Here is what you’ve been waiting for, a ringside seat at the battle of the century! It’s not Ali vs Frazier, it’s oil vs aluminum! Today I compare the same song from a vinyl LP and a CD. Compared! pits Blue Note BLP 1531, The Fabulous Fats Navarro Volume 1 against The Fats Navarro Story Properbox #11 four CD set out of the UK, remastered by Peter Rynston. I’m not using just any release of the LP, but the Toshiba-EMI reissue that is thought to be much better than many of the vinyl reissues made in America. In fact, the London Jazz Collector blog rates the Toshiba-EMIs as the fourth best pressings you can buy, with the original Lexington 47 West 63rds as best, followed by New York Blue Notes, then King Japan/Early division of Liberty 1966 coming in third. So we’re not testing crummy pressings made in the 80s or 90s against the CDs.
Properbox is often lauded for the excellent remastering job they typically do on their CDs, particularly their earlier work, such as The Fats Navarro Story (2000) that I’m using for our comparison.
First, some parameters. The songs from the LPs are brought into my computer via my usual method, described here…except I did NOT use Clickrepair. I compared full resolution AIFF vs AIFF, not mp3s. Mono vs mono. Volume levels are also equal. But that’s where the equality ends. If you take a look at the waveforms for The Squirrel, you’ll note they don’t look the same, and when you listen, the CD version will sound louder, even though both CD and LP files are normalized to -0.5 db. The diff is that the CD has been remastered to sound louder, more evenly throughout the entire song. The LP version starts out softer, then gets louder later, then gets soft again, the way real music does.
So Peter Rynston compressed the CD file, to make it louder throughout the song. I hate when they do that! And of course, it makes it hard to compare the two. The louder version will always sounds better to your ears, at least until your ears start to fatigue from ‘everything is loud’ disease. The cure, of course, is to listen to vinyl that hasn’t been futzed with!
OK! Let’s get ready to rumble! You’ll hear the LP version first, for about 20 seconds, followed by the same 20 seconds from the CD, and more. There will be a slight break as we switch from vinyl to CD and back to vinyl. And the vinyl version includes a few clicks and pops.
To my ears, the mastering by Rynston is so close a match to the vinyl, I can’t hear the difference in tone, so I must congratulate him for that. He didn’t add EQ to change the frequency response of the CD he was making. The big diff is the compression he used. What I notice most is that his CD version sounds very insistent throughout. Every note sounds like it’s vying for more of your attention and for that reason, it seems more mid-rangey in tone and a bit harsher on the ears. The vinyl relaxes those notes and is more listenable. It doesn’t blare at you. You can see this in the photos above, and hear it, too. It’s not like the CD version is awful, but given a choice, I think we have a winner…. LONG LIVE VINYL!
What do you think? Listen carefully to both versions, and don’t play with your volume control!
Fats Navarro’s story is a brief one, because he only lived to be 26. But during his brief career he blazed a trail followed by the likes of Lee Morgan, Kenny Dorham and Clifford Brown. While Dizzy Gillespie is more often credited with founding bebop, Fat’s repertoire of tunes is more grounded in the bop of the day, particularly the songs authored by Tadd Dameron, in my opinion. He died of tuberculosis in 1950, weighing little more than 100 pounds, a shell of the man whose name is as descriptive as Dizzy’s.
So whether you’ve got the bread to buy those close to original Blue Note LPs, or opt for CDs, give Fats a listen. He was truly a gifted musician.