Thoughts on a Direct to Disc Recording

houstivegoIn our last shootout this White Hot Stamper tied for the best side two we have ever heard! In the final round it simply came down to the fact that the other copy was a little more clear, this one is a little richer. They were both so amazing we couldn’t decide which we preferred so we gave them both White Hot Stamper grades.

In our experience this rarely happens. Most of the time one side of one of the records in the shootout will show itself to be the clear winner, doing everything (or almost everything; there is no such thing as a perfect record) right. When you play enough copies, eventually you run into the one that shows you how the music wants to be heard, what kind of sound seems to work for it the best. The two side twos we liked were variations, and fairly subtle ones at that, on a theme — a little richer here, a little clearer there, but both SO GOOD!

Side two fulfills the promise of the direct to disc recording approach in a way that few — very few — direct to disc pressings do. To be honest, most copies of this title were quite good. Few didn’t do most things at least well enough to earn a Hot Stamper grade. This has not been the case with many of the Sheffield pressings we’ve done shootouts for in the past. Often the weaker copies have little going for them. They don’t even sound like Direct Discs!

Some copies lack energy, some lack presence, most suffer from some amount of smear on the transients. But wait a minute. This is a direct disc. How can it be compressed, or lack transients? Aren’t those tape recorder problems that are supposed to be eliminated by the direct to disc process?

“Supposed to be eliminated” is a long way from “were eliminated.” Even though the mastering is fixed at the live event, there are many other variables which affect the sound. The album is pressed in three different countries: the United States, Japan and Germany. Many mothers were pulled from the plated acetates (the “fathers”) and many, many stampers made from those mothers.

Bottom line? You got to play ’em, just like any other record. If no two records sound the same, it follows that no two audiophile records sound the same, a fact that became abundantly clear very early on in the listening. Of course not many audiophiles are in a position to shootout eight or ten copies of I’ve Got The Music In Me, and I’m not sure most audiophiles would even want to. Here at Better Records we have a whole system set up to do exactly that, so we waited until we had a pile of them, got them all cleaned up, and off to the races we went.

Good Music

Unlike most Direct to Disc recordings this album actually contains real music worth listening to — but only when the pressing lets the energy of the musicians through, with some sort of fidelity to the sounds of their instruments. Brass without bite is boring. Drummers who drum too delicately will bore you to tears.

Talk about DYNAMIC VOCALS. To Know You Is to Love You has the potential to come right at you in a truly shocking way. She can get LOUD. It sounds like there is virtually no compression on Thelma’s vocals at all. There has to be a limiter of some kind, but when she starts really belting it out you will not believe how powerfully she can sing. Might just give you goosebumps.

This could easily be the most dynamic vocal recording you have ever heard. It’s right up there at the top for us too.

Side Two

A+++! Loads of presence, with richness and fullness that showed us just how good the Direct to Disc medium at its best can be. It had everything going for it from top to bottom, with big bass, dynamics, clarity, top end extension (so silky up there!) and ENERGY. Make no mistake, side two here is a real Demo Disc.

What to Listen For – Side Two

The French horns on the first track are perfection on the better pressings. Play five copies on side two and no two of them will give you the same French Horn sound.

Also pay special attention to the piano — on the transparent and tonally correct copies it is clear and full-bodied. The piano in a dense recording such as this is often a good test. It’s in there, sure, but how easily can you see it and how much like a real piano does it sound? When the piano is right more often than not most every other instrument will be right as well.

Side One

A++ Super Hot, which makes this the best copy overall that we have ever listed on the site!

Huge size and space, with plenty of energy and life. The shootout winner for side one had a bit more presence, but this one put to shame most of what we played — because it’s Super Hot!

What to Listen For — Side One

The vocal reproduction on To Know You Is to Love You is a very tough test. Some copies sound like they are distorting slightly, and they may well be — the lathe that cut the copy you have might not have been able to cut such a dynamic vocal cleanly. Overcutting is always a risk in a direct to disc recording. Even if it’s not a cutting error, the loudest parts can sound harsh; we heard that on a few copies.

Believable Brass

One thing Sheffield got right is tonally-correct, realistic, believable brass in a natural acoustic space. This is precisely where For Duke fails so miserably, although no one ever seems to notice or bothers to write about it. To me that dead acoustic is like fingernails on a blackboard, completely inappropriate to the sound. In real life you would never hear a jazz band like that play in a dead room like that, so why on earth would you want to record one that way? It’s just plain dumb, no matter how good your mics are or how clean your signal path might be.


TRACK LISTING
Side OneI’ve Got the Music in Me
Reggae Tune
To Know You Is to Love You
Pressure Cooker

Side Two

Don’t Misunderstand
Step in Time
Dish Rag
Got to Get You into My Life / I’ve Got the Music in Me