Columbia Classical LPs – So Many Are So Bad. How Can This Be?

Columbia classical recordings have a tendency to be shrill, upper-midrangy, glary and hard sounding. The upper mids are usually nasally and pinched; the strings and brass will screech and blare at you in the worst way. If Columbia’s goal was to drive the audiophile classical music lover screaming from the room, most of the time they succeeded brilliantly. Occasionally they fail. When they do we call those pressings Hot Stampers.

Columbia Rock and Jazz

When I play Columbia recordings from the ’50s and ’60s of Brubeck, Ellington, Miles and other jazz giants, what strikes me most is how natural, warm and sweet the sound is. I was playing an old mono Ellington record recently and when the clarinet solo came in, it almost took my breath away. The sound of the instrument was that real. This from a mid-’50s run-of-the-mill Columbia pressing. Those guys (the engineers and the musicians) knew what they were doing.

Sometimes when I read about the extraordinary lengths modern engineers go to in order to use the highest quality audiophile equipment: custom microphones, tape recorders, wire, and the like, it makes me wonder how many of the best sounding records in the world managed to be recorded without any of that stuff. RCA didn’t need it for their Living Stereos. Decca didn’t need it. Contemporary Records managed to record the best sounding jazz records without it.

How did all those great sounding records get made with such bad equipment? I guess we’ll never know.

Columbia may not have always recorded the best “serious” jazz, but they were very serious about the sound of their jazz. Outside of Contemporary, Columbia has the consistently best sounding jazz records I’ve ever heard.

More Vintage Columbia Pressings

Albums We’ve Reviewed on Columbia and Epic

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