S9 is hands down one of the best examples of a recording that only really comes to life when you Have Your Volume Up Good and Loud.
There’s not much ambience to be found in their somewhat dead sounding studio, and very little high frequency boost to any instrument in the mix, which means at moderate levels this record sounds flat and lifeless. (You could say it has that in common with most Heavy Vinyl pressings these days, assuming you wanted to take a cheap shot at those records, which, to be honest, I don’t mind doing. They suck; why pretend otherwise?)
But turn it up and man, the sound really starts jumpin’ out of the speakers, without becoming phony or hyped-up. In fact, it actually sounds more NATURAL and REAL at louder levels.
A Quick and Easy Test
Play the record at normal levels and pick out any instrument — snare, toms, sax, bass — anything you like. Now turn it up a notch and see if the timbre of that instrument isn’t more correct. Add another click of volume and listen again.
I think you will see that with each increase in volume, assuming your system can handle it, the tonality of each and every instrument you hear continues to get better.
This record would sound right at something very close to, if not actual, LIVE levels. Of that I have no doubt.
I have to confess we were actually quite shocked at the pressing variations on this record. These direct to discs are all over the map sonically. Some Sheffield pressings are aggressive, many of them are dull and lack the spark of live music, some of them have wonky bass or are lacking in the lowest octave — they are prey to every fault that befalls other pressings, direct to disc and otherwise.
Which should not be too surprising. Records are records. Pressing variations exist for every album ever made. If you haven’t noticed that yet, start playing multiple copies of the same album while listening carefully and critically. If your stereo is any good at all, it should not take you long to notice how different one record sounds from another in practically every case.
Biggest problems on S9? I would have to say smearing is Number One. When the brass loses its bite and the bells don’t have the percussive quality of metal being struck, this is not a good thing. The band also seems to lose energy when the pressing suffers from smear.
Number Two would be a lack of top end extension. The harmonics of the sax and trumpet are muted on some copies, and the harpsichord really suffers when the top end isn’t all it should be. This lack of extension is most noticeable on all the lovely bells and percussion instruments that pepper the soundstage, but you can actually hear it on practically every instrument once you recognize the problem: guitar harmonics, cymbals and snares, and on down the list.
This Copy Rocks
It gives you the LIFE and ENERGY of the music — the tonality of the instruments is correct (although admittedly some tracks can sound a bit dark. That’s not actually a pressing issue, it’s more of a mixing and mic’ing issue.) and the whomp factor is fully intact. This is what made the album such a Demo Disc in its day. It’s got real power and IMPACT from the deepest bass up through the lower midrange, that range that small speakers and screens have so much trouble with. (The Legacy Focus we use for our shootouts has three twelve inch woofers and LOVES records with this kind of WHOMP.)
Above the bottom you will find wonderfully transparent and sweet mids and highs. This is the kind of sound that brings out the breathy, reedy quality of the saxes that play on so many of the tunes here (alto, tenor and baritone, pretty much the full complement).
We are big fans of Mayorga’s music for Sheffield from back in the day; all three of the Distinguished Colleagues records are fun and boast amazing sound when you get the right pressing. (We do Hot Stamper shootouts for all of them on a regular basis; it’s shocking how much better some copies sound compared to others. If you want the amazing sound that the Direct to Disc recording technology promises, we know of no other way to get it than by cleaning, playing and evaluating the discs themselves.)