Labels With Shortcomings – Tone Poets

Robert Brook Shoots Out One Flight Up

We have never heard the Tone Poets pressing that Robert played against his Van Gelder cutting he discusses in the commentary below. We have one in stock and are just waiting to do the shootout for the album so that we can compare it to the better pressings we know we will find. You may have read that we were knocked out by a killer copy way back in 2007. We expect to be no less knocked out in 2023.

Robert concludes with his take on the strengths and weaknesses of the two pressings. Here is a small excerpt you may find of interest:

Overall, the Tone Poet is closed, distant and frankly boring to listen to. Where is the energy of the music? Where is the presence of these musicians? Where is the studio space?

He goes on in much more detail, but this is exactly the kind of sound we hear on one Heavy Vinyl pressing after another. For some reason, none of these shortcomings appear to bother the fans of the label. I get why this guy is missing the boat: he actually thinks a system with five inch woofers can play jazz. What excuses do these other people have? [1]

The complete review can be found below. If you are considering following the crowd and buying some of this label’s albums, you might want to take it slow. (Those of you with five inch woofers can charge right ahead. The sonic problems with the Tone Poets releases Robert Brook describes would barely be audible on such a system, so get while the gettin’s good. Just make sure you are never tempted to upgrade to big speakers. You could find yourself in the unfortunate position of needing a new record collection to go along with them. Unlike Tone Poets releases, good records ain’t cheap.)

Dexter Gordon’s ONE FLIGHT UP: One of the Better TONE POETS?

[1] This is rhetorical question. These other folks have no excuses. They have exactly the sound quality they have earned by deploying the two most important audio resources they have at their disposal: time and money.

If they have failed to put in enough of either one or both, they have only themselves to blame for allowing themselves to be fooled by the chalatans currently marketing one meretricious [2] Heavy Vinyl pressing after another.

If they choosee to remedy this sad state of affairs, we are more than happy to guide them in the new and exciting direction we’ve pioneered over the course of the last twenty years or so. The advice we give in the commentary below would be a good place to start:

For another 60+ pieces of record collecting advice, more than enough to keep anyone busy for months, perhaps years, please click here.

[2] To save you the trouble of looking it up, Merrian-Webster defines meretricious as apparently attractive but having in reality no value or integrity. Used to suggest pretense, insincerity, and cheap or tawdry ornamentation.

For a deeply meretricious release of recent vintage (OBI strip!, custom booklet!, premium heavy vinyl!, fold-open cover!), see The Cars on Rhino. The only thing left out of the package was a good sounding LP.

Further Reading


Tone Poets and One Legged Tarzans

Making Audio Progress 

More Unsolicited Audio Advice

A tenet of conservatism is that we must all accommodate ourselves to living in the world that exists, not the world we might want to pretend exists, or the world we would like to exist.

The laws of physics are laws, not theories, not recommendations, and they operate independently of how convenient any of us may find them.

It follows from this — if you will allow me to make the case — that not everybody with a stereo can play Rudy Van Gelder’s recordings properly, and some people cannot play Tarzan at all. (See below.)

There is a fellow, rl1856, who made some comments on Robert Brook’s blog, addressing the Tone Poets pressings of RVG’s recordings vis-a-vis vintage pressings that RVG mastered. (Bolding has been added by me.)

rl1856 writes:

An original RVG 1st or 2nd pressing has a visceral, “edge of the seat” feeling that is missing in the TP [Tone Poets] and BN [Blue Note] Classic reissues. The RVG has a tighter stereo spread, and is voiced so that the listener feels they are very close to the musicians. The TP and Classic remasters have a more distant perspective. The soundstage is wider, but the added apparent distance between musician and listener significantly reduces the impact of the music. OTOH, the reissues have greater extension at frequency extremes, and reproduce more micro detail than original pressings. We know that RVG used a surprising amount of EQ when mastering his LPs back in the day. So we need to ask ourselves, what do we want ? A better version of what we are familiar with, including EQ compromises, or a more accurate representation of what was actually captured on the master tape in RVG’s studio ? The answers may be mutually exclusive.

My system: Linn LP12 ITTOK LVII, SoundSmith Denon 103D, Audio Research SP10MKIII, Luxman MA 88 monoblocks, or Triode TRV 845PSE, or Mac 240, KEF LS50. Resolving enough to easily hear differences in LP quality.

When someone reveals that their equipment is simply not capable of reproducing the sound of live music, we can safely ignore whatever opinions they have offered about the records being discussed.

It should be obvious that they have played them with unacceptably low levels of fidelity.

Let’s Talk About the Real World

The science behind my argument is as follows.

Acoustic instruments make sounds by moving air, whether in the studio or the concert hall.

Speakers replicate the sound of those instruments in your listening room by the same process. They move air.

Big dynamic speakers are good at moving air in a listening room, and small ones are not.

Therefore, speakers that do not move enough air are failing fundamentally to reproduce the sound of recorded instruments with fidelity.

On a hot day you can fan yourself with an album jacket or you can fan yourself with a guitar pick. One moves enough air to cool you off, the other does not, no matter how hard you try. (See: physics, laws of, above.)

Box speakers with five inch drivers may move enough air in the home listening environment, especially in smaller rooms, to play music with enough fidelity to make it enjoyable.

What they cannot do is move enough air to play music that sounds anything like live music.

The right pressings (we admit that this phrase is doing a lot of heavy lifting here) of Rudy Van Gelder’s better recordings do a remarkable job, in this writer’s view, of reproducing the feeling one gets from listening to live music.

If the speakers you own fail to reproduce that sound — the kind of big, lively sound some of us have spent a lifetime pursuing — how can your judgment be of any value to those of us who own large speakers in dedicated rooms, all working together to reproduce music at live levels?

Colorblind people rarely make good art critics. They know better than to talk about the colors they can’t see.

Some actors who want to play Tarzan are simply not equipped to play Tarzan. They may be foolish enough to audition, but no one could possibly be foolish enough to give them the part. (See video below.)

A Poor Guide

Some speakers give an incomplete picture of what the record is getting right and what it is getting wrong. Due to the laws of physics mentioned above, speakers with “woofers” that are 5.25 inches in diameter can be safely placed in this category.

No recording of a jazz group with a bass player can be reproduced properly using a five inch woofer.

Rudy recorded many jazz groups, and few of them did not have someone playing bass.

If you have that kind of ‘incomplete” speaker, regardless of how much you may like what it does well in other respects, the first step in the long road to better sound is to recognize that it is preventing you from appreciating a great deal of what makes Rudy Van Gelder’s recordings the powerful listening experiences they most certainly are.

Little speakers are not powerful. To be powerful, a speaker has to move air well, and that is one thing, among many, that small speakers cannot do.

They also do not do a good job in my experience of capturing frequency extremes, especially at the low end, which makes this fellow’s comment that “the reissues have greater extension at frequency extremes” rather absurd. His speaker goes down to 80hz. I looked it up. There are two full octaves of bass below 80hz. I guess those aren’t important. (When audiophiles tell you some aspect of the reproduction of music is “not important,” this should be seen as nothing more than motivated reasoning. You don’t want to be that guy either.)

Something I’ve never taken the time to write about on this blog is the correct sizing of instruments.

Some speakers — typically those with smaller drivers — create images of instruments that are too small, smaller than you would picture them if you were sitting in the audience. Other speakers — typically screens of one kind or another — produce larger-than-life images of instruments and vocalists. In the ’70s, I heard a lot of screens and full-range electrostats — these come to mind, and there were plenty of others like them, Magneplanars and the like — and the images never seemed right-sized or real enough to be taken seriously. I opted for a big dynamic system and never heard anything that would give me a reason to switch.

Yes, he may think that his system is “Resolving enough to easily hear differences in LP quality.”

But what about all the differences his system does not allow him to hear? Failing to recognize the shortcomings of a stereo system doesn’t make them go away.

When you close your eyes while listening to a system that looks like this (I found this one randomly on the web), do you feel that you’re in the presence of live musicians?

Of course you don’t. How could you?

But when I listen to the system seen below (that’s me at the table) turned up good and loud, that is precisely the sound I get from the hottest of the Hot Stamper pressings I play. Here is one example from not that long ago. I could easily describe hundreds of others, many of which are unforgettable.

Some of our customers have written to us that they got the same feeling we did, the sense of being in the presence of live musicians.

The remarkable White Hot stamper pressings we discuss on this blog were made from the greatest recordings ever put on tape, and that group includes a fair number that were engineered by RVG.

Rudy Is the Man

Of the many hundreds of jazz albums we have listened to critically over the past thirty plus years, our pick for The Best Sounding Jazz Record of them all has Rudy’s name in the credits. Even better, it’s a reissue from the ’70s, because the originals, at least the ones we’ve played, don’t sound remotely as good as the right reissues.

We didn’t read that on a forum, or a website, or in a magazine. We heard it with our own two ears.

It’s the kind of thing that an obsessively-tuned full-range system, set up in a heavily-tweaked, dedicated room, can reveal about just how remarkably different various pressings of recordings can sound. These differences are often obscured by the manifold shortcomings of smaller, more limited systems, the ones most audiophiles own.

That’s why some audiophiles believe what they read from self-described experts about master tapes and mastering approaches and all the rest. Their systems can’t show them how mistaken all this talk really is.

To convince others that you know something about “a more accurate representation of what was actually captured on the master tape,” as if that could be known by someone with no access to the master tape and speakers you could fit in a backpack, is the height of self-deception. It’s the worst kind of pretend knowledge.

We’ve learned that the only way to understand records is by ignoring what everybody says and just play as many different pressings as possible in blinded, carefully controlled experiments. The data derived from these experiments should inform your opinions, not the other way around.

If you really want to make the case for your expertise in record reviewing, it’s never a good idea to claim that the laws of physics don’t apply to you. It’s the kind of thing that upsets irredeemably skeptical types such as me, who then spend all afternoon writing longwinded commentaries about the things that misinformed audiophiles believe.

Never Played One

To be clear, we have never played a Tone Poets record. We’ve played many titles mastered by Kevin Gray, and we know that he is credited with mastering some records for the label. Without exception we find that his remastered records leave a lot to be desired. You can find many of them in our Hall of Shame. Anyone defending his work to me has some heavy lifting to do.

A couple of titles we will be doing shootouts for soon will include the Tone Poets pressings, and you will be able to read all about them right here on the blog.

Until then, allow us to leave you with a few things to think about.