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AIX All Stars - Surrounded by Christmas Print E-mail
Tuesday, 28 October 2003

AIX All Stars - Juber, Cox, Sklar, Forman, Ferraro - 96/24/5.1

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Surrounded by Christmas
format: DVD-Audio
label: AIX Records
release year: 2003
performance: 8
sound 9.5
reviewed by: Tim Hart

ImageThe holidays just aren’t complete without some form of Christmas music to usher in the good cheer. Let’s be honest, Perry Como has wore out his welcome. I think I have found a replacement, though. This replacement is sporting the latest recording technology, to boot. Enter AIX Records. I had the good fortune to review an AIX production two months ago in Laurence Guber’s Guitar Noir. Well, Mark Waldrep, the founder of AIX Records, has recruited Guber and a host of other L.A. musicians to create Surrounded By Christmas.

You might recall that I raved about the quality of the AIX purist approach to recording and laying down the tracks. As a refresher, AIX Records does not take an existing song or tape and give it the 5.1 treatment. From the outset, the recording process starts out using state-of-the-art 96 kHz/24 bit analog to digital converters, then masters in the digital domain also in 96 kHz/24 bit, then utilizes AIX’s proprietary HD mastering, gleaned from years of working with high resolution in both analog and digital domain. To get the full details of their recording philosophy, visit their website at

Helping Guber out is an artist from on the Guitar Noir project, percussionist Steve Forman. He is joined by Jim Cox on piano, Leland Sklar on bass and John Ferraro on drums. All of these gentlemen as session players have resumes that span all genres of music, and all have all played for some of the most groundbreaking bands in music history. One would expect the musicianship on this effort to be unquestionable and I’m here to confirm that this is indeed the case.

As soon as the first tune, “What Child Is This,” starts playing, there is no denying that the DVD-A format can be startling in its presentation. Even after hearing other DVD-A projects, the AIX Records formula for recording takes this format to the next level. The 5.1 MLP “stage mix” of this song has Guber’s guitar centered and slightly back in the soundstage. The three-dimensional aspect of the guitar has an analog-like presentation heard only on a megabuck analog playback system. The detail of the plucked strings, the resonance of the body of the guitar and the right amount of midrange bloom are captured with great precision. The piano is no less clearly portrayed, placed towards the left of the soundstage. You can discern the hammer hitting the strings and the clicking of the keys as Cox works the ivory. Forman has maracas and chimes floating around the room, their shimmering texture bright and detailed.

“Oh Tannenbaum” has been given a jazzy facelift. Drums and cymbals take on a more lifelike character. The decay of the cymbals after being struck doesn’t sound edgy or grainy, as they do with instruments recorded on CD. That natural ring requires more information than a CD can support and it really shows here.

“I Saw The Ships” has a Celtic flair at the beginning, with well-articulated drums and guitar, which provides a nice space around these instruments. Midway through the song, the piano joins in, changing the tempo a bit and adding another dimension to the tune before return to the Celtic tempo. Throughout this song, I noticed how well balanced the instruments were in the mix, one never overshadowing the other, allowing all of the nuance from each player to come through with crystal clarity.

This balance is apparent through the entire disc. I would focus on each instrument for 10 to 20 seconds each, then listen to it as a whole and was impressed by how the mixing for each channel was handled. It is a testament to how well the mix was done that it does not call attention to itself.

The percussion on ”Good King Wenceslas,” utilizing bongos for the beat, conveys the hand hitting the skin with a tangible presence I’ve not heard before on a recording. This happened many times while I was listening to the disc – an instrument would produce a sound that was a perfect reproduction of its live version, something you don’t always hear reproduced properly at home. The future seems bright for music lovers indeed.

The DVD-Audio is a two-sided disc. One side, which is marked with a red band, is relegated to the DVD-A 96 kHz/24-bit MLP 5.1 “stage” mix and will only play in DVD-Audio players. The other side, which is marked with a blue band, has the extras, including the song tracks in 96 kHz/24-bit two-channel PCM, some session video and rehearsal photos, biographies and photo gallery, system set-up and a “how to use this disc” section.

Holiday music in my house this Christmas season just got a major upgrade. I can’t wait to see what kind of response I’ll get when I pop this disc into the player while entertaining this month. Treat yourself as well. The high resolution of this 96 kHz/24-bit 5.1 MLP disc will astound you with the quality of the recording, as well as offering a glimpse of things to come in the future of music. Happy Holidays.

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