Many Prestige recordings were recorded by Rudy Van Gelder at his own studios, on different days in the week to Blue Note, to the same high audio engineering standards. The final audio quality can be nearly as good as Blue Note and the Abbey plant pressings a match for Plastylite pressings, though Prestige later commissioned from other plants to lower costs.
Asked the difference between Prestige and its rival Blue Note, the answer often given was that Blue Note provided two days paid rehearsal. Put in a positive way, Weinstock encouraging performances to be unrehearsed for a more authentic, exciting sound. As a result, some Prestige titles are considered merely extended blowing sessions.
Weinstock’s parsimony had other negative effects. If a take didn’t go well, the tape was rewound to the start, with resultant loss of alternate takes. Further,there was an ill-judged move to cheap recycled vinyl in the early Sixties, which left some releases with a permanent background hiss. Nevertheless many early Prestige releases are much sought after, with auction prices to match.
The “Hissy Vinyl” problem
In the early Sixties, Prestige also released records under its New Jazz label.Some, though not all, later Prestige and New Jazz releases were pressed on cheaper recycled vinyl. The impurities in recycled vinyl ( factory detritus, paper label fragments and such) cause a persistent low hiss throughout playback as the stylus interprets microscopic impurities as “information” and is easily noted when it continues in the break between tracks and heard during quieter passages.
Some audiophiles find the hiss intrudes into enjoyment of the music and can be quite prominent, depending on the sensitivity of your cartridge and turntable.(On Sixties equipment no-one could tell) Always ask the seller of any late Prestige or New Jazz record you are considering purchase if this applies, as some sellers do not volunteer it or feign ignorance. The central vinyl land has a slightly milky appearance, and the fragments break up normally smooth reflected light.
The problem kicks in around 1963-ish, and it is random which records are affected. I have had two copies of the same record, one is hissy, the other not (ironically, the record in question was Roy Haynes “Cracklin’ “) This suggests some batches of vinylite supplied to some pressing plants used by Prestige were adulterated. None to my knowledge originated from Abbey Mfg., but may originate from other plants or unscrupulous suppliers. The practice was not widespread in the industry, as far as I can tell.
European release of Prestige recordings
In the late Fifties and early Sixties, Prestige US recordings were released simultaneously in Europe under exclusive national licensing agreements – Esquire for the UK (later replaced by Nat Joseph’s Transatlantic label) , SABA for Germany, Barclay for France, Metronome for Sweden & Denmark, Artone for Holland, and Music Depositato for Italy. These national versions were often pressed with supplied stampers from original Van Gelder masters, in only limited quantities, and the quality of pressings are said by some to be superior to the US originals. The UK Esquire releases are of note for their mostly dreadful alternative covers. Most of the European versions are found only in their own localities, with corresponding scarcity of imported US copies.
Update Feb 3, 2022: In the mid-Sixties, Weinstock also licensed individual titles, notably Coltrane, to other labels, such as the EMI/Stateside label in the UK. The few I have seen are remastered from copy tape, no original US metal.
Sale of Prestige to Fantasy Records
In 1971 the label and its catalogue was sold to Fantasy Records of San Francisco, who proceeded to embark on a major programme of re-issues (light green label), sadly, of lamentable audio quality. LJC verdict : avoid vinyl with “Berkley, Tenth and Parker”