Charles Mingus / Ah Um – Uncleaned Originals vs. Cleaned Reissues

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The letter below sheds some light on a vitally important mastering issue: specifically, the answer to the question, Which are better sounding, originals or reissues?

The letter finishes this way.

“Incidentally, just a couple of days ago I conducted my own shootout between the Red Label “Mingus Ah Um” I bought from you a few weeks back and my pristine, Six Eye White Label Promo original. To my surprise, you were absolutely right about the greater clarity of the former (starting with the snare drum on the first track).

“If I had to choose between them when selecting half a dozen “desert island” LPs (and “Mingus Ah Um” would definitely be one), the Red Label version would be the pick. Much obliged for the edification.”

We of course could not agree more. We wrote back:

Once you hear the sound of “old school mastering” and get to know it, you can recognize it for what it does right and what it too often does wrong. Then, and only then, can you appreciate what is really happening when switching from newer to older pressings, what is being gained and what is being lost.

It’s the kind of Home Audio Exercise we constantly talk about on the site. And there’s a good reason for that.

As we never tire of saying, hearing is believing.


We do not want to give the wrong impression about Ah Um. At least one of the original stereo pressings, properly cleaned, assuming we have a few to play, will win the shootout every time.

Which one will win we never know. But one of them will.

No Red Label pressing from the ’70s will beat a top quality Six-Eye.

But if you have an original and it is not cleaned right, which is almost always going to be the case, since most cleaning fluids and machines these days do not do a very good job of making your records sound the way they should, then our Red Label reissue can beat your copy. Which is what our letter writer found to be true.

Original Versus Reissue

The excerpt below from our Kind of Blue listing discusses the trade-offs one must balance when choosing between originals and reissues. We know there are great sounding original copies of Mingus Ah Um (we heard some back in 2008) UNLIKE Kind of Blue, which can be wonderful on the original pressing but never truly competitive with the best reissues in our experience.

In our opinion the best sound for this album is found on standard domestic Red Label pressings from the ’70s. I’m fully aware of how outrageous a statement that may sound to those who believe that original pressings are always superior, but we’ve long known of amazing sounding Kind Of Blue reissues, probably going on twenty years now.

Having played scores of different pressings of this record over the years, I think I know this recording about as well as anyone. The tube mastered original Six Eye Stereo copies have wonderful, lush, sweet sound. I’ve heard many of them. The 360s from the ’60s often split the difference — less tubey magical, but cleaner and more correct. The Red Labels are all over the map, ranging from smeary and dull to out of this world. And this copy, my friends, is one of the good ones.

My point here is simply this: you can cut this record DIFFERENTLY, but I don’t think you can’t cut it any BETTER.

What About The Earlier Pressings?

If you cut it with tubes it will bring out some qualities not as evident on this pressing. But there will be drawbacks as well. It’s a matter of trade-offs. There is no copy that will satisfy everyone, just as there is no speaker or amplifier that will satisfy everyone.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love tubey colorations. I say so all over this site. But there is no way that the qualities of this record exist on those early, tube-mastered cuttings. They simply didn’t have the technology. The technology they did have is wonderful in its own way. But this record is even more wonderful in its own, very different, way.

Unimpeachable Audiophile Credentials

We know we’re asking a lot of money for a record that any jazz record dealer would be embarrassed to charge more than 25 or 30 dollars for. But jazz record dealers don’t know anything about sound. They know about collectability. They know what the price guides say. They know their market — jazz collectors — and we know ours — audiophiles. This record has unimpeachable audiophile credentials. It has the sound in the grooves like you have never heard before. And who else but your friends at Better Records are going to be able to get you a copy like that?


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