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May 2002

AIX Records

Early adopters of any given technology rarely need to be led into temptation. Just mention a new gizmo for their digital phones or the latest software for their computers, and they'll gallop after it with zest. It’s the rest of us who need to be coaxed down the primrose path.

But new products (or the technology that spawns them) can’t survive on the early adopters alone, so eventually they have to catch on with the masses -- or at least sufficient numbers of people to keep the business model viable. If you are a software company producing DVD-Audio discs -- or any high-resolution multichannel audio disc - you have to find a way to attract buyers. AIX Records, and their resident Ph.D, chief engineer, and founder, Mark Waldrep, do it the old-fashioned way: They start with great music, then they load their discs with so many features and options that you're almost guaranteed to drool over at least one of them.

When I received samples of four of AIX’s newest DVD-A offerings, I thought the packages looked interesting. But it wasn’t until I flipped over the first case that I realized that AIX was giving me much more than simply a collection of DVD-A tracks and a few still pictures. Then it all seemed so obvious: Consumers have been conditioned to expect the host of extra features found on DVD movies. AIX was simply going after the DVD movie fanatic and music lover who expects extra features with whatever entertainment disc he buys. That way, buyers get the music plus the surround experience and really cool little add-ons. And these make a great case for buying music on the DVD-A format versus CD (where you can’t get any real extras).

Here's what AIX gives you: Each disc is dual sided, with DVD-Audio on one side and DVD-Video on the other (conveniently color-coded for quick selection). This means that even if you don’t yet have a DVD-A player -- yet -- you can still play these discs using a standard DVD-V player and know that when you do have the capability, a higher-resolution recording awaits you.

But wait -- there's more. AIX offers something I’ve never encountered before: Audience and Stage perspectives. That’s right -- you can choose your seats. Want to hear what it sounded like on stage, with the players surrounding you? Choose the DTS-encoded Stage perspective. Do you prefer a mid-hall perspective? Choose the Dolby Digital-encoded Audience perspective. Or, you can also choose a stereo version, too -- if two-channel audio is still your thing.

The video portion of the DVD-V allows you to select between multiple camera angles, using the "angle" function on your remote -- which can be switched on the fly during playback. It also includes a 24-bit/96kHz two-channel PCM version of the program -- the sort of thing that other labels sell to audiophiles for premium prices all by itself.

This kind of flexibility might sound as though it’s hard to figure out, but AIX makes it simple. The discs offer clear instructions on setting up your system, explanations for the different options, and even tell you which buttons to press on your remote control to access each function. This is as well-thought-out a system as I’ve seen. And that's just the DVD-V side!

On the DVD-Audio side, we have a 5.1 DVD-A track recorded, mixed, and mastered at 96kHz/24-bit resolution. This is where the real magic resides. On a good-quality system, you can easily hear the difference between the Dolby Digital DVD-V side and the DVD-A version. There's more resolution of fine detail, more air around the performers, and more liveness to the sound in your room. If you’re a critical listener (and aren't we all?), you’ll love the purist recording techniques on AIX releases (read: limited or no processing).

And that's still not everything. AIX has also included DVD-ROM material on each disc. I don't know whether the company originated the term or not, but these discs are the first I've ever seen labeled "Tribrid" (DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, DVD-ROM). The four titles I auditioned all included similar, if not identical, feature sets.

Brahms - Piano Quintet in F Minor Op.34 [AIX 80005]: On the DVD-V side, you can choose between a quad-divided screen featuring the four string players, Delores Stevens alone with her piano, or a still screen displaying the track information. The music itself is lively and detailed, especially on the DVD-A side. It's an intimate portrait in which the listener is part of the artwork. Don’t expect to hear what you might at a large concert hall; instead, let yourself be captured within the music itself. Closely miked and coming right at you, this one feels almost interactive -- but then so does chamber music performed in the sort of intimate hall for which it was intended.

Beethoven Symphony No.6/Respighi Pines of Rome [AIX 80006]: Debuting almost 200 years ago (1808), Beethoven’s 6th Symphony may not be as recognizable as his 5th, but many will be intoxicated by its charms nonetheless. And, of course, Pines of Rome should be in any card-carrying audiophile’s collection. Wonderfully reproduced by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, the perfect structure and serene nature of these works are sure to capture the heart of any music lover. This is the one to listen to late into the evening with the lights, and your audiophile sensibilities, turned off. Of all the DVD-A discs I've heard, this is one of the easiest to get lost in. It’s a treat for more reasons than I can name. And from the Stage perspective, you are the conductor. It might be your only chance at fame -- grab it!

Piano, Bass, and Drums [AIX 80007]: Not much doubt about what you jazz fans are getting with this disc. It’s a classic jazz trio -- and a good one: Patrice Rushen, Darek Oleszkiewich, and Leon "Ndugu" Chancler. And do they ever like to mix it up! Rushen’s piano work is the highlight here, with the rhythm section there for support. This disc is great in surround, but it's also the standout of the bunch in its stereo mix. "Red Clay" really shines, and was a favorite of mine.

Nitty Gritty Surround [AIX 80008]: This was my favorite of the foursome. A collection of songs from a varied group of artists arranged in a simple circle in a large room, Nitty Gritty Surround is simply fun. Mandolin, banjo, guitar, ukulele, fiddle, and percussion all combine to create a folksy feel that will have your toes a-tappin'. "Somewhere Somebody," with guest vocalist Jennifer Warnes, is a definite standout. The "house" style also lends itself well to the surround experience, which is music in perhaps one of its oldest forms: A group of musicians sitting around a room entertaining themselves -- and, in the process, you. This is one bunch of folks you'll be glad to be surrounded by.

What else can I say? Music lovers have a bright new star on the multichannel surround-music horizon, and its name is AIX Records. Although I love the music and the thoughtful recording process (which results in the excellent sound), it’s the diverse feature set that is truly impressive. I would buy these discs just for the DVD-A playback alone, but I can't conceive of any music lover who wouldn't want the entire multimedia, multichannel experience they offer. These discs aren't just for the early adopters -- they're for everybody.

...Jeff Fritz


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