Rite in their record collection.  Let us know which is your favourite.

Saturday 3 November 2012

John Corigliano

In the world of classical music, you typically need to die before your music gets taken too seriously.  Kind of a bummer from a reputation-building perspective.  I guess once you're dead, your oevre is sort of set in stone, and you can't go about upsetting the pronouncements of the 'experts' by releasing a confounding new work.

Having said that, one very much living composer, whose work does gain a grudging degree of respect, is the American composer John Corigliano.  I am a huge fan of his Symphony No 1, written in the late eighties in response to the then-emerging AIDS crisis which was striking down many of his musician friends.  At the time, Corigliano was composer-in-residence at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and such was the reception afforded it that the CSO recorded the work under the baton of Daniel Barenboim.  It has also been recorded by the National Symphony Orchestra under Leonard Slatkin, coupled with the slightly more popular work "Of Rage and Remembrance", but the CSO version is the one to own.

Symphony No 1 swings seamlessly between passages of rage, serenity, helplessness, and nostalgia as it weaves a musical AIDS quilt in remembrance of three particular musician friends around whom the work is structured.  One particularly effective device is an off-stage piano playing a transcription of Albeniz' Tango in D which in the CSO recording emerges ghost-like behind a curtain of shimmering strings.  Unusually, for a major work of the last century, Corigliano manages to express both modernity and originality without being derivative of the Rite Of Spring which towers so massively over the compositional landscape of the 20th Century.  The composition has received numerous awards and accolades.  I am hoping that I will one day be able to catch a live performance, which is not an unreasonable ambition as the piece does get performed quite widely.

In the meantime, the CSO/Barenboim recording on Erato is finely done.  Barenboim conducts with passion and precision - the latter is always his calling card - and the off-stage piano is gorgeously captured.  It was recognized at the 1991 Grammys with the award for Best Classical Recording. What a pity there is no hi-res version available for download (as far as I know).

Try and find this recording, it is a piece which I am sure will eventually find its way onto the standard repertoire - I hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday 31 October 2012

It's ... (the grudgingly positive review)

Perhaps prompted by their brief appearance on the London Olympics Closing Show, we present Elbow's 2008 album The Seldom Seen Kid.  And I've chosen to introduce it with a link to a grudgingly positive review by someone who just doesn't doesn't like the band in the first place! (Even if you don't care to read about the album, his review is a fun read.)

The Seldom Seen Kid is a terrific listen, somewhat nostalgic in its soundscape, and very much in the lyrical rather than the rocking camp.  To calibrate your thinking, it reminds me very much of Sting's The Dream of the Blue Turtles.  One thing you've got to hand to Sting was that he released some damn fine-sounding recordings.  Elbow shares those values.  In fact, when releasing The Seldom Seen Kid, Elbow made a lot of noise about the Loudness War and how they were having nothing to do with it.  As a result, Kid is unusually dynamic for a modern commercial recording, and rewards playback on a high-performance audio system.


Monday 29 October 2012

Carlos Kleiber's Beethoven 5th

Carlos Kleiber was by popular reckoning - and in particular in the opinion of his fellow conductors - the greatest conductor of the 20th Century.  All this despite a recorded oevre which remains quite stunningly limited.  Additionally, Kleiber's orchestral appointments were not those you would associate with a conductor of such repute, although he did turn down an offer to succeed Karajan as conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, considered by many the most prestigious appointment in the world.  This is often attributed to his reclusive, erratic, and uncompromising personality.  Perhaps also to an element of fear of failure, which some ascribe to his domineering father, Erich Kleiber, also a conductor of international repute.  Carlos apparently felt throughout his life that he was always striving to live up to his father's accomplishments.  However, few critics would not agree that he did in the end comfortably surpass his father's status and repute.

Kleiber's recorded magnum opus is undoubtedly his 1975 recording of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.   Kleiber absolutely kills the piece.  Nails it.  Dead.  There is absolutely no need for anybody to bother recording it again, although many, many will continue to do so.  Kleiber is the Reference Standard.

There is a 24/96 release on HD tracks, but it is not all that superior to the CD, nor to the original LP.  I have all three.  Part of this is DG's congested multi-miked recording practice of that era which produces a tonally accurate representation at the expense of a chaotic and confusing sound stage in which most of the instruments seem to be located more or less where they should be, but you just can't seem to focus cleanly on them.

All this is totally secondary to Kleiber's astonishing performance.  This is THE Beethoven's fifth, and it is going to totally, completely, blow you away.  Surely even Beethoven himself would agree.

Thursday 25 October 2012

Defying Categorization

Here's a record that defies categorization. Take Yo-Yo Ma, world-renown classical cellist, plus three accomplished eclectic musicians steeped in Bluegrass, and what do you get? Answer - the Goat Rodeo Sessions!

I thought the best way to describe this to you would be to post a good quality YouTube link, featuring the band playing three tunes from the album courtesy of NPR (National Public Radio).  Goat Rodeo Sessions is a breath of fresh air in a musical world in which albums are sadly becoming more and more compartmentalized according to a bewildering variety of genres which most people I know are at a loss to identify.  Anything which can't be neatly slotted into a convenient consumer category (one that some marketing suit can locate on his spreadsheet) is always going to be a tough sell.  Props to these guys for putting this project together - although when one of them has Yo-Yo Ma's name recognition, that is always going to help!

Goat Rodeo Sessions takes a few listens to really get into it, but isn't that always how it is with all of your absolute favorite albums?  Give it a shot - you won't be disappointed.

Monday 22 October 2012

Jason Wilson - Resident of the Home for the Criminally Underappreciated.

Every major city has its huge musical talents that seem to be criminally under-appreciated, and in Toronto, that status most assuredly applies to Jason Wilson.

Jason Wilson's music is, surprisingl
y for a white guy of European descent, firmly rooted in Jamaican Reggae, thanks to his having grown up in the Jamaican community in Toronto.  But he imbues his reggae core with jazz, folk, rock, blues, and various other genres that seem to blend seamlessly in.  I first encountered Jason Wilson playing in an open-air set at the Mont-Tremblant resort, in front of a casual audience of perhaps a hundred or two.  "Anybody out there love Reggae?!" he shouted to kick off his set.  You could have heard a pin drop.  But once the band started playing, nobody left, and the whole set was greeted with real enthusiasm.  I've paid three figures for tickets to hear lesser musicians.  Jason is a live performer par excellence, with a strong, well-toned, and confident voice. His band plays with the tightness that only comes from years and years of determined work together.

I bought a couple of his CDs at the concert, and when I got them home I was surprised - not to mention pleased - to find that he is as accomplished in the studio as he is on the stage.  My personal favorite is a double CD called "The Peacemaker's Chauffeur".  It is a great place for the curious listener to start.  The recording is of a quality that most major label artists fail to reach (for which there is, of course, absolutely no excuse).

Please give Jason Wilson a listen.  A fantastic songwriter, fronting a first-rate band, and a real, real treat for the uninitiated!

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Smoke on the Water, Fire in the Sky!

At last - a Hi-Res version of Deep Purple's 1972 classic Machine Head, that really cooks.  Waaaay superior to the older DVD-A release.  HDtracks can be a bit of a lottery - I don't know how much say David Chesky (who runs HDtracks) has in how the product he sells is created from the original analog Master Tapes.  I suspect a lot less than he would like.  Chesky's own label proves beyond doubt that he knows a thing or two about good sound.  But this is one release that can be safely purchased.

Sunday 14 October 2012

Cry me a river

One of my favorite classic Jazz albums is Ray Brown's Soular Energy, featuring Gene Harris on Piano (as well as others).

Unfortunately, although it has been released in various hi-
res formats, including SACD and DVD-A, it is frustratingly hard to come by. The DVD features one side with a 24/96 'HDCD' recording (whatever that is), and one side with a 24/192 DVD-A version. I prefer the 24/192, ripped to HD, but I haven't heard the SACD yet.

Brown was one of the all-time great acoustic bass players in the Jazz world, and Soular Energy encapsulates the very essence of his talent. It also features another jazz great, pianist Gene Harris, who once labored in relative obscurity until Brown convinced him to join him on tour. And don't forget, it was Ray Brown who, arguably, introduced Montreal's Oscar Peterson to the jazz world.

When a casual listener drops by and asks to hear some "Jazz", I will invariably cue up "Cry Me A River" from this recording, and usually the listener is pretty much spellbound by the end of the tune. High-end sales people take note!!!

The recording is one of those that has the capacity to draw you totally into the performance, and if you are lucky enough to be able to hear it through Light Harmonic's incredible Da Vinci DAC, it does so in a way that - in my experience - only Vinyl has ever managed before. And all that without the aid of "recreational assistance", if I may put it that way....

Highly, highly recommended.

Thursday 11 October 2012

Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros - Streetcore

Joe Strummer, like many polarizing musicians, was a difficult character to package into a neat box. He came out of the British punk movement, but - to these ears at least - the Clash's take on the punk movement was much more deeply nuanced, thoughtful, and constructively provocative. Compare with the Sex Pistols, or the Stranglers.  Strummer's post-Clash career was far more rock than punk, with elements of Folk in the Dylan/Baez/Mitchell vein.

Strummer's last album - Streetcore - is to my ears his finest since London Calling, and possibly even surpasses it.  Joe died suddenly before it was completed, and it was sadly released posthumously in 2003.  Supposedly, Joe was working on more material for the album at the time of his death, and it is likely that two songs "Redemption Song" and "Silver and Gold" were not intended to be part of it. When you get to know the album, though, they become inseparable from it, lending key elements to its layered character.

Another consequence of Strummer's sudden death is that the final takes for most of the vocals had not been laid down, and so the album uses material from intermediate takes.  This lends them a freshness and authenticity that jumps from the soundstage, and makes you wonder how a "final take" could possibly have improved upon it.  Technically, maybe.  But emotionally, no way.

Joe Strummer was a character of endless contradictions.  Always politically a vocal proponent of strong left-leaning views, he espoused both environmental and social causes.  He claimed to be an anarchist, yet worked single-mindedly - the cause of much friction with his band-mates - to achieve both critical and commercial success.  And having achieved it he then dismantled whatever he had built and moved on - an act of self-loathing, it would appear.

Please make a point of tracking down one of the most important albums of the last decade.

Wednesday 10 October 2012

An interesting question....

What happens to your digital music library when you die?....

Stevie Wonder - Innervisions

What are the hallmarks of a truly great album?  For me, it would have to have a sense of timelessness.  That an album is of a time and place does not have to mean that it loses its relevance, its message, or its communicative power as the years role by.  Although almost all of them do.

One album that - to these tired ears - still seems to get better every time I hear it is Stevie Wonder's Innervisions.

Stevie Wonder wrote, sang, and played most of the instruments on Innervisions, already his 16th album.  As the title implies, it is an introspective opus that addresses the world that the blind Stevie lives in.  It should not surprise anybody that it is pretty much the same world that we all perceive.  Being blind does not prevent him from seeing, and Stevie's world view is one of the same hopes, fears, ambitions, and frustrations that characterize our own lives.  Avoiding bumping into the piano is not what keeps Stevie up at nights!  So much of what Stevie sings of in 1973 seems as fresh and relevant 40 years later.

Surprisingly, for an album that seems so quintessentially of its time,  Innervisions does not sound at all dated.  Now available as a 24/96 download from HDTracks, taken directly from the original master tapes, we finally get to hear the full glory of the album that won the Grammy Awards for Best Album and for Best Engineered Non-Classical Album.  What we hear is Stevie at the absolute height of his vocal powers, and arguably, at the height of his creative powers.  "Living For The City" (every instrument you hear was played by Stevie) was a track we played regularly at SSI - it never failed to amaze listeners with its power and presence, and with the stark soul of its message.

Shortly after releasing Innervisions, Stevie was in a very serious car accident, and remained in a coma for four days.  The accident had a profound affect on him, and his music became more sentimental and lost much of its biting edge.  Compare Innervisions to Songs In The Key Of Life (another highly successful album) and you'll see what I mean.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Alban Berg's Lulu

This recommended recording is not going to win me many friends - but here goes anyway. Alban Berg's opera Lulu is - far more than any other piece of 20th Century music - widely, loudly, and almost universally reviled.  And for the most part by people who have never actually heard it.  Yet whenever a serious production is put on, it plays to packed opera houses around the world.   Lulu is an atonal composition, a 12-tone work, with more apparently to do with mathematics than musicianship.  In principle, the whole idea is quite preposterous...

Lulu is widely held to be a piece which is impossible to conduct, impossible to play, impossible to sing, and - according to the probably apocryphal observation of Alban Berg himself - impossible to whistle on your way out of the opera house ("Vy don't zey vissle my tunes???").  So what's the big deal here?

Well, for one thing, Lulu has without peer the most ambitious, complex, nuanced, and far-reaching plot of any opera yet undertaken.  And compositionally, it is a mathematical tour-de-force - unlike Monty Python's "Bolton/Ipswich", it essentially Palindromic - something that plays the same backwards as forwards.  Listen to the "film music" in the middle of Act II, where you can easily spot the center point (played on the piano) around which the music reverses itself and unfolds backwards to the end of the opera.  The plot is convolutedly palindromic - characters appear in Act I and disappear at the corresponding points in Act III, and so on throughout the opera. The palindromic aspects further tie into the characters, acts, and motivations of the dramatis personae, and the general development of the plot and sub-plots.

OK, so it's a great piece to study.  But how about to listen to?  Well, frankly, it is not as totally and completely cacophonous as you might imagine.   Sure, it can be a bit of an assault, but once you give the piece some time, you can become surely drawn into it. I am actually getting to the point where I can recognize occasional snippets - although I won't be able to whistle any of them!

Here I am recommending a version in English (the original is sung in German), offered for download by Chandos.  It is a very assured performance, and probably the best way to make a first-time introduction to what is arguably the most formidable piece of music ever written.  The sound is cleanly captured, and the vocals delivered clearly and with conviction.  Paul Daniel conducts the English National Opera.

The only version available for download is in 16/44.  Although the original recoding is supposedly done in DSD, I cannot get a straight answer from Chandos as to why they won't make a high-resolution version available.  Perhaps you can pester them too!

In any case, I seriously recommend this recording to anybody with the desire and ambition to broaden their personal horizons.

Thursday 4 October 2012


One of the seminal albums of Jazz history is also one of the best recorded.  Released in 1964, while the Beatles were busy invading America, it pretty much invented a whole new genre of Latin Jazz based on Bossa Nova rhythms.   It included the colossal international hit "The Girl from Ipanema" which just about anybody could hum to you today, some 50 years later.

The 24/96 version on HDTracks is well worth the download.   On the right system it exhibits an amazing presence.  Being essentially an acoustic Jazz album, there is almost no compression, and the result rivals the best bleeding-edge audiophile recordings made today.

Getz/Gilberto won several Grammys in 1965 including Best Album, and The Girl from Ipanema won the Award for Best Record. The female vocal on Ipanema is - if your system is up to it - a beautiful thing to behold.  Astrud Gilberto, who at the time was the wife of João Gilberto, had never received any vocal training, and in fact had never even sung in public.  She was only asked to sing because they wanted to record an English version, and she was the only one present in the studio who knew any English.  Her voice conveys an incredible natural innocence, yet also nuance and emotion, with none of the techniques or vocal mannerisms of a trained - or even experienced - singer. She would go on to become an international star, but would never again quite capture that innocent quality.

"The Girl From Ipanema" was inspired by a stunning 17-year old local girl Heloísa Pinto, and although she had nothing whatsoever to do with the song (which was written in 1962), its international success brought her fame and popularity after Gilberto publicly acknowledged her as its inspiration.  Amazing to think that today she is a pensioner!

Tuesday 2 October 2012

2L - The Nordic Sound

Morten Lindberg of The Nordic Sound (2L) makes some of the highest quality recordings currently available, and releases them in an incredible variety of high resolution formats to suit your needs. One of my personal favorites is Ole Bull Violin Concertos.  This album is an Aladdin's cave of little-known but captivating Nordic works, finely performed, and expertly captured in luscious, pristine detail.  It also has, interestingly enough, some of the deeeeepest yet tightest bass content I have yet heard.  Highly recommended.

Another unusual feature of the 2L catalog is that the cover art is made available for (free!) download, in extraordinarily high resolution. Personally, I really appreciate that!...

Also on 2L's web site, they feature an extraordinary selection of free tracks that you can download in all sorts of ultra-high resolution formats for you to compare.  These are a serious resource for those of us with a keen interest in ultra-high resolution audio playback.  It should be noted that the 'DXD' format (24-bit 325.8kHz) is the native recorded format for these files, and all of the others are derived from it by conversion.

Finally, a big Thank You to Morton for providing BitPerfect with a 24-bit 352.8kHz studio master of his Souvenir I album for us to demonstrate BitPerfect's capability to seamlessly handle ultra-high sample rate files at the Montreal Salon de Son et Image.

Monday 1 October 2012

Quadrophenia - The Director's Cut

Quadrophenia is in my opinion the finest album of many fine albums by the classic rock band The Who.  In 1969 they released "Tommy", hailed as the first and finest Rock Opera.  Tommy achieved huge commercial and critical success, both as an album and in movie and stage formats.  But in 1973 The Who released another rock opera project Quadrophenia, which is arguably the musically superior work.  As an opera fan, Quadrophenia strikes me as the more accomplished, more truly operatic work of the two, yet it is fundamentally a hard rock album.  Far more so than Tommy.

Tommy always makes me think I'm listening to a soundtrack album.  Quadrophenia is a WHO album. But you decide.

Late last year, a completely new remastered version was released under the title "The Director's Cut". Primarily an LP project - and, despite BitPerfect being a digital audio company I am a vinyl freak - this is a completely new remastering.  However, there is a Japanese CD release that is also available under import.  Comparing the Director's Cut to the original vinyl, the new version has a more visceral impact, more immediate presence, more obvious detail and clarity.  But it also has a hint of an edginess that is not evident on the original LP, which is still a reference rock recording.  However, if you love Quadrophenia as I do, it is a must-have recording.  And unlike many re-release projects, the additional material makes for fascinating listening.

Sunday 30 September 2012

The McGurk Effect

The McGurk Effect is a fascinating auditory illusion where you can be fooled by what you are seeing into hearing something different. A remarkable property of the McGurk Effect is that even though you know you are being fooled, you still hear the wrong thing!

What's going on here is that when the brain tries to process a complex sound - and virtually all interesting sounds are indeed very complex - it tries first to create a model for what it thinks it is going to hear, and adapts what it actually hears to best match with the model. Since humans are primarily visually-driven beings, the brain will above all else try to match what we hear to what we see. This has some profound implications for listening to high-end audio, and understanding what it is you think you can hear.

Saturday 29 September 2012

Ivan Fischer conducts Mahler's 4th

At BitPerfect, we love our Mahler, and one of the finest Mahler recordings available is - in our opinion - Ivan Fischer's wonderful account of the 4th Symphony with the Budapest Festival Orchestra released by Channel Classics. Thanks to Linn Records, this magnificent recording is available for download in your choice of high-resolution formats, up to 24bit 192kHz.

On my system, I find that this recording needs to be played with the the absolute polarity inverted. With BitPerfect, just edit the iTunes comment field for each track and insert the word 'invertpolarity' (no quote marks required) anywhere in the comments field, and BitPerfect will take care of this for you.

Friday 28 September 2012

I remember Miles

I thought I would share with you a reference track I like to use for bass articulation and definition.

I remember Miles.

Track 8 (My Man's Gone Now) is underpinned by a tasty combination of acoustic and electric basses, playing a simple, yet captivating ostinato. How well a system can resolve the two, both sonically and spatially, is a great tool to assess musicality in the bass.

Music Recommendations

Those of who who have been to our FaceBook page (see the link on the right) and "Like" us will have been enjoying regular posts containing music-related recommendations and observations.  I am going to start duplicating them here.  For the next couple of weeks I will be re-posting the older ones from FaceBook, and then when we catch up, the posting rate will slow down again.

I hope you find these both stimulating and interesting!

Friday 25 May 2012

New Version (1.0.3)

BitPerfect 1.0.3 has been released to the App Store. This version includes new features for volume adjustment and managing of the iTunes comments.

  • Add volume adjustment iTunes comment  (see Manual for details).
  • Respect iTunes track start/stop times.
  • Allow device volume adjustments when not playing.
  • Add option to globally apply'fixedindexing' comment. 
  • Add option to globally apply 'invertpolarity' comment. 
  • Disable playback of CDs in BitPerfect.
  • Fix clicking noises during Integer Mode playback for certain DACs.
Please contact us if you have any questions, comments or bug reports!

Monday 19 March 2012

Salon Son et Image 2012

BitPerfect is pleased to announced that we will be exhibiting at Salon Son et Image 2012, Canada's premier high-end audio show this week from Friday (March 23rd) through Sunday (March 25th).

Come and listen to BitPerfect as it struts its stuff with Light Harmonic's extraordinary new DaVinci DAC, Classé Audio CP-800 and CA-2300 electronics and Wilson Audio's new Sophia 3 speakers.

Be sure to call in and say hi and ask about the amazing new developments at BitPerfect!

Tuesday 21 February 2012

New Version (1.0.2)

BitPerfect 1.0.2 has been released to the App Store. This version changes the behaviour of the optimal bit depth selection such that it matches the source file when appropriate. It also includes some bug fixes:
  • Fix BitPerfect not handing control to iTunes for unsupported media (eg: radio)
  • Correctly interpret Sound Check info from other sources (iVolume for instance)
  • Do not play unselected files in playlists
Please contact us if you have any questions, comments or bug reports!

Wednesday 8 February 2012

New Version (1.0.1)

BitPerfect 1.0.1 has been released to the App Store. This version includes two bug fixes:
  • Fix a problem with BitPerfect choosing the wrong bit depth or sample rate with certain DACs.
  • Fix a problem with bit depth limiting on certain DACs.
Please contact us if you have any questions, comments or bug reports!

Wednesday 1 February 2012

New Version (1.0)

We are proud to announce the BitPerfect 1.0 has been released to the App Store! BitPerfect 1.0 includes many new features as well fixes for bugs present in previous versions.

New Features:
  • Brand new 64-bit playback engine
  • Higher quality sample rate conversion options powered by SoX
  • Optional dithering
  • New minimal iTunes interaction mode for improved sound quality
  • Options to control individual track playback via iTunes Comments
  • Advanced optimization options
  • A manual!
Please contact us if you have any questions, comments or bug reports.


BitPerfect 1.0 and future versions will be priced at US$9.99, however this new price will not take effect until April 1st 2012.