Elgar recording with the LSO in 1914.
Before discussing audiophile recordings, it is useful to understand the history of orchestral recording. Whilst there is much debate about the first recordings, there is no doubt that early last century there were two leading figures in early orchestral recording. Edward Elgar, with the London Symphony Orchestra, who made the first recording at Abbey Road and Leopold Stokowski, with the Philadelphia Orchestra, who recorded the soundtrack for Disney’s Fantasia. Without these early pioneers orchestral recording would not be where it is today.
Mid 1900’s there were many attempts to produce the perfect audiophile recordings. From the Decca ‘phase4experience’, Mercury’s ‘Living Pleasure’ and RCA ‘Living Stereo’. These methods actually gained as much criticism as praise for their unnatural sound and were soon dropped; in many ways they are similar to the modern day Telarc ‘über reality’ film CDs with the Cincinnati Pops – great for the cinema but not very purist!
Towards the end of last century audiophile consumers were looking for a more natural and balanced sound but recorded at much higher resolutions (up to 24bit and 192Khz) and in multi-channel configurations. The three main contenders were HDCD, SACD and DVD Audio. Again these were fairly short lived and, since 2007, very few recordings are released in these formats. This is a shame as some of these are the best recordings I have ever heard (both performance and recording), although I do find the LSO Live recordings very dry and lacking acoustic character.
The DVD Audio recordings are generally 5.1 surround sound recordings, however my personal opinion is that they are not effective or realistic and tend to be a little over produced and unnatural (sound limited to stereo on examples):
A complete list of known 5.1 orchestral recordings can be found here.
The average consumer now wants music in downloadable formats for portable players. Fortunately there are still companies releasing hi-res audio files of orchestral repertoire, some in compressed (but lossless) FLAC, with free samples to try. Some of these files can be as ridiculously hi-res as raw audio (32bit, 352Khz)!
What will recorded music sound like in 50 years? John La Grou, founder and CEO at Millennia Music & Media Systems, forecast how recorded sound will evolve over the coming decades.