Q&A with René Laflamme of Fidelio Music

Q&A with René Laflamme of Fidelio Music

What ignited your interest in the high end?  
My electronics teacher showed me how to design tube electronics, but he also influenced me forever when one day he played an Opus 3 LP on his custom-made electronics audio system that he designed based on an OTL tube amp with high voltage power-tube coupling driving a pair of Acoustat electrostats. The sound was so natural with outstanding microdynamics. Then he also played me the Nagra IV-S with a recording he’d made of percussion music and organ with two Neumann KM 84. It was like I could touch the skin of every djembe. I fell in love with Nagra that day.

Did your interest come from the music side or the electronics side?
It is a mix of both. I bought my first LP when I was eight years old; after that it was one after another—a couple 45rpm a week and one 33rpm a month. But when I began to study electronics, I started to build my own tube microphone, tube preamplifier, and speakers,. I realized that I should also study about recording, and also began to study music and saxophone.

What gear made up your first high-end system?
My first system was a Dynaco Mk III tube mono amp with custom-built Counterpoint SA-1000 tube preamplifier and phono, Thorens TD 125, and a pair of Dynaudio speakers. I tried a solid-state preamplifier and integrated amp after, but it was not close to giving me the same emotion or connection with the music. 


What education did you receive?
I studied electronics for three years and then I really wanted to know more about recording and for a period worked in a studio in Ohio. I created the Fidelio Audio label after I came back and designed, with my teacher Richard Leblon, the RL1 tube microphones. I rented the empty Studio Morin Heights [in Quebec] and did my first release on the Fidelio label. In the 70s that studio recorded The Police, The Bee Gees, Rush…The owner and producer was André Perry. Five years ago I called André to talk about a project called 2xHD. And he became my partner in Fidelio technology 2xHD.

How do you define the difference between hi-fi and high-end audio?
Bruce Swedien (Michael Jackson’s sound engineer) said, no matter how good the song is, and how accomplished the musicians are, a poorly done recording or mix will leave you cold. It will leave a bad impression instead of what the song could really be. For me this applies not only to the recording but also to the playback system. When we do a high-end show with Nagra, if I play, for example, Les Sept Paroles du Christ and some people cry or have an emotion I know I have an amazing system. But when you play that same track on some regular system it will leave you cold. So for me a very direct signal path with tube-based electronics for the source and the preamplifier can have a real transparency. 

What is the key factor that’s required to be a good engineer?
Practice, practice, and listening to as many amazing recordings as possible so you know the sound you like for all genres of music. And then you need to try many recording techniques so you know what to do when you do a live session. Also build a playback reference room; you cannot select the best solution or equipment for a recording without hearing the differences. 


How did Fidelio Music come about?
I started Fidelio Audio in 1998. It was mostly classical and jazz music recorded analog on a Nagra IV-S with my RL1 tube Fidelio microphone. Ten years later I partnered with Michel Berard and Claude Lepine. It was the digital age of Fidelio that we now call Fidelio Music. CD sold well at that time. Some titles: Buzz Brass Ensemble; The Planets that was a five-star LP in TAS; Anne Bisson Blue Mind; Appassionata. I’ve come back now to analog again with the Nagra IV-S. I did many of the tracks on the top-selling, 2xHD high-resolution album called Audiophile Speaker Setup and the latest Frederic Alarie Trio In the Spirit of Legends: Chet Baker and Scott LaFaro.

What are the primary challenges you face running a record label?
The business model has changed, so I decided five years ago with my partner that I need to change the way we release new albums. I started to sell on HDtracks, which gives the same amount of money to the producer and musicians. This is not the case with streaming. We’ve had 275 releases since then. 

What are your greatest rewards?
When people are touched by a recording I have done.


Outside of audio, what do you do for fun?
Cycling, reading, and activities with my son. But the microphones are an obsession!


What inspires you about your work?
The people I work with—my producer and mentor André Perry and all the team at Nagra. It is the perfect match for me; I master about three albums a month for 2xHD and manage Nagra in America the rest of the time. I like doing both because I learn something every day about music and sound that I can share with both Nagra and 2xHD