Interview: Marshall Blonstein Shares New Directions for Audio Fidelity Label

With the constantly changing industry standards, Audio Fidelity takes a close look at where they're headed

By , Columnist

Audio Fidelity, the latest venture spearheaded by Marshall Blonstein, former president of Island Records during its peak period, is a constantly changing entity. After the demise of his once popular label DCC, Blonstein founded Audio Fidelity in 2002.

Audio Fidelity is a label that specializes in quality remastered reissues. They began with obscure sets, releasing them in the SACD format. Most of those sets have fallen out of print, and now fetch handsome sums for those willing to part with their copies. But SACD faltered with the public at large and so Blonstein moved his label into limited edition remastered album classics issued on numbered 24K gold CDs, and audiophile grade 180g vinyl LPs.

However, with shifts in the industry, Marshall Blonstein has elected to subtly change the focus of his label. In order to keep up, I asked Marshall if he'd be willing to catch fans of Audio Fidelity up with the changes. And while I was at it, I asked other questions that relate to the field of SACD, which has taken a solid place as the audiophile medium of choice.

It's been a while since I last touched base with Audio Fidelity. Since our last conversation, several things have happened over at the label. One is the cessation of releasing Gold CD re-masters. Can you elaborate on that decision?

The 24K Gold CD has been a big part of our identity and branding since our DCC days. To see one of our 24K Gold discs with the see-through slip case left no doubt that was a DCC or Audio Fidelity title, so you were insured the highest quality and sound. There is only one plant in the world that manufactured the 24K Gold discs and with the cost in gold going up, they were unable to keep a consistent supply of gold on hand for manufacturing our discs. We only abandoned the 24K format because there was no consistency in manufacturing.

A few years ago, you re-entered the niche market of SACDs. All of the released titles have been great and have been well-received. Myself, I loved the YES SACDs (Close to the Edge, Going For the One). In fact, I'm hoping that you revisit several other classic titles including the challenging Tales from Topographic Oceans, as well as the brilliant Relayer. What caused you to go back into SACD?

Hybrid SACD was the next logical carrier for our audiophile titles. The SACD offers two-channel stereo as well as the DSD all on one disc. For a number of years we had been getting requests for us to move into the Hybrid SACD arena, so with issues with our 24K Gold supplier, it was time to test the waters with the Hybrid SACD format. It has worked out very well for us.

Most SACDs are released in the Stereo Hybrid format. Steve Hoffman recently tweeted that Audio Fidelity would begin working in the oft-requested 5.1 Surround mix. What prompted that and will you be alternating between stereo-only and 5.1 titles? Or will they all be 5.1 titled from this point forward?

AFSuperSessionBloomfieldKooperStills51SACD.jpgAs with the Hybrid SACDs, for a number of years, we have had requests to move into the 5.1 multichannel arena. Recently, we've struck up a relationship with several producers who have created a number of titles for the multi-channel format. We are always looking to broaden our base and the multichannel, whether it be 5.1 or Quad, gives us that opportunity. The Hybrid SACD along with the 180g vinyl is our bread and butter. We'll be experimenting with the multichannel and testing the waters.

Can you give us any hints on what upcoming titles are going to be re-mastered and remixed for 5.1 Surround? Also, will you be revisiting any previously released classics for SACD, or 5.1? For example, is it possible to revisit Close to the Edge, Going for the One, and the Jon Anderson reissue (Olias of Sunhillow) to provide 5.1 SACDs of those?

Matt, I never like to talk about titles until we have had a chance to acquire the master sources, ensure that they are usable and we get 100% clearance from the record labels. That is the way we have always operated. Never making any announcements until we are sure about the sources to re-master our AF titles. I will never say never, as far as going back and doing a 5.1 or a Quad title on an album we have previously released on 24K Gold or Hybrid SACD.

Marshall, you have always championed the vinyl LP. During Audio Fidelity's rise, you have released great LPs. Personally, I love the Kate Bush Hounds of Love 180g LP AF released. What is in store for the future where vinyl is concerned for Audio Fidelity?

Nothing beats the sweet sound of vinyl. There is something very warm about vinyl. We have some upcoming titles that include Sade's Stronger Than Pride, Tron (the original movie soundtrack), Vangelis/Jon Anderson's The Friends of Mr. Cairo, and for Christmas we have Trans-Siberian Orchestra's The Christmas Attic, an absolutely stunning album. It's the first time the album has been available on 180g vinyl.

I've always considered you, Marshall, to be a visionary of the marketplace. In your own words and inside insights, what do you see for the future of SACD, BD-Audio, DVD-Audio (will you be doing either Blu-ray-Audio and/or DVD-Audio releases?), and vinyl LP, as well as CD itself, streaming, and digital downloads?

We are very comfortable in the niche market rubbing shoulders with the audiophile. Like I say, we will never say never, but currently we are not looking to DVD-A, Blu-ray Audio, streaming or digital downloads. I think vinyl will never fade away. It will always be a format that will be enjoyed. As far as Hybrid SACDs or CDs, they'll evolve and we'll evolve right along with them. At the end of the day, it's not the carrier, it's the music.

Has Audio Fidelity considered digital downloads of their reissued titles?

We have talked about it, but have made no decision.

Where do you see Audio Fidelity going in the future?

Wherever the music takes us.

Thanks, as always, Marshall, for the services you provide, and the art you help to keep alive and refreshed. Believe me, you are appreciated!

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Matt Rowe began his life with an AM radio, listening to anything that was considered music. Since, he has labored intently to build a collection of music, paring it down, rebuilding, and refining as he sees fit. His decided goal is to keep up with new music by panning for the nuggets among literal mountains…

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