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The Proprius Cantate Domino in K2 HD

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Swedish label Proprius released the original Cantate Domino long-playing record in 1976 to a dazed audiophile community. No one before it has ever captured the nuances and power of the choir and pipe organ so masterfully, and no audiophile has ever experienced such level of sonic potency in his own system before it. For the first time, our living room-friendly loudspeakers notwithstanding, we started to wonder if only the very largest loudspeaker could truthfully reproduce every bit of potential of the Proprius LP, and if we could ever experience such sound in our own home.
“Special Products. A Service of CBS/SONY GROUP INC. for PROPRIUS MUSIK AB Stockholm, Sweden”. 1985.

The demand for the LP was staggering, and not every audiophile who had the disposable income could acquire one. Then, the worse happened, as it was soon priced out of reach for many of its admirers. The resultant disappointment among audiophiles who couldn’t afford it lingered, so when the CD version of the LP became available in 1986, it became one of the hottest items. I had to have one.

The prominence of the recording did not cease since then, and in recent years, the Proprius disc has been re-released in the audiophile formats of the JVC XRCD and the Sony DSD-remastered hybrid SACD with astounding sonics. It is 2008 now, and the CD receives another new lease on life, as Winston Ma of First Impression Music is given permission to remaster the historic title by Proprius’ manager, Tryggve Palmquist. The K2 HD, 24-bit 100kHz version is thus born, being released under the LIM (Lasting Impression Music) banner of Winston Ma’s FIM label. As for the distinction between First Impression Music (FIM)
and recordings released under Lasting Impression Music (LIM), Mr. Ma has the following to offer:

“LIM is a label of FIM dedicated to old recordings of lasting value in terms of music, performance and sound, whereas FIM will carry its own new recordings and some licensed ones of special interest. Whenever a re-mastered recording is included in LIM, it’s got to be an outstanding performance of lasting value.”

To date, the roaster of K2 HD production under the FIM umbrella is consisted of the following discs:

FIM K2 HD 078 This is K2 HD Sound!
FIM K2 HD 076 Red Cliff Capriccio
LIM K2 HD 022 Flamenco
LIM K2 HD 023 Swan Lake
LIM K2 HD 024 El Amor Brujo
LIM K2 HD 025 Cantate Domino
LIM K2 HD 030 Bamboo

Whereas the original, 1976 LP was recorded with a Revox A77 open-reel tape recorder, the FIM disc is a November, 2007 digital-remaster of the master tape, its sonics maximized via JVC’s K2 HD Mastering facility in the company’s Victor Entertainment (Tokyo) Flair Studio. The initial, analog remastering process was done painstakingly at the Paul Stubblebine Studio in San Francisco, CA two weeks earlier, during which Mr. Ma and Mr. Stubblebine abolished two editions of their seminal work before settling on the final format that is the foundation of this K2 HD re-release.

The original CD has been one of my favorite demonstration discs for its colossal dynamics, smooth textures and extended frequency response. Track 15, “Julsång” (Christmas song), which was track 9 on the original CD, represents a cooperative work of choir, orchestra and pipe organ of the most exuberant order, and the uplifting spirit conveyed by the complex and beautifully arranged male and female choir was instantaneously spellbinding from the first words. Adding enormous scale to this performance was the fluidic pipe organ rendition by organist Alf Linder.

By comparison, the LIM K2 HD disc’s background noise level was so vanishingly low that it might as well have been a 2008 recording. Via the 47 Lab PiTracer CD transport and the Wadia Reference Series 9 Decoding Computer, the result was a most startling reconstructed spatiality of venue and a most effortlessly reconstituted dimensionality of the choir in playback. It was a revelation of immense proportion.

The separation of organ from choir on this K2 HD was such that for the first time, the mind felt instantly relaxed when taking in the astoundingly rich wholeness of performance and ambience. The previously distracting, low-level organ bottom-end accompanying the serene choir in “Advent” from the 1985 CD became an articulate, expressive component positively indispensable in the conveyance of the musical experience.

But wait until you get to “Mariæ Wiegenlied” (Mary’s Lullaby), where the soprano’s solo utterance is accompanied by a cradling, authoritative organ, churning out some of the most tonally layered and spectrally challenging bottom-end notes ever recorded. It was during the playback of tracks similar to this that the Luxman M800A-driven Bӧsendorfer VC 7 loudspeaker’s lateral-firing Horn Resonator technology proved its most impressive and effective in the recreation of the powerful organ in the chest-pressurization-free manner.

The last track, of course, was the consistent odd-duck in the original CD, and continues to be an oddity in this K2 HD. Imagine a choir and a busy church pipe-organ playing homage to the Irvin Berlin/Bing Crosby “White Christmas”. Nonetheless, I now could play it over and over again just to be mildly embarrassed by the performance, and be even prouder still of its sound in my system.

Above all, the degree of improvement of the K2 HD edition over the original disc was such that it was easily discernible even on a sub-$1,000 CD player I am reviewing.

The original Proprius Cantate Domino LP and CD left their mark most prominently in our audiophile psyche, and Winston Ma’s remastered 2007 LIM K2 HD disc endowed it with such brilliance and definition that the music has again reclaimed its top rank among discs of both musical and sonic merits. The original disc had been my reference disc for dimensionality, dynamics and a whole suit of other sonic attributes, and I had fun playing it for the past twenty years; with this K2 HD, it’s gonna be a whole lot more fun than ever for the next twenty years.

If you are looking for a reference disc with first-class dynamic contrasts, this K2 HD disc is full of it. If you want an exemplary frequency extension demonstration Redbook CD, this disc is it. And for those of us that wants everything audiophile in a standard CD, this LIM K2 HD Proprius Cantate Domino disc reigns supreme. Again.

This disc is selected as one of Dagogo Editor’s Top Reference Discs.

Reference System:
47 Laboratory 4704 PiTracer CD transport
Wadia Reference Series 9 Decoding Computer
Luxman M800A 80th Anniversary stereo amplifier
Bӧsendorfer VC 7 loudspeaker
Audio Note Sogon silver digital cable & interconnects
Combak Harmonix HS-101 SLC Sophisticated Listener’s Choice single-wired speaker cable

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