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.

JJP

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

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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 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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine 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 simple-minded, 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 Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. 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 LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. 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.

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