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Various Artists - A High Resolution Audio Experience Print E-mail
Sunday, 20 November 2005
Image Just when we are about to lose faith in the music industry’s ability to understand that we the consumers are asking for more audio performance from the $16 disc we buy, we find an AIX Records. One could call them an “audiophile” record label, but that wouldn’t be completely fair, considering the spirit of the recordings. They are much more. AIX Records, the brainchild of producer and engineer Mark Waldrep, is a label designed to highlight what is possible in high-resolution surround sound music. They almost exclusively create their own music, unlike other fine record labels such as DTS and Silverline, which focus more on remixing and remastering existing and classic material. Ask anyone with a 5.1 home theater who loves surround sound for music and they will tell you they need all of these labels (and many more – yes, we are talking about you major labels who don’t put out very much DVD-Audio or SACD surround sound any more) to try to quench their thirst for sexy-sounding music that truly uses all of your speakers.

From the moment you pick up this disc, you notice it is different. Physically, the record comes in a DVD-like case with a full brochure on the label, which is quite useful in hunting down the album you want after hearing a song you like on this collection. Another interesting difference in the record is the way the songs are organized. Waldrep breaks the album down by genres and shows off his absolute best. These genres include Acoustic/Instrumental, Acoustic/Vocal, Classical, Electric/Instrumental, Jazz/Instrumental, Jazz Vocal and the R&B/Pop/Blues/Vocal category. In order to fit more music on the disc (it is a sampler, remember), Waldrep does what all top audio salespeople do – he gives you a sample from the top of the track to about the first chorus. The result is, you get 29 different tracks that cut straight to the chase to provide you the best in surround sound in a hurry. Of course, AIX wants you to hear the entire album, but when testing or showing off your system – this disc is the perfect tool to make a quick and gorgeous-sounding impression.
The Music
I am one who likes what surround sound critics call an “aggressive mix.” By aggressive, I don’t mean the highs are so bright they make your ears bleed like you are at a Blue Cheer concert. By aggressive, I mean that the mixing engineer makes a specific effort to get all six speakers (five fronts and a subwoofer for surround sound newbies) into the mix. Waldrep is a stud when it comes to this. On the lead-off track “Mosaic” by folksy guitarist Lawrence Juber, you start off with the most luscious and liquid-sounding guitar in the front of your stage. Within a few seconds, the track develops to add a shaking percussion that is mostly mixed for your rear speakers and gives you the sense that you are directly in the middle of the performers. At the end of the cut, you hear a percussive instrument that sounds to me like a triangle that gleams with nothing short of incredible acoustic energy but has no signs of harshness at all. “Mosaic” is the perfect track to test new speakers with, because you will know that if that triangle sounds even a little bit harsh that it is the speakers or the system, not the recording.

Track 8 from the Acoustic/Vocal genre is “Cold Outside” by Lowen and Navarro, which features a larger acoustic rock band. What is notable about this track is the way a more traditional, familiar band sounds when mixed into surround. The vocalist is presented to you in the front of the stage and you get more of an “in-the-club” feel, as opposed to the “on-the-stage” feel that I noted on the mix of the Juber track. Striking to the careful listener is the effect of all of the extra resolution on the extremely well-recorded drums. The snare has a pop and energy that you simply can’t get from a 16-bit compact disc recording. The cymbal crashes glisten with clean audio energy. They sound spectacular, keeping you riveted to your chair and making you glad you invested the money you did in your high-performance speakers.

From the classical genre comes one of the all-time best audio demos, which is the finale of Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. Stravinsky was the Metallica of the early twentieth-century composers who wrote and conducted classical music that could make French people riot in the streets of Paris. Today his music makes for as exciting a performance as you can hear on your system. The ending of what is a much longer performance is musically dramatic, to say the least. The mix shows Waldrep’s ability to respectfully present classical music from the audience perspective yet incorporates the .1 track to extend the bass of the tympanis and uses the rears judiciously in bringing what feels like the room reverberation from behind you. What caught my attention were the incredible-sounding xylophone melodies that flutter all over the front of the soundstage. It is so impressive that you will have to hear it twice. They you will get up and order the record from the AIX website because the best demo from The Firebird Suite is the “Dance of the Firebird,” which is longer and even more musically intense. Even if you don’t like classical music, these two demo tracks are must-haves for your music collection.

If you own a 5.1 music system and want to know what it can do, buy this disc. Musically it is all over the place but one thing is constant – the sound of the tracks, for various reasons, is way above average. I have heard some of the deepest bass and the most energetic yet never bright highs that I have ever heard on any disc. Get to know your system with this disc or use it to evaluate potential new purchases. I am going to send a few copies off to my friends who run or own big-time high-end audio companies. I think they should have A High-Resolution Audio Experience in all of their dealers’ stores. The audio just doesn’t get better than this in surround and there is a musical genre or two for even the most picky music fan. You can pick up a copy at audiophile music stores or order one or more from AIX’s website.

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