Taster’s Choice - Mono or Stereo

(Note: Direct link to free 90-second iTunes clip, here: View In iTunes)

There is an ongoing debate as to which is superior:  Where Are You in mono, or Where Are You in stereo, and in the end, I think it comes down to personal sonic preferences, with one unarguable qualifier:  If you want to hear the originally released, complete, sonically-cohesive version, you need to get the mono version, which was recorded by the main engineering/production team in the Studio A control room, and released in its entirety on day one.  It stands as the historical reference for this title, and the recent MFSL LP and SACD releases are done nearly to perfection, with good tone, and with dynamics that previous mono versions simply have not matched . 


 

That said, my personal preference remains with the stereo recording when well presented, and this is where things get hairy, and where a lot of people probably jump off the stereo bandwagon for this title.



Below: The cover for the Australian LP issue.

























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Mono MFSL SACD

(Photo: SHTV’s Bob F.  Thank you!)

Stereo 1991 Walsh-remixed CD - with caveats

MONO or STEREO?

This brings us to the 1991 Capitol CD, remixed by Larry Walsh.  Mr. Walsh did a fine job, making a few truly noteworthy improvements.  The vocal tone is drier in this remix, and the strings are wide and sweeping.  Perhaps most notable, the dynamics are clearly superior to any version of the 1959 stereo mix, as evidenced below:

In my view, the most enjoyable presentation of the 3-mic stereo recording lies in the original 1957 reel-to-reel mix, unavailable on any later releases.  The vocal is dry, the tone is warm, the stage is wide.  Primo! To my ears, this is the mix that truly puts Sinatra “in the room” with the listener.  So...what’s not to like?  It’s an abridged release, so while I can praise this version for its sound quality, if I’m to avoid being a hypocrite, I really have to disqualify it as a “go to” version.  (That said, I do have a CD-R of this release on which I have spliced in the missing songs from other releases, and that home-brew, 12-song version is my “go to” for Where Are You.)

For stereo LPs, my top choice would be the 1983 MFSL release in the boxed set, but let’s face it: That 1959 stereo mix is never going to win any awards.

Look at how widely the dynamics expand and contract on the 1991 Walsh CD when compared to the original stereo mix sources.


I’m especially intrigued by how quiet the opening strings are on the Walsh (/Furmanek?) remix compared to the original stereo mix.  The original, louder entrance may have been an artistic decision by the production team in 1957, as at that time it was typical for Sinatra singles to “reach out and grab you” a la I’ve Got the World on a String or Three Coins in the Fountain. Even Night and Day, the opening track to Sinatra’s previous LP, had a “grabber” instrumental intro. 


There is also a warmth of tone to be found in the 1991 CD that is unique among all released digital and LP versions.  Quite tasty. In terms of “off the shelf” product, my choice for overall stereo winner, albeit with a pair of caveats:  The 1991 Larry Walsh CD on Capitol.


Caveats? 

•The Walsh disc has the channels reversed on these seven songs: Where Are You, Maybe You’ll Be There, Laura, Lonely Town, I’m a Fool to Want You, I Think of You, and Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home.  The four songs from session #1 are correctly oriented, and one song is mono-only.

•I am admittedly bothered somewhat by the lack of high frequency sparkle on the 1991 CD, most likely due to noise reduction being used.  (I’ll let better ears than mine pass final judgment on the use -- or not -- of NoNoise, etc.)  However, I think the pros of this release outweigh the cons.  Your mileage may vary, of course.


The Walsh remix, more than either of the two other stereo mixes, seems to treat the orchestral and vocalist as equal partners, with the vocal much more “blended in” to the orchestral landscape than in the other versions.  It’s not better or worse; just different.


If the (assumed) noise reduction bothers you too much, go with the MFSL on LP, or the 1988 British CD box set, or the 1988 Japanese CD.  All three use the less-dynamic original mix (even more compressed on the British CD), but they have high-frequency content in spades.


Also, the D1 mono pressing is utterly excellent, and is an extremely pleasant listen.  Frankly, I didn’t find the D1 to stand out much from the other D pressing sampled, but consensus among the listeners was otherwise.  I think the release of the MFSL mono versions in 2012 makes that point somewhat moot. 


Once again, thanks for listening, and a special thank you to SHF member MMM for providing some key information for this review.


Mono fans -- Which recent MFSL release to buy?  LP?  Hybrid SACD?


(Thanks to SH.TV member BFerr1 for his assistance with CD clips for this section.)


It’s great to have the outstanding mono recording of this album once again available, and in what is arguably the finest, most sensitive mastering those tapes have ever received.  My advice is that fans of the mono version should snag a copy of this while they can, but the the question is:  Which format?  Upon buying the LP, my initial reaction was that the LP was superior to the CD, and the LP does appear to technically have slightly, likely inaudibly-better dynamic range according to readings via DR Meter software, but I think that much of my initial preference for the LP was a placebo effect that results from my own long-held fondness for a good vinyl pressing.  In actual, head-to-head listening, the two versions are incredibly similar. 


(All clips align with the stereo segments available as free samples at iTunes, linked below.)


COMPARISON #1:

In this clip, you will hear alternating vocal phrases from each of the two versions, starting with the hybrid disc, going to LP, and alternating with each vocal phrase, six in total.  Click MFSLmono CD-LP alternatingEachVocalPhrase.wav.


COMPARISON #2:

This time, you can compare a 30-second sample, LP first, then hybrid.  Click LonelyTown 30secsLPThenCD.wav.


Pretty hard to beat either one of those!


One minor caveat against the CD is the abrupt cuts to “digital zero” between several of the tracks.  Aside from that, it’s a beautiful transfer, as is the LP.  Additional thoughts on that situation are available here.


Sincerely,

Matt Lutthans

January 16, 2010, revised March 20, 2013, to include the new MFSL releases.  Minor revisions made Feb. 27, 2015.