During the original review process, Audiophilia writer Karl Sigman met up with fellow New Yorker Jonathan Levine, CEO and Founder of Master & Dynamic, maker of the outstanding MH40 Headphones.

Karl suggested to Levine a follow up with me as listener. Happy to oblige. So, too, Levine. He was deep into email correspondence with me as the Sigman meeting was finishing. Levine is a go getter. Full of New York energy and creativity, as described by Sigman.

My headphones, along with the beautifully simple headphone stand, arrived at my door 3500 miles away two days later.

The first thing the purchaser will notice is the packaging. Apple standard. You’ll feel a little special opening the product. You’ll feel a lot special when you see the workmanship, design and overall quality for the first time. Everybody that visited the new house over the past few weeks wanted the set immediately. Lots of oohs and aahs.

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St. John Passion
Bob Chilcott (b. 1955)
Chaconne Brass
Wells Cathedral Choir and soloists / Matthew Owens
Signum Records SIGCD412
[67:46]

What a lovely discovery. The choral music of Bob Chilcott. This recording popped up in the Tidal HiFi new releases and I thought I’d give it a try.

Chilcott is a long time favourite of English choral music fans. A member of King’s College Choir in the 60s to a member of the wonderful The King’s Singers and on to composer, consultant and choir director.

Chilcott’s style is melodic and harmonious. Very accessible. Not an Eric Whitacre clone, but you get the idea. He’s not afraid of large scale works — his Requiem has become mainstream repertoire and I would think the same will happen to his new St. John Passion. Another fella wrote one of these with the same name, so Chilcott does not shy away from musical challenges.

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There are many surveys each year about the world’s great cities — ‘most livable’, most beautiful setting’, etc. Vancouver, BC is invariably at or near the top of each list. It has just about everything a city lover could wish for, with only two ‘negatives’. Rain and housing. Lots and very lots! 1500 mm a year and a 1.4 million dollar average for a single family house. You read it correctly. Yet, the city grows and grows. And there is no doubt about its stunning beauty. Once visited, never forgotten.

My trip to audio shows usually includes a plane ride or two. Since our move to Audiophilia West (Victoria, BC — the only sub Mediterranean climate in Canada, equally beautiful as Vancouver with 1/3 the rain and average housing half the price), no plane for this short trip. BC Ferries sails hourly for the 100 km cruise northeast. So much more pleasant than flying. WiFi, good food and wine and the Gulf Islands as backdrop.

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15 Variationen mit Fuge Es-dur op. 35
“Eroica-Variationen”
Sonate No. 21 C-dur op. 53 “Waldstein”
Sonate No. 23 f-moll op. 57 “Appassionata”

Emil Gilels, piano

I don’t usually do reviews of discontinued CDs, but this recent gift I received is so brilliant, I thought our readers should have a chance to search for it. The original price of $79.00 will be hard to find. Many Esoteric CDs are going for twice, five times, even ten times the original price. The Solti Ring goes for $1500 and up. Yes, Esoteric remasters are that good.

These Beethoven performances cobbled from several 70s DGG releases could not be finer. They are musically and technically from the mind and fingers of a giant. Where the Waldstein can sound a little like a technical exercise or even cartoonish in some hands, Gilels finds the rich nourishment between the myriad of notes. The Appassionata is just that, and plenty of it. But so controlled. This is not 50 Shades of Gilels, all grey and soulless. It heaves, breathes, and surges. And in all the right places. It’s also the most technically assured performance I’ve heard. Listen to the last page and witness utter control — with others, it always seem to go just about off the rails. Not with Gilels.

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​What the heck is it and what does it do? Also, I never heard of a product with a name as awkward to say as this one. Only an engineer or physicist, totally unconcerned with marketing, would come up with a name like that. The only rationale I could think of for having such a difficult name is a product that has a slogan, ‘with a name like that it better be good’. Well, is it?

Let me back track a little. I became aware of the qØl at a speaker demo of Alta Audio’s Statement Tower speakers at 202 Audio located in New Jersey. One of the attendees at the demo, put on CD that he’d made and everyone commented on its exceptional sound quality. He let us in on his secret — the use of a qØl in the recording chain. Interestingly, he was getting great results using mp3 and FM radio as his source. I later spoke to him and he gave me the contact info for qØl and that was the genesis of this review.

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Charles Richard-Hamelin, piano

Charles Richard-Hamelin, piano

April 26, 2015. Walter Hall, Toronto, ON — I have the great pleasure of reviewing the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto (WMCT) ‘Music in the Afternoon’ chamber music series. The venerable series has been a staple of Toronto’s musical life for 117 years.

25 years ago, the WMCT instituted its Career Development Award (CDA), a competition with some serious cash awards to ‘assist exceptional young Canadian musicians who are already engaged in a professional performing career’. The three performers for 2015, all based in Montreal, pianist Pierre-André Doucet, pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin, and cellist Stéphane Tétreault were chosen as finalists by CBC producers from 10 nominees. All three musicians are exceptional and in their final years of post graduate study, on a very positive trajectory.

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The internet version of the gutter press has been agog about streaming services since Jay Z and his crew purchased Tidal Hi Fi, a competitor to Google Play Music offering a high definition streaming service. I reviewed it as the starry lineup organized the launch, so avoided the onslaught of nonsense associated with the takeover. As a service that fits my audiophile lifestyle, I really like Tidal.

I have been using Google Play Music for almost six months. The ‘All Access’ subscription is US$9.99 per month. For the reasonable rate, users can stream any track in the Google catalogue and create custom radio stations.

The Google Play Music mobile app allows tracks to be stored on your device and listened to offline.

For the audiophile, the one overriding caveat would be sound quality — the compression was heard easily on my SONOS system and through my Masters & Dynamic MH40 headphones. For civilians, the maximum of 320 Kbps in MP3 format will be just fine, but for those with revealing systems, the difference between Google Play and Tidal’s 1411kbps, 16-bit/44.1 kHz FLAC and ALAC music streams is significant. Is Tidal’s improvement worth a $10 premium over the Google subscription price? I think so, but most probably not. Especially as the Google catalogue is spectacular. Of course, it has all the Top 40 and the like, but the jazz/classical catalogue is unmatched in the streaming world. Tidal and Rdio come close, but Google is still king.

So, a choice. Audiophiles may want plonk down the extra ten bucks for Tidal, but for the rest of the world, Google Play Music will do nicely.

website

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Almost an impossibility considering the variables, this list is made up of orchestras emphasizing technical viruosity, brilliant soloists, valued traditions, blend and balance, flawless intonation and ensemble, unique timbres, conductor draw, musical consistency at home and on tour, etc. As money, music directors, favours are continually in flux, we could do another list next year (or, maybe next month) and it may look completely different. But, for now, this is how Audiophilia sees it (as of 2015).

You’ll see a few changes this year. Conductors are making a big difference in Philadelphia and Boston, working conditions in London still hinder consistency, awful halls in New York, London (x2), Toronto and Munich don’t help the big picture, luster has rubbed off some conductors, including Gergiev (LSO), and the death of Claudio Abbado has had an obvious effect on his very gifted child, the Lucerne Festival Orchestra.

2015

1. Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
2. Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
3. Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam
4. Chicago Symphony Orchestra
5. Boston Symphony Orchestra
6. London Symphony Orchestra
7. Philadelphia Orchestra
8. The Cleveland Orchestra
9. Dresden Staatskapelle
10. Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra

Honorable Mention: Leipzig Gewandhaus

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