The Strange Case of the MFSL LP.
Originally posted December 18, 2009, edited September 15, 2014:
Last night, I played my MFSL Close to You for the second time ever, copying it digitally to a 24-bit/96kHz master.  The first time I played this LP in the mid-80s, I copied it to two tape sources:  A high-bias cassette, and the stereo audio track of a “hi-fi” video cassette.  When the CD came out, both of these sources were retired, and I only listened to the CD.  With that as back story, let me say that hearing the MFSL LP again for the first time in over 20 years was a revelation: it illustrated what an utterly gorgeous pressing this LP is, and it also illustrated what condition the original tape is/was in.

Some specifics:

There are at least four significant dropouts.  Three of them are reproduced here in uncompressed WAV format: CloseToYouProblemSamples.wav

2. A different dropout area provides some very interesting information.  1957_-_Close_to_You_2_files/CloseToYouProblemSamples.wavshapeimage_1_link_0

Click to listen:


“A low rumple; a metallic squink; a galonk...”

Actually, that quote is from Seinfeld, but on the Sinatra example above, I hear a metallic ‘squink’ on the word “it,” followed by a ‘galonk’ just before the word “Not,” and a regular drop out later in that same sustained word, “Not.”  (Listen again if you need to.)

A closer look, in reverse order:

•The drop out: Just a drop out.  They happen.

•The galonk:  I’m not sure.  Maybe damage around a tape splice?

•The squink: Ah, this sound I know well!  This is the sound of -- or, at minimum, it sounds just like -- a defect or “zit”on a PCM digital tape.

That last bit (pardon the pun) suggests to me that this MFSL LP may have been prepared from a digital source tape.

Following that stream of thought: 1990’s The Capitol Years compilation set, which seems to use “absolute masters” for just about every one of its tracks, appears to use a circa 1961 “wet” tape for Don’t Like Goodbyes.  Below, you will hear in WAV format:  1.) The MFSL LP, warts and all; 2.) The Furmanek/Walsh 1990 track, with no warts, but with more mono reverb than the MFSL; and 3.) The 1987 Walsh CD, with no warts, but with stereo reverb, and that stereo reverb is likely in addition to the additional reverb that was added in 1961, if, indeed, the “reverbed” tapes were used.  Listen here: ChangeItMFSL-Furmanek-Walsh.wav

So, what may be going on here?

One possibility:

•In the early 1980s, Capitol began backing up their aging, oft-used masters using digital 1600/1610/1630 machines recording on 3/4” U-Matic video tape.  These 16 bit digital copies could certainly serve as masters for any transferred titles, thus avoiding additional wear and tear on the true analog masters.  For discussion’s sake, let’s say this started to take place around 1981, and let’s suppose this U-Matic tape was the source for MFSL’s LP.  That’s one way to explain the ‘squink.’

•Moving ahead to 1987, Capitol is now starting to reissue these vintage Sinatra titles to CD.  Scenario One: Larry Walsh pulls that original 1956 tape and it is damaged.  He tries to use a U-Matic dupe, and it has not only the dropouts that were apparent on the MFSL LP, but by now has developed a series of problems in the video signal resulting in “squinks” of varying lengths.  He finds that a backup copy was created in the early 1960s, and uses that as his source, but misinterprets the reverb notes on the tape boxes and essentially winds up quadrupling the intended amount of reverb.  Or:  He uses the 1962-era reverbed tapes by accident, and adds additional stereo reverb to the already-reverbed tapes.

•Moving ahead to work on 1990’s The Capitol Years set:  Mr. Furmanek digs around to find the right tapes and..... you can fill in the rest.

Another possibility:

According to this series of e-mails from former MFSL executive Gregg Schnitzer, MFSL started using 1600-format digital recordings on a 1” videotape around 1979 or 1980, so it’s possible that MFSL created their own high-quality digital master from Capitol’s problematic 1/4” analog tapes. 

And furthermore:

The sad part is that the “reverbed tapes” are apparently in bad shape, as well, as evidenced by the dropout that occurs in the same place on both the 1987 and 1990 version of Don’t Like Goodbyes.  Have a listen below, order being:  1.) 1990 Furmanek/Walsh mastering from “The Capitol Years” set; 2.) 1987 Walsh-mastered Capitol CD; 3.) 1982 MFSL LP, mastered by Stan Ricker.  Click to listen: 1961DropoutsFurmanek-Walsh-MFSL.wav  (This would point to both the 1987 Walsh CD and 1990 The Capitol Years CD being sourced from the circa 1962 wet tapes.)

Capitol recorded in mono on two tape machines, an “A” machine and a “B” machine.  Both sets of tapes would be kept in the short term, but once production masters were assembled from the cut-up parts of the “A” reels, the B reels would be re-used or otherwise destroyed.  At some point in the spring of 1956, Capitol initiated the policy of using their “A Reels” (as they always had) for use on the assembly masters for albums and “phonoreels” for singles, while simultaneously keeping their “B Reels” intact (unedited) and stored away, as evidenced by the studio chatter that is available on How Little It Matters on the Capitol Collectors Series disc.  How Little it Matters was recorded on April 5, 1956.  For Don’t Like Goodbyes, recorded on March 8, 1956, a mere three Sinatra vocal sessions prior, that policy was apparently not yet quite in place.  Shame, that.....

Please continue to page three.