“French Album No. 1” RAVEL: String Quartet in F Major – Guarneri String Quartet – Lancia Media Factory vinyl

by | Dec 30, 2011 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

“French Album No. 1” RAVEL: String Quartet in F Major – Guarneri String Quartet – Lancia Media Factory 180gr audiophile vinyl LMF7002, 28:39 (also avail. as 192K/24bit FLAC or MP3 downloads) [3/15/11] *****:
First, we probably don’t need to spend much space on this exquisite string quartet, the composer’s only one and usually paired with the Debussy string quartet.  The monumental quartet of French chamber music literature is heard here in a fantastic performance, beautifully recorded back in 2000 at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in NYC by Dirk Sobotka. The Guarneri String Quartet are among the superstars of the classical world; they performed with such luminaries as Artur Rubinstein. They retired in 2009 after a long and extraordinary career of over 45 years.
Lancia is the latest addition to the string of audiophile labels offering limited edition vinyl reissues of great recordings of the past in all genres.  Yes, most are expensive, but those with expensive high-end analog turntables and gear can realize their unique benefits. (What truly gets my attention are the increasing few 45 rpm 12-inch vinyl reissues, which to my ears provide the absolute epitome in two-channel reproduction.) By the way, the cover photo by Richard Avedon on this album may be mistaken for Maria Calas, but it’s Vicomtesse Jacqueline de Ribes—so there.
Lancia owns Sobotka’s 2000 recording for this superb reissue. It already had been issued in 2001 as a DVD-Audio disc on the now-inactive SurroundedBy label, with the same producer—Jim Mageras—who is now Lancia. I had it in my small DVD-A collection, and it also includes both the Debussy and Faure string quartets, plus photos of the recording session, comprehensive bios, a discography, and other materials.
The A/B comparison of the four movements of the Ravel quartet was especially interesting. The sonics of the 192K/24bit stereo mix on the DVD-A and the Lancia vinyl were remarkably similar. [This is with my Oppo BDP-95 and a highly-tweaked SOTA table with SME-V arm, Grado Reference cartridge and Phenomenon II phono preamp.]  There was a clarity, depth and realism to the sound that made most other string quartet recordings sound dull. I then switched to the 96K/24bit surround option vs. the vinyl.  Again, the sonics were extremely similar, except for the added realistic ambience of the surround field in my room, and one slight very soft tick I heard from the otherwise pristine vinyl surface.  Then I switched from the Direct input for the turntable on my preamp to the ProLogic IIz decoding, which added in my side-height speakers. Now the vinyl seemed to have a slight edge in sonics over the DVD-A, which seemed to be stuck on a more horizontal sound field compared to the vinyl option. But they were still nearly identical.
The DVD-A seems to be no longer available, unfortunately; I could find only standard CD versions online. However, Lancia’s vinyls are priced lower than most audiophile vinyls and perhaps they will also release the Debussy quartet in their planned-for-2012 “French Album No. 2.”
—John Sunier

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