Blue Note recordings: guide to audio quality

Last Updated: April 22, 2016

RVGMany great jazz musicians recorded for Blue Note, but the man responsible for the quality of label’s recordings – their high dynamic and tonal range and lifelike presence – was sound engineer, Rudy Van Gelder. It was his recording equipment, choice and placement of microphones, the work at the mixing desk,  the selection and rejection of takes, and the active supervision of the whole recording process from monitoring the dials through to cutting of the master lacquer, that created the “Blue Note sound”.

Van Gelder always sought to be at the forefront of recording technology – the Scully lathe he used for cutting lacquer masters was the first to feature variable pitch/depth control to optimise groove-width and loudness. He deployed the newest Neumann/ Telefunken U-47 condenser microphone, which he had specially modified for use very close to instruments.  His recordings were made on the latest Ampex tape recorders. Van Gelder’s  initials or stamp in the “deadwax” is the best guarantee of audio quality

(More on RVG recording secrets here)

Blue-Note-RVG-three-stamps--LJC-1920

There were two crucial steps in the chain from artist performance to replay in the home that Van Gelder had no control over: the record pressing process  itself, and how other engineers would re-master those recordings in the future.

Variation in sound quality over time

The collector will hear variation in the audio quality of Blue Note recordings, from one decade to the next, from Van Gelder’s loud and dazzling “musicians in the room” presence and room-filling mono, as found on many original Lexington and 47 West 63rd editions, to primitive stereo (Van Gelder was a late-adopter), and poorer quality re-mastering  decades later in the hands of other engineers. Thankfully, the quality of the original  recordings with Van Gelder at the dials often still shine through, though sometimes he ran those dials hot, and it must also be said RVG had his off-days.

6ee0d4a62b6967942406106993839213[1] Records from the era of original  Blue Note are miracles of dynamic audio sound – all the more remarkable because portable record players and radiograms of the day were entirely incapable of reproducing that quality, unlike todays vinyl systems. Home hi-fi systems went on to improve dramatically, but solid state electronics  spread to all stages of engineering, and finally digital processing, adversely affecting sound quality.

Reissues from the late ’70s to the mid-’90s  often  do not compare well to the audio quality of records manufactured in the ’50s and ’60s. Sadly for the audiophile jazz lover, fifty years on, many of the original tapes have deteriorated, many so-called audiophile reissues offer a wooden or “botoxed” presentation, and the mono format has all but disappeared. Original pressings command a collector premium, with the very rarest far out of reach of any ordinary collector’s budget. Hence the jazz-audiophile must grapple with the variable quality of reissues, in order to seek out those that sound  best at the most affordable cost.

Opinions about audio quality

Typically, collectors will say ” I’ve got a woteva pressing of summink-oruvvah and it sounds great!” “Sounds great” and its food-equivalent “tastes great“has little meaning beyond “I like it“. Not to dispute someone’s liking, but our likes are often different, few of us have the same quality audio systems, breadth of listening history, or taste. What sounds great to you may not sound so great to me. For an insight, check “writer-about-thinking”, Eduard de Bono and his “Village Venus” effect.  “She’s the most beautiful girl I have ever seen” Yes, but you have never travelled beyond your own village. If you had, you would know she is nothing out of the ordinary. Now Italian girls…Mama Mia!

The  journey beyond “likes” is to  explicit comparison, something compared with something else.  Try to compare alternative editions with original pressings, and make that comparison on a fairly revealing high-end audio system , and make a point of listening to a number of different high-end systems of friends. (It’s often surprising how different a record can sound on another system, tuned to different priorities).

Different issues of the same recording  often have differences in dynamic and tonal range,  rhythm and timing, and may exhibit different gain or feature instrument distortion. Records made at different times, by different people, from different generation copy tapes, sound different. Comparing two different issues, sometimes some instruments all but disappear, others stand well forward, like a different record.  Superior engineering  can reveal hitherto unappreciated artist intent and inter-musician interaction – the holy grail of musical coherence, while bad engineering can obliterate it.

Some collectors have yet to hear what an original first pressing sounds like because their resources don’t stretch to those high prices. Others who own first pressings have never really heard them, because they are not listening on a very revealing audio system.

I ask: “compared with the best sounding issues of these titles that I have heard, how does this re-issue sound on my system”? I’m looking for which sounds more fresh, engages the  emotions,  compels listening, whose rhythm and timing swings and gets your feet tapping, in which the music “makes sense”

Comparative judgement is essential to the record upgrading process. If you don’t upgrade, you will never know if there are better sounding copies.  When someone says their audiophile reissue sounds great, ask if they have the original vintage press for comparison. Yeah, I know, no need, what you’ve got sounds great.

Inevitably there will be individual titles that do not conform to the expected quality, for whatever reason. Remember: only you know what you hear, no-one else does. If something sounds good or bad  to you, your opinion is all that matters, though you should always take the opportunity to “educate your palate”.

The LJC Blue Note audio quality hierarchy – overall rating (this needs updating!)

(based on impression of listening to a range of copies – individual exceptions may differ)

Blue-Note-rank-in-audio-quality-3

Test-Pressing-and-Review-verticalThe reason for seeking out earliest pressing of a title has nothing to do with them being valuable antiques or of sentimental historical interest, which of course they are, but as a general rule, the earliest edition is sonically the best edition. “First pressings” are considered the holy grail of audiophile quality, being the closest possible to the studio original tape recording and master acetate before any effect of age, wear and tear.

The factory test pressing is the ultimate first pressing, being “first off the first stamper” which at that point will exhibit no sign of the progressive groove wear which follows subsequent pressing repetitions. A white label promo or review copy is also likely to be among the first batch of records pressed, and sought after for the same reason, though its cover may be disfigured by stamping.

The first pressing of each Blue Note title will be on whatever was the label in use at the time – Lexington, 47 West 63rd or New York – and these are all the gold standard of audio quality, though some of the very earliest recordings  betray the limitations of  recording equipment at the time. However there may be no audible difference between first and later second pressings, being manufactured with stampers derived from the same mother and master. A later pressing on the NY label can sound as good as the first pressing on 47 West 63rd, the main difference being the collector’s premium, the price.

Similar high audio quality is often found in records pressed during the first few years of Liberty Records ownership, which include a number of Van Gelder mastered titles prepared for release before the 1966 watershed, whose first pressing is on the Division of Liberty label or previously printed N.Y. labels. I consider many if not most of these sonically  the equal of Blue Note originals of the NY period. The same can not be said of those without Van Gelder mastering, of which there are a few.

Variations in audio quality within editions

From an audiophile perspective, the most important determinant of sound quality is the recording skill of the original sound engineer.  After that –  more important than label or first pressing status –  is stamper wear. In the pressing plant, the ridges of a  stamper are progressively deformed by a hundred tons of pressure through the two thousand or more pressing repetitions of a stamper’s useful life, resulting in increasing loss of fidelity, especially in the higher frequencies. Somewhere in each pressing run were the first few and the last few off the stamper, hence being a first pressing is itself not a guarantee of top audio quality, or a second pressing of poor quality: there is no way of knowing in advance at what stage in the life of a stamper a record was pressed. There is an audible difference in sound quality even between two copies of a first pressing. In extremis, one will be more inviting, more fresh, more presence, the other more dull, congested, leaving you inexplicably unenthusiastic about the music, but nursing an equally large hole in the bank account.

1968: the decline in audio quality starts

From 1968 onwards, the Liberty/Transatlantic years,  Blue Note quality became increasingly compromised. The signature Van Gelder  sound began to disappear.  Recordings were often re-mastered by staff engineers,without any understanding of the adjustments Van Gelder applied to his own tape recordings during mastering. Pressing was farmed out to plants of lesser quality than Plastylite and All-Disc, working from second or third generation copy tapes, on ever-thinner vinyl.

This decline was not exclusive to Blue Note but an industry-wide trend throughout the ’70s. In the  ’80s, there was a last attempt to revive the format and cut costs – Direct Metal Mastering – before final migration to CD, The Evil Silver Disc, for music distribution, which more or less killed off vinyl manufacturing know-how, though there were a few remaining bright spots.

Now for some good news: from our friends from Japan

KING-and-TOSHIBA-jacket-address-and-Label

A few exceptions to this gloom stand out, the most obvious being the pressing of Blue Note recordings in Japan, by King Records and Toshiba EMI. Dating from the ’70s and ’80s, the audio standard of these vintage pressings is consistently high, and favoured for near-silent vinyl. The presentation is not as forward as original Blue Note, but generally quite acceptable, more available and more affordable, especially for the rarest of titles.

King Records vintage pressings (1977-83) are generally preferred to Toshiba. Toshiba reissued most of the 1500 series between 1983-85, and most of the 4000 series between 1990-95. Beyond these dates however, Toshiba continued  with further reissues through to the present day, however any Toshiba Blue Note manufactured after 1995 should be treated with great scepticism. Often sold on the back of the reputation of earlier years,more recent Toshiba are not the same  audio quality as the vintage releases 1983-95. They include digital transfers, and  even supposedly RVG-remastered for CD, cynically pressed on vinyl, and are not audiophile quality.

Other often acceptable reissues

Other brief oasis of sound quality include the Blue/black West Coast Liberty/UA pressings, the early Division of United Artists pressings, and some but by no means all early French Pathe Marconi before Direct Metal Mastering was introduced. All these editions are a variable experience – some can be very very good, others can be quite indifferent, depending on title.

Reissues to avoid

Blue Note reissues generally to avoid are the 1980’s US Capitol/Manhattan reissues (“The Finest in Jazz Since 1939“), EMI France Direct Metal Mastered, the blue label/white note.  The 304 Park Avenue South Scorpios I consider Records in Name Only – a cd transferred onto vinyl. Also to avoid, any edition which has mono electronically rechanneled to simulate stereo, and modern “180 gm audiophile” reissues, even where claimed to be “remastered from the original tapes”, as despite the best intentions the result is often quite disappointing.

As with all these things, there are exasperating exceptions. Every once in a while you play a Blue/black b which sounds great, even a French DMM which sounds fresh and lively, not at all harsh.  Sometimes the original recording was so good it was near impossible to make a bad transfer of it, so I am reluctant to condemn any edition out of hand. Ultimately only your ears can decide.

Reissues: the best and the worst US and European reissues

Putting to one side Blue Note “originals“, Liberty and Japanese pressings, there are some commonly found and inexpensive  reissues – and my rule of thumb for the budget-conscious vinyl collector as to which to avoid and which may be worth pursuing.

blue-note-reissues-best-and-worst-updated-UAyears-numbers

(Above numbers refer to the detailed page for Blue Note, the United Artists Years)

How do other US labels compare with Blue Note audio quality?

Blue Note are by no means the only audiophile quality vintage vinyl and Van Gelder was not the only great sound engineer. Up there with the Blue Note best are US Columbia Six Eye and Two Eye,Contemporary, Impulse Orange black rim and black/red rim, and Prestige fireworks. For Stereo, I rank Columbia, Impulse and Contemporary often better than Blue Note.

TOP-SOUNDING-FIVE-LABELS

Some labels such as Riverside, Mercury and Atlantic are variable and inconsistent, great recording artists but dogged by either poor engineering or poor pressing, depending on title and over time. Others I have not enough to judge, too small a sample, such as Verve, RCA Victor, and Bethlehem, and a host of smaller labels, like Candid.

What about sound quality of American recordings licensed for European release?

In UK licensed pressings, the dominant factor is remastering from copy tape (apart from Esquire, who enjoyed original US metalwork).  Different engineer, different taste, different judgements. Pressing and engineering was to a very high standard, especially by Decca, closely followed by Philips, then EMI. With Riverside, I find UK Interdisk editions (Decca or Philips)  better sonically than original  US Riverside. Impulse recordings released by HMV pressed by EMI are very good but not as good as US Impulse, where RVG originals are much to be preferred. All Columbia manufactured in UK, whether for Fontana or CBS, are inferior to US Columbia. Your Monk and Miles must be Made in the USA.

LJC

38 thoughts on “Blue Note recordings: guide to audio quality

  1. Hi LJC,

    Do you think there is (in general) a difference in sound quality of a first pressing 47 West 63rd and second NY pressing of the same title?
    What is your experience? Ot maybe you heard from other listeners / collectors?

    You wrote about this issue in this post, but it is formulated rather cautiously.. ‘may be no audible difference’, ‘can sound as good’…

    Just wondering…
    Thanks!
    Bart

    • I try to make judgements that apply in the generality, though there will always be exceptions, and sometimes it varies from one title to another.

      I think the biggest variation in sonics is due to where any particular copy sits between first and last off the stamper, which is unknown except possibly for test pressings and review copies, thought to be “early”, and logically, an early label variation.

      I practice, where there is metalware in common, I have not found much to choose between copies with different labels.

      There are some other significant factors. Lexingtons benefit from being massively heavier vinyl, some 220gm and upwards. NY pressings have often benefited from less wear and tear as tonearm tracking weight reduced, causing less damage.

      Apart from that, I haven’t found any consistent advantage from being 47W63rd 1st press over NY label later pressing, or NY over early Liberty. Condition is often king, though there is much sentiment over being “original/1st press”

      The fall off is most marked when the lineage to Van Gelder masters was broken, pressing started to be carried out at other plants around the US (later Liberty) and overseas, re-mastered from a copy tape.

  2. In this interesting review I am missing the French and English Vogue pressings of 25 cm Blue Note releases. For my ears they sound as good as their US counterparts. Anyone with a different opinion?

  3. I cannot corroborate these findings. To my ears, the chasm of improvement on the new Music Matters (45s and 33s) is huge. Mind you, the improvement is only there on high resolution, modern audiophile hi-fis. Specifically, the frequency range is more balanced, the bass goes deeper, the highs more detailed and less hashy, and everything more dynamic. My originals sound, for lack of better terms, “shouty” and “pinched” on modern audiophile equipment.

    • No problem, you hear what you hear, I hear what I hear, there is no reason why they should be the same. We both have a different ears, different rig, and a different listening history. I would be surprised if it resulted in the same opinion.

      People want certainty, x is better than y, in a world where there isn’t any. All you have is someone’s opinion based on their unique experience. It doesn’t necessarily replicate.

      My Blue Note originals – over 100 – you call shouty and pinched – to me are balanced, exciting and vibrant. I have no problem with people having a different experience. If that is how it sounds to you, who can argue? No-one else knows what you hear.

      I would encourage people to listen and decide for themselves.

  4. Dear LJC how about a new empire state building of Blue note quality, taking into account 75 th Anniversary, 304 South Park, and breaking down differences between, MM 33, 45, Quiet SCV, Mosaic, BN connesseur series and perhaps some breakdown or Japanese era pressings. FYI, here is a new pressing of BN for you. At a local shop i saw an album by Lou Donald called I “I won’t cry anymore”. Close observation told me it was a pressing of Swing and Soul BN 1566 with good awful cover, but, clean and $10. The label is Sunset ..Jazz Archives series..from Liberty UA. Label and Vinyl quality and weight almost exactly the same as Black Blue Los Angeles BN. Later when i played it at home I was definitely transported into that Hackensack living room.

    • Thank you, I can only agree it is time for revision.

      Having travelled this direction over six years, with many changes in equipment that offer a different perspective on the fidelity of all these editions. I insist on comparative listening sessions. It is no good saying x is great unless you take the time and have some relevant comparators.

      Up near the top of the panoramic view must be the MM33s. I find they are in a different league to their predecessors. On other audiophile, I have a couple of Classic Records 200gm and frankly they are disappointing, lacklustre.

      The Japanese are all over the place. Though I used to think many are very good, I keep coming across editions that are terribly weak, rolled off top end, flabby bass, slow and unengaging. There are new bright spots, like the Toshiba LNJ series early, which are sonically very satisfying, and then there are recent Toshiba which are rubbish. Whilst King, Toshiba and Victor are generally consistently good, Ive been very let down by everything Polydor, and Tcheiuku are inconsistent.

      Who’d be a vinyl detective? As they say, it’s complicated. It will take time.

  5. OK I am trying to place all my BN albums, mostly reissues, of where they fall in the pantheon. I have one that is baffling me…Lee Morgan 1541, obviously a reissue… About 200 GM vinyl, the label is an exact duplicate of the 767 Lexington Ave. with deep groove.
    Cover even says for a complete catalog write to ankle note at 767 Lexington ….
    Below is…..courtesy of Blue Note, A division of Capitol records Inc., under license from EMI -Capitol music special markets.

    0n the original side I do have Blue note 1549 Cliff Jordan. With 47 west 63rd, New York 23
    RVG hand etching, p ear, BN-LP-1549-A. Obviously original Blue note. Would this be a first pressing? Or would it need the 767 Lexington address?

    Again thanks so much! I have now reorganized my 700 album jazz collection by label!

    • Last Lexington was 1543. Your 1549: 1st issue is 47W63 New York 23, flat edge, laminated cover with blank spine. If you have all those, you are blessed with good fortune. A copy of each original label in 1500 series is here

      • Mr. LJC, Thanks for your reply. Since finding your site a couple weeks ago, I become obsessed, I’ve been buying vinyl since teenager almost 40 yrs ago. Maybe 2500 total with 700 jazz. I’ve kind of followed the music and musicians more than then the labels and pressings. But now I see the light. I buy from record stores, thrift shops and garage sales. The most I’ve ever payed is this weeks purchase of Sonny Clark, Cool Strutting on KING JP, $40 that you made me buy. Fantastic by the way. I am little discouraging to go through the Blue note section …70 albums….only 5 original and about 20 liberty. Yes some scorpios and some DMM. I’m listening critically to everything. I actually really like 2 DMMs, The Jazz Messangers at Caffe Bohemia, Vol 1, maybe the fact that it was a live recording and might have been a little flat to begin with? I’ve never heard the original. I also really like the Elvin a Jones 1969 Polycurrents. The brightness of DMM seems to work well with all those drums. How does it compare with the original?

        My albums are quite varried with most of the other labels fairly well represented..with original from prestige, Riverside, Impulse, etc. to Bethlehem to Candid to much west coast Jazz…As I live near San Francisco.I have a number of labels and variations ..world pacific, Crown, lighthouse, ,, Revue, Fantasy, etc. that I don’t see listed your site. Interested in photographs? I’m a professional photographer and winemaker….
        Thanks Again, Reid Yalom

  6. I recently picked up three of the Connoisseur Series Capitol Blue Notes from the 1990s. Whether these were entirely analogue is unclear. I bought them because they were titles I’d not seen elsewhere as Japanese editions or Liberty etc – Tina Brooks’ True Blue, Blowing in from Chicago and Shorter’s All Seeing Eye. They were cheap – £7 to £12 and were promo copies so I’d hope are best quality. To me, they compare very favourably to the Japanese reissues. They strike me as a decent alternative to current expensive audiophile editions.

      • Yes they all have ‘Wally’ and ‘Mastered by Capitol’ in the deadwax and are thick 180 gram vinyl. I believe he (Trautgott) did the mastering for the vinyl editions while the CD editions may have been mastered by someone else. They were marketed as being ‘mastered from the original tapes’ etc. They are recognisable by a different catalogue system – the numbers seem to begin with a 2. That rather spoils the covers in terms of looking like an original but has the benefit of distinguishing them from the other reissues on ebay. The sound is much more like the Japanese reissues than the fulsome sonics of originals but for about £10 I am more than pleased (although of course I don’t have any like-for-like comparisons to make).

        • For the life of me, I have lost every single bid on Freddie Redd/Jackie Mclean the Connection for the last three years. I just purchased a Conn Series for $11. Until I get Lucky….

            • Don’t know yet. I’m in the process of moving across the country to Colorado so I’m at my Folk home. My other Conn Series sounded O.K but of course, no where near the originals. I see it as a good substitute especially if you have a audio system that can squeeze everything out of the grooves.

          • Connection is hard to find. I might suggest the Freddie Redd Box Set on Mosaic from the original masters. It is the entire Blue Note Sessions plus some unreleased music. With Jackie Mclean and Tina Brooks on all three sessions, it is an under the radar treasure.

          • I too recently picked up “The Connection” as a Conn reissue, this was at the same time as picking up a handful of Kings. The Conn sounds very good, but does not have the fullness or body that the Kings have, it definitely sounds more digital-like. The Kings sounded great to amazing, and compared very well to my Liberty RVGs, which was a bit of a surprise, I would have assumed the KIngs would have sounded better, not on par with, the RVG Libertys.

    • Based on the impossible cost of originals of those titles, an alternative is the only option. Interesting observation on Connoisseur Series. I have read similar comments, though I have no first hand experience of them.

      I confess to an original for the Shorter, but the others are a Japanese and a French, neither of which are stellar.

  7. This site never ceases to gratify or edify! Thanks again for imparting this knowledge…. 🙂

    I had one question, and it’s probably been asked many times recently, but I did not find an answer so posing it to the experts here.
    Does anyone here have any experience (good or bad) with the recent Blue Note 75 series of re-issues? At the time of my writing this (May 27th), one of my all time favorite albums, “Song for My Father” is being released as part of this effort. I recently purchased an original mono release of said album in average condition but for 20 bucks, I am tempted to double dip….. and pick up a few other titles, if they are good.
    If these are CD’s remastered to LP’s I am definitely not interested….I have had some unfortunate experience in that area too! 😦

    • There is a 16 page thread over on on Hoffman about these Blue Note 75 releases

      http://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/alan-yoshida-mastered-blue-note-75th-anniversary-vinyl-reissues.343988/page-16

      The comment that seems to come up again and again is “sound great to my ears”, which is some degree of reassurance – some people like them – though of course you don’t know what those people’s points of reference are.

      I like Italian Prosecco, which I prefer to Spanish Cava, but I don’t think either are as good as French Champagne, especially a top marque. Someone comes along and declares “I think Cava tastes great”. They are happy with it, I am sure they are, does that mean you will? Without a context, I count this as “non-transferable knowledge”. Lot of it around on the internet.

      The only way you will know if it sounds good to your ears is by experiencing one for yourself.

      What is slightly worrying is the number of reported production defects (non-fill issues and such) One I saw the other week in a second hand store in London apparently had bowl curvature – it wasn’t flat. No excuse for that.

      • If you don’t mind, I am going to use that Prosecco-Cava reference in every future argument I have on quality and context 😀
        Jokes apart, thanks for the response. I see your point and although I don’t have too many reference points, I do have a few and they have already set a high standard (I have a beat up copy of Blue Train that sounds way better than a supposedly better 180 gram reissue!!)

    • Unfortunately many of these 75th Anniversary LP’s do have digital in the chain. I won’t be picking any of these up due to that and hearing many mixed reviews.

      LJC is precisely right where you have no idea what the points of reference are for those listening to them. If they had perhaps only heard CD versions or downloads of MP3’s then yes, these probably will sound better. But if those guys have heard original copies or even early Liberty pressings then I imagine there would be no contest. I could be wrong, but that’s my hunch.

      If you want to get some crispy clean re-issues then go for some of the new 33rpm Music Matters LP’s. I have actually bought 4 of them since they came out and all of them are excellent. They don’t have the same vibe as the originals which is fine. But they do seem to be doing a good job of capturing what is most likely the sound of the original master tapes which is their goal. Sometimes it’s nice to have both.

      • What I’ve been able to glean from various reviews is they “sound great for what they are.” Meaning, they were not meant to be fetish-audiophile products, but nice, inexpensive reissues of hard to find and often expensive records. In other words, it appears they sound pretty good for $20.

        • Thanks David. I did not know MM had reissues in the 33rpm format. I had only come across the pricey 45 rpm ones. Will look it up.

          Joe – that’s kinda what I figured. The price point is not too bad to “experiment”. Some of the titles here are tempting since I don’t have them in any decent format.

      • So, David, you would recommend the new MM reissues? I have heard there will be only a few reissues, not the whole catalog. I am trying to decide between the 33 1/3 reissues and tracking down used early Liberty’s in the same price range, what would your preference be? Thanks!

  8. Hey LJC, doth mine eyes deceive me or did you get rid of that great Empire State graphic you used to have up to show varying audio quality of the different BN eras? Loved that graphic and sad if it’s no longer with us….

    • Graphic reinstated Bob, updated for my current impressions.

      The biggest change has been a re-assessment of the late ’70’s UA beige gatefold two-fers. With a couple of exceptions, these rediscovered RVG recordings are a delight, I don’t know how I could have got it so wrong. A few are iffy I think because the original recording was not up to scratch, but mostly these are pure pleasure.

      Also I’ll nail my colours to the mast about the early Liberty pressings with no ear – first class.

      “Modern audiophile” earn very few points, an opinion based on very limited examples. Why would I want to buy more?

      Your mileage may vary. My opinions have changed with improvements in my hifi.

      • The sound quality on those early Liberties is great. My problem with Liberty is the vinyl quality is all over the place. I have some that play dead silent like minty Plastylites and others that are crackly even though appear unplayed.

        • Agreed: life would be simple if things were consistent – consistently good, or consistently bad, but a lot of editions are all over the place, depending on the title or even sample. I have been searching without success for the quality divining rod, but it is ever elusive. Nowadays I am more philosophical: elation and disappointment are an inevitable part of collecting.

          I do test my own assumptions from time to time – for example, about the 80’s Capitol Manhatten Blue Notes recently, which I reckoned to be the worst Blue Notes on vinyl ever produced. I gave one a second chance recently (an Andrew Hill), and it turned out awful, far worse than my original assessment, plumbed new depths. Cuscuna and RVG put their names to it, which suggests to me they never sat and listened to the final product that reached the customer’s turntable.

  9. You are a godsend. Preach on, brother! Cuz you are speaking the truth, straight up and down. Quick question: I understand that Prestige used different pressing plants, but do you feel that Van Gelder masters on Prestige are typically inferior to Plastylite Blue Notes? I personally feel like sonically, a Van Gelder is a Van Gelder, be it Blue Note or Prestige.

    • I concur that this is an absolute fantastic post our fearless leader made. Lots of deep, well thought out insights.

      Regarding Van Gelder Blue Note vs. Prestige (or any other label), I feel like there is a difference. The Blue Note Plastylites seems to have a smooth, natural balance that the others do not. The instruments seems to shine a bit more. Many of the Prestige records seem to sound a slight bit more grungy. In a way, that can add character and it’s nice that not everything sounds exactly like Plastylite Blue Notes for variety.

      For what it’s worth, I would say I collect Blue Notes, but I also listen to all labels that have wonderful music. Blue Note more often than not is just what’s found on the turntable!

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