We’re always on the lookout for Louis Armstrong records with good sound. In our experience finding them is not nearly as easy as one might think. Far too many of his recordings are poorly recorded, with sound that simply can’t be taken seriously — fine for old consoles but not so good on modern audiophile equipment.
We assume most audiophiles got turned on to his music from the records that Classic Records remastered back in the mid-’90s, For those of you who were customers of ours back then, you know that I count myself among that group.
What to Listen For (WTLF)
Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we’ve heard them all.
Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural air and space, and instruments will lack their full complement of harmonic information. Strings and brass with get shrill and congested without enough top end air to breathe.
Tube smear is common to most pressings from the ’50s and ’60s and this is no exception. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich. (Full sound is especially critical to the horns; any blare, leanness or squawk ruins much of the fun, certainly at the loud levels the record should be playing at.)
What amazing sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes back in 1963
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments of the band — especially Louis’ trumpet — having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
- No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the above
Devoting the Resources
Having long ago given up on Heavy Vinyl LPs by Classic and others of their persuasion — we refer to it as Setting a Higher Standard — these days we are in a much better position to devote our resources to playing every Louis Armstrong album on every pressing we can get our hands on, trying to figure out what are the copies — from what era, on what label, with what stampers, cut by whom, stereo or mono, import or domestic — that potentially have the Hot Stamper sound, the very Raison d’être of our business.
We have to play each and every one of the records we’ve cleaned for our shootout anyway, whether we think it’s potentially the best pressing or not. There is no other way to do it. Right Stamper, Wrong Sound is an undeniable reality in the world of the vinyl LP. It’s not unheard of for the same stampers to win a shootout, do moderately well on another copy and then come in dead last on a third.
Gotta Be Right To Sing The Blues
Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen
That Old Feeling
Body And Soul
Let’s Do It
When Your Lover Has Gone
Blues In The Night
AMG 4-Star Review
Maybe it is not “essential,” but this set is a definitive look at the Louis Armstrong All-Stars in their later years, when Tyree Glenn was on trombone and the group was riding high from the success of “Hello Dolly.” Armstrong’s trumpet solos were briefer and stuck closer to the melody (age was taking its toll), yet were still full of beauty and feeling.