AAA LPs Vs. 96/24 AAD LPs What Can We Hear? Update

Here's an update on the planned AAA vs. AAD comparison LP (the original post is here).

The tentative musical choice is the very well-regarded Vox-Turnabout 1967 production of Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances & Vocalise with Donald Johanos conducting the Dallas Symphony orchestra. This has long been considered an "audiophile classic".

The recording in the McFarlin Auditorium on the campus of Southern Methodist University was engineered by David B. Hancock using four custom ribbon microphones and recorded to 30IPS two track tape. The tape remains in remarkably good condition.

The original was well produced, but unfortunately pressed on inferior quality vinyl—it was a budget label project, which makes it all the more remarkable that such attention and care went into the recording.

There was a late '80s reissue by Athena Records, but the double 45rpm edition issued by Analogue Productions (AAPC34145-45) mastered by Kevin Gray is far superior (though I've heard some grumbling about side 4 over-modulation that will not affect this project).

Side 1 has enormous dynamic swings, huge bass drum "thwacks" and a full symphonic blast of colors and textures set upon a wide and deep soundstage. In other words, pretty much everything you'd want to hear compared AAA to ADA in terms of tonality, spatiality and overall transparency. It's also exciting music even if you're not "classically inclined".

So unless there's a lot of objecting from readers the plan is to produce a 45rpm record containing the first eleven minutes ("Non allegro") all-analog on one side and on the other, the same selection but cut from digital files. Depending upon what's possible, the digital file will either be 96/24 for all of it, or it will switch at some point to DSD. The only problem is that whichever is closer to the inner grooves will be at somewhat of a sonic disadvantage. However, my feeling is that listeners can work around that assuming there is a noticeable difference.

The record will be cut by Kevin Gray at Cohearant Audio from the original master tape (the AAA version has already been cut and plated for the AAA Analogue Production edition) so Kevin will again get the tape, digitize it and cut the side again. Plating and pressing will be at QRP and the record will be available for sale on the Acoustic Sounds website.

That is the plan for now with the final cost to be determined by a number of factors including possible royalty payments to the tape's owner and a potential minimum pressing requirement by the tape's owner.

So what do you think of that?

mraudioguru's picture

...but I'm still in.

audiof001's picture

... once you hear this masterpiece!

SSaxdude's picture

Can the sides be unlabeled? So that we don't know which side is analog and which is digital. And give us a good amount of time (month or so) before revealing.

Michael Fremer's picture
That's the whole point of the exercise!!!!!!!
SSaxdude's picture

I just fear somehow it will get what happened with the last Harry Potter book LOL

For $15-$20 I'm in.

Superfuzz's picture

You said that the AAA side is already pressed and plated... so Kevin's scribes are already there and going to be in the deadwax.

Is the plan to have him scribe the exact same thing on the digitally sourced cut? The whole thing will be pointless (and costly!) if the shootout can not be truly "blind".

Bruggles's picture

If you had to conservatively guess a price window, what would you think it might be?

Michael Fremer's picture
I'm hoping we can pull this off for $15-$20 depending upon the final costs and licensing etc.
Bruggles's picture

I'll buy that! You should do a series. Would you consider doing a shorter sample and multiple digital masters on a single gel side in an apparently random order?

Maybe down the road you can do some other comparative records to show dynamic range, frequency response, etc. Maybe speed modulations.

All in all, sounds like a fun project at a good price.

JohnEcc's picture

Just got my copy, amazing job from all concerned QRP pressing is great. Dogs barking dead center, Just wondering if this is the stereo mix or the Q Sound mix. Looking forward to hearing what you have to say when you get a chance to review this.

AnalogJ's picture

The Amused to Death vinyl reissue is the original analog Q mix.

Paully's picture

I'm in for that amount, no question.

vince's picture

Count me in.

JohnEcc's picture

This is going to be fun.

Dpoggenburg's picture

...One for playing and one for the "archives"
Maybe you should offer signed copies at a premium?

Kurt's picture

For $15-$20, I am definitely in.

soundman45's picture

Michael, will the master analog be transferred to digital at 24/96 or 24/192 then down sampled? I was just curious, although it probably won't make much difference. Those Pacific Microsonics converters he uses are to die for.

carl478's picture

For $20? That's not a lot for a good learning experience. Count me in.

akovo's picture

I'm totally in.

bassrome's picture

I'm in!

fattalien's picture

This is a no-brainer. Thanks for setting it up -- looking forward to it!

Audio 1's picture

Very reasonable price and a signed copy would be a great option!

mauidj's picture

Yes indeed. Mahalo Michael.

english pete's picture

I'm still in.

darthlaker's picture

Thanks Michael!


jimhb's picture

I'm in!!

JEB-42's picture

Thanks for putting all this work in! Hopefully this will all fall in line and budget! Looking forward to updates! Cheers!

Jon's picture

Goodness, yes I am in now!

Jon's picture

That this is now especially interesting and even important - at least for me and other classical fans. Because Universal under the Decca, DG and Mercury Living Presence labels are releasing vinyl at a rate that bears comparison with the late 70s. Just in the last 18 months there must have been more than 100 new pressings. Look at the Acoustic Sounds website and there are batches and batches of it month after month. The reissues are all from digital masters that were in turn mastered from the analogue originals. So this exercise will give potential buyers a much closer idea of what they are missing by buying these titles and saving a few dollars over the "true" analogue titles.

This is still with the caveats I mentioned in the other thread but now I have a lot more interest in this than I did before.

One thing: I hope we know precisely the technical details of the ADA "loop" for the "digital" side - right down to the specific models used and the settings. This is extremely important.

bhjazz's picture

I think this is really cool. Thanks! I'm in!

andrewmorgan's picture

Definitely in.

Prefer you dont make it obvious which side is most popular from the summary on your website. Some of us who live in the middle of nowhere (aka Australia) might take a while to get their copy ;)

Awesome idea, would really appreciate the DSD. Even if you had to do 3-4 sides.

Jon's picture

Am in Australia and I now by my stuff from a shop that cleans the records for me on an Audio Desk cleaner before I get them. And yes, it takes us around a month to get stuff once released in the US - sometimes less but sometimes more.

And that DSD suggestion for a third side is an excellent idea. I'm not that enthusiastic about the ADA side swapping between PCM and DSD "randomly". I would really like to hear three separate comparisons even if it costs more because I am really dying to hear the differences between the three processes. So sides as follows:

1. AAA

2. A - ADC (PCM) - DAC (PCM) - A

3 A - ADC (DSD) - DAC (DSD) - A

4. Teddy Bears Picnic :)

Bob Harden's picture

Just registered to post that I'm in for this.

abelb1's picture

I'm in

vqworks's picture

I'm assuming the reference to the symphonic colors and textures include ultrasonic frequencies. If so, I'm certainly in.

rakalm's picture

Sounds great

turntable19's picture

Sounds like fun. Hope it will be available in Germany...

jmoray's picture

NO BRAINER.....I'M IN! Looking forward to it. Sadly, this won't change the "digital is perfect" close minded people, but it will sure be a fun experiment.
Can we pre-order?

punkzter's picture

this sounds fun, and useful

Preston's picture

Sign me up.

jfortun's picture

like Flynn.

Ben Nordine's picture

but no DSD please - or maybe put it on a separate disc, as an earlier poster suggested. I suspect that many of us who are more analog-oriented don't have the DACS for it

Michael Fremer's picture
The record will be partially sourced from DSD but you'll still play it back on a turntable!
Edmar's picture

I registered because of this!
I am in.

rharcha's picture

looking forward to challenging my old ears.

isaacrivera's picture

If you decide to include DSD in the second half of side B, you could print the same last section of the music as on side A, that way a direct comparison of A/B with either digi format would allow to compare the same music selection at the same distance into the record and have similar distortion on both formats making the comparison fair.

However! If you include 2 digi formated tracks on one side, it will be obvious which is the digital side!

Donnie Ton's picture

I have no trouble believing that Kevin Gray's 45rpm cut bests the Athena. But, when the Athena came out it was the best sounding record I'd ever heard. I bought a half dozen copies, though classical isn't really my thing.

Catcher10's picture

Where do I send my money?

Mister Tim's picture

and let me know :-)

Potty Knotty's picture

15$ to 20$ is a great price for something as unique as this record. However the cost of postage form USA to UK can double this cost. I'm still in though.

joevb3's picture

Sounds like fun!

khenegar's picture

I have two copies of this! one is noisy the other is warped, I really would like to get good copy of this performance!

khenegar's picture

Love this performance

Analog Scott's picture

I see a problem. Too many variables. How would you know the feed from the analog tape will match the feed from the original cut? If you want to reduce variables I think you need to cut a new all analog lacquer, and from the same exact feed make the hi res digital copy, then turn around and immediately cut the other lacquer from that copy making sure the levels are exactly matched.

Hats Domino's picture

Finally, someone who knows what they're talking about. I'm guessing you're a professional and not just an internet expert. :-)

SSaxdude's picture

If the AAA side is highly preferred over the digital side, I'm hoping this will send a message to record companies that going the all analog route is worth the extra effort/cost.

Bruggles's picture

Sadly, even if it sounds so much better as to beggar belief, I doubt it would compel labels to release AAA vinyl more in order to directly influence sales. That said, for the nerds here, it would clearly behoove labels to provide us with high-quality AAA pressings - AND TELL US ABOUT IT - because clearly there is a market for that.

They may have to rip us off for it to be viable, but I think many of us still would still buy the stuff...with a grimace.

But the public has proven themselves much more amenable to cheap and convenient over good quality. Basically, don't hold your breath for that AAA Iggy Azalea pressing.

Nothing Like Vinyl's picture

I will buy this record as soon as it becomes available.

audiof001's picture

Count me in too - and I;m sure a few buds will go for it as well.

Rudy Merz's picture

I love Rachmaninoff.

tomd's picture

Great, I'm in! I will have to order this from Belgium but I'm placing 2 times a year an order at acoustic sounds so, keep me informed and I'll plan my order when this record is available.


Paul Boudreau's picture

for me!

Hats Domino's picture

I think it's great of you to do this, apparently, blind comparison. I'll wait to see how, or if, it remains fair throughout the listening tests. I fear that somehow this test will be compromised. So far, none of Mr. Fremer's listening tests have been adequate. There's always some sort of issue, like mismatched levels, alignment variables, whatever. There's always trouble with the finer details that throw off results.

But... this test has a few too many variables already. And doing the digital cut months after(!) the analog cut is less than ideal. The tape machine alignments will not be identical. The mastering will not be identical. The cutting and plating will not be identical, and we all know the digital stage will get blamed for any shortcomings, when this test doesn't allow us to know for sure.

Michael Fremer's picture
We will factor into the cost structure two fresh lacquers: one AAA and the other ADA.
Analog Scott's picture

Looking forward to this

thomoz's picture

The only way it will be a fair test is if you recut the analog side on the same day with the same azimuth and the same noise in the power grid, and other variables.

lem's picture

It was mastered by Doug Sax. Is it really so bad?

kkatseanes's picture

I'm very interested in a copy as well.

vinyl1's picture

DSD and PCM have very different sonic signatures. A direct unfiltered DSD rip of an analogue master tape can sound wonderful, while even the highest-resolution PCM tends to impose a sonic signature on the tape. I believe this is due to anti-aliasing filters causing pre-ringing.

JEB-42's picture

Now do you begin this as a crowd source project to see if it will fly? Curious as to how many adopters you will need for the record to be say $15 or $20 or $30 or $50. I assume you are waiting for a quote from parties that need to be involved.

Cheers and again thanks for your hard work going into this.

PaulK's picture

Count me in please!

DanaMck's picture

My first post after stalking for months - count me in!

nicklane1's picture

You have piqued my interest. Thanks for pioneering this effort.
Just tell me where to send the money.

Kirby's picture

This will be $20 - $30 Cdn + shipping and duty but i'm still in. It's called putting your money where your mouth is and i'm all but sure that there will be a difference and it will be AAA all the way! To some there won't be a big enough difference to care but for most of us who come to this site there will be.Thanks for doing this for us.

salvo's picture

Great stuff!

The Grif's picture

Hope we can get it in Australia for a reasonable price. Would love to see if I can hear what I think I can hear.

HalC-76's picture

The comparison of PCM vs DSD would also be informative, regardless of the inner vs. outer groove distortions. Documentation of the mastering chain would be good to know, but only after the feedback is tabulated.

Mark Maloof's picture

Sure, why not?

michaelwcole's picture

I've never heard this recording and I just recently started listening to classical music. I'm in!