What I Couldn’t Hear on My ’90s Tube System

Hot Stamper Pressings of Contemporary Jazz Available Now

More Piano Recordings that Are Good for Testing

I have a very long history with Bells Are Ringing, dating back to the ’90s. My friend Robert Pincus first turned me on to the CD, which, happily for all concerned, was mastered beautifully and is highly recommended if you want to work on your digital playback or other non-analog aspects of your system such as your room, electricity, speaker placement and such like.

Back in the day we often used it to test and tweak some of the stereos in my friends’ systems.

Playing the original stereo record, all I could hear on my ’90s all tube system was

  • blurred mids,
  • lack of transient attack,
  • sloppy bass,
  • lack of space and transparency,
  • as well as other shortcomings too numerous to mention.

All of which I simply attributed at the time to the limitations of the vintage jazz pressing I owned.

A classic case of me rather foolishly blaming the recording.

I know better now. The record was fine. I just couldn’t play it right.

Well, things have certainly changed. I have virtually none of the equipment I had back then, and I hear none of the problems with this copy that I heard back then on the pressing I owned. This is clearly a different LP, I sold the old one off years ago, but I have to think that much of the change in the sound was a change in cleaning, equipment, setup, tweaks and room treatments, all the stuff we prattle on about endlessly on this blog.

My Old System

By the mid-’90s I had been seriously into audio for more than twenty years.

I had the Legacy Whisper Speaker System with 8 15″ woofers and added subs.

I had a Triplanar tonearm and a VPI Aries turntable sitting on Aurios with the Synchronous Drive System for the outboard motor.

I had custom tube amps and a custom tube preamp and phono stage. They were the best of their kind that I’d heard, at any price.

In short, I had a lot of expensive, high-quality equipment that sounded great to me.

Now, looking back on those days, I can see I was not at the level I needed to be in order to play Bells Are Ringing with any real fidelity to the master tape. My stereo was simply not resolving enough.

This system can play the record and make it sound like live music. I thought my old one could too, because I didn’t have a clue as to just how good audio in the home could get.

Clearly I had a lot to learn.

This is, once again, what progress in audio in all about. As your stereo improves, your good records should sound better, and your mediocre-to-bad records should show you how mediocre to bad they really are. You need high quality sound before you can tell which are which.

This title of this letter gets right to the heart of it: “My stereo upgrades have widened the sonic chasm between good, old-fashioned records and their nouveau imposters.”

And We’re Still at It

We constantly strive to improve the quality of our cleaning and playback.

And we’re still at it. With this much money on the line, we had better be able to deliver the goods every time out.

Our customers seem to like the records they’ve been getting. They’ve written us hundreds of letters telling us so.

And we especially like the letters they write to us once they’ve compared our Hot Stamper pressings to the copies they owned that were Half-Speed Mastered or pressed on Heavy Vinyl, or both!

The Recording

The piano sounds uncannily lifelike right from the start, a beautiful instrument in a natural space, tonally correct from top to bottom. I can’t think of any record off the top of my head that gets a better piano sound than this one.

Listen to the tambourine on the third track on side one. Shelly Manne messes about with lots of percussion instruments on this album and all of them are recorded to perfection.

Better Than a Dream, the second track on this side, has one of the best sounding jazz pianos I have ever heard. My notes say “you cannot record a piano any better” and I stand behind that statement one hundred percent.

There is not a modern reissue on the face of the earth that can hold a candle to the sound of this record.

For any of you out there who doubt my words, please take this record home and play it against the best piano jazz recordings you own. If it doesn’t beat them all, we are happy to pay the domestic shipping back.

Even our amazing sounding 45 RPM pressing of The Three does not present the listener with a piano that sounds as real as the one on this record.

Further Reading

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