Thelonious Monk – This One Didn’t Make the Grade

More of the Music of Thelonious Monk

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Thelonious Monk

Every copy of this record we have ever played sounded terrible. The early pressings sounded bad and the OJC sounded bad. We gave up on the album a long time ago. Why throw good money after bad?

Some audiophile reviewers prefer to review only the records that sound good to them and ignore the rest. We think this does the audiophile community a disservice.

Like Consumer Reports, we like to test things. They test toasters, we test records. We put them through their paces and let the chips fall where they may.

They want to find out if the things they are testing offer the consumer good quality and value.

We want to find out if the records we are testing offer the audiophile good sound and music.

It takes a lot of people and a healthy budget to carry out large numbers of these kinds of tests.

No other record dealers, record reviewers or record collectors could possibly have auditioned more than a small fraction of the records that we’ve played. We’ve been looking for the best sounding records for a very long time. Now, with a staff of ten or more, we can buy, clean and play records in numbers that are unimaginable for any single person to attempt.

That puts us in a unique position to help audiophiles looking for the highest quality pressings.

Yes, we have the resources, the staff and the budget. More importantly, we came up with a different approach.

We’ve learned through thousands and thousands of hours of experimentation that there is no reliable way to predict which pressings will have the best sound for any given album.

The impossibility of predicting the sound of records is one which we learned to accept as axiomatic. As a born skeptic, this was never difficult for me. Early on in my audio career, sometime in the ’80s, I realized it was self-evident.

The solution we put into practice given the chaotic nature of records mainly comprised these four elements:

  1. We stopped pretending to know something that can’t be known.
  2. We stopped relying on theories proven to have virtually no predictive effect.
  3. We stopped relying on the experts and so-called authorities.
  4. We stopped assuming and speculating and, importantly, we stopped worrying about getting it wrong.

What remained was the simplest approach to any problem ever devised. One that could be taught in a high school science class, if high school science classes were run by skeptical record collectors.

  1. Guess what pressings might be good for a given album.
  2. Buy some of those pressings.
  3. Clean them up, play them and see if your guess about the sound of the pressing turned out to be less true or more true.
  4. Repeat steps one through three until you have found a pressing that sounds better than all the others.
  5. Get hold of as many of those as you can and play them against each other in a shootout.
  6. Continue to make other guesses and buy other pressings to play against the pressing you believe to be the best.
  7. Keep making improvements to your playback system and never stop testing as many records as possible.

That’s it. Nothing to it. It all comes down to experimenting at scale.

Edison is said to have failed 10,000 times before inventing a light bulb that was suitable.

Most audiophiles do not have the time and money, not to say patience, needed to fail again and again this way.

For us, having a full-time staff of ten and a rather large record buying budget, failures are just part of the job. Our successes pay for them, which is why our prices are as high as they are.

We don’t make a dime from writing about records that didn’t sound good to us. We review them as a service to the audiophile community. We play them so that you don’t have to.

You can find this one in our Hall of Shame, along with others that — in our opinion — are best avoided by audiophiles looking for hi-fidelity sound. Some of these records may have passable sonics, but we found the music less than compelling.  These are also records you can safely avoid.

We also have an Audiophile Record Hall of Shame for records that were marketed to audiophiles for their putatively superior sound. If you’ve spent any time on this blog at all, you know that these records are some of the worst sounding pressings we have ever had the displeasure to play.

We routinely play them in our Hot Stamper Shootouts against the vintage records that we offer, and are often surprised at just how bad an “audiophile record” can sound and still be considered an “audiophile record.”

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