Listen to the trumpet at the start of Freddie Freeloader. Most copies do not fully convey the transient information of Miles’ horn, causing it to have an easily recognizable quality we talk about all the time on the site: smear. No two pressings will have precisely the same amount of smear on his trumpet, so look for the least smeary copy that does everything else right too.
Meaning simply that smear is important, but not all-important.
If you click on the above link, you will see that we regularly talk about smeary pianos, smeary brass, smeary violins and smeary Classic Records classical reissues. Nobody else seems bothered by smear, and one of our many theories about the stereo shortcomings of reviewers and audiophiles in general is that their systems are fairly smeary, so a little extra smear is mostly inaudible to them. I had a smeary system for my first twenty or more years in audio, so I know whereof I speak.
Our system has virtually no smear. Any smear we hear on a record means that the smear is on the record, not in our system.
Any system with vintage tubes — whatever their pros and cons — will have plenty of smear. We got rid of ours a long time ago.
Back to our listening tests:
On track one, side two, the drums in the right channel are key to evaluating the sound of the better copies. The snare should sound solid and fat — like a real snare — and if there is space in the recording on your copy you will have no trouble hearing the room around the kit.
We will be discussing the faults of the 45 RPM MoFi down the road, but the drums on that record are so wrong it all but beggars belief.
This guy can’t hear it:
But we can find no evidence that he can hear anything, much less smear. It appears to us that smear is only one problem he has yet to solve among a number of others.
Back to our listening tests:
Next check the cymbals. No two copies will get the cymbals to sound the same, so play a few and see which ones sound the most natural to you. The most natural will be the one with the best top end.
When Adderley comes in hard left, his alto should not be thin, squawky or stuck in the speaker. The best of the best copies have the instrument sounding full-bodied (for an alto) and reedy. The reedy quality tells you that your pressing is highly resolving and not smeared, assuming the sound is tonally correct and not boosted in any way.
The Giants Who Created Kind of Blue
- Bass – Paul Chambers
- Drums – Jimmy Cobb
- Piano – Bill Evans
- Piano – Wynton Kelly
- Tenor Saxophone – John Coltrane
- Alto Saxophone – Cannonball Adderley
Fred Plaut was a recording engineer and amateur photographer. He was employed by Columbia Records during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, eventually becoming the label’s chief engineer.
Plaut engineered sessions for what would result in many of Columbia’s famous albums, including the original cast recordings of South Pacific, My Fair Lady, and West Side Story, jazz LPs Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis, Time Out by Dave Brubeck, Mingus Ah Um and Mingus Dynasty by Charles Mingus.
CBS 30th Street Studio
CBS 30th Street Studio, also known as Columbia 30th Street Studio, and nicknamed “The Church”, was an American recording studio operated by Columbia Records from 1949 to 1981 located at 207 East 30th Street, between Second and Third Avenues in Manhattan, New York City.
It was considered by some in the music industry to be the best sounding room in its time and others consider it to have been the greatest recording studio in history. A large number of recordings were made there in all genres, including Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue (1959), Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story (Original Broadway Cast recording, 1957), Percy Faith’s Theme from A Summer Place (1960), and Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1979).