Tag Archives: Analog

How Do You Explain Our Hobby to A Non-Audiophile?

Noted humorist Mark Twain once said, “we are all ignorant, just about different things.” I have also heard a variation that goes – “we are all ignorant about something.” It seems to make sense that while any of us are knowledgeable about some, maybe even many things, we are not experts on everything. High performance audio included.

When we look at the number of audiophiles who spend ever increasing sums of money on a musical playback system and compare that to everyday, plain ole music lovers, we easily find a schism in the numbers. How many audiophiles there are compared to how many music lovers there are makes our hobby indiscernibly small. “i” somethings or other sell in the tens of millions, maybe even more. Most all play music. Yes, not great music but music none the less. How many, by comparison, world class, best of the best amps sell each year? 

For most listeners, taking a smart phone and connecting it to some type of Bluetooth device is wonderful. A magical feeling usually ensues. Better still is connecting that smart device to a home network allowing listeners to enjoy music stored on their “i whatever” – all over the house. And of course, there are devices that play music on demand – “Alexa, play some jazz” and poof, jazz plays. 

If this is the extent of real world, practical experience an ordinary, everyday music aficionado uses to play a song, and little is known about better playback methods, how does an audiophile explain the hobby to one who could care less about dynamics and standing waves? Try doing so may enact a deer in the headlights look, and an internal question that resembles “what is he talking about?” 

How then do we, as music lovers, as listeners who want something better and are prepared to pay to have it, even as audiophiles, explain our hobby to someone who feels an iPhone is all the musical excellence one should ever req uire? How do you explain the driving experience of a Ferrari to a person who feels a scooter is all one needs to get around? 

Over the years, I’ve had any number of non-audiophiles in my audio room. I try to explain what they first see, most notably the acoustical panels on the walls. In all honesty, the correct answer to “what do all these things hanging on the walls do?” is steeped in physics. Providing an accurate answer relies on discussing the conversion of sonic energy to heat and the resultant reduction of harmful reflected sound waves. 

When asked that particular question, however, I usually stumble around with some sort of answer like “oh, they help make music sound better.” No one, not one single person has ever asked me “how?” I seriously doubt anyone is substantively interested in the laws of thermal dynamics and using kinetic energy to convert sound energy to heat, thus nulling reflected sound and improving sonics. 

Less still do non audiophiles seem to be even remotely informed about the various components in my audio rack. “What is that thing with the blue light?” When I answer “that’s a DAC” I typically see an eyebrow bending and quizzical look on their face. “What on Earth is a DAC?” comes the reply. I sometimes feel compelled to answer, “why not ask Alexa?” 

Most people who find their way to my audio room are polite enough to not ask the daring question about how much things cost. Because in the real world, revealing to a non-audiophile the cost of our hobby can be markedly overwhelming. When a big box system may be bought for somewhere around a thousand dollars, and Alexa and a music subscription may be purchased for less than a $100.00, an audio system investment of five or six figures, let alone more, will usually impart an attitude best summed up by “seriously?” “Just to play a song?” 

A dealer friend of mine has a neighbor who loves golf. Adores it. Plays nearly every weekend and during the week if possible. He has thousands of dollars invested in the latest technology in woods (which is a misnomer as drivers, 3 and 5 woods are seldom made from wood anymore), irons, putters, bags and shoes. Who knows how much he has invested in golf clubs. A Scotty Cameron putter is about $400.00 or thereabouts. Add in the rest of the bag and thousands of dollars is very realistic. 

My dealer friend’s neighbor does not stop there, however. He takes trips to world class golf venues, stays in magnificent resorts and spends incredible amounts of money sufficing the effort of hitting a ball into a hole in the ground. Now don’t misunderstand me, I love golf. I don’t play anymore, but I have visited, and played some of the most hallowed golf venues in the country. I am not criticizing golf by any stretch. I am merely using it as an example of how any of us can choose to use our spare time – and the resultant cost in the effort. Should it be different for an audio system? 

And for some reason I cannot seem to fathom or understand, other hobbies costing considerable disposable income seem perfectly acceptable to most folks. Audio, on the other hand, yields quizzical looks with that “what” expression on their face. If I have six figures in my audio system, how is that worse than a guy who spends an equal amount of money on a sports car – and then drives it only when the weather is nice and never to a destination, just out of the garage, around for a while and back? 

Admit it, we audiophiles face a difficult road in trying to make those who have yet to drink the Kool Aid understand. We have these machines to play a song that cost a fortune, need all these ancillary things to help them out, demand precise adjustment, and are owned by seldom satisfied people who are always looking for something better. 

In the end, we may best find a workaround by inviting that non-audiophile to sit in the listening chair, play a brilliantly well recorded song and allow the listener to hear a previously unknown experience. Proofs in the pudding. And in this case, listening is all the explanation one should ever need. 

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Record Store Day Preview: Jazz Dispensary’s Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2

I’ve written about the fine Jazz Dispensary sampler series from Craft Recordings in the past. These are thoughtfully curated collections of rare funky soul-jazz sides culled from the label archives of parent company Concord Music which controls the catalogs of Fantasy, Prestige, Milestone, Fania and many other labels. 

Why do you need to own these collections? Well as a budding collector of soul-jazz and groove jazz titles from the ‘60s and early ‘70s I can attest to several things:  

  1. These albums are often hard to find and if you do they can be pricey in decent condition
  2. If you do find them used, they are often in “well loved” to downright beat up and abused condition. These records were great party albums often played on average to low quality automatic record changers of the day, so people grooving and dancing to the tunes didn’t much think about taking care of their vinyl.  and… 
  3. Many of these albums are good but usually have one or two standout tracks which is what DJs tend to zero in on, those grooves with the killer beats and drum breaks and a combination of strong songs and good production vibes. 

So, the concept underlying Jazz Dispensary’s series is useful. It gives you the intrepid soul-jazz collector a chance to hear some of these great grooves in a form that makes for a fun party album in its own right, without breaking your bank for pricey rarities.  On this latest edition, guest curator Doyle Davis (of Grimey’s, a used records and books store in Nashville) offers up a second dose of his Dank D-Funk Blend

While the first edition focused on the Prestige Records vaults, The Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2 taps into other labels in the company’s roster.

You’ll hear the Afro-Cuban beats of Ray Barretto’s peace love plea “Together,” Charles Earland’s fiery “Letha” and Leon Spencer groovy take on Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me.” Esther Marrow breaks out a funky “Things Ain’t Right.”

I really loved the title track of Pleasure’s 1977 LP Joyous, one of those groups I’ve never heard of before or even seen out in the wilds of crate digging.  Cal Tjader surprisingly good cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” gives way to  Pucho & The Latin Soul Brothers 1968 smoker “Heat!” 

There is even a solid Johnny “Guitar” Watson tune here from 1973 — “You’ve Got a Hard Head” — before he descended into the the disappointing DJM Records disco era.

All tracks on The Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2 are reportedly mastered from their original analog tapes. The only one of these I already had in my collection is the Pucho track which sounds very comparable to my original pressing, with perhaps a bit more crisp detail on the high end. It is also mastered a bit more quietly than my original pressing so I had to turn up my amp a bit after switching albums. 

The Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2 is pressed on surprisingly quiet and — happily —well centered orange-red swirl, fire-colored vinyl which was made at Memphis Record Pressing.  A limited edition of 3800 copies, The Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2 is packaged in a quite stunning jacked featuring embossed artwork by Argentinian artist Mariano Peccinetti, who designed the previous volume’s cover.  

The Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2 is a fun jam. Put it on your Record Store Day list and be sure to grab a copy if you can. 

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Luminous Audio Technology Arion Mk. II Phono Preamplifier | REVIEW

“Did you ever hear one back in the day?” Tim Stinson of Luminous Audio Technology (website) asked me. He was referring to his Arion phono preamplifier, the original version which created a lot of buzz [...]

Original Resource is Part-Time Audiophile

Do I Need To Be Collecting Original Pressings Of Old Records Anymore?

One of the reasons I first started collecting original pressings of LPs when I was but a wee lad in Junior High School was — believe it or not — audio quality. It was the mid 1970s and the oil crisis was on resulting in poorer quality vinyl for new releases. In retrospect, I suspect that the major labels were both growing and starting to feel the pinch of economic responsibility as they were evolving into corporate giants with profit incentives to meet.  So, corners were increasingly cut… at least so it seemed to many of us on the front lines buying records. 

Vinyl quality was often poor, records became thinner, warps more common, album graphics on older titles were compromised, sometimes with washed out printing and reduction of gatefold covers to single pocket budget line editions. 

I had grown quickly frustrated by the preponderance of cruddy quality LPs I was getting even at that early period In my life. Now, it’s not like I had a big fancy uber high end stereo system or anything folks… We had some decent gear around. My older brother had a Fisher 500 receiver and Smaller Advent speakers, for example.  My middle brother was busy experimenting fixing old amps he found on junk day. We also had this futuristic-looking Panasonic receiver with built in cassette recorder around for a while. Plus there was this great old idler drive Rek-o-Kut Rondine Jr. turntable he’d restored a bit (which I eventually used all through college, btw). Still, my ear was pretty keen and I could tell when something sounded good or didn’t sound right.

Add to that the thrill thrill of discovery of used record shops as well as thrift shops, garage sales and flea markets and soon I realized that I could stretch my nonexistent teenaged budget quite a bit. 

Then the 1980s happened and the compact disc came along (my first CD player was a Sony CDP 110). But, guess what:  I didn’t purge my vinyl!  One of the first CDs I bought was Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run and I returned it the next day — it sounded awful!  A few other CD purchases made me realize we had a ways to go before the CD would truly deliver on its “perfect sound” promise — digital disc media later improved dramatically with 24-bit mastering, and expanded capacity disc formats like SACD, DVD Audio and Blu-ray). 

Fast forward and here I am decades later still (happily) rooting around in thrift shops and used record stores. I am still collecting vinyl (and some CDs and surround sound Blu-rays when I can). I’m still enjoying the thrill of the hunt for the elusive rarity: from a Beatles “butcher cover” or some rare Blue Note jazz gem from J. R. Monterose (which I found at an estate sale for $2 just five years ago!).  

In the 1980s and ‘90s there was a great series from Fantasy Records called “Original Jazz Classics” (commonly known among collectors as “OJC”). And while those aren’t fancy packages like the new Tone Poet and Acoustic Sounds reissues, they do re-create the original artwork/ labels and tend to be of excellent quality even though they are on standard weight vinyl. From what I have heard from industry friends, much of that series was mastered in the analog realm so there is a genuinely warm and inviting sound there.

The OJC series was a great step in the right direction for creating high quality and affordably priced reissues. I still buy those periodically especially for titles that are difficult to find out in the wilds of record hunting. I recently picked up a mint used copy of a Teddy Charles & Shorty Rogers album from 1956 on an OJC reissue for $10. On all of Discogs there are exactly one original copies of that album available (and it is $200). The last one sold on Popsike went for $141. So, I think I am ok with my OJC edition which sounds terrific.

Especially in the jazz world, the quality of reissues from the major labels have proven to be generally very good in the past couple of years. Universal Music’s Acoustic Sounds and Tone Poet series are excellent as have been many of the reissues from Concord Music’s Craft Recordings series (Prestige, Fantasy, World Pacific catalogs). The latter’s recent Chet Baker reissue series was top notch.  I have been reviewing many of these here on Audiophile Review so do use our search feature to seek out those reviews if you are interested in learning more about them.

As owners of the catalogs of Verve Records, Impulse Records, Decca Records and many others, Universal has hired outside experts from the Acoustic Sounds and Tone Poet boutique reissue labels to curate the reissue series. Most of these are rare enough records that I couldn’t have even begun to even consider getting them in their original form unless I found them out in the wilds of collecting (garage sales, thrift shops, flea markets, etc.).  

These new reissues are often superior to the originals – – many are pressed on 180-gram vinyl, featuring laminated covers, gatefold packaging, original label artwork and most importantly high-quality mastering and pressing, etc.

At least a couple of these reissues have eclipsed originals in my collection in terms of fidelity and almost always in terms of condition. In some instances, I am getting rid of my originals because there is simply no need for it anymore. It is a case by case thing, really. I talk about that at the end of my review of the recent Ray Charles reissue on Impulse Records (click here to read that). I have already purged my “OG” copy of The Band’s Stage Fright because the new reissue is far far superior in every way (click here for my review of that new boxed set)

My Frank Zappa collection is very interesting because the new re-issues are generally excellent, some with expanded versions of the performances, high-quality remastering, great pressing quality and original cover art and so on. Perhaps the only anomaly is that they don’t use the original label designs because those are owned by another entity… I’m OK with that because I could (and probably will) hold onto my originals of those favorite albums. However, when it comes to regular play, some of those re-issues sound at least as good if not better than my originals and will be my go-tos for basic listening.

All this raises a conundrum for me (and perhaps some of you, Dear Readers), thus inspiring this little thought piece here today here at Audiophile Review.  That question is:  with the record labels finally understanding what collectors want and mostly delivering on those demands, do we need to keep searching for certain original editions? 

I probably couldn’t afford buying a whole a whole batch of Grant Green original Blue Notes but the reissues are certainly lovingly crafted. Each sells for about $25-$30 a piece which while not exactly “cheap” (like the $10-15 OJCs) it is also nowhere near as expensive as finding certain first pressings (especially those in great condition).

Whats a dedicated collector to do?

In this instance, I think it would be wise for all of us to be snapping up these great reissues while they last. Original pressings are elusive for a reason. Many from the 1950s especially were produced and/or sold small quantities. I suspect that distribution centered on major Jazz markets of the time (NY, LA, San Francisco, Chicago and some important secondary cities like New Orleans and Kansas City). 

Many of these records were played hard, often beat up on lower quality record players and automatic changers. Many were used in party situations — if some of those albums could talk, I bet they’d have some great stories to tell! 

It is really really hard to find any that are in even halfway decent shape that are fairly affordable. Now, I personally don’t mind a light scratch or two… a click here and there, a pop, crackle or occasional snap… I’ve even written about the joys of a Mono cartridge which can minimize the surface noise of certain pre-1958 Monaural records (click here for that article). 

But, if I can get a pristine reissue that looks and feels like the real thing and more or less sounds like the real thing if not better – – and in many cases they do sound technically better because they’re not compressed as much —  then why not just buy them, enjoy them and be done with it?  It makes good sense to me. 

That said, I look forward to seeing you out in your favorite record stores picking up those latest Blue Note Tone Poets, Verve Acoustic Sounds and Craft Recordings special editions.

Grab ‘em while you can!

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

The Story Of Herbie Hancock, Vinyl Me Please Boxed Set, Part 2: Head Hunters & River

In Part One of my listening report on the Vinyl Me, Please (VMP) boxed set The Story Of Herbie Hancock we explored some classic titles including Maiden Voyage (1966) and Takin’ Off (1962). Both of these proved to be excellent sounding editions. We also did a bit of informal price analysis, coming to the conclusion that this VMP set is actually a very good value. If you missed the first review, please click here to jump to it. 

Lets dive back into some more albums in the collection…

Next up is the second Herbie Hancock album I ever heard in my life (also from my brother’s collection), Head Hunters. Released in 1973, this album was an instant classic fusion of jazz, funk, rock and soul vibes — the first jazz album to reach Platinum sales status! It remains hugely popular, but clean originals are not always easy to find. This makes some sense as it was a common party record for sure. 

I know that I had to go through several copies until I found a decent original copy — no universal priced code on the back cover, 1A stampers on both sides, probably a Pittman pressing, for those of you who geek out on those sorts of details — after getting rid of the copy I had through college. Add to that the challenge that 1970s vinyl pressings could have a bit of surface noise due to the oil crisis, though Columbia Records albums were generally good sounding (especially compared to other labels like MCA and Warner/Elektra/Asylum titles).

The best complement I can offer here is that the new VMP version of Head Hunters sounds like Headhunters should sound. That is, it has not been brightened up to sound modern. It sounds very much like my original copy, maybe even a bit better.  

This edition is mastered a little more quietly than the original which has its advantages, leaving more “deadwax” at the end of the sides where distortion is more likely to creep in. So I had to turn up my amp a bit playing this right after my original pressing but things really opened up nicely.  The low bass throbs on “Vein Melter” sound especially…well… throbbing! This is no doubt going to be my go-to copy for regular play (but I’ll likely keep my original given the good copy I have). 

As I mentioned in Part One, the album covers in The Story Of Herbie Hancock are lovely high quality affairs replete with laminated artwork and crafted of thick brown cardboard stock. The cover for Head Hunters is gorgeous and this is arguably a better version than the original pressings which were printed on thin white oaktag stock common to the early 70s, with a flat finish. 

River: The Joni Letters is a beautiful late period tribute to Mr. Hancock’s friend and collaborator, the equally legendary singer, songwriter, performer, Joni Mitchell. For those not in the know, this album won the 2007 Grammy® Award for “Album of the Year,” beating out Kanye West, Amy Winehouse, Foo Fighters and Vince Gill! So, it was an important album. 

I reviewed it when the 10th anniversary editions came out on CD and on vinyl. You can click here jump to that report but in short while I love the music, my experience with the LP edition left something to be desired.  

This new VMP edition is a marked improvement over the original pressing (which was also pressed in the Czech Republic, btw). The dramatic solo piano opening sequence is beautiful, but here on the VMP version the vinyl dead quiet so there is no surface noise detracting from the hushed vibe.  The album is also happily nicely centered (so there are no wavering notes). 

River: The Joni Letters is one of those lovely digital recordings that are so well recorded the instruments sound rich and warm with no harsh edges. I am not a digital hater, as long as it is in the hands of engineers who know how to use the medium, how to mic the instruments and mix them to achieve an idyllic balance between the clarity of the technology yet bringing in the much desired warmth more common to analog recordings.

Like some of the other albums in this series, River: The Joni Letters is mastered more quietly than the originals so there seems to be more air around the music and resonance. 

The vocals sound rounder too here — I especially like how the new mastering treats Tina Turner’s voice on “Edith & The Kingpin,” feeling somehow more pure and airy, less grainy. Wayne Shorter’s saxophones are at times hushed and haunting. Luciana Souza’s take on “Amelia” is mesmerizing despite the only pressing anomaly I have encountered thus far, a very brief and thankfully relatively quiet groove noise (it is not quite a non-fill noise, I didn’t see the tell tale pearl lines in upon visual inspection so perhaps it will work its way out with more plays). 

Vinnie Colaiuta’s cymbals are so perfectly recorded and mixed here, giving you all that lift and chime without getting in the way of the other instruments.

This edition of River: The Joni Letters is a great improvement over the original editions in every way as far as I can tell. It even comes with a nice insert of credits / liner notes and photos which was not included with my original pressing.  I’m very happy that this beautiful album has receive such deservedly loving treatment. 

We’ll explore more on The Story Of Herbie Hancock next week. Stay tuned…

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

The Story Of Herbie Hancock, Vinyl Me Please Boxed Set, Part 1: The Blue Notes

Before I get into the reviews of this fine eight-album (11 discs!) super deluxe boxed set from the good folks at Vinyl Me, Please (VMP) — The Story Of Herbie Hancock, curated by the artist himself! — I thought it might be wise to address some concerns that quite a number of vinyl fans have directed towards me when I’ve previously discussed these fancy collections. Notably, there seems to be a perception that VMP sets are very expensive. On the surface, I might have agreed, but I decided to do a little informal research on the Interwebs, searching for comparable “near mint,” new or sealed original editions where possible to see how the numbers added up.  

And you know what? The Story Of Herbie Hancock set came out about the same and depending on which editions you bought, probably cheaper — remember that some of the albums in the set (The Piano, Live Under The Sky) were only released in Japan at the time so you’d need to add in the costs of shipping from overseas in those instances. 

Speaking of Live Under The Sky, the version in this set is an exclusive:  featuring Herbie’s supergroup V.S.O.P. (Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard and Tony Williams), the album has been resequenced with a new song added to it at Herbie’s request.  Also, if I’m not mistaken as I have not found listings on Discogs or other popular record collectors websites, this may mark the first time the collaboration with Wayne Shorter, called 1+1, has been issued on vinyl! 

Without a doubt, the packaging on these VMP editions are far superior to the originals, printed on thick cardboard stock and laminated (similar to the Blue Note Tone Poets and Verve Acoustic Sounds editions). Headhunters looks especially beautiful in that way — the cover art pops!  Additionally, you get a lovely LP sized booklet with detailed information on each of the albums.  

All eight albums in The Story Of Herbie Hancock feature lacquers cut by the legendary Bernie Grundman at Bernie Grundman Mastering in Hollywood, CA. Takin’ Off, Maiden Voyage, Head Hunters, The Piano and Future Shock were cut AAA from analog tapes. 1+1, and River: The Joni Letters, which were recorded digitally, and Live Under the Sky — again, resequenced at Herbie’s request — come from master digital audio. The albums were plated at RTI, and pressed at GZ on black 180g vinyl.

Adding to the value for the price of admission you also get access to five exclusive podcasts including talks with Herbie himself as well as Wayne Shorter and others. You also get access to AMA (Ask Me Anything) video sessions which may include special guests.  

For these reviews, I will start with the beginning of my personal Herbie Hancock journey, his landmark mid-60s release Maiden Voyage.

While I love this album, my travelogue with Maiden Voyage hasn’t exactly been stellar from an audiophile perspective. One of my brothers had an early 70s pressing on the blue-colored Blue Note label, so that is where I first came on board the Herbie Hancock mothership.  I had a later reissue at one point that was ok but then I found a somewhat better late ‘60s pressing (Liberty Records-era but with the classic blue-and-white Blue Note label, for those of you who follow this sort of detail) which sounded pretty good. Except, it had one side that was just off-center enough to be problematic (so I always planned to upgrade again at some point). 

That said, this new edition easily surpasses my original RVG pressing. It is dead quiet and perfectly centered. The mastering is a bit quieter than my old copy so I had to turn up the amp a little bit when I switched discs, but this revealed more air and dynamics without sounding awkward. In fact, Maiden Voyage here sounds exactly how it should sound: gorgeous. Freddie Hubbard’s trumpet is fat and round. Tony Williams’ drums are crisp yet they never step on the other instruments — the cymbals decay naturally and you can almost feel the tang of the brass. Herbie’s piano sounds rich and woody (and thankfully not boxy as some RVG recordings can be). 

This version of Maiden Voyage is golden as far as I can tell. In fact, I don’t think I need to keep my original anymore, this is so much of an improvement for me. The laminated cover is also far superior to the original. A winner.  

While we’re in the land of Blue Notes, I thought it made sense to explore Mr. Hancock’s debut solo album, Takin’ Off. For this, I invested a little extra time and money as (believe it or not, I really never owned this album on vinyl – gasp, I know) and didn’t have an equal point of reference handy. So while I didn’t have $500 handy to invest in original 1962 edition (click here for that), I went out and purchased one of the new Blue Note reissues (for about $27). Ideally, these records should sound the same, but actually, the didn’t. In record-collector’s rule-of-thumb theorizing, the non-VMP edition should sound better as it was pressed in Germany. It didn’t. And the VMP packaging is markedly better (laminated, thick brown cardboard stock) than the standard edition (thin white oaktag, non-laminated). 

What gives?  

Well, first off there is Bernie Grundman’s mastering which delivers a warmer more analog feeling vibe that rings true to the aesthetic of Rudy Van Gelder’s original recordings. From the opening notes of “Watermelon Man,” the the whole vibe feels rich. The horns sound rounder, the cymbals shimmer without being harsh and the piano feels appropriately woody.  On the German pressing, everything feels awash in a bit of brightness. Don’t get me wrong, it sounds good. But this VMP edition sounds great and feels more true, like the sound I would expect from a great Blue Note release. And, again, the cover art just looks and feels like a higher quality production. 

In the next edition of my exploration The Story Of Herbie Hancock I’ll explore Headhunters and River : The Joni Letters and more… stay tuned… 

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Technics SL-1210GAE Anniversary Turntable and Hana Umami Red Cartridge | REVIEW

To say the Technics (website) SL-1200 is a legend is an understatement. Rumor has it that they sold 3.5 to 4 million SL-1200s over its 50+ year history. Its distinct look, reliability and smooth pitch [...]

Original Resource is Part-Time Audiophile