The other day I was on Amazon’s Blu-ray Music top 600 list and noticed the comments of a fellow music lover about the Mahler Symphonies 1-7 on Blu-ray:

Five Stars on Amazon.com   The Ultimate Mahler Cycle June 20, 2011 By Carl J. Weber       “After being dazzled by opera on Blu-ray, I have now come to realize how live concert performances in this medium can offer even more listener involvement in the music and the performance than audio-only. It is totally engrossing, totally enjoyable. Not only does it exceed the hi rez audio-only listening experience, but in some ways, it exceeds even live performance because of the deftly done, intimate close-ups on stage.   This set has smitten me to an absolutely unprecedented degree. And, I will be seeking out and collecting concert Blu-rays from here on in. It is truly a fantastic new dimension in classical music enjoyment in the home, with close-ups of conductor and performers. It gets us closer to live performance than anything in any medium to date“. 

Blu-ray combines native, un-compressed 1080p HD video and the un-compressed bit-for-bit original studio master recording together in one new format  for the most profound home viewing and listening experience in history. Serious audio enthusiasts who fail to adopt this new format don’t know what they’re missing. 

By definition, any audio or video content you get over the internet or off a computer is compressed, including all streams and downloads regardless of the file type, bit length, or bandwidth.  All these music files are created by making a copy of the original CD, upsampled and re-clocked.  The CD is compressed 4 to 1, much better than MP3’s 10 to 1 ratio, but still missing the dynamic range of the live studio master.  No amount of processing can increase the dynamic range of a datafile if its not in the CD to begin with and in most cases crushes the dynamics (see measurements)  If you’ve ever wondered why CD and DVD were not good enough for Neil Young, that’s it, they lack the dynamic range he hears during a live performance.

The Neil Young Archives are out on Blu-ray, that should tell you something. The picture on the left is SADE, from her new concert on Blu-ray, projected on screen in my living room in HD at 111″ diagonal with Final Electrostats in a 5.1 configuration with double subs.  This is audio and video nirvana right now, at least by my definition.

CD’s can store 700 Mb of data.  Since its introduction in 1980, the CD has had the widest bandwidth, lowest distortion, and widest dynamic range (90 dB) in the history of recorded sound.  Vinyl records do not include treble frequencies,  they are injected by active equalization from the RIAA curve (see image) and the dynamic range is limited to 60 dB.  Cassettes were no better.  This is why vinyl albums will never sound as good, they have limitations in the bandwidth and dynamic range, along with high surface noise, just like earlier generations of media did, shellac 78’s and 45’s and cylinders before that.

The DVD-A came out in the mid 2000’s, with 8.9 Gb storage capacity. Meridian UK created a “lossless” (still compressed 2 to 1) audio codec known as MLP (Meridian Lossless Packing) that increased dynamic range by 10  dB, signficant to be sure, but still not compelling enough among the record companies except for audiophle labels and SACD/DVD-A fans.   However, movies with the new increased dynamic range began to appear on regular DVD’s and broadcasters adopted Dolby Digital EX as well, audio started to jump out of my system, cleaner and more alive than ever before.   You can hear the difference today when you change the channels on your cable box.  Some stations are still using the old standard, but others are capable of much higher fidelity because they suffer from less compression.

In 2007, Blu-ray was adopted as the storage media standard for this generation of HD music and movies because of it’s 50 Gigabyte storage capacity for un-compressed HD content.  Adopting HD for both audio and video at home requires some upgrading in the way we pass the signal from the source to the AVR or Preamp/Processor and on to the display and speaker system.  The Studios, both record and movie (in some cases they are the same) soon realized they had a huge problem; if consumers could make copies of these new HD discs, Blu-ray would set off the largest piracy of copyrighted material ever.

The Studios asked Intel to create a new secure transfer protocol for protecting this content from piracy.  They call it HDCP,  which stands for High Definition Content Protection.  It requires “authentication”, a digital handshake between the source and the display as well as the amplifier.  Without this authentication, the pure digital throughput is protected against piracy and the highest resolution audio and video will not playback.  At the beginning of every Blu-ray disc, a process of verification takes place to confirm a secure connection that cannot be copied.  You need an HDMI cable to gain access to this content, the amount of data being transferred and its speed cannot be done over analog coaxial or even SPDIF connectors.

A unique new niche market has opened up for Blu-ray Music Concerts by the world’s greatest artists in native 1080p with studio master quality audio.  The audio is played back bit for bit identical to the studio master recording for the first time in history, providing the actual dynamics of the live recording, 120 dB, the holy grail of hgh fidelity.   You can choose between LPCM 2.0 stereo and Dolby TruHD or DTS MasterHD multi-channel, all un-compressed for the first time.  For those who own big systems and big power amps, the listening experience is jaw-dropping, the way you always dreamed it could be.

The artists understand this is a new palette for the live performance arts, using 4K Ultra HD video of their own creation projected on giant 40′ screens to tell a story along with the music, creating a new art form, stunning and compelling from the moment you experience it.  Roger Waters is touring with the new all digital projection version of The Wall, soon to be released on Blu-ray.  3D texture mapping can produce a realistic looking planet earth within the Birdcage Stadium during the Beijing Olympics, and artists are using these techniques in concert to convey their own stories.

Classical music by Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and the rest were recorded in Europe last year and now out on Blu-ray allow the listener to see the conductors face as he uses his hands and his eyes to lead his orchestra.  We see the musicians up close, feel their emotion;  you can’t do that at a live concert… its a new kind of listening experience, more involving and rewarding than simply listening.  Once you go there, you really can’t go back either, you can only go forward.

As of this post, there are over 4600 Blu-ray music titles released.  On Nov 19 the 2007 Led Zepplin Reunion Concert comes out on Blu-ray.  Its exciting to be an audiophile again, we have finally reached the promised land.

Lets go!  Here is a link to my current favorite Blu-ray music concerts.