Miles Davis "Kind of Blue" Monophonic Reissue From Sony/Legacy: An Analog Planet Exclusive!

Over the past few Record Store Days Sony/Legacy has slowly been rolling out on 180g vinyl much of the Miles Davis catalog, mastered from original analog tapes. This coming Record Store Day, November 29th, the label will release on vinyl Miles and Monk at Newport, Jazz Track and Kind of Blue. At that point, all nine mono vinyl titles will have been released. The same nine mono titles will debut in a new CD box set Miles Davis: The Original Mono Recordings to be released on November 11th of this year.

I'm not going to write about the modal music here. Surely you've read enough about how it dispensed with chord changes (etc.) and from others better equipped than I to shed light on its innate greatness or lasting musical significance. It's probably the best selling jazz album ever, and like Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon is likely to remain in print forever.

Unfortunately, the Kind of Blue mono master tape no longer exists. What happened? It very well may have been erased and the tape re-used. When KOB was originally recorded, Columbia ran simultaneous mono and three-track stereo tape recorders—two each, one of each being for safety back-up. Since neither mono tape surfaced it must be assumed they were repurposed or stolen. No point now crying over degaussed tape or whatever happened.

According to Steve Berkowitz, who, with engineer Mark Wilder, has overseen all of the Miles Davis reissues going back many years, both of the original 3-track tapes used in recent years to produce the SACDs as well as 2008's blue 180g vinyl 50th Anniversary Collection box set (which was poorly pressed on 180g with a lot of noisy non-fill, gee I wonder who pressed it? no I don't) are now in very poor condition even though they sat untouched in the vault from 1959 until 1992.

Wildler and Berkowitz recently decided to do another and perhaps final 3-track KOB transfer: to DSD, to 192/24 bit PCM (and probably other resolution digital) and at the same time, a two-channel stereo and a mono mixdown to analog tape. The two channel mix down will most likely be the source of a Mobile Fidelity stereo reissue coming later in the year as part of that label's Miles Davis stereo vinyl reissue project.

Back in 1992 Wilder discovered the KOB speed anomaly that resulted in side one of the original album being slightly sharp in pitch because the 3 track recorder was running slightly slow during the recording session. Of course this did not affect the mono version, which was sourced from a different recorder, but for this mono reissue, the speed had to again be corrected.

You may ask how a perfectionist like Miles Davis or one of the other members of the band did not notice the pitch shift. Who knows? Perhaps the always moving, always restless Miles, never bothered to listen or simply didn't notice.

913kindofblueP1010034.JPG

So how does the mono compare to the stereo and how does this mono compare to the original? These recordings were made in the early days of "stereo". The three-track recording produced three distinct channels and nothing you could legitimately call "stereo". Read John Marks' account of hearing the three-track master tape at Sony Studios. Mark Wilder let Stereophile editor John Atkinson thread the reel.

Instead, instruments were left/center/right with the two track mix folding the center channel to both the left and right channels. As Marks reports, only the center channel microphones used by Davis and bassist Paul Chambers had "send and return" lines to and from the 30th street studios concrete echo chamber but leakage from the other instruments into their microphones, (plus the converted church's natural reverb), probably accounts for the recording's spacious ambience and its overall coherent reverberant field.

The mono original (and reissue) provides a better overall instrumental balance, with greater emphasis on the piano and more solid imaging. Yes, its not as ethereally spacious, but it better layers and balances the instruments in my opinion and if you remain unconvinced that mono can produce three-dimensionality, this record will convince you.

The reissue's mix down from three tracks to one has been so skillfully and carefully done, even veteran mono KOB listeners might have difficulty guessing the source were that the only criterion. However, compared to my later "6-eye" 1AJ pressing, the reissue sounds far less "milky-cloudy" and far more transparent to the source, without veering off into the analytical. You can 'see' further into the mix and hear a clear delineation of direct and echo chamber sound as well as what sounds like 30th street studio room sound. Instrumental timbers are natural and textures rich. But most importantly, the music experience is complete and organically "whole," making a strong case for the superiority of the mono mix. If you love this record (and who in the world does not?), the mono reissue is a necessity not an "add-on" option!

COMMENTS
Elegal's picture

Hopefully I can find one to buy on Record Store Day.

Rick Tomaszewicz's picture

Thanks Mikey.  As mentioned before, I noticed the same "rightness" on RCA's mono vinyl of Belafone at Carnegie Hall.

Most modern speakers are are small or narrow.  When used as one center channel in an old school mono configuration, the sound stage/window can be rather small and wimpy, unlike live performers spread out over a real stage.  I can understand why people rave over immense Klangfilm field coil open baffle loudspeakers in a single mono configuration.  

davidmreyes77's picture

I'm sure the mono reissue will get a larger release following Record Store Day Black Friday.

TommyTunes's picture

Looking forward to this reissue, like all of Miles' albums I have both Mono and Stereo originals (1C Mono KOB).  I have attempted several DSD transfers of the mono original however despite having a mint copy, it’s plagued with the low level surface noise that seems common among original 6 eyes that came in the dreaded plastic inner bags in those days.

Mendo's picture

I wonder how a fancy (like Mikey's German unit) or homebrew ultrasonic would do for getting the embedded plastic grunge off? I plan on making a home brew unit soon, $600 to do it right. 

Has anyone compared the Sony's Miles reissues to MoFi's?

wgb113's picture

The Sony reissues are louder than their MoFi counterparts.   Dynamic range doesn't seem terribly reduced, more that the overall level has just been raised.  I can crank the MoFi much more and it just fills the room, letting the music breathe.  They're very impressive for mono recordings.  The Sonys don't sound bad by any stretch, I just prefer the MoFi's more relaxed sound.

Bill

TommyTunes's picture

Mike,

Do you know if the original issue was cut using the Columbia EQ curve?  It's my understanding that the Columbia curve was only used until 1955 or there about.  Is that correct.

Michael Fremer's picture

Yes, Columbia switched to the RIAA curve in the mid-fifties. This according to some grizzled veterans who did the cutting. So when I read imbeciles claiming Columbia used it into the 1980s because some records sound "better" with it, I get a bit crazy (er).

lcater1's picture

After reading your piece I pulled out my original much played copy (1G/1AG) which I hadn't listened to in a while.........It was hard for me to stop listening! Once I got past the noise in the outer grooves (I cleaned it again) I found myself going back to the first time I heard it.

I have several stereo copies of this record, my preference is the Classic Records1995 issue. The 50th Anniversary issue is a pretty blue color! 

When can I get a new Mono issue?

Michael Fremer's picture

Will debut at record stores on November 29th or thereabouts.

Oksana's picture

I don't know a lot about record store day. Can someone enlighten me as to how it works? I've read about Sony releasing great albums, but how do I participate in Record Store Day?

Michael Fremer's picture

It is a twice a year event. Check out www.recordstoreday.com. Though inexplicably they don't list the dates! Or at least I didn't see them. And Crosley, maker of the cheap, groove chewing turntables is a participant. They should be booted out.

wgb113's picture

It will likely be Black Friday...two days away from my birthday this year!  Guess I know what I'll be treating myself to.  Been dying for a decent mono version of KOBE since I got into jazz about a year ago.  The four monos I have vary from Poor to VG.  I just got the 2LP Classic Records stereo today and have had the blue 50th so I'm anxious to see how this compares.  Looking forward to Jazz Track too.  I picked it up about six months ago and like it a lot.

Bill

Jeffrey Lee's picture

Crosley tables do chew grooves, but the company doesn't forcibly place their products into anyone's hands. Nothing is sold at gun point. If people didn't buy their products, then they wouldn't make them. Also, I've known a few people who bought one and then later upgraded when the used-record bug started biting. I usually like it when you're reactionary, but this seems kind of pointless. 

Michael Fremer's picture

I know the company doesn't forcibly place them in anyone's hands. Nor are they sold at gunpoint. I'm happy that people you know upgraded but my fear is that many young people will hear their vinyl degrade and then lose interest. It's truly stupid for vinyl sellers like Insound.com to sell those things.

soundman45's picture

I actually worked with Kind of Blue producer Teo Macero back in 2000, shortly before his death. I asked him about all the fuss surrounding the speed correction of the Sony releases. He claimed back then that sometimes they would vari-speed tracks slightly to change the tempo.
I don’t know if this was the case during the original release, but seeing that sometimes it was intentionally done to get a different result it brings in to question the validity of the subsequent remasters.
Either way he claimed that he hated the Sony releases.

Michael Fremer's picture

Did Teo ever say why he hated the Sony releases? They were only on CD or SACD at that point since vinyl was done by Classic.

crouse99's picture

What is the slight distortion that is present in every copy of KOB I've ever heard?  It sounds like a microphone that is being over-driven.  Is that it?  It is a sort of rattling sound.

Michael Fremer's picture

Where? At the beginning or throughout the record. I don't hear it throughout the record. If you mean at the beginning I'd say that is "sympathetic vibrations" and microphone leakage.

Travis Franklin's picture

Sorry, guys.  I grew up in the mono era.  When stereo appeared, I was overwhelmed (pace the ping pong crap).  It got me "in the room" or studio, with the guys, where mono just did not, so I find it kind of (sorry) bizarre that, under almost any circumstance, mono would be the preferred medium where stereo is available.  2 sense.

Michael Fremer's picture

Yes, hearing "stereo" was exciting for me too, but over time I've come to realize that much of what was called "stereo" was just mono channels divided between the channels. Sometimes that works okay but other times not. And sometimes each version has its own equally attractive but different qualities.<p>

There are reasons for this! In the early days of "stereo" the mono mix especially of popular and rock music) was the one that got the most attention. Dylan and The Beatles were far more interested in the mono mixes because they knew that's how most fans would be listening at home and especially on the radio.

And remember: with limited tracks available in the early days of multitrack recorders, groups would record and fill all four tracks then mix those down to one track. Then they would start again, fill four tracks and mix those down to one track. 

Those "pre-mixes" were specifically intended to blend together in the end into a single mono track. Keeping them separate and sending them left, center and right produced "stereo" in name only. Instead what you got were three islands joined together with added reverb. 

That is not really being "in the studio with the group". 

In the case of KOB, you would need to at least hear the mono before rendering a judgement as to which you preferred! Don't prejudge!

wgb113's picture

Mike,

It was my understanding that the 2x45rpm MoFi reissue we've been waiting two years for was going to be mono as well?  When Sony announced the RSD release I assumed it would be similar to how they rolled out Milestones and Round About Midnight (a few months after)?

Bill

Michael Fremer's picture

Milestone and Round About Midnight were mono-only titles. I assume Mo-Fi's KOB will be the new stereo mix.

wgb113's picture

Now I'm bummed.  Do you expect much improvement over the Classic Records stereo 45 release from the 90s?

Bill

oregonpapa's picture

I have an original copy of "Round Midnight" that I bought in Santa Monice back in the 70's. It was a little nondiscript record store on Lincoln Blvd. that is no longer there. I paid a grand total of fifty-cents for the album. Its one of my reference mono recordings that I love to pull out to demonstrate just how great mono records can be to initiate those who are new converts from digital to vinyl.  When I tell them its mono, they just shake there heads in disbelief. Another great mono is Dave Bruebeck's "Jazz In The USA."

 

Happy  hunting ...cool

simply me's picture

Hello,

My 6 eye copy isn't a 1AJ, it's just a 1J (both sides). Would you know which pressing that would be? Early, late, etc?

Thanks

Michael Fremer's picture

I believe that would be earlier. Columbia went down the letters to a certain point and then started double letters (AJ) so I'd say that was fairly early. I'd say 4th pressing since 1A,B,C were first pressings (A to NJ, B to Indiana, C to CA) and so D,E,F, would be second press, G,H,I would be third and J,K,L would be fourth (etc.). At least that's my understanding of how it worked.

simply me's picture

Mr. Fremer,

I'd like to thank you for all the valuable advice that I've been able to glean from your Stereophile column over the years. Without your info, I'm sure it would have been a lot more work for me to build up my system and collection of records. I appreciate the help.

Oksana's picture

You are right, I don't see on the record store web site the second date for this year. November 29th is mentioned here. I've looked at the website and so far all I've learned is to find a local participating record store. This is relevant to this thread because I'd like to pick up the Sony release of KOB. How is this done? At their web site?

Oksana's picture

Hey Mendo, let us know how the ultrasonic cleaner comes out. I purchased one of the Dino-Lite USB microscopes and intend on using it to see how well my RCM is working.

Raferx's picture

 

I've got several of the Wilder/Sony Miles Davis mono RSD 180g remasters and I'm very impressed with them.

3D-imaging and the wide, deep soundstage are eyebrow-raising; these Davis mono remaster titles sold me on other mono remasters, and rival (IMHO, to my ears) the Columbia/Legacy 180g six-eye stereo remaster I bought last year.

I'll be grabbing this mono version! Thanks again Michael!

 

–Rafe

Asafiko's picture

I bought all the MOFI releases and Love them, the Analogue productions Miles davis Mono releases and Now I need a good KOB copy.

never bought the 200G version by classic records because I understood that the QC on this pressing is bad and that the pressing is really noisy.

I was thinking about the 2x180g version by classic records, can anyone comment about the sound and QC on that one ?

I guess I'll buy the MOFI 45RPM version as well, but now fremer got me into the MONO version.

J. Carter's picture

I just bought the 24/192 versions of KOB (mono and stereo) and they sound great. 

todd95008's picture

Looking at the YouTube video and write-up on HD tracks and on the sister site:

http://www.audiostream.com/content/miles-davis-kind-blue-again

 

It looks like all of these were mixed at 24/192k (not in the analog domain).

 

I just finished comparing the HD tracks 24/192 wave files with the Japanese SACD and the Legacy vinyl (not the poorly pressed blue vinyl). The vinyl copy is very clean and well pressed by RTI. This was released as a single record after the blue vinyl (different mastering from Kevin gray)

This was my reference for the album but now....

 

The new 24/192k mix is very good !! The vinyl is now second and the SACD is third on the list (IMHO). I even threw in the 90's SBM cd for the hell of it.

The SACD always sounded kind of tubby/boomy but the CD is awful compared to these new files.

 

I could go on about the sound but I think the real point is that given todays best 24/192 PCM processing/mixing and using original vinyl as a reference for the new mix, great things can be done. This is specially true for master tapes that are over 30 years old and are not the holly grail many believe them to be.

 

Very well done...

 

Todd

dconsmack's picture

If I'm reading this correctly, this mono vinyl reissue is an all analogue cut?

atomlow's picture

I believe the distortion you are hearing is the mute on Miles' trumpet. I have an original mono pressing and I was a little unsure if it was a worn record or just the horn. After hearing a lot of different versions of KOB I believe it's just the sound of the mute which is raw and gritty.

The question never was answered is this mono pressing all analog? I just received my RSD numbered copy today and it has the same feel as my original pressing. I haven't had a chance to turn it up yet but it seems the instruments are further up in the mix and I could hear deeper into the background. I'm very happy with this pressing.

I agree Crosley is the devil. Needle doctor even sells them. Not cool.

Elso's picture

Just received my copy by mail, i haven't ear it yet, but something is strange to me.

Is this a Music On Vinyl editon?

The record is numbered as said, but by Music On Vinyl?

I'm from Portugal.

Can any one, explain me that.

thanks

Michael Fremer's picture

That is not the edition to which I am referring. Does your copy say "Music on Vinyl"? If so, you bought a different version.  

Elso's picture

yes,

my copy says Music on Vynil launched on black friday with serial nº. 001527.

with information:

1959, 2013 Columbia Records,  a division of Sony Music Entertainment / Originally release 1959 / All rights reserved by Columbia Records, a division of Sony Music Entertainement. Manufactured & distributed by Music on Vinyl B.V. for Sony Music

 

With a sticker saying:

MONO

RECORD STORE DAY.COM

atomlow's picture

It looks like you bought this pressing of KOB. http://www.musiconvinyl.com/catalog/miles-davis/kind-of-blue-mono#more

I didn't realize Music On Vinyl was releasing this same version on RSD as the Columbia pressing. Seems a bit confusing with all these different pressings. Again, I'm very happy with my Columbia RSD pressing. My search is over trying to find the perfect pressing, sorry MOFI and Classic records.

Now I'm curious if I should drop more cash on 'Round About Midnight Columbia Mono they just released. I'm not extremely happy with the MOFI pressing that I bought recently.

 

rlw3's picture

Should the Miles mono reissues ideally be played with a mono cart? How would playback be different? Happy holidays to all.

lionel's picture

Hi michael, Do you know about Music on vinyl in EU. It's possible to finD KOB and Milestones in Mono via Music on vinyl. Is it the same as Columbia/Sony? About these vinyl. are they all analogue process only? Or are they some digital combinaison? Thank's to you and everyone who can tell me about these vinyls, sound, quality, brillance...?

Michael Fremer's picture
Probably got the high rez files from Sterling and pressed them at their own pressing plant (Record Industry, which presses great records).
ArthurZenithTransoceanic's picture

It amazes me that so few hear or recognize the distortion present throughout, especially on So What. It's present in all formats. Those who have recognized it have shared many wild theories. For years, I used to think it was a bad left channel speaker in my system. Even more amazing that no one has taken on a project to "clean it up", or to maybe offer a cleaned and an uncleaned version side by side, so as to appease the purists. Arthur

X