Monday, May 5, 2014

But Why (EMI)? (Mastering Mayhem)

With the Why EMI pressing article just completed, I finally decided to attempt reading the EMI matrix numbers in the dead wax in hopes of getting some confirmation for my ears. I've constantly read that no one understands the EMI classical matrices. My colleague with great foresight has chosen to include these matrices with every review ("Pressing:" section). With rival Decca (and Lyrita) these type numbers are very helpful as they even indicate the mastering engineer. This has been documented in LP Week previously. With EMI classical nobody knew anything until now. I've been sitting on this for a few months, but finally started writing and cataloging my collection. The article that got me going is here:
Matrix Numbers for 7 inch LPs

Those familiar with London matrices hardly need read the above.  Simply where we have the letter system of BUCKINGHAM with Decca/London, with EMI it is GRAMOPHLTD. We don't get an engineer with the main matrix number, but the absence of a letter means it was mastered at Abbey Road under the supervision of chief engineer Hazel Yarwood. In short, I've seen the letters on our site with my colleagues fine reviews of the Epic material on Columbia SAX.  Clearly an E on either side means Epic cut the LP. I suspect an A correlates with Angel. These are rare letters of course.  The only other letter I've seen so far on the classical is G which is so prevalent that it must be another emi facility not at Abbey Road.

Ms. Yarwood was apparently quite meticulous and appears to have been in charge for most of her time in the department (1960-1984). Here is a nice video from back in the day with Hazel Yarwood in action towards the beginning (hmmm... that doesn't look like a Lyrec rig......):

And a nice article while we pay tribute to this classical music legend

I mentioned something about Hari Kari at the end of "Why EMI?". My matrix findings haven't helped simplify things. I am sure dealers will want me to die when they read this, but then the British penchant for classifying via label is quite the straw man. Let me just say that the British cognescente have proven woefully ignorant.

The basic problem for the establishment is that often the label on an EMI record will have a later pressing. Fortunately, I've not run across this with the early Gold and Cream and the Blue and Silver label material (but you really can't tell going strictly by the matrix).

First some detail before we get to all the implications. The first and second labels on SAX and ASD all feature the standard lettering system and were largely pressed at Abbey Road. We see the A and E lettering on SAX Epics above and perhaps some G lettering (on late Magic pressings). The demarcation between the first and second pressings seems to hold very well as I've heard never heard one label sound like the other.

Its Hari Kari time after this. Columbia largely goes to G pressings with a very distinct sound for the Notes, 3rd label (no suicidal tendencies coming on yet.) Unfortunately HMV becomes quite confusing. I suspect that matrix chaos was mainly unleashed in the mid-seventies. In 1972 the plant moved to a new location and then shortly thereafter was overwhelmed with demand. The esteemed Bob Bailey took over pressing production around this time (not mastering!) and it must have been quite a strain.

Our ground breaking finding is that the later pressings that would have been original on late Ring releases feature maddeningly smaller font for the typeset. Its maddening because I often have to use a ruler to confirm the difference as the fonts are disarmingly similar when flipping from side to side.

Let me give an example of the nonsense; ASD 541 Sargeant's Sibelius. I have a Semi, Stamp, and Ring pressing. On side 2 all have the same matrix number in the blessed smaller font size designating a late ring pressing. That is really messed up and shows that EMI was not shy about avoiding waste with their labels.

Why did this happen? Well I blame these wenches (or maybe it was the ones listening to the final LPs in the video above.) Of course they are not to blame and in fact its probably a good thing that EMI did not discard older plates that still had life in them. [Update Sept. 3, 2014 -- blogger Tin Ear has schooled us on this LP and the side 2 pressings are all original stampers and not in the smaller type set, just a very short code that I did not size correctly. Tin Ear is unaware of any examples of reusing older labels on newer pressings.  Only the reverse happens. I'll add that the mothers do lose there sound after a time as one would expect when so many stampers are made from them. I've got some London Ansermet Nutcracker pressings where the later stamper from the same mother has really lost it losing much of the originals tube airiness and presence. ...... back to the show!] Here we see the auditioning of the metal mothers (and by the way it was probably common for the mothers to fail quaility control which means that only the few best ones were used.) The above video states that quality control listened to every LP. I am sure this was not the case, but they did have to sample to make sure that an individual stamper had not been used to long from a given mother and also to determine if further stampers could be made from a given mother. With time, we can see how this might lead to different sounding mothers being used for each side.

To further illuminate I'll continue with ASD 541. Clearly the Semi I have was made in the late seventies as side 2 has the smaller font size. EMI was using up old jackets and labels. Side 1 of the LP is very distinctly the original sound with the conventional style matrix but with a 6G. The Stamp and Ring LPs have the same matrices on both sides with side 1 having a 10G. The GRAMOPHLTD lettering shows that the earlier labels had earlier stampers.

How much do the GRAMOPHLTD stampers matter? A lot. If we see my review I compare the sound and clearly there was a big difference when listening to Finlandia. I've seen Decca pressings of Ansermet's Nutcracker with woefully high stamper numbers compared to my original from the same mother.  I can see why Decca kept using that stamper because it was really good, but the sound just kind of hardened up a bit and lost a lot of treble magic. I suspect the dynamic Finlandia was giving EMI a workout and they had to discard stampers quickly which would help explain why the second side was remastered with a later pressing while the first sides maintained the sound of earlier pressings.

So with matrix and stamper numbers we have another tool for deciphering the later pressings along with the label, cover style, and Garrod and Lofthouse date codes. I'll be updating Why EMI? with the ramifications of this knowledge shortly. You'll of course want to begin torturing dealers and having them check for cover date codes should be fine if they don't already have a picture of the cover posted. I think I'll settle for breaking mine in with the question of whether an LP has the smaller matrices font and if it has letters on the end of the matrix if I am feeling particularly evil.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Why EMI?

In our regular column LP Week we try to maximize your LP dollar. Easily, EMI is the greatest classical label (on LP). Deutsche Grammophon may rival or exceed EMI with its stable of musicians, but on the subject of sound quality there is no comparison; EMI simply is the best (and DG is one of the worst.) So, the question becomes what EMI classical should our collector dollars chase and that is a very interesting question.

Typically, with your Decca/London, RCA, Mercury, and even DG you want an original pressing and probably an early release from the dawn of stereo. For those unfamiliar, most of these labels (DG excepted which was not quite a major label then) rerecorded much of the classical repertoire during the early stereo years (1958-1962) creating a so called “Golden Era” as this effort coincided with the careers of many of the greats. These early recordings were all made with 100% vacuum tube recording chains and usually an original pressing cut with vacuum tubes offers the best window into the performance.

At this point for the uninitiated, we need to stop and very briefly explain why these early tube based recordings are so good. The pseudoscience of engineering’s precepts largely fails to explain this phenomenon. So simply, tube recordings excel at reproducing the sound of the upper registers of the hearing range (ditto for analog versus digital). Harps glow, flutes are magic, clarinets sound reedy, bassoons resonate, piano dynamically wows us, and generally the overtones and harmonic structure of the music is maintained if not accentuated via this tube magic. Tubes have glaring weaknesses too as control in the bass region often suffers robbing a body and drive from the music (solid state often can get the toe tapping in ways that tubes cannot usually). But overall, decidedly a Golden Era with the glow of tubes lighting the way.

Now with Decca/London life is a little more complex as sound quality was maintained at high levels consistently. There are quite a few nice later recordings, but despite what others say later pressings of golden era (tube) material are generally inferior. In most cases the original is available in an original London Blue Back for cheap enough. There are exceptions, but they are rare (original horrible sounding London FFSS Blue Back of Karajan’s Sprach Zarathustra would be one where the later pressing is the one to have) There are some competitive reissues on other labels (Mercury Golden Imports comes to mind), but generally mediocre solid state sound dominates. Of course, there are some very fine audiophile reissues of strong sonic interest. The only label (outside of EMI) that has decent later recordings and pressings is Decca/London, but generally even then the original is best (tape deterioration over time handicaps reissue efforts).

Life for the collector is relatively easy with these labels, but with EMI suddenly the situation becomes magnitudes more complex. Like Decca, EMI maintained high quality throughout the stereo LP era, but there is oh so much more. First, the original EMI Golden Era recordings do not suffer from the affliction of tube bass bloat. With the American based labels, this horrible affliction universally destroys the pace of the music and lower strings lack any kind of drive. So much so, that the music of great artists like Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms (the big three) is lost in the fuzz. Decca does much better on this count but still suffers from a lack of clarity due to this affliction. EMI does not have base bloat and to no surprise most of the highly sought out LPs of the big three are on EMI. I'll add that EMI made consistenly good LPs, Decca was a little less consistent, and the American labels featured very erratic sound quality that even varied among different stampers of the same LP.

With Decca, we have about 5 or 6 types of pressings (English) over the LP era and the old adage of original pressings are best makes life relatively simple for the collector. With EMI, we have three or four Columbia SAX pressings just for starters. HMV ASD might be divided into 10 types. Some of the EMI sub labels also appear to be a little different (Classics for Pleasure heads the list). And, the adage that original is best does not work quite as well with EMI. 

EMI did not play around and with a benign arrogance maintained too distinct classical labels until 1973, HMV (His Master’s Voice) and Columbia. The average quality of every recording is at a very high standard (even noticeably more consistent than rival Decca). One can hear this quality and even with covers, no expense was spared (the desirable Decca flip back is thin and flimsy while the EMI clarifoil flip back is strong and exudes quality.) Make no mistake; EMI was a first class operation.

With the Golden Era EMI works having such a strong bass foundation, suddenly a later solid state pressing has more of a chance to pull out more sonic detail. With other labels, the patient is already lost and clarity cannot be meaningfully enhanced. This is not the case with EMI. Sonic wonders abound.

That being said, the American classical arm of EMI, Angel, is a sonic abomination. It is a shame that EMI did not follow Decca in pressing its American LP’s while having the covers made in the US. Because of this, the US dominated audiophile press and American collectors have remained largely ignorant of EMI as amassing a large enough collection via importation has been very difficult. Asian collectors have driven the prices of EMI sky high still making amassing a significant collection very difficult despite the wonders of the internet and eBay.

In truth, I don’t think the quality and high prices of these LPs are truly understood worldwide. If price versus sound quality is used, clearly the market is distorted. I suspect the typical Asian collector (the driving force in EMI prices) is reveling in the sound of these LPs via directly heated triode amplification and has caught the fever (the beautiful quality covers help here and the performances). But even these leading collectors do not fully understand EMI and the sonic potential of the later pressings in the right environment.

And what of all these pressings, well that really is the heart of this article as we start to explore the complex web of British EMI pressings and releases. UPDATE 5/5/2014: You'll want to read our discussion of matrices: But Why? (matrices)

An audiophile sonic primer on how to get the most sonic pleasure from your EMI LPs:

First and foremost, a system must be able to provide good bass definition. If your system is solid state (no tubes) you have a good start. Unfortunately, low bass performance requires large drivers which are typically difficult loads for most tube amplifiers. The most cost effective approach is a solid state driven sub-woofer, but aggressive hobbyist may have various tube based solutions for the lows. For the upper registers directly heated triodes are a great compliment with their inherently lower output impedance allowing for no feedback and a wonderfully nuanced sound.  A good substitute for a pricey directly heated triode amp would be a triode connected tube amp using cheaper pentode type output tubes. A conventional tube amp will lack control and the use of feedback will also hurt imaging and clarity. (Unfortunately these types of amps dominated high end audio and early tube design and may be one of the main reasons for the relative anonymity of early EMI in audiophile circles.) Of course solid state is going to hurt the golden age tube sound overall, but since bass control is such a strength with EMI it may do quite well. One’s system will be a factor in deciding what pressings to go for and some sonic caveats will be included with the pressing discussions.

The two pillars of EMI LP sound are the HMV ASD series and the Columbia SAX series.  One would think that being both of EMI that they would be virtually identical, but this is not the case at all. In fact the whole series of Columbia pressings are sonically distinct from the rest of EMI (early SAN is likely Columbia).

(For the following, please see our EMI labelography under the Resources section bottom right of this page.)

Columbia SAX

The Silver:

Columbia SAX original Blue and Silver pressing is a crowd pleaser in that it sounds excellent on most systems. The SAX Blue and Silver sound has nice bass extension and a nice treble extension balanced with a beautiful tube like midrange. The Silver is more bass defined than the typical Decca, let alone the ill-defined American labels. I would like to rate these ten for sound, but they are a 9.5+ at their best. The wonderfully accessible midrange performance ultimately drags the Silver down as they can’t quite get the job done perfectly at the extremes. These LP’s can go for as much as $10,000 a piece and with good reason, magical and excellent on all systems.

The Magic:

The second Columbia pressing which we designate as the Magic on our site should not be confused with the second ASD pressing (the Semi). They have a similar overall look and came out at the same time. (Dealers call the second and third SAX pressings all sorts of things, so please watch yourself when buying!) The SAX Magic pressing is a very crabby beast. It could be tube mastered with the last generation of tube equipment from back in the day (note to follow). Sonically, it is a cut below on most systems. On my own rig they have sounded horrible, but have improved recently with the elimination of standard diodes from my subwoofer amp and its crossover (see taking the Sound Floor). They now have achieved a pleasing midrange balance like the Blue and Silver with a bit less magic. However they still have an irritating/aggressive sound in the upper midrange. They are probably the worst EMI pressing and given their crabby nature I would only dabble with them when the only other alternative is an extremely expensive original Blue and Silver pressing. Under the right circumstances they might be as good as an 8, but for most audiophile systems I would stay far, far away. Our own blog host has bought quite a few and has gotten decent sonic results, but in truth rarely has this pressing gotten a top review on this site. UPDATE 5/5/2014: The Epic recordings will often have an additional later in their matrix with an E for Epic of A for Angel, sometimes the letters are missing on one side and I suspect sometimes both sides. The Epic recording may have all been mastered by Epic.

The Notes:

The third Columbia pressing which we designate as the Notes on our site is also a bit crabby, but can yield stellar sound. They have a lively top end. Before my diode upgrades a few of these had a very nice uniquely magical top end that complimented the original’s sound (The Notes is only a reissue pressing in the SAX series.) Others were dry and uninteresting. Post diode upgrade (Schottky and HEXFRED type), Notes pressings have all had an excellent presentation with less warmth than the originals, but better bass and very, very impressive highs with some real magic in this region. The Notes pressings are treble thoroughbreds make no mistake. In the last few days a power supply tube change in my phono stage has taken my system to surreal treble performance. I thought surely this more vivid presentation would put my Notes pressings into brightness. Not so, the sound has been boosted greatly; a 10- for sound on these. They still can sound cold. All of the caveats above apply so if your Diodes are not up to the task then this pressing will be much more sonically iffy (if you love EMI, upgrade your diodes which is not too expensive for solid state equipment). The Studio 2 Stereo TWO XXX LPs were the last gasp from Columbia and would have had the same mastering process, but were later recordings of at least a hybrid nature. UPDATE 5/5/2014: I'll note that the Notes and Studio 2 LPs are largely G pressings (and it appears that EMI often did not put the letter on both or any sides I suspect in some cases as mentioned with Epic Magic pressings.)

A note on tubes in the recording and cutting chains at EMI:

In early discussion with my colleague I was quite dismissive that pressings outside of the original Blue and Silver SAX or Gold and Cream ASD were tube based as most labels had left tubes by the mid-sixties (dealers will believe anything to sell an LP!). Based on some research into Abby Road’s recording studios and some recent videos on the Electric Recording Company’s (ERC) extreme reissue efforts, it seems EMI kept tubes in their recording chains until the end of the 1960s at least. ERC’s video shows them operating a restored cutting rig from 1965 that is full valve. Mr. Davies was quite intimate with the Lyrec SV10 and apparently was involved with the design ( The SV10 came out in 1961 and I suspect EMI had them by 1962. From photos I’ve seen it appears to use quite a few 6DJ8 vacuum tubes. This is a later tube that would not have been in the recording chain back in the early stereo years. The high transconductance and lower output impedances of 6DJ8s would have imparted a more controlled sound with lower noise than the original stereo mastering equipment and would account for the change in sound with the EMI pressings with the start of the second label. Unfortunately these mastering setups are very custom and likely were tweaked over the years. Undoubtedly more and more non-valve equipment was used. EMI might have been using some valve equipment into the early 1970s. We don’t really know what EMI was doing exactly. Mr. Davies in action:

We are not done with Columbia SAX recordings entirely because later on they were mastered by HMV which simply became EMI Classical in 1973.


The Gold:

The only Golden Era rival to the Blue and Silver was the Gold and Cream ASD. It has very heavy bass and extended highs, but is somewhat cooler than the Blue and Silver in the midrange. The Gold and Cream is a somewhat crabby pressing. At first in my system the Gold did not seem to have good enough bass drive compared to later pressings, but with my systems evolvement over the last year (diodes being the big change) the Gold has gotten better and better. I sometimes like to open up a lot of doors in my listening room to give the sound room to breathe helps ensure that the stellar Gold high frequencies can fully communicate their majesty. My system diode improvements have allowed the Gold to sound tubier while strangely solidifying the bass presentation at the same time. They rate a 9.5+ for sound given all these provisos. Ultimately the Gold and Cream may be better than the Blue and Silver; unfortunately it is a somewhat crabby pressing so on most systems the Blue and Silver may be decidedly better.

The Semi:

The second ASD pressing we call the Semi. The Semi has always been a strong performer for me with a more solid bass foundation than the Gold and able to communicate more drive to the music while still retaining a good bit of tube like magic. With my diode upgrades, the gap has closed between these two pressings with the Gold having more drive and catching up to the Semi, but the Semi has gained much in the tube magic area. Now, the Semi in many ways sounds tubier than the Gold with more magic to the sound. It does not quite have the treble dynamics of the Gold, but is arguably better sounding since it has a little more bass drive than the Gold at its best. A 9.5+ for sound. I highly recommend these pressings especially since they are crowd pleasers like the Blue and Silver. They should not let you down.

Please take note that at this point we are discussing only the Golden Era recordings originally released on Blue and Silver SAX and Gold and Cream ASD (up to ASD 575). We will get to these later recordings in part 2. For now let us say that these later recordings do not have as much tube magic though can still be quite good. 

UPDATE 5/5/2014: Not all Semis are Semis sorry to say. Please consult But Why? (matrices). We start to see some G pressings which appear to be distinct from the G pressings on Columbia. I can't say that they sound all that different, however as you go higher, let's say from 2G to 10G you are likely to actually have a later pressing on your hand. It seems that most of the Stamp pressings are G pressings, but the sound is inconsistent and I will discuss this in the Concert Classics SXLP update today.

The Stamp:

The third ASD pressing we call the Stamp pressing. (There are many variations, so again please see our guide in Resources, bottom left). My first impressions of these were very close to the Semi, but perhaps with even tighter bass. With the diode upgrades, etc., it has become clear that they don’t have the tube magic sound in abundance like the Semi pressings. Some of the later ASD releases actually were reissues of SAX material. The earliest of these were the Klemperer Beethoven cycle. I just listened to the original Blue and Silver of Beethoven 7 versus the ASD reissue and I have to say that the improved bass performance of the ASD made for more musical enjoyment. My SAX was not in perfect condition and certainly had more magic and dynamics to the sound. A hint of tube flavor comes through on the ASD. I suspect this cycle may not have the best Blue and Silver sound and here the ASD seems to give an overall better result. These still rate just a 9+ for these stamp pressings as they have lost out on several comparisons with the Semi and Gold pressings. UPDATE 5/5/2014: You might luck out and get an earlier stamper, but I've never felt I've heard that with the first three and a half EMI labels. These are almost all G pressings. But Why?

The Ring (with discussion to rival the Wagner Ring cycle):

We will end our discussion of ASD for this part with the fourth ASD pressing, what we call the Ring pressing. It is likely that some changes were made over the years that the Stamp pressings were done. For simplicity I am including the very late stamp pressings here. And for this part, I will restrict myself to early ring pressings and their cousins in the budget EMI label Concert Classic SXLP. The Concert Classics have a very similar sound to their ASD cousins and we have the added benefit of more precise dating. Starting in 1965 EMI releases started to have a date code on the cover from Garrod and Lofthouse consisting of a four digit code with the first two being the year and the last two the month. This is the date of the cover and not the pressing per se, but it seems to correlate well with the sound. This date code also precisely dates the ASD reissues of SAX material here and mentioned above with the Stamp pressings. These early ring pressings date from approximately 7204 to 7512.

At this point we are getting into some of the pressings with improved sound floor performance. DUTILLEUX/LUTOSLAWSKI-CELLO CONCERTOS-ROSTROPOVITCH-EMI ASD 3145 is a Demi-God in the Supreme Recordings listings by Mr. Salvatore and an original recording from 1975, not Golden Age. Mr. Salvatore is not a fan of early pressings from any label because of the poorer noise floor performance. This fine Rostropovich LP has an increased blackness of background that allows sonic details to just pop out. We do not have the wonders of tube magic, but it is a sound that is arguably better with excellent high frequency detail and texture. The improved noise floor allows micro dynamics to pop out. I’ve been using these recordings as a touchstone these last nine months and the latest diode changes and other noise floor improvements have not garnered blacker backgrounds on these and many of the fine Lyrita Nimbus pressings. Instead textures have improved and a slight glare in the highs has subsided to give a little more relaxed presentation. It seems that my system has gotten out of the way and these are manifestations of noise improvements that have greatly aided many of the above early ASD and SAX pressings. I suspect with these later EMI that removing some of the solid state distortions in my system that were holding back the more tubey pressings simply can’t do as much for these later recordings where this type of distortion is endemic given their recording chain.

So the question is Mr. Salvatore right? Are the earlier pressings inferior? Yes and no. Based on market prices alone of these LPs he is very wrong. At this point in the journey, I believe he is right, but missing out on the supreme characteristics of the early EMI recordings and their subsequent later EMI pressings (he might need a little more bass and bass definition, wink). The continuing discussion below of the Ring pressings and their sound floor improvements will illuminate this crossroads.

So what happens with our beloved early EMI recordings through the lower noise chain of an early Ring pressing? Something wonderful. First, we get a lower noise floor and happily the early Columbia and HMV are able to take advantage. To be sure they are not as black in background as the above vaunted Rostropovich, but they are blacker than an original pressing. We get some of the Demi-god sound. What else do we get? We get a better sense of dynamics as the original tube master tapes can be quite dynamic across the board compared to a solid state mastered tape. In the case of the Columbia sourced material we get a good dose of the Columbia magic and spaciousness without sounding overtly tubey. Treble quality is excellent with a fine sense of refinement that is more dynamic than the above Rostropovich, but not quite as nuanced (Rostropovich wins on noise floor). The overall result is a record that is completive with the Demi-God Rostropovich and better in many ways. A 10- for sound and these are not crabby pressings. These have a strong sound that is colder than the Blue and Silver, but more magical in some ways. Strongly recommended for the money and please note that this is a higher rating than the Blue and Silver. Here is a list of these LPs (a few may be first releases, but were recorded by Columbia or EMI.):
ASD 2835, SXLP 30169, ASD 2863, SXLP 30150, SXLP 30160, and ASD 2799.

Please google or search on eBay and you should be able to find most of these quite cheap, under $10 (for comparison the above Rostropovich goes for $50). 

UPDATE 5/5/2014: We'll I will say the above recommend LPs are a mixture of late G pressings, and early and late Ring pressings. You'll want to make sure you've read Matrices. It shows a way to distinguish early and late Ring pressings and this does seem to correlate well with the sound of these LPs. I listened extensively to these Ring pressings and do favor the early ring for its sound floor, however the later ring does have even more bass clout (EMI gets better in the bass the later you go in pressings generally.). The late G pressings seem to have a very authentic airy sound that does well with the older tube based recordings. Noise floor is better on the other variants from this time period, but they do sound a bit cooler.

HMV Concert Classics et al:

Wrapping up the part 1 proceedings are the other early EMI labels. We have the 10 inch SBO which is an SAX with about half the music. The SCX is more pop classical music like SAX presumably (they’re rare, I don’t own one.) Not to be out done, HMV had 10 inch BSD and the pop classical CSD. And lest we forget, after including opera in with the early SAX and ASD, EMI went with SAN for Columbia (seemingly similar to the disappointing Magic pressings) and SLS for HMV. HQS seemingly was chamber focused with some interesting early Beecham reissues of ASD material for some reason.

The elephant in the room unmentioned is the HMV Concert Classic Series SXLP which served as the budget label for both (and tagging along the Regal label marketed classical to the kids with duplicate titles and hip covers). The 20000 series was first with material that was unreleased on either label. These started in 1962 and have a tube flavor that might just be a little different or is just early Semi. The early 30000 series was released at the same time as 20000 series, but here we start to see reissues of the ASD and SAX material (once a title was consigned to SXLP, no more pressings under the original ASD number of course). Most of these have the date codes and will correlate sonically with the appropriate label of the time; Semi, Stamp, or Ring. So no sonic rating is necessary. However, we do have some interesting Semi equivalent reissues of SAX material on SXLP and Regal SREG, a special confluence of sound not on either SAX or ASD. I would give these SAX reissues a 9.5 provisionally. I have just a few of these and they are good (in fact one is way better than its SBO counterpart), but they are not better than the best Silver I have heard. Three SAX titles on SXLP is not enough for a definitive rating.

UPDATE 5/5/2014: I beleive EMI sold quite a few Concert Classics given their budget price. A Chevron label is no guarantee of a Chevron era pressing. This is not bad as frankly the sound of the early Ring pressings surpasses the earlier Stamp pressings. Most of the Concert Classic and Stamp pressings are G pressings.  They do not sound like the late Columbia Notes/Studio 2 G pressings. For the earliest SXLP I like the original sound as it does appear to be tube based. I seem to have a rash of SXLP in the 30060 to 30100 range that appear to be original G pressings and they tend to be a little less interesting compared to SXLP 30100 and above roughly which start to sound more and more like a late G pressing or early Ring pressing which is a good thing. I've not exhaustively listened to these, but I am detecting this sound trend. See matrices.

Til Next Time:

In summing up, we can’t sum up because the web of possible pressings is too complex. (Update 5/5/2014: please see all the updates above.) Comments and corrections are most welcome. In part 2, the goal is to cover the later pressings and then also original issues of later material and subsequent reissues. That is the goal as long as I don’t commit Hari Kari in the process. I’ll spill the beans, and state that tube lovers will not like the later pressings quite as much, but they are still quite impressive. I am still exploring these with hopes of finding some killer reissues of the second and third label material. The early Ring material is so good, but you never know what a later pressing might do. The sound floor performance on these later pressings may not match the ring pressings, but there is potential. On the few I have EMI seems to have extracted the tube magic while still getting a bigger even more impressive sound. Amazing engineering to the last. Some collectors (and they’ve posted on this site) claim the latest pressings can be the best (the ones right before EMI dumped their record press into the ocean to promote the sales of CD, which is up there with JVC of Japan destroying all their Super Vinyl technology to promote CDs; Engineers can be such morons.)

In conclusion shoppers, please be advised that for a given title there may only be one reissue option or none. If there are many options then there is a chance the original pressing is fairly cheap since it sold well and you might just try a comparison yourself. Grab a few and see what works on your system and use them as references as your audio system evolves. The Columbia SAX are often very expensive, but all of the reissues except for perhaps the poorly rated Magic pressings are cheap. Please review popsike and ebay pricing history when bidding on the Silver and Gold pressings.

The audiophile reissues of EMI have been problematic. The German Alto High Fidelity are nice enough, but seem to lack just a little bit in the midrange. My Speakers Corner of the Dvorak Piano Concerto (Kleiber/Richter) is a bit brittle sounding. EMI Testament has left myself and another reader cold (previously posted on this site). Given this track record I've not leapt into the recent Hi-Q releases, but many like them (I am guilty of noting their selections and targeting the originals for acquisition). The Electric Recording Company's efforts (video above) are nothing short of amazing. However given their prices, I am more likely to hear them on a rebirth of Robin Leach's Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Until next time "champagne wishes and caviar dreams."