Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Record Review: Miles Davis Sketches Of Spain - Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab Vinyl LP

(Miles Davis Sketches Of Spain - Mobile Fidelity vs Classic Records)

After Kind Of Blue where the last track was "Flamenco Sketches", Miles Davis presented its new album "Sketches Of Spain" in 1960 with arrangements by Gil Evans and now without John Coltrane or Cannonball Adderley besides him, a record that in some ways didn't stray too far from the "Cool" sound characteristic of Miles Davis style at that time but now with the Jazz vein more diluted as this is one of the most representative efforts of the Jazz Fusion genre or the so called Third Stream with its even blending of Jazz, European Classical Musical and World Music elements.

Considered one of the highlights of Miles Davis career, the sound presentation of this masterpiece is different from other more traditional jazz albums, with a larger and deeper than usual sound stage as well as more pronounced ambient sound from the large studio as the result of the orchestral arrangement that we usually associate with Classical Music recordings. There are also unusual instruments being used that we don't usually hear in other Miles Davis albums (or Jazz music in general), as such the peculiarity of this performance brings additional and different challenges to the recording, mixing and mastering of this LP.

When it comes to analog audiophile releases Sketches Of Spain was reissued by now inactive but still very respected "Classic Records" in 1998, after that there was a long period of darkness with several low quality reissues surfacing in the non-specialized stores coming from labels like Music On Vinyl, WaxTime, Not Now Music or Doxy, in search of easy sales to unknowing customers (who certainly don't read this blog), until now that it is part of the Miles Davis audiophile reissues by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab. If this one is like the others in this series I'm sure we're in for a treat once again, with superb mastering and pressing of the highest quality standards from the analog Master Tapes approved by Sony.

For that reason I've decided to compare these two versions, the previous benchmark "Classic Records 200gr Quiex SV-P Super Vinyl Profile" from 1998 mastered by Bernie Grundman, and the new "Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab Original Master Recording 180gr High Definition Vinyl Half-Speed Mastered on the Gain 2 Ultra Analog System" from 2013 mastered by Krieg Wunderlich and Shawn Britton. Once again MFSL didn't disappoint continuing its amazing work on the Miles Davis reissues, even now being confronted with the high quality Classic Records release and Bernie Grundman's impressive know how, MFSL was again able to bring us Sketches Of Spain with even more clarity and higher resolution in a much more complete sound and musical experience.

(on side A of the Classic Records LP we can see a much larger run-off grooves area)

Listening to both these LP's with two different takes on mastering Sketches Of Spain the main difference resides in the slightly more compressed sound of the Classic Records LP that was cut hotter in a way that seems to reduce the overall dynamic range and also affect the scale of the sound stage making the performance sound narrower and with a sonic context that is more typical of a traditional Jazz recording, which in this case because of the peculiarity of the music being played, was probably not the best approach in terms of mastering options. In fact the MFSL version with the dynamics preserved in a more subtle and refined sound presentation makes the ample 30th Studio ambient sound more holographic, with the percussion and even Miles Davis trumpet a little less forward and adequately placed in the overall sound mix as it would be expected for them to sound when integrated in a scenario of a small orchestra in a big studio setting that is larger than the usual Jazz Trio or Quintet.

(on side A of the MFSL LP we can see a larger area occupied by the recorded grooves)

Another advantage of the increased dynamic range on the MFSL version is the way Miles Davis trumpet sounds more natural, rich and expressive, unlike almost all the previous releases where the trumpet sometimes sounds artificial, hard and harsh to the hears causing some discomfort for the listening session (something that certainly didn't feel appropriate to the mood of the music), as well as a much more open and expansive bass that makes for a more realistic representation of the larger scale that is a vital aspect of this recording. With the Classic Records LP we get a more direct and narrow approach with all the main sounds very much upfront in the presentation, but on the Mobile Fidelity mastering we get Sketches Of Spain in all it's greatness and with all the detail of a varied and complex musical performance where several factors come into play and the main sounds are perfectly integrated and in tune with the spirit of the original recording, and this with increased dynamics and resolution that is deeper, richer and more detailed than ever before. Congratulations to MFSL for bringing us another classic in top shape, this Miles Davis reissues program is a must have for any music lover, these are the very best mastering jobs from the best sources available cut into the best format in the World.

Back then someone asked: "But is this jazz?" ... Davis replied, "It's music, and I like it." We like it too!

Vinyl Gourmet Rating: Music (0-10): 8   Sound (0-10): 9   Product Value (0-10): 9

Miles Davis Sketches Of Spain (originally released in 1960)
Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab Original Master Recording (2013 reissue)
Made in USA 33rpm 180gr High Definition Vinyl
Catalog Number: MFSL 1-375
Barcode: 821797137515
Mastered by Krieg Wunderlich and Shawn Britton
Matrix Side A: MFSL 1-375 A1   KW@MoFi   20519.1(3)...
Matrix Side B: MFSL 1-375 B1   KW@MoFi   20519.2(2)...

Miles Davis Sketches Of Spain (originally released in 1960)
Classic Records (1998 reissue)
Made in USA 33rpm 200gr Quiex Super Vinyl Profile
Catalog Number: CS 9271
Mastered by Bernie Grundman
Matrix Side A: CS 8271-A   BG
Matrix Side B: CS 8271-B   BG

Review by Sérgio Redondo
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  1. Excellent work once again. Beyond obvious surface noise issues have you compared the new MFSL to the original US Columbia 6 Eye?

  2. Sorry, I did not have the possibility to compare the original US pressing directly to the new MFSL. My main concern was to find how it compared to the previous audiophile attempts, but I understand your question and how important it is to know how the new MFSL compares to the original pressing, unfortunately I don't have one here with me. Based on previous experiences and research (but not hands on comparison) I would think that the MFSL probably has a better balanced EQ and somewhat increased resolution. And it is dead quiet regarding surface noise, as you say it would be an issue with most original US pressings of this album. Thanks for reading! Sergio

  3. What do you think of the recent RSD Columbia releases of MD?

  4. Haven't heard the RSD Miles Davis releases... because I have other versions and MoFi is also reissuing most of the Miles albums I like, I didn't feel the need to get those. Thanks for reading! Sergio

  5. Not sure the wider groove run out is a negative of the Classic Records release. Looking at the 2008 interview in eMusician with John Golden, George Ingram, Pete Lyman and Richard Simpson, the latter notes that "even if he puts only a few minutes of music on a 12-inch record, he tries to keep the grooves closer to the outside of the disc rather than spacing them out evenly across the entire platter. “It might look like you're not getting your money's worth, because the disc doesn't look full, but it'll sound better overall.”

    See more at: http://www.emusician.com/techniques/0768/mastering-vinyl/134677#sthash.X29OD0Eq.dpuf

    1. Hi Esteban, thanks for reading and for the link to that great article! Just to clarify I did not mean to say that the wider run-off grooves in the Classic Records LP was a negative or necessarily a technical disadvantage, I just wanted to show that these LP's (Classic and MFSL) were cut using very different techniques and mastering approaches. Now, there are some engineers who prefer to use as much as possible of the LP surface to keep the grooves more spaced out, and others who prefer to have the grooves closer together even if that means leaving some of the surface unused... I'm sure there are good things and bad things to each of these preferences and it's always interesting to see how this varies from release to release and between mastering engineers. Anyway my purpose was only to show that cutting vinyl is not a simple and obvious task and this is a good example of how different it can be done. In this particular case, the Classic Records LP also sounds hotter to me, but this can also happen on records that have grooves cut almost near the center label of the disc... Thanks! Sergio

  6. I just compared the mofi to the absolute analogue 1990s re issue. The absolute analogue sounds a lot better. Compared this with 4 different people. Everyone agrees. You should get this and update this great thread about a great record!


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