A different kind of vertical tasting, the common thread is the same original Blue Note recording BPL 4063 “Whistle Stop” first issued in 1961, in only mono. Featuring Kenny Dorham, Hank Mobley (Mobley!), Kenny Drew, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe, track selection, the Dorham composition “Sunrise over Mexico“.
Reissues followed over the next fifty years, each re-mastering in stereo from a two-track Van Gelder tape recording intended for mono. All the reissues here chose to go stereo, and it’s passable stereo, point-source instrument placement and not the wrap-around stereo we heard previously in Pablos ’80s Hubbard release. Sometimes nothing much is happening on one or other channel, that is how it works with two track recordings intended for mono, but it is not “fake stereo” as back covers suggest..
Our flight starts with the nearest in time to the original and finishes with the most modern, five samples in all, covering about forty years. Are Japanese editions really “soft”? What effect did the encroachment of digital processing have on sound quality? Are modern re-issues really more “information-rich”? The rips are from my vinyl copies, for forensic comparison, each created with the same playback and ripping equipment, so no equipment bias. You be the judge, my lips are sealed.
Follow the Money
The cheapest vinyl copies are generally the French Pathe Marconi, and the United Artists Blue Label 70s pressings, usually around or less than $20. Are they undervalued? All rips here are “vintage” except for our friends Music Matters, whose MM33 edition was released only last year at a higher price-point. Japanese reissues from the 80’s and ’90s fall somewhere between the two price extremes, along with the mid-90s Connoisseur.
If you hanker after the “original” (which I don’t have) expect to pay considerably more, somewhere between $300 and $1,000 USD. Here are the top quartile auctions, all mono 47W63rd, from Popsike:
I don’t care for collecting at this premium price-point, though I respect the desire to own a piece of history, knowing you are one of only few that possess it. And the original artefact has a commanding physical presence, which owes a lot to the paper and print technology of the ’50s and ’60s which seems impossible to reproduce with modern equipment. Yup, I own up, I would like an original, but not enough to pay such eye-watering prices. You can have more fun for less, the question is how do re-issues fare against each other? Forget the seller hype, and do some heavy lifting of your own to find out.
Let tasting commence, in chronological order (headphones recommended).
1. United Artists Music and Records Group, Blue label (circa 1975)
Notice the back cover claims “Electronically re-recorded to simulate stereo”. Initially this raised a “fake stereo” flag for me, but sitting and listening, it is simply two-track tape re-mastered (“re-recorded”) to create stereo, because Van Gelder never created a stereo master.
The panning is a little hard but in no way is it “electronically simulated stereo” from a mono recording, as is found with earlier 1500 series, where the original source is a mono tape. For most late 1500 series and almost all 4000 Blue Note series, this warning can safely be disregarded.
There is the odd click and pop as I wasn’t able to run it through the record cleaner before preparing the rip.
2. Pathe Marconi EMI France (1984)
Reissued for the European market by the EMI Pathe Marconi division in the early eighties, it predates the arrival of digital and the Teldec Direct Metal Mastering technology, the final nail in the vinyl coffin.
Poor Excellent attention to detail, the label is New York not is 47 West 63rd as it should be.
3. Toshiba EMI Japan (1990)
Toshiba EMI had a good track record in the early eighties, but according to the insert which came with this copy, it was part of a reissue series in 1990, well into the digital era, so potentially suspect. The label is again New York facsimile, not 47 West 63rd.
5. Capitol Connoisseur (1994)
Capitol Connoisseur (1994) was EMI’s final effort to capture the audiophile vinyl segment, lured by promises of 180gm vinyl weight and “sourced from the original analogue tapes”. Insiders like Michael Fremer claim the process was flawed by the use of digital delay lines during mastering, which effectively created a digital copy of the analogue tape to drive the analogue mastering lathe.
The Connoisseur flaunts the signature of mastering engineer Wally Trautgott – “Wally”. Capitol repeat the back cover warning found on the United Artists, of simulated stereo.
5. Music Matters MM33 (2016)
The colour fidelity seems to tally with that of the original mono cover from 1961, with a cyan-bias verging on green, compared with the richer blue of other reissues. Needless to say the Music Matters gatefold include wonderful Francis Wolff portraits of the artists in the studio. On this occasion the we are comparing audio rather than value added visuals, however they are a beautiful bonus.
That’s it, vertical tasting done. Question is whether you hear any differences between these reissues, you decide. If you can’t hear any difference, that puts you in an informed position. If you hear differences, and prefer one over others, that also puts you in an informed position.
Knowledge based on your own experience is the best there is, for the time being, as your own preferences can change over time. Someone else’s opinion makes you hostage to their preferences, not yours. You can’t short-cut the process of discovery for yourself: my preference may not be yours.
So, we have a five horse race.
If you have dipped into the rips and found any preference between them, it’s your chance to vote, share and compare. To add a little spice, you get to vote twice (it’s the ‘merican way, allegedly). First, you can vote for the one you most prefer, and then against the one you liked least. (That is how the French elect their Presidents) Or maybe you just found them all about the same (British politics: no matter who you vote for, the Government always gets in) You can call a dead heat.
First Preference, your winner:
Least Preferred, last past the post:
Polls close in one week. Check back to see the winners and losers. It’s a double accumulator. Anything you found in the process, the floor is yours.
Something I discovered only recently, is listening to rips through mobile phone earpieces. Personally I dislike smartphones, weapons of mass-distraction, phone-zombies shuffling around today’s cities, but one was bequeathed to me, and took the opportunity to upload my own vinyl rips (320kbps mp3) and some rips from my CDs to the phone. The CD rips sounded dull, flat, uninteresting whilst the vinyl rips had me on the edge of my airplane seat. Big surprise. Both were “digital” MP3, but a very different experience. Neither bore any resemblance to listening to the big analogue system, moving air, musicians in the room. I’m ripping more vinyl onto the phone, even listening to this guy LondonJazzCollector site rips through wi-fi, hearing things in a different light.
I gather these smart phone things can also be used for making phone calls, which I admit that could come in handy at some time. I’ll leave others to watch YouTube cats falling off skateboards.
More tasting soon. Next time, horizontal, woah!