Percussion in Hi-Fi (HQCD review)

Dick Schory's New Percussion Ensemble; David Carroll and His Orchestra. HDTT HDCD237.

Truth in advertising: Percussion in Hi-Fi may not be classical, but it's definitely percussive.

People used to demo their hi-fi rigs with albums like this one to show off their playback equipment and impress friends and family. Still works. The folks at HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers), who re-release old, public-domain tapes and LP's on compact disc, have in this instance taken two albums from the mid Fifties and early Sixties--From Melody to Madness with Dick Schory's New Percussion Ensemble and Percussion in Hi-Fi with David Carroll and His Orchestra--and restored and remastered them on a single compact disc. As usual from this source, the sound, over half a century old, puts most new recordings to shame.

I wonder if the sound is so good because home stereo was still in its infancy back then, and audio engineers were still experimenting with optimum microphone placements and optimum stereo effects. Whatever the case, the sonic results in both albums on the disc are outstanding, even if the music is a bit hard to take in anything but small chunks.

HDTT starts the disc with the newer of the two albums, From Melody to Madness, recorded in 1960, providing the first twelve of twenty-three tracks. I'm not sure why they started with this set, given that it's the older one that to my ears actually sounds most pleasing sonically and interpretively. Maybe they were saving the best for last, I dunno.

Anyway, I didn't care much for the disc's opening number, "Caravan," which I hoped was not a bad omen, and in fact wasn't. From that point on everything is looking up, with more-pleasant music, leaner textures, and less-raucous aural response. I especially liked Dick Schory's version of "Walkin' My Baby Back Home"; the pulsating "Fascinating Rhythm"; the exotic "Safari Anyone"; and the surprisingly subtle "Autumn in New York," considering it was all done on percussion instruments (with about a dozen percussionists involved).

"Fly Now, Pay Later" is a kind of no-holds-barred percussion extravaganza, and it might be just the ticket for that demo exercise I referred to earlier. Then, while listening to "Stranger in Paradise," it reminded me of the Arthur Lyman Group, which also did this sort of thing back in the Fifties and Sixties and whose recordings  DCC Compact Classics have also preserved well on disc, if not so spectacularly as HDTT do it on this disc.

As I say, though, I had a preference, overall, for the music and sound of the second album on the HDTT disc, the one recorded even earlier, in 1956, from David Carroll and His Orchestra. Among their numbers, I enjoyed "Bali Ha'i" perhaps the best of anything on the program; "The Chimes of Swing" for, well, its chimes; the atmospheric "Malaguena"; the nuanced jazz of "Discussion in Percussion" and "Quiet Talk"; the delicate beauty of "Jungle Drums," and the unique flair of "Spanish Symphonique."

The booklet note tells us that the Carroll selections used six musicians playing an array of percussion instruments that included vibraphones, marimbas, xylophones, tympani, tam-tam, celesta, glockenspiel, orchestral bells, castanets, tom toms, triangle, maracas, bass drum, traps, greco cymbals, hand cymbals, claves, cathedral chimes, snare drum, tambourine, conga drum, guiro, cabaza, timbales, bongo drums, and field drums; plus, two men on piano, one on contrabass, one on harp, and two more on guitars. That's quite an ensemble.

Still, it's the sound that counts most here, and it does impress one mightily. You'll find everything that audiophiles cherish most:  a clear depth of field; sharp definition; a wide dynamic range; a strong impact; a well-extended bass and treble; a clean, well-balanced midrange; superb instrument separation; and a quick transient response. Of course, each of these qualities, particularly the last, may be as much a function of one's speakers as the disc, but if your system is up to the task, it should bring out the best in the music and vice versa.

Remarkably, too, the music seems to sound better the louder you play it. So turn this one up; it's bound to catch the attention of neighbors, even if you live in the middle of a desert. However, I'm not entirely sure how much of it a person can take at one time, or whether it's strictly one-off material, a few pieces heard now and again for a quick sonic pick-me-up. Certainly, you'll not want to play it much (or too loudly) if you have a spouse or partner not as committed to it as you are, and absolutely not if you've got even the slightest indication of a headache.

For further information on the various formats, configurations, and prices of HDTT products, you can visit their Web site at


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on the Big Jon and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simpleminded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa