Ella & Louis and its follow-up, Again, are two of my favorite jazz albums of all time. After buying various remasters over the years, I thought I had made a "final purchase" when I bought the SACDs from Analogue Productions. The sound quality, I felt, was absolute perfection, and all the more astonishing for a mono recording from the late 50s. The voices of Ella and Louis had a palpable presence in my living room, utterly natural sounding and convincingly right there. Instruments had the unmistakable weight, timbre and texture that they do when played live in a real space.
So if I had reached audio nirvana, why bother buying this blu-ray? Good question. First, and most importantly, it contains all 19 songs from Again compared to just 9 songs on the SACD. (Many versions of Again are similarly truncated.) So the ability to have both albums complete on one disc was very appealing, especially at a price under $30. The SACDs, by comparison, are $30 each and contain 10 fewer songs. Second, there was the possibility that UMG had managed to wring even higher sound quality from the original master tapes, though I wasn't sure how that would be possible. Nevertheless, it seemed worth checking out.
Well, enough with the preamble, let me get to the conclusion and explain from there: it didn't take much comparison to realize that, in terms of sound quality, the APO SACDs blow this Pure Audio Blu-ray away. The Blu-ray is a very nice recording. The SACDs are the unmistakable sound of real singers and real instruments in a live space. The difference is just that simple, and is not subtle or nuanced at all.
Some caveats about this conclusion: if you only owned this Pure Audio Blu-Ray, you might be perfectly happy with it, unaware of its shortcomings without a clearly superior remastering against which to compare it. That said, I'm still happy that I purchased it for the 10 additional songs on Again.
Also keep in mind that the superiority of the SACDs isn't going to matter if you're not set-up for SACD playback of the pure DSD stream. Otherwise you're left with the CD layer of this hybrid disc, which is simply not as good. Finally, I wanted to mention the playback system used for this comparison:
For the Analogue Productions SACDs, it's an Oppo BDP-95 feeding the pure DSD signal via analog XLR to the passive pre-amp section of a Theta Gen VIII processor, then out via XLR to a Spectron Musician III Amp and Gallo Reference 3.5 speakers. All cables and interconnects are Cardas Golden Reference. For the blu-ray, it's much the same, except the Oppo is feeding a lossless, 24/96 PCM 2.0 signal into the Theta Gen VIII for decoding, then out via balanced XLR to the amp and speakers.
Thanks for taking the time to read my review and I hope you find it helpful in making a buying decision.