Top Studios and Concert Halls – Columbia 30th Street Studios

Miles Davis – Porgy and Bess on the 360 Label

More Vintage Columbia Pressings

More Miles Davis

  • Superb Double Plus (A++) sound throughout this vintage Columbia 360 Stereo pressing
  • The 360 label pressings don’t win shootouts, but they can sound very good, and are guaranteed to beat anything you have ever heard — from any era — at any price
  • Both sides are full of that old-school 30th Street Studio Tubey Magic – the brass is full-bodied and airy, the bass is surprisingly well-defined, the top end is extended and sweet, and the soundfield is HUGE and three-dimensional
  • The music is a classic example of the brilliant partnership between Davis and arranger Gil Evans, and a Must Own for serious jazz fans
  • 5 stars: “It was Evans’ intimate knowledge of the composition as well as the performer that allowed him to so definitively
  • If you’re a fan of the collaborations of Davis and Evans circa 1959, this album belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1959 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um

More Charles Mingus

More Vintage Columbia Pressings

  • Don’t let the Columbia Red Label scare you off – this pressing boasts excellent Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • Most of the later pressings sound as bad as you would expect, but if you know your stamper numbers, gems like this one will come your way eventually
  • A superb 30th Street Studio recording by the legendary Fred Plaut – if you like Kind of Blue, here’s another album with that sound (same year, same studio, same engineer)
  • The rich, sweet, spacious sound of the vintage tubes used to record the session is reproduced faithfully here – without that sound, it would just not be Ah Um
  • 5 stars: “Mingus Ah Um is a stunning summation of the bassist’s talents and probably the best reference point for beginners… Mingus’ compositions and arrangements were always extremely focused, assimilating individual spontaneity into a firm consistency of mood, and that approach reaches an ultra-tight zenith on Mingus Ah Um”

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Charles Mingus – How Do the Original Mono Pressings Sound?

More of the Music of Charles Mingus

More Jazz Recordings with Hot Stampers

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Charles Mingus

Although this album is fairly common in mono, we found the sound of the mono pressing we played seriously wanting. It’s dramatically smaller and more compressed than even the worst of the other pressings we played in our shootout.

We will never buy another, and of course we would never sell a record that sounds as bad as this mono pressing does.

For those looking for the best sound, the mono pressing is hard to take seriously, and for that reason, we say Skip It.

For records that we think sound best in mono, click here.

Are You a Jazz Collector or an Audiophile?

If you’re a jazz collector, of course you want the mono. If you’re an audiophile who likes jazz, you should want the stereo.

And if you are a very serious audiophile who has a great deal of time and money tied up in his equipment and room, someone whose motto might best be summarized as “nothing but the best,” then you need one of our killer Hot Stamper pressings of the album.


Below you will find our moderately helpful advice for finding the best sounding pressings of Charles Mingus / Dynasty.

In our experience the album sounds best this way:

Mono or Stereo? Stereo! 

On Big Speakers at Loud Levels

On the Right Domestic Pressing 

On the Right Early Pressing

Which simply means that the 6 Eye label domestic stereo pressings win our shootouts, in this case without exception.

The 360 label pressings, Black Print or White Print, can sound very good, but they never win shootouts.

In general it is best to avoid pressings with the label you see to the left, from the Columbia Special Products series. They are rarely much better than awful, although there are a few exceptions to that rule.


Our Recent Hot Stamper Review

This is a wonderful example of the kind of record that makes record collecting FUN.

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Miles Davis / Kind of Blue – How Smeary Is Miles’ Trumpet on Your Copy?

Reviews and Commentaries for Kind of Blue

Hot Stampers of Miles’s Albums Available Now

Listen to the trumpet at the start of Freddie Freeloader. Most copies do not fully convey the transient information of Miles’ horn, causing it to have an easily recognizable quality we talk about all the time on the site: smear.

No two pressings will have precisely the same amount of smear on his trumpet, so look for the least smeary copy that does everything else right too.

Meaning simply that smear is important, but not all-important.

Here are more recordings that are good for testing smear.

If you click on the above link, you will see that we regularly talk about smeary pianos, smeary brass instruments, smeary violins and smeary Classic Records classical reissues. Nobody else seems bothered by smear, and one of our many theories about the stereo shortcomings of reviewers and audiophiles in general is that their systems are fairly smeary, so a little extra smear is mostly inaudible to them. I had a smeary system for my first twenty or more years in audio, so I know whereof I speak.

Our present system has virtually no smear. Any smear we hear on a record means that the smear is on the record, not in our system.

Any system with vintage tubes — whatever their pros and cons — will have at least some smear. We got rid of our tube equipment a long time ago.

Back to our listening tests:

On track one, side two, the drums in the right channel are key to evaluating the sound of the better copies. The snare should sound solid and fat — like a real snare — and if there is space in the recording on your copy you will have no trouble hearing the room around the kit.

We will be discussing the faults of the 45 RPM MoFi down the road, but the drums on that record are so wrong it all but beggars belief.

This guy can’t hear it.

But we can find no evidence that he can hear anything, much less smear. It appears to us that smear is only one problem he has yet to solve among a number of others.


The Giants Who Created Kind of Blue

Engineer Extraordinaire

Fred Plaut was a recording engineer and amateur photographer. He was employed by Columbia Records during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, eventually becoming the label’s chief engineer.

Plaut engineered sessions for what would result in many of Columbia’s famous albums, including the original cast recordings of South Pacific, My Fair Lady, and West Side Story, jazz LPs Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis, Time Out by Dave Brubeck, Mingus Ah Um and Mingus Dynasty by Charles Mingus.

CBS 30th Street Studio

CBS 30th Street Studio, also known as Columbia 30th Street Studio, and nicknamed “The Church”, was an American recording studio operated by Columbia Records from 1949 to 1981 located at 207 East 30th Street, between Second and Third Avenues in Manhattan, New York City.

It was considered by some in the music industry to be the best sounding room in its time and others consider it to have been the greatest recording studio in history. A large number of recordings were made there in all genres, including Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue (1959), Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story (Original Broadway Cast recording, 1957), Percy Faith’s Theme from A Summer Place (1960), and Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1979).

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Tony Bennett – I Left My Heart In San Francisco

More Tony Bennett

More 5 Star Albums

  • A superb Columbia Black Print “360 Sound” Stereo pressing with Double Plus (A++) sound from the first note to the last
  • Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience (maybe too much ambience!), dead on correct tonality, and wonderfully breathy vocals – everything that we listen for in a great record is here
  • Huge amounts of three-dimensional space and ambience, along with boatloads of Tubey Magic – here’s a 30th Street recording from 1962 that demonstrates just how good Columbia’s engineers were back then
  • The title track became a gold-selling Top Ten hit that stayed on the charts for almost three years (!) and earned Bennett two Grammy Awards (Record of the Year and Best Solo Vocal Performance)
  • To hear the real Tony Bennett, play “Once Upon a Time” – it’s here and nobody sings it better
  • 5 stars: “…Bennett had been searching for a … musical approach beyond his long-gone pop work…. With this album, [he] found the key, not only by happening across a signature song in the title track, but also in the approach to songs like ‘Once Upon a Time’…and Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh’s ‘The Best Is Yet to Come,’ which Bennett helped make a standard.”

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Leonard Bernstein – West Side Story

More of the music of Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)

More Soundtrack Recordings of Interest

  • This vintage Columbia 360 Stereo pressing boasts excellent Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from the first note to the last – remarkably quiet vinyl too
  • Side one is spacious, rich and smooth, and side two is not far behind in all those areas
  • If you want to hear what a healthy dose of Tubey Magic, energy, and full-bodied vocals set on a huge stage (the famed Columbia 30th Street Studio) sounds like, this pressing should do the trick
  • If you’re a fan of Leonard Bernstein’s music, this superb All Tube Recording from 1957 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1957 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

SUPERB sound can be found on this vintage Columbia 360 stereo pressing of the Broadway Cast recording. This is a huge, spacious, natural, exciting All-Tube Golden Age recording that impressed us to no end here at Better Records.

We heard an amazing sounding copy many years ago, and the only reason we haven’t done the shootout since then is that we just couldn’t find enough clean copies with which to do it. To be clear, we’re not talking quiet vinyl, we’re talking about not beat-to-death, not all-scractched-up vinyl. People loved this music and they played the hell out of it.

Imagine our surprise when the good sound of these copies turned out to not only have superb sound, but reasonably quiet Mint Minus Minus vinyl too! Don’t expect to see another of this quality any time soon. If we can’t find them, who can?

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Simon and Garfunkel – Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

More Simon and Garfunkel

Reviews and Commentaries for Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

  • Especially smooth, present, breathy vocals – this is the sound we love here at Better Records
  • Having played them by the hundreds, we’ve found that midrange presence and resolution are precisely what go missing on The Modern Heavy Vinyl Reissue
  • A longtime Better Records Top 100 album and a Demo Disc for Tubey Magical voices and guitars
  • 4 1/2 stars: “[I]t is an achievement akin to the Beatles’ Revolver or the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album, and just as personal and pointed as either of those records at their respective bests.”

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Miles Davis – Kind of Blue on the 6 Eye Label in Stereo

More on Kind of Blue

Hot Stampers of Miles’s Albums Available Now

  • With superb Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER on both sides, this vintage Columbia 6-Eye Stereo pressing has Demo Disc sound – sound that’s guaranteed to make you want to take all of your remastered pressings and dump them off at the Goodwill
  • After auditioning a Hot Stamper Kind of Blue like this one — a pressing that captures the sound of this amazing group like nothing you have ever heard — you may be motivated to add a hearty “Good riddance to bad audiophile rubbish!”
  • KOB is the embodiment of the big-as-life, spacious and timbrally accurate 30th Street Studio Sound Fred Plaut was justly famous for
  • Space, clarity, transparency, and in-the-room immediacy are some of the qualities to be found on this pressing
  • It’s guaranteed to beat any copy you’ve ever played, and if you have the new MoFi pressing, please, please, please order this copy so that you can hear just how screwy the sound of the remaster is
  • 5 stars: “KOB isn’t merely an artistic highlight for Miles Davis, it’s an album that towers above its peers, a record generally considered as the definitive jazz album, a universally acknowledged standard of excellence.”
  • If you’re a fan of the jazz Davis, Adderley and Coltrane were playing circa 1959, this album belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1959 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Further Out (Mono)

More Dave Brubeck

Mono or Stereo? Both Can Be Good

  • With superb Double Plus (A++) sound throughout, this vintage 6-Eye Mono pressing will be very hard to beat – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • It’s extremely unlikely that any mono pressing will win a shootout, but just to keep us on our toes, we like to put some monos of famous albums in our shootouts from time to time to see how they measure up
  • This 2+ early pressing was the best of the bunch, and it’s guaranteed to beat the pants off any modern Heavy Vinyl pressing ever made
  • These sides are so Tubey Magical, rich, full-bodied and warm, yet clear, lively and dynamic
  • This copy demonstrates the big-as-life Fred Plaut Columbia Sound at its best – better even than Time Out(!)
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The selections, which range in time signatures from 5/4 to 9/8, are handled with apparent ease (or at least not too much difficulty) by pianist Brubeck, altoist Paul Desmond, bassist Eugene Wright, and drummer Joe Morello on this near-classic.”
  • Mono or Stereo? Both Can Be Good

Time Further Out is consistently more varied and, dare we say, more musically interesting than Time Out.

If you want to hear big drums in a big room, these Brubeck recordings will show you that sound better than practically any record we know of. These vintage recordings are full-bodied, spacious, three-dimensional, rich, sweet and warm in the best tradition of an All Tube Analog recording.

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Tony Bennett – Frank Laico Knocks Another One Out of the Park

More Recordings by Frank Laico

Reviews and Commentaries for the Recordings of Frank Laico

Amazing vocal reproduction courtesy of the brilliant engineering of Frank Laico at his favorite studio (and ours), Columbia 30th Street studios

We are not big soundstage guys here at Better Records, but we can’t deny the appeal of the space to be found on a record as good as this

Everything that’s good about Vocal Recordings from the ’50s and ’60s is precisely what’s good about the sound of this record.

The huge studio the music was recorded in is captured faithfully here. The height, width and depth of the staging here are extraordinary. We are not big soundstage guys here at Better Records, but we can’t deny the appeal of the space to be found on a record as good as this.

Transparency and Tubey Magic are key to the sound of the orchestra and you will find both in abundance on these two sides.

On this record Mr. Tony Bennett himself will appear to be standing right in your listening room! The space of your stereo room will seem to expand in all directions in order to accommodate them, an illusion of course, but nevertheless a remarkably convincing one. (more…)