Beating the RVG Horse

I wanted to throw yet another question out there related to the Rudy Van Gelder re-masters.

If you read any of the previous threads on this topic you might recall that I'm not a huge fan of the sound quality, generally finding the recordings to sound thin and tinny.

Ordinarily I try to stay away from the tone controls on my pre-amp, or as Rotel calls it “tone contouring” (I guess it’s sort of an internal EQ with four pre-set levels plus neutral). I try to stick with the sound as originally recorded on the grounds of trying to get a sound as true to originally played as possible. I do confess that this position is born out of some sort of ‘don’t mess with mother nature’ philosophy rather than any consideration to whether or not it sounds any better. Neurotic or not, I generally equate these things to touching up the Mona Lisa because you don’t like the color of the dress.

On the other hand, I have recently started playing around with the tone control on my pre-amp and found that –particularly with some of these thin RVG recordings, they do help to fill out the sound, even if it is by artificially boosting the bass.

Anyone have any thoughts on this kind of fiddling?
To paraphrase Duke Ellington, If it sounds better it is better. Fiddle away.
RVG didn't necessarily make his recordings to sound good on a high end system, so if you need to rationalize you could say that by using the tone controls you may well be getting the sound he originally intended. My view is that if tone controls can let you enjoy the music you want to hear on an otherwise unlistenable recording, it's a no-brainer to do so. By definition it's not the Mona Lisa that you're messing with here, after all.
I haven't found that all of the RVG CDs I've bought have sounded tipped-up, but tipped-up or not they're certainly smoother texturally than most of the older Blue Note CDs. But to the point of your post, you can't know, between the response changes imposed by the original recording, the remastering, and your system and room, what the original performance really sounded like -- and even if you could, as I said it couldn't be accurately captured and reproduced anyway. So for all you know, when you adjust the tone controls to make the end result sound 'better' to you, you may well be making it sound more faithful to the original performance as well. Stop "beating the horse" (and yourself) and just ride it.
Yes, I suppose "if it sounds better is it better" is a good way to think about it. Plus, I have pretty much concluded that my 120 watt Rotel amp doesn't generate enough current to really drive my Spendor S8s. It never seems like it has enough juice to get the bass really cooking.

Thanks guys.
I have an all tube SET based system and all the RVG's recordings(LPs of course) that I have sound very nice.
Grimace, I'm with you. I research and try to do my due diligence not to purchase any more RVG remasters. It is amazing to me how much more presence, fullness and bass some cd's can add or take away from system performance. When I land a sonically-well extended Jazz cd , I say "yeah" and then I research the person doing the remastering and the label. I start looking for more of the classics remasterd by that individual. Recently a good sounding Jazz cd I purchased is "Tetragon" by Joe Henderson remastered by Phil de Lancie on the Fantasy label. Compared to my Blue note RVG remsaster of Joe Henderson "Page One," "Tetragon" has much more presence, fulness bass extension etc. I really dislike thin sound. The paricular software I use truly makes a big difference in my system performance. At the reverse, a Kenny Dorham Cd "Quiet Kenny" that I purchased in error(missed the RVG remaster label), lacks mid and low end weight-sounds rather thin on my system. I said before, for a fan of true classic jazz, hard bop etc. some of the greatest recordings of all time are part of the Blue note RVG series. It's unavoidable. I have quite a few of these recordings. I try to listen and just enjoy the artistry and forget about bass and mids weight. And for vinyl guys who would suggest I go vinyl- going vinyl is impossible for me right now. I don't have room for a turntable in my setup. In the future maybe.
Edle- the original post is about the RGV remasters done in the last few years specifically, not the original recordings or LPs or previous CD issues. Many of the original and reissue LPs are sonically fantastic.

Zaik- Like the original poster, I have found the RGV reissues to sound "thin and tinny" and much less smooth than the 1980s CD issues. I wonder if we are talking about different things? Maybe you are comparing to some different CD versions?

On recordings I really like musically but dislike sonically because they sound anemic and thin, I use a digital EQ on my computer to re-master the recording myself and bring up the bass range a little bit. It works pretty well.

The other thing about the vinyl guys is that if they own the originals - and a lot of them claim to - they may be forgeting how rare and expensive all that stuff is. It would be nice, but it's not always as easily done as said.

I have 'Quiet Kenny' too, but mine is the 24-bit re-master, not the RVG re-master. The mid/bass isn't awful, but it isn't a very good recording in general.
DM: When I say smooth, I'm talking specifically about texture. Most of the 80's BN CDs I've got sound more rough and brash compared with various later reissues, RVGs included. To me the older disks sound more 'digital' for lack of a better term. This is independent of overall tonal balance. Occasionally this quality can actually lend the material an excitingly up-front presence in a way, but I don't think it's as accurate and usually it sounds worse. But for me this is the only *consistent* difference I notice among BN CD reissues. Questions of tonal balance seem too variable to me for broad generalization.
OK, I just went downstairs and grabbed a bunch of RVG CDs and sampled each for about a minute in succession. Sound quality is, as suspected, all over the map. I think this must have mostly to do with the original recordings as opposed to the remasterings, the differences are too great, and not just of tonal balance. If I break them down into three groups from least distinguished sound to best (bearing in mind that this ranking is only a relative one among just this group of disks, and not in ultimate terms compared to all other disks), this is what I've got:

Group 1 (best overall):

Hank Mobley -- Soul Station
Wayne Shorter -- Juju

Of these, "Soul Station" is clearly the best sounding disk of the whole bunch (even though its top treble is probably a tad overprominent), but again I think this is mostly a testimony to the original recording.

Group 2 (middling):

Lee Morgan -- Tomcat
Lee Morgan -- Leeway
Hank Mobley -- Workout
Art Blakey -- Indestructible
Art Blakey -- Buhaina's Delight
Horace Silver -- Blowin' The Blues Away

Of these, "Tomcat" is the best, but again I think this is because of the original recording sound. A top end that's a little tizzy and bass that's a little light at the bottom keeps it out of the top catagory. Of all the titles listed in all catagories however, only the last two of this catagory, "Buhaina's Delight" and "Blowin' The Blues Away" have what I would call a bothersomely overcooked top end, and this I do suspect is attributable to the mastering. However, this tonal imbalance isn't enough in my mind to place them in the last group, where the original recorded sound is noticeably less natural.

Group 3 (distinctly less enjoyable sound):

Horace Silver -- Silver's Serenade
Lee Morgan -- The Sixth Sense
Joe Henderson -- In 'N Out

I think the fact that this group doesn't sound as good as the other two can't be taken as a generalization about the mastering, since they each sound quite a bit different from one another, with different kinds of flaws displayed (the recording dates range from '63 to '68). None of these has a particularly crispy treble, though none has a plush bass either.

Of all the titles listed, the only one I can specifically recall comparing the pre-RVG issue with the RVG issue is the Henderson disk, and the earlier issue conformed to the pattern I noted in my last post and was inferior overall. I don't think I've had the opportunity to compare any of the others to any alternate reissues, either CD or vinyl, or to vinyl originals.

Other than that, we need to remember that all these disks *are* Blue Notes, which usually means they're never going to sound like a really suave Columbia, Impulse! or RCA after all. FWIW comparing apples to oranges (not only are the formats and playback gear not the same, but as I say none of my titles overlap), I don't think any of these CDs sound as exceptional as the best handful of original vintage vinyl Blue Notes I own, even those from the 50's, but I'd love to hear a good original of "Soul Station".
The best sounding Blue Notes are from the end of the 1500 series around 1957. Try any of the following:

Coltrane - Blue Train
Lee Morgan - The Cooker
Cliff Jordan - Cliff Craft
Sonny Clark - Cool Struttin'
Lee Morgan - Candy
Lou Donaldson - Takes Off
Lou Donaldson - Blues Walk
Cannonball Adderly - Somethin' Else

Is anyone taking into account that most of the RVG remasters are reproducing ACOUSTIC BASS not electric? Most of the one's on my system sound fine and as far as fiddling with the knobs what you are doing is replicating the old loudness switch that was on so many stereo's back in the day. If I want golly gee wiz bass I just turn it up or purchase amps that have enough current to move the woofer speakers at low volumes.
03-01-07: Qdrone
Is anyone taking into account that most of the RVG remasters are reproducing ACOUSTIC BASS not electric?

I would assume that anyone into 1950s-60's jazz knows that these recordings feature acoustic bass. The criticisms of the remasters have nothing to do with that or with any desire to to try to make electric sounding bass out of these by "fiddling". It's about comparing the recent RGV remasters to previous CD releases and the original LPs. The sound of the remasters is noticably sterile compared with all previous releases.
Started another good thread here.

I'm not trying to boost the bass to the point that it is obtrusive or bloated. What I am trying to do is boost it enough to fill out the sound, which in turn reduces the tinnyness of some of these recording. And yes, although it is a pre-set eq in my pre-amp, it is simply a more advanced version of the old fashioned 'loudness' button.
Anyway we slice it when alot of this stuff gets re mastered it sounds different. I mean there is at least 4 different remasters of some of these CD's. I have some recordings of original Eric Dolphy on Vinyl and compared to the Out There and Outward Bound 24 bit remasters the sound has lost some of it's throatyness,some warmth. But they still sound good and if the word sterile is used I prefer cleaner.
Another thing, many of these early recordings 1956-59 were Hi Fi NOT stereo. Instead of adjusting or contouring your system see if it isn't recorded in stereo and just switch your system to MONO. I just did this with Lush Life by Coltrane and the sound is fuller. It is a Hi Fi recording,
I find most of the RVG recordings to sound pretty darn good on my system. That said, I don't have any originals to compare them to.
Qdrone: I recently got the RVG CD of "Outward Bound" [New Jazz/Concord]. It's the only version I have, but I don't think the tonal balances sound all that natural and the ride cymbal can be downright annoying. The whole thing has a certain 'mechanical' quality -- some might say "sterile" -- that suggests to me it may have been tinkered with a bit too much in remastering, but since there's no indication that it's been remixed maybe the original wasn't that great sounding either. Wish I had an older vinyl to compare -- my guess, based on other Prestige vinyls I have, is that this edition would probably sound fairly different.
I started a topic about the RVG remasters last year sometime. My POV: they are excessively bright (I also agree with "mechanical" and "sterile"). No one agreed with me. I concluded I am losing my mind, but now I must reconsider.
I have only a scant few of the original vinyl, but quite a few Classic Records re-issues. I also have a small selection of XRCDs. Anyone that has heard any of these three knows that the quality of the original master, while not always fantastic, still is capable of better sound than usually evidenced on the RVG re-masters.

I think the person/s doing the RVG re-masters has a "frequency rolloff" in the higher frequencies of his/her hearing.

I try to stick with vinyl and XRCD (and the less expensive K2 process) for most of my purchases these days.
They are re-mastered by Rudy van Gelder and for those who live in California, CD trader in Reseda has been dumping the RVG re-masters along with the 20bit k2's at 7.99 or 8.99 a piece. They have a wide selection.
I think the person/s doing the RVG re-masters has a "frequency rolloff" in the higher frequencies of his/her hearing.
My theory also. And that would be RVG his ownself, would it not?
Not sure if anyone is still reading this thread but....

This thread had touched on the original vinyl vs. the CD reissues. As I now have a TT and one Blue Note record I can offer some additional observations - I mean as far as I can get with one record anyway. The record in question is Kenny Dorham's Whistle Stop on a 1984 French reissue (I couldn't bring myself to spend the bread on an original). This seems to be a pretty high quality pressing.

In general, the sound of the horns is fuller, richer and more present, but the record still has some of the RVG hallmarks, such as the piano that sounds like a cheap upright stuffed in a corner and drums that sound like they were recorded as an afterthought. Great music though.
My two cents. I agree that the RVG remastered CDs, while many are creative master pieces, sound noticeably thin. And I think the ones from the early sixties sound more so than the ones from the late fifties as a rule.

Theory one: RVG's original recordings were engineered for home systems commonly in use from the mid fifties to the mid sixties. If my dad or others of this generation that I knew are any indication, they were using large console systems or stand alone tube amps with just OK cartridges and turntables and big boomy drivers. RVG's recordings were engineered "hot" with bumped up the treble so that you could hear the cymbals and horns in some proximity to live versions on HiFi gear in use at the time.

Theory two: RVG is re-mastering his original recordings for use by current audiophiles who he assumes are using tube systems and he has purposely engineered the sound to compliment the bloom of the tube based systems (OK, this seems unlikely).

Theory three: RVG now thinks the bright remastered CD versions sound just fine to him on a boom box or a $200K stereo.

Anecdotal evidence: I have an old Verve LP of Ed Thigpen engineered by RVG in 1962 at his studio and it just sounds marvelous on my not so fancy SS system. No tubes to sweeten it up. Compare that to original recordings RVG has re-mastered of works by Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan and McCoy Tyner around the same time that sound a bit hard and thin to me (but extremely clear) in comparison to this old analog recording, and compared to modern Blue Note and other jazz CDs I own by various artists. I also notice much less of this effect with reissues of Columbia jazz recordings from the fifties (e.g. Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, Charlie Mingus, etc.)

I am not so sure theories one and two hold up under much scrutiny. The material in most of these old recordings is top of the heap, and if you have tone controls, worth getting and monkeying with the sound until like what you hear. Or find good copies of the original vinyl and be prepared to pay $20-$50 and up a pop.
Good analysis, knownothing, and I'd say your handle is a misnomer for sure.

I wonder if RVG simply does not deserve to be canonized as he has been. He engineered recordings of a lot of truly great music made during an extraordinary period of time, but does that make him a great engineer? The remasters call this into some question.
It amazes me that 60 minutes hasn't done a segment on Rudy,I've been waiting for years for it.
Thanks. I guess I am trying to say that Rudy had a great ear once, and perhaps his approach to digital re-masters is not as successful as his original approach was with vinyl. There may be a lot of other factors or actors at work here since there is more to analog and digital production than just the original engineering. Perhaps, (Theory four?) Rudy and/or Blue Note used some kind of filtering process that cleaned up garbage on old tapes and resulted in trading off some of the original recordings roundness for clarity and reduced noise, figuring people who like digital will not tolerate background noise in their listening experience? For whatever reason, I agree with others in that I find the re-mastered RVG CDs to be universally clear but very "bright" compared with other works.

Interestingly I also find the CD re-release of Miles Davis' "Sketches of Spain" and "Miles Smiles" to be similarly bright when compared with my CD copy of "Kind of Blue", which is just outstanding and beats many modern recordings in many ways (except for the background hiss). Was this the case with the original analog versions of these Columbia recordings as well, or did the sound get changed in the transfer to digital media?