About Pristine Audio and Pristine Classical

Pristine's early beginnings in EnglandAndrew Rose

Pristine Audio began life in 2001 as a part-time project carrying out audio transfers and restoration for private and business customers in the UK. At the time, founder Andrew Rose was working as a Senior Studio Manager at BBC Radio in London - with a music degree background and experience working across all of the BBC's national and international radio networks.

As Pristine Audio's order-books began to fill up, the business took more and more time until eventually, in January 2004, Andrew left the BBC in order to relocate from England to South-West France and Pristine operate full-time as a French limited company.

 

Relocation to France, first downloads

Much of 2004 was spent putting together Pristine's new restoration studio, expanding its equipment base, experimenting with new transfer techniques for 78rpm discs, and building up contacts within the classical music business. By the early autumn of that year, two things had become clear - first and foremost was that much of the music industry, especially in the niche market of historic recordings, was in pretty poor shape, with many businesses operating on a shoestring or in severe deficit. Second was the opportunities being opened up by the rapid growth of the Internet to bypass many of the heavy investment costs of the traditional recorded music industry through the use of downloads.

After completing initial test recordings and transfers and refining his techniques to a level where he felt his work could match or exceed those already operating in the field, Andrew Rose launched Pristine's download website on 1st February 2005, originally under the name 'Pristine Audio Direct', now known as 'Pristine Classical'.

The timing could not have been better - although starting from nowhere, with no press coverage and no sales for several weeks, Pristine had the distinction of being just about the first classical music company to offer its recordings for download, to be followed shortly afterwards by Chandos, one of the biggest independent record companies in the classical field. Thus when Gramophone magazine's then editor, James Jolly, decided in June 2005 that there was a future in downloads that they needed to cover, there was little else to write about, thus granting Pristine media coverage far beyond its then-tiny stature.

Little-by-little the word spread, and Pristine Classical grew to the point of completely replacing Pristine's private and commercial transfer business. Helped in no small part by Andrew's excellently-received work for Divine Art, one of the first CDs of which won a CD of the Year award in 2005 from Classic Record Collector, and later remastering work with Music and Arts, leading to extensive coverage in Fanfare magazine in the US, Pristine Classical's reputation began to spread, often by word of mouth.

 

Joyce Hatto, brief celebrity, debut of XR remastering

In February 2007, Andrew was central in the exposé of the fraudulent recordings of pianist Joyce Hatto, having provided the technical expertise which proved beyond doubt the faking of the Hatto CDs - leading to worldwide publicity and a seemingly endless stream of press, radio and TV interviews.

This came barely a month after Pristine has introduced its "Natural Sound" remastering system, which with refinements both technical and operational became in April 2007 Pristine's revolutionary XR remastering system. The initial benefits of this appeared to be the possibility of recovering hitherto lost upper frequencies in 78rpm recordings, but as time progress and more and more recordings were remastered with the XR system, it became clear that it offered far more than this, providing for perhaps the first time a means of addressing not just the shortcomings of the recorded medium, be it tape or disc, but also shortcomings of the the recording equipment.

It quickly became clear that many recordings suffered sonically from the poor or uneven frequency response of the microphones and other equipment used to make the recordings. Moreover, this unevenness was apparently random, with each recording requiring a specifically tailored response to rebalance the sound and iron out those errors in the original tonal balance. Finally we had a system which allowed us to reproduce far more closely than before the actual sound of the musicians as would have been heard by someone standing in the studio or concert hall where they were recorded, without the use of any artificial tonal generation, using only the audio captured in the recording and using at its heart an objective, scientific approach rather than the subjective tastes of a single producer or engineer.

 

More online innovation

Elsewhere, Pristine Classical continued to innovate. 'Pristine Radio' led first to Pristine Audio Direct Access, our subscription streamed audio service, and then to the additional of PADA Exclusives, which provides hundreds of additional historic recordings which can be both streamed and downloaded by subscribers.

Summer 2008 saw the adoption of Ambient Stereo as a download and CD option alongside regular mono recordings - continuing much along the same philosophy as XR, this system uses the reverberation information within a recording to generate a stereo spread of room or hall echo around a recording, giving a sense of space which is authentic to the recording itself and without generating anything artificial - it uses only the reverberant sound captured in a recording. Thus reviewer Peter Joelson, writing for Audiophile Audition, notes of our issue of Erich Kleiber's 1950 Beethoven Symphony recordings: "Pristine’s restoration gets the orchestra sounding far more like it does in the Concertgebouw, and complete with its unmistakeable acoustic. Astonishing!" (It should be pointed out that this has as much to do with the XR remastering correcting not only the orchestra's tonal balance, but also that of the hall's acoustic, as it does to the added sense of space one hears when that acoustic is spread by Ambient Stereo.)

 

Critical acclaim

At the time of writing, Pristine Classical appears to be going from strength to strength. A major feature article in The New Yorker by Alex Ross in August 2009 brought thousands of new visitors to the Pristine Classical website and hundreds of new subscribers to our weekly newsletter:

"...the gain is substantial. In the case of the Toscanini broadcast, Rose has pushed the old tape past the border at which an artifact becomes a living document. Hooked on the sensation, I spent days browsing Pristine’s archives, relishing the newly robust sound of such classic recordings as Bruno Walter’s 1952 “Das Lied von der Erde,” with Kathleen Ferrier; Willem Mengelberg’s 1939 version of Mahler’s Fourth, probably as close as we can get to Mahler himself conducting; and Mengelberg’s swaggering 1941 take on Strauss’s “Ein Heldenleben.” Rose has also reworked some early jazz and blues tracks; Skip James delivers “Devil Got My Woman” with spooky immediacy, twanging strings and all. The whole time, I felt a degree of psychic unease. How far will the cleansing of history go? Will it be possible to enhance Caruso so that he sounds as if he’d been recorded yesterday? Fortunately, Rose leaves enough extraneous noise to remind us of the remoteness of the past..." - The New Yorker, August 10, 2009

2009 also saw the first full releases from renowned historic audio transfer and remastering engineers Mark Obert-Thorn and Ward Marston, leading Gramophone to dub Pristine Classical as "the destination for historic recordings".

We don't know what the future will bring, but we hope that by continuing to innovate and develop both our remastering techniques and our website offering, there'll be plenty more to write about in the months and years to come.

Meanwhile, you can check out our equipment list and the software currently in use for Pristine's 32-bit XR remasters by clicking here.

 

Andrew Rose
Pristine Classical, 25th August 2009

 

 

 

 

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