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.

1 comment:

  1. I just updated this post due to comments from blogger Tin Ear. Many thanks. See above.