- A vintage East Wind 33 RPM Japanese import pressing with outstanding grades from start to finish
- A top album in both rarity and demand – you’d be hard pressed to find another copy with this kind of transparency, clarity, presence, and sound (assuming you could find one)
- This is one of the best sounding copies with all 7 tracks we have ever played
- Lee Herschberg recorded these sessions direct to disc – he’s the guy behind the most amazing piano trio recording I have ever heard, a little album called The Three
- The star of this record is Shelly Manne, who really plays up a storm
- This 33 RPM version features all seven of the original tracks – “Greensleeves” and “Django” were omitted from the shorter 45 RPM pressing
Sonic Grade: F
An awful Direct to Disc recording. This is the kind of crap we audiophiles used to put up with back in the ’70s before we had much of a clue. Clearly, a record like this belongs on our very long list — 279 as of 2023 and getting longer all the time — of Bad Audiophile Records.
The Big Picture from a Lifelong Audiophile
You may have seen this text in another listing, but it bears repeating.
There is nothing new under the sun, and that is especially true when it comes to bad sounding audiophile records. The world is full of them.
There has been one big change from the days when I self-identified as a freshly-minted audiophile in the ’70s.
Yes, the records being marketed to audiophiles these days may have second- and third-rate sound, but at least now they have good music. That’s progress, right?
You might be asking: What Kind of Audio Fool Was I? to buy a dumbass record like this.
It’s a fair question. Yes, I admit I was foolish enough to buy records such as this one and expect it to have good music, or at least good sound. Of course it had neither. Practically none of these kinds of records ever did. Sheffield and a few others made some good ones, but most Direct to Disc recordings were crap.
As clueless as I was, even back in the day I could tell that I had just thrown my money away on this lipsticked-pig in a poke.
But I was an audiophile, and like a certain Mr. Mulder, I wanted to believe. These special super-hi-fidelity records were being made for me, for special people like me, because I had expensive equipment and regular records are never going to be good enough to play on my special equipment, right?
To say I was wrong to think about audio that way is obviously an understatement. Over the course of the last forty years, I (and to be fair, my friends and my staff) have been wrong about a lots of things in the worlds of records and audio.
You can read more about many of the things we got wrong under the heading: Live and Learn.
Mistaken Audiophile Thinking? We’ve done our share and then some.
We firmly believe that there is a great deal of Audio Progress still available to us all, but in order to realize that progress, we must empirically approach the problems encountered in reproducing music in the home, thinking about them critically, not as True Believers, but as skeptics who pursue evidence and let it guide their actions.
It is axiomatic with us that the more skeptical you become, the more successful you will be in pursuing this devilishly difficult hobby of ours.
This review is from 2012, the first time we did a shootout (two copies!) for the album.
Of course, no shootout we would do these days would involve only two copies of an album. If we were to scold ourselves today for this silly exercise from back in 2012, it would look something like this:
We encourage any audiophile who wants to improve the quality of his record collection to do some shootouts for himself. Freeing up an afternoon to sit down with a pile of cleaned copies of a favorite LP (you won’t make it through any other kind) and play them one after another is by far the best way to learn about records and pressing variations. Doing your own shootout will also help you see just how much work it is.
They are a great deal of work if you do them right. If you have just a few pressings on hand and don’t bother to clean them rigorously, that kind of shootout anyone can do. We would not consider that a real shootout. (Art Dudley illustrates this approach, but you could pick any reviewer you like — none of them have ever undertaken a shootout worthy of the name to our knowledge.)
With only a few records to play you probably won’t learn much of value and, worse, you are unlikely to find a top copy, although you may be tempted to convince yourself that you have. As Richard Feynman so famously remarked, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”
Our 2012 Review for the Winner
This M&K Direct to Disc SMOKED the copy we played it against — the difference was NIGHT and DAY! The sound is smoother, sweeter, and richer than we are used to hearing for this album. There’s lots of space around the drums, and the tuba sounds awesome.
You aren’t going to believe how DYNAMIC this copy is — when Fatha’s really pounding on the keys, you’re gonna jump out of your chair. The overall sound is clean, clear, lively, and super transparent.
The edgy, hard piano sound that plagued our lesser copy is nowhere to be found.
This is especially good jazz piano music; Earl Hines plays up a storm on this album. The opening track, Birdland, with just a high hat, a tuba and Fatha on piano is worth the price of the disc alone.
Lately we have been writing quite a bit about how pianos are good for testing your system, room, tweaks, electricity and all the rest, not to mention turntable setup and adjustment.
- We like our pianos to sound natural (however one chooses to define the term).
- We like them to be solidly weighted.
- We like them to be free of smear, a quality that is rarely mentioned in the audiophile record reviews we read.
- Boasting INCREDIBLE Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to them from start to finish, this copy could not be beat
- The sound is breathtakingly real – you are there in the club with the flamenco guitarist, his drummer, and a trio of stomping, clapping dancers
- This is a Direct to Disc Demo Disc like nothing you’ve heard – when you turn up the volume on this bad boy the natural acoustic space in the room becomes huge and palpable
- If you have the power to drive big speakers, the dynamics and bass transients of this copy might just rock your world, literally
- Marks in the vinyl are sometimes the nature of the beast with these vintage LPs – there simply is no way around them if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
There are two takes for the Direct Disc, the second of which is terrible and the first of which can be found with Hot Stamper sound.
The second take is so bad I simply cannot stand to listen to it anymore, no matter how good the sound is. And most of the direct disc copies do not sound all that good anyway, truth be told.
The only combination of music and sound that makes any sense to us here at Better Records is take 1 of the direct disc, the 45 RPM from tape, and the 33 from that same tape, which is the version that is found on the Inner City label.
The Inner City LPs are exceptionally difficult to find in quiet condition on flat vinyl. I can’t tell you how many I run across that are noisy and warped. I used to buy them off eBay but I got so many bad ones I finally just gave up and threw in the towel.
I could go on for days about the sound of this album and how much I like the music, but for now I’m going to let our previous commentary suffice. Believe me, you have probably never heard a record like this in your life, it’s that good.
Let’s Talk Energy
This is a quality no one seems to be writing about, other than us of course, but what could possibly be more important? On this record, the more energetic copies took the player’s performances to a level beyond all expectations. It is positively SHOCKING how lively and dynamic this record is. I know of no other recording with this combination of sonic and musical energy. It is sui generis, in a league of its own.
Ne Plus Ultra Piano Trio
This is without a doubt my favorite piano trio record of all time.
Joe Sample, Shelly Manne and Ray Brown only made one album together, this one, recorded direct to disc right here in Los Angeles for Eastwind in the Seventies. Joe Sample for once in his life found himself in a real Class A trio, and happily for jazz fans around the world he rose to the occasion. Actually it was more like an epiphany, as this is the one piano trio album I put in a class by itself. All three of The Three are giving us the best they’ve got on this November day in 1975.
When it comes to small combo piano jazz, there is none better.
- With STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to them from start to finish, this original Sheffield pressing is one of the BEST we have ever heard – fairly quiet vinyl too
- Both sides here fulfill the promise of the direct to disc recording technology in a way that few – very, very few – direct to disc pressings can
- Big Band energy and enthusiasm is key to the better pressings like this one, as well as some of the most natural sounding ambience of nearly any copy in our recent shootout
- This one has practically everything going for it, with big bass, dynamics, clarity, top end extension and more – it’s a real Demo Disc, make no mistake about it
On the better pressings, the horns are so lively and high-rez, not to mention full-bodied, this could easily become a favorite big band album to demo or test with — or just to enjoy the hell out of.
Unlike most Direct to Disc recordings, this album actually contains real music worth listening to — but only when the pressing lets the energy of the musicians through, with actual fidelity to the sounds of the real instruments. Brass without bite is boring. Drummers who are too delicate in their drumming will put you to sleep.
Many copies of this album will do exactly that, which is a real shame. During our shootout, the more we played the good copies, the more we appreciated the music these guys were making. They were swinging, a big group of top quality players totally in the groove. When it’s played well, and the sound is as good as it is here, there’s nothing boring about these Big Band Jazz Classics. The music works. It swings. If you like the kind of big band recordings Basie made — and who doesn’t — you will find much to like here.
This recording has very little processing or EQ boost, and the studio is somewhat dead sounding (all too common in the late ’70s). That combination can mean only one thing: If you don’t play this record loud, it will not sound right.
The famous Sheffield S9 is exactly the same way. It sounds dead and dull until you turn it up good and loud. When you do, lookout — it really comes alive. The best pressings can sound shockingly like live music, something one just does not hear all that often, even when one plays records all day long as we do.
The snare drum on this copy represents one of the most realistic and dynamic sounding snares I have ever heard. Talk about jumping out of the speakers! If you have plenty of large, fast, powerful dynamic drivers like we do, you are in for a real treat. Track one, side one — lookout!
What to Listen For
What typically separates the killer copies from the merely good ones are two qualities that we often look for in the records we play: transparency and lack of smear.
Transparency allows you to hear into the recording, reproducing the ambience and subtle musical cues and details that are the hallmark of high-resolution analog.
(Note that most Heavy Vinyl pressings being produced these days seem to be rather seriously Transparency and Ambience Challenged. A substantial amount of important musical information — the kind we hear on even second-rate regular pressings — is simply nowhere to be found. We believe that a properly mastered CD is likely to be more transparent and have higher resolution than the vast majority of Heavy Vinyl remastered pressings being produced nowadays.)
Lack of smear is also important, especially on a recording with a plucked instrument. The speed and clarity of the transients, the sense that fingers are pulling on strings, strings that ring with tonally correct harmonics, are what make these kinds of records so much fun to play. The best copies really get that sound right, in the same way that the best recordings of Cat Stevens and the Eagles and Pink Floyd and so many others get the sound of stringed instruments right.
- More Records that Are Good for Testing Smear
- More Records that Are Good for Testing Transparency
- Records that Are Good for Testing Correct Tonality and Timbre
- A rare, limited edition Direct to Disc Japanese import pressing of experimental works performed by Sumire Yoshihara, here with KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides
- So transparent, dynamic and real, this copy raises the bar for the sound of this kind of unique percussive music on vinyl
- Loads of presence, with richness and fullness that showed us just how good the Direct to Disc medium can be at its best
- This Sheffield Direct to Disc recording has INCREDIBLE Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
- Guaranteed to be dramatically richer, fuller and more Tubey Magical than any other copy you have heard, with especially punchy drums and rosiny-textured strings
- The bass on side one extends all the way into WHOMP land for that big bass drum at the end of “Limehouse Blues” – what a sound!
- The top end is also key to the better pressings – lots of string harmonics and bells and other high frequency stuff gets lost on most copies, but not this one, it’s all here
- The Audiophile “Sgt. Pepper” of its day, a record that was so much better than anything else you’d ever heard it made you rethink the possibilities (and they did the same thing with Volume III two years later)
- If you’re a Sheffield Labs fan, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this title from 1972 is clearly one of their best
This is definitely not your typical Sheffield pressing. Some of them 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.
Which shouldn’t 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.
Just listen to the texture on the saxophone on “Limehouse Blues” — you can really hear the leading edge transients of the brass that are so important to the sound of those instruments. Track after track, the sound gets surprisingly more open and airy. The harpsichord has such great presence it jumps out of the speakers. Side Two had the best bass ever — extending all the way into WHOMP land.
I was selling audio equipment (Audio Research, Fulton speakers) back in the ’70s and this was a favorite demo disc in our store. The bass drum at the end of track two would shake the foundation with a big speaker like the Fulton J.
Every bit as amazing to me was the string quartet on side 2. You could actually hear the musicians breathing and turning the pages on their music stands, just as if you were actually in their “living presence.”
This is one of the albums that made me realize how good audio in the home could really be. In a way this was the Audiophile “Sgt. Pepper” of its day, a record that was so much better than anything else you’d ever heard it made you rethink the possibilities.
- Superb sound throughout this original Direct-to-Disc Japanese import pressing, with both sides earning Double Plus (A++) grades – fairly quiet vinyl too
- Full-bodied and warm, exactly the way you want your vintage analog to sound – the guitar is surprisingly real here
- Both of these sides are Tubey Magical, lively and funky, with the kind of rich, solid sound that will fill your listening room from wall to wall
- “The third of three Lee Ritenour sets originally cut for Japanese JVC matches the studio guitarist with … Ernie Watts (on tenor and soprano), both Dave and Don Grusin on keyboards, electric bassist Abraham Laboriel, drummer Steve Gadd and percussionist Steve Forman.”
This is one of my all time favorite audiophile discs. It’s actually real music.
The song “Woody Creek” is wonderful and reason enough to own this excellent album. The guitar of Lee Ritenour and the saxophone of Ernie Watts double up during a substantial portion of this song and the effect is just amazing.
Special kudos should go to Ernie Watts on sax, who blows some mean lines. But everybody is good on this album, especially the leader, Lee Ritenour. I saw these guys live and they put on a great show.
By the way, looking in the dead wax I see this record was cut by none other than Stan Ricker of Mobile Fidelity fame himself!