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First Impression Music, a company managed with a strong hand by an American with Chinese origin Mr Winston Ma, is nowadays one of the most interesting record labels on the market. Besides its original repertoire with jazz, Chinese and classical music, they deal with other label's reissues. Those other labels are e.g. Decca, EMI, Verve, Philips, JVC, TBM and some others. For years FIM inspired other labels and made them ask themselves a question: how are they pulling it off?

Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Translation: Marek Dyba

One of the most important attitudes of Mr Ma was his flexibility towards the format of the recordings. But still his main priority was the Compact Disc. Winston Ma owns a huge collection of vinyl records including Direct-Cuts, but it was a digital medium that intrigued him enough to start to explore its potential. Yes, I really meant exploration because even though CD has been on the market for 28 years now, it is still in its early stage and it is ready to be developed into something quite amazing. How could I know that? Thanks to people such as Mr Ma. He started with using HDCD coding and recording on golden CDs. I have a CD issued during this period - Cafe Blue Patricia Barber and that is one of the best sounding CDs that I ever heard, almost as good as Mobile Fidelity's 45 rpm vinyl record. The next step was JVC's development from 1996 called XRCD – eXtended Resolution Compact Disc. A new mastering technology - K2 – allowed to achieve 20 bit resolution from ordinary CD! Company utilized along new versions of this development – XRCD2 from 1998 and XRCD24 from 2002. The last one had its premiere in First Impression Music. It turn out however that all that was just a prelude to what we are dealing with now - K2HD. We've already discussed K2HD mastering before and we had a special meeting of Krakow Sonic Society (HERE), we've also reviewed several CDs of that kind (e.g.. HERE). It is in my opinion one of the key developments inside Compact Disc technology. Never before has the sound from this medium been so natural. One might find it weird that we still compare digital recordings to almost antique vinyl technology but that antique still offers the best sound reproduction quality available.

When I compare K2HD CD recording with vinyl one I find a gap in sound quality smaller than ever before. That is why „High Fidelity” awarded last year two Annual Rewards for records in K2HD standard., which has been by the way mentioned in the newest FIM's catalog.

I simply couldn't expect that Mr Ma would prepare something even better over such a short time. New series of CDs issued – apart from What A Wonderful Trio! – by daughter company - Lasting Impression Music, is breath taking. Firstly - repertoire seems to be tailored for me, secondly it is the best sound I've ever heard from digital medium. Maybe with one exception – sound from a 24/96 tape (yes tape and not Pro Tools). All FIM regular discs are made of 99.9999% silver. There are also Collectors Edition and Direct-from-Master Extremely Limited Edition discs made of 24 K gold. For the review I received standard versions (bit disappointing…), but already those amazed me. Two of received discs were made not in K2HD but with the newest FIM's „baby” - DXD format. Although the sound of those two is exceptionally good I personally find K2HD smoother and deeper sounding. Differences are subtle, both technologies are amazing fulfilling all expectation but I still can tell a difference. First CD recorded from master tape (files actually but habit is a second nature) in DXD technology is a copy of vinyl Direct-Cut record (Direct-Cut means in fact there is no master-tape) Jun Fukamachi At Steinway (Take 2) (review HERE), Japanese pressing. New DXD and K2HD however have been pressed in USA. I wonder how did it change the sound?

Details regarding the system and philosophy of recording, of First Impression Music and Winston Ma can be found at „Positive Feedback” HERE i HERE

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"High Fidelity OnLine" is an internet magazine, published since may 2004, devoted to high quality reproduction of sound and picture. It is a monthly magazine, but the articles are uploaded twice a month - in the beginning of the month and in the middle. The news column is updated on on-going basis, if possible. The main sections are: "Tests", "Events" (interviews, reportages, and similar), "Hyde Park" (user tests, opinions) and "Who asks..." (readers questions and HFOL answers). Articles from earlier issues can be read in the "Archive". Have a nice read!

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