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Double the investment in your stereo playback system and you might experience a subjective increase in performance in the range from 10 to 20%. Then spread the same investment over a 5.1 surround sound system and you get an objective 300% increase of resolution and perspective! The fact which prevents the above balance from materializing is that very few labels up to now have produced content that brings out the full potential of multi-channel. The approach of "rear for ambience only"still feeds carbohydrates to the persistent claims of stereophiles. When it comes to recording a solo instrument, a lot of conservative forces claim that surround sound can add nothing to good stereo. This might be the case with a traditional dry "synthetic" multi-mono-sources studio recording. But to us it's not about the object itself. It's all about the landscape in which the instruments perform. In real life a grand piano is not a point source; it's a three-dimensional sculpture and surround sound is our tool to bringing forward that physical experience to the listener.

Being a multi-channel loyalist, I couldn’t agree more. Ultra-resolution surround sound is a means to the end of recreating the live interaction between music makers and performance venue. To accurately capture every minute musical detail and sonic nuance, 2L has thrown the traditional mastering technique out the window and pioneered DXD (Digital eXtreme Definition) mastering. Instead of recording in CD quality and then upsampling to DXD, 2L invested in state-of-the-art equipment to record at 24-bit/352.8kHz resolution, achieving 8.4672 Mbit/s per channel or three times the data density of DSD. These tracks are maintained at that undecimated resolution throughout the entire processing of editing, mixing and mastering after which the final mix will be quantized and formatted to DSD (SACD) or PCM (24-bit Blu-ray/16-bit CD).

As a recording engineer, Morten has his own philosophy."Stereo can be described as a flat canvas while surround sound is a sculpture that you can literally move around and relate to spatially. With surround you can move about in aural space and choose angles, vantage points and positions." To fulfil his aural space theory, Morten keeps venturing into stage layouts that place musicians around a tree of 5.1 microphones. His vision is simply "to bring the listener into the music and amongst the musicians to become a part of it."

Can stereophiles be converted? Only if they have a chance to listen.  Morten had this story to tell. A senior Norwegian hifi journalist visited our studio recently. Prior to our listening session I explained to him how we recorded Mozart’s Divertimenti with the orchestra in a circle, all musicians facing each other surrounding the listener. He rose from his chair and wanted to leave. I begged him to listen and he stayed for three hours leaving us with the conclusion: “Now I need to go home and write an article apologizing to all my readers for the thirty years I have misguided them in stereo. Surround sound is the real thing.” Both albums mentioned here were nominated for Grammy Awards. Divertimenti [2l-050 SABD] as the world’s first pure audio Blu-ray received three nominations and was voted Gramophone Editor’s Choice.

Admittedly any recording—stereo or surround sound—which claims exactness or closeness to a live performance must ultimately rely on the listener’s illusion or willingness to accept the perception as envisaged by the recording engineer. With 2L recordings it is therefore more of an ear-opening adventure that keeps exploring unknown possibilities than treading on expected complacency. Their latest Trondheim Soloists album Souvenir is a DXD 7.1 recording scheduled to be released as a pure audio Blu-ray [2L-090 PABD] in August but FLAC files were pre-released last month. I downloaded both 96kHz 5.1 surround and 192kHz 2.0 stereo for a sneak preview. I saved the FLAC files to a portable hard drive and plugged that into the USB input of my Oppo BDP-95. All remote control functions were as convenient as a Blu-ray disc, freeing me from being entangled in the game of CAT and mouse.

While the Trondheim Soloists formed a circle around the discrete 7.1 channel microphones as usual, none of the repertoire on this album shares a similar stage layout. The most unconventional is Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, in which not one string player was seated next to a fellow musician of the same section. This ‘mixed’ string layout might be unheard of but in fact is nothing new for Morten whose mixed chorus recordings were 80% done in such a way for a more coherent aural space. (Hence if an audiophile claims he can count the number of heads in a 2L choral recording, he has an 80% chance of being self-deluded.)