Top Engineers – Rudy Van Gelder

Grover Washington, Jr. – A Secret Place

More Grover Washington, Jr.

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Saxophone

  • A Secret Place makes its Hot Stamper debut with KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to them throughout this original Kudu pressing
  • The sound is everything that’s good about Rudy Van Gelder‘s recordings – it’s present, spacious, full-bodied, Tubey Magical, dynamic and, most importantly, ALIVE in that way that modern pressings never are
  • You’d be hard-pressed to find a copy that’s this well balanced, big and lively, with wonderful clarity in the mids and highs and Washington’s sax front and center
  • 4 stars: “The bottom line on A Secret Place is that while the set did well commercially, it got nowhere near the critical praise of its predecessors. That’s a shame, because it is a truly fine album whose grooves and pleasures stand the test of time easily. It’s ripe for reappraisal.”
  • If you’re a Grover Washington fan, this title from 1976 is surely of interest, assuming you already have his best masterpiece, All the King’s Horses.

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Airto / Fingers – Top End Extension Is Key to the Best Pressings

airtofinge_

More of the Music of Airto

Hot Stamper Pressings of Jazz Fusion Albums Available Now

The best copies have the highs that are missing from so many of the CTI originals. When you play them against most copies, there is an extension to the top end that you won’t hear elsewhere. Since this album is heavy on percussion, that difference is critical.

The HARMONICS of the percussion are critically important to the music. When they go missing, it’s as if the music seems to slow down, a strange effect but a fairly common one with rhythmically dense arrangements such as these. Some of the energy of the music is lost. 

With an extended top end the sound is SWEET, not HARSH. Believe us when we tell you, the last thing you want is a harsh sounding pressing of a Rudy Van Gelder recording. (Not unless you have a dull, dull, deadly dull system. Those “Old School Stereos” are practically the only way one can tolerate some of his early recordings.)

With so many high frequency transients and such complex arrangements, this is a record that must be mastered (and pressed) with great skill or the result is going to be trouble. RVG, who both recorded and mastered the album, has a penchant for over-cutting records and being heavy handed when it comes to his favorite studio tricks, often to the detriment of instrumental fidelity. When his approach works, the resulting recordings are wonderful. When he gets too carried away with his “sound,” look out.

This is without a doubt The Best Album Airto ever made. On top of that, this copy really has the kind of sound we look for, with an open, fully extended top end that gives all the elements of this complex music room to breathe.

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Letter of the Week – Thank you for getting me off the “original pressings are the best” gerbil wheel

Hot Stamper Pressings that Sound Their Best on the Right Reissue

Records We’ve Reviewed that Sound Their Best on the Right Reissue

One of our good customers had this to say about some records he purchased locally, not even from us! (Bolding has been added by us.)

By the way, have I thanked you yet for getting me off the “original pressings are the best” gerbil wheel? I’ve now got a stack of two-fers that I paid $15 apiece for that sound fantastic.

Yup, the very same records that Fremer ridiculed you for selling. [1]

I can buy a copy of an original pressing of Saxophone Colossus [2] for $300 on discogs with absolutely no notes on how the music sounds and no return policy. Or, I can get it for $15 in a twofer at my neighborhood shop, and I can’t imagine it sounding better. Folks just aren’t buying records for the way they sound. It’s nuts.

Tom, you’re like a consultant. It’s almost like I pay you for your knowledge and guidance by buying records from you, but you’re giving information away for free to anybody willing to listen.

In another letter Aaron added this thought after posting on the Hoffman forum and watching the LP 45 guy video:

What a learning experience the last couple of days have been for me. I am just really surprised how little interest in evidence and objectivity my co-hobbyists have proven to have. I know we are in a very anti-objective time right now, but it’s actually almost scary how pervasive it seems to be.

For my own journey into vinyl, a tremendous amount of exploration, experimentation, and tinkering have been essential. I can’t imagine going about it any other way. I’ve begun to wonder what on earth all these other chaps are doing. I mean, does vinyl even sound better than digital on their rigs?? If you don’t try stuff out, you’ll never make progress.

Anyway, looking for open-mindedness, curiosity, and balance in this discussion is futile.

It’s time now for me to stop trying to talk some sense into these people. They are coming at this from such a different place than I am.

Geoff, I’m glad that you touched a nerve that clearly this hobby needed to reckon with.

Tom, I’m glad more people are now aware of you and what you offer now. It’s frustrating to me (although I know you’ve been here a million times previously) that the self-appointed tastemakers in this hobby aren’t even willing to risk challenging their preconceptions. They keep folks in the dark, for reasons I would consider disingenuous.

I just hope that some of the ordinary people listening in are curious enough to give better records a try. The rest of them can just linger in their bubbles of complacency and mutual admiration.

Aaron

Aaron,

Glad I was able to help you get off the gerbil wheel!

As for Two-fers, some are great, including the one that has Lush Life, and some are terrible. Such is the nature of records.

Remastering is not a dirty word when you know how to do it right. Lots of good records were remastered in the ’70s. Think of all the Contemporary titles that came out in the decade before Fantasy bought the label and put all their best titles out as OJCs. Lots of Sheffield Lab Mastering marks in the dead wax, and Sheffield Labs was recutting some great records back in those days.

They don’t sound much like the records being made today, not to these ears anyway, but the typical audiophile who posts on forums — assuming that actually is the typical audiophile — seems to think the opposite is true. We would love to help them see the light, but as you say, that is just not something they are interested in seeing. More’s the pity.

[1] Fremer played a poorly mastered copy and judged the sound to be inferior. We know better than to try to sell the poorly mastered pressings like the one he played. We couldn’t if we tried. They would never make it through the shootout and therefore would never qualify as a Hot Stamper pressing. Hot Stampers of Lush Life are really good sounding pressings! Just as a reality check, we charge a lot of money for our top copies ($500+) and not a single one has ever been returned.

Everybody makes mistakes, but small sample sizes increase the frequency of mistakes by orders of magnitude, especially a sample size as small as 1. When you’re a one-man band, you simply do not have the resources to clean and play enough copies of an album in order to make accurate judgments about the sound.

Which is why he should stick to Heavy Vinyl reviews. You get one in, you give it a spin and you tell everybody how great it is. The advertisers like it, your readers like it, the labels like it, and everybody is happy as a clam.

When troublemakers like us come along, we upset that one-hand-washes-the-other arrangement, and then everybody gets real upset real fast. Nobody wants that. They want to keep selling Heavy Vinyl because that is what can be produced, in volume, at a reasonable cost, distributed widely and, most importantly, priced affordably. Win win win win win. So much winning!

If you want something better sounding, from us, it will cost you dearly. It will be every bit as good as we say, but it will not be cheap and it will not be collectible. The vast majority of record loving audiophiles — like the LP 45 Man — like collecting records. 95+% I would venture to guess.

The five per cent that are left are unlikely to want to spend their life savings on our pricey, uncollectible pressings. That leaves our potential pool of customers at less than one per cent of all the record loving audiophiles who want better sound and can afford it. Subtract the number of them who don’t like me personally — seems like a lot! — and you have a very small cohort of customers to draw from.

But big enough to keep our business going and food on the table for ten dedicated. music loving men and women. Nobody is getting rich, even at these prices, but we’re making a living and providing a service which some people really appreciate.

[2] We have not liked Saxophone Colossus on the Two-fer for many years. It was very dubby on the copies we played, so we gave up. Let us know what pressing you have so we can check it against our notes.

And if you can find an original Saxophone Colossus in clean shape for $300, you should jump on it. I have seen them sell for ten times that. And, just for everyone’s information, we have never sold a Hot Stamper for that price, although it is surely coming, inflation being what it is these days.

Herbie Hancock – Empyrean Isles

More Herbie Hancock

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Piano

  • With excellent Double Plus (A++) grades throughout, this vintage Blue Note stereo pressing will be very hard to beat
  • Once again Rudy Van Gelder delivers the sound that audiophiles and jazz fans alike thrill to
  • These sides are lively, dynamic and full-bodied, and there’s real weight to the piano, always critically important to the piano recordings we play
  • 5 stars: “Working with cornetist Freddie Hubbard, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Tony Williams — a trio just as young and adventurous as he was — Hancock pushes at the borders of hard bop, finding a brilliantly evocative balance between traditional bop, soul-injected grooves, and experimental, post-modal jazz.”
  • If you’re a fan of the music of Herbie Hancock, this title from 1964 is surely one of his best, and one of his best sounding
  • The complete list of titles from 1964 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Grant Green on Music Matters – Tizzy Cymbals and a Bright Snare Drum, That’s Your Idea of Audiophile Sound?

Hot Stamper Blue Note Albums Available Now

Hot Stamper Jazz Recordings Featuring the Guitar

Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and a Heavy Vinyl Disaster if there ever was one (and oh yes, the audiophile world is drowning in them).

After discovering Hot Stampers and the mind-blowing sound they deliver, a new customer generously sent me a few of his favorite Heavy Vinyl pressings to audition, records that he considered the best of the modern reissues that he owns.

He admitted that most of what he has on Heavy Vinyl is not very good, and now that he can clearly hear what he has been missing, having heard some of our best Hot Stamper jazz pressings, he is going to be putting them up on Ebay and selling them to anyone foolish enough to throw their money away on this kind of vinyl junk.

We say more power to him.  That money can be used to buy records that actually are good sounding, not just supposed to be good sounding because they were custom manufactured with the utmost care and marketed at high prices to soi-disant audiophiles.

Audiophile records are a scam. They always have been and they always will be.

I haven’t listened to a copy of this album in a very long time, but I know a good sounding jazz record when I hear one, having critically auditioned more than a thousand over the course of the 33 years I have been in business. (To be clear, we only sold verified good sounding records starting in 2004.)

I knew pretty early on in the session that this was not a good sounding jazz record.  Five minutes was all it took, but I probably wasted another ten making sure the sound was as hopeless as it originally seemed.

For those of you who might have trouble reading my handwriting, my notes say:

Bass is sloppy and fat.

The bass is boosted and badly lacks definition. It constantly calls attention to itself. It is the kind of sloppy bass that cannot be found on any RVG recording, none that I have ever heard anyway, and I’ve heard them by the hundreds.

You no doubt know about the boosted bass on the remastered Beatles albums. It’s that sound. Irritating in the extreme, and just plain wrong.

Reserved. Playing through a curtain.

Very few Heavy Vinyl records these days do not sound veiled and reserved in the midrange.

To get a better sense of the effect, throw a medium weight blanket over your speakers. Voila! Your thin vinyl now weighs 180 grams!

No space.

Typical of Heavy Vinyl. The studio space and ambience found on the better vintage pressings, the kind we play all day long, is GONE.

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Sonny Rollins – Taking Care Of Business (Work Time, Tenor Madness and Tour de Force)

More Sonny Rollins

  • The complete Tenor Madness album is found here, with big, full-bodied, MONO jazz sound at its BEST, courtesy of the great one, Rudy Van Gelder
  • This is what classic ’50s jazz is supposed to sound like – they knew how to do these kinds of records forty years ago, and those mastering skills are in short supply nowadays, if not downright extinct
  • The transfers from 1978 by David Turner are in tune with the sound of these recordings – there’s not a trace of phony EQ on this entire record
  • “Tenor Madness was the recording that, once and for all, established Newk as one of the premier tenor saxophonists, an accolade that in retrospect, has continued through six full decades and gives an indication why a young Rollins was so well liked, as his fluency, whimsical nature, and solid construct of melodies and solos gave him the title of the next Coleman Hawkins or Lester Young of mainstream jazz.”

This Two-Fer includes all of Tenor Madness and most of Work Time and Tour De Force.

Top jazz players such as Ray Bryant, John Coltrane, Red Garland, Kenny Drew, Max Roach and Paul Chambers can be heard on the album.

If you want all the tubey magic of the earlier pressings, a top quality pressing of the real Tenor Madness album on Prestige is going to give you more of that sound. David Turner’s mastering setup in the ’70s has a healthy dose of tubes, but it can’t compete in that area with the All Tube cutting systems that were making records in the ’50s and ’60s.  Without one of those early pressing around to compare, we don’t think you’re going to feel you are missing out on anything in the sound with this killer copy.

And where can you find an early Prestige pressing with audiophile playing surfaces like these?   (more…)

John Coltrane – More Lasting Than Bronze

More John Coltrane

  • This superb Prestige Two-Fer offer outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from top to bottom – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Compiled from two nearly complete Classic albums, Lush Life and Coltrane, this collection boasts masterful sound – thanks RVG!
  • Full-bodied, energetic, and tonally correct from top to bottom and, these pressings are guaranteed to bring Coltrane’s music to life
  • “Rarely does a single performance uncover the essence of an artist with such aptness. The well-crafted melody is treated above all with dignity, which may be part of the reason it remains flawless.”

The jackets for these Two-Fers tend to have some ringwear. We will of course put these two discs in the nicest cover we have available.

This is the kind of recording that makes people respect Rudy Van Gelder. And since he mastered these pressings, we have to give him even more credit for doing the transfer exceptionally well. I am on record as saying that some of his own transfers are problematical. Not this one. Since this has two of Coltrane’s greatest albums together, I can’t recommend this record any more highly.

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Freddie Hubbard – Sky Dive

More Freddie Hubbard

  • Outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this classic CTI album – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This is the kind of spacious, low-distortion, dynamic and energetic sound Rudy Van Gelder was getting in the early ’70s – if you think he was better in the sixties, you need to play some of these recordings from the ’70s that show off just how good his work could be
  • Hubbard got together a great group of Funky Jazz players to support him here, with Don Sebesky doing his usual inventive arrangements
  • 4 Stars: “The charts for the brass and woodwinds are colorful; there is a fine supporting cast that includes guitarist George Benson, Keith Jarrett on keyboards, and flutist Hubert Laws; and Hubbard takes several outstanding trumpet solos.”

Rudy was getting one hell of a lively trumpet sound on tape during this period in his career. If you have a good pressing of one of his early ’70s jazz recordings the sound can be positively EXPLOSIVE, with what feels like all the size and power of live music. (more…)

Coleman Hawkins – Night Hawk on OJC

Potentially Good Sounding OJC Pressings

Not Very Good Sounding OJC Pressings

The best copies of a certain small, select group of reissues sound like the vintage jazz albums they are attempting to emulate, and sometimes they even beat the originals at their own Tubey Magical game. They can be every bit as rich, sweet and spacious as their earlier-pressed brethren in our experience.

In the case of Night Hawk we simply have never seen an original stereo copy clean enough to buy, so we have no actual, physical evidence for what an original would sound like.

That said, having critically auditioned literally thousands of vintage jazz records over the course of the last few decades, including hundreds recorded by Rudy Van Gelder like this one, we’re pretty confidant we know what the good ones are supposed to sound like.

And they sound just like the best copies of the very pressing we are offering here.

What to Listen For 

The best copies are rich and tubey; many pressings were thin and modern sounding, some were opaque and recessed, and they would lose a lot of points for those shortcomings. We want our Hot Stamper pressings to sound like something RVG recorded in 1961, and the best copies give you that sound, without the surface noise and groove damage the originals doubtless have to offer.

Copies with rich lower mids did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we’ve heard them all, by the thousands in fact.

Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently, the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural air and space, and instruments will lack their full complement of harmonic information.

Smear is common to most records, and this is no exception. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.

The Players and Personnel

Bass – Ron Carter 
Drums – Gus Johnson 
Piano – Tommy Flanagan 
Recorded By – Rudy Van Gelder 
Tenor Saxophone – Coleman Hawkins 
Tenor Saxophone – Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis

Freddie Hubbard – Listen for Smear on the Trumpet

More of the Music of Freddie Hubbard

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Trumpet

More Recordings that Are Good for Testing Smear

This Hot Stamper original CTI pressing from our shootout in 2011 has a truly SUPERB side two that put to shame most of what we played.

Smeary blurred trumpet blasts? Not here. Nope, the transient bite and energy of the trumpet is as REAL as it gets. 

Side Two

This Super Hot side earned a grade of A++ with its exceptional high end (although it doesn’t extend quite all the way, just most of the way) and its amazing transparency. It’s so clear! You really hear into this one, in the way that the best of the classic jazz recordings allow you to do, recordings such as Kind of Blue and the better Contemporaries.

And no smear. Trumpet records with no smear, by Freddie Hubbard or anyone else, or hard to come by. A bit more richness and this one would have been in White Hot Stamper territory. It is awfully close to the best we heard.

Side One

Earning a grade of A Plus, this is the side where some of that smear we discussed earlier can clearly be heard. The sound is rich, richer than side two even, with a huge stage and full size instruments. It’s just that the midrange is a bit veiled and smeary, and the midrange is where the trumpet is.

Our Standard RVG Hot Stamper Overview / Backhanded Compliment

Rudy Van Gelder does it again! I hear virtually none of his bad EQ, compressor overload and general unpleasantness. Instead, this recording has smooth, sweet mids; open unexaggerated highs; and rich, tonally correct bass. In other words, you would never know it’s an RVG recording.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

More Helpful Advice on Doing Your Own Shootouts

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments