m.a. recordings

MA Recordings' third sampler is a special one. It follows Todd Garfinkle's philosophy that it is easier to introduce a broader audience to his catalogue by releasing a sampler than via mere verbal descriptions on his website. The sampler carries the title MA on SA where the SA points at SACD. As a matter of fact, it is a hybrid SACD although not exactly a regular hybrid.

Thus far, hybrid SACDs had the same music programme on both layers, with the only difference the use of PCM or DSD. Todd chose a different approach which is unique to our knowledge. He used both layers for different tracks. Now there's 109 minutes of DSD stereo and 74 minutes of PCM, totalling to 183 minutes or just over 3 hours of music.

Just as with the previous sampler, MA Recordings was sponsored again by Crystal Cable, not merely in a financial way but also by providing a special set of cables used for the latest recordings and during the conversion process. Sponsoring small, highly eclectic labels benefits not only the industry but also the end user - us music lovers.

Todd took the original DAT tapes and DVD RAM discs from his vault in Tokyo. These recordings were then played back on a Pioneer or Fostex recorder via Dutch cable and through a dCS 974 DDC converter to a SADIE digital workstation at the hands of mastering engineer Atsuo Fujita. The dCS 974 is capable of converting almost any PCM format to Sony's DSD format. There was merely one issue with this setup. The dCS 974 DDC converter sports a BNC output and the SADIE workstation only accepts a 25-pin d-Sub connector. It took the cable manufacturer in Holland considerable work to fabricate just the right cable and dispatch it to Tokyo.

The SACD layer begins with three brand-new tracks never issued before. On the first, Silvia Perez sings subtly accompanied by Ravid Goldschmidt on percussion. The sampler's sleeve shows two photos taken while recording the duo. The atmosphere of those pictures matches the sound. Ravid plays an extraordinary percussion instrument, the hang. The hang is a UFO-like steel instrument built in Switzerland and sonically vaguely reminiscent of a steel drum.

Equivalent naturalness of sound is captured next with Hungarian pianist Kalman Olah and a bass player who were recorded to Flash Card with 88.2kHz PCM on a Fostex while the musicians were improvising. This track proves that PCM at a moderately high sampling rate is a great format. The third tracks introduces the new album La Chimera. Further tracks on this layer are recorded at 96 or even 176.4kHz. It is interesting to compare the results of these sample rates in the final SACD version since Todd used the same microphones and cables. Only the recorder changed. This was as opportune a moment as any to contact the maestro and ask why he chose the SACD format over DVD-A since he only owns PCM-formatted sources. Todd's answer was pragmatic - there are more SACD players in the hands of music lovers than DVD-A machines.

Back to the disc. All tracks on the SA layers are equally mesmerizing in a way that makes it hard to keep listening in an analytical way. It is much easier to float away on the stream of consciousness mix that proceeds from flamenco, tango and early music to Chinese, jazz and hybrid forms in-between. The selection is such that there are no extremes. All pieces somehow belong together to form a unity.

Though lacking the extra delicacy and finesse of the SACD layer, the music continues seamlessly on the CD layer once the player is notified of the switch. Though the recording technology is the same in many cases, it's in the mastering to the less-resolved format where some subtlety and translucency are lost. But never mind. Three hours of world-class music with some known and some new tracks is what we have in MA on SA. As a bonus, there is a special final track on the SACD layer. It is widely know that Crystal Cable's Gabi van der Kley lends her musical ear to voice her cables and that she is a trained concert pianist. These two characteristics finally join in her rendering of Chopin's Berceuse.