Octave Records is a brand-new label from the renowned high-end manufacturer PS Audio from Boulder, Colorado. After 40 years of exclusively producing hardware, the enterprising, likeable boss and co-founder Paul McGowan of the family business, originally founded in California and based at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, has now decided to also produce digital software, i.e. CDs, SACDs, DVDs and downloads, with the aim of extending the acknowledged high audiophile quality of PS Audio equipment to its counterpart in the field of sound recordings. For the first album Out of Thin Air the jazz pianist Don Grusin was recruited, who has enjoyed an excellent reputation for decades and has performed with a wide range of jazz musicians, including Quincy Jones, Sergio Mendes, Zoot Sims, Joe Pass and many others, and with the Friendship Band from the 1980s, which featured exclusively stars of the jazz scene: With guitarist Lee Ritenour, drummer Alex Acuna, saxophonist Ernie Watts, bassist Abe Laboriel and percussionist Steve Forman.
Has Octave Records succeeded in achieving the ambitious goal of the label of the high-end manufacturer PS Audio to bring audiophile quality recordings with the best artists available to the market at the first attempt? At first glance, Out of Thin Air seems to be a bull's Eye . First, there is the technical side of the recording. Octave Records uses the finest studio equipment gathered around the highly acclaimed Sonoma DSD recording, mixing and mastering system. Making sure that the recording equipment is used to its fullest potential is Don Grusin himself, who, in the case of Octave Records' first album, contributes his expertise in making the piano sound as close to the original via recording as is possible today. On the technical side, the prerequisites for a high-quality audiophile recording are fulfilled, available in all major digital formats: as a dual-layer SACD with a pure DSD layer in stereo and surround, a DSD Direct Mastered CD layer, as a DVD data disc with 176kHz 24-bit PCM resolution as well as a DSD layer. In addition, there is the sound carrier-less download with a resolution of 176kHz 24 bit as well.
Responsible for the musical side of Out of Thin Air is Don Grusin, from whom listeners are accustomed to being provided with top-notch performances. Unfortunately, the pianist is in top form on this album in terms of playing technique, but not musically. The reason is his rather simply structured compositions, which make it difficult to concentrate on them for a longer time. Enthralling is a different matter. Unfortunately, it sounds almost continuously like background music. Too bad.
Maybe we will be indulged with an audiophile sound to compensate, which makes Out of Air an exceptional album. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Although the timbres and the dynamics of the piano are captured first class. On the other hand, the spatial impression of the recording takes some getting used to, putting the listener directly into the piano. Future albums have yet to show that Octave Records' concept of delivering artistically compelling, audiophile recordings of the highest quality really works.
In any case, what is remarkable and commendable about PS Audio's new project is that Octave Records bears 100% of the costs for studio, mixing, mastering, production, distribution and marketing, and not only gives the artists creative control over the recording, but also gives them a direct share of the sales revenues. In this way, at least, the social concerns of the new label should be considered to an unusual degree.
Don Grusin, piano