Nitty Gritty Surround DVD Audio AIX Records by David Tolsky “AIX Records believes that in order to hear the improvements offered by increasing the sample rate and word size, you have to start by making NEW recordings!”(Taken from sub-menu, “The Disc,” on Nitty Gritty Surround) New recording sessions are at the heart of what makes AIX DVD-Audio discs so special. Think about it: what could be better to a music lover and audiophile than a brand new recording session using the best digital equipment and special miking techniques? It would be a no-frills session with no flashy stage show. There is no equalization going on, just music in the raw. The recording, mixing and mastering are all executed with a 96khz sample rate and 24 bit word length, created digitally from the ground up. Nitty Gritty Surround is an album that has its roots established way back in the 60’s with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. It’s bluegrass at its finest, with some traditional folk and swing thrown in for good measure. When these guys and gals get together, they can jam with the best of them. AIX cleverly uses both sides of the disc to divide DVD-A material (high-rez MLP tracks and 2-channel tracks -- both in 96/24), from the DVD-Video features. Let’s start with the video. The inside blue ring on the disc indicates the DVD-Video features, playable on any DVD video player. Here we actually get to sit in on the live session as it was being recorded, thanks to some skillful video work. Imagine yourself sitting in the middle of the stage. John McEuen grabs his banjo and takes a seat in front of you. Jimmy Ibbotson, folk guitar in hand, sits behind you facing McEuen. Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum stand next to Ibbotson, ready to sing. Phil Salazar (fiddle) sits opposite Randy Tico (acoustic bass). Tom Corbett (mandolin), Rick Cunha (guitar, ukulele, vocals) Matt Carsonas (harmony vocals, mandola, dulcimer), Jim Christie (percussion), Jonathan McEuen (John’s son on guitar and vocals) and special guest, vocalist Jennifer Warnes, fill in the empty spaces. Putting you in the middle of the music is what AIX calls their “stage mix” and it is what surround sound was born for. In this case, the DTS 5.1 mix is the on-stage perspective. If you are fond of being surrounded by instruments and vocals, this is the mix for you. Let’s say you’re more of a purist and would prefer to keep your distance from the band. No problem since AIX also provides a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital mix of the session, called the “audience” mix. Clicking the Audio button on your remote accesses this mix on the fly, anytime you want. This is a great feature as you can very quickly compare the sound quality between the two popular encoding choices. You’ll notice that the instruments behind you will all but disappear, leaving you in the ambiance of the “audience”, with a much more frontal soundstage. Clicking the Angle button will allow an alternate video shot, usually an isolated vocalist or musician. These shots are nicely dissolved into wider group shots of all performers. What’s nice about Nitty Gritty Surround is that it is an education in acoustic strings. Banjo, guitar, mandolin, bass mandolin, fiddle, acoustic bass, ukulele -- they’re all blended into the unmistakable bluegrass sound that the Dirt Band is famous for. The Appalachian dulcimer even makes an appearance, and in a humorous video clip from “The Making Of,” musician Matt Cartsonis is applying ‘peg dope’ to the instrument’s old string pegs. “Why do you think they call it dope?” he muses, “Because you have to be one to play this instrument.” Flipping the disc over to the red side, you get your choice of 5.1 channel surround MLP and two channel PCM, both using 96 khz/24 bit technology. Both of these compression schemes are “lossless,” where none of the data is left out of the transfer process. The 2-channel mix sounds every bit as clean as the multi- channel and is a great alternative mix for the die-hard stereo lover. Like the video side of the disc, the MLP version becomes the stage mix, a higher resolution version of its DTS counterpart. The 2-channel PCM is the audience mix and stereo never sounded so good. I much preferred the stage mix of the 2-channel PCM to the Dolby Digital stage mix from the video side. Voices and instruments were cleaner and more dynamic. That’s the difference that lossless compression can make. There is enough bonus material on this disc to rival a collector’s edition DVD movie, making it a great value. Included are musician bios, rehearsals, behind-the-scenes and backstage footage and a slide-show trip down memory lane with the Nitty Gritty band members. You’ll even learn the history of the venue chosen for the recording, the Fox Theater in Hanford, California. Let’s not forget topics such as how to use the disc, surround speaker setup, AIX’s mission statement and philosophies and a band photo gallery. If you are curious about how good the DVD-A format can be, I urge you to go out and purchase AIX’s Nitty Gritty Surround. Mark Waldrep, Ph.D. (AIX’s Founder and Chief Engineer) and friends have gone all out in providing one heck of a value-packed sight and sound experience.