Patricia Barber, Cafe Blue "un-mastered"


I thought I would write an opinion of the subject CD release. I won't call this a review since at this time I don't consider myself qualified to do a "review". I was perusing the Elusive Disc website and noticed a new version of this classic CD called UN-mastered. It is an SACD version which is billed as being as close to the original mix as possible. Wow, I thought, this has to beat the pants off my Premonition Records good old redbook CD! But how could it be any better? If you are familiar with this release, the audio quality is amazing.

I went ahead with the purchase looking to hear Ms. Barber and her band in even better clarity, crispness, presence, and sound stage.The liner notes say that this mix was done at Capital Studio's in Hollywood, "where the digital multi-track was mixed in the analog domain and the analog chambers were used to produce ambience and reverb" as described by Gus Skinas of the Super Audio Center.

I should note that my play back device is an Ayre C-5xeMP which is routed through a Plinius Tautoro pre and SA-103 amp. The amp drives Legacy Audio Focus speakers. I popped the disc into the Ayre and notice the SACD indication showing in the window along with the associated LED light indicator. I turned the volume up a bit and was immediately struck by how (please forgive me Ms. Barber) dry it sounded. I let the first track play through and thought, ok to be fair, I won't touch anything except to replace the SACD version with the redbook. I made the switch and there it was. That magical deep sound of the bass, the great vocals etc. I tried a few more tracks using the A/B method and came to the same conclusion after each one.

What was missing in this mix is the processing that normally occurs from the studio feed, reverb, delay, EQ, etc. This SACD sounds (and basically is) the studio feed without the processing, which is essentially a "live on tape" studio feed recording. There is some reverb due to the "analog chambers" whatever they are, but it is pretty much just as if you were hearing the musicians playing live in front of you with no sound treatment and in a studio environment where reflections and natural room acoustics are kept at a minimum. Now, I will admit that the overall recording quality is good, but this mix in my mind leaves a lot to be desired. Sorry Gus but I am very disappointed in this version. It does come in a great case though!    
Convert?fit=crop&h=128&rotate=exif&w=128falconquest
Falconquest - I read with interest your comments on the "unmastered" SACD version of Cafe Blue.  I noted the same blurb about it in Elusive Disc and in fact shared that with my brother-in-law who owns a professional recording studio.  He can do it all...talented multi-instrumentalist, arranger, recording engineer, production & mastering. I only bring up his capabilities to validate his opinion.  In very brief summary, he thought an "unmastered" version might represent an improvement if mastering of the original were poorly done or otherwise flawed.  I definitely agree with you that the sound quality on the CD release of Cafe Blue is very good and would seem to argue against there being anything "wrong" with the original mastering.  Your comments suggest the original mastering actually did what it was supposed to do...in simplest terms, provide finishing that benefits listening to the final recorded product.  Thanks for taking the time to write up your experience with this "re-release".  Considering your observations and the hyped-up prose accompanying the announcement, this is certainly an example that confirms me in my general cynicism about so-called audiophile releases mined from back-catalogs.  That's not to say there aren't exceptions.  For me, however, it's definitely caveat emptor.  Thanks again.  
ghost,
I appreciate your comments and especially the opinion of a professional in the industry. I really thought I would be enhancing my listening experience of this great CD. I had ordered this disc as a pre-order prior to it's release so I was certainly anticipating its arrival. It's just too bad that it wasn't an improvement over the original. I thought I would notice some difference just due to the format change. I guess this illustrates just how high quality that original release is.
I have the Japanese  XRCD version of this piece and it is quite good. I haven't listened to the un-mastered SACD version yet.
Thanks! for sharing your experience-falconquest.
this is a great example that newer does not always equal better.
I love those older CDs over the newer, re-masters. There is something to be said here.
True, jafant.  Likewise, "historic" does not always equal better.  
jafant,
This is not really a re-master per se, it's more of a re-mix. The recording engineer chose to use the original studio master and then rather than enhancing it, simply chose to use a minimum amount of reverb and that's all. It's kind of an un-remaster in that any enhancement of the sound was eliminated. It's kind of a strange offering. I thought I was getting a direct studio feed in SACD format which should be incredible. Unfortunately.....it's not.
I just wanted to follow up by relaying the response I received from Elusive Disc. I emailed them and let them know about the quality of this disc. They agreed to give me full store credit if I shipped it back which I promptly did. I sure can't argue with their response and praise them for stepping up to keep a customer.
Thanks! for sharing- falconquest

it is going to be interesting to watch if others will do the same.