Naim Label launches first Super Hi Definition download

Uncategorised By Dec 16, 2011

Some 14 years after the original recording was released as a Naim Label CD, Meet Me In London by world-renowned guitarist Antonio Forcione and sublime singer Sabina Sciubba is being reborn, but this time as a super hi definition download.

The 24bit/192kHz download represents a major investment for Naim Label.  This isn’t a quick ‘digitise the master and bung it out’ release. Meet Me In London (192kHz Super Hi Definition Edition) is a back to the 24 track, remix and remaster by the experienced hands of Tony Platt at Strongroom Studios with final mastering by Ray Staff at Air Mastering in Hampstead London.

As Antonio Forcione says “Remixing Meet Me in London was a very rewarding experience. Listening back to it now is like observing a starry night through a very powerful telescopic lens – suddenly you see things you didn’t realise were there in the first place … Amazing!!”

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The label’s investment matches the investment of its parent company Naim Audio that has recently updated its network players and all-in-one streaming products to 24bit/192kHz capability.

Meet Me In London (192kHz Super Hi Definition Edition) can be downloaded from:

One lucky downloader will win a Naim ND5 XS 24bit/192kHz capable network player. Closing date 31st March 2012.  This new player has already received five stars reviews from What Hi-Fi? Sound & Vision the UK’s top selling specialist hi-fi magazine and an award from Hi-Fi Choice magazine.

Watch the Meet Me In London – Reborn in 192kHz video here:

The Process

The original album was recorded on 24-track Ampex tape in analogue and without any Dolby noise reduction at September Sound in Twickenham. To ensure the ultimate quality of transfer for this project, Naim engaged the services of legendary producer Tony Platt, whose CV reads like a who’s who in music: Bob Marley, AC/DC and Gary Moore, Buddy Guy, Soweto Kinch and Foreigner to name but a few. The playback of the analogue masters and capturing as 24bit digital WAV files was being undertaken at Strongroom Studios in London. Strongroom is part of the Air Studios group and is one of the finest studios available with world-class engineering and facilities. Artists such as Dido, David Gray, James Taylor, Kaiser Chiefs and Snow Patrol have all recorded there.

Fortunately, the master tapes were found to be in good condition and did not require any oven baking to consolidate the oxide layer – a problem that can plague old masters.

The process of capturing the digital WAV files in 24bit resolution at 192kHz in Pro-Tools began by playing the original masters on a Studer A800 MKII analogue tape machine. The A800 is universally regarded as one of the most faithful and accurate 2-inch reel-to-reel tape machines ever built.

The playback feed from the Studer, carefully aligned to the original tapes using the test tones recorded at the time, was routed into a Digidesign analogue to digital converter and monitored via the Digidesign D-Control ES mixing console. This state-of-the-art console is fully integrated with Pro-Tools HD, enabling control of the recording to be undertaken either via the console or from within Pro-Tools itself. The captured 24bit/192kHz WAV sound files were saved to hard disk.

The next step of the process was to convert the digital files back into analogue to enable them to be mixed on a Neve analogue mixing console. Why not just use the original analogue master on the Neve and avoid all the A-D and D-A conversion? Given their 14-year age it was considered that the tapes wouldn’t have survived the repeated playback required during mixing. Making a duplicate analogue master and mixing from that would have introduced additional tape noise, which would have been obvious on 24bit/192kHz playback. Alternatively mixing on the Digidesign console entirely in the digital domain would have meant using certain plug-ins that only operate at 16 or 24bit/44.1 or 48kHz and would have necessitated down-conversion of the digital signal. None of these other options were considered desirable from a sound quality point of view.

The Neve was chosen for mixing because of its superb sound quality. The Apogee Symphony A-D was used post mix to convert back to digital as it interfaces directly with Pro-Tools HD, sounds fabulous and Tony didn’t want to feed the audio back through the same convertor twice.

Mastering again presented questions in whether to convert to analogue to apply final eq and limiting or to stay within digital but with a smaller choice of tools. Listening tests determined that staying in digital was the obvious choice – a decision made easier by the availability of the excellent Sonnox plug-ins that are capable of supporting 24bit/192kHz. The plug-ins were used to add slight touches of eq and gentle limiting to maximise the overall musical presentation.

Tony Platt when asked about the process replied, “I was absolutely delighted to be asked to oversee this remixing project for several reasons. Most notably because I have been a fan of Antonio’s playing for some time but also because the chance to open the subtle nuances of such wonderful music with a high resolution remix doesn’t come along every day!

Normally, in my role of producer and engineer, I am trying to record and mix music to sound good through the worst possible playback situation so I had to re-adjust my perspective slightly without letting myself becoming so carried away with the process that I lost sight of the album as a musical work. This was occasionally difficult because the world of 192kHz is relatively uncharted and the technical challenges kept us very much on our toes.

However, I think we have stayed true to the original whilst releasing aspects of the performances that were hitherto not so clear and accessible. I find this version to be extremely listenable because the space and perspective this format allows enables the listener to really enter the room with the musicians.”

About the original recording

Naim Label guitar virtuoso Antonio Forcione was touring Europe, when he chanced upon the stunning tone and control of twenty-something Sabina Sciubba at an after-show celebration in Hamburg. Upon his return to the UK, he made a beeline for Naim Audio with a spur-of-the-moment idea to take this amazing young lady into the studio. Antonio and Sabina exchanged demo tapes and song ideas until in the autumn of 1997, the two met at September Sound Studio in Twickenham to record an album of popular reinterpretations and originals. The resultant LP, Meet Me In London, became Naim’s most successful album to-date and is to this day cherished by audiophiles and music lovers the world over.

What is hi definition and super hi definition audio?

There is no specific standard of hi definition audio. We have all become accustomed to CD quality audio, which is 16bit/44.1kHz, so any audio with a sample rate of above 48kHz or a bit-depth greater than 16bit can be referred to as hi definition. At the Naim Label we describe hi definition audio as being between 24bit/44.1kHz and 24bit/96kHz. Above that we describe downloads as Super hi definition.

What are the benefits of hi definition?

The very simple answer is higher sound quality. As the sample rate increases then so does the maximum frequency of a waveform that can be reproduced. The musical notes in themselves may not extend to the (theoretical) 22kHz maximum of even CD reproduction, but the harmonics of notes that give music its ‘feel’ do – and well beyond too!

Is it a case of the larger the numbers the better the quality with regards to bit-depth and sample rate?

As the bit-depth (16bit to 24bit) of an uncompressed audio file increases then the potential dynamic range of the recorded signal increases too – this is the difference between the loudest and quietest sounds that can be recorded. With a 16bit source then the recordable dynamic range is 96dB whereas with a 24bit source then the dynamic range is 144dB. It is possible that the full dynamic range of a 24bit recording would not be usable due to physical limitations of the hardware in either the recording or playback chains. Similarly, the production and mixing stages of the recording process can (and usually do) involve a pass through a processor called a compressor whose purpose is to increase the level of quiet portions of the music and to reduce the loud bits so that you’re not always adjusting the volume to hear what’s playing at a comfortable level.

What file types are there and which is best?

Uncompressed file formats provide the best sound quality in our experience – so WAV or AIFF.
Lossless formats, such as FLAC and ALAC may mathematically extract to provide the same raw data as their uncompressed brethren. However, they generally require significantly greater processing power to unpack and the trade-off here is generally that the noise floor suffers slightly when playing back; as the hardware has to work harder and this creates additional electronic noise and interference. However, the differences are small – some people can’t hear them – so don’t worry if your favourite music arrives as a FLAC file.
Lossy compressed files such as AAC and MP3 should generally be avoided where sound quality is important but may be useful for portable or car use. 320kbps is a very good compromise between file size and sound quality for mobile use.