Contemporary Tube Versus Transistor Tradeoffs

More Benny Carter

More Tube Versus Transistor Tradeoffs

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In some ways yes, in some ways no, and we are happy to lay it all out for you based on the critical listening we undertook recently. Here’s how we weighed the tradeoffs in the sound of the originals versus that of the reissues, with VTA advice to follow. 

This superb sounding ORIGINAL Black Label Contemporary pressing of Benny Carter’s swingin’ jazz quartet is the very definition of a top jazz stereo recording from the late ’50s mastered through an all tube chain.

There’s good extension on the top end for an early pressing, with TONS of what you would most expect: Tubey Magic and Richness. If that’s what you’re looking for, this copy has got it!

We prefer the later pressings in most ways, but this record does something that no later pressing we have ever played can do — get Benny’s trumpet to sound uncannily REAL. If you want to demonstrate to your skeptical audiophile friends what no CD (or modern remastered record) can begin to do, play side two of this copy for them. They may be in for quite a shock.

The sound of the muted trumpet on side two is out of this world! It’s exactly the sonic signature of good tube equipment — making some elements of a recording sound shockingly real. The reason this side two earned Two Pluses was that most of the rest of the players are clear as well; this is normally not the case (and is mostly not the case on side one).

What About the Other Guys?

But are the other players as clear as they would be on the better reissues we like? Hardly. The Tubey Magic of Benny’s trumpet comes at the expense of the other three instruments — drums, bass and piano — which are less easily heard, less immediate, less “live in your listening room.”

Some will find the tradeoff more than acceptable, preferable in fact. All we are saying is that there is a tradeoff that one should be aware of when choosing this early pressing. It does do something — really, one thing — better. Everything else, not as well –but still pretty good, hence the high grades. Keep in mind that the average Black Label would have a hard time qualifying as a Hot Stamper at all.

Why We Do Shootouts

Yet this is precisely the sound that many, even most, audiophiles would find perfectly fine. There are many reasons for this, but one of the main ones has to be that they have never heard a truly amazing reissue, the kind we sell. Had they heard such a pressing they would be in a much better position to weigh the pros and cons of both.

This is why we do shootouts. Every pressing has the potential to show you some quality you can’t hear any other way, some aspect of the sound you would not even know was possible.

Super Hot and especially White Hot pressings — on the right equipment — have the ability to put you in the presence of a recording you had no idea could exist. Happens to us every week.

This trumpet is like that — so good you can hardly believe it!

Testing with Benny

The trumpet on side two is also a very good test for turntable setup, tracking, as well as arm and cartridge compatibility. You’ve got to be set up properly for a difficult-to-reproduce instrument like the trumpet to sound right. VTA is critical in this regard. Accurate VTA adjustment for all records is vitally important for their proper reproduction. If you do not have an arm that allows you to easily adjust its VTA, then you will just have to do it the hard way (which normally means loosening a set screw and moving the arm up and down until you get lucky with the right height).

Yes, it may be time consuming, it may even be a major pain in the ass, but there is no question in my mind that you will hear a dramatic improvement in the sound of your records once you have learned to precisely adjust the VTA for each and every one of them.

VTA is not a corner you should be cutting. Of course, anti-skate, azimuth and tracking weight require careful and time-consuming experimentation to dial in properly as well, though once they are set they should not need to be changed for each record as is the case with VTA (all records being slightly different thicknesses).



Further Reading

…along these lines can be found below.

We have a section for Audio Advice of all kinds.

And finally we’ll throw in this old warhorse discussing How to Become an Expert Listener, subtitled Hard Work and Challenges Can Really Pay Off.

Because in audio, much like the rest of life, hard work and challenges really do pay off.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Thou Swell 
My Blue Heaven 
Just Imagine 
If I Could Be with You (One Hour Tonight) 
Sweet Lorraine 

Side Two

Laugh, Clown, Laugh 
All Alone 
Mary Lou 
In a Little Spanish Town 
Someone to Watch over Me 
A Monday Date

Concord Music Group Notes

Some things never change. When this CD was released in 1988, Benny Carter was as active as when this album was recorded 30 years earlier. And the eleven standards herein are as fresh as when they were written in the Twenties. Benny is joined by Earl Hines (whose great 1928 composition “A Monday Date” is included here), along with Shelly Manne and bassist Leroy Vinnegar of “Friends” fame. Great musicians produce great results, and most of the LP’s tracks were done in one or two takes. The result is “a spontaneous, swinging record of what happened” when Carter met Hines “for the first time. . . .”

with Earl Hines, Leroy Vinnegar, Shelly Manne