April 15, 2009

Of Milkshakes and SACDs

In a memorable scene from Pulp Fiction -- a movie jam-packed with memorable scenes -- hitman Vincent Vega, played by John Travolta, carps in incredulous tones to his boss's wife, played by Uma Thurman, about her five-dollar milkshake.

"A shake? Milk and ice cream?" he asks. "It costs five dollars?"

"Yep," she replies.

When he finally gets a sip of it, he has to admit, "That's a pretty...good milkshake."

Audiophiles must feel like Vincent Vega when they learn that Esoteric's new hybrid stereo SACDs, four titles at this point, cost $59.95 each. An SACD? Music on a silver disc? It costs 60 bucks? Yes, yes and yes.

But these aren't run-of-the-mill SACDs. First, the music is taken from the Decca catalog and features historic performances of Dvorák's well-known Ninth Symphony, de Falla's The Three Cornered Hat, and works by Mozart and Beethoven. The master tapes were used as the source, their music remastered with the aid of a fleet of Esoteric products, including D-01VU digital-to-analog converters, a G-0Rb rubidium master clock generator, and Mexcel interconnects and power cords. The project is a collaboration between Esoteric and JVC, so it's no surprise that the discs' bound packaging bears a striking resemblance to that for JVC's opulent XRCDs, and both the SACD and CD layers of each hybrid disc utilize XRCD encoding.

If you own the original LPs of this music, you will find these SACDs to be about as close to their high resolution and natural timbres as digital can get, and you'll marvel at the way the detail goes right down to the noise floor. The recordings convey very well a view of each hall's sound: the Sofiensaal in Vienna for the de Falla recording, and Victoria Hall in Geneva for the Dvorák. The perspective is relaxed and holistic, the sonics being about the entirety of the performance and its surroundings, not picking out a single violinist as he coughs or turns the page of his score.

Your $60 gets you a finely wrought SACD and a JVC XRCD on a single disc with deluxe packaging. Take a sip -- er, listen -- and the price may seem about right.

...Marc Mickelson


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