What does a £2,500 record sound like?

“Audiophile Pete Hutchison has gone to extraordinary lengths to reissue golden era classical recordings in their purest form. He talks to Killian Fox about the price of perfection, the ‘digital con’, and the sound of a truly analogue recording”

Observer Guardian article

Anyone with an interest in “vintage vinyl” and its modern recreation may be interested in this interview in this weeks Observer/ Guardian newspaper with recording engineer, obsessive audiophile and Rick Wakeman impersonator Pete Hutchinson. He works  with classical music at present but plans to move into rock and jazz, which could find favour here at LJC. The interviewer adds little insight (it is the Guardian after all), but fortunately Hutchinson sets out his own stall with clarity: Sample:

“These, we believe, are the only machines in the world capable of producing an all-valve stereo cut.”

“…with the MP3 we are at probably the lowest point in the history of sound”

(As an aside, if you think  rare jazz is expensive, see the prices rare classical music fetches and be thankful)

Mozart One Missing

Over $4,000 dollars at auction, and one LP of the set is missing. (I believe in Ebay parlance, being  missing “affects play”.) The above is I suspect the original rare Mozart  box set that Hutchinson sells for £2,495. Well at least you know what it looks like.

I recommend you read the whole thing. For the multi-media minded, there is also an interesting  video on Hutchinson’s restoration of valve cutting machines in pursuit of the  purest possible quality from the original masters  Perhaps the sound engineers out there will be hooting – nothing better than to see professional rivalry laid bare – or gasping in admiration.

Recreating rare vinyl: an analogue labour of love:

Electric Recording Co Capture

And after enjoying a starter and a main, for dessert you can jump to comments:

Over 300 comments including many which  reveal an astonishing  level of arrogance peppered with ad hominem attacks familiar to anyone with a passing acquaintance of hi fi forums. Two examples of reader’s insight:

“There are two main reasons for stating that analogue sounds better: 
1. It sounds the same as the music did when you were young, slim and bands were awesome. That’s a nice feeling.
2. You work in Shoreditch, wear vintage clothes, have an ironic haircut and know in your contrarian soul that if something is mainstream then the alternative must be superior.
Both reasons are, of course, bullshit. People are free to believe that analogue is ‘better’, but people are also free to spend £1,000 / metre on speaker cable.”

Not sure which side he falls on (in summary, you are free to be stupid if you want), he’s so taken with his own line of Stand-Up irony he disappears in a puff of logic. Here is another delight:

“.. “more richness, presence, depth, etc. etc. as validated by the human ear”… None of these things actually exist. They are names given to the varying forms of distortion you get on certain types of playback. It’s a total fallacy.”

And there was you thinking something just sounded beautiful.

Recommended only if your medication is up to strength. While comments remain open, you could wade in, if you take pleasure in poking a wasp’s nest with a stick. My views are a matter of record, as you might expect on a site dedicated to vintage vinyl. I’m saying nothing.

16 thoughts on “What does a £2,500 record sound like?

  1. Personally, I find the whole thing simultaneously fascinating and baffling.

    First off, it is nice to see someone creating something of top quality in any endeavor.

    What confuses me is that clearly that Mr. Hutchison selected the Pathé Mozart in Paris set not only because of its high quality, but because of its extreme rarity (that is unless you believe that these records really do sound $3500 ‘better’ than your average mint original Decca SXL pressing- or $3660 better than the equivalent London pressing, for that matter).

    Terrific! Now everyone can have the opportunity to enjoy this beautiful… wait, it costs how much? As much as the original? So…uh…

    Sure, I get that the printed booklet costs a fortune to make and I also understand that restoring the equipment cost another fortune or three. The problem is, once you’ve cut the master and made the metal parts, you are now in a position to essentially press as many copies of the LP as you want, so why not also create a $100 dollar version without the booklet, etc. that would still be within the reach of most people?

    It’s clearly not due to financial considerations, as Mr. Hutchison freely admits that his project is losing money and wasn’t really intended to be profitable in the first place.

    If you really want to make $4000 spare-no-expense record set with your wonderful newly restored tube equipment, why not select some neglected, poorly issued source material that can be improved upon or better yet record new material to illustrate to everyone how truly amazing your new apparatus is? Isn’t that what Pathé was doing when they created these records in the first place? Pathé didn’t take their then state-of-the-art equipment and use it to reissue an obscure recording made years earlier by some other label.

    Moreover, why create a limited edition of something that is already limited?

    In the end, I feel a good deal of the allure comes down to having something that other people can’t have rather than purely musical concerns. I see and element of ‘my $4000 records just won’t sound as good if my next door neighbor owns a copy too’. My biggest question is why someone who spends that kind of money on rare LPs is going buy a reissue of anything when they can afford the original. Reissues will always have less snob appeal and cachet than original releases.

    That being said, I do really think it’s terrific that they have put the time and energy into restoring the equipment. I only wish that they would use it cut masters that everyone can enjoy and not just the very wealthy.

    Just my two bits.

  2. i have had them in my hands and listened to them repeatedly. In my hands they are works of art. On my record player they sound awesome, presence, clarity and feel very real. If he was in my budget, I would prefer to buy Mr. Hutchison’s records. BTW – Rick Wakeman impersonator is spot on

  3. After all we are lucky that people are doing things…like £2500 record, MM Blue Notes, AP 45 rpm LPs etc ! You can clearly feel that they love making LPs available for all of us even if its not the best business these days. They made their dream come true. (And we have something to listen and talk about).

    I believe there is magic in old tube amps and if making LPs like they used to do with vintage studio amps you wont go wrong. Just keeping it as simple as possible and having all the tools in good working order.

    Some years ago I bought one of those small 50’s tube record players and ain’t it just fun to play 78’s (and 45’s with it). Immediately I said: “I got it”. Hearing even the older stuff like Charlie Parker, Ellington, Basie etc 78’s & Elvis 78’s, The Beatles 45’s played with it is just something else. The sound is absolutely not Hi-Fi but very strong ” in your face” and often “better or right or real” for listening music made for these funny little record players. The same sensation I get with 50’s LPs when played with modern system. Hearing these recordings in other format and often the feeling is not there…

    Thanks LJC for this great blog! I love it !

  4. While I don’t collect classical music on vinyl the are a number of high-end classical record websites that I often while an hour it two away on, marvelling at the prices, the fabulous rarity…. I thought this was fascinating story and thank you for posting it. Of course I’ll never buy one of hutchison’s records, of course they’re exclusive, of course there will be those who want to conduct blind tests or syne wave analyses or f*** knows what else, but I’m still glad that there are people out there who will engage slightly unhinged labours of love in which the bottom line is not the primary consideration….

  5. I love vinyl, with clicks, pops, (small) scratches. I love to smell inside covers, to hold the music I love in my hands, not to need a magnifying glass to appreciate covers and liner notes.
    imperfect but not defective, sometimes dirty but cleanable.
    once I tested hundreds of cables with my equipment in many months, I made up my mind and went back to listen to music and not to aural differences.
    is it not the best I can achieve?
    is there that super-quality limited edition of the music I love?
    no, thanks: I limit myself to original editions.
    that’s all I need, I love, I listen to.

  6. Hi LJC, I would like to repeat what I said lately. If you were to sit a blindfold test involving
    a) one of your favourite vinyl records and
    b) a WAV format rip of that same record (because that’s probably the fairest way to compare “analog” and “digital”):

    I’m pretty sure you would’t be able to tell the difference. Even with some inevitable differences caused by the playback equipment (input levels, for instance) you still wouldn’t know which is which because any such differences are not related to the analog/digital issue as such.

    This from a great lover of vinyl records.

    • The signal processing through my streamer generates a quite different sound presentation to the vinyl, despite all passing through the same amplification down stream. I only know what I hear. I can’t remove the playback equipment effects, so if I had a “zero equipment” who knows what I might hear. Any claim they would sound the same is entirely theoretical – not provable one way or the other. No bet.

      Not quite your test but I have previously posted a “same recording – CD vs vinyl” where both are ripped to a common standard – 160kbps MP3.

      https://londonjazzcollector.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/avishai-cohen-gently-disturbed-2007-vinyl-and-cd/

      To my ear the vinyl is much worse – the CD source much better. Not sure what it proves.

      • It probably proves that in this case the CD source is better. Nothing more, nothing less. At least, it proves that LJC is not one of those who writhe at the mere mention of “digital”.

        But as you said – it’s not quite my test.

    • Hello Eduard

      How on earth could you carry out this test?

      The same vinyl record played on different record players (but through the same equipment afterwards) sounds different. I heard this recently when four of us took different record players to someone’s house and used the rest of his replay equipment. The difference between the decks was huge. Of course each had a different arm and cartridge on, which you would expect.

      It was easy to tell which deck was playing without having to look at them.

      A WAV rip would sound different depending on which DAC was used.

      How can you sensibly compare vinyl and digital given all these variables?

      But this is a jazz blog, not a Hi Fi blog. Mr LJC, you may well want to moderate this reply!

      • Hi Guy,
        I am well aware of this problem. Now imagine yourself sitting in front of your own hi-fi set, blind-folded, listening to a number of extracts from one of your favourite records I play to you – some coming from the turntable, some from the CD player (mind you: in the shape of a WAV rip from THAT SAME VINYL record). Now there may be some difference in volume (which I would try to compensate for as best as possible, given I have access to your equipment before the test) or even in the bass/treble ratio. I’m pretty sure there wouldn’t be too much of the latter, but even if there were (due to the DAC that is being used), it would be difficult for you to decide which is which if you never did this test before.

        What I am saying is this: Provided the volume and EQ settings can be made to be approximately the same (because they have really nothing to do with the analog/digital issue), you will – in all probability – find it impossible to tell which is which. The digital recording as such won’t have any flavour or smell of its own if you copy all the characteristics of the original vinyl into it.

  7. Whether you can afford them or not (and I personally cant, neither the originals or these re-issues) I think it is great that someone has gone to such obsessive lengths to create a quality product.

    Looking forward to his Jazz re-issues, which are promised to be cheaper.

    Like LJC I am in the vinyl camp, but hey if someone spent that much money and dedication producing the very best quality digital re-issues perhaps I would be swayed to by a DAC….

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