The Long and Winding Road Continues
(9/30/08 6:00 pm pst)
The long and winding road continues here at Classic Records with our ongoing pursuit to make the best quality records possible. To that end, we have made some changes that have been in the market now for most of 2008 including a slight modification to our Super Vinyl Profile. Some background is in order here before I explain. Originally, what has come to be known as Classic's "Super Vinyl Profile"
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|QUIEX-SVP without groove guard ||QUIEX-SVP II with groove guard |
RTI 180 gram pressing
(SV-P) was borne out of an attempt to replicate the profile of an original mono Blue Note LP from the mid 1950's. We cut in half a beat up copy of an original RVG pressing and had dies made specially to replicate the "no groove guard" and "deep groove" center label characteristics of the original pressing. Along for the ride, in terms of recreating the original mold came the weight (200 grams) and the profile (flat) that was inherent to the original pressing. We had NO idea of the importance of the profile during this development process. RTI agreed to convert a press over to the new die configuration to test the new "no groove guard" profile with "deep groove" centers. With a fair amount of effort on the part of RTI's plant manager Rick Hashimoto, the first test pressings of BN 1568 were successfully pressed using RIMTECH vinyl and ready to listen to. I remember, assembling a group of Classic Records employees in my home listening room for the playback on my Kuzma Stabi XL turntable with Kuzma Reference Tonearm and Cardas Heart / Benz cartridge. We played the newly minted Hank Mobley test pressing and were all delighted with the quiet surfaces, detail and resolution we heard. Just for fun, we played a 180g conventional profile RTI test pressing, made using the same metal parts and vinyl formulation and without adjusting the volume or making any other changes. It immediately sounded different - less detail, less bass response and apparently lower in volume than the new profile test pressing. The differences were not subtle and everyone agreed something was amiss. At first, someone speculated that something must have changed - maybe the volume was turned lower by accident. So we put the 200g pressing back on without touching the volume and replayed it. To all of our shocks, the 200g pressing was apparently louder, much more detailed, transparent, realistic and the bass was tighter! But how could this be - the same metal parts were used which meant the volume level locked into the groove modulations had to be the same. We did the same comparison at Bernie Grundman mastering for Bernie, Chris Bellman and Beno May and everyone easily identified the new profile pressing as being MUCH better in all ways.
Still unable to explain the difference we cut the pressings in half and discovered that the 180g had a different profile than the non-groove guard 200g pressing. In fact, for the first time, we realized that a conventional profile is NOT flat in its profile across the playing surface of the LP. That is, the thickness of the record is NOT the same across the grooved area of the record. Instead, it is the same thickness at the groove guard and at the center label and convex in between the outer edge and the spindle hole with a portion of the center of the play surface being flat. Have you ever had the experience that the cut in the center of an LP side sounds better? Well it is not just the fact that the tracking error of a pivoted tonearm is minimized in this area but also that the playing surface is flat allowing the stylus to be perpendicular to the grooves. This is also an explanation of the differences we heard between the 200g profile and 180g profile pressings. The mechanics are as follows: effectively, a lacquer is a flat surface and leads to flat metal parts (stampers) that are distorted in a conventional pressing mold commonly called a pressing die. The stamper distortion caused by the die profile, albeit slight, is enough to cant the grooves on the first and last thirds of an LP side so that they are NOT perpendicular to the surface plane of the record and platter. The result is that the stylus has no chance to be in proper contact with the groove walls in these canted segments of a conventional profile LP because the grooves are askew relative to the stylus. This "tracking distortion" is NOT the fault of the cartridge and results in the smearing of musical detail across the frequency spectrum. Further, the apparently lower volume level of the conventional profile LP versus the flat profile LP made from the same metal parts is also easily explained. A cartridge is an electro-mechanical generator that produces a continuously variable voltage output during playback. If the cartridge stylus is not tracking the groove exactly then its output voltage will be lower as a result in the same way that a cartridge with improperly aligned azimuth will have lower output than when azimuth is optimal. As an aside, it is easy to see why cartridge azimuth, even properly set, will only be optimal on flat profile records or in the center third of a conventional profile LP. A thought might be for those using conventional profile pressings to make sure that the best tunes on the LP are in the center of a side for the best playback and sound!
So, for the past six years, Classic Records has pressed the vast majority of our LP releases and re-releases on our Super Vinyl Profile (SV-P) with varying degrees of success. While our efforts to replicate the original Blue Note "non-groove guard" profile were immediately successful, the decision to extend using the non-groove guard Super Vinyl Profile to "all" subsequent Classic Records releases immediately lead to problems which we have battled with some success ever since. We first had real issues trying to press STEREO records where we encountered both "stitching" and/or "non-fill". "Stitching" is a situation where a portion of a record groove is torn or damaged during the release portion of the record pressing cycle when the press "opens up". Stitching is often a more prevalent issue when pressing heavy -weight records and can be solved using press adjustments or in some cases by using a different vinyl formulation that is either stiffer or softer depending on the circumstances. "Non-fill" is, as the name suggests a situation where the molten vinyl does not fill all the voids in between the grooves of a stamper. Although not always the case, often non-fill occurs nearer the outer diameter of a pressing and is usually in an area where the music transitions between loud and soft. Modern record presses have a number of adjustments that most often enable the press operator to "adjust out" the non-fill by adjusting the steam temperature and duration of the cycle along with other adjustments. Non-fill is also though
posted by: Mike Hobson
What it is really like at HP's workshop
(9/30/05 6:53 pm pst)
It was 40 years ago today that Fritz Reiner directed the band to play ñ oh what a day. To celebrate the anniversary I arrived at HPís workshop for a listening session with a test pressing of the legendary Reiner/CSO Zarthustra recording from March 8, 1954. The only problem with the story is that neither HP nor I knew that we were celebrating the anniversary until HP looked over at me with a look of befuddlement over what he was hearing, many details of which he had never heard before, and asked what the recording date was. Having memorized all the details from the original master tape provided to us by the recording engineer himself ñ Jack Pfeiffer, I rattled off the date to which HP replied ìthatís today, I mean 40 years ago today.î
And so was my real introduction to the ultra high end. Yes, I owned a hi fi shop in lower Manhattan and yes I set up hundreds of turntables and yes I had heard the master tape for the legendary Reiner / Zarathustra none of which prepared me for what hp and I heard that magical day over 11 years ago. What I heard was a level of detail and delineation of space that I had never heard a hi fi system deliver even after having listened to, tweaked and set up hundreds of systems in customers homes and at hi end shows. We heard musicians turning pages and bumping stands and clearing their throats ñ we even heard Reiner grunting as if to urge on the already powerful CSO brass section. That listening session, which in the aural sense, can only be compared the finest oral experiences of my life was simultaneously both revealing and devastating. Revealing in the sense that it confirmed that we had succeeded in capturing what was locked in the iron ozide particles of the tape for forty years and that LP lovers who had been searching for a copy of the ultra rare (1S only) pressing would be able to hear a performance popularized by hp himself without paying $800. - the going price of an original copy at the time. I left Sea Cliff that beautiful March day in 1994 having been indoctrinated as a believer that what we were all striving for in the high end was achievable ñ the sense that time travel, while not physically possible could be realistically simulated by the best of the best high end systems. On the way home that day, my thoughts turned to how I could have the same experience with my own system, which, alas I am still searching for.
Over the years since then, I have made the pilgrimage the house where the music lives on many an occasion and been delighted to experience Classic Records pressings along with originals for comparison and many other non-reissues hp has in his vast collection. The system has changed significantly over time, many times, in ways for the better and in others, well, Iím just not sure. Some days the sound was great but the soul was gone, other days there were many souls in the room but the sound had left the building. Most days, some after some tuning and coaxing, that ability to suspend the disbelief that we were listening to a recording was phenomenal and I left with that same enriched but dismayed feeling. If nothing else, I can say with authority that the system that has, for me, come to epitomize the meaning of the Absolute Sound has progressively improved albeit through fits and starts to its present glory to which I will now turn my attention.
In a recent listening session, partially the instigation of hp and coinciding with the installation of the Kuzma Reference Turntable / Airline Tonearm and Dynavector XX cartridge by the turntable wizard and ex-hp setup man Scot Markwell, I participated in what can be only described as a four pampers listening experience. What I mean is that playing an original copy of 'Casino Royale', one of ten or so that hp owns, I was able to hear the velvety undertones of Dusty Springfieldís sultry vocal on 'The Look of Love'. The vocal splash off the studio walls gave us a greater sense of the size
Buy Prairie Wind from Themusic.com
posted by: Mike Hobson
Exit stage left
(8/5/05 3:51 pm pst)
Ladies and Gentlemen, my time has come. A sizeable sadness sits in my chest as I look around and realize that today is my last (official) day working for Mike Hobson at Classic Records & TheMusic.com. It seems like only yesterday that I was nervous as hell at the prospect of starting a new job. Oh wait, that’s because it was yesterday and I feel the same way about my impending new start as I did walking into the offices of Classic Records some 3 years ago.
My good friend (and local legend) Chris Ashford had, for the second time, hooked me up with a sweet job slinging vinyl for a premiere compay. When I interviewed with Mike Hobson he seemed to me to be the kind of person that knew what he wanted and knew how to get it…and he has, pretty much every time. This was a company I truly wanted to work for. I was hired on as Chris’s assistant and it seems to me now that time just flew by.
Eventually Chris moved on to start his own label and various other projects. It was then that Mike turned to me to take the reigns of the pet project that he and Chris had so carefully cultivated, TheMusic.com’s retail site the “Groove Shop”
Since that time almost 2 years ago, I’ve tried to continue their tradition of excellent service, excellent music, and an excellent all encompassing music buying experience. For me it’s been more like an education than a job, and I thank all of you who have taught me more about this constantly changing business. I also thank all of you for your patience when I inadvertently screwed up an order or charged too much for shipping.
I’d also like to introduce to you my replacement Adam Piotrowski, a serious rare record hound who will be as dedicated to the cause as I’ve tried to be. I wish you all the best in your pursuits of audio excellence, for even in the music industry’s darkest hour it’s still…. All about the music.
posted by: Brian Tipton
IS YOUR SYSTEM UP TO THE TASK ... The Saga of Who's Next
(8/5/05 3:05 pm pst)
When we got the original analog 2 track 1/4" masters from The Who vaults in London, anticipation was high particularly given that this was the seminal Who album in most people's minds. Further, there have been no shortage of pressings of this title over the years since its 1971 release on the Track label in the UK, adding to the anxiety of the job at hand - how to equal or exceed the original UK release. Chris Bellman, from Bernie Grundman Mastering (Classic Genesis mastering), and I, giving Bernie a break from Rock cutting, started by A/B'ing the tape against a mint original UK Track copy of this landmark title. The Track copy was cut hot, albeit a little light in the bass and high frequencies, compared with the tape. There was a bit of gritty harshness to the pressing as well that was not on the tape. Suffice it to say, that we matched the level of the original pressing, but cut full bandwidth with no compression which was pretty obviously used on the original to get more level on the disk. We introduced the title with great fanfare at the CES in Las Vegas last January and immediately got raves from Michael Fremer (10/10) among others. The first pressing run immediately sold out and all was well until we received a few complaints about harshness or distortion in a few places on the disc. When we looked into it we found nothing structurally wrong with the pressings as confirmed by careful examination by Bernie Grundman under the microscope. Bernie did comment, however, that the disc was cut "hot" and that it wouldn't surprise him that people using highly non-compliant cartridges (read: not the best trackers) or cartridges somewhat misaligned, might have a problem tracking some of the most radical grooves. The tonearm/cartridge combo (12" SME/Shure V-15) on the lathe at Grundman Mastering had no problems tracking the grooves - even through Daltrey's blood curdling screams and the full bandwidth synthesizer passages on inside cuts - the hardest to track. The same was true when we played back test pressings and returned supposed defective copies on the system at TheMusic.com's Gear Shop listening room on a Kuzma XL with Airline tonearm and Kuzma Reference cartridge set up by TheMusic.com's own Scot "analog" Markwell (former HP setup man) - clear sailing and amazing sound.
Heeding Grundman's caution, we cut a backup set of lacquers at a lower level with NO changes to the EQ (read no remastering). For the second and all subsequent pressings we used the backup parts for the pressing runs. Why? Realizing that most systems, even audiophile systems, are likely to be severely challenged by radical first cutting (remember the 1S RCA Pines of Rome) we chose to fall back to a lower level cutting which would be more forgiving on the tonearm/cartridge abilities/setup but have less signal to noise than the more radically cut first pressing. I know that people don't want to hear that their analog front end may be somewhat challenged on a tracking level but this is really at the heart of the issue. When cartridges mistrack, exacerbated by pivoted tonearms and inner groove velocity issues, it is typically most noticeable in the high frequencies since this is where the most radical activity on a LP occurs. The tracking distortion is sometimes harsh, gritty or distorted sounding - try one of a variety of test records to see what I mean. You might just be surprised to learn that your turntable/ tonearm/cartridge combo just ain't quite up to the task of properly decoding what can be cut into the grooves of an LP. It has always been the case, to some degree, that encoding is easier than decoding - particularly in LP cutting. In fact, I am reminded of something Bernie Grundman told me early on in the history of Classic Records: "We can cut things that we can't accurately play back". I was puzzled at first, but now know that he is absolutely right.
So where does that leave us? For those that have first pressings and want a kinde
posted by: Mike Hobson
Celebrating Seven Years at Classic Records
(7/21/05 10:02 am pst)
I celebrated seven years at Classic Records last month. What an exciting adventure it has been (No I'm not resigning). I started with handling a small amount of the dealers here in the U.S. and a few International accounts and the entire Classic Records consumer base. Over the years I've watched my position grow as the company has grown. With the development of Classic Records sister company The Music.com, I was no longer able to deal with the very supportive consumer base, which I miss. That not to say that I don't enjoy dealing exclusively with Classic Records Dealers and Distributors around the world. One of the things that has been the most exciting for me during these years are the relations that I have developed on a personal level with many of you. You've shared your ups and downs, I know many of your spouses, you've shared the birth of your children, and in some cases the the unfortunate passing of a loved one. Thank you.
I've had the great opportunity to have travel to many of the Hi-Fi shows around the world ... No matter our differences and what's going on in the world politically or economically... the one thing we all share is our passion for music and the love of vinyl. We may not always agree on what's the best sounding recordings are or who the most talented artist is. We can all agree though, that it is a very cool thing to put a LP on the turntable and to be blown away by the sound that comes off that 12" disc. It still amazes me the incredible sound that comes off that 12" piece of vinyl. It just the coolest!
I've been very fortunate to watch Classic Records catalog grow over the years. Not only has Classic been able to reissue some great music but some of the packaging is art upon it's self... The Hendrix 7' single box, all the Bob Dylan Box sets, Led Zeppelin III (a pain in production's back-side), Physical Graffiti, CSN&Y: Deja vu, the Special Packing for all the Peter Gabriel's and so many more. Back to the music though... WOW... When I started, of course RCA Living Stereo Titles were and still are the foundation of Classic Records. We had The Blue Note Series in Stereo, which I believed consisted of 12 great titles.. Now of course we have The Classic Records Blue Note Mono Series which I believe there are 25 titles to choose from with several more yet to come. We had just announced Sarah McLachlin Tumbling and Freedom Sessions... now we have seven of her releases on vinyl in the catalog.. we've been very fortunate to be able to add Norah Jones, Dido, Holly Coles, Patricia Barber, Beth Orton to our list of wonderful female vocal recordings. Than there is the Classic Records Single-sided 45rpm Series, when I had started LSC 2222-45 180gm (the first one) had already been announced and it sold out shortly after it's release. Since than Classic Records has gone on to release more than 75 titles as part of it 45rpm series and yes it true, they do sound better than a 33.3 LP. Of course when Mike announce that Classic was going to do the reissue of The Led Zeppelin catalog, we knew that the company was going in a new direction or if you will, the road that we had been traveling was going to get a whole lot wider... It was a little bumpy (ok a year) to get those first few Zeppelins out the door but once they start there has been no looking back... Of course that open the door to CNS&Y, Peter Gabriel, Pete Townsend and The Who...I'm very lucky to be able represent such a great catalog of product!
Ok, on this "garden path of roses" there's been a thorn in my side (no not Chad at Acoustic Sounds..behave yourselves)...Release Dates for all these great titles... No matter how hard we've tried here at Classic and our Vendors, there always seems to be a delay.. I've always said that patience is a virtue and sometimes Classic has put that virtue to the test, but the payoff (the wait) has always been worth it... I look forward to seeing what exciting titles that Classic will be bring.
posted by: Troy Thompson
Follow up to Mastering
(7/18/05 9:14 am pst)
In my June blog posting relating to the mastering session for The Who: A Quick One, I incorrectly stated that the original UK LP pressing being compared to the master tape was STEREO... As eagle-eyed consumer Luke Pacholski points out "I don't believe AQO was issued in stereo in the UK in 1966. Various tracks were available in stereo in Germany and the US, but not in the UK." Quite correct... It was a MONO pressing we were listening to. Thanks Luke.
posted by: Brian Tipton
Neil Young's Greatest Hits
(6/27/05 11:34 am pst)
Classic Records 200 gram SVP (super vinyl profile) release of Neil Young’s Greatest Hits is a profound statement on the power of remastering an album. Since Classic’s is the first label ever to press this superbly chosen compilation album onto vinyl, it really can’t be compared with much else as a whole. However, as every song is taken from a previously released album with no new bonus cuts or rarities, each track can be compared (side by side) with an original pressing of the album from which it was taken. Let’s see how a couple of tracks stack up sonically:
1. Cinnamon Girl – In one corner we have the original album cut on “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” which is pinched and thin. A more low-fi garage rocker with Young’s fierce karate chop guitar driving the whole thing. Just the way I remember it. In the opposing corner, weighing in at a staggering 200 grams, is the Classic Records quiex analog remaster. From the first beat it’s obvious to me that the overall dynamic signature of the pressing is louder and clearer. The drums have a deep, well rounded tone, where there was no noticeable bass before, there is now. The hi-hats have jangly detail missing from the original. The other noticeable difference is in the delineation of space. In the original pressing, an open spaciousness is a major player in the overall dynamic and rhythm of the song. The boosting of certain elements (namely drums and bass) in the Classic remaster, fills in a lot of those gaps. The resulting sound is bigger and sounds more well-produced, even though the production is the same as it ever was. Things are simply being revealed. My opinion? It really depends on my mood. If I’m in the mood to be nostalgic and want to hear it the way I’ve always heard it, I’ll take the original pressing, with it’s punch-you-in-the-face guitar work and wide open spaces. If I really want to impress someone, however, and let them hear a song they’ve heard a thousand times before, but with a full band sound (which I’ll remind them was always there to begin with) I’ll play them the Classic Records 200 gram remaster without hesitation.
2. Heart of Gold – The differences between the sound on an original pressing of Harvest and the Classic Records remaster are more subtle in Heart of Gold. The original has a lot going for it. Extremely well mixed and charmingly arranged with the help of Jack Nitzsche. It’s hard to hear anything I would have done better. However, once again, Classic has culled a little something extra from an already superb mastering job. The lows are enhanced, again rounding the double thump-thump of the driving bass to give it a soulfull sustain lacking from the original pressing. Neil’s voice, fine sounding, caterwalling, and lonesome on the original, is blessed with gravitas and certainty on the 200 gram pressing. The pedal steel and guitar have real dimensionality now. I’d happily play an original pressing of the album as that’s (again) the way I remember it, but Classic Records reissue gives me that great familiar feeling of hearing something again for the first time.
Brian Tipton 6/27/05
posted by: Brian Tipton
Classic Blog Kick-Off
(6/17/05 1:18 pm pst)
In the last Classic Records email blast I introduced the Classic Records Web Log, or Blog, and wrote the inaugural installment which had the bulletin boards buzzing even suggesting that I meant "subjective" rather than "objective" opinion, which I did not. One of my objectives was to confound the SPE's with the facts - to stir up the pot so to speak. It worked.
More seriously, I wanted to get the ball rolling and then open up the forum to meaningful discourse about a subject of much conjecture which we all share an interest in - the process of making records (LP's, CD's, DVD's, SACD's etc.).
Don't worry, I'm not going to say anything else controversial in today's segment, instead you might want to read what Brian Tipton, the Director of The Groove Shop at TheMusic.com has to say about a recent mastering session which he attended for the upcoming Classic release of The Who's second album "A Quick One".
We also have coming up a first impression of the soon to be released (7/12/05) Neil Young Greatest Hits vinyl from our own Nick Johnson who is a long time audiophile and LP devotee. The new home of the Classic Blog is http://www.classicrecords.com/blog, or accessible by simply going to the Classic Records home page and clicking on the link. Have a great weekend and listen to a few records this Father's Day.
So much to say - so little time...
posted by: Mike Hobson
Mastering THE WHO: A QUICK ONE
(6/9/05 4:46 pm pst)
What starts out as just another sunny day slinging vinyl at Classic Records turned into a sublime mastering session at Bernie Grundman’s. I’ve worked for Mike Hobson for about 2 years now, in the various incarnations of his business, and have been quiently hinting for a while that I’d like to see more of what goes on behind the scenes. In other words, I wanted to see how these Classic Records get made. Which brings us to last Tuesday.
I am informed, upon entering the Classic Records facility that morning, that MH wants a few of us to come to the mastering session they are planning on for the afternoon. My interest turns to excitement as I am told that the album being mastered is THE WHO: A QUICK ONE!
The day drags on and myself and two co-workers leave Classic to go down to mastering legend Bernie Grundman’s facility. When we arrive we are greeted by Mike Hobson and Chris Bellman who are just finishing setting up the tape machine. As I take a few pictures they take turns explaining what we we’re looking at:
Mike Hobson “The reel on the left is the original UK mono mastertape We’ve just finished track one, so this is number two”…”
Mike leans over the console and pushes a button… as the unmistakable sound fills the small studio… Boris the Spider… a garage crusher with almost simultaneous playing on all instruments, usually very muddy, but not today. The bass is punchy, the guitar work fittingly crunchy while remaining crisp and bouncy, and hey there’s Keith Moon not buried, not blown out sounding, but tight and hard and well defined. The sound is revelatory for a Who fan who’s used to hearing a solid wall of sludge from most pressings of their work.
Only a few people in the world have heard this tape, believe me, that info is forefront in my head as Mike says casually, “Now here’s an original British pressing of the album, synced up just behind the mastertape”
Pushing another button, the source switches over to an original British stereo pressing on Reaction Records from 1966. The difference is sobering. Now we are listening to what is possibly the best vinyl pressing of this album made (up to now) and it falls miles short of the mastertape. The juicy bass and buzzsaw guitar work have turned into porridge with the bass lightly tap tapping along in the quiet passages. The mastertape has assassinated this best of all pressings.
“Our goal is to get as close to that tape as possible” says Mike with a smile on his face. I hope and believe that he will get there.
posted by: Brian Tipton