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TECHNOLOGY ⸜ digital recorders

Or about computer sound recording systems

˻ Pt. 3 ˺ MUSIC (II)

It all started in January 1971 with the world's first LP with digitally recorded material. In a long chain of successive recorders - among DENON Digital, SOUNDSTREAM, 3M, ProDigi, DASH, ADAT, RADAR - DAW, or DIGITAL AUDIO WORKSTATION, is the latest development. And this is its story.


TECHNOLOGY ⸜ digital recorders

images Mateusz Sołtysik | “High Fidelity”

No 225

February 1, 2023

DIGITAL SOUND RECORDING – a method of preserving sound in which audio signals are transformed into a series of pulses that correspond to patterns of binary digits (i.e., 0’s and 1’s) and are recorded as such on the surface of a magnetic tape or optical disc.

„ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA”, →; accessed: 12.10.2020.

» DAW • DIGITAL AUDIO WORKSTATION is a part of a series on digital sound recorders:


⸜ MITSUBISHI PRODIGI • ˻ Pt. 1 ˺ → HERE, ˻ Pt. 2 ˺ → HERE, ˻ Pt. 3 ˺ → HERE

⸜ ADAT • ˻ Pt. 1 ˺ → HERE, ˻ Pt. 2 ˺ → HERE, ˻ Pt. 3 ˺ → HERE (PL)

⸜ RADAR • ˻ Pt. 1 ˺ → HERE, ˻ Pt. 2 ˺ → HERE, ˻ Pt. 3 ˺ → HERE

⸜ DAW • ˻ Pt. 1 ˺ → HERE, ˻ Pt. 2 ˺ → HERE

OU HAVE PROBABLY NOTICED THIS ALREADY: with the development of digital technology used to record audio signals, the possibilities it offered to musicians, producers and sound engineers also expanded. The concept of a "studio as an instrument" became something obvious. Technology has become an integral part of the creative process and most of today's releases are based on technology.

Along with expanding the creative field of activity, the number of large studios decreased at the same time. Paradox? – To be honest: it was an obvious result. The lack of customers, and thus of income, led to the closing of even the most prestigious places. The more affordable recording equipment became, the more musicians decided to record in their own "home" studios. They seemed to accept lower-end sound because in return they were given creative freedom, and often simply the opportunity to release their music. In the times of "great studios" most of them would not be able to afford it.

Music categories previously overlooked, such as rap and hip hop, benefited from it. Only with time, when they became leading genres in Western music, did they return to professional studies. This is how a circle came full that liberalized music production and at the same time lowered the average quality of the sound and the music itself. However, for most stakeholders, the advantages outweighed the disadvantages. Greg Milner in the book Perfecting Sound Forever quotes the words of Charles Dye, one of the sound engineers of the Gentleman's Club studio where Ricky Martin recorded the hit Livin'La Vida Loca (1998):

That's what Desmond (the owner of the studio - ed.) wanted: he could create the kind of vocals he had in his head. (…) And, as he realized then, he could do in Pro Tools. He could even cut out a single syllable and move it around. (…) It slightly changes the emotions of the listener, because they (syllables - ed.) appear not where he might expect them (p. 294).

This is important information because Martin with his hit was the first popular artist whose music was entirely recorded, mixed and mastered digitally in a DAW station. This means that the computer was the environment in which the hit song was created for a wide audience. In-the-box, as this type of operation is called, has become a standard in recording studios.

⸜ A typical, minimalist studio for in-the-box work, with DAW Pro Tools, MATEUSZ SOŁTYSIK Studio, configuration from 2021 ⸜ photo Mateusz Sołtysik

Desmond recorded Ricky Martin on the 64-track, 24-bit version of Pro Tools, heavily interfering with the structure of the recording, creating something completely new that could not be recorded in any other way. In this way, he set the direction which other producers followed. It was the direction "forward", "towards the future", towards modernity. The increasingly complex technology was supposed to offer something completely new.

What is interesting in all this is the inevitability of returning to the techniques that digital systems were supposed to eliminate, and for which the triumph of digital recording stations - Digital Audio Workstation - was to be the last nail in the coffin. However, similarly to the LP record, something else happened from a technological point of view - analog technologies were used, both in the music and recording spheres. Nobody is surprised today by playing the Hammond organ, and the renaissance of Moog synthesizers. And the recordings business shows signs of a return to analog reel-to-reel tape recorders.

Their creative use was the leitmotiv of the previous part of the article you are reading. And it was not about niche labels, but leading music concerns and the top performers. At the opposite extreme are in-the-box projects and they could be the axis of this story. However, when preparing the material for the third part, I decided that I prefer a broader view. So I present four titles in which the recording and editing medium were DAW stations. In the case of three of them, the mix was analog, using mixing console, and in one it was a digital mix, in the DAW environment.

We'll take a look at some of the greatest titles and performers from the past over twenty years, from 1998's MADONNA’s Right of Light, her first Grammy-winning record (several of them), to DEPECHE MODE’s Exciter from 2001 and Rosary Sonatas by HEINRICH IGNAZ FRANZ von BIBER, performed by Rachel Podger and Marcin Świątkiewicz from 2015, to PIOTR WYLEŻOŁ’s Human Things, i.e. an album from the "Polish Jazz" series and in-the-box recording. We will meet the four largest and most important DAWs on the market: Cubase, Logic Pro, Pyramid by Merging Technology and Pro Tools. There will also be a place for a tape, although in a different context.


˻ 1998 ˼

⸜ MADONNA Ray of Light

Warner Bros. Records 9362 47386 2
Released: 8th May 1998 | COMPACT DISC

MADONNA, BORN Madonna Louise Ciccone, is an American singer, actress, celebrity and, as we would say today, an influencer. According to Wikipedia, she is often called "the queen of pop music", and is one of the most famous artists of the 1980s-2000s, and an important part of the cultural world of those times. Of Italian descent, she moved to New York in 1978. She debuted in 1983 with the Madonna album that was trumped by Like A Virgin from 1984, and consolidated her position with two more albums: True Blue (1986) and Like a Prayer (1989).

Madonna's career, however, was just getting started. Her seventh album Ray of Light (1998) received as many as four Grammy Awards, out of six nominations, and another statuette, this time in the category of Best Electronic/Dance Album in 2007, for Confessions on a Dance Floor. In total, she has won seven Grammy Awards, two Golden Globes, five Billboard Music Awards and twenty MTV Video Music Awards. With concert revenues of $1.5 billion, the US remains the world's highest-earning performing artist.

Madonna owes her success to talent, hard work, the ability to choose the right people and orientation in the contemporary music market. Almost every time, from album to album, the artist changed her musical style and look. She has recorded fifteen albums, starred in seventeen films and directed two more. She is an extremely interesting person for researchers dealing with pop culture, music and even fashion. A true icon of its time.


DIGITAL (multitrack Cubase »Atari ST«, Pro Tools)) → ANALOG (mix) → DIGITAL (stereo, Pro Tools)

As we said, Madonna's strength is creativity. Released on March 2nd 1998, by Maverick Records, the multi-platinum album Ray of Light brought a change of style. In an eclectic mix, it combined electronics and techno-pop. Commentators also mention elements of ambient, trip hop, and even psychedelic and ethnic music from the Middle East.

In the years leading up to its release, the singer was in a kind of impasse. After founding Maverick Records in 1992 and releasing the rather coldly received album Erotica, she wasn't sure which direction she should go. In 1996, her daughter Lourdes is born, and Madonna herself experiences a kind of spiritual awakening under the influence of Kabbalah and Ashtanga yoga. What's more, she starts listening to artists following a similar path: Björk, Everything But the Girl and Tricky. The visible sign of the change was the red thread on her left wrist, which in Kabbalah was a talisman protecting against the "evil eye".

Rolling Stone magazine writes that although this project earned Madonna the nickname Veronica Electronica, initially it was not known what direction it would take. After the album Evita, the singer returned to work with producer Babyface. But she didn't want to repeat herself. An coincident helped with a new direction. As recalled by RS, Rick Nowels, today known mainly as the author of the music for Lana Del Rey, on the day of the Grammy awards ran into Madonna in the Barney store.

When he told her he was nominated for Celine Dion's Falling Into You, she replied that she liked her very much. Then there was a "click". She invited him to her home, where she shared her doubts and dilemmas. Turns out it was a good move. At Nowels' home studio on Mulholland Drive, the couple wrote three of the ten tracks released on the album. It was a great experience for the musician:

It was quite unnerving to write one-on-one with the biggest star on the planet. But I loved her songs and felt an emotional kinship with her music. I got a lot of DJ records and old film score records and prepared loops to write to. Once the song was written, we’d drop the loop and program our own beat. Little Star and The Power of Good-Bye were written over a drum ‘n’ bass rhythm, which was happening at the time. To Have and Not to Hold was written to a bossa nova beat.

⸜ →

The biggest hit, Frozen, was written by Madonna and Patrick Leonard, who is responsible for three more, with six more credited to Wiliam Orbit, in some cases with other authors .

The next step was to choose a producer. Initially, Madonna thought about Babyface, but at her request, label director Guy Oseary called the aforementioned William Orbit, who had previously remixed Justify My Love and Erotica. It was a choice that gave the album the form we know.

⸜ Atari from 1986 – a similar computer was used for 2/3 of Madonna’s album ⸜ photo Bill Bertram, Wikipedia CC-BY-2.5

Samantha Bennett discussed this album in a subsection with a meaningful title: (Un)convencionality, tech-processual unorthodoxies and rebellion (p. 130). Orbit, a veteran of synth-pop music, began working on an album with an Atari ST computer. No wonder, the Cubase program installed on the Atari was once a very popular choice. In 1997, when the album was recorded, it was already a thing of the past - among producers and recording engineers, the number one DAW station was Pro Tools. The producer mentions:

Until two-thirds [of the recording], when people started commenting on the situation, I didn't know that [using the Atari ST] was unusual. It even happened that at one point the computer caught fire. Really. Smoke started coming out of it. It was something like, "What smells so bad? Ah, the components are on fire” (Bennett, p. 130).

It seems that the producer of Ray of Light assumed that better is the enemy of good. The technical complexity of DAW systems is so great that switching from one platform to another, from one type of computer to another, can be crippling for many musicians and producers. Therefore, in later years, Orbit, using the Pro Tools PC DAW station, hired a person to program it. As Bennett writes, this neo-luddic approach was quite logical, but nevertheless places Orbit in the category of "nonchalant".

So the album was recorded in multitrack on DAW situations - first on the Atari ST (Cubase), and then on the PC (Pro Tools). The sessions took four and a half months (June 30th till November), the most in an artist's career, and took place at Larrabee North Studio, located in North Hollywood. Pat McCarthy and his assistant Matt Silva were responsible for the sound. Initially, it was planned to record with live musicians, but Orbit bet on samples, loops and keyboards. He used "antique" instruments such as June synthesizers and Akai S3200 samplers.

As he told "Keyboard" magazine, individual tracks, apart from vocals, were sent via Akai's analog output. The sampler was controlled by the Cubase program, and it was from this device that the producer output an analog signal, through the Drawmers tube compressor to the J-series SSL mixer. As he said, this allowed him to achieve "magic", where "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" .

However, it is not entirely clear what the whole thing looked like, because in the aforementioned interview, the musician talks about recording individual tracks, some of which he uploaded back to the computer. So was the tape just one of the tools shaping the sound, or was it a recording medium? I'm not sure, but personally I'd bet on the former.

All we know for sure is that the remaining 1/3 of the album was recorded and edited using DAW Pro Tools. Orbit loved this system and in one of the interviews he even said: "Pro Tools is much better than drugs, that's for sure!" (more → HERE). The recorded material had a resolution of 16 bits, 48 kHz; The 24-bit Pro Tools was shown only at the end of 1997, so after the recordings were finished. It was mastered by TED JENSEN at Sterling Sound.

One of the producer's most important choices, thanks to which he achieved exceptional consistency of the material, was recording and mixing the entire album in the same studio. Larrabee North Studio was founded in 1969 by the Mills couple. In the 1980s, thanks to their son Kevin, it became the largest recording studio in Los Angeles, with three separate locations. From the very beginning, it was associated with the SSL company and was equipped with their mixing consoles, often as the first one.

RELEASES Ray of Light album was released on both CD and double LP, and in many countries at the same time; The CD was released in a basic form and in a special edition with a reflective cover. Because Warner Music, responsible for production and distribution, was changing the pressing plant at that time, the LP was made in two places: Alsdorf and Optimal Media. This material was also released on cassette tapes and on Mini Discs. Interestingly, the album was never digitally remastered, only reissued.


Madonna's album is recorded incredibly well. The electronic Soundi, which begins the first track, situates us inside a bubble - dense, enveloping and saturated. This is a fantastically spacious disc. The voice speaking in the middle of the first minute is far behind us. In addition, it is solid and has a large volume, which is very difficult to achieve with out-of-phase sounds. It is an equivalent presentation to what was obtained with the analog QSound system (more → HERE).

Madonna's vocals appearing immediately after are rather dark and lack an open midrange, which is what is generally accepted nowadays. A slight emphasis of sibilants, but really slight one, makes us feel as if it was an open presentation. And again - at 2:00 the sound is in out-of-phase, opening the whole to the room, and not just in front of us. This creates the impression of the power of the sound and at the same time its carrying capacity, detachment from the base of the speakers. It will be like this until the very end.

This is a recording that is very clean and clear on the one hand, and dense on the other with a kind of "patina". The vocals are shown quite far from us, in the axis, but they are clear. From song to song, it is sometimes bigger, sometimes smaller, but always legible. The bass, on the other hand, is low and deep from start to finish. Interestingly, at the very bottom it is not particularly well controlled. Its edges are rounded, and the energy is slightly "lacking" over time. That is, the bass does not start and stop at once, and it needs some time. This is particularly evident in the first track and Candy Perfume Girl.

Percussion cymbals were treated in a very delicate way. They are warm and stay in the mix. They lack resolution and definition, but this is just such a recording. Today we would say that they were passed through the "tube" plug in the DAW, and we know that this is a treatment obtained by the Orbit by loading tracks from the analog output of the Akai sampler onto a tape and playing them back into the sampler.

When I say "purity," I don't mean clinically clean. On the contrary, Ray of Light is an album with sound that today's engineers may find "dirty". The purity I am talking about is both clarity and saturation. It's a rather dark sound, with a low center of gravity. Almost every track has boosted bass with not particularly clear contours and a lot of mass. And yet it all blends together perfectly, harmonizes, flows.

There is something in these recordings of the melancholy, which can be heard in solo recordings of William Orbit. But there's more to them - Madonna's vocals gives them a more universal dimension. It's not just electronic or dance music anymore, it's just music.

Madonna's album is one of the best-produced electronic music albums I know. It is warm, full and dense. It does not have laser-clean contours, nor does it feel "overexposed". In this respect, it resembles - surprise surprise - analog recordings from the 1950s.

→ Sound quality: 8-9/10


˻ 2001 ˼


Released: 14th May 2001 | COMPACT DISC

DEPECHE MODE IS ONE OF THE BANDS WITH the most loyal fan base. I am also one of them. That is why, exceptionally, I would like to present not one, but three versions of the same title to you.

Although during their 43-years long career, the band changed its style several times, they left their personal mark on each album. Perhaps it was due to the fact that for most of the time one man was responsible for most of the composition just, namely MARTIN GORE, or perhaps it was due to the extremely stable line-up over time - I don't know. We know, however, that they started from playing guitars, which they quickly abandoned in favor of back then still primitive synthesizers, and today they are huge stars.

The group was formed by Martin Gore and David Fletcher from their older band No Romance in China. After being joined by Vince Clark and a few more ephemeral bands later, Clark stumbled across Dave Gahan's gig and with him on board, Depeche Mode was formed in 1980. The debut album Speak & Spell hit stores in 1981. It was released by Mute label. It is a known fact that its founder, Daniel Miller, concluded a verbal agreement with the band members, sealed with a handshake. The real contract was signed only in 1999 (!).

By the end of 1981, Clarke, the main composer of the debut album, leaves the band, and the next title, A broken Frame (1892), is being prepared by the other three with Daniel Miller; the music was composed by Martin Gore. In the same year they are joined by MARK WILDER, the only musically educated member of the band; These four would be the most successful lineup, with Black Celebration (1986), Music for the Masses (1987), 101 (1988) and their opus magnum, Violator (1990). On June 1st 1995, Alan Wilder announced he was leaving Depeche Mode, ending that period. After some time, the band went on hiatus.

In 1997, the Ultra album was released, which closed the time of uncertainty about band’s future - the heroin addict Gahan overdosed on drugs at the time, had a heart attack and there were legitimate concerns about his mental health. The newly formed band, with the basic line-up but without Wilder, wanted to release an EP, but the atmosphere in the studio was so good that they created material for a regular album.


DIGITAL (wielośladowe Cubase, Logic Pro, Pro Tools HD) → ANALOG (miks) → DIGITAL (stereo, Pro Tools HD)

According to the band's biographer, Jonathan Miller, in early 1999 Martin Gore took up songwriting again at his studio in Hertfordshire. It was a 17th-century mansion where the studio, housed in a double garage, was built by Kevin van Green of Electric Eel Studio Design.

GARETH JONES, sound producer, quoted by Jonathan Miller, said that it was "a spacious, pleasant room with lots of sunlight, a view of the trees and the countryside" (p. 311). This wasn't the designer's first project for people associated with Depeche Mode, as he previously built home studios for Vince Clark, Alan Wilder and Dave Gahan.

Pre-production sessions were led by keyboardist Gareth Jones and programmer Paul Freegard. According to the former, it was all about creating the right environment for Martin Gore, which would help him break the creative block. Unlike the 1980s and 1990s, when work was a break for him between parties in clubs, this time it was about aromatherapy, incense sticks, meditation and healthy food. Their supplier was Jones.

⸜ Three most important versions of the Exciter: original CD (lower corner), SACD (right side), Blu-Spec CD 2 (upper corner)

In addition, he brought his Apple G3 PowerBook laptop to the studio with DAW LOGIC PRO installed on it. Although these were supposed to be demo recordings, a lot of material recorded in Gore's studio was later included on the album:

Practically from the very beginning, it was clear to us that we wanted to smoothly transition to production with this material. All in all, it was home-style recording, which we then moved to a large studio. (…) a large part of what we did before production was among the finished recordings.

⸜ JONATHAN MILLER, Stripped: The True Story of "Depeche Mode", Omnibus Press, 2003.

After preparing the initial tracks, this group moved to Sound Design Studios in Santa Barbara (USA), owned by Dominic Camardell. The studio was located near Gore’s home, who had moved there three years earlier. In 2000, four songs from this session were ready, and when Dave Gahan recorded the vocals for them, they were practically done. It is from this time that the first single from the album, Dream On comes from.

MARK BELLA was chosen for the production of the album. This choice somehow "set" the sound of the album. Bell is a British DJ and producer, and was previously a member of the techno pioneer band LFO. They found him thanks to the fact that in 1997 he produced the Björk’s album Homogenic.

As Nicholas de Gonzaga Sevilla, mixer and Grammy Award holder recalls, the producer used Steinberg's Cubase DAW, and he used Pro Tools HD. None of these stations is better than another, according to him, and they work in specific situations. He recorded some of the overdubs in Cubase, but - as he adds - the final mix was done in Pro Tools (24/48). Vocals were recorded in DAW Logic. Thus, as many as three DAW systems were involved in the creation of the Exciter album.

After pre-production and initial production at the two aforementioned studios, the band chose RAK and Sam West Studios in London and Electric Lady and Sony Music in New York for final recording and mixing; STEVE FITZMAURICE was responsible for the mix - the album was mixed analog. The result was a minimalist material that was completely different from the Ultra album. Participating musician Paul Freegard, a friend of Martin Gore, even stated: "It's not Martin, it’s Depeche Mode!" (Burmeister/Lange, p. 275).

RELEASES The album was preceded by the single entitled Dream On. It was released on a 12" LP and two CD versions - a single and a maxi-single. The other singles were treated similarly. The CD versions of the single featured nice mini LP envelopes with an inner insert. The CD with the album was placed in a classic jewelbox type box, and the double LP album in a fold-out cover. The album was also released in Japan.

Discogs mentions 132 versions of the album, but the most important are the original release and two reissues, from 2007 and 2014. The former is a hybrid SACD with an additional DVD. It features a new surround mix and stereo version, while the latter features a movie and additional high-definition audio material. A part of the later reprint was made by the Polish Takt and this is the version with the CD, not the SACD. In 2007, the LP version was also reissued, but with a new stereo mix. In 2014, the best version of the album is released, on the Blu-spec CD 2 mini LP - it contains the same remixed material as on the 2007 version. Both of these versions are also available on LPs.


Exciter belongs to one of the best recorded albums by Depeche Mode. It is built in layers, and the layers here are mainly space and, to a slightly lesser extent, timbre. Listen to the opening track Dream On. Gahan's processed voice comes in first, on-axis, far in the mix. In a moment (from 0:04) he is joined by an electronic bass and several percussion sounds - also on the axis. Although on the axis, they are clear thanks to slight shifts in the planes, each of which has a different timbre. But already in the thirteenth second, an acoustic guitar joins in, spread out in the channels. And from 0:37 there is a panoramic sound of a synthesizer.

⸜ A ticket for Depeche Mode concert that took place on Sept. 2nd 2001, belonging to yours truly

The music on the album is surprisingly slow, almost meditative. The pulse of the bass almost become our own pulse in it. Bass is low, strong, but more punctual than warm. There are few guitars here, but the vocals are a counterpoint to the widely spread sounds of synthesizers. It's quite far in the mix, quite dark, but has a pretty clear sound. It's a rather low-sounding album, which can be heard beautifully in the opening The Sweetest Condition electronic bass, which goes very low and is the main element of the sound of this track.

This is where a more powerful guitar is added, but with a processed sound. It is quite warm and smooth, which is in line with the assumptions of the album. And these say: do no harm. The slow rhythm of the songs is supported by the warm sound of synthesizers and instruments. The material seems to be quite compressed, because there are no explosive elements in the presentation. Unlike on Radiohead’s Kid A or Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Californication, it is not about accumulating all the energy in one strike, but about calming down the presentation, about smoothing out nervousness.

The treble roll off from Dave Gahan's voice serves the same purpose, I think. Together with the low, punctual bass and nice, warm guitar played only with a slight fuzz in When The Body Speaks it takes us to another, almost fairy-tale space. It's not always about that, it's clear, because the low and distorted guitar entering in The Dead of Night wake us up from lethargy. But briefly, for a moment. I remember these sounds well, because they opened the band's concert in Służewiec and, despite the rain, put us all back on our feet.

Among the three most important releases, the first, on CD, seems to be the least controversial. Everything is well arranged, nice and pleasant. Manufacturers' choices are clear and legible. On the other hand, the SACD version from 2007 has a different timbre. Low bass and high treble were raised in it, a bit like with loudness. The sound is therefore more aggressive, although it still remains in the "comfort zone". However, something "doesn't work" for me in this version, as if the balance between the elements was lost somewhere. It is also interesting that the dynamics seem to be lower here than on the CD.

Maybe that's why I like the BSCD2 version so much. It reconciles both earlier releases. The master is the same as on the SACD disc, i.e. with raised band extremes. However, the Japanese edition is clearly more resolving and clearer. Raising the upper midrange in Gahan's voice opened it up a bit, but without unpleasant consequences. There is no longer such a depth of vocals as on the first release, but the whole is highly enjoyable.

→ Sound quality: 7/10


˻ 2015 ˼

perf. Rachel Podger, Marcin Świątkiewicz 

Channel Classic Records CCS SA 37315
Released: Oct. 16th 2015 | SUPER AUDIO CD/CD

IT WON”T BE AN XAGGERATION if I say that Rosary Sonatas (Rosenkranzsonaten) belong to the the most recognizable works of the Hungarian-Austrian composer and violinist, Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber. Also known as Mystery Sonatas and Copper-English Sonatas, they are a collection of fifteen short sonatas on the violin and continuo. They became popular in 20th century - although completed around 1676, until their publication in 1905 they were practically unknown.

IT WON”T BE AN XAGGERATION if I say that Rosary Sonatas (Rosenkranzsonaten) belong to the the most recognizable works of the Hungarian-Austrian composer and violinist, Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber. Also known as Mystery Sonatas and Copper-English Sonatas, they are a collection of fifteen short sonatas on the violin and continuo. They became popular in 20th century - although completed around 1676, until their publication in 1905 they were practically unknown.

RACHEL PODGER plays the violin on the album in question, and MARCIN ŚWIĄTKIEWICZ, a Pole, plays the harpsichord as a continuo. The producer of the recording, Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, decided to broaden their sound in some tracks, also introducing theorban, archlute (archute), cello and viola da gamba. Today, many bands weigh down the sound with the bass section, but there are also solo performances - I perfectly remember the wonderful concert of Robert Bachara, which he gave in 2016 in Krakow. The violinist of Capella Cracoviensis, who used the historical chest technique, played individual sonatas not just solo, but also using various violins.

The name of the British violinist Rachel Podger is not accidental. This artist has recorded several excellent albums for CHANNEL CLASSIC, and is known for leading Baroque music ensembles during the period between 1997 and 2002 such as Gabrieli Consort and Players, and then The English Concert. Currently, she is a soloist of The Academy of Ancient Music and a guest conductor of several ensembles around the world, including the Polish Arte dei Suonatori. On the album in question, she plays a Pesarinius violin, made in Genoa in 1739; Pesarinius was a late student of Antonio Stradivari.


Rosary Sonatas performed by Podger and Świątkiewicz was released by the Dutch label Channel Classic Records, commonly known as Channel Classic. It was founded by an American by birth and a Dutchman by choice, C. Jared Sacks in 1990. He is an educated, professional trumpeter who first studied at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and completed his education at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam.

As he said in an interview for the "Stereophile" magazine, it was not the ultimate goal for him, but only a stage. He then came to the conclusion that although he is good at what he does, he never will be a virtuoso. We are not talking about a poor musician here - he was the first trumpet in the Concertgebouw orchestra. However, Sacks had enough courage and humility to decide that since he couldn't be the best and he didn't want to be - as he said - a member of a "B" orchestra, that he would do something else. This "other thing" turned out to be the sound production.

He then bought a house in Amsterdam, just off Kanaal Straat, where Channel Classic is now headquartered. Thanks to the high ceiling of the upper floor and, as he recalls, the northern light, it was great to make music there. So he started inviting musicians to play together. In the early 1980s, he began recording these sessions on a Tascam analog tape recorder. By the end of 80ties, he was already recording demo tapes; Wikipedia lists 1987 as the turning point. Three years later, the recording label was founded, and its name is the English version of the name of the street on which it stands, Kanaalstraat.

In September 2021, Channel Classic was bought by a major player in the classical music scene, Outhere (Alpha, Zig-Zag Territoires, Phi, Arcana).


DIGITAL (multi-track Pyramix Editing, DSD) → ANALOG (miks) → DIGITAL (stereo, Pyramix Editing, DSD)

Although Jared Sacks started with analog recordings, he very quickly acquired the skills necessary to achieve high-class digital productions. After the first amateur digital PCM recorder, Sony F1, was introduced at the turn of 1985/86, the founder of Channel Classic borrowed money and bought it in 1987.

As he was one of the few owners of this type of digital equipment in Europe, which did not cost a fortune, and therefore his rates were not high, EMI and Dutch companies, including Philips, became his clients in the first year. It was most often rented to make digital master tapes, sent to Compact Disc press plants. As he said in an interview for Positive Feedback magazine, he was the only person outside Philips who prepared digital masters for this label.

When Andreas Koch and Ed Meitner developed the first analog-to-digital converters that converted an analog signal to digital DSD without first converting it to PCM, he thought this might be "it". His first SACD came out in 2001. It was a sampler added to the first Philips SACD players. No wonder that the first commercially released album of this format in the world was released under the Channel Classics label. Sacks has remained faithful to this format to this day.

There are several elements in his recording technique that distinguish him from other publishers. First of all he records sound in stereo and 5.0 surround formats. The latter stayed with him after his cooperation with Philips, for whom he advertised the SACD format around the world. For the multi-channel section, the signal is recorded in DSD and edited in DXD, then back to DSD. This may seem pointless, but it allows you to eliminate anti-aliasing filters from the signal path, and thus signal "ringing" and pulse time smear, which are an integral part of PCM A/D/A converters.

On the other hand, the stereo version is hardly even edited so as not to switch to DXD. As the owner of the record label said in an interview, he only edits the ends of the songs when the sound of the instruments is no longer heard, to be able to mute them. Both versions are recorded simultaneously and both use Brüel & Kjær 4006 and Schoeps microphones, with the main stereo pair arranged in an unusual M-S configuration, where two microphones are placed on the axis: omnidirectional and figure-eight. The other instruments received separate "spot" microphones.

The album with Biber's sonatas was recorded in the church of St. Judy (Juda-on-the-Hill) in London, January 2015. It was recorded in DSD with a basic sampling frequency of 64fs. When asked about it in 2014 by Jason Victor Serinus, he said that this frequency was good enough for him and he did not intend to move to a higher frequency, like DSD128. I couldn't find any information about him changing his mind anywhere.

The analog signal was converted to digital using Merging Technologies A/D converters. Recording and mixing were done using an analog console custom made by RENS HEIJNIS. It is battery-powered. Grimm Audio loudspeakers with the Van Medevoort amplifier are used to monitor the recordings. Another Dutch company, Van den Hul, provides the cabling; Channel Classic uses custom-made T3 speaker cables. When mastering the Sonatas... album, the Bowers & Wilkins 803D loudspeakers were driven by Classé 5200 amplifiers.

RELEASES It will not be difficult to choose the right edition of Sonatas... from Channel Classic, because there is only one - the premiere one, on a hybrid SACD. It has a very nice form of a triple digipack with an extensive booklet inserted into the middle panel. This is a two-disc release.


Already the first sounds of the organ opening Annunciation, and also the whole album, herald something special. The sound of this instrument is deep, soft and perfectly set in space. Sound is dark and warm. The violin is placed a bit further in the mix, so we don't get the bright part of the attack, often emphasized, but rather the "box", dense and deep. The other instruments sound similar, but it is the violin that attracts our attention with its combination of depth and perfect harmonic coherence.

When we listen to the album quite loudly, the amount of information regarding the atmosphere of the recording, mainly in the form of air in a large object, will be almost shocking. I know from experience that such a natural "aura" can be captured on a good analog tape recorder and in DSD recordings. PCM, even in DXD quality, loses some of it. And it's not that the sound of this album is indistinct. On the contrary, it is an extremely clear, transparent presentation. But transparent not with brightening, but with the ability to show each of the "musical events" in their fullness.

Therefore, Marcin Świątkiewicz's harpsichord and David Miller's theorban had a fantastically soft sound, which never died out, did not blend with the background. We look at the whole thing from the perspective of the tenth row, so the presentation seems to be monophonic - the instruments are rather closer to each other than to the edges of the stage. And yet the differentiation is so perfect that we have no problems with tracking not so much the melody as the manner of playing, accentuation, phrasing, etc. Despite the perspective that narrows the stereo, there is a huge space here.

I have already mentioned the air, so it is also necessary to talk about scale. The instruments, including those organs are proportional. But they do not sound lean, which happens very often, even in very good recordings. They are saturated and "large" with the acoustics of the interior of the church where the recording was created. I think that this is an inherent quality of DSD recordings, and thus also of SACD. And only the best analog and DXD recordings can match it, and even then not quite.

That is why the album in question is one of the best recordings of classical music that I know. There are other albums with great recordings from the era of analog tape, and there are also great PCM recordings. And yet, Biber's Rosary Sonatas, with Rachel Podger on the violin, are a showcase of what modern digital recording technology offers with the DAW system plus a top musical performance.

→ Sound quality: 10/10


˻ 2018 ˼

⸜ PIOTR WYLEŻOŁ Human Things

Polskie Nagrania | Warner Music Poland 01902 9 57003 7 9
„Polish Jazz” series vol. 79, CD ⸜ 2018

SIGNED WITH THE NAME OF PIOTR WYLEŻOŁ, and recorded with the participation of many famous musicians, Human Things was released by Polskie Nagrania, owned by Warner Music Polska, as a part of the the prestigious "Polish Jazz" series at number 79. Originally released in the years 1965-1989 by the state-owned publishing house Polskie Nagrania "Muza", it was reissued in 2016. For the needs of this series, recordings included, among others: Krzysztof Komeda, Andrzej Trzaskowski, Michał Urbaniak, Tomasz Stańko, Adam Makowicz, Zbigniew Namysłowski, Andrzej Kurylewicz, Wojciech Karolak, Jan "Ptaszyn" Wróblewski, and Stanisław Sojka. The Wyleżoł’s album was the third release after the "reactivation".

At the beginning of his career, the leader was supposed to be a classical pianist, but he soon got into jazz. He is a graduate of the Academy of Music in Katowice with a doctorate and a piano teacher at the Department of Jazz and Contemporary Music at the Academy of Music in Krakow. We know him from playing with Nigel Kennedy, Janusz Muniak and Jarek Śmietana, as well as in his own groups. He is often described as "brilliant" and "creative" by the trade press. Emrys Baird from the English magazine "Blues&Soul" described him as "one of the most extraordinary talents of European pianism". He performed with Tomasz Stańko, Krystyna Dudziak, Ewa Bem, Gary Bartz and Nigel Kennedy.

As it was written on the occasion of the release of Human Things, it was for its needs that Wyleżoł put together his best band and recorded an album with original compositions and arrangements. Bartek Chaciński, in his review of the album published in the "Polityka", wrote: "The pastel romanticism of the pianist Piotr Wyleżol fits the Polish Jazz series like a glove, although it must be admitted that this album could have been released as part of it probably 40 years ago." The JazzFORUM portal, in turn, referred to Piotr Wyleżoł's style as "silenced expression".

In the recording he was accompanied by seasoned jazzmen: Michał Barański on double bass, Michał Miśkiewicz on drums and a brass section consisting of: Dayna Stephens - soprano and tenor saxophones, Robert Majewski - flugelhorn, Grzegorz Nagórski - euphonium. In the title track, he was also supported vocally by Aga Zaryan and Grzegorz Dowgiałło.

The album was well received in the Polish press. Tomasz Szachowski in "Jazz Forum" wrote: "I did not expect that we would start 2018 with such an outstanding Polish!", Marek Dusza for "Audio": ""Human Things" is a must-have item for lovers of mainstream jazz, a refined and important title”, and Grzegorz Bryk in “Magazyn Gitarzysta”: “Fifty minutes stuffed with warming jazz. It sounds great."


DIGITAL (multi-track Pro Tools HD) → DIGITAL (mix, Pro Tools HD) → DIGITAL (stereo, Pro Tools HD)

The material for Piotr Wyleżoł's album was recorded in one of the best Polish recording studios, Studio S-4 in Warsaw. It has a volume of 680 m3 and an area of 112 m2, thanks to which the reverberation time is 0.5 seconds. You can record large ensembles in it, or - as in this case - smaller ones and use the natural reverberation. The studio offers multi-track Studer tape recorders, but most of the recordings are digital, as in this case. The studio has an analog SSL 4040B mixing console. The material was recorded in the Pro Tools | system HD3 Accel in 24/96 resolution.

The album was recorded very quickly, in a day and a half, in October 2016. The session was "squeezed" between the group's concerts, hence the rush. As the leader said, one, and only in a few cases two versions of each track were recorded. In the review of the "Audio" magazine, we read that Wyleżoł praised the great atmosphere in the studio. The recording engineer was TADEUSZ MIECZKOWSKI, a distinguished sound engineer, and Sebastian Witkowski and Aleksander Wilk were responsible for the vocal recordings, which were recorded separately.

Tadeusz Mieczkowski is a graduate of the Sound Direction Department of the Fryderyk Chopin Academy of Music in Katowice. Already during his studies, he started working at the Directorate of Music Recordings of the Polish Radio in Warsaw. He organized concerts of such artists as: Natalie Cole, Tori Amos, Genesis and Gordon Haskel. He recorded with Edyta Górniak, Anna Maria Jopek, Henryk Miśkiewicz, Krzesimir Dębski, Ewa Małas-Godlewska, Zbigniew Preisner, Leszek Możdżer, Sławomir Jaskułke and Tomasz Stańko. In 2007, he founded his own company, Master Sound, continuing his cooperation with Polish Radio.

⸜ MATEUSZ SOŁTYSIK’S studio in-the-box , 2021 setup ⸜ photo Mateusz Sołtysik

Unlike all previous albums, Human Things was mixed and mastered in-the-box in a DAW running Pro Tools; MATEUSZ SOŁTYSIK was responsible for mixing and mastering.

We know him from the review of JOACHIM MENCEL's album Brooklyn Eye (more → HERE) and the interview for our magazine (more → HERE). When asked about this choice, he replied:

Certainly, the main advantage is repeatability. I can work on different sessions at the same time and I don't have to remember the settings of external devices. I can also take a computer with me and work on projects away from home. Of course, sometimes there is no physical fader or knob, for example as a DAW controller, but I've learned to live with it and operate the mouse quite well.

Let me remind you that a lot of albums were prepared in a similar way, some of them exceptionally good, such as: THOMAS KESSLER’S Close To Silence (review → HERE) or MISTERIOSO, J.S. Bach, Sonatas for violin and harpsichord (review → HERE). Mixing and mastering in the digital domain frees the engineer from the influence of the analog console and avoids D/A and back to A/D conversions.

RELEASES The album was released both on a CD and, a bit later, on 180g vinyl. An overview in the booklet was prepared by Bogdan Chmura. I also had the Master CD-R for listening, burned by Mr. Sołtysik in his studio, straight from the master files.


The album surprises with its dark and deep sound. All sound producers and engineers that we have written about so far used analog tape to achieve a similar effect. On the Wyleżoł’s album, we get softness and density straight from the computer, without an analog "insert" in any form. Also the vocals of Aga Zaryan and Grzegorz Dowgiałło, in the title track opening the album, have a nice timbre. Sharpness and brightness were not exaggerated, although Zaryan's voice has a timbre accent located slightly higher than the instruments, which makes it more open.

Double bass sound very nice, really good. Turn the volume knob up a bit more than usual and the room will fill with the controlled, focused sound of this instrument. There will be still real depth and a strong, contoured low range. Typically, this instrument is cut below 80-100 Hz so that it does not interfere with the kick drum. If in this case something like that is used, you can't hear it.

The instruments have a complex, coherent and quite clear image. Recording also has a lot of breath, although it seems that not much reverberation was added to the mix, focusing on the natural reverberation of the studio. Stereophony was achieved mainly by distributing the drums in both channels. The cymbals were set at "9:30" and "2:30", so quite narrow, and yet the reverb broadens the stereophonic base. In the second track on the album Whisper of the Night there is also a piano spread out in a panorama, with the left hand more to the left and the right hand to the right, which gives us a view of the instrument from the pianist's perspective.

⸜ Next to the standard edition there is a gold Master CD-R with the same material

The depth of the stereoscopic stage is quite good, although in my experience recordings mixed in analog do a better job in this respect. Not that Human Things is handicapped. In the best recordings, however, depth is better pronounced, as is the definition of the sound sources themselves. The recordings from the reviewed album have the foreground set quite close to us, and perhaps this is one of the reasons for focusing our attention on "here and now", and not on what is "there".

The in-the-box mix yields slightly less dynamic sound than traditional methods. This is something I hear with every recording of this type, so it seems that it is a limitation of the technique itself. The micro-dynamics are very nice, there is really a lot going on here, and it seems to be an advantage of the lack of D/A and A/D converters in the signal path - it's more about the dynamics of the macro scale. Something like this is very difficult to achieve otherwise.

Marek Sołtysik, who mixed and mastered this album, has the gift of putting everything together into a well-functioning whole. The whole that is in this inner "concord" beautiful. Therefore, it is one of the best examples of creative use of a DAW, which resulted in a very classic sound.

→ Sound quality: 8/10



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