Top Engineers – Al Schmitt

Henry Mancini – Our Man In Hollywood – Making More Progress in Audio

xxxxx

The story of our recent shootout is what real Progress in Audio is all about.

In our previous listings we noted:

This is one of those odd records in which the variation in sound quality from track to track is dramatic. Take the first two tracks on side one — they suck. They sound like your average LSP Mancini album, the kind I have suffered through far too many times. And that means bad bad bad. 

Courtesy of Revolutions in Audio.

But track three boasts DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND and the next one is nearly as good. Listen to that wonderful glockenspiel. It sound every bit as magical as anything on Bang, Baa-room and Harp, and that’s some pretty magical sound in my book!

Same thing happens on side two. Bad sound for the first tracks, then track four sounds great, followed by a pretty good five and a lovely six with a chorus of voices to die for. Go figure.

Is there a copy that sounds good from start to finish? Doubtful.

We’ve made a dozen or more improvements to the system since we last did this shootout, and I’m happy to report that most of the tracks we had trouble with in the past are now sounding very good indeed. Of course the better tracks we noted from years ago are even better, making this a consistently good sounding Mancini record.

One obvious change from the old days is that we now spend a fair amount of time honing in the VTA for every title. That may account for the fact that the first track on side one, which used to be problematical, now sounds wonderful. The value of getting the correct VTA setting — by ear, for every record — cannot be overestimated in our opinion. (more…)

Dave Mason – Alone Together

xxxxx

  • This outstanding copy of Mason’s Masterpiece boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sonic grades on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Listen to how big and rich the dynamic chorus gets on the first track, Only You Know and I Know – what a thrill to hear it like that
  • A killer Bruce Botnick recording – Tubey Magical Analog, smooth and natural, with the whole production sitting on a rock solid bottom-end foundation
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Alone Together represents Dave Mason at his peak… everything comes together perfectly.”

Before I get too far into the story of the sound, I want to say that this album appears to be criminally underrated as music nowadays, having fallen from favor with the passage of time.

It is a surely a masterpiece that belongs in any Rock Collection worthy of the name. Every track is good, and most are amazingly good. There’s no filler here. (more…)

Henry Mancini – Our Man In Hollywood

xxxxx

A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

This Minty RCA Living Stereo LP (LSP 2604) has AMAZINGLY Three-Dimensional Tubey Magical Living Stereo Sound on on both sides. Most original LSP pressings, of this or any other LSP title, do not begin to recreate the Studio Wizardry found on this pressing. This wonderful recording rivals the best Chet Atkins and Bob and Rays in all their delicious Cinerama glory.  

Thank Al Schmitt for delivering top quality sound on this all tube 1963 recording! (more…)

Henry Mancini – The Blues and The Beat

xxxxx

A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame

If you like your large group recordings to have huge three-dimensional space and depth, look no further. This is vintage RCA Living Stereo at its best – transparent, Tubey Magical, big and bold. Let’s give credit where credit is due, to the amazing AL SCHMITT.

We know his work well; he happens to have engineered many albums with SUPERB SOUND: Aja, Hatari, Breezin’, Late for the Sky, Toto IV, as well as some we can’t stand (the entire Diana Krall digital-echo-drenched catalog comes to mind). 

Bold, fun, imaginative takes on jazz standards and other songs, yes, Allmusic is right: this isn’t really jazz, but it sure is jazzy, and with 1960 Hollywood Studios Living Stereo sound you will find yourself lost in these fun arrangements played with style and verve.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

Big bass. Both sides have plenty of bottom end on the better copies.

The sound of the saxophone on the second track on side one is so real it may just give you chills.

On the third track take note of the muted horns — that’s cool jazz at its best.

On the first track of side two note how solid and powerful the piano sounds. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Don’t Cry Now – What to Listen For

More Linda Ronstadt

More Don’t Cry Now

xxxxx

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy.

Her vocals on both sides can be very DYNAMIC, but only the best copies will present them with no hint of STRAIN or GRAIN, two problems that make most pressings positively painful to listen to at the loud volumes we prefer.

Linda really belts it out on this album — face it, it’s what she does best — and only the rarest copies allow you to turn up the volume good and loud and let her do her thing. (more…)

Shorty Rogers – The Swingin’ Nutcracker

More Shorty Rogers

The Swingin’ Nutcracker

xxxxx

  • Insanely good Living Stereo sound throughout with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades and playing reasonably quietly
  • Al Schmitt handled the engineering duties, brilliantly, with Shorty and dozens of his West Coast Pals contributing to the dates, the likes of Conte Candoli, Art Pepper, Bill Perkins, Bud Shank, Harold Land, Richie Kamuca and more
  • “The most remarkable aspect about the score is how boldly it re-imagines the original. The Swingin’ Nutcracker is contemporary from an American perspective without patronizing the European original.” – Marc Meyers, Jazz Wax

This vintage RCA pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

Hi-Fidelity

What do we love about these Living Stereo Hot Stamper pressings? The timbre of every instrument is Hi-Fi in the best sense of the word. The instruments here are reproduced with remarkable fidelity. Now that’s what we at Better Records mean by “Hi-Fi”, not the kind of Audiophile Phony BS Sound that too often passes for Hi-Fidelity these days. (For a taste of the ridiculously phony sound I’m talking about, click here.)

There’s no boosted top, there’s no bloated bottom, there’s no sucked-out midrange. There’s no added digital reverb (Patricia Barber, Diana Krall, et al.). The microphones are not fifty feet away from the musicians (Water Lily) nor are they inches away (Three Blind Mice). This is Hi-Fidelity for those who recognize The Real Thing when they hear it. I’m pretty sure our customers do, and whoever picks this one up is guaranteed to get a real kick out of it. 

What amazing sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1960
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

What We Listen For on The Swingin’ Nutcracker

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The musicians aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt — Al Schmitt in this case — would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

The Players

Bass – Joe Mondragon 
Drums – Frank Capp, Mel Lewis 
Piano – Lou Levy, Pete Jolly 
Saxophone – Art Pepper, Bill Holman, Bill Hood, Bill Perkins, Bud Shank, Chuck Gentry, Harold Land, Richie Kamuca 
Trombone – Frank Rosolino, George Roberts, Harry Betts, Kenneth Shroyer 
Trumpet – Conte Candoli, Jimmy Zito*, Johnny Audino, Ray Triscari 

A Big Group of Musicians Needs This Kind of Space

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

And most of the time those very special pressings are just plain more involving. When you hear a copy that does all that — a copy like this one — it’s an entirely different listening experience.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Like Nutty Overture (Finale)
A Nutty Marche (Marche)
Blue Reeds (Reed Flute Blues) 
The Swingin’ Plum Fairy (Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy)
Snowball (Waltz Of The Snowflakes)

Side Two

Six Pak (Trépak)
Flowers Of The Cats (Waltz Of The Flowers)
Dance Expresso (Coffee)
Pass The Duke (Pas De Deux)
China Where? (Tea Dance)
Overture For Shorty (Overture In Miniature)

Toto – IV

More Toto

More Toto IV

xxxxx

  • You’ll find stunning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides of this copy of Toto’s Must-Own Masterpiece 
  • Huge and clear with the kind of smooth, rich, Tubey sound you sure don’t hear on too many ’80s pop albums
  • Rosanna and Africa are both knockouts here – we’ve rarely heard them with this kind of weight, scale and energy
  • 4 1/2 stars: “It was do or die for Toto on the group’s fourth album, and they rose to the challenge… Toto IV was both the group’s comeback and its peak …Toto’s best and most consistent record.

If more records sounded like this we would be out of business (and the CD would never have been invented). Thankfully we were able to find this TOTO-ly Tubey Magical copy and make it available for our customers who love the album. (more…)

Dave Mason – Alone Together on MCA Heavy Vinyl

xxxxx

Sonic Grade: D

A Hall of Shame pressing. I confess I actually used to like and recommend the Heavy Vinyl MCA pressing. Rest assured that is no longer the case. Nowadays it sounds as opaque, ambience-challenged, lifeless and pointless as the rest of its 180 gram brethren.

We struggled for years with the bad vinyl and the murky sound of this album. Finally, with dozens of advances in playback quality and dramatically better cleaning techniques, we have now managed to overcome the problems which we assumed were baked into the recording. I haven’t heard the master tape, but I have heard scores of pressings made from it over the years.  (more…)

Al Schmitt – One of Our Favorite Producer / Engineers

More Al Schmitt

More One of Our Favorite Producer-Engineers

xxxxx

AL SCHMITT is one of our favorite engineers and producers . Click on the links below to find our in-stock Al Schmitt engineered or produced albums, along with plenty of our famous commentaries.

Al Schmitt Engineered or Produced Albums with Hot Stampers

Al Schmitt Engineered or Produced Albums We’ve Reviewed