I’ve listened to music for as long as I can remember and heard it on pretty much any format you can think of. From my early years listening to my Dad’s Queen, The Beatles and Rolling Stones cassettes, my Mum’s house cleaning theme tune of Jive Bunny on vinyl, buying my first CD (Garbage), Super Audio CD’s, mini-discs, MP3’s, you get the picture. I was pretty excited to hear a new format, Pure Audio (stored on Blu-Ray discs), for the first time in about 10 years.
For the technically minded among us it works like this: CD’s take a “snapshot” of a piece of music 44,100 times every second (a sample rate of 44.1kHz). Each snapshot is captured to a certain degree of accuracy – there are 16 digital “bits” per sample. The Pure Audio format is sampled at 96kHz (96,000 times per second) at 24-bit resolution, dramatically increasing the quality of the audio file output.
I started proceedings off with a sampler disc and any thoughts I had of this possibly being a bit gimmicky were gone. The clarity is just incredible, clearer than anything I’ve ever heard. As a Bob Marley fan I was particularly keen to hear ‘Is This Love’ and ‘Redemption Song’. The former sounds like it was recorded yesterday with every instrument and vocal completely pristine. There were tiny crackles in his vocal I had never heard before, new life to the keys and rhythm section and a general sharpness that brought all the instruments to the front with nothing lost in the mix. ‘Redemption Song’ was equally brilliant; it’s perhaps a bit of a cliché but it sounded like he was in the room, guitar in hand, strumming right next to me. You could hear his fingers moving between chords. For an audiophile like me, this was special indeed.
Other stand out tracks on the sampler disc include the miles Miles Davis classic ‘Générique’ where the trumpet cut through the room with a massive presence. I’ve heard that song many times before but this just sounded much, much sharper than ever. Another track that shows off the format’s ability is Quincy Jones track ‘Soul Bossa Nova’ (you’ll know it from Austin Powers). With so many instruments doing so much it was a delight to hear everything in such clarity. At just over 50 years old, the track had new life and sounded as recent as anything out today. Naturally, Beethoven’s ‘Symphony No. 5 in C’ was going to sound magnificent and it didn’t disappoint. Where the volume swells from the string sections get louder and louder they also got closer and closer and when the timps rolled in it sounded enormous.
The other thing that struck me was the volume of the tracks. Thanks to the above-mentioned engineering about a quarter of full volume was more than enough to enjoy what it was capable of showing. Naturally, we like things turned up to 11 over at musicscramble so even when pushing it past my audio system’s ‘perfect’ settings it coped brilliantly.
I was admittedly a bit concerned about Nirvana’s In Utero album. I felt a bit dirty about listening to the album in such pristine quality due to what the vibe of the album was and how the band felt towards their label and wider industry at the time, almost going out their way not to sound ‘radio friendly’. Did I want to hear the raw, gritty, distorted grunge classic in complete clarity and almost go against what the album was about? Yes. Yes I did. As with the sampler tracks I was amazed at how clear and crisp everything was. Kurt’s vocals sounding even more raw and cutting than before, the distortion powered around through the room and the drums and bass wildly driving everything forward. From opener ‘Serve The Servants’ it was like re-discovering the album with ‘Heart Shaped Box’ and ‘All Apologies’ sounding haunting in their new-found presence.
I really hope this new format makes it to a standard format for releases. It is definitely something new, fresh and exciting and with a 100% increase in vinyl sales this year on 2012, it’s the perfect time for a new format to nudge music fans back to owning the physical products once more.