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Pro Musica, Chicago

713 W Wrightwood Ave
Chicago | IL. 60614 | USA


t doesn’t happen too often that I give an album the maximum 10/10 score in the sound quality category, at the same time praising album’s musical and artistic quality. After listening to Charlie Haden & Antonio Forcione’s album Heartplay I just couldn’t think of anything else and the top score was a must (see my review HERE). And yet, the duo’s CD release is the poorest album version, with a much better vinyl and many times better high-resolution 24/96 files (a notable exception). This is not the only album from Naim Label to offer such exceptional sound quality and give so much listening pleasure. The most important, of course, is the music and musicians. However, how they will sound on our home system depends in equal measure on the people who record, mix, master and produce the album. In the case of Charlie Haden’s albums, although not only his, available from Naim Label we are talking about one man: Ken Christianson. And about his proprietary True Stereo recording technique.

Typing the name Christianson into a search engine will bring links associated with two companies: Naim Label and Pro Musica. They are both related to the world of perfectionist audio products, with the former specializing in "content", i.e. recordings, and the latter in "hardware", i.e. playback devices. But even Naim Label clearly does not exist in a vacuum, and is a daughter company of Naim Audio, founded by Julian Vereker in 1973. Naim Label was also founded on Vereker’s initiative and has been his pride and joy. He acted on the assumption that only by controlling the entire audio chain, from recording to playback, he was able to guarantee the best possible results. The first CD released by Naim Label was Gary Boyle’s Electric Glide, which immediately became one of the most popular CDs to be used for auditioning audio systems during audio shows and presentations.
Julian Vereker, like another influential figure in British audio, Ivor Tiefenbrun, who founded his company Linn in the same year as Julian, was not satisfied with the quality of CD sound for a long time. That's why we had to wait until 1991 to see the launch of the first-ever Naim CD Player, the two-box CDS top-loader. Naim recording label followed shortly after. Its new version was opened in 2009, with a name changed to Naim Label and high-resolution audio files available for purchase online. Currently, hi-res files account for 70% of Naim Label sales.


  • Phil Ward, A NAIM OF NOTE. Recording For The Naim Label, “Sound On Sound”, June 2001, see HERE
  • David Zych, Label Watch: Naim Records, “Jazz Times”, April 1999, see HERE
  • The Naim Label, see HERE

How did you start working for Naim Label?
I met Julian Vereker in 1977 in Chicago at a CES trade show convention. I was very impressed with his knowledge of all aspects of audio his understanding of recording and his philosophy of reproducing the sound for what it was and not trying to alter of try and make sound colored in anyway. I was at the time just really getting started with serious recording and over the years would share much of what I was doing with Julian, he appreciated my desire to capture what the musician was saying as opposed to just making a sound and the Idea of True Stereo recording made complete sense to him and the results I was getting, also that I was working with great musicians.

How did you get involved in audio?
I have been in the audio field for 38 years. I have only had three jobs in audio over all these years, my first being Pacific Stereo (1976-1977) followed by Victor's Stereo (1977-1983), and my own shop Pro Musica which I co-founded with my longtime partner John Swartz (September, 1983-present, and hopefully for many more years to come). I have spent my professional life trying to understand how to record music in the most natural way and the best way to play it back to appreciate them. I have been teaching Master Class Live Sound Recording Classes at Columbia College since 2000 trying to pass on whatever research I have been working on as I see this as a continual and never ending quest.
I have been both privileged and fortunate to work with and record so many wonderfully talented musicians. Some of my favorites have been my good friend, legendary bassist Charlie Haden who played in the middle 50s with Ornette Coleman and later with Keith Jarrett and Pat Metheny. And Iona Brown with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra and Danish Philharmonic, who began as a teenager playing violin with, and eventually directing, St. Martin's In the Field – the most recorded ensemble in history. She also played in the string quartet for the Beatles video of Hey Jude. The Chicago scene is incredibly happening and has also been a huge source for great talent that I have recorded and produced over the years, often with the Naim Label. I love Naim’s audio equipment which I use as a reference. My current system is: a Linn Sondek LP12 turntable, Naim 553 preamp, Naim 500 power amp, various Naim CD players (when I use them), the new Naim NDS (UPNP player) with Naim 555 power supply, a Nagra IV-S analog, Nagra VI and LB digital recorders

Could you describe the recording and mastering process used by Naim Label, particularly high resolution? How does it differ from other recording techniques?
We are talking about True Stereo Recording and remastering to Hi Definition Digital (24/192). True Stereo recordings offer the listener a live, acoustically realistic perspective without processing or electronic manipulation of any kind. Done with a single pair of microphones, set up spaces with good natural acoustics, a textural dynamic quality is presented that simply cannot be achieved with multiple microphone techniques. Harmonic and spatial accuracy allow one to almost forget it's a recording, making the artist's true intentions more approachable.

My recording projects for the Naim label, as well as the majority of my personal projects have used only a single pair of microphones (AKG 414 EB circa 1978) in a method I have dubbed “True Stereo”. This is certainly not a new concept, and to me it just means trying to be true to the music. I have recorded everything from solo piano to 108 piece orchestras using this method which I have been personally researching and developing for as long as I have recorded. Nothing for me is so gratifying, as to be involved in the music making process, and hearing it on a great audio system in its sheer beauty.
Digital recording has evolved with Hi Definition formats (24/192). Done properly high resolution formats can offer truly superb quality. These True Stereo Recordings have been transferred from the Original Master Tapes on the Nagra IVS Analog to the Nagra VI Digital at 24/192 with great care to give the listener the ability to hear what we call the Closest Approach to the Original Sound.

What is your opinion about hi-res files? Is it a real high-end option?
I think the original recording is the most important and the music even more so, this is the true limitation of sound. Just having more bits means nothing unless you have a way to use them.
I believe Nagra has made a brilliant digital recorder with the VI and Naim Audio has created a playback system starting with the UnitiServer SSD and any of their streaming units, especially the NDS which is my current reference playback system. Most USB units that people are employing don't impress me much and sound flat. I generally prefer a good CD player. Done right, I think it is really engaging and the future looks good.

What are the most important things in a digital recording? And what about analog recordings?
I see them simply as storage mediums. It is the microphones and their use that makes the biggest difference. Digital is more accurate, analog is more beautiful, but this really depends on the particular recorder used. My preference is Digital: Nagra VI, Analog: Nagra 4S.

Which one do you prefer?
I love both but until I got the Nagra VI, I would not have ever made a digital recording.

Do you still use a turntable at home? How about a CD player?
I have been recording many of My 14,000 plus LP collection to high resolution digital since I got the Nagra VI, as well as a few hundred of my recordings. I have copied all my CD collection in the Naim sever but I was never a huge fan of CD sound. Although Naim really did a pretty good job with that medium. I really listen almost exclusively to the Naim streaming system. It is totally enjoyable to me and offers both convenience and wonderful musicality.

How has audio world changed since you started working in audio?
There a fewer people that appreciate or even recognize that high end audio exists. Life is much faster paced and many people just don't take the time to listen. For me nothing has changed. Music has been and will always be my spiritual guide in life. Working with great musicians is my favorite thing to do and listening to music is what I do.

Ken Christianson’s recording system

  • Nagra IV-S analog tape recorder, 7.5 ips (19 cm/s), with 3M 996 tape
  • Nagra VI (PCM 24/192) digital recorder
  • Matched pair of AKG 414 EB microphones from 1979
  • Philips CD-R burner (consumer)
  • Portable Sony DAT recorder
  • Naim Hi-Cap power supply
  • Naim Headline headphone amps (a few)
  • Beyerdynamic DT931 headphones (several pairs)

Naim Label CDs are available from

  • Naim True Stereo session while recording Pick Stieger’s album.
  • The interior of Lake Forest Chapel.
  • The interior of Ganz Hall.
  • The interior of St. Gregory’s Church.
  • The interior of Florida Church.
  • The entrance to EMI’s studios on Abbey Road.
  • The Nagra IV-S system during recordings at Abbey Road.
  • A master disc cutting system at Abbey Road.
  • Nagra VI in its full glory, in Ken’s system.
  • Charlie Haden & John Taylor during the recording session for the Nightfall album.
  • Patrick Noland and Pete Vancura at the Beverly Art Center during the recording sessions for Passage To Thought.