Mini-Review: UHA Phase 10 and Phase 1 Reel to Reel Tape
Sub-$500 Closed-Back Headphones: AKG K551, V-MODA M100, Spider Audio Moonlight, Mr. Speakers Mad Dogs, Alpha Design Labs H118, Focal Spirit Pro
Review: Nagra HD DAC; or, Closing the gap between digital and analog
Review: Exogal Comet DAC
Review: Fostex TE100 IEM headphones
Last time, I prescribed Tron Legacy OST for all those who are afflicted by “test track disease”, eager to find something that will wreak havoc on their system’s resolving abilities. If you have not blown your woofers, or melted down your amplifiers, and your cartridge’s cantilever is still in one piece, then I have a new must follow prescription. This one answers to the name of Valkyrie!
Richard Wagner composed his epic masterpiece The Ring of the Nibelung over the course of 26 years, which seems like a huge amount of time (and it is …), but do consider that the end result is only 15 hours of German opera music, that also happens to be (loosely) based on the characters of the Norse sagas.
No, you won’t be asked to listen to 15 hours of German opera. At least, not non-stop. I mean, you should but I am a good and kind Doctor, and in medicine, we strive for patient compliance. That is, their willingness to follow a given course of treatment. So, we will focus on the Valkyries alone, and most particularly and especially, the opening of the third act. The story here is quite intricate, and as with all great sagas, it has the right proportion of love and battles and death, finished off with a touch of magic.
If you are not into classical music, chances are you are still familiar with the “Ride of the Valkyries” from Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 film Apocalypse Now. Mayhem coming from the sky and the 1st Cavalry Division. Well, this mayhem effect is what we are after, meaning the widest, deepest and you guessed it, tallest soundstage ever recorded on vinyl.
Several well-made recordings were produced over the years, but the One to Rule Them All would be Solti’s take with the Wiener Philarmoniker and featuring the voices of Christa Ludwig and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. This particular recording was voted as the Best Ever Made (bar none) by both the BBC and the prestigious Gramophone magazine’s readers which translates into “go buy it now” for those who don’t already possess it. The mastermind behind this legendary work is John Culshaw, one of the most (if not The Most) important classical music producer of all time.
But exactly what to buy is a bit tricky. My suggestion would be to get the oldest possible Decca pressing (UK purple label, Sonicstage logo), but prices can be relatively steep. Several LP reissues have been produced throughout the years, but the sound quality is unfortunately not on par with the original. I know, as I have both the original, and the later blue-label Decca in my collection, with the former being a true showcase piece of what vinyl records are capable of, and the latter being a somewhat “shallower” (sonically speaking) version.
Of course, the entirety of Solti’s Ring (along with “Die Walküre”) are available in digital remasters, CDs and digital downloads. HDTracks offers the latest 24bit/44.1KHz remaster, iTunes also has it on the catalog, a Blue Ray Audio set is still on sale on Amazon while for those with really deep pockets, Esoteric produced a new SACD remaster that was supposed to be as good as the original LPs (but sadly, this is not the case). If you don’t have a record player, the 24/44.1 is as close as you can get, but if you do have a spinner (and can grab that original), then get ready to blow the house down. Feel free to pull out those big multidriver/huge woofer speakers, along with the “it takes two strong men to move them an inch” kind of amplifiers. Of course, you could go with horn speakers with extremely high sensitivities and a single ended triode amp, too.
The point — decibels. You want a lot of room to play if you want to experience the full 20+ dBs of macrodynamics range. Plan on “huge headroom” for a peak of relatively undistorted 110dB SPL, and be amazed. Thanks to the Valkyries, I have been collecting jawbones (spontaneously detaching from visiting friends) for years now.
But now, to battle! Hojotoho! Heiaha!