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Audiophile Audition


Audiophile LP Reviews
for March/April 2001

  With the two new high-resolution audio formats now available, those of us audiophiles who have been saying ever since the introduction of CDs that the better LPs, played on better analog front ends, still sound better than CDs (whew!) may now need to modify our claims a bit. Not that either digital format sounds exactly like the best analog reproduction, but it's most definitely getting there. But even with the best SACDs (the format I've spent the more time with so far) on a completely broken-in player, there are still some audiophile LP versions from exactly the same master tapes that sound a smidgen better in some parameters. Those buffs owning a really good analog front end and a decent collection of vinyl certainly don't need to feel they have suddenly become part of the great mid-fi unwashed just because they haven't rushed out to purchase hardware and software for the new formats. So this time let's look and listen to a few recent classical and jazz releases on retro audiophile LPs:


CORELLI: Concerti GrossiCORELLI: Concerti Grossi, Opus 6, Nos. 6, 7, 8, 12 - Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields/Sir Neville Marriner - London Decca/Super Analogue Disc KIJC 9240:

This l975 LP set a standard in both performance and recording quality for these glorious string orchestra works of the Baroque. No. 8 in G Minor is the well-known "Christmas Concerto." No 44.1 CD could ever match the wonderfully natural and rich string harmonics of this recording made in London in l973 and 74. In plain two-channel playback the stage depth and width is much more pronounced than most CDs, and when decoded by a good matrix-type surround processor the feeling of the venue - St. John's Cathedral in London - is palpable. The half-speed mastering and vacuum tube electronics used in production of this audiophile series from King Records in Japan contribute to an even superior sonic experience than the original LPs. Even mint originals probably wouldn't have as low a level of surface noise as these very quiet pressings. The heavy 180-gram disc also contributes to the improved signal to noise as well as better bass reproduction.

- John Sunier


SZELL CONDUCTS HANDEL"SZELL CONDUCTS HANDEL" The Water Music Suite; The Royal Fireworks Suite; Minuet from The Faithful Shepherd; Largo from Serse - London Symphony/George Szell - London-Decca/Super Analogue Disc KJC 9201:

There's certainly no lack of fine recordings of these two popular Handelian suites, but even without consideration of the engineering side of the equation, Szell's performances are electric and exciting, making the two potboilers of English music sound almost as if heard for the very first time. And there's no need to throw in real fireworks sound effects, as Stokowski did in his version of these suites. Everything fairly sizzles with royal pomp and circumstance. Then add some of the most extended and natural-sounding deep bass I've heard in any recording of these works, plus a terrific amount of enveloping surround ambience (easily decoded by any matrix processor), and you have here a royal flush.

- John Sunier


HOLIDAY FOR FRENCH HORNHOLIDAY FOR FRENCH HORN - Hermann Baumann, Fr. Horn/Reiko Honsho, piano - Firebird KIJC 9242:

The producers of this l982 recording made in Japan evidently had as their sonic model the early London-Decca recordings, and they come very close to just the sort of sound one would expect of a horn & piano duo on that label. Detailed, but with an overall sheen, and free of the in-your-face quality of some brass recordings. It's rich, natural, with plenty of ambience - that's what the instrument is all about after all - deliberately bouncing its sound out of its large bell to the rear of the auditorium. The program is made up of 13 short selections that effectively demonstrate the great variety of sounds and moods possible from the French horn. Only a few were originally intended for the horn - a movement of one of the Mozart horn concertos, two pieces by St.-Saens, and a rousing closing hunting horn solo arranged by Baumann from a piece by Rossini. Some of the transcribed highlights are Rachmaninov's lovely Vocalise, Serenade by Borodin and Dolci Pianti by Johann Strauss. By the way, hornist Baumann bears an amazing resemblance to actor Mickey Roarke.

- John Sunier


SATCHMO PLAYS KING OLIVER - St. James Infirmary; I Ain't Got Nobody - Audio Fidelity/Classic Records 45 Series ST-91058:

No cover art or notes are provided with this 12-inch 45 disc containing a total of nine minutes of music in very wide grooves, one selection per side. So why the small sticker on it states 'Special One-Sided Pressing" is beyond me. It's a single disc recorded on both sides, not with one side completely blank, as a couple of audiophile labels have done in the past - returning to those days of the very early l900's, before they discovered they could press grooves on both sides of 78 rpm discs!

Audio Fidelity brought out the very first commercial single groove stereophonic LP back in l958 and was one of the first audiophile record labels. Their recorded quality brings Satchmo to our ears with a lot more impact and clarity than any of his many Decca and Columbia recordings. The presence on his voice and trumpet is almost astounding; it's as though you can even hear him wipe his fact with his giant white towel. This is also a smaller group than one usually hears behind Satchmo, aiding in the clarity of his voice and trumpet. Hearing him in these two selections immediately after viewing the Ken Burns documentaries that spent so much time on Armstrong was a really special experience.

- John Henry


THE WARM SOUNDTHE WARM SOUND - The Johnny Coles Quartet (Coles, trumpet; Kenny Drew, piano; Peck Morrison, bass; Charlie Persip, drums - Epic/Classic Records BA 17015:

Here's another trumpeter, less famous but no less enjoyable in some ways than Armstrong. I frankly wasn't familiar with Coles but he does have a warm trumpet sound that is beautifully captured on this six-track album. Pianist Kenny Drew is probably the big name on this session. My fave rave tracks were Come Rain or Come Shine, the lyrical ballad If I Should Lose you, and the swinging Randy Weston hit Hi-Fly, which gets Coles coaxing some humorous tones out of his trumpet. The soundstaging, depth and aural localization of the four players on this album is among the most holographic I've heard - especially with my matrix processor in operation.

- John Henry


CONVERSATIONCONVERSATION - Kunimitsu Inaba, bass; Sadanori Nakamure, guitar - Three Blind Mice TBM-43:

This unusual duo's album won a bunch of Japanese jazz and audiophile awards when it was first issued back in l975. It was issued on CD but this limited edition 180-gram audiophile LP pressing has come out in observance of the 25th anniversary of the original album. There are eight tracks, just about all of them standards: Autumn Leaves, Old Folks, Along Together, My Foolish Heart, and so on. These are two skilled performers able to convey a wide range of sounds and impressions with only their two stringed instruments. One tends to completely forget there isn't any piano or solo reed instrument here at all. Never does it seem that the rest of the musicians failed to show up for the gig! The deep bass reproduction is terrific, and the transients on the electric guitar come across with plenty of impact. The notes say the mastering tape used in l975 was Scotch 206. Good thing for all concerned it wasn't one of the other brands of that time which have in many cases deteriorated to an unplayable condition over the years, or this special edition would have been really limited! As it is, Conversation is a masterful combination of superb improvising by two top-flight players and clean, detailed, widerange reproduction that over a quarter century later still sets a standard.

- John Henry



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