Top Engineers – Bernie Grundman

Michael Jackson / Thriller – Proof that Bernie Grundman Could Still Cut Good Records in 1982

Our old friend Bernie Grundman handled the mastering for Thriller and managed to do a really nice job. Unfortunately, most copies of this mass-produced classic don’t give you as much of the magic as other copies, including the ones BG mastered.

The sound on this copy is huge — big, wide, deep, and open, with the kind of three-dimensional soundstaging that lets the music unfold in front of you and around you as well. You get the bottom end punch that’s so crucial to this music and tons of energy as well. The bass is meaty and well-defined, showing you the rhythmic foundation that the music needs. The overall sound is transparent with amazing texture to practically every element.

Michael’s voice is marvelous on this copy — breathy, textured, and positively dripping with emotion (just listen to him break down on The Lady in My Life).

Thanks to constant improvements in our stereo, we’re now getting this album to sound better than it ever has. Extended highs appeared where none had been before. We were hearing synthesizers buried deep in the mix we’d never heard. All of a sudden, these ’80s pop records had amazing analog magic.

If your system is up to the task, you won’t believe how big and lively this album sounds. Who woulda thunk it?

In a recent commentary we went into some detail about Bernie Grundman’s shortcomings as a mastering engineer.

Bernie Grundman’s Work for Classic Records in Four Words: Hard, Sour, Colored and Crude

More Balalaika Favorites

Oh, and airless. Make that five words.

It’s been quite a while since I played the Classic pressing, but I remember it as unpleasantly hard and sour. Many of the later Mercury reissues pressed by Columbia had some of that sound, so I was already familiar with it when their pressing came out in 1998 as part of the just-plain-awful Mercury series they released.

I suspect I would hear it that way today. Bernie Grundman could cut the bass, the dynamics, and the energy onto the record.

Everything else was worse 99% of the time.

The fast transients of the plucked strings of the Balalaikas was just way beyond the ability of his colored and crude cutting system. Harmonic extension and midrange delicacy were qualities that practically no Classic Records Heavy Vinyl pressing could claim to have.

Or, to be precise, they claimed to have them, and whether audiophiles really believed they did or not, Classic Records sure fooled a lot of them and the reviewers that write the facile and reductive superficialities that pass for audio journalism.

The better your stereo gets the worse those records sound, and they continue to fall further and further behind with each passing year.

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Linda Ronstadt / Heart Like A Wheel – Does Bernie Ever Get Bored?

More Linda Ronstadt

Reviews and Commentaries for the Recordings of Linda Ronstadt

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Years ago we wrote:

One thing we noted with interest while doing this shootout was how compressed the first track is. When the chorus comes in, and Linda seems to be singing louder — should be singing louder, with a substantial coterie of vocalists backing her up — the volume is actually lower. In the verse immediately following you can hear that not only is she singing louder, but the amount of dynamic contrast in her voice is greater. Go figure.

The compression also means that that song will never sound the way we would wish it to. But that doesn’t mean it won’t sound good. It means it will sound good in more of a radio-friendly way. On a good copy, one with relatively little grain and plenty of bass, the music can still be very enjoyable, and that includes a Number One Pop Hit like “You’re No Good.”

Do we still see things this way? Well, yes and no. It’s not exactly that we were wrong, but that better cleaning and better playback (all that revolutions in audio stuff) have now allowed us to hear that some copies are actually much more dynamic on this track than others. Quite dynamic in fact.

Think about it. Bernie Grundman is going to cut this record many, many times, maybe more times than he wants to. Is he always going to apply exactly the same amount of compression to each cutting, or is he going to experiment a bit and see what works better over time? Or maybe he just learned a thing or two as he went along.

Which is pretty much what we do when playing copy after copy. The best pressings show us precisely what it is they are doing when they actually work. We can’t know that in advance; we’re learning on the job so to speak. (more…)

George Cables – Cables’ Vision

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Piano

More Contemporary Label Jazz

  • George Cables’ superb 1980 release finally arrives on the site with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout 
  • I’ve known about this Allen Sides Oceanway recording for decades – his stuff is smooth, punchy, solid, and alive with energy
  • 4 1/2 stars: “One of the most satisfying recordings to be released in 1980… this date features trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and saxophonist Ernie Watts in fiery form; the two horn players took time off from their much more commercial efforts for other labels. The solos overall are concise and make expert use of each note. Cables’ tunes are generally catchy and memorable while “Byrdlike” gives the virtuosos an up-tempo blues to romp through. This well-paced set is a gem that is highly recommended.”

This Contemporary pressing has wonderful sound. This should not be too surprising as it was recorded by one of our favorite engineers, Allen Sides, working out of his Oceanway studios. (Supposedly he is a big fan of vintage mics and the like. with many superb and valuable examples.) (more…)