Reissue Labels To Avoid and Some Best to Proceed With Caution
Call me crazy (and you wouldn't be the first!) but when I spend $25 or $50 on a 180 gram reissue, I want to know the source used and who did the cutting, plating and pressing. Don't you? But we don't get that vital information as often as we'd like, do we?
We do get it from certain labels, like Mobile Fidelity, ORG, ORG Music, Analogue Productions, Music Matters, IMPEX, Mosaic, Rhino, Pure Pleasure, Speakers Corner, Reference Recordings, more recently Sony/Legacy and probably a few others I can't recall off the top of my head. I'm not good with lists.
Sometimes we get slightly fudged information. LIke the original reissues of the Tom Waits Elektra albums Rhino issued that were stickered "cut from the original analog master tapes" when in fact, they'd been "cut" by Ron McMaster at Capitol from 96/24 files (per Tom's instructions) produced from the original master tapes. These were all defective, with no top end above around 6kHz due to a screw-up somewhere along the line.
The albums were subsequently re-cut by Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman Mastering, this time using the analog master tapes, and they sound fantastic. The point is, you can't even necessarily believe what you read on the jacket! "Sourced from" does not necessarily mean "cut from."
Other times you get part of the story, the most important part of which is, was the original master tape the source of whatever was used to do the cutting—whether a high resolution (96/24) digital file or a 1:1 analog copy of the master, which is what some labels have to use if the tape's owner refuses to let it out the tape vault door.
If you buy from Sundazed, for instance, you can be assured that the original tape was used as the source, because Sundazed's Bob Irwin, who has worked for Sony's Legacy division for years producing CD reissues, is very focused on using masters. But there's no guaranty the LP was actually cut from the tape because Sundazed doesn't specify who cut and from what.
Often you can see a "WG/NRP" on the inner groove area, which means "Wes Garland at Nashville Record Productions" did the cutting even though the credits say "mastered by Bob Irwin". That could mean Bob took the master tape, did his thing, produced a 96/24 file and had Wes Garland cut from that, or that he went with the tape to NRP and cut from analog (assuming NRP has a preview head equipped playback deck), but sometimes there's nothing written in the Sundazed "deadwax", which leaves buyers with not a clue as to who did the all important lacquer cut and where it was cut, which is equally important: a mastering chain is like a hi-fi system in reverse. If you don't like the hi-fi, you won't like the sound.
The Netherlands based Music on Vinyl label issues some albums cut from analog sources but mostly from high resolution files sourced from masters that they obtain directly from the labels (at least based on my experience). 4 Men With Beards? I have no idea.
But still other times you get nothing, yet you're asked to plunk down big bucks for these reissues. There are certain labels I urge you to avoid. These include Doxy (not Sonny Rollins' label—apparently there's another one using the same name), ZYX from Germany, Vinyl Lovers, Simply Vinyl and Abraxas
I was in Greece a few years ago visiting a Stereophlle reader who'd invited me over to hear his stereo—one of the best, if not the best I've ever heard. A Sarah Vaughn fan, he played me a "greatest hits" album from ZYX that had been culled from Sarah's later Pablo catalog. Pablo was a Norman Granz label (Granz founded Verve among other labels) that used top engineers and the RCA vinyl infrastructure to process its albums and what this guy was playing me sounded wrong.
We later went used record shopping in Athens and I found an original Pablo Sarah Vaughn for a few bucks in near mint condition. At least one track on it was on the ZYX reissue. We compared and the difference was so great, we at first thought the ZYX was a different arrangement and performance. Then we figured it was a different take from the same session. Finally we realized it was the identical take but sounding soooo wrong, it was difficult to identify. I guaranty you, the ZYX was cut either from a CD or some other source that the mastering engineer completely ruined when he cut it.
Vinyl Lovers definitely cuts from CDs. I was at a show in Scandinavia and someone was playing a Vinyl Lovers Rod Stewart LP. I had a track on a CD made from the original pressing and we compared the two and the CD killed the vinyl played back on a very good turntable. Not even close and obviously cut from a commercial CD. You can read a review of a Vinyl Lover's John Cale reissue on this site. It's not pretty.
Simply Vinyl refuses to identify sources. Actually some of them, especially those licensed from EMI, can sound very good and could very well be analog tape sourced, but the company refuses to identify sources. I'd stay away.
Recently a friend brought over a copy of Jeff Buckley's Grace album Simply Vinyl had reissued. I had the original European vinyl. We compared. The original was much better. The SV reissue was bright and hard by comparison.
The bottom line is, be careful. Just because something's been pressed on 180 gram vinyl doesn't mean its going to sound good or that it was sourced from analog.