Horch House Rhapsody In Blue analog tape review

Talking about analogue and taking it the into the 21st century is to much of an intake for many. Why? Precognitions and presumptions of the medium, media and people from industry surely share a strong part of it. Sad story is, that many or most, didn’t had a chance to really experience great analog formats and their comment represent just a blank statements with little or no value.

Many people are asking me about reel to reel (r2r) revived momentum. Is it a trend, fashion, luxury pursuit or something worthy of exploring and investing? Reality is even more shocking then most would like to digest. Spending few thousands of Euros on a good, mint, refurbished or even NOS tape machine might be the best investment ever. Heretic? With the prices of a high quality pressed vinyl or some of the first editions the criticač question arise… How much is enough and worthy to invest to the other side of the analog reproduction; vinyl. To get black disc reproduction on the upper echelon league one really, really need to invest a lot of funds and time. Finding the great synergy between the cartridge, tonearm, turntable, phono preamplifier and non the less line preamplifier can become an endless Sisyphus endeavor and life long quest. 

And its not cheap to get there. From my experiences great turntable paraphernalia cost A LOT! Now, try to combine everything into a synergetic and balanced system. Hmmm…


The biggest concern for many is availability of musical material. Let me share my findings in few words. Surprisingly there is a vast of material available to obtain. You might need to turn few stones, get in contact with right people and companies etc. But, once you find the right sources the factual reality its quite mind boggling/blowing. 

Perhaps you’ve noticed in my photo high-end audio show reports the amount of r2r machines used for demoing the dedicated systems. In the Poland High-End Audio show back in November I was astound with the number of tape deck used for the demonstrations. People brought some really great material to play and the level of sound performance usually put most of the front ends to shame. Now…


by Gershwin/Leonhard Bernstein…

George Gershwin's "Rhapsody In Blue" and "An American in Paris", together here on one of the legendary recordings from 1958 - 1960 (released on Columbia Records, Sony). On the podium for both interpretations is the grandmaster Leonard Bernstein. "Rhapsody In Blue" is played by the Columbia Symphony Orchestra with the luminary Bernstein himself taking over the piano part. The New York Philharmonic Orchestra then plays "An American In Paris" under his leadership. Critics praised the works by saying they "shine with a compelling choice of tempo, as well as a fantastic balance between suspense and simplicity, emotion and objectivity; because they blossom without getting lost in  dynamic control."

The recordings are now available in unprecedented sound quality. The original analogue recordings from the years 1958-1960 form the basis of Christoph Stickel's unobtrusive "refurbishing" which aims to avoid any artistic intervention. You, the valued listener, will be transported back into the sound engineer's chair at the time of recording.


First thing that I’ve written down in my listening notes is the quietness and steady flow of the music. For me these days, its very simple to conduct a judgment. Either I’ll connect and reconnect with the music or won’t. This is especially related with the audio front ends, that are the basis for the carrying of the sound. 

We might elaborate, getting into philosophical endless debates or push our own agendas. The facts stands… If you don’t deal with the high quality sound source material, what do you actually expect? All the expensive and high-praised gear have little of no meaning and resemblance of ultimate sound reproduction without proper musical material. 

As a critic it would be duplicitous and of little value if I don’t pursue the ultimate sonic reproduction. For me, regardless of the price even with the most expensive gear, the only thing that matters is the actual ability to render most exquisite performance. Bling associated with the gear fades away quickly when you’re actually in quest for utmost musical sound. After almost three decades of being around closely connected with most exotic gear I’ve set my very strict rules regarding the upper echelon high-end audio reproduction. In the sphere of vast BS there are only few real contenders. But more about this in due time…

This tape brings unabridged lightens of the performance and musical flow. Its mesmerizing, almost surreal in its presentation. Ultimate test for any classical record is always the grandness that can transcend time and space. This private utopia really dragged my aural sensual perception closer to the real thing in locked me to the intimate, marvelous performance. 

Brasses are most hard to render it their full scope and rawness. With this tape naturalness came to place with truly poetic realism and horns stand out with the sense of three dimensionality and presence.

Timbre and tone are always strong attributes of analog domain when connected with the stressless dynamic impact. With such output is really hard to look away or be left untouched. 

I’ve compared Horch House master tape with my digital and vinyl versions of the same album. Believe me, this release speaks different language and not only with much more tuneful flow, but most importantly with the timing. Its a huge step forward towards the needed realism. 

As this is a truly iconic recording and for many mosts cherished American classical composition its also highly subjective to the personal prefereation, yet Bernstein's piano work as well as his conducting in the "Rhapsody" resolve with finest majestic rendition through Horch House master tape copy.


In the era where digital audio is finally blooming and vinyl sales are getting their grand pacing, analog tapes found their way back into the domestic enjoyment. It might not become the driving force medium of choice, but tapes like Horch House Rhapsody In Blue brings so much potency and musical enjoyment, that really made you rethink a lot about high-end audio reproduction and what is truly our goal and the highest aural pursue. People and even reviewers too often forget the standing fact of what’s first and foremost thing in our industry and hobby… It should always be the related to the highest enjoyment of the music and emotional interaction. On the ultimate plane the ego trips and showcase of the gear lust mindless games should be of absent e. Real pursuit must be the utmost reproduction of the music. Period. 

I’m always pushing forward the importance of real reference in music and that can be only acoustical, live, un-amplified music. For this sole purpose I wanted to first review a classical composition release from Horch House as classical music can relate closely to what we can experience in person. 

I’m not only enthused, but highly thrilled with the RHAPSODY IN BLUE from this Austrian company. How often do we spend such money for our clothing, great dinners or tickets for the great concert. For the same/similar price you can actually own a grand illusion of an event that is repeatable for many times and years to come. 

Yes, dealing with analog tapes and machines demands some more of operating, but its not complex. I can teach anyone in few minutes to do it. 

For me experiencing this Gershwin/Leonhard Bernstein Horch House release is of similar proportions and importance as real concert going. You take you time. You make your lucid choice, dedicating your focus to the music and forget about everything else. This is a mater of culture and respect for the music, composer and musicians. Its an art in motion.

Even with the top level vinyl rig one really needs to invest a lot of time and money. Yet still, you’ll have to deal with the surface noise, the quality of print and aging of the record. Not  small nuances really.

Analog tapes also need the proper storing, taking care of, but from the start you’ll won’t fight with the noise, crackles and when connected to the high performance system the results is intricately sound performance that brings out the best of the music. 

I’m often asked how do I feel about present state of high-end audio affairs. I’m in heaven. Literary. Its the best time to be in this industry or associated with this hobby.

Horch House venture certainly addressed my affection for highest performance, high-quality ultra high end reproduction on the level where I can simply dive in, forget about everything else and enjoy the music for what it can stand for. Soulful and intimate atmosphere and great illusion of the real thing. On this level the real emotional and sublime energy is unleashed. 

You can call me converted! Or in fact, I was always in that modus operandi. Most highly recommended!

Text and photos: Matej Isak

Sales price incl. VAT: 298,00 EUR
Sales price excl. VAT: 248,33 EUR
1 RMG SM468 Tape on Metal Reel

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