​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.

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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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Classic film scores by Sir Malcolm Arnold — The Roots of Heaven; David Copperfield [62:09]
Naxos Film Music Classics
Naxos 8.573366

Arnold is mostly remembered today for his English Dances which have been used for many TV shows but during the 1950s he was a regular composer for major movies and his score for Bridge over the River Kwai won him an Oscar in 1958.

In later life he battled mental health problems and lived an erratic lifestyle, his family found the battered and chipped Oscar statuette holding open the bathroom door – a sad end to what had been a fine movie career.

These two scores show just how good he was at handling the demands of writing for the screen. The Roots of Heaven was directed by John Huston and starred Errol Flynn and Trevor Howard in a tale of elephant poachers in Africa and although it received mixed revues at the time both Arnold and Howard received much praise for their work. The score has a sweep and grandeur that befit a Hollywood epic produced by Darrell F Zanuck and the Moscow orchestra play it with great enthusiasm and energy.

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TIDAL HiFi (Tidal) introduced its product as ‘the first music streaming service that combines the best High Fidelity sound quality, High Definition music videos and expertly Curated Editorial’.

Just as the cell phone size wars have come to an end with the large iPhone 6 Plus, I think the same has happened with music delivery formats. Other than getting a chip inserted in your brain, ‘streaming’ high fidelity music from the Cloud is the end of the technological road for audiophiles. From mono records through to CD and beyond, we’ve arrived. Streaming is the final monolith.

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Over the last year and a half, I have been paying careful attention to stereo headphones. Before then, I had a kind of ‘who cares’ attitude towards them. I ruled that a fine stereo system at home with excellent speakers and such was all one needs—using headphones was audio blasphemy. But the recent surge in high-quality headphones together with specialized amps for accommodating them wowed me in sound quality, turned me around and caused me to reevaluate my stand. I am talking about over-the-ear high-end closed models in what follows. My focus has been on closed since otherwise the sound will be heard by others around you and one can hear external noise (buses, cars, kids): that is not what I want. It would defeat my purpose of using headphones in the first place versus just playing my system.

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Vancouver is a short ferry ride from Audiophilia West, here in in beautiful Victoria, BC. So, it is fortuitous for us that Chester Group, who are slowly gobbling up all the major players in the audio show business, has organized an audio show in Canada’s most beautiful city. The city deserves one.

Here’s hoping the inaugural Vancouver show is the first of many and emulates the development and popularity of Chester Group’s sister shows.

Of course, we’ll be there to report. And as always, Audiophilia’s show report will be published by 9:00 a.m. PST the morning after the show closes.

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