The combination of a solo wind instrument with pipe organ seems to be a more popular one in Europe than in North America. French horn, flute and especially panpipes have been combined with the organ in many European recordings over the years. There aren’t many recordings of saxophone and organ, but Antiphone Blues, originally recorded in Sweden in l976, is the No. 1 audiophile choice, and that’s why it has already been reissued on stereo SACD by F.I.M. and reviewed here.
So what is different about this particular reissue? Well, a few things: It is part of the new and so far exlusive/proprietary process developed by First Impression Music and the Flair Studio in Tokyo. This process involves a highly-developed mastering technique which packs the 192K/24-bit master (which has been made from the original analog tapes) into the standard CD mastering format of 44.1K/16-bit PCM. It is a similar approach to Sony’s Super-Bit-Mapping technique, but the results are far superior. No special decoding of any sort (as with HDCD) is required of K2 HD discs – they can be played on any CD player. It is strictly two-channel and the lavish packaging is a larger dimension than standard CDs or SACDs – in fact if your vertical shelf clearance is tight, they may not fit with your other discs.
The K2 HD disc is for some reason not the same length or order of selections as the SACD. The SACD totals over 53 minutes and has four additional selections at the end, including Oscar Peterson’s lovely Hymn to Freedom and a rare Billy Strayhorn tune, Tonight I Shall Sleep. (Perhaps the K2 HD process doesn’t allow anywhere near the maximum 80 minutes on a CD or SACD, I don’t know.) Speaking of Strayhorn, the K2 album includes four Ellington tunes.
I did a careful listening comparison between the K2 HD and the SACD. They were so close as to be very nearly identical, but repeated switching back and forth between two players, as well as checking again on the better player – identified a very slight progression of quality, reflected mostly in a general transparency, greater impact, and a more realistic capturing of the wonderful reverberation in the Spanga Church in Stockholm where the original recording was made. The very best sonics were provided by the SACD on my Oppo 983H. Very slightly below that was the K2 played on the Oppo via the Benchmark DAC1 output. Just below that was the SACD played on my modified Sony 775, and below that was the K2HD played directly off the Oppo 983H. But all were extremely close. So if you have SACD playback capability, in this case I would go with that format (especially because the K2 disc is even more expensive), but again I think the K2 HD illustrates the amazing quality that some creative mastering work makes possible in spite of the old 44.1K/16-bit standard.
– John Sunier