- Nat “King” Cole’s wonderful 1959 release makes its Hot Stamper debut with KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound – reasonably quiet vinyl too
- The presence and immediacy of Nat’s vocals here are ’50s Capitol Recording Magic at its best – you won’t believe how good this early stereo pressing sounds
- With the biggest, clearest, richest, most present and most natural vocal reproduction, this copy took Nat’s performance to another level, which is exactly what earned this copy its Three Pluses
- “For this album, Cole had the idea of putting together a set of newly written songs in the classic style, with typically sympathetic arrangements by Nelson Riddle…”
Set the volume right and Nat is right between your speakers, putting on the performance of a lifetime. The selection of material and the contributions of all involved (Nelson Riddle among them) are hard to fault.
This vintage Capitol LP has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.
Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much in the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real Nat King Cole singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.
If you exclusively play modern repressings of older recordings (this one is now 62+ years old), I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we’ve played can serve as a guide.
What the best sides of To Whom It May Concern 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 in 1959
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio
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 qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
Naturally we’re always on the lookout for Nat King Cole records with good sound. In our experience finding them is not nearly as easy as one might think it would be. Far too many of his recordings are drenched in bad reverb, with sound that simply can’t be taken seriously — fine for old consoles but not so good on modern audiophile equipment.
At least one we know of has his voice out of phase with the orchestra on most copies, which put a quick end to any hope of finishing the shootout we had started.
If anything the sound on his albums gets even worse in the ’60s. Many of Nat’s albums from that decade are over-produced, bright, thin and shrill.
We assume most audiophiles got turned on to his music from the records that Steve Hoffman remixed and remastered for DCC 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. I even went so far as to nominate the DCC of Nat’s Greatest Hits as the best album DCC ever made. (I know now, as I expect you do, that that’s really not saying much, but at the time I thought it was a pretty bold statement.)
What We’re Listening For on To Whom It May Concern
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
- Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness common to most LPs.
- Tight, note-like bass with clear fingering — which ties in with good transient information, as well as the issue of frequency extension further down.
- Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the players.
- Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, way behind the speakers. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would have put them.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
Devoting the Resources
Having long ago given up on Heavy Vinyl LPs by DCC and others of their persuasion — a clear sign of having made Progress in Audio — these days we are in a much better position to devote our resources to playing every Nat King Cole 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 truly 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 records. 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.
To Whom It May Concern
In The Heart of Jane Doe
A Thousand Thoughts of You
You’re Bringing Out The Dreamer in Me
My Heart’s Treasure
If You Said No
Can’t Help It
This Morning It Was Summe
The albums that Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, and other classic pop singers made in the 1950s usually consisted of standards from the golden era of pop songwriting in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s. For this album, Cole had the idea of putting together a set of newly written songs in the classic style, with typically sympathetic arrangements by Nelson Riddle. “Personally, I hear the magic in all these selections,” Cole wrote in the liner notes. “It will be interesting to see whether I’m right.” The magic listeners hear today is in Cole’s voice…
Finding a “New” Sound
I really liked the Nat King Cole albums on DCC when they came out back in the ’90s. Thought they were a revelation as a matter of fact. Now I find them insufferable. Here are some of my reasons for not liking Hoffman’s remix.
Nat’s voice is much too forward and loud in the mix; consequently the orchestra is too soft. The balance is off, at least on my stereo at the levels I play the record at the balance seems off. You have a different system, in a different room, and may not feel the way I do. But without a top pressing to compare how do you know the mix is right or wrong? Like everything in audio, it’s relative.
The balance problem is bad enough, but what really sets my teeth on edge is the fact that the Nat King Cole record on DCC doesn’t sound remotely like any Nat King Cole record I have ever heard, outside of the ones Hoffman worked on of course. Where is all the Capitol reverb? Nat’s records all have it, and although the reverb may be a bit excessive or unnatural in some ways, to some people, when you take it away you end up with a sound that never existed before, and, to my ears, it’s a sound that’s just wrong for the music. The more I listened to the DCC the less I liked it.
The first full-length commentary I ever wrote in my record catalog in 1994 took Analogue Productions to task for remastering Way Out West and giving it a “new sound,” a sound I had never heard coming from any Contemporary pressing, from any era.
I didn’t like what Doug Sax did with Way Out West, Jazz Giant, Waltz for Debby and many, many others, and I don’t like what Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray did to Love Is the Thing, The Very Thought of You and Just One Of Those Things.
I have tried to listen to the Gold CD in my car, but even in the car I found the sound insufferable.
Is this the kind of sound you hear on your DCC Nat King Cole records? If it is, we recommend you try a Hot Stamper. If it doesn’t kill your DCC you get your money back.
At the very least it will show you some of the things your DCC is doing differently, and, we think, wrong.