The Spirit of Turtle (SACD/Blu-ray review)

A Collection of the Most Innovative High-End Audio Recordings by Northstar Recording. Various artists. Turtle Records TRSA75538.

It’s a standard Redbook CD. It’s an SACD. It’s a Blu-ray disc. It’s FLAC file in PCM surround and stereo. It’s in two-channel stereo. It’s in 5.1-channel DTS-HD Master Audio. It’s in 2.0-channel LPCM. Yes, it’s an audiophile release. Or, more precisely, it’s a two-disc box set from Northstar Recording Services and Turtle Records, a sampler of some of their best work, jazz and classical, from over a dozen of their previously released albums.

As the folks at Northstar explain it, “This High Definition Surround Recording was produced, engineered and edited by Bert van der Wolf of Northstar Recording Services, using the ‘High quality Musical Surround Mastering’ principle. The basis of this recording principle is a realistic and holographic 3 dimensional representation of the musical instruments, voices and recording venue.” You’ll find the music in multiple formats, including regular two-channel stereo playable on any CD player; two-channel and 5.1 SACD playable on a Super Audio Compact Disc player; and LPCM stereo and DTS-HD Master Audio multichannel from a Blu-ray player. There’s a little something here for everyone, but even though I have a Blu-ray player in my home-theater room, I listened mainly in two-channel SACD in my living system (going to the 5.1 DTS-HD MA format later for comparison purposes).

The idea behind these recordings is to capture, as the company says, “only the music.” Turtle Records, dCS, Northstar Recordings Services, and Kompas CD Multimedia have been doing this sort of thing for years, and the current discs include material from two decades of recording, all of them remastered and updated for a variety of today’s audio formats. I won’t try to cover everything, but I will mention a few of the tracks that stand out.

First up is what producer and engineer Bert van der Wolf says is the very first Turtle Records production, "Teardrops for Jimmy" with Tony Overwater and Maarten Ornstein. The pair play soft, quiet jazz, very pleasant, and the sound is most lifelike in its clarity and definition, yet warm and natural, too.

Next, we hear the Marc van Roon Trio doing "Noodling Effect," three guys just noodling around, improvising, on their instruments: piano, percussion, and bass. The music didn't particularly interest me, but the dimensionality of the sound is impressive, the clearly perceived distances between each player and their location within the recording environment.

The third selection is with a big ensemble, the Netherlands Philharmonic under Mario Venzago playing an excerpt from Gershwin's An American in Paris. The performance provides vigor and excitement, while the sound is remarkably transparent for a big group of players, the clarity and dynamics making one wish we had the whole thing to hear. Which, I suppose, is the point of any sampler--to persuade the listener to buy the complete album from which the music comes.

And so it goes, each track a delight to the ears. Among the things I liked best I would include Michael Gees improvising on a piano piece by Erik Satie; lovely and beautifully recorded. Then there's the opening movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony exhibiting enormous impact, probably as much power as I've ever heard in a recording of this work. Christoph Pregardien singing Schumann's "Mein Wagen rollet langsam" sounds sweet and nuanced, both artistically and sonically. I also couldn't help liking the concluding track, "Mars," performed by Dean Peer and Ty Burhoe; it's audiophile the whole way with its precisely defined percussion, quick transient response, and wide-ranging dynamics. All of it fun stuff.

Two concerns, though: First, Turtle Records have packaged the two discs in a 5” x 10” longbox, as pictured above, rather than in a regular double jewel case. The two discs fasten to the top of an inside cardboard platform, and a twelve-page booklet stretches the length of the box. When I used to review movies, some of the studios would send out special box sets, too, and the problem was that I never knew where to put them. The longbox doesn’t fit on an ordinary record shelf, so you can’t really put it in among your other discs. You have to find a special place for the box or maybe keep it in a closet. Of course, you could always jerry-rig a jewel case or Blu-ray case for the two discs, but that doesn’t solve the issue of the booklet notes being the length of the original box. I dunno. Maybe you like special gift boxes and stack them in a corner or proudly display them somewhere. I dunno. A minor concern. Second, Turtle Records have priced the set rather high. For some people, maybe not a minor concern.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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 John 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.

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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa