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Welcome to Reference Recordings

We at RR believe that how a recording sounds is as important as the music itself. "Prof." Keith O. Johnson, our chief engineer and Technical Director, is a true audio legend, having designed and patented many innovative products in the professional and consumer fields. The RR Sound comes from his singular methods and equipment, hand-built or extensively modified by him. Microphone techniques range from single-point Blumlein to spaced omnis to complex studio mixes, depending on the musical forces and the performing space involved. Our goal is to recreate the sound of real musicians making music in real space.

"Prof." Keith Johnson has spent over 30 years developing a reputation for innovative thinking, technical achievement and musicianship which has elevated him to a position in the audio industry occupied by only a handful of visionaries. His intensive investigation of electronic behavior and acoustic perception have led most recently to his development (with digital engineer Michael Pflaumer) of the revolutionary High Definition Compatible Digital encoding process, produced and marketed by Pacific Microsonics (recently acquired by Microsoft). HDCD is widely considered to be the most accurate recording process ever invented.

For more than 30 years, Keith O. Johnson has served as Technical Director, Recording Engineer and partner in Reference Recordings. His 100-plus recordings for the label have long been considered the standard for high fidelity, and include three GRAMMY award-winners and eight additional GRAMMY nominations.

Keith O. Johnson and David Frost won the Grammy® for Best Surround Sound Album: "Britten's Orchestra" (RR-120SACD) at the 53rd annual Grammy Awards. more Information

A Great Feature Article About "Prof." Johnson in
Keith O. Johnson tells the story of his early electronic developments. (5:10) video

STEREOPHILE magazine online has just reprinted an historic 1989 interview (by editor John Atkinson) with our founder and President J. Tamblyn Henderson Jr.

Read the full interview and story of Reference Recordings' beginnings on!


Titles marked "HDCD" have been recorded with an advanced new digital system co-invented by our own "Prof." Johnson. HDCD brings a new level of accuracy and musicality to digital recordings. Heard on a standard CD player, their sonic superiority will be evident. However, the finest levels of resolution, imaging and spatial information will be revealed when these CDs are reproduced on players with HDCD decoding, now available from many manufacturers.



Best Surround Sound Album
RR-120 SACD (Out of Print): Britten's Orchestra

Michael Stern & Kansas City Symphony
Keith O. Johnson, surround mix engineer;
Keith O. Johnson, surround mastering engineer
David Frost, surround producer


Best Engineered, Classical
RR-108 Garden of Dreams (Music by David Maslanka);

Dallas Wind Symphony, Jerry Junkin conducting;
Prof. Johnson’s seventh nomination for a Grammy® engineering award!
For more information about this Grammy Award including a video of Keith accepting the award.


ARGENTO: Casa Guidi (RR-100) was engineered by Keith O. Johnson using HDCD (High Definition Compatible Digital) technology, which he co-invented. It was produced by J. Tamblyn Henderson, Jr., 1998 Grammy nominee for Best Classical Producer. Recording sessions with Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Orchestra were in Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, 2001-2002; it was released in 2003. Mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade was nominated in the category "Best Vocal Performance," and composer Dominick Argento was nominated for "Best New Classical Composition"--and WON!

GRAMMY® NOMINATION, 2003 ("Best Engineered, Classical")

RACHMANINOFF (RR-96) was engineered by Keith O. Johnson using HDCD (High Definition Compatible Digital) technology, which he co-invented. It was produced by J. Tamblyn Henderson, Jr., 1998 Grammy nominee for Best Classical Producer. Recording sessions with Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Orchestra were in Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, May 31– June 1, 2001; the release date was October, 2001.
This is "Prof." Johnson's sixth nomination for a GRAMMY engineering award.

GRAMMY NOMINATION, 2002 ("Best Engineered, Classical"):

RESPIGHI (RR-95) was engineered by Keith O. Johnson using HDCD (High Definition Compatible Digital) technology, which he co-invented. It was produced by J. Tamblyn Henderson, Jr., 1998 Grammy nominee for Best Classical Producer. Recording sessions with Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Orchestra were in Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, September 28-29, 1999; the release date was March 14, 2000.
This was "Prof." Johnson's fifth nomination for a GRAMMY engineering award.

Earlier GRAMMY-nominated titles:

MALCOLM ARNOLD OVERTURES (London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by the composer), RR-48

BOLERO (Eiji Oue/Minnesota Orchestra), RR-92

STRAVINSKY: The Rite of Spring, The Song of the Nightingale, The Firebird Suite (Eiji Oue/Minnesota Orchestra), RR-70

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 9 (Stanislaw Skrowaczewski/Minnesota Orchestra), RR-81


CHICAGO PRO MUSICA ("Best New Classical Artist') - (originally issued as RR-16 and RR-17, reissued as a 2-CD set) RR-2102


RACHMANINOFF: Symphonic Dances, etc. (Eiji Oue/Minnesota Orchestra), RR-96

RIMSKY-KORSAKOFF: Scheherazade, etc. (Jose Serebrier/London Philharmonic Orchestra), RR-89


BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 9 (Stanislaw Skrowaczewski/Minnesota Orchestra), RR-81


ARNOLD OVERTURES (Arnold/London Philharmonic Orchestra), RR-48

NAIRD "INDY" AWARDS ("Best Original Recording"):

RESPIGHI: Belkis, Queen of Sheba, etc. (Eiji Oue/Minnesota Orchestra) RR-95

TRITTICO (Frederick Fennell/Dallas Wind Symphony), RR-52


Britten's Orchestra - Michael Stern / Kansas City Symphony RR-120
"For me, the ideal demonstration disc combines both great music and great sound, be it something obscure from a major label or relatively mainstream music from an 'audiophile' label such as RR's recent (and brilliant) Britten's Orchestra... An instant classic of the recording art... breathtakingly airy, with magnificently convincing soundstage and imaging, superlative low-level detail, wide dynamics, and persuasive sense of bottom-end heft." --Wayne Garcia

John Rutter: Requiem and Five Anthems - Turtle Creek Chorale RR-57
"A recording of deep acoustic space, an unearthly organ, and a richly-detailed assemblage of voices make this a challenging disc for revealing minutiae as well as venue scale and scope." -Neil Gader

"With the most spectacular sense of space captured on disc, this is an acid test for evaluating a component's preservation of low-level detail that contributes to the reproduction of the lush acoustic. Also a test for very low bass; the organ pedal points will pressurize the room if your speakers extend low enough." -Robert Harley

Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances - Minnesota Orchestra / Eiji Oue RR-96
"Supremely wide-ranging and dynamic, with powerful bass-drum thwacks and climaxes that open out gloriously, this may be Keith Johnson's best recording of a symphony orchestra (which is saying a lot)." -Paul Seydor

"This disc is particularly revealing of how well the system resolves gradations of tone color, which affects your ability to follow disparate musical lines... Listen to this on HRx at 176.4/24-bit and your jaw will drop." -Robert Harley

Clark Terry: The Chicago Sessions RR-111
"This disc nails the 'bite' and burnished glow of Clark Terry's trumpet, and the huge power and impact of full-on horn section dynamic swells--especially on "Moten Swing." Focused imaging and 3-D soundstages abound." -Chris Martens

MORE AWARDS for RR Technical Director Keith Johnson:

2008 Audio Engineering Society Silver Medal Award
The Silver Medal Award (formerly the Emile Berliner Award) is given in recognition of outstanding development or achievement in the field of audio engineering.

2010 Founder’s Award from the Nation’s Largest Audio Society
It is with great pleasure and admiration that the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society, America’s largest audio society with over 600 members, announces the winner of the Founder’s Award for 2010, the Society’s highest honor, to Keith O. Johnson. As the leading recording engineer in the world for truly fine music and the torch bearer for audiophile recordings at renowned Reference Recordings, we recognize his continuing passion for the high-end. As technical director for Spectral Audio, he continues to design and develop ever more important resources for our enjoyment of great music. Therefore, we declare “Professor” Keith O. Johnson the winner of the Society’s Founder’s Award and 2010 the Year of Reference Recordings.

In the history of the award, this is the first year the winner is directly involved in the production of recorded music.


How To Contact Us:

Reference Recordings
PO Box 77225
San Francisco, CA 94107

Phone: 800-336-8866

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