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.