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!    
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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.
Nope, not sending it back to Elusive Disc! I am happy with my copy. I don't have the original version. All I can say is this version sounds fantastic on my system!
Thanks! for sharing- statman.
I'm going to have to pull out my redbook of this again. I do not remember it being all that. There were some high speed attacks at times, but despite the press, I never found it to be a super super great audiophile CD. I did think it was a very good Jazz CD though. :)

Best,


Erik
Erik,
Really? I have quite a collection of audiophile CD's and the original redbook version of Cafe Blue tops most of them. I understand that all systems are different and each listener has different tastes but on my system the audio quality of the redbook version is just outstanding!
The Premonition redbook CD and the MoFi SACD employ a tremendous amount of artificial reverb to her voice, to the point that she often sounds like she is located behind the instruments to my ears. A bit un-natural, but still a very good sounding CD/SACD and I enjoy it often, particularly the tracks that feature acoustical instruments without the vocals.

I have not heard the "unmastered" version, but suspect that it simply eliminates the added reverb based on reports, both favorable and not, just as you say falconquest.

Best to you all,
Dave
I'm really going to have to listen again.  My living room is in chaos as I re-orient for best sound.

I do remember hearing Cafe Blue at Goodwyn's High End for the very first time with an Avalon / Spectral setup and the only thing then or since I've been impressed by is the finger snapping, but please, hold flames until I've had a chance to re-listen, please.

I have heard her latest High-res self-published tracks and they are pretty nice!

Best,


Erik
No flames Erik. Interested in your impressions upon re-listen.

Best to you Erik,
Dave
I'm with Dave here. I challenge anyone to play both the original redbook version and then the "un-mastered" version and tell me they like the un-mastered better.  I knew something was not right literally on the opening bass notes and it had nothing to do with Patricia's voice. But as I say, it's my opinion on my system. I'm curious about what others think.
I have the Premonition Collector's Edition HDCD, regular CD, and "UN-mastered" SACD versions as well as  vinyl.   I don't have a SACD player so can only listen to the red book layer of my SACD, but even with that I still prefer the UN-mastered version over the other two.  The UN-mastered version sounds much more analog and doesn't have the artificial echoing / reverb on her voice on cuts such as "Too rich for my blood".  The guitar solo in "A taste of honey" sounds more natural on the UN-mastered version.  Overall, I agree with Gus's assessment of the UN-mastered version.

The UN-mastered SACD must be popular among audiophiles as it is out of stock on Elusivedisc.

Good feedback, ampus. Thank you.

Dave
So I went back and listened again. I'm afraid I'll make few friends here after this.

To my ears this CD did not age well at all. The tracks get a little better half way through the album, but overall it kind of reminds me of early Pop CD's and digital drums: very very good imitations of musical instruments played by a machine. Pretty similar to the experience I had decades ago at Goodwyn's.

This feature is a trait that seems to have carried over at least a couple of CD's later, including Modern Cool. The Cole Porter Mix and Live at the Green Mill thankfully are free of whatever this odd feeling I have while listening to Cafe Blue is.

Sorry Everyone! Whatever that audiophile quality that attracts listeners to Cafe Blue is I'm afraid it is lost on me completely.

Best,


Erik
Good feedback, Erik. Musical taste is a personal thing. Probably the only thing in this hobby that is (or at least should be) beyond criticism or challenge.

I agree that the latter tracks are more enjoyable and find the sound quality of these tracks to be pleasing, but prefer "LIVE- A Fortnight in France" CD for this style of her music, both sonically and musically. Less molested thus much more realistic sounding IMO. Track 5 is particularly good. A reference for accurate depth of sound, excepting the ride and crash cymbals which were "spot miked" and move forward in the mix as well as placed too far apart here and there.

Overall, I find Holly Cole to be the superior vocalist for this type of vocal fusion jazz.

Thanks again for your feedback.

Dave
I'll go look for that album!

Honestly I stopped buying Barber until recently, her more recent albums are much more enjoyable for me.

Best,

Erik
I will echo what Dave had to say. I have the "Live Fortnight" CD as well and it's outstanding.
I just picked up UN-mastered & on my system, redbook only, I enjoy it much more than the original Premonition CD. I find the original CD technically interesting but artificial to the point of boredom whereas UN just pulls me into the music & has much more focused staging of the instruments, especially the piano & full drum kit.

I should add that I've always found Modern Cool, Verse & Mythologies much more involving but I'm hoping there are UN's for them eventually.
Yeah, Jim Anderson is a genius. That would be awesome. Cheers,
Spencer