Chasing the Dragon : A Man and His Microphones

Recording engineer Mike Valentine produced and recorded an old-fashioned audiophile demo disc using 50 year old Neumann tube microphones and a high resolution Nagra digital recorder all connected together with ZenSati cables from Denmark. One track was recorded using a 1/2" Studer analog deck running at 30 IPS.

The Globe trotting Valentine recorded in Venice, Italy, Izmir, Turkey, London, England and elsewhere in venues that varied from outdoors in a graveyard, to concert halls and other disparate sized spaces.

Valentine often used the famous "Decca tree" originated in the 1950s and used on some of the most highly regarded recordings of the "golden age" by Decca Records engineers Arthur Haddy, Roy Wallace, Stan Goodall and of course Kenneth Wilkinson. It produces a very well-focused three-dimensional image.

The "Concerto for 2 Mandolins" by Vivaldi was featured in the recent mat test and thanks to Mr. Valentine's generosity you can also download the 96/24 master used to cut lacquers for this release.

One track features an excerpt from Bach's "Cello Suite No 1" performed by Justin Pearson twice: once inside a church and again outdoors in the church's graveyard.

There's a piano improvisation, an excerpt of Duke Ellington's "Caravan" recorded in a Turkish jazz club, some Mozart sung by soprano Daisy Brown, Verdi, Falla and jazz saxophone. Valentine's goal was to provide a range of ensembles, instruments venues and music. An orchestra of youngsters performs the familiar "Pirates of the Caribbean" recorded using as the main microphones a spaced pair of U47s.

Throughout, Valentine's obvious goal was to produce maximum natural spaciousness while preserving instrumental timbres as all as instrumental focus. The results are uniformly engaging, three-dimensional and natural, though slightly on the warm, dark side, which is how many sound aficionados prefer it. The "Spanish Dance No 1" by Falla is the one analog recording though of course it was digitized at 96/24 for the production of the record and truncated along with the rest of the material for the CD edition that includes considerably more music (62 minute's worth), but were you to compare the mandolin track on vinyl and CD you'd say "who put the tissues over the strings?" As well recorded as it all is, on CD it sounds as if the musicians were placed under glass and squeezed into two dimensional space like Krypton criminals. The Bach piece, sonorous on vinyl inside and outside, sounded grating and annoying on CD inside and the air experienced outdoors on vinyl somehow evacuated the outdoor graveyard scene, leaving a ghostly vacuum. Even the twittering bird, so clearly heard on vinyl sounded strangled on CD. Poor thing. The musicianship is overall good but these will not be the greatest performances you've yet heard of the many familiar pieces.

The pressing defect heard on the Mandolin piece that you might have downloaded was audible on both copies Valentine sent. Sounds like non-fill, and was only for a few seconds. Otherwise the pressing was flawless. The albums in the series are available in America through Elusive Disc or in the U.K. and elsewhere through the Chasing the Dragon website.

P.S.: Despite the album title, it sounds as if no opium was consumed during the making of this record.

teachscience's picture

Why review albums that can't be purchased in the USA?

Michael Fremer's picture
(see revised story) plus, we have an international readership!