MA Recordings High Resolution DVD-ROMs

Todd Garfinkle of MA Recordings contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in receiving some of the MA Recordings factory-produced DVD-ROMs for review. "Yes" was my immediate answer. Soon thereafter a package arrived containing seven, yes seven, DVDs containing hours of music. But let's start at the beginning. Do you know about MA Recordings? Their mainstay is recordings produced and engineered by none other than Todd Garfinkle and Todd prefers a simple setup consisting of two custom omnidirectional microphones, "the signals of which are "fed" through exotic audio cabling into handmade and customized recording equipment, designed specifically for MA". And an actual place is used for recording as opposed to a recording space. Or as the MA website describes them, "large, acoustically significant environments such as classical concert halls, churches and galleries."

You may be asking yourself "Why no downloads?" and I wondered the same thing so I asked Todd. Here's what he had to say:

Presently, I am only offering my recordings on physical media. Downloads are for the most part FLAC and therefore not at the same sonic level as untouched WAV files, no matter what some people say. As well, in the case of downloads, the user has to archive anyway, but DVD-R is not archival quality and Hard Discs crash (and sometimes burn). I believe that the commercially pressed DVD-ROM is the way to go. Moreover, they could have some value on the used market. You cannot resell a download, right?
Interesting, no? I plan to dig into that FLAC versus WAV issue sometime soon but I think Todd makes a few good points. While we're not talking about downloads, we are talking about high resolution, computer audio-based playback and having a hard copy backup is a comforting reality when we realize our storage medium of choice, the hard disk, comes with a mean time between failures (MTBF) spec. I've experienced firsthand a number of hard drive failures, unrecoverable to (not) boot so I am particularly fond of the hard copy backup.

I already own a few MA Recordings CDs which I purchased direct years ago; Será Una Noche's La Segunda, Jiang Ting's Dance and Grzegorz Krawiec's Journey - Podróz. Fortunately La Segunda was among the DVD-ROMs I received and I say fortunate because I'm already familiar with this music, I enjoy it and I can compare my 16/44 WAV rip to the 24 bit / 176.4 kHz WAV files from the DVD-ROM.

The only difference between the two presentations is everything. La Segunda was recorded live in the Monasterio Gandara, Argentina and Todd Garfinkle captured each and every instrument and its particular voice. On the CD-version, which is a very good-sounding CD, something like Marcelo Moguilevsky's clarinet sounds convincingly reed-y but the DVD-ROM fills out the body behind that reed. You can nearly feel the shape and size of the instrument. There's also more refinement with the higher resolution version - Lidia Borda's voice is sweeter and fuller and there's greater variety and color overall lending the music greater drama and movement.

For the record Será Una Noche is Lidia Borda (voice), Santiago Vazquez (percussion, mbira, and effects), Marcelo Moguilevsky (clarinet, bass clarinet, recorders, harmonica and whistling), Edgardo Cardozo (guitar, requinto , guitarrón, tiple and voice), Martin Iannaccone (cello and voice) and Gabriel Rivano (bandoneón). You may be thinking -- that's an interesting assortment of instruments -- and it is and the sound of them in all their world-infused tangoing glory reverberating throughout the space of the Monasterio Gandara is simply stunning. Again, the higher resolution version opens up that space more than the CD and places the musicians within it more convincingly and more precisely. You could just say there's a greater sense of space and focus and I wouldn't argue with you.

Just to state the obvious, these DVD-ROM versions are not upsampled from lower resolution masters. They are offered up in various high resolution PCM formats (some also include 2.8 MHz DSD files. See below for details) that represent the original recorded format. Some DVD-ROMs also offer multiple formatted versions I'm assuming for those who cannot play 24/176.4 files natively.


I'm also really enjoying this one - Ravid Goldschmidt plays the "hang" which is like a high end version of the steel pan drum and Sílvia Pérez Cruz sings along with him and she sounds like an angel

The MA Recordings DVD-ROM titles are $40/each which is admittedly not inexpensive. I wish they were less but I wish everything cost less. You can sample a track or two from every recording on the MA website so its possible to try before you buy. While I cannot speak to musical taste, that's your business, and I cannot speak to what you consider worth spending $40 on, that's also your business, there is no doubt that the MA Recordings represent a labor of love and their sound quality is above and beyond reproach. You could just say they sound glorious and I wouldn't argue that point either.

As I sit and listen to these MA Recordings I find myself fantasizing - what if all of our music sounded this good? What if Tom Waits or Bonnie "Prince" Billy or Julianna Barwick or Loren Connors or Milford Graves or any one of the thousands of musicians out there were treated with this same kind of care? Wouldn't that be something, special?

DVD-ROMs Currently Available

Ito Ema, J.S. Bach Goldberg Variations (24bit/176.4 kHz) [M024A-HR]
Ravid Goldschmidt and Sílvia Pérez Cruz, Llama (24bit/88.2 kHz and 2.8 MHz DSD) [M070A-HR]
Mathias Landaeus Trio, Opening (24bit/176.4 kHz) [M081A-HR]
Puente Celeste, Nama (24bit/176.4 kHz) [M084A-HR]
Será Una Noche, Será Una Noche (24bit/96kHz + 4 bonus 2.8 MHz files) [M052A-HR]
Será una Noche, La Segunda (24bit/176.4kHz) [M062A-HR]
Martin Zeller, J.S. Bach 6 Suites a Violoncello Solo (24bit/88.2 kHz) [M073A-HR]

COMMENTS
agentsmittie's picture

Lame excuses for not offering downloads.  I expect that from major labels but not from an independent.

I would think people geeky enough to know how to use this disc are people already deep in computer based audio, who knows that lossless means lossless and can readily be converted back to AIFF, WAV or whatever uncompressed or lossless compression formats. 

And hopefully all computer based audiophile would have a backup strategy for their precious data.  In any case, if one buys from HDTRACKS and the like they already have a backup sitting in the "cloud", and choose to re-download if they so choose.

Bottomline is record labels are (1) nervous about having their data being downloaded freely;  (2) Wanting to charge more for physical media;  (3) Ignorant of what's happening in the real world.

Either way they are just avoiding the inevitable, and unecessatrily discouraging people from buying their products.  it is a megatrend that they simply cannot avoid.

ma recordings's picture

Dear agentsmittie,

Thank you for taking the time to post your comments regarding MA Recordings Hi Resolution DVD-ROM discs.  I would like to offer some brief comments in relation to what you call the "Bottomline"

1) MA Recordings is not nervous about having our data downloaded freely.  We doubt very strongly that music lovers and audiophiles would get involved in such illegal activities.  It is true however, that we would prefer you pay for it.

2) At least as far as Hi Resolution Audio is concerned, we would not charge more for physical media because we would charge the same for the download. In fact, we are of the opinion that the end user should perhaps pay a premium for the immediate satisfaction of getting what he wants with a mouse click.  Moreover, no matter what format the end user chooses,  production costs, musicians fees, flights, meals, hotels, drugs (!?!)  are a given and need to be recouped so the label can continue producing more music...   We think that what we offer is musically unique, of a high standard and has a certain artistic value for those discerning music lovers that "understand" and appreciate what we do.

3) As for being "ignorant of what's happening  in the real world" we (of course) beg to differ.  We know pretty much what is going on.  Some of it we don't like and have therefore choosen a different path, at least for the time being.   As for sonics, we believe that because there are so many variables in the systems out there, more often than not, unaltered WAV files will prove sonically superior.  Since storage should not be that much of an issue anymore, we would like to think that the end user appreciates the fact that we offer bit perfect PCM copies of our master files.... 

The "BOTTOMLINE" (ours, not yours this time!) is that, the music MA has to offer comes with a price commensurate to its artistic integrity and quality.  If you do not know what we have to offer, you are of course, invited (with the click of your mouse) to visit the site:  <www.marecordings.com>.  Finally, if audiophiles are willing to forego immediate satisfaction and pay between $30 to $50 (or even more) for high quality Long Playing records that may break in transit, they should have no problem paying somewhat less for copies of master files that are certainly less prone to shipping damage.

Sonically Yours

ma

 

Michael Lavorgna's picture

There are other reasons for this decision.

There's an interesting ongoing feature in The Wire magazine titled "Collateral Damage" that's focused on the effects of this new music distribution paradigm. Believe it or not, not everyone a) agrees that offering music for download is necessarily a good thing, b) people who own record labels can still choose how they want to distribute their music and c) it is not always all about money.

As a matter of fact, someone like Amanda Brown of Not Not Fun is not interested in offering their catalog for download and she talks about why in the September 2011 issue of The Wire. She also asks, "But what if – meaty discourse aside – a person takes an anti-downloading stance not due to the ethics of cultural piracy but because listening to music on a computer results in a diminished aesthetic experience?" Makes for an interesting read...

TinCanFury's picture

DVDR's have a lifespan too, and it's been shown through various studies that data stored on hard drives is more secure than on DVDR. Why do you think no reputable IT group will use DVDR for long term storage and backup?

Only selling DVDR is purely a money play by this "label".

As for the FLAC arguement, it's b.s. Unless your playback software has a flaw then there is absolutely no difference in the output of the FLAC decoder and a WAV or AIFF file. Any sonic differences are mental or due to an error in how the software handles the playback process/decoding.

Finally, nothing prevents you from burning your own FLAC download as a WAV file to your own DVDR, for much less, and without the fear of scratching/etc your disk, for playback on whatever system you want that requiers WAV on DVDR.

Snake-oil in the digital age...

Michael Lavorgna's picture

And I disagree with your assumption as to why MA has chosen to sell their music in this manner. But in the end this is very straight-forward stuff. If you want this music in this format this is your option.

kana813's picture

Unless there is a new law that requires music companies to offer their recordings as FLAC downloads, MA is free to select the format for their products.

With such a small catalog, I doubt they're motivated by the money.

Mahalo for the article Michael.

easternlethal's picture

What is straight-forward is you correctly called him out when you asked him why they didn't offer it on d/l and he gave you a lame response which you quoted in full probably because you couldn't find a convincing way of paraphrasing it.

So why defend it?

If he doesn't want to offer d/l because he's worried about piracy then he should just say it straight up. Coming up with some 'reason' that doesn't make sense is why audio salesmen have a bad reputation.

I actually do accept his decision. But what I don't accept, is the bs. The customer deserves more than that.

 

Michael Lavorgna's picture

What I am doing is not agreeing with people's guesses, or b.s. if you prefer, as to the motives behind this choice.

GaryGil's picture

I am a big fan of MA Recordings and have a lot of respect for Todd and his company. I think they have put out some amazing recordings. I purchased Mathias Landaeus Trio, Opening upon hearing it at RMAF 2 years ago and I've been a fan ever since.

Question for Todd or someone from MA Recordings, when you say that FLAC is not at the same sonic level as untoched WAV files, what about in the case where the FLAC file is converted back to WAV? Do you feel there is any sonic degradation that occurs during the conversion process?

There's a lot of debate by those who suggest that there is no difference (check out Audio Asylum), but I'm curious to get your take on this.

Thanks

Gary

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I’m not sure if Todd checks this post frequently so I will pass your question along to him via email.

Cheers.

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