It’s widely known that no one have managed to construct, market and sell a functional successor to music CDs. Such things as Super Audio CD and DVD-Audio, failed from a series of devastatingly handicapping factors which included failing to get support from contemporary artists, very strict copy protection for its time, and a lack of blank ROM discs of their formats. Things have got so bad in terms of finding a CD successor, that both listeners and artists alike have increasingly turned back to LP records to get a better audio experience.
But after many years of planning, Blu-Ray decided to chip in on the steadily decreasing super-hi-fi audience, and created BD-Audio, poising with the support of DTS-HD Master Audio. But this new format failed so very hard as to have been virtually non-existent, and its only use in the end, and I do mean only, was for bragging rights between a small handful of choirs. If you not only saw those nirvanas, but also somehow decided to buy one of those choir albums whose main distinction is a lighter shade of blue on the Blu-Ray cover’s plastic, you’ve got yourself a possible collector’s object already. Yay!
But all these setback did not truly wipe out the movement, since there were still some skilled audio mixers out there who were hiding around in their nests, who really wanted to use the Blu-Ray Disc’s full potential for 192kHz audio mixing with DTS-HD support. And then a fusion was created, using BD video standards, Java menus, support on every not-too-old Blu-Ray player, region-free disc coding, and the almost untainted sound. It became slightly known… as Pure Audio Blu-Ray!
For this review, I have solely used a bought Blu-Ray copy of Quiet Winter Night played by “Hoff Ensemble”. I had also bought a 5.1 remaster of Bryan Adams’ Reckless, but the webstore I used, failed to tell me that it was out of stock until after I had ordered it, and I am still waiting for them to stock it again.
Quiet Winter Night is an album of the slow jazz genre, bordering on the level of chamber music. It was recorded in a local church, and features remixes from the Norwegian advent calendar programmes Jul i Blåfjell (literally translated as Christmas in Blue Mountain) and Jul på Månetoppen (Christmas on Moon Peak). The genre of “advent calendar programmes” are very unique to the Nordic countries, and consist of a one-season 24-episode run that last from the 1st of December and until the 24th of December. While Swedish and Danish advent shows are targeted to tweens, Norwegian advent shows are either children or adult, depending on the channel that airs it.
Both of the album’s source programmes were targeted to children, and they’re largely about the nisse creatures of Nordic mythology. Jul i Blåfjell got its name because their main type of nisse were very fond of the colour blue, and lived inside the mountain with very severe restrictions on walking outside of it. There were a red type of nisse too, associated with farms in the countryside, and whose involvement with the blue nisse over the years ranged from “at war” to “non-existent”, the latter being because the red nisse technically got their own program on air (Amalies jul) first by several years.
While the original songs were largely based on various ancient folk instruments, this album of jazz remixes focus more on piano, various fiddles, a type of drum I can’t identify, and classical-style singers. There are often substantial changes to the songs’ structure as well, making the songs longer, sung in Norwegian West Coast and South Coast dialects, and a few of the album’s 14 songs have been turned into instrumentals.
Links to streaming services that stream the album includes http://www.deezer.com/album/6128116?utm_source=deezer&utm_content=album-6128116&utm_term=692437151_1455155978&utm_medium=web for the worldwide available Deezer, and tidal.com/album/18151467 for the harshly regionally limited TIDAL. It’s very probably on Spotify and New Napster too.
With all this vital info out of the way, now I can begin to really talk about how the format works, and how to get the most out of it. This album, and many others of the same format, feature two sound mixes in parallel: 5.1 192kHz DTS-HD Master Audio, and 2.0 192kHz LPCM.
If you have a surround system, it’s of course logical that you’ll opt for the DTS-HD track, but there are some requirements to keep in mind. Your surround system must have HDMI In, except if the surround system itself has an integrated Blu-Ray player. TOSLINK will not work quite that well, since it would only bring you the lower-style DTS 5.1. If you’ve bought the surround system within the last 4-7 years or so, there’s a very high chance that it features 192kHz support. You may need to change the system settings of your Blu-Ray player or PS3 to use “Bitstream” and “5.1 DTS-HD”. A failure to find either of those two settings will lead to the sound becoming remixed to PCM, which while preserving the surround speakers and a large amount of their effects, will not please sound purists at all. On the PS4, those are hid in a playback menu instead of in the system settings.
If you have a soundbar or a normal TV, you’ll very likely want to use 2.0 PCM, since the 5.1 mix accounts heavily for back-wall echo, and the 2.0 mix doesn’t need that. This is normally not a problem when watching movies, since the soundtracks in movies are required to also be changed down to stereo without noticeable drawbacks. In the case of a soundbar, you should set the sound to 96kHz, but if you use a plain TV and nothing else, you can only make due with 48kHz.
In regards to 192kHz, this is a contentious issue. Biologists would say that 192kHz is absolute overkill for human ears’ perception, which is often said to be maxing out at 30kHz or so. Audiophiles, and to a large degree me, would say that the difference can be noticed in regards to acoustics and echo, on the condition that your living room have a pleasant acoustic beforehand. But while I honestly felt an improvement in the jump from 48kHz to 96kHz, I do think that any improvements from 96kHz to 192kHz would be miniscule… at best!
But the top tip that I will give you, and this is actually a very important step on the list, is to turn off any sort of DRC or volume balance on your player. A failure to do so, will make the music sound only slightly better than a mere FM broadcast. And there’s a very high chance that you do have it turned on, if you’re concerned about sudden very high noise jumps when watching movies of most genres.
After all these steps, let yourself be captivated by the music. Upon loading, the disc jumps straight to a main menu of sorts, featuring a box of track numbers, and some other features and settings. Selecting a standard song track will not take you away from the still-image main menu.
One feature that this particular disc has, is the mShuttle music extraction service, which allows the 14 songs and 1 bonus track to be downloaded from the disc in FLAC and MP3 formats, as well as AAC if I don’t remember very wrong. The service works like this:
You need to connect your Blu-Ray player to the internet, oftentimes meaning that you’ll need to place your player on whichever random spot you have where you can plug an Ethernet cable inside it. Using a PS3 or PS4 will not work for this. Run the disc and select the mShuttle option on the main menu. At this point, open a computer’s web browser in the house and insert your Blu-Ray player’s IP address in your address bar. It can be rather complicated to find the correct address, so it’s recommended to have a router surveillance program (like NETGEAR Genie) that can tell you about your current network unit tree, or to know how your router’s settings can be accessed. Upon inserting the right address, you’re now shown a menu for the album’s songs.
From here, you can download the song files locally from your Blu-Ray player. This music disc had two FLAC options for each song, “FLAC 192” and “FLAC 96”. In contrast to how it may sound like, this is about their kHz levels, and not about their kilobit/second rates. Trust me when I say that a 96kbps FLAC file would be the biggest joke since the United Nations Security Council; it’s normally supposed to be several hundred kilobits, if not a few thousand.
So to conclude, I can only really say that the format works for the very most part. You get the sound, the unbridled sound that is very likely the very reason that you would ever want to buy such albums at all. It’s a good format with support for things it’d need to have support for in order to be functional, and most of all, it sounds about 10 million billion times better than those sound-ruining live concert movies that almost everyone have had to make due with otherwise. The album was bought for ~220,̵ (€23 / £19) plus a freight of 25,̵ , so your budget won’t suddenly plummet under your feet.
Overall, I give the Pure Audio Blu-Ray format, a Thumbs Up™©™™©!