Compared to LPs on present equipment, IMO, no! Of course, Direct to Disc may have been worth it on equipment I couldn't afford.
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Were they that good?Yes, in many cases.
I have many of the Sheffield Labs d-to-d releases, both popular and classical, and one of the M&K Realtime releases (the organ recording "The Power and the Glory," which is spectacular).
Some of the Sheffield classical releases were mic'd a bit too closely, resulting in an overly bright string sound, and somewhat dry acoustics. But in all other ways they were very special.
Many of the Sheffield's have been re-released on cd. I own two of the cd re-releases, and in both cases I also own the original d-to-d vinyl releases.
I was reasonably pleased with the cd version of Volume I of "The Sheffield/Leinsdorf Sessions," containing Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet," Debussy's "Afternoon of a Faun," and Wagner's "Forest Murmers." I would not recommend it, though, to anyone with a system that tends towards excessive brightness, for the reason I mentioned above.
I was very displeased with the cd re-release of "The Sheffield Track and Drum Record." The original d-to-d release of "The Sheffield Track Record" had been proclaimed by Harry Pearson, at the time of its release in 1982, to be "absolutely the best sounding rock and roll record ever made." The cd re-release, however, I found to sound dull, dark, closed in, and completely lacking the magic of the original vinyl release. I was not particularly astonished to subsequently read in the liner notes that the cd was mastered by "playing back the analog disk with a Technics SP-15 turntable and a Shure V15 Type V assembly attached to a SME 3012R arm."
The LPs were great - one of the things that got me into this madness, even though I was only playing them through a Technics receiver, a Sanyo turntable and Infinity Qas, circa 1979.
Try Dave Grusin Discovered Again if you don't mind elevatorey, contemporary instrumental music aka "jazz".
It's an excellent recording, which to my ears was never surpassed or even equaled on later CD releases.
As Pkubic points out, you can find all of these D2Ds in good condition and sometimes unopened on Ebay, if not here on Audiogon.
I have all of the Sheffield D2D LPs. I think they are excellent. You can still find them on ebay or here from time to time.
There is another 45rmp D2D LP of "The Bill Cunliffe Trio Live at Bernie's" released by Groove Note. It might still be in print. I don't know if you like the music but the recording and the transfer are absolutely first rated.
There were several jazz D2D titles released back in the mid to late 70's - one that is truly exceptional is "The Three" which featured Joe Sample, Ray Brown and Shelly Manne on the East Wind label. It was also later released on LP from the master tape, but it paled in comparison to the original D2D release. Other labels that offered D2D LPs were Nautilus (that had a John Klemmer title) and Sheffield Labs.
Acoustic Sounds recently started recording some new titles which they released in D2D LPs, and it looks like they're mostly jazz and blues. I haven't heard these, but from experience with Acoustic Sounds I'm confident that they'll be great quality recordings. As far as whether you'll like the music I can't say...
I still remember first hearing "the Missing Link." Later in a dealers (remember those guys), I heard it being used to wow a customer. When the dealer was called to the phone, I told the guy to play to ask for a disk that you are familiar with.
I now find most of these disks still outstanding sound but weak performances. I seldom place any of them. Many, especially Sheffields were transferred to cds. Several were, indeed, redone by FIM and are quite good soundwise. Many of the d2ds were abused using the Decca London cartridge. It was a very dynamic cartridge and sounded "real" with these disks, but it loved to mistract and damaged many. No doubt including many of mine.
Vinyl, even at 45rpm, still has much higher distortion and less dynamic range than reel-to-reel. Believe it or not, back in the 70s' and 80s', vinyl was considered to be an inferior media. It was better than cassette and 8-tracks but reel-to-reel, particularly the higher speed ones, produce a kind of effortless quality that no vinyl can match.
Sidssp, that is simply not true.I started in the early 60s and by the 80s reel to reel was essentially dead. I gave away my considerable collection of prerecorded tapes sometime in the 70s, despite using Revox, Tandberg, Ferrograph and several others I never got the same quality I got from LPs and my LP playback equipment them was primitive compared to now. If you are talking about 30 IPS half track I would agree that it was very good but only the pros used it and not that many of them.
idssp, you are right; LPs were mocked as not any good. It is also true that reel to reel tapes were still improving based on technology invented by the Germans. I will not listen to close to master copies of music on r2r as they will ruin you, and I don't want to have to deal with r2r again.
My experience with the Laser record player also troubled me in demonstrations at CES it was at least as good as tapes, but the normal tt was unable to keep up.
There is now the Tape Project with redone r2rs and excellent tapes. I did listen to one and loved it, but I got away without investing.
If you can find a copy of "For Duke" D2D by M&K Realtime, your doubts about D2D will vanish. I also found a treasure one day back in the 80s in a cut-out bin. It was a D2D, 45rpm RCA of Beethoven's Passionata. It was recorded in Japan. Difficult to track due to the wide dynamic range, but sounds awesome with the right cartridge.
Tonywinsc's recommendation for the Beethoven is spot on. Astonishing dynamics; our audio club has been very impressed with it. RCA made a few D2D recordings in Japan at that time (I think it was around the mid 70's), using Japanese artists--I have another one with a swing band. The Sheffields are also excellent--I bring out some of these records, among others, when I want to show a sceptic just how good vinyl really can sound.
Peter Ledermann who runs the highly regarded Soundsmith cartridge retipping and vintage equipment repair service has a side project called DirectGrace Records . Peter makes D2D recordings of artists performing in his showroom. The profits from the sales of the LPs go to helping children in need in Third World countries. For a donation Peter will also custom cut a dub of any of his recordings. A dub is a 12" lacquer cut from the master tape and is usually used for checking the sound of the recording. When the Connecticut Audio Society visited Soundsmith last year Peter cut two tracks from guitarist John Hart at 45RPM and then played it for us. It was an astounding experience to hear a first generation disc. There was no surface noise at all - according to Peter a new dub has a signal to noise ratio of 90db. I've never heard anything like it.
There are some D2D LPs with truly high quality music. The Harry James albums on Sheffield qualify. I also have a Sheffield D2D of Tower of Power. It's maybe not the best iteration of the band, but they're still very good and it's hard to beat a brass-driven funk band on D2D.
Another source of D2Ds in the '70s was American Grammophon. I have Buddy Rich's "Class of '78" in D2D. It was also released for less money as a direct transfer from the 2-track tape slaved to the console at the time of recording. I also have a D2D of Mel Torme with the Buddy Rich Band on the same label.
And speaking of Analogue Productions, they are currently making D2Ds of the old blues guys that they record at the very fair price of $25 each.
Interesting that this topic came up. The October issue of Abso!ute Sound (which I just got) has an interview with Doug Sax, who mastered all those D2Ds for Sheffield. He said the release of CD (because of the 96dB dynamic range, I s'pose) killed D2D almost overnight. But now that vinyl is making a comeback, he's busying with his mastering machines again.
Two reasons D2D would never become mass market are: 1) The band has to record a whole side well enough to be released. Not just a complete song, but the entire side. You can't stop and restart a master. Therefore the performing musicians must be at their best. 2) You can only make so many pressings from the master before it wears out. One time I heard a version of "Lincoln Mayorga and Friends Vol II" that sounded different from mine. They were playing the same songs and following the same charts, but the licks and improvisations were different. It turns out that the album was so popular (relative to its production numbers) that they repeated the album in another recording/mastering session.
Like Mitch4t, I was also in college when the Sheffields came out and was generally too poor to buy them. But I remember I got $15 or $20 in birthday money in 1973. I spent $10 ($47.75 in today's money) to get "Lincoln Mayorga and Friends vol ii" plus a Discwasher at $5. How's that for a budding audio geek? The year after I graduated from college (1975) I worked at the same audio store where I'd bought my Sheffields, and we played "Thelma Houston and Pressure Cooker" so often to demo the hardware that I was absolutely tired of it, so I didn't buy it.
BTW, to answer the original question, yes, D2Ds were (are) that good. I'd say they are probably the best-sounding format ever produced for home consumption (in other words, 30ips 1/2" master tape doesn't count), and only a few of the most recent audiophile remasters can equal (or slightly exceed) them. I have the ORG 2-LP edition of Diana Krall's "All For You," and it ranks with the best reproduced sound I've ever heard at home.