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Sinatra’s Swingin’ Session!!!

Conclusions

 

BLIND LISTENING RESULTS

I invited a handful of “Sinatra listening veterans” from the Steve Hoffman Music Forums to join me in listening to a dozen or so masterings of four full-length tracks from this album, all level matched, and all randomized on each song, i.e., Choice 6 on Song 1 may be a different mastering than Choice 6 on Song 3.  This is a challenging experience, but it’s the only way I can think of to eliminate bias to as large a degree as possible.  We heard files from:


•1 “D” mono LP

•1 UK mono LP, cut from a dub at EMI, circa 1960 (one song only)

•1984 Dutch DMM “Dell” mono LP

•Two “D” stereo LPs

•Two (1.5, actually, as one side was the same lacquer cut on both copies) 1970s/1980s Capitol SM LPs cut on a Scully lathe

•One 1980s Capitol SM LP cut on a Neumann Lathe

•1983 MFSL Stereo LP

•1984 UK “Dell” stereo LP

•1984 Dutch DMM “Dell” stereo LP

•1987 stereo CD, remixed by Larry Walsh

•1998 UK boxed set stereo CD

•2012 MFSL stereo CD

•Two 2013 MFSL stereo LPs


Below is information based on blind listening of these titles.  I’ll post my own thoughts first, followed by the “jury” results.


Thoughts based on my own “blind” listening


As with the two previous albums (No One Cares and Nice ‘n’ Easy), there are MANY “basically quite good” masterings of this album.  It has been well served through the years, including some excellent, early pressings..  With the goal of finding “the best” versions, my personal recommendations, based on careful, blind listening are:


  1. 1.To my ears, the best of the dozen or so masterings that I compared was my oddball circa 1987 USA Capitol pressing, catalog number SM-1491, cut on a Neumann lathe at Capitol in Hollywood, but pressed for Capitol at Specialty Records.  This had to be just about the last cut ever done of this LP at Capitol, with G20 and G21 in the runout.  Here are the labels, should you wish to seek one out:

Jury Verdict

Above, I’ve listed my recommendations, based on 100% blind listening, but there was also a group of us who did 100% blind, level-balanced listening to several different versions of three tracks from the album.  Their views, individually and collectively, are certainly as valid as my own.  Once my own scores were filtered out, these were the top-scoring picks from the group, and choosing a true “top choice” is a little tricky.


  1. •1984 Dutch DMM stereo LP: FIRST PLACE VOTES: 4 --- SECOND PLACE VOTES: 3


  2. •Original “D” stereo pressings: This edition scored the most raw votes: Six first place and four second place.  However, we had two different D pressings among the choices, so it could be argued that, mathematically, it would be fair to say that there were FIRST PLACE VOTES: 3 --- SECOND PLACE VOTES: 2, if we factor our that doubling.


  3. •Circa 1987 SM-series LP, Neumann Lathe: FIRST PLACE VOTES: 3 --- SECOND PLACE VOTES: 1


  4. •1984 UK “Dell” LP: FIRST PLACE VOTES: 2 --- SECOND PLACE VOTES: 3


  5. •2013 MFSL LP: This edition scored four first-place and two second-place votes, but again, there were two pressings sampled, so it may be more accurate to say that this received FIRST PLACE VOTES: 2 --- SECOND PLACE VOTES: 1, I suppose.


  6. •SM-series LPs cut on the Scully lathes (H or J matrices): FIRST PLACE VOTES: 2 --- SECOND PLACE VOTES: 1


  7. •2012 MFSL Hybrid CD: FIRST PLACE VOTES: 0 --- SECOND PLACE VOTES: 4


AT SOME POINT, all of these numbers start to cause headaches, but I think that all of us on the “jury,” myself included, would agree that if you have any of the above copies, you’ve got a high-grade release of SWINGIN’ SESSION in your collection.  To paraphrase an ex-girlfriend: “I wouldn’t kick any of those out of bed for eating crackers.”  They all are very good, and there’s really not a lot of space between “my” top choices and “their” top choices in blind listening, just some nuanced differences when boiled down “by the numbers.”

A big public “thank you” to all who participated!

  1. This is my personal “top choice.”


  2. In randomized blind listening, unaware of what the sources were, I chose this edition four out of four times.  Although there were many fine choices for this album, the tracks from this particular release caught my ears -- and I had literally never heard this edition prior to the blind listening exercise.


  1. Audio clips are available on the previous page, and two additional clips can be heard by clicking the two photos at left.

NOTE: I personally own three SM-1491 LPs.  Two of them (one yellow label, one purple label) were cut on a Scully lathe at Capitol, and while they sound good, they are definitely a step down from this later, Neumann-cut SM-1491 album.  Samples from all three SM-1491 LPs are available on the previous page, should you wish to compare.


  1. 2.Just a slight step down from this LP, but still top-grade masterings, are two other LPs: the 1984 UK “Dell” stereo LP, and the 2013 MFSL stereo LP, in that order.


3. Other good choices, to my ears, were the 2012 MFSL SACD, the 1984 Dutch DMM stereo LP, the Scully-cut SM Capitol LPs, and original “D” pressings.

What’s missing from that list?

Remember: Over a dozen editions of this album were compared.  Just because a given release did not score much in the way of first- or second-place votes does not mean that said release was BAD.  It just means that it did not score at the top.


•1998 UK boxed set CD: Let’s start by eating a little crow, eh?  Back in 2010, I chose this as a “top choice.”  However, in blind listening amongst this current, enlarged batch of choices, it struck me as bright on some of the cuts, and I did not choose it as a first- or second-best choice on any of the four songs (we) the jury compared.  It did receive one #1 choice from one listener.  I suspect that with a slight high-end EQ tweak, more listeners would view it more positively.  It still strikes me a very clean and clear, but I did comment on its brightness on some tracks in blind listening, so I am doing a bit of an about face on this one.  Turn the treble down a bit, and you’re probably fine, though.

•1987 CD, remixed by Larry Walsh:  In critical A/B listening, blindly, this one did not get much love vis-a-vis other choices.  I played this many times, and enjoyed it, but the best of the original-mix versions are superior.


•1983 MFSL LP:  Oof, what a too-bright dog of an LP.  This may be the worst-sounding LP in that 1983 box.


•Norberg CD: I have literally only heard one track off this CD, but I needn’t hear any more.  Over-processed is an understatement.


•Mono options:  The early D pressing seemed best; the UK dub was pretty poor; the DMM version was quite trebly/bright.  To my knowledge, nobody thought these were much to write home about.  I cannot recommend them over the good stereo versions, and I am quite “pro-mono,” typically.

Bottom Line

This is a GREAT recording!  There are several very-good masterings available.  If  you have one from the “top choice” lists above, play it, and enjoy it.


Next stop for Sinatra?  A trip over to Sunset Blvd. and United Recorders for a little RING-A-DING DING.  See you there!


--Matt Lutthans

October 11, 2018