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Audiophile Reference IV.

Audiophile Reference IV. FIM 029 VD.

There is no doubt that FIM, First Impression Music, is first and foremost an audiophile label. Its president and producer, Winston Ma, is a dedicated audiophile for whom sound is everything. Fortunately, he is also a music lover and recognizes good music. So the contents of his discs must not only sound good, they must be worth listening to.

The Audiophile Reference IV disc is a Super 24-Bit HDCD, meaning it is done up in one of the premier processing modes around; perhaps not quite as pure as XRCD, but close. As the disc's name implies, it contains bits and pieces of audiophile material, the kind of stuff that dyed-in-the-wool audiophiles sit around and listen to when they're not talking over the top of the music. I'm not really keen on these kinds of compilations because there is never enough of any one thing to interest me, but when we get the kind of sonic results heard here, it's hard not to want to see what new delights are around the next corner. Kind of like popcorn; you can't just eat one.

There are 16 tracks on the disc, comprising more than 75 minutes of music. Selections include everything from classical to jazz to folk, but thankfully no rock or rap. Among the highlights for me were Saint-Saens' lovely "The Swan," a composite group of tunes and noises on "Olde London," a traditional Chinese set of variations called "Yang City," excerpts from Messiah, and Pachelbel's Canon in D done by a percussion ensemble. Well, it's been done by everyone and everything, so why not percussion?

The sound in each of the numbers is outstanding, particularly in terms of timbre and clarity. Sometimes, I felt that maybe a piece was a bit too forward or too aggressive, but a moment's listening usually revealed it sounded, in fact, just right. The only direct comparison I was able to make was with "High Life," a selection FIM remastered from the celebrated Proprius disc "Jazz at the Pawnshop." Comparing the FIM version with an original, first-generation pressing of the Proprius disc, I found the Proprius sounding wider and brighter, the FIM sounding deeper and more naturally balanced. The fact that they did not sound at all alike, though, was probably my biggest surprise. True, I may have been listening to different master tapes, I don't know. In any case, the FIM was mighty good and mighty real.

Incidentally, FIM calls this disca "Black Vinyl CD," because it is not pressed on ordinary silver foil but on black polycarbonate, making it look like a miniature vinyl LP. It's a cute gimmick, but I'm not sure if it plays any better. The only minor qualm I had about the disc at all is its packaging. In order to reach the disc, which is enclosed in a static-proof inner sleeve, you have to unfold the cardboard case like a road map, the disc buried four folds in. Spread out to get to the disc, the packaging reaches a length of close to two feet! Give me an old-fashioned jewel box, please.
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Author:Puccio, John
Publication:Sensible Sound
Date:May 1, 2007
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