This well-played collection of some of the Hayden Quartets is an interesting step along the evolution of high quality sound reproduction in the home. The Blu-ray disc, billed as ‘TACET Real Surround Sound’ has a non-standard but interesting approach to getting high quality sound to the listener.
The disc contains a 5.1 channel mix, or a 2 channel mix. Although billed as a 5.1 disc, the liner indicates that actually only 4 channels are used, no center or subwoofer channel. In the multichannel mix, we get each instrument in the quartet occupying one channel; first and second violin in the left and right channel respectively; viola and cello in the left and right rear. In the stereo mix, the rear channels are folded forward. The disc usually starts playing in the surround mode as soon as it is placed into your Blu-ray component so it does not require a video display.
This arrangement pre-supposes that the speakers will be closely matched, but more normally, the surround speakers are smaller, and a subwoofer takes care of most of the low end. That’s the setup I have, so the rear channels were not really playing at equal fidelity, or at least the frequency response between front and rear channels was different owing to the size of the speakers. The recording still sounded quite good, but it seems like a theory based on playback systems that many people do not have. [I have identical front and surround speakers and I love their separate-channel setups—and haven’t found the smaller center channel speaker a detriment on their quintet recordings…Ed.]
That said, let’s move on to the music. We get very solid performances of Haydn’s Op. 2, Quartets 1, 2 and 4 and 6. The performance is by the Auryn Quartet, a fine group of musicians, that has played together for 30 years, no small accomplishment. The Auryn Quartet was awarded the 2009 (Haydn) and the 2010 (music to a children’s story) Echo Klassik Prize, and the 2011 Annual Prize of the German Record Reviewers for their recordings of the entire Haydn quartets, and this disc is part of that series.
These are excellent performances, and the engineering of the recording has sharply defined positions for the quartet, and a lovely reproduction of the recording venue acoustics. One could quibble with some of the technical decisions made, and I think I would have preferred a more standard 5.1 recording with the quartet up front and hall ambiance in the rear, but the recording still sounds very good and very live.
We’ve seen DVD Audio come and mostly go, SACD is still with us, but it was never a mainstream success, and now we are getting Blu-ray discs configured as audio only music carriers. This is a novel variation on the theme in terms of instrument placement, and while I don’t think this arrangement will become dominant, this is a very nice recording and a sublime performance. [The switch to Blu-ray by some labels is based upon there being a greater penetration of Blu-ray decks out there than SACD-compatible decks…Ed.]Mel Martin