Opus 3 Records
When I was in my early twenties I discovered Opus 3 Records. For the purpsoe of this article, I only pictured one album cover since they all look pretty much the same. To me, this Swedish record label made the best sounding records I had ever heard. I also loved the eclectic recordings that were found on them. Opus 3’s goal was to produce the most natural recordings of acoustic instruments and voices as possible.
This included choosing the right place to make the recordings and the right equipment. They used AGFA PEM 468 tape and the recorders were a Telefunken M12, Telefunken M28, and a Revox G36 HS. The Microphones were AKG C12s, C24s, Neumann SM 69s, and Beyer M 160s. The monitor equipment was simply a Dynaco Stereo 70, Capella speakers, and electrostatic headphones.
Jan-Eric Persson founded the Opus 3 in 1976. He’s responsible for the label’s selection of artists and music, as well as for how the albums are recorded, mixed and marketed. You could say he was and still is Opus 3.
For the first forty years Jan-Eric Persson made all his recordings on two track analogue tape. In 2001, he changed to digital and made some of the best sounding SACDs I have ever heard. It should come to no one’s surprise that it’s those two track analogue recordings that I loved most. The first three Opus 3 Records I ever heard were, Test Record 1, Test Record 3, and River Road. Now you have to understand what Jan-Eric Persson meant by a test record. His test records are samplers containing cuts from his very best recordings. The only thing that makes them a test record is there liner notes. In the liner note, he tells you things that you should listen for on each cut, although oost of the cuts are just great music.
So let me introduce you or remind you of a few of theses special LPs. You can’t buy most of them new, but even sealed ones are often available on Ebay and I have had good luck with the sealed and near mint ones I have purchased. I’m going to tell you about my five favorites, but I have never heard a bad Opus 3 recording or one with music I did not enjoy.
Test Record 1, Depth of Image
This Lp is like kaleidoscope of colorful and exciting musical material. The first cut Tiden Bara Gar will have you up out of you chair with it’s great energy. Yes, it has some incredible imaging, but I can never get past just how alive it sounds. Side A, cut 5 is the best example of a correct soundstage I have ever heard. It is what they refer to as a symphonic band and the placement of the instruments in their own space on the stage is incredible. I could go on and on, but the liner notes explain each cut and have enjoyed the music for over 30 years.
Test Record 3, Dynamics
Of all the Opus 3 LPs, this is the one I had the hardest time finding, but I had to have it for just one cut, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hand”. This may be the best male vocal recording I have ever heard.
The aim of Dynamics is to illustrate what musical dynamics are and to let you check out if your system can handle them. If you are looking for cannon shots, steam locomotives, or hammers driving spikes you are going to be disappointed. This LP is about musical dynamics and micro-dynamics.
The opening cut on side one, “Tema Del Altiplano”, is just explosive with both macro and micro dynamics. Liner notes tell you what to listen for on each cut if you want to use it to evaluate your system, but I just put it on and listen to the incredible acoustic music. By the way, did I mention that the last cut, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hand” may be the best male vocal recording of all time?
These four acoustic guitar players give us beautiful performances from a variety of classical composers. There is music from Bach, Debussy, Ravel, Pachelbel, Grieg, and others. The recording is made in the Botkyrka Church which has classic stone arches and very reverberant space. Still, the recording allows you to easily hear each guitar.
The guitars themselves are rather spectacular. The quartet consist of one six-string guitar, two alto-guitars, and one contra-guitar. The alto-guitars are 11-string guitars made by the famous Swedish instrument builder, Georg Bolin. They are not tuned the same though. One is tuned to be a soprano-guitar, and the contra-guitar is tuned to play in the range of a bass-guitar. This was made possible by putting special brass strings on the contra-guitar. All this special tuning gives the quartet a five and a half octave range and it is easy to hear this range in their performances.
This is quite simply one of the most beautiful acoustic guitar recordings I have ever heard. I can remember back when I first discovered soundstaging and imaging, being amazed at how easily I could hear each guitar in it’s on space. The amazing thing is you can pick out all four guitars just as easily if I switch my Shindo Giscours to mono. The reason is that each guitar has such a distinctive sound of it’s own, but produces such incredible harmony as a whole.
Eric Bibb and Bert Deivert bring you this great album of duets. Eric Bibb had his roots in blues and gospel music, while Bert Deivert, was more influenced by folk music and the music of singer/songwriters. River Road is an album of warm, emotional and sometimes funny songs. It’s amazing how Jan-Eric Pearson gets such a full, rich, they-are-in-the-room sound with just two vocals and two acoustic guitars. I used the title cut of this LP for years to set VTA, but most of all I have listened to it for the last 30 something years, because of how much I enjoy it.
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