Let’s start by talking about the music. When this sound quality review commenced, I was firmly in the camp that views this as a sub-par Sinatra album, but I have to admit that, having now played it probably 50 or more times over the course of a couple of months, it has grown on me significantly.  Just the fact that I’ve played it that much in that amount of time and don’t cringe at the thought of playing it again speaks well of the musical content within.  Yes, it sounds rushed and yes, some of the songs are not exactly top tier standards, and yes, there is a certain sloppiness to the musical execution in places, but there is, I’m finding, a certain joie de vivre about the whole affair that counters some of those other shortcomings.  I still don’t view this as true top-shelf Sinatra, but it’s a fun little album as far as the performances go, I have to admit.  (I still prefer Come Swing with Me, but the chasm between the two is, for me, greatly diminished now.)

On the other hand, sadly, there’s the sound. As many of the four people who actually read these ramblings already know, I’m no fan of United’s recording style of this time period, so right there is one strike against this album, sonically.  One of my great sonic laments is that Sinatra didn’t record all his albums at Capitol or at Radio Recorders, as either of them, in my opinion, would have supplied superior sound quality to what came out of United, despite all the hot air hyperbole that came out of the United camp to the contrary.  Then, on top of the recording style undertaken at the sessions, there are the original mono and stereo mixes, which were done at United, as well -- kind of a double-blecher sandwich:  Blech on the recording, and more blech added on the mixes, stereo and mono.  The mono mix seems to have little to recommend it, at least to my ears, and the stereo mix has some really odd balance and tone issues, so even if you go back to the absolute first-generation stereo mixdown tapes, you’ve got major sonic limitations hampering your efforts.



The eligible players: 1.) Original mono mix - on LP only; 2.) Original stereo mix: vintage LPs; 3.) Original stereo mix: reel-to-reel tape; 4.) Original stereo mix: 1989 Reprise CD, reused in “the suitcase” set a few years later; 5.) Original stereo mix: 2011 MFSL LP; 6.) 1999 stereo remix, EOTC CD only.  That’s four “flavors” of the original stereo mix, plus the original mono mix and the 1999 remix, and in fairness, it should be pointed out that no F-series mono or FS-series stereo LPs, nor a second-release Stereotape reel-to-reel tape, have yet been sampled, although I’d be surprised if any of those sources would provide stunning sonic revelations.

Group One -- Mediocre Tone With an Odd Midrange-y Hump

Mono mix: On LP at least, there is no tonal advantage over the stereo counterparts, no increase in bass, no increase in treble.

Early stereo LPs: Rolled-off bass and treble (not bothersome much, until I actually do A/B’ing), but the best vocal tone (essentially a tie with #3, below), and as I’ve said about other albums, “This *is* a vocal album!” 

Each of those, to my ears (listen to the samples) do not represent full-range high fidelity, so I have a very hard time endorsing them.  The stereo versions sampled on the previous page aren’t bad, necessarily, but the tone is not full, not “right,” with a large hump in the midrange, a soft high end, and hollow sounding bass.  Same with the mono LPs.  (“Your mileage may vary.”)

Group Two -- Jacked Up Bass and No Treble

The 1999 EOTC remixed stereo CD: Goosed bass, nice vocal tone, severely rolled-off highs.  A genuine missed opportunity!

Group Three -- “Full Range” Releases That Have Problems

The 1961 Ampex reel-to-reel tape

•The 1989 CD

•The 2011 MFSL LP

All three in this last group are essentially cut from the same cloth using a different pair of shears.  They all use the original mix, and they all have treble that is not “soft” or rolled-off sounding.  That extended treble response, though, seems to have affected the vocal tone, making it sound somewhat thin and slightly hard and unpleasant.  The Ampex reel is perhaps the least offensive in terms of tone quality, but it is hissy and slightly compressed.  The 1989 CD is uncompressed, but just a hair thin in the bass department (not bad, though -- just a hair thin), with that thin vocal tone I alluded to earlier.  The MFSL LP boosts the bass, extends the treble, and has a very odd “over-airiness” to the vocal sound, like there is extra treble boost quite high in the range, lending it a slightly metallic quality in spots, and sometimes-unpleasant high-frequency energy.

So that leaves us with....

Chasing My Tail: A Personal History

Here’s my personal history with trying to figure out this sonic wonder:

1.) I bought the 1989 CD when it came out.  I thought: “This is horrid” and probably played it a total of 3 times between 1989 and 2012.

2.) When I got the suitcase, I never played these tracks to speak of, again thinking: “This is Horrid.”

3.) Several months ago, I picked up an old Ampex reel-to-reel of this title and thought: “This is also pretty horrid, but at least it’s different.”

4.) I was sent clips from the mono LP, and I thought: “This is horrid.”

5.) I was sent clips of the original stereo LP and thought: “This is yet another flavor of horrid, but in stereo.”

6.) I was sent clips of the 1999 EOTC remix, and I thought:  “This is much better”....for about 30 minutes.  Then, I missed the highs and I disliked the goosed bass and heard the compressed sound and thought, “This is horrid-er, but in a different way.”

7.) I was sent clips from a friend-of-a-friend’s MFSL LP, and I thought: “This is horrid-er-er!”  In fact, it struck me as so bad, that I refused to believe that there was not a problem with the equipment used in the digital transfer. 

8.) Frustrated, I bought the MFSL LP, even though I had stated  (quote) “the idea of an ‘audiophile’ reissue of the original mix is almost laughable.”  When I heard the MFSL LP on my own turntable, I thought: “This is, indeed, horrid-er-er.”

Then, a funny thing started to happen:

I started to do a lot of head-to-head, critical comparisons.  You know what?  In terms of sonics, this album is like going to one of those buffet-style restaurants: You can get any variety of food you want, and it’s all worse than you deserve.  That’s just the cold, honest truth, as I see/hear it. 

•Oddly, as I started to take that MFSL LP and “work backwards,” eliminating various versions for being too mid-range-heavy, too light in the bass, too compressed, too splattery in the cymbals or brass, too harsh in the vocal department, etc., I came to realize this (and you can do the same by listening to those head-to-head clips on the previous page):  Only three releases have truly “full-range” sound, with (at minimum) enough bass, (at minimum) enough midrange, and (at minimum) enough treble, and those three are the 1961 Ampex reel, the 1989 CD, and the MFSL LP.  That’s not to say that other versions are a bad listen, but they are not full-range.   The vintage stereo LPs were close, but with some odd rolloffs, especially noticeable in the bass and cymbals.  (They are pleasant enough; this is not a “knock” on them.)

Having said that!.... The reel has compression and distortion and hiss, and I don’t really view it as a full-on contender in the end.  It’s not bad, though, and pleasant enough on its own terms.

•That left me with the 1989 CD and the 2011 MFSL LP....as the....BEST???....choices???

Yes, and the two are definitely very similar in terms of both dynamics and instrumental tone quality.  Don’t believe me?

Reversing Direction

All audio clips on this page are aligned with the already-available, free clips published on iTunes, linked above.

The free iTunes samples for “Have You Met Miss Jones” and “Moonlight on the Ganges” are 90 seconds in length, as opposed to the usual 30 seconds.  To access the 90-second versions, click “View” at right, then click “View in iTunes” on the next screen, then click the play button.  The clips below use only passages that are provided free of charge on iTunes. 

Let’s compare “Have You Met Miss Jones” from the 2011 MFSL LP and the 1989 CD.

We’ll take that generous 90-second passage that’s on iTunes and divide it into six 15-second clips, starting with the LP.  Watch the ticky-ticky timer so you can keep track of which sample you are actually listening to.  Remember: every 15 seconds, the sample changes sources, starting with the LP.  This is an uncompressed WAV sample.  Click 11 HaveYouMetMFSL-1989CD alternating.wav.

Do those not sound like two peas in the same pod?

Next, let’s compare “Moonlight on the Ganges” from the same sources, CD first this time, but instead of transitioning, let’s hear each vocal phrase back-to-back from each source.  In every case, the CD is played first.  To hear the sample, click on the waveforms below.  Note how similar the waveforms are!  The only significant difference is on the very last phrase.  Click below; WAV format again.

Click the waveform to hear the audio samples.

Let’s just get this right out in the open:  I’m not happy with any of them, but if somebody looked at me and said, “Choose a winner, or I’ll blow your lips off,” the winner would be..... (Click on Steve Martin to find out.) 

        CHOOSE A         
      WINNER, OR 

Click on Steve Martin to go to the “Winner’s Page.”

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