Fifty Shades of Blue (updated)

 (Update March 23: shades of blue now increased to eight –  three extra rips added at the foot of the post, courtesy of ripmeister Bill H)

Fifty Shades of Blue – Kind of Blue, not Blue Notes – ok, and not fifty, just five. Several vintage vinyl editions of Kind of Blue go head to head, two stereo and two mono, US and British issues, British Philips vs British CBS-Oriole pressing, vinyl vs CD, $100 ticket vs $10, vs free You Tube. What’s a music lover to do?  So, many variables to take account of, and only two ears to do it with.

I thank Eduard L for the challenge, I respond as best I can, you are welcome to try to do better, may be start your own WhatKindofBlueBlog.

The one thing my three vinyl rips have is common TT and sampling technology from analog source, and all have the common playback limitations of your digital listening device. A fair trial or a miss-trial, this kind of empirical enquiry seems worth attempting, even if flawed.

Judge-LJCI’ve listened to them all on real-world hi-fi in the company of two further pairs of ears, and I think we know how they compare: a consensus from critical listening.  Whether a WordPress MP3 streaming player capture the nuances I’m less sure.  If it did, I guess we could safely throw away our hi-fi. You will be listening through your own device. No one knows what you can hear.

Anyone who says audio quality doesn’t matter is a sissy. Are all motor cars “equal”?  Do all wine tastes the same? Hold the Dom Perignon.  Problem is, it’s more difficult with audio than cars and wine, coloured by many other factors, more subjective. Nevertheless, let the competition begin, selected KoB  track, the marvellous Freddie Freeloader, starting with the Columbia six-eye original:

1. US Columbia Six-Eye Stereo original 1959

Miles-Davis-Kind-of-Blue-Six-Eye-cover-and-label1800-LJC

 

Weakest feature of this original  is the condition of vinyl – a little bit of surface crackle  but the music stays well on top. The best feature is its lively airy stereo presentation, which delicately opens up the horn-unison passages, and creates a home-listening soundstage presence  of considerable intimacy.

Soundstage:   you are seated at a table in front of the nightclub stage, the lights dim, and  Miles and the boys strike up their first number. The attentive cocktail waitress is wondering what you are doing after the show.

 

2. 1st UK issue, Fontana 1959-60, Philips pressing

Miles-Davis-Kind-of-Blue-UK-Fontana-cover-and-label--1800-LJC

 

One interesting difference between this and the other British pressing below is the width of the run-out . As it’s the same music,  the grooved area must be wider on the later CBS-Oriole. May be a different groove width set on the mastering lathe in each case. Could that explain the difference between the sound of these various copies? I for one have no idea, but it seems a good question, though good questions are cheap, it’s good answers we need.

Soundstage a smoky pub with a small central stage for the band, who seem to be having a bit of trouble with the PA.The barmaid is ably assisted by her tattoo-laden husband, a former wrestler, who will turn everyone out at closing time, including you.

 

3. 2nd UK issue CBS mid ’60s, CBS-Oriole pressing

Miles-Davis-Kind-of-Blue-UK-CBS-cover-and-label-1800-LJC

 

This UK CBS edition dates from mid to later ’60s, around the time US Columbia broke with UK Philips Fontana to set up its own European distribution company, CBS. In the process, CBS acquired the old Oriole pressing plants in Slough and Buckinghamshire. We lost the usually very fine Fontana pressings by Philips, and in exchange got CBS-Oriole, which were generally not of the same standard, though as always, exceptions are found .

Soundstage: an upscale East-end cocktail lounge with an extensive list of craft beers. The barmaid’s attractive younger sister asks what you are doing after the show. Unfortunately, you have a crowd-funding business pitch to polish in Powerpoint by the morning, and you are beginning to have a headache.

4. Columbia Legacy Edition CD (2009)

KOB-legacy-CD-2009-Digipack-1800-LJC

 

CD ripped to FLAC and converted with dBpoweramp to MP3 at 250 kbps – nearest available compatible format with the vinyl rips. There may be differences due to not passing through streamer/ pre-amp, though whether this makes the native file sound better or worse is beyond my limited understanding of these digital things.

The most noticeable difference between the legacy CD edition and the vintage vinyl editions is the correction adjustment in speed and therefore pitch of the digital recording. I had read about this correction numerous times but there is nothing quite like hearing it for yourself. It is different, though impossible for me to say it sounds “better” for it. If anything it seems to drag as I am so used to hearing it slightly faster. You can argue about this one until the cows come home.(mooooo!)

It is also quieter, which is easily fixed with judicious use of the volume control on playback.

KoB-Legacy-CD-back

As an aside, the meta data on the 2009 legacy CD is a disaster, with tracks variously miss-named, continuing the tradition set by the original. The package includes an hour-long DVD on the making of Kind of Blue, a nice bonus, but also a collection of false starts and alternate takes.

 

Soundstage plays as background music while you scan your phone for incoming texts, juggle playlists, and re-watch that YouTube a friend forwarded the link to, the one with the cat falling backwards off a skateboard, hilarious.

 

5. Google Play I-Tunes You Tube vanilla upload 2014

Final comparison, vanilla quality, someone’s upload to You Tube. (As seems usual for You Tube, the comment thread runs the full gamut from trite endorsement to gratuitous insults –  the low quality of expression makes you despair) You get a benchmark on public listening quality, but how does it stand up against LJC-Tube?

Soundstagea transport café serving all day breakfast and large mugs of tea. You ask if they serve Earl Grey. The counter hand shakes his head. We serve anyone, mate, even Earls. Mind you, nobs get no special priviledges here.

Judgement Time 

I confidently predict the first comment will make the case for some other edition I haven’t got, modern audiophile, Classic Records, definitive I-tunes, Neil Young’s Pornoplayer HD download, but I only have space on my shelf for three or four copies and I don’t listen to music on the move, as my hi-fi is too heavy to carry around.

OK, now you get to pass judgement, any criteria you like. Which edition among those presented here is your first preference? Cruel but necessary. You have just one vote, use it wisely. Poll open for just one week, come back frequently to see who’s winning.

KoB Edition: First Preference

Floor is open to all for comment

Postscript: additional edition rips, kindly sent in by Bill H. Originating equipment not known, resolution may be different, I am out of my depth here. Uploaded March 23, 2015

6. Classic Quiex SV-P 200g 24-96kHz MP3

 

7.Six-eye WLP mono 24-96kHz MP3

 

8. “Original” mono 24-192kHz MP3

 

There are others but I will draw a line here. As voting has already been underway without the additional rips, it puts them at a disadvantage in the poll, so I won’t update for them. My thanks again to ripmeister Bill.

 

 

 

 

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33 thoughts on “Fifty Shades of Blue (updated)

  1. I didn’t listen to your files, but based on my own copies (6 eye mono and stereo, a couple of 70s, Classic) and the rips I’ve heard from both from LP and digital, don’t underrate the 70s copies. A bit more clarity than the 6 eye, but still an awful lot of midrange richness missing from the Classic (which by the way is a remix from the 3-track done live to lacquer by Bernie Grundmann). The digital versions are also remixed, as will be the MFSL when it comes.

  2. I have the recent Sony Legacy mono ‘fold down’ version on vinyl taken from the stereo because they threw the mono tape away (!). I like it, it sounds better than the CD and other vinyl versions I have. But, of course I’d like the original six -eye but perhaps the mono rather than the stereo – although I’m not ultimately sure which is best.

  3. For the curious, the details behind the vinyl rips of the last three (and truthfully, I have 7 different audiophile / vintage transfers) and own several others. All of these samples were done by accomplished vinyl “rippers” who have all done hundreds if not thousands of these transfers. For me, the Six-Eye WLP mono is just stunning.

    Classic Quiex SV-P 200g 24-96kHz
    Technics SL1200-MK5 (modified),Rega RB300 arm with RB700 wiring, Shure V15VxMR (
    with Jico stylus), SimAudio Moon 110LP preamp
    Six-eye WLP mono 24-96kHz
    Music Hall MMF 9.1, Grado Master Reference 1 cartridge, Graham Slee Era Gold Reflex phono preamp, Mytek Stereo192 ADC (analog to digital converter)
    “Original” mono 24-192kHz
    Nottingham Analogue Interspace, Shelter 501 MKII Low Output MC, Ray Samuels Audio Emmeline XR-2

  4. I just went back and forth between the 6-eye and UK Fontana.

    These both sound terrific and I am surprisingly leaning a bit more in favor of the Fontana which brings the bass out a bit more. Miles also sounds like he has a bit more bite on the Fontana.

    The 6-eye is a bit more relaxed sounding, also a great listen.

  5. I love this album in mono, stereo and 3-channel 🙂

    Just can’t go wrong with any of them imho.

    Does anyone have a six-eye stereo US pressing that plays truly quiet? I have never found one, and this includes a WLP that looks like it had hardly been played. So my go to vinyl version has been the Classic Records reissue because of this.

    • The Classic issues are solid, too bad one isn’t included here. I had the 33 RPM version and I liked it just as much as my Legacy CD. I would guess that because of quiet nature of the program, one will be hard-pressed to find a 1959 copy of this album that’s super quiet.

      • Yeah the Classic Rec is a fine sounding release.

        Not a bad time to be a zeros and ones lover since they recently got the mono mix as well.

  6. First: really like the site.
    Have been browsing for a while now, great job! Thx!

    But, how about doing these kind of tests blind.
    Meaning; you don’t tell what pressing it is or even if its a CD….
    People might be influenced if they know it’s a six eye, CD, etc (i think)

    Cheers!

    • Great idea! Though it would be easy to tell the difference between CD and vintage vinyl (simply because of the surface noise of the latter), people would be hard pressed to tell the difference between CD and a quiet, modern re-issue.

      • Good point, Eduard. Blind vinyl-CD comparisons will usually be obvious. Vinyl-to-vinyl would be a good blind test, but to be highly effective I would think the vintage pressings would need to be truly near mint so the noise level would be as low as it would with a brand new reissue.

        • Very true, Rich. It’s just a pity we can’t do all this on the internet. I mean, do we ever realize what we are doing here? This is an all-analog blog with 80 percent of the participants being hard-core vinyl freaks, and we are trying to discuss the imponderables of audio quality by means of “digitally contaminated” (quoting LJC in the Sahib Shihab department) music samples. If we accept this then we must accept that whatever may be evil about the evil silver disc, it can’t be its digital character, can it? But is the mastering of the 2009 Legacy edition so much worse than the mastering of the Six-Eye? I doubt it. I believe the contrary.

          I’m still asking myself: Would a vinyl lover like the master tape of “Kind of Blue”? I think not, because it doesn’t sound like vinyl. Would he be able to tell the analog master tape from a HQ digital transfer? Never.

          • Still speaking my language here. I’ve never been one to criticize digital audio for its ‘stairsteps’, which I’ve never been able to hear personally. I know I’ve said it before here but I’ll say it again because it’s relevant to this exchange: noise-to-noise, digital clearly has the advantage. I know some hardcore analog fans will argue the contrary using aliasing and dithering as their evidence, but for me surface noise and distortion from wear are much more apparent than digital noise. Some vinyl enthusiasts will also argue that vinyl (and tape) do a better job of reproducing transients, which may be true, but for me it’s not a glaring difference. I’ve done A/B comparisons of albums recorded and released in the ’90s where the vinyl and the CD sound so identical I can only guess the same mastering was used for both, and provided the vinyl was new I could only detect the smallest of differences that would not be noticeable in maybe 9 out of 10 listening experiences. And that’s under the assumption that the vinyl is dead mint, brand new.

            The question for me then becomes, why do I still like vinyl and even prefer it in many instances? The glaring truth for me is that it’s definitely not because of the noise, and it really doesn’t have a lot to do with sonics at all, it has more to do with the tangibility of the experience of owning and playing a record than anything else. Contrary to the ‘stairsteps’ analogy, I find digital to be more or less capable of producing a ‘carbon copy’ of an analog source. Sonically that’s awesome, and it’s strange that it’s taken me so long to figure this out, but that’s not the whole story when it comes to an enjoyable collecting and listening experience. So in a strange way, the limitations of the vinyl medium actually make me prefer it from a collecting/experience perspective.

            Finally, I will say that tape has some great qualities that I find digital to be incapable of reproducing without a great deal of effort. For example, in my experience I have found the low frequency response of tape to be more pleasing than digital in many instances, and now that I think about it (I suppose I have noticed the same thing with vinyl)…I don’t know why this is but I’ve felt that way for a long time now.

            • I agree with most of what you are saying. I’ve said it many times before: An LP is a wonderful thing because it’s “real”, tangible, readable, and of course, listenable. CD packaging has been a problem right from the start, and most attempts to solve it have failed thus far.

    • Few days ago i got Miles ESP on the same Japanese pressing as this one – orange CBS labels with the ‘sunk’ ring (don’t know how to call it, not exactly deep groove), looks like a 60s pressing. This one sounds great, rawer sound than the later Japanese pressing (which are more polite), closer to US pressing in nature. Very nice !

  7. Listening to all of these on a borrowed iPad I’m not going to pretend I can discern any real differences – other than the Legacy CD speed correction. I knew the history of this, and I knew the Legacy CD used the correct speed — but to the best of my recollection this is the first time I have heard the speed-corrected version. It does make an extraordinary difference. I have always felt that FREDDIR FREELOADER has a subtle barely restrained energy, as if Miles is having to rein things in a little. On the Legacy it sounds as if the whole band needs an espresso and a smoke break.

    I’d be hard pressed to say which I prefer of these, but the six-eye sounds fine, and of course they all sound better than the first LP I ever owned of KoB, which must have been a mid-70s budget pressing.

  8. For me the 6 eye wins, hands down.
    Interesting to note that all copies have some kind of distortion…noticed that on my mono 6 eye but wasn’t sure if it was mastered & pressed this way or just my copy.
    BTW i’m on my 3rd 6 eye mono copy…haven’t heard a NM example (doubt i’ll ever will) but seems that this record tend to be noisy – at least on all the 3 VG+ copies that passed through my system.
    A while ago i got the recent Sony/Legacy stereo pressing, just to have it in stereo & to hear how it sounds with the ‘correct’ pitch – it’s a nice pressing as well.

    • Are you sure that what you’re hearing is distortion? I think at least part of it is the sound of the reeds, the breath of the sax players. It’s present on the CD as well.

      • Eduard, listening again i can hear what you mean – however still have a feeling that on some places the horns are on the edge of being distorted & i definitely hear distortion on the Fontana rip.

        One thing for sure – this comparison made me understand that i prefer the stereo to the mono on this title…time to look for a stereo 6 eye.

        • I have a theory that frequencies that tend to sound like distortion may cause or increase distortion. Just listen to Miles on the inner tracks of Steamin’ unless your copy is mint.

  9. Just one humble question, LJC: Why did you choose “Freddie” and not “All Blues”, which didn’t have to be “pitch” corrected? I’m almost certain that – in direct comparison, and only in direct comparison – some listeners will find the Legacy version lacking in “pace” for the simple reason that it’s in correct speed. One might argue, of course, that the very speed correction is yet another fault you can find with the Legacy edition. But this throws us back to the old question regarding tape speed: “If it was good enough for Miles, why shouldn’t it be good enough for anyone else?” If (I say “if” because we don’t know) it was good enough for Miles, it was so because he simply didn’t care. It certainly isn’t a case of “artist’s intention” and related blah blah.

    • P.S. – I do not own the 2009 Legacy edition, but I’m surprised at your allegation about meta data being a “disaster” and tracks being “variously misnamed”. This really shouldn’t happen. Are you referring to some facsimile of the orginal Columbia Six-Eye included in the package?

  10. I remember going with my Dad for a home cinema demo and they used the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan. It scared us witless and we walked straight out. It put me right off 5.1!

  11. Just to muddy the sound stage even more, I have a Sony Legacy Dual Disc (2-sided disc) which features a 5.1 Multichannel Surround Sound mix of the KoB album on one side (DVD) and normal CD on the other. Sound stage is my living room – and I have the band right here! . OK, we know it has been faked, but a first class gold plated fake worth every penny of the twenty £ that I paid for it. I swear I can hear Jimmy Cobb breathing. Beats all the 5 versions that I have for sound quality including 6 eye original that I bought when it was issued and I was a mere kid. All played through Sony 5.1 digital amp with sound crafting. Recommended.

    • I know what you mean about 5.1. Different context but I had Saving Private Ryan on Blue Ray, running sound on 5.1 through a five speaker surround-sound home cinema system. The opening Omaha Beach scene (at full volume) had me cowering behind the sofa, fearing being hit by crossfire. Not so much as 180° soundstage as being in the middle of the beach-landing, exploding entrails. Sometimes, these things can be too “realistic!”

      • Know what you mean on this. Bill Evans does seem to be playing on the left just slightly BELOW my sofa and the piano keyboard on a few instances seems to be about 8 foot wide! Good bass though, and overall a lot of fun (as long as you sit still in the optimum position…….)

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