Miles Davis: Kind of Blue (Again)
While there's nothing inherently wrong with buying the same music over and over, just as there's nothing inherently wrong with listening to the same music we enjoy over and over, the real danger with both is that we'll get stuck in a rut. I've seen this kind of thing happen first-hand where an audiophile will listen to a same small sampling of audiophiley recordings over and over and over. Over a period of years, even. And thinking about this just makes me sad. Sad for them and sad for our hobby since above all else, hi-fi should be about the discovery and enjoyment of music. Listening to our stereo's should ignite our interest in music. I know that's how it works for me.
So why am I writing about and listening to Kind of Blue? Mainly because its one of the coolest records around and HDtracks has just released a remastered version in 24/96 and 24/192. It is also, I would risk saying what I typically don't like to say, a great record. Miles Davis trumpet, pianist Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly piano on "Freddie Freeloader", drummer Jimmy Cobb, bassist Paul Chambers, and saxophonists John Coltrane and Julian "Cannonball" Adderley recorded in 1959 at Columbia's 30th Street Studio in New York City, Kind of Blue is a simply stunning display of musicianship, mood, and music. It is one of the audiophile recordings that makes me proud to be an audiophile. After all what better goal is there than to want to get as close to Miles and the boys in the band in 1959 which is exactly where reissues and our hi-fis should get us?
From Engineer Mark Wilder on HDtracks:
"Since the Kind of Blue mixed masters are multiple generations from the original (due to excessive play/wear), we decided to go directly to the original session reels. Not only does this put us at the original session as a starting point, but it also allows us to deal with the pitch issue as well.Now that's what I call provenance. The DR Value for the 24/192 version is a whopping 14 which should make every meter reader happy and Audacity spectrum plots confirm what the provenance told us namely that there's no brick wall filter with plenty of musical energy above 20kHz. But more importantly, the remastered Kind of Blue sounds simply stunning. It sounds big, airy, intimate, warm, cool, and hot. All of the instruments sing out with a natural and beautifully clear voice. This remaster is in a word, most excellent.
The three, 3-track half-inch tapes are in good condition, but age has force them to “scallop” a little, meaning that the edges curl away from the tape head. This changed the initial focus from mixing from the originals to archiving them before mixing and working from the archive files. This allowed us to gently guide the tape against the playback head to get optimal contact and fidelity.
The archiving was done at 192kHz/24 bits, played from a modified Ampex ATR 104, and hard-wired to HDCD Model 2’s directly patched to a Lynx 2 sound card.
An upside to working from the archive files was the ability to chase the original fader moves done during the mix in 1959. We constantly compared to an early pressing - mono and stereo - and worked bar by bar to duplicate the level moves on the three tracks to match as well as possible.
Each channel was converted to analog and passed through a GML mixer, bussed to stereo or mono - depending on the release format - and converted once again to 192Kc/24 bits. At the GML, we inserted processing where needed.”
– Mark Wilder, Battery Studios
I'm afraid I cannot offer any comparisons to other digital versions since I don't own any. I previously bought Kind of Blue twice; the first time on LP and then years later I bought a used LP again because I'd sold my old copy along with all of my other records to help facilitate my move to NYC. So I am not a Kind of Blue release aficionado. But based on the provenance info we have, the related data, and pure listening pleasure, I'd have to think that this new version of Kind of Blue will be hard to beat in digital form (I'm not selling my LP).
Stereo or Mono?
To confound matters, HDtracks is offering both the stereo and mono mix of Kind of Blue (it was originally released in both formats). My feeling after listening to both (24/192) is they both have their own qualities and fans of each format will be fans of each format. The stereo mix presents a very nice sense of the recorded space with the players laid out within it in a natural way. The mono mix sounds more muscular and weighty and I seem to notice tonality a bit more as well as more prominence to Jimmy Cobb's kit especially the cymbals. Again, I think this choice ultimately comes down to one's preference and you mono-lovers already know who you are. I could certainly live happily with either but if push came to shove I'd go mono mainly because it smells more like 1959 ;-)