Had lunch with Eric Kingdon, Sony's European Technical Marketing Manager, the other day.
He was delivering to our test team the review sample of the new STR-DH800 AV receiver. It's due to be tested in the September issue, on sale in three weeks' time. Or scarily soon, if you ask our production desk...
Anyway, very pleasant lunch, during which a plain brown envelope changed hands. Yes, I know I what you're thinking, except I paid for lunch, I'm not involved in the reviewing of the receiver – oh, and what the envelope contained wasn't the bundle of crisp twenties some would have you believe accompanies most review products, but a Blu-ray Disc.
Eric had just got back from Japan, and the disc was a 'must hear' from Takashi Kanai, Sony's Chief Distinguished Engineer and noodle-making fanatic.
And when Kanai-san says something is worth a listen, you'd better believe it: this, after all, is the man with a custom-designed listening room complete with seven B&W 801 speakers in a space about the same size as a modest living room.
Not to mention the knack of knowing just what's the best sounding material around at the moment – be it CD, Super Audio CD or Blu-ray.
In this case, Kanai-san is again bang on the money with the recording he sent: live concert performances of Seiji Ozawa (left) conducting the Saito Kinen Orchestra in performances of Mahler's First and Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. The former was recorded last September, the latter exactly a year before – and both performances are sensational.
As is both the sound and vision. The disc gives a choice of stereo 48kHz/24-bit PCM, Dolby five-channel or 5.0 LPCM 96kHz/24-bit, and with the last of these three in particular the concerts sound just jaw-droppingly good, with stunning soundstaging and ambience, massive bass power and slam, and bags and bags of detail.
It helps, too, that the orchestra, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, is in sparkling form under one of its co-founders – Ozawa leaps into the orchestra to shake every one of the players by the hand at the conclusion of the Berlioz, knocking the odd music-stand skewiff, and the expressions of delight are apparent all round.
Mind you, that didn't stop me going back to the beginning of the disc and enjoying it all over again, from the delicate playing of the opening through to the clanging bells and glittering harps and thundering percussion and silky strings.
And again. And again.
Not to mention the fascinating rehearsal footage – also in HD – provided in the disc's extras, along with some novel routines to check sound and vision synchronisation. In Japanese, of course!
I said the concert looks as good as it sounds, and it does, in '1920x1080i Full Hi-Definition', as the box describes it.
Yes, this is a TV broadcast, recorded and released by the Japanese national broadcaster NHK on its NHK Enterprises label, and really showing what both HD TV and hi-rez sound can do.
And what it can do is deliver absolutely spine-tingling, demonstration-quality material from the simplest of things – an orchestral concert.
The Proms start in little more than a week's time – over to you, BBC...