UMe's Birth of the Cool Is A Sonic Abortion And a Reissue Disgrace

First off, UMe touts this reissue as "...newly remastered from the original 1949 analog tapes for the first time since 1957." That's nonsense: Bernie Grundman cut this from the original analog tapes for Classic Records back in the 2000s. And I believe the RVG CD did as well (correct me if I'm wrong). Facts matter.

In addition, the producer of this sonic abortion (who should lose his or her job in my opinion over this wilful piece of PVC turd) goes the lazy, cheap route of cutting from a digital file when the tape is obviously perfectly fine and could have instead been used. I'm assuming this tape was stored at Iron Mountain downtown Los Angeles and so was not involved in the Universal fire, because were that the case, they'd have just remained mum about the source. Instead they tout the original tape's use. I believe them.

I bet the person in charge here said to him or herself "it's from 1949, it doesn't matter how bad it sounds, they won't know the difference because of the date." Digital is not transparent to the source. Period. Though a good digital transfer and lacquer cut can and should sound much better than this lifeless, dynamically compressed, distant, smothered mess. And then to compound the crime, the press release uses the obfuscating language that suggests that the lacquers were cut from tape. "Remastered from tape" means cut from tape, period. Any other "interpretation" is a LIE. Is "false and deceptive advertising" and it's time to shut down the use of "newly remastered from..tape" to mean anything other than CUT FROM TAPE.

Precision Record Pressing, now part of GZ Media pressed a very good record here. The lacquers were cut at absurdly low levels at Capitol by the unknown to me Robert Vosgien from files produced by we don't know whom. The double LP set called The Complete Birth of the Cool includes at best CD resolution air checks available on YouTube, but if you want them on vinyl, I'm not here to discourage you. With this second record at least, there's probably no tape.

As for the music, why dignify this sonic disaster and purposeful slop by talking about the great music. Let's wait for a serious reissue before doing that. At a time when the Blue Note part of UMe among others is doing great reissue work really sourced from tape, who allowed this crap out the door? Let him or her come forward and explain why Miles and others were given such shabby treatment. They surely deserve better as do you. Do not buy this record in either version. It's not just "not quite as good" as the Classic or an original, it totally sucks. Don't believe me? Listen to these files sourced from Classic's Bernie Grundman cut and the new version

File "BG"

File "UMe"

Bob Henneberger's picture

thank you Michael i almost picked this up the other day,,, after hearing your file rips i am glad i did not buy this.... But what it shows you is they dont care about the audiophiles,,, they cater to the hipsters with crosley turntables,,,,, nothing else makes sense, i have never heard this record sound this bad,,,, why?,,, also judging by the fact that united record pressings still has not got there shit together tells me they dont care,,, the audiophiles are a small percentage of people who buy records and we can release this record as is because half the people that buy it wont even play it and the ones that do wont be able to tell good sound quality coming from a 1 inch speaker,,,, That is the only way this makes sense,,, i have purchased 10 records this week, MazzyStar, Monk coltrane, art blakey, moanin,, sublime , st, jimmy smith back at the chicken shack, and the miles kob mono,,, among a few others and all were defective and scratched up beyond belief the one record i got that wasnt defective was pressed over seas "the cardigans,,,, i really wish the would pay more attention to people who care about this stuff,,,

Mazzy's picture

I'm certainly not a hipster with a Crosley. I'm 60 something with a Rega RP8 and the record is certainly not a 1 sound-wise. Granted I don't have an original or Classic to compare to but I think is sounds just fine. Maybe a 6 or 7 if I was to grade based on the reviews I usually read here. Having said that, my opinion might change if I was A-B ing to those other versions but as well over $100, for those, this $30 record sounds really good. I just played it again after reading this review because I doubted my memory. But it is certainly not an abortion.

Rashers's picture

the BEST review ever. Unfortunately virtually every new jazz record sold in stores in Europe is copyright free crap sourced from CD. There is no excuse for a major record label who own the masters to produce this kind of crap. This particular album requires extraordinarily careful mastering owing to age and dynamics - it has been available on CD for years - and CD pressings sound good but I have been hoping for a Kevin Gray type reissue, and that's obviously not imminent. Also, it is time that UMe fesses up to what original masters they still have, after the fire, and what is gone: do they even have the master of this recording?

Michael Fremer's picture
If they are claiming to be using the original tape I take their word for it. Otherwise they'd just "punt" on it.
Grant M's picture

Wouldn't it make sense to do this digitally, by taking the individual tracks from their original tapes? This is a compilation record, there is no "master tape" for side one and another for side two is there? Like a greatest hits record, wouldn't the "tape" need to be spliced from several sources?

saxman73's picture

I was thinking about picking this up, thanks for saving me the trouble. The difference between files is not subtle, even through computer speakers. The music comes through much better in the Bernie Grundman mastered version, even when raising the volume on the other one. The new one sounds muddy and lifeless. I'll keep my CD for now.

Briandx11's picture

After the shocking story in the NY Times Magazine in early June about the true nature of the 2008 Universal back lot fire, I will forever wonder about the use of the term "original analog tapes". Literally over 100,000 tapes were destroyed among other priceless treasures. Over 700 artists were in that collection that was destroyed. Go to Wikipedia and check out Steely Dan as an example. You will now see a new disturbing sentence that basically says "Steely Dan is among among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire". These artists at point this don't actually know what was destroyed.

volvic's picture

What is truly appalling about that fire is that Universal had no proper cataloging system; everything was tossed around, even they did not know what they had. They say they are in the process of trying to recuperate from other offices, but what I have read is that only 20% was ever backed up and how are you going to recuperate what you don't know you had.

Michael Fremer's picture
For instance it lists "Buddy Holly" yet the ones Chad Kassem used for "Buddy Holly" and "The Chirping Crickets" did not burn. Also, many of the releases issued by Intervention are on the list like "Flying Burrito Brothers" and they used 30IPS 1/2" safety copies that were not in that vault and there are many of those. The Blue Notes and Capitols I believe are safely stored in the downtown Iron Mountain facility and that would include "Birth of the Cool". The problem here is not the source. It's what was done with it.
isaacrivera's picture

Is this the same as the one on the Blue Note online store that brags "The first LP is mastered from analog tape of the original singles for the first time since the original Birth of the Cool release in 1957"?

Because I got it under that misleading claim. If it is, then I am returning it, I have not opened it yet.

volvic's picture

I believe it is the same. It's all sold out as well, suspect there must be some really disappointed people out there. Pity.

Michael Fremer's picture
Return it
isaacrivera's picture

Is this the same as the one on the Blue Note online store that brags "The first LP is mastered from analog tape of the original singles for the first time since the original Birth of the Cool release in 1957"?

Because I got it under that misleading claim. If it is, then I am returning it, I have not opened it yet.

Mazzy's picture

Wow. I've been playing this new version for the last couple of weeks and have really been enjoying it. But I only have a 12K system and don't have any other versions to compare it to. It may not be a sonic wonder but I'm not hearing what you are hearing. I just fee sorry for the folks in Alabama who won't be able to listen to this abortion off a record at all I guess

Michael Fremer's picture
Listen to the files posted here?
Mazzy's picture

I did listen. I do hear the difference but ultimately I decide from my home stereo and not my phone. Sure not as good as an original or the Classic it seems but certainly not a 1.

But I get you seem to be making a grand statement to stick it to the Universal Man and I get that . But this release is nowhere near as bad as this review reads. I have it. I’ve heard it. It’s a good release.

GAAudioLVR's picture

I'm currently listening to the two files on my laptop with my lower-end headphones that I use for Youtube videos and the difference is not even close. This one was on my buy list and actually in my online cart.

Thanks for saving me from another disappointment. I'm so down on my Jazz purchases lately. My first copy of Moanin' had two labels pasted onto side one, the replacement's center hole was way too small to even force it onto the spindle. My copy of Maiden Voyage's center hole was drilled off-centered making the tonearm sway so badly that the sound is distorted. All were 75th Anniversary pressings. Another bad record would not have made me happy. Thanks for posting about this release before I bought it.

cdlp4578's picture

Those Blue Note 75th Anniversary pressings made me so mad I swore off buying any vinyl with the "UMe" logo on it until I read enough reviews that they got their act together. I don't have a high-end rig, but I can tell noisy vinyl from quiet vinyl, and I can usually sense when compression has been added (excessively, anyway). Those BN 75th pressings were so bad the "Elemental" pressings from Europe cut from CD were noticeably better.

Seems to me if you want any quality control from UMe in the masterings and the pressings, you're going to have to pay a price premium for it, a la the Tone Poet series. Allegedly the BN 80th "standard" reissues are of better quality than the BN 75th reissues, but at this point I don't trust UMe and the only way I'll get a BN 80th reissue is as a gift. So that $30 price tag for a 2LP set from UMe made me avoid this Birth Of The Cool reissue even before Fremer's review. And unfortunately this review only confirms my suspicions about UMe product.

Puffer Belly's picture

Your UMe file sounds the same as the 24/192 file for Deception I have from HDtracks. Your BG file sounds much better.

jon9091's picture

Ok, in comparing the two files...yeah Bernie Grundman’s mastering is obviously better. However, I don’t think the new mastering qualifies as a “sonic abortion”. And more bizarrely, if this was truly a “sonic abortion”, why did it’s score jump from 1 to 4? And, if a “sonic abortion” is now a 4 on Fremer’s scale, what kind of tasteless description could be used for a record truly deserving of a 0 or a 1?

audioholic63's picture

Without a direct comparison and no reference point on the album one might not notice. A/B is very apparent. The UME file sounds like it has a pillow over it. For reference, this was listened to from VLC on my pc via USB to an AudioEngine D1 and set of Grado SR80e headphones. Not a digital playback SOTA but more than revealing enough to hear the differences.

cdlp4578's picture

Had to listen to the files on a JBL bluetooth speaker. The UMe file sounded like it had the dynamic range sucked out of it with compression. And I listened to that one first, didn't even require concentration to hear the difference.

To keep this short, labels big and small have been overdoing the compression for so long now that I wonder if this has become the default for anyone under the age of 40 working in the industry - compressing anything new in the recording studio, and compress anything from the 20th century when re-cutting.

Chemguy's picture

...but it’s a reissue embarrassment, nonetheless. I appreciate your righteous anger in this case, Michael, and I applaud your “calling out” of record companies that would dare to release such inferior product.

Mark Evans's picture

I enjoyed reading your assessment of this reissue and have been careful of avoiding many reissues that I have copies of already. The 1965 Capitol reissue is what I listen to and the link below gives a pretty decent review.

Don Drewel's picture

You are correct about the use of the original tapes for this CD. The liner notes say that RVG went back to the original masters for each song as they are on individual tapes. He then remastered them to 24 bit digital files. Michael Cuscuna produced the reissue.

Johnnyjajohnny's picture

"Digital is not transparent to the source. Period."
Not true. You've been asked for 35 years to back up this statement with anything but screaming, anecdotes, and boasting, and you've provided exactly zero evidence (meaning a passed blind test) to back up your claim.

SeagoatLeo's picture

100% agree that even on a computer speaker, the obvious smearing and loss of dynamics is evident. The new issue would put me to sleep on my high end system. However, again, I do not find a loss in the CD format using high end DACs and players. It's mostly up to the mastering and jazz mastering for CDs are often preferable to the original LP. Unfortunately Rock is not so lucky as so many Rock remastered CDs sound like abortions, like what was done to this release.

laservampire's picture

Compared to the clip of the 2019 vinyl it definitely has better high end extension, not as much as the Grundman mastering but that one sounds a little hyped to me.

The 2019 CD is a massive improvement over the original Japanese and US CDs (from a 2nd or 3rd gen LP master), the 1998 "Complete" set (from the same crappy master with added NR and funky EQ), the RVG remaster from the proper tapes (with even wonkier EQ and dynamic limiting).

Previously the only decent version was the Grundman mastered Classic vinyl from the proper tapes. The 2019 CD finally represents the sound of the master tapes without any sort of digital "restoration" fuckery.

arcman67's picture

I'm not certain what Michael was hearing or if he got a defective pressing. The album is nowhere near as dismal Michael Mentions above.