April 2004

Ray Brown Trio - Soular Energy
Hi-Res Music HRM 2011
Released: 2003

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

Joe Henry - Scar
Hi-Res Music HRM 2015
Released: 2003

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

by Marc Mickelson

Increasingly for music, high-resolution also means multichannel, which is fine given that multichannel SACDs and DVD-As sound good in stereo too. But it seems that so much of what is released now in formats that are not vinyl or CD is meant to appeal to home-theater enthusiasts, with their many speakers, rather than audiophiles, with our stereo pairs -- even if the music doesn't warrant multichannel treatment.

Hi-Res music is a label for two-channel audiophiles. It releases superior-sounding two-sided software that can play in strict DVD-Video players as well as those with DVD-Audio functionality -- SACD need not apply. The choice of recordings for the Hi-Rez treatment varies, but one constant is Mark Waldrep. Waldrep has been creating great-sounding DVD-As for his own label, AIX Records, for years, and he's responsible for the remastering of all Hi-Res recordings.

Ray Brown's Soular Energy is a well-known musical commodity, a Concord Jazz title from the mid '80s that includes notables Gene Harris on piano and Red Holloway on tenor sax. It's a lively set, and the Hi-Res DVD-A's 24-bit/192kHz sound is terrific, albeit different from that of the hybrid SACD. That's right -- Soular Energy is also on SACD, released by Groove Note, well known for its superior-sounding recordings, with Joe Harley at the controls. The SACD has slightly more high-frequency vitality and sparkle, while the DVD-A sounds more natural and lifelike to my ears. The 24/96 side is the least convincing but still sounds darned good.

Interestingly, the Groove Note SACD was remastered at a slightly higher level, 2-3dB, than the Hi-Res disc. An even greater disparity exists between the Hi-Res version of Joe Henry's Scar and the CD, which is 5dB louder in some spots. The CD has more prominent bass, but it's also less controlled. Overall the DVD-A and CD are equally detailed, but the DVD is not as insistent and easier to enjoy. We named Scar one of the best recordings of 2002. It's dense, intriguing music with roots in folk and electronica. Don't miss it.

Depending on to whom you talk, there are many technical reasons why DVD-A is superior to SACD, or vice versa. SACD seems to be the audiophile choice, mostly, I think, because of the greater selection of titles. But these two releases from Hi-Res Music, along with titles from AIX Records and Nishimura, prove that the debate needs to rage on.