Tag Archives: remaster

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

Remixes & Remasters Vs. Originals: No Easy Answers (Part 1)

Recently somebody suggested an idea to me which I thought was pretty cool: do a little “analysis” — in the loosest sense — of whether certain re-mixes and re-masters are better or worse than the original mixes. As I dove into writing this I seem to have opened a bit of a Pandora’s Box of thinking, while not having a conclusive answer to the question.  But it is still worth discussing since the topic is obviously on some of your minds as well, Dear Readers. 

This is a touchy subject which I’ve seen divide scores of collectors and even friends… Really, this is surprisingly a quite personal topic which objectively has no “correct” answer, at least as far as the listener is concerned. My tastes and desires are unique from yours, both equally valid.  

That said, I swing both ways when it comes to the argument of originals vs. remasters and even remixed versions of favorite recordings. There are so many variables to consider — from how the remaster or remix was created to simply relative availability of an original copy. 

As I pointed out in my review of the recent Blue Note Tone Poet reissue of Kenny Burrell’s 1956 debut (click here to read that) finding an original in any condition is very difficult and the new version actually presents more of the music that was originally captured on tape.  That isn’t to say I wouldn’t want to own an original pressing for some of these albums — I’m holding onto my Kenny Burrell album even though it is beat up! — but having the new edition is a great close second, this side of finding a pristine original. 

Many people who are fans of a particular beloved recording feel it should remain untouched. Others get very upset somehow thinking that when an album gets remixed it immediately means that the original is no longer in existence (I’m not kidding folks, I’ve encountered this perspective from people many times over the years!). Some people get upset when they learn that what they’ve been listening to actually is a remix and not the original.

I’ve even gone to some extremes on social media (if you will) talking some people down from the ledge to calm them down, particularly when The Beatles’ albums were being remastered.  Forget about talking to some of those folks about the remixes, but do remember that you can always still play your original vinyl pressings of those albums, of which there are millions of copies around the world to choose from. No one is taking them away from you. 

The impetus for this article believe it or not came about as a result of a Facebook post I made about The Grateful Dead’s third studio album, Aoxomoxoa.  Discussions arose about the remix of that record which the band made in the early 1970s  (as well as to Anthem of the Sun) as to whether one was better or worse than the other? And of course, the answer to that is, inconclusively: it depends on your perspective

If you are a purist and want to hear the specific vibe the band crafted in the 60s, then the original mixes are the way to go. If you are looking to just hear the music in as clean a presentation as possible, the remixes might well be better for you.  The remix definitely sounds more like a 1970s mix than even one from a just a couple of years earlier.

In some instances a remix can be justified. For example, on the digital Stereo remix of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper, you can now hear much more detail as the many tracks of music that went into making that album are now mixed in first generation quality. The resulting drums and bass in particular sound fuller and more dynamic than before. Interestingly, the overall vibe is closer to that of the original Mono mix — the mix the Beatles themselves put their energies behind at the time.  But… to get that one pays the price of listening to music from a digital source which ruffles the feathers of many an analog purist.  You can click here to read my review of that mix if you are interested.

Those Grateful Dead albums which Phil Lesh remixed in the early 1970s are generally fine but most serious fans of the band seem to prefer the original mix.  You can read about them on the Wiki (click the titles following):  Anthem of the Sun and Aoxomoxoa

When it comes to Aoxomoxoa — one of my favorite Dead albums — I lean toward the original, if only to hear the choir on “Mountains Of The Moon” (which neatly pre-echos the end of side one of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells!). I haven’t spent enough time with the Anthem of the Sun remix to make a definitive choice. And you know what? There is no reason to. If you like a particular album a lot you will probably want both versions!

There is also the question of whether remasters are “better” or worse than the originals? Many people are justifiably gun shy these days having endured a seemingly endless barrage of remasters of favorite albums over the years across a multitude of formats and music delivery platforms — from LP to cassette to CD, SACD, DVD-A, Blu-ray, HD Downloads, Streaming. If you are a regular purchaser of music, you have no doubt seen the buzz words whizz by you on hype stickers applied to the packaging and promotional materials for albums over the years: analog, digital, DMM, Half-Speed, Ultradisc One Step, DSD, PCM, Quiex, etc. It is confusing at times as these are diverse processes and technologies, some unique to the vinyl production process and others used in preparing the actual original final recordings for release. Some are used separately or simultaneously. Some are great. Some have delivered mixed results.

So, take a deep breath…. As I said earlier, there are no easy answers to this question…

Having done a fair amount of recording myself I understand the value of both re-mastering of older recordings and new mastering of new projects. There have been significant progressions in technology over the years with certain capabilities that can actually improve the final sound of a recording if handled properly.  Recent remasters of albums by Frank Zappa, XTC and others have been at times revelatory. 

Tune in tomorrow when we’ll explore more of that in Part 2 of this series…

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind on 180-gram Vinyl

After reviewing the nice five CD boxed set celebrating U2’s mega successful comeback album, 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind, Universal Music kindly sent me a copy of the companion two LP set to compare and contrast. 

This vinyl pressing of All That You Can’t Leave Behind — which was mastered at Bernie Grundman Mastering, directed by The Edge — sounds better than other versions of this album I’ve heard thus far, whether its a CD version at 16-bits, 44.1 kHz or the 24-bit, 44.1 MQA streams on Tidal and Hi-Res Qobuz

Maybe its just a factor of the slight bit of inevitable compression necessary for creating a vinyl LP or perhaps its the warming factor from my tube pre-amp, but this presentation of All That You Can’t Leave Behind is a more enjoyable listen than the CDs or the streams. 

Curiously, the main place this album seems to be a bit weak on is the mid-ranges. The high end is crisp and clean and there is plenty of low bass happening.

The good news here is that the album holds together even when you play it loudly. Larry Mullen Jr.’s snare drum snaps nicely on “Walk On” and “Kite” sounds especially nice with its acoustic and slide guitars with mellotron-flavored synthesizer strings. 

One other thing I like about the presentation of All That You Can’t Leave Behind as a two LP experience is something that I’ve discovered with other albums which came out of the CD era:  breaking up the music into three or four sides creates a sense of mini suites of music and gives your ears and mind a bit of breathing space as you flip the side. 

I’ve written about this concept before, particularly in my review of the restored and remastered version of XTC’s Skylarking (click the title to jump to that review). Like Skylarking, the original European pressings of All That You Can’t Leave Behind were crammed onto a single disc. While I have never heard that original LP version, it stands to reason that the music was much more compressed to fit everything in on two sides of one platter.  

In general I’m very pleased with this version of All That You Can’t Leave Behind. The dark black, dead quiet and well centered vinyl LPs come housed in audiophile grade plastic lined inner sleeves and there is even a free download provided for mobile use (something we’re seeing less and less of these days, so its appreciated when they are included!). 

Perhaps the only detail that would have been nicer to round out this 20th anniversary package is if it had been put in a more classic style gatefold cover design — a relatively minor point. Maybe for the 25th Anniversary edition we’ll get the album in that sort of package, half-speed mastered at 45 RPM. Its only four more years to that milestone so for now this version of All That You Can’t Leave ehind will keep us more than satiated.

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

dCS Legends: Al Schmitt and Steely Dan’s Aja | The Vinyl Anachronist

When I first read about the dCS Legends series, which celebrates Grammy-winning engineers, I was surprised at just how many of these classic recordings I own and how I have a personal story for almost every one. When you glance at this list, you see Al Schmitt‘s name at the top, and that always reminds me that he had a lot to do with making Steely Dan’s Aja such an iconic recording. Over the years I’ve owned several versions of Aja–if I remember correctly, it was the second Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs LP I ever bought, right after Supertramp’s Crime of the Century. Strangely enough, I no longer own the MoFi LP. I have the MoFi CD, and an old LP that I found at a flea market that wound up being in fair condition at best. I do play that Steely Dan CD a lot, but one day I will find a killer remaster on vinyl. When I bought the MoFi LP back in the late ’70s, I wasn’t really a Steely Dan fan. The only reason I purchased it–at the whopping cost of $17.99–was because my buddy Dan was standing next to me at Licorice Pizza when I [...]

Original Resource is Part-Time Audiophile