NAGRA-Ds Quality Recordings
Not one, but three of producer Jonathan R. Wearn's recordings are currently on the Gramophone Critics Choice awards listings for the 1996 and the nominations list for the Classic CD awards: the two most prestigious classical recording review publications in the UK. His recordings of the Liszt Organ Works, performed by Nicolas Kynaston on the very famous Klais Organ of Ingolstadt Munster, for Carlton Classics' IMP Masters series (IMP 30366 00032) has been receiving terrific reviews everywhere and was initially the Editor's Choice in July issue of the Gramophone . This has been given a first placing in the Critics' Choice listings with his rerecording of the famous Saint-Saen Organ Symphony for the same label (IMP 30366 00012) winning a second place. Meanwhile the Liszt recording has been nominated for a Classic CD award along with a recording of Guilmant, Works For Organ and Orchestra also on Carlton Classics. All three were made on Jonathan's NAGRA-D which from the heart of a distinctly superior quality recording chain, comprising what he describes as Rolls Royce components. "It's a combination of Prism A to D and D to A convertors, B&K omni microphones - used in A/B pairs of simple arrays - and the NAGRA," he explains. "Everything is recorded and edited in 24 bits and only then noise shaped to 16 bit, using the Prism noise shaper."
A further qualitative factor in the system is the use of AT&T fibre optic cabling, at more then 1000 pounds for a single cable run it is a cost intensive upgrade: "We use the fibre optics - real glass fibre optics - when we have particularly long cable runs from the recording stage to the control room location. It offers demonstrable improvements on conventional cabling; not picking up inductions, solenoids and other various electrical noises that can pick up on long runs. It's also so light that you can cellotape it to walls and other surfaces to keep it off of the floor and clear the potential damage."
Jonathan has been working with high bit recording techniques for several years now describing the difference between 16 bit and 20 but conversion as making the difference between "actually hearing two oboes instead of one." Jonathan trained under Dr. Thomas Frost, the famous director at CBS Master works for almost 20 years, with whom he made some of the very first digital recordings with the Soundstream recording system. He continued in the digital domain with his own system of choice for many years, the JVC DAP/DAB 900, before switching to the NAGRA-D, and 24 bit medium, three years ago.
"I think it is very important to move to 24 bit now, particularly when you can clearly see the critical response to recordings made in the 24 bit domain and carefully noise-shaped to 16 bit. And NAGRA is superb, the backup and support is superb and it never breaks down."
For Jonathan the improved definition offered by 24 bit is inextricably linked to the pursuit of obtaining the most natural sound balance possible. "I never compress or equalize, I never touch the desk (a Studer 961); everything you hear from me is entirely flat and all the digital domain, which is why it is always so quiet (i.e. low noise). Every orchestral recording I do is done with just three mics (a philosophy extended even to works on the scale of Carmina Burana). If it can't be done with three mics, then I won't do it, I'll move the venue to one where it can."
The implementation of high definition recording techniques to such exacting standards usually represents a staggering level of investment for the independent producer, but it is an investment which, clearly, can produce measurable benefits; the Gramophone does not award critical accolades, such as "a true colossus among organ recordings," and "demonstration quality recordings," lightly.