Shoot Out: US v UK Contemporary – Art Pepper – Smack Up (1960)

MC-VeeGee-Meerkat-DJMaster of Turntablism and now electronics wizard, MC VG-Minus,  announces  technology breakthrough at LJC: Vinyl rip comparisons now directly from the LJC Avid turntable, via a Citronic  AC-1 USB audio capture device, into a laptop running Audacity, exported to MP3 at 160 kbps.Wicked eh?

The source is the best on offer, playback quality is still limited to the standard for the WordPress embedded audio player and whatever you use to listen. No more complaints, ha!  I’ve let the entire LJC Complaints Team go. All twelve of them.

I won’t repeat my review of the music, which was blogged back in June last year here. Suffice it to say this is one of Pepper’s essential titles, following the recording of which in late 1960 Art departed for a three-year holiday at the Fed’s expense.

To celebrate a technology breakthrough, a War of Independence re-match on like for like vintage vinyl: UK vs US, Contemporary Records mono.

Selection: Art Pepper Quintet – Smack Up (Harold Land)

Jack Sheldon (trumpet) Art Pepper (alto saxophone) Pete Jolly (piano) Jimmy Bond (bass) Frank Butler (drums) recorded Los Angeles, CA, October 24 & 25, 1960


USA_240-animated-flag-gifs[1]Contemporary M3602 original mono US release


UK release mastered and pressed by Decca, New Malden

Great-Britain-120-animated-flag-gifsContemporary Vogue LAC12316 first UK release, mono

Which has the edge: US or UK edition? Is it true that sourcing from copy tapes rather than the original tapes causes audible loss? Or is the issue the engineer remastering judgements, which lead to them sounding different rather than necessarily one worse. Or is it impossible to say listening on today’s portable technology. Go ahead, have your say, make my day:

If anyone has any advice on improving sound using Audacity in a smarter way, or some other free open source software, I’m not proud. These are my first recordings with DJ-type equipment (ahem, don’t laugh). It is great fun watching the sound waves on a laptop screen, but a bigger decision is whether to wear my new baseball cap backwards or sideways?

Technical Supplement, for any sound engineers out there –

Why do Contemporary Records sound good (reasons other than Art Pepper)?


Technical data from the US liner notes: not that I understand most of these things, but I note two things: nothing digital in sight (the irony is not lost on me that the rips presented here are digitally sampled) and do I see a poke at Bob Weinstock and recycled vinyl: “noise-free vinylite”, 1961, they knew.

Vinyl: The labels, both deep groove. No doubt someone understands why the lead-out groove differs.



Collectors Corner

Occasionally the opportunity turns up to compare like pressings of the same recording, to see if there is anything practical to be learned.

It was on the strength of this sort of comparison that I now reject some UK pressings in favour of US originals, case in point being US Columbia over both UK CBS and UK Philips/Fontana editions of Columbia recordings. With Contemporary I think it is a much more close call. I’m going to be especially interested in any comments.

du Nann bread: The advantage of US Contemporary is the more common availability of Stereo editions. Of my twenty-six UK Contemporary Vogue titles only three are stereo, for reasons that are hard to fathom, titles by Shelly Manne. Perhaps someone at Decca was a Manne-fan? Contemporary stereo I class up there with Columbia.

Technical Legacy: bye-bye Numark usb turtable


Previous rip of Smack Up from the US mono edition. taken with a Numark usb turntable, also 160kbps MP3

To me the old rip doesn’t sound as good as the new rip sourced from the Avid Turntable. However on a cost comparable basis the numark is a wee bit less expensive than the Hi Fi system. The new Citronic/usb/laptop/Audacity set up also makes it easy tocompare samples from digital sources – streaming from CD, with vinyl. Expect a few more quality comparisons in future, only at LJC. Suggestions always welcome.

21 thoughts on “Shoot Out: US v UK Contemporary – Art Pepper – Smack Up (1960)

  1. The US pressing does sound fuller, but I suspect that what makes it the clear winner is the fact that the UK pressing has some audible groove damage (peak distortion). And I find that distortion is a lot more tiring to listen to than a thin, bass-shy sound. Thanks LJC, looking forward to more of these HQ comparisons!

    • I think you’re right; for some parts of Art’s solo on the UK rip there’s clear distortion then it seems to settle down.
      The section that I always think is truly lovely on this track is the transition from Art’s solo to Sheldon’s trumpet. As the piano and drums’ suspended chord comp bridges the two solos, it is suddenly ended by Butler’s ‘Philly kick’ and the piano lays out to leave the pulsating bass to catapult forward the trumpet solo.
      After comparing the two rips for this particular bit several times – about five – I found that the thud of the drum hit was slightly more pronounced on the US rip.
      It’s incredible what insights can be achieved through the idle but highly important study of this type.

  2. I’m kind of in the too close to call camp. Both are great with the UK having more clarity and the US having more punch on the low end. That being said, the US stereo smokes them both from the comparison you put up last year of US mono and US stereo.

  3. Hi LJC. – On behalf of the entire LJC Complaints Team I would like to confirm that the pitch is now correct. I also think the overall sound now is significantly better than it was with the Numark.
    Now to Smack Up: To my ears, the UK edition sounds better than the US edition. However, Roy DuNann notwithstanding, I feel that the sound quality of these great, great tracks (and I have listened to several versions, both mono and stereo, both CD and vinyl) cannot quite cope with Contemporary’s earlier recordings. Can’t tell exactly what it is. Some slight “flutter” in the master tape, probably.

  4. These UK Contemporary Vogue pressings are always very satisfying – all the examples I have are superb – such as Ornette Coleman’s Something Else!!! and Shelly Manne at the Manne Hole to name but two.
    I’d say there is very little difference – the US sounds a little bolder whereas the UK seems to have slightly better balance. I have the US stereo original and it’s one of the best sounding records in my collection.
    Incidentally, I recently compared the original mono Contemporary version of Ornette’s Tomorrow is the Question with a UK 80s stereo reisssue on the Boplicity label and the UK won hands-down, I have to say my original was a little worn and scratched – in fact it went back to the seller who’d described it as excellent.
    But in the same way my Boplicity pressing of With the Rhythm Section is also very very good – perhaps they were digitally mastered I’m not sure – it’s certainly something that’s not noticeable. I’d suggest they’re definitely worth looking for – very reasonably priced as well.

  5. Right now I’m listening to both rips at home with much better speakers than when I’m at work and here, hands down, the UK pressing wins. The US pressing has too much bass for my taste with faint highs, while the UK pressing has good bass and crisp highs: you can actually hear the cymbals and hi-hats. Therefore the UK rip is more engaging to me 😉

    • Not a problem, Audacity exports to many formats, including Ogg Vorbis, lossless FLAC, uncompressed wav. The problem is the limitation of the WordPress embedded audio player, which supports only MP3. Those 20mb files FLAC files won’t play.
      I might try higher resolution MP3 see if 320kbps or higher will work. Thx for suggestion.

      • 320kbps to me (spent many years in Rock industry so ears probably damaged) seems virtually identical to FLAC, so if you could do 320 that would be great

        • Success! It still has to be MP3 format, but the WordPress embedded player will support 320 kbps, I just tested it. The downside is the higher resolution sound eats up my WordPress account space allocation. Oddly, WordPress is not a charity – they charge bloggers for server space. File size shoot from 5mb to over 10mb for a five minute MP3 track. There is a trade off here, but expect future selections to be 320 kbps, and possibly, umm, shorter, and I don’t mean Wayne..

  6. I think the UK version sounds clearer and some how more alive than the US version which to me sounds a little muddy. But good job in upgrading your system, I just hope the guy who pointed out your old system was running at the wrong speed doesn’t notice the same thing with your main system that would be upsetting.

    • Fortunately the setting up my turntable has been in the hands of people who know what they are doing, unlike me. However getting sound from the tape out on pre-amp into a laptop was a problem because the original Behringer UCA202 phono/usb device I had bought was faulty and didn’t work from the outset. I spent a long time cursing Microsoft, because everything is usually their fault. This time it wasn’t, though I still hate them, especially for Windows 8. What were they thinking? 10 million downloads worldwide of “Classic Shell“, which reverses most of Microsoft’s ideas of improvements. Welcome back the Start button.

    • Hi,

      Personally I prefer the sound of the US copy – I can understand the comment about muddyness – but for me the UK version is missing depth – it feels kind of superficial to me and I lost interest – whereas even listening on my PC I feel I can look into the recording and get a better feel of the music with the US version. But it is personal preference and that is the joy of “hi-fi” – that while it is possible for people to agree on the differences that doesn’t mean they like the same one. And to put my foot in my mouth – the difference here is similar to the differences I recall hearing on other US UK A/B’s from long ago which led me to generally go for a US copy of almost anything except Classical – but hey there are many variables.

      Thanks for taking the time to do this post.


      • Well said Simon! This is also my opinion about US and UK jazz pressings which is also true for this record.
        It is also true, the UK classical stereo pressings from the 50’s and 60’s by the likes of Decca and Columbia, are considered technically to be among the best recordings ever produced.
        Of course everybody is entitled to his or her opinion, personal taste and preferences, but with all due respect, those who can’t hear the depth and the resolution of the US pressing (even through a lossy digital format) should upgrade their loudspeakers! The UK pressing just sounds thin and flat!


      • Was it you who noticed the flaw? I was so impressed with your accuracy, I wish I had that level of pitch awareness (or maybe it’s a terrible curse!) But thanks for posting your observation I think it probably helped LJC to finally junk the Numark.

        • To be honest, I’m neither blessed nor cursed with true “perfect” pitch – all I have is a musician’s ear for pitch and speed. Once you suspect there’s something wrong with the speed of a record, it’s easy to check it out with the help of audio software (Steinberg’s Wavelab, in this case). You can calculate the exact difference between two given versions. Now the question is: Which is the “correct” one? To me, the most reliable source is a CD version based on the original master tape. But this is where opinions start to divide. I had a lengthy debate with Bob Djukic on this issue not so long ago:

          However, this was NOT the problem in the case of LJC’s rips. His vinyl is OK, it was just the faulty turntable speed that caused some listeners to spot some mysterious differences in “pace” which they seemed to be attributing to the quality of the pressings. This is nonsense, and this is what I wanted to prove.

          • Also from a musician’s perspective, as soon as we try to play along with a recording, any pitch issue is immediately apparent. In some cases (KOB), they are extreme. Also, we know that certain tunes were played in particular keys, so even if, for example, a recording of Autumn Leave was ‘in tune’ at B major/G# minor, we know that tune is almost always player in Bb major/G minor, so again, the discrepancy would be immediately clear. More specifically, pitch standard in the U.S. has stayed pretty well at A=440Hz throughout the 20th century. It’s where pianos are tuned, and where wind instruments are designed to be played.

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