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Meridian Joins With Nimbus Records to Help Rejuvenate Classic Sound in DVD-A Releases Print E-mail
Tuesday, 14 September 2004
Meridian Audio has recently been working with classical music label Nimbus Records, helping to bring their catalog of 30 years of surround recordings to new life as a series of DVD-Audio/Video discs, the first of which are being released in the UK this month. Nimbus Records was an early adopter of the Ambisonic surround-sound system, which captures an entire sound field by using either a special microphone array or Ambisonic mixing console. Nimbus and Wyastone Leys made their "natural sound" surround recordings using a special Ambisonic microphone system. Although some of the archive is in Ambisonic B format, in many cases only 2-channel digital equipment was available, so the recordings were made in the stereo-compatible matrixed form of Ambisonics, 2-channel UHJ.

Nimbus recordings are noted for their natural technique, using a single microphone array placed in "the best seat in the house." The albums received critical praise, but due to the lack of availability of Ambisonic decoders, few were able to hear them in surround. The advent of DVD, and DVD-Audio in particular, has made it practical for Nimbus to start to issue thirty years of recordings - a catalog representing over a thousand original albums - in such a way that almost everyone can experience them in surround.

When it came to decoding the 2-channel UHJ used on many of the digital recordings, Nimbus turned to Meridian, one of the first Ambisonic licensees. Meridian systems today include full Ambisonic decoding as well as Trifield, a three-speaker stero technique developed by Michael Gerzon and based on Ambisonic principles. Meridian also invented MLP (Meridian Lossless Packing), the lossless compression technology at the heart of DVD-Audio, which includes special features that support Ambisonic signals.

Meridian R&D team members worked with Nimbus recording engineers to develop a workflow in which the UHJ source material was decoded in a UHJ software decoder to a square layout of four speaker feeds with 24-bit resolution (the recordings do not need to use the center front or LFE channels). These were then converted to 48kHz sample rate and encoded to 4-channel DTS for the DVD-Video zone of each disc; the 2-channel UHJ is also included in PCM format. The decoded speaker feeds were dithered and MLP-encoded at 88.2 kHz for the DVD-Audio zone.

The resulting discs comprise an ongoing "Surround Yourself With..." series. Five of them have been released initially - Elgar, Rakhmaninov, Beethoven, Schubert and American Classics - with another five to follow in about a month, with monthly releases after that. Each disc contains about 90-95 minutes of music playable in stereo-compatible UHJ or DTS surround for the DVD-Video listener, and MLP surround for DVD-A players. There are no menus in the DVD-Audio zone, and only basic ones on the DVD-Video zone, plus slides that display for about 10 seconds at the start of each item.

Future releases will include a collection of Caruso arias from the Nimbus "Prima Voce" series, in which original 78 rpm discs by famous artists of the past are captured in surround by playing them back on a carefully-restored gramophone, miked up with an Ambisonic microphone. Nimbus Records continues to make new recordings and planned releases will include new material as well as recordings previously issued on CD and vinyl.

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