(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.
I’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
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
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
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)
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.
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?
Soundstage: a 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.
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.