No. 126 November 2014
- COVER STORY: Mark Levinson №52 | 40th Anniversary - Line/Phono Preamplifier from USA
- REVIEW: Acoustic Revive RCA-1.5TRIPLE C-FM + SPC-2.5TRIPLE C-FM - Interconnect + Speaker cable from JAPAN
- REVIEW: PTP Audio SOLID9 + Audiomods SERIES FIVE Turntable from NETHERLANDS + Tonearm from GREAT BRITAIN
- REVIEW: Vermöuth Audio BLACK PEARL - Speaker cable from INDONESIA
- REVIEW: HiFiMAN HE-560 – Headphones from USA/CHINA
- REVIEW: YBA PASSION PRE 550 + PASSION AMP 650 - Line Preamplifier + Power Amplifier from FRANCE
MUSIC ON VINYL
BACK IN BLACK
he vinyl is back for good. If there are people who haven't noticed this yet, they are clearly the sort that have no interest in music, know nothing about the younger generation, don’t pay attention to the changes in design and don’t understand the changing contemporary society. In other words, people completely detached from what's "here and now". Moreover, they don't cherish the past, either. Because vinyl is a bridge between what's "old" and "new"; on the one hand, it's an artefact of the past, related to the nostalgia for the "good old days", but it's also an ultramodern reflection of various movements in the music industry, which go along with the mainstream but are quite distinct at the same time.
For the informed, experienced audiophile, the deal is simple: flagship turntables are still the best method of music playback in a home environment. A reel-to-reel tape recorder is even better, but only if we have access to early-generation copies from the master tapes. Transferring the material from the LP or CD onto the tape is completely pointless. Even transfer from the DSD file seems a bit suspicious to me. I believe that recordings should be played back in the same format they have been recorded in. This might be an idealistic approach, but I just can’t help it - being an audiophile is all about being an idealist anyways.
The biggest part in the resurrection of the vinyl was played by DJs, meaning the general mainstream (even if they themselves believe otherwise). They were the ones who woke up the awareness of an "analogue sound" within the youth, something commonly associated with a "warm", "soft", "human" and "pleasant" sound. This isn't audio magazine terminology, but rather quotes from newspapers and radio shows, and I hear them every time a musician talks about this "new" medium. It immediately becomes obvious that they have no idea how much more vinyl has to offer, but the intentions are good and so is the general direction in which this has gone. This is crucial, since they are the trend-setters for the fashion we're dealing with now, the fashion for the "black disc".
It's worth keeping that in mind when we listen to the pimped-out, refined vinyl re-releases from the companies like Analogue Productions, Mobile Fidelity, Audio Fidelity, ORG (Original Recordings Group), Pure Pleasure Records as well as many other, smaller record labels. They are not the ones behind the vast majority of record sales; they are - like our entire branch of audio - perfectionist companies and therefore they operate within a very small niche. They are certainly a reference point, and they set out the directions as well as display the possibilities in the audio world. A crushingly large proportion of the vinyl LPs currently bought by music lovers, young people as well as nostalgic "greybeards", are released by large companies that up until recently firmly believed that digital media are the only possible direction to go to within the audio world.
MUSIC ON VINYL
Yesterday, when I visited Saturn - a Polish electronics megastore with computers, video games, pots, pans, and cheap hi-fi systems - I ran my fingers through a rather large shelf displaying the store's vinyl records. It's a retail store with possibly the largest selection of records, some of them even from limited editions, like those specially made for Record Store Day. The presence of the black disc in a store that is oriented to mass, quick retail sales, is a total surprise to me. We aren't talking about discreetly hidden album sleeves with outdated technology inside, but rather a huge jewel in the crown of the entire music aisle. It's something truly unbelievable in the day and age when the shelf space for CDs dwindles from day to day.
The story begins in the mid-1950s. As Robert Haagsma writes in his book Passion For Vinyl, the brothers Casper and Will Slinger were jazz lovers. They usually bought their records in a little store called Glorie, in Amsterdam's old city center. That's where they befriended John Vis, a worker at the store. The result of their conversations was the idea to start their own record label. Artone was founded in 1956, their slogan being "C’est l’Artone qui fait musique”, or (loosely translated) „(Ar)tone makes music”. Initially, the discs were pressed in Germany, but by the end of the 1950s they built their own record press.
In the mid-1960s - largely due to label's manager, Peter Bouwers - the company rapidly grew and in addition to local artists started also releasing those from across the Big Pond. It became the biggest independent record label in the Netherlands. Artone got licenses from ABC Paramount, Cameo-Parkway, Hickory, Chess, Motown, Reprise, Roulette and CBS Records. It therefore signed deals both with small companies as well as with the giants of the music industry. When they bought their own printing plant in 1966, the entire production could be carried out "under one roof".
These were times in which CBS Records grew strong. A logical step forward for them was buying Artone's shares, which happened in 1966. Three years later, this giant label, which released albums by Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Janis Joplin, and Simon & Garfunkel (to name a few), bought out the whole Artone. The record label was still called Artone (although the publishing company wasn't), but the name disappeared in the 1970s. During these years the company experienced another growth spurt, to the point of owning their own dedicated trucks for distribution. At the same time, the pressing plant in Haarlem, the part of Amsterdam where Artone had its headquarters, was chosen as "the best CBS producer in Europe". In a very short time it turned out to be the best CBS record producer in the whole world, beating the two pressing plants in the USA as well as the one in Japan, which was obviously very difficult to surpass.
In the 1970s, it was artists like Miles Davis, Paul Simon and Neil Diamond, with Bruce Springsteen and Michael Jackson in the 1980s, which made things even better for the Dutch branch of CBS, which was called CBS Grammofoonplaten at the time. Jackson's album Thriller was sold in the unbelievable number of 110 million copies, of which 35 million were pressed in Haarlem. At the time, the label was annually pressing around 50,000,000 discs. But the years of prosperity were numbered, and cut short by the appearance of the CD. This wasn't immediately visible, though, and initially many people didn't believe that this format could earn the general public’s approval.
In 1988, CBS was bought out by Sony. As Robert Haagsma says, it wasn't just about changing the logo on the albums. The new owner was, after all, the co-owner of the Compact Disc patent. According to Peter Bouwens, it was obvious that Artone would eventually start pressing CDs, too. The transition seemed natural and unavoidable.
In the 1990s, Sony didn't know what to do with their Dutch pressing plant. And just as previously Otto Zich had turned out to be the greatest disaster, Tom Vermeulen now came to the rescue. He was one of the biggest customers for the discs pressed at Haarlem, and together with Marcel Nothdurf and Omca Vastgoed, in 1998 they signed a contract with Sony and became the owners of the whole plant. This way, Record Industry was born on June 1st, 1998.
And all was well, the Dutch pressing plant was working at a steady pace. Unfortunately, after some time, part of the clubbing world moved on to audio files, and the vinyl production began to dwindle. This didn't break the spirits of the owners of RI, though. After a few weaker years, Ton, together with the Dutch dealer Bertus, opened in 2008 their own record label called Music For Vinyl, part of Records Industries, believing that it would be the answer to their problems. As it turned out, the idea of founding their own record label was a bulls-eye hit and it began an exponential avalanche of orders for them.
The company started off with the mindset of dealing with re-releases of Sony Music, Universal, and Warner albums. The pressing is being done on machines that may often be several decades old, but have been kept in very good condition. The records are released in series, such as: "Classic Album", "Available For The First Time On Vinyl", "Exclusively Remastered", but also "New Album" – these are albums that are being currently recorded, whose vinyl edition is released simultaneously with the digital one. Aside from classic black discs, Music On Vinyl also presses discs on colorful and transparent vinyl. They also release limited, individually numbered collectors' editions.
The small, specialist companies I talked about at the very beginning, which deal with re-releasing classic albums, are the salt of this earth. They offer perfectly-prepared, fantastically-sounding albums, which have been available for years, for thousands of dollars, on eBay, for example. This is but a drop in the sea of needs, however, and it's a very expensive method of enjoying your hobby of listening to music on black discs.
In Passion For Vinyl, which I relentlessly used as a reference while writing this article, Robert Haagsma paid tribute to Record Industry; I reviewed the book HERE. In an attempt to introduce it to "High Fidelity" readers, I asked Robert a few questions, and you can find the answers to them below. A follow-up to this story are the interviews with Anouki Rijnders and Erik Guillot, a sales manager for Music On Vinyl and a marketing manager for Record Industry, respectively. The remainder of the editorial includes reviews of a few selected albums, all of which come from different series, as well as A Second Perspective, an alternative opinion about a re-release of the Alan Parsons Project, written by Bartosz Pacuła, a 20-year-old representative of the younger generation.
ROBERT HAAGSMA | Passion For Vinyl
Where did you get the idea that vinyl can be an interesting subject?
What is the worst sin of vinyl?
Is this trend, I mean growth, something steady that will continue in the future? Or will it die out and when?
What do you think of the digital revolution and high-res audio files? Is this our future?
Are you working on a new book?
Could you give me a list of ten albums that “High Fidelity” readers should buy on the spot?
What is your audio system to listen to the music?
Do you think that sound quality is important part of a given album’s artistic expression?
ANOUK RIJNDERS | Record Industry
Tell us briefly the story about Record Industry.
Where did the idea of Music For Vinyl come from?
Who decides about pressing these and not other titles?
How did you start working for RI?
You’ve already mentioned your background…
Record Industry has its own pressing plants, but who is responsible for lacquer disc cutting?
How does your pressing plant differ from others? And what about your pressed vinyl records?
What do the numbers look like – how many records do you press yearly, and how does that figure change from a year to year?
Do you think that there is future for vinyl-oriented companies and labels?
ERIK GUILLOT | Music On Vinyl
Wojciech Pacuła: Tell us a few words about Depeche Mode rereleases.
Have you used the same master as the 2008 edition?
Tell us the process of record preparation.
Meanwhile, the artwork has been printed by the printer (in the case of Depeche Mode these are gatefold sleeves) and the insert is printed as well. When the records have been sufficiently cooled, they will be packed by machine into the gatefold sleeves along with the inserts and wrapped in plastic and stickered, and packed in protective boxes for shipping.
Chet Baker Sextet
The album Chet is Back!, recorded in Rome, in 1962, in RCA's studios, was recorded with the contribution of session artists from Europe. They include: Bobby Jaspar (saxophone, Belgium), Rene Thomas (guitar, Belgium), Amedeo Tommasi (grand piano, Italy), Benoit Quersin (double bass, France), Daniel Humair (drums, Switzerland). The album contains original tracks, such as Ballata in forma di blues by Amedeo Tommasi, as well as the standard pieces, like Well, You Needn't by Thelenious Monk, Pent Up House by Sonny Rollins or Charlie Parker's Barbados. The 2003 CD re-release contained four bonus tracks recorded in the same year with Ennio Morricone. The vinyl MOV re-release is based on the original version, however.
The sound is precise and clean. A special recognition deserves the very low surface noise. The original material doesn't have a hint of warmth in it and it's been conveyed very well on this particular release. Nothing is artificially sharpened or brightened, but the weight of the sound isn't set up as low as on some of AAA's re-masters. It's a mono recording, and that's why it's so important for the sound of the particular instruments to retain their own character and stand out from the rest. I'll repeat this: it is a great transfer that simply makes up for a very pleasant listen.
Sound quality: 7/10
The album Misterioso by Thelonious Monk Quartet was released by the Riverside record label in 1958. It was a break-through in a year-long period of issues that the artist had gone through while being a resident of the Five Spot Café music club in NY. He returned in 1958, and on August 7th he recorded an album there, along with: the drummer Roy Haynes, the double-bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik and tenor sax player Johnny Griffin.
In 1965, Columbia released Misterioso (recorded on tour), which contained material recorded during the 1963-1965 concert tour. Monk was accompanied by Charlie Rouse, Larry Gales or Butch Warren (interchangeably) on the double bass, and Ben Riley or Frank Dunlap (interchangeably) on drums. It's not certain which gigs exactly the album's tracks are from, because the places listed on the cover are considered to be inaccurate. The album had the mark CL 2416, as well as a red Columbia 360º center label with white letters and two arrows. The material was released in mono. The producer was Teo Macero.
This is yet another MOV record whose sound is very clean and uncolored. It is quick and very dynamic. It's hard to say about warmth of sound here, but you definitely can't say that there are some sharp edges. I'd even say that the timbre of cymbals on this record is closer to what this instrument sounds like live than what you hear on many "audiophile" editions and recordings. The album has a fast attack and sonorous sustain. You can only notice a difference during the decay. Some of the pressings by MoFi and Analogue Productions, as well as a large proportion of the original editions, show a slightly "wetter" background, with longer and softer decay.
Sound quality: 7-8/10
Elvis Costello & The Attractions
All This Useless Beauty, the seventeenth album in Elvis Costello’s discography, the English artist and singer, was released by Warner Bros. on a CD on May 14th, 1996. The album reached the 28th place on Great Britain's hit list, and was 58th on the US Billboard 200 list. It was also the last album that Costello recorded for Warner Bros. (a compilation album followed later on) and the last performance by The Attractions. As many as six of the tracks were released as singles in the UK and USA.
While listening to the two previous albums, or even while reading about them, you could assume that this release would also sound clear, precise, and its tonal quality will be based on a strong midrange and treble. And that's true: the sound is clear, there is little noise, and very little crackle. The overall sound is rather warm, however, and slightly veiled. It's hard to talk about real resolution and selectiveness here, the sort that you get used to while listening to jazz and classical music. But this is what rock music albums from this time period sound like, and you can't do anything about it. The presentation is relaxed and pleasant, however. The most important part is certainly the midrange, with an emphasis on the depth of the vocals and the lower part of the grand piano. The guitars, making appearances on the far ends of both channels, sound meaty and dense, even though they aren't very selective. It's a very nice re-release with a sound that encourages listening through the whole thing. Especially given that the album was recommended to "High Fidelity" readers by John Marks, the editor-in-chief of "Stereophile" magazine (see HERE).
Sound quality: 7/10
The material contained on The Time Machine is being released on vinyl for the very first time, by Music On Vinyl; previously, it was only available in Compact Disc format. This 1999 album, Alan Parson's third solo release, has the artist cooperate with three guests: Tony Hadley (Spandau Ballet), Colin Blunstone, Máire Brennan (Clannad) and Beverly Craven. The Time Machine is a concept-album, whose theme circulates around time travel and human memories.
The vinyl was released as a double album, with a gatefold cover. The release is part of an exclusive series with its material available on vinyl for the very first time; it was pressed on transparent 180 g vinyl and individually numbered. The number of copies is limited. Its worldwide premiere was on July 14th, 2014.
Sound quality: 7-8/10
The album, titled Nádúr (Irish: "nature") is the first Clannad album since 1989 to see performances from all five of its original musicians: Moya Brennan (Máire Ní Bhraonáin), Ciarán Brennan (Ciarán Ó Braonáin), Pól Brennan (Pól Ó Braonáin), Noel Duggan (Noel Ó Dúgáin) and Pádraig Duggan (Pádraig Ó Dúgáin). Only Enya (Eithne Ní Bhraonáin) is missing, as she quit the band as early as 1981 and began her solo career. It's also the band's first studio album since 1997's Landmarks, making it a big deal.
I clearly remember the first time I listened to this album on an audio file, and the bitter aftertaste I had from it. And it wasn't about the music, because it is very pleasant here and not a bore, unlike Clannad's previous few albums. The problem was the sound - it was very compressed and at times forcefully tuned up, almost overdriven.
Sound quality: 6-7/10
Stronger Than Pride is the third album from the artist known as Sade. Originally released in 1988, it was somewhat of a sequel to the album Diamond Life, which sold several million copies just three years prior. The album contains the hit Billboard list singles: Paradise and Love Is Stronger Than Pride, and the album achieved platinum status in many countries.
It so happens that the re-releases of this album have been prepared simultaneously by Music On Vinyl and Audio Fidelity. The two use separate masters and have been prepared slightly differently. MOV used the remaster which had been prepared for making the digital edition, cutting the lacquer disc of hi-res files. The American company Audio Fidelity used a version prepared by highly-valued mastering experts: Kevin Gray and Momchil Zanev at Coherent Audio. The album was pressed on a 180 g "Pure Virgin Vinyl", just like in MOV's case. The Audio Fidelity version is a limited edition. Thanks to the kindness of Kim from Platinum Club (which I'm a member of) I received a copy with the number 0033. Unfortunately, there is no information available as to what material the disc was pressed from. I'm guessing that it's analogue, though, judging by the inscription on the inside of the album: "Analogue Pressing".
If we're talking about the printed aspect, let's mention the big differences between the designs. The MOV cover is a single-side, with an insert. Audio Fidelity's is an opened, gatefold-type cover, which contains on the inside the very same material that was previously used on the insert. The covers vary in color: the MOV one is intense, clearer and with a deeper color palette, while the AF edition is more pastel-coloured and calmer. The center labels are totally different, though: MOV prepared a replica of the original center label, while AF has a pretty, new design.
The differences between the pressings are clear and mirror what I've said about the covers. MOV prepared a dynamic and strong version. AF came up with a sound that is calmer and smoother. The instruments and vocals are more tangible, though. The cymbals are powerful and the bass is clearer. At the same time, however, the sibilants in Sade's voice are more often. I happen to know that this is what the original pressing sounded like.
Text: Bartosz Pacuła
Alan Parsons is an underappreciated artist. He was the sound engineer on Pink Floyd's Grammy-nominated album, Dark Side of the Moon (he's the man behind the famous clock-ticking intro to Time), and he also worked as a sound engineer for the Beatles (Abbey Road). Additionally, he was the co-founder of the amazing Alan Parsons Project, which has both artistic and commercial successes on its record. The biggest one (in terms of music quality) is, without any doubt, the album I Robot from 1977. It was the band's second record, a concept album whose plot was loosely based upon Isaac Asimov's novel, also entitled I Robot. After over 35 years since the album's release, a proper re-release has finally come around. The whole thing was released in the prestigious Legacy Edition series, and in addition to the new remaster, the album also contains a second disc with extra tracks, different mixes of the old originals, as well as audio recordings of the radio commercials that promoted the album's release.
35 years is a long time, and in the world of technology it's almost like a hundred generations. When I sat down to compare the two vinyl versions - the original edition by Arista and the new version, prepared by Music On Vinyl - I realized that the sound simply HAS TO be completely different.
I like the new remaster because its sound simply appeals much more to my heart – it's large, with lots of energy, a wonderful midrange and fantastic, well-outlined bottom end. To top it all off, it has much more detail, which made the process of listening to I Robot yet again very enjoyable – even for someone like me, who's quite familiar with the entire discography of Parsons' band. I think it's worth adding that if someone prefers calmer music, music that definitely doesn't nag or sound "noisy" (to some), they might not enjoy this remaster. They'll miss out on some nice sonic aspects, but will keep their peace of mind and spirit.
Sound quality: 8/10
Our reviewers regularly contribute to “Audio”, “Enjoy the Music.com”, “Positive-Feedback.com”, “HiFiStatement.net” and “Hi-Fi Choice & Home Cinema. Edycja Polska” .
"High Fidelity" is a monthly magazine dedicated to high quality sound. It has been published since May 1st, 2004. Up until October 2008, the magazine was called "High Fidelity OnLine", but since November 2008 it has been registered under the new title.
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