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The Beatnik’s Vinyl Showdowns: mono vs. stereo Round One & Two

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Clarity vs. Black Round One

For all three of these comparisons I used my reference system consisting of a Clearaudio Anniversary AMG Wood CMB Turntable with two Clearaudio Satisfy tonearms, and an assortment of EMT (Jubilee Series JSD5, TMD 25N mono), Benz (Series 3, Ace L, Ebony TR S Class), and Miyabi cartridges. Amplification was my Wavac EC-300B driving a pair of Teresonic Ingenium Silvers. The interconnects were Teresonic’s Clarison 24kt Gold cables, and the speaker wires were Teresonic Clarison. Everything was plugged into an Audience aR6-T. For these reviews all stereo recordings were played with the Miyabi Standard, and all mono recordings were played with the EMT TMD mono cartridge.

Mono vs. Stereo Round One: Kenny Burrell’s Midnight Blue

Blue Note/Analogue Productions
ST-84123 2 45rpm 180g LPs
Blue Note/Classic Reissue 33rpm 200gLP
BN 4123-MONO-200GR

Kenny Burrell’s Midnight Blue is as cool and introspective a blues album as I can imagine. It gives me the feeling that I’ve been to listen in on a private jam session. It’s both a great album for listening to late at night all by myself or to show off my system to another jazz lover or audiophile. This is without a doubt cool bluesy jazz, not sorrowful, aching blues. To put it simply, “it’s cool man.”

No wonder its great music to listen to. There’s not only the incredible Kenny Burrell playing his bluesy, dark guitar, but he’s backed up by Stanley Turrentine on tenor sax, Major Holley Jr. on bass, Bill English on drums, and Ray Baretto on conga.

It didn’t take me long to get into the grove of this music and I just sat there through the whole LP wanting more. I could go on and on about this great album, but that’s not the point of this article. There are already plenty of reviews that tell you how great this music is, just google Kenny Burrell’s Midnight Blue reviews, and you will be amazed. No, this is an article about comparing to the wonderful versions of this LP. The first is a 180g 45rpm stereo reissue from Analogue Productions and the second is a 200g 33rpm mono reissue from Classic Records.

If you read the promo material from Analogue Productions, they talk about how these recordings were all done in stereo and the original mono recordings were just sums of the two channels. If you read the Classic notes you will be told that the blending of the two channels into mono is the way Blue Note’s recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder preferred to mix his music and that the stereo versions were made from blending quarter inch tape. I tried to find out which is true, but I’ve decided not to waste time on that, but just to let you know how they each sound.

The first thing I need to say is that you can surely become emotionally involved in this wonderful music regardless of which you like best. Second, some of you will like one and others will prefer the other but, I think most everyone will be surprised by the differences.

To me personally, the Classic mono LP was better in almost every way. It will be absolutely amazing to those not used to listening to mono recordings how the musicians stand apart from one another and have their own space. It is clearly obvious that the music has far better flow, more subtlety, and a more proper tonal balance on the Classic mono LP.

Yes, the stereo version has a little wider stage, but no deeper and not nearly as coherent a soundstage. It is all a little more detailed, but sounds etched and a little in your face by comparison. The mono recording also has a lower noise floor, maybe a little more tape hiss, but rarely. I can recommend either of these recordings, but for me I’ll take the Classic mono reissue.

Mono vs. Stereo Round Two:

Cannonball Adderley’s Somethin’ Else

Label: Analogue Productions (click here for store link)
Product No.: ABNJ 81595
45 RPM Vinyl LP Stereo (click here for LP link)
No. of Disc 2

Label: Classic Records (Blue Note)
200 gram Clarity Vinyl – Single Sided Pressings
Product No.: ABNC 1595-45CV
45 RPM Vinyl LP
No. of Discs: 4

Label: Blue Note
33 RPM Vinyl LP

Somethin’ Else was release in 1958 by jazz musician Cannonball Adderley. Most regard it as a landmark album for bebop music, and one listen will tell you why. Besides Adderly, you have legend like Miles Davis playing his horn, Hank Jones on piano, Sam Jones on double bass, and Art Blakey playing drums on this iconic album. Still again, the point of this article is not to review the musically quality of this album; it’s well established. Instead I want to compare three of the many available pressings.

The first comparison was between a rather poor copy of the original Blue Note mono and the Analogue Production’s stereo version. The conclusion was painfully simple and as far as I can hear undeniable. If you can get your hand on anything near a listenable copy of the original Blue Note mono, it’s incredible. The horns on the mono recording makes the one on the stereo recording sound very small and very distant. On the whole there is just no comparison; I can only think of one area where the stereo LP betters the mono one. Admittedly for such an early stereo recording it does have a nice soundstage, and for those who highly value such this might be enough to sway them.

Yes, the soundstage is better, but that doesn’t mean the soundstage on the mono recording is poor; it is in reality quite remarkable for a mono recording. The stereo recording is without a doubt a fine sounding recording if you have not heard the original mono recording. It is much better than some of the less expensive 33 rpm reissues that I have heard. You also have to take into account that the original is very difficult to find and even if you find one , even in VG condition it will probably run you over $100 unless you’re lucky at garage sales.

So, let’s proceed to the comparisons of the two mono recordings. The Classic 200g Clarity pressing is much closer to the original. I would say the scale and the size of the instruments is at least 80% of the original. The flow and tonality is actually the equal of the original, and of course it does this without all the surface noise of the original. Like all the 200g Clarity pressing I’ve had the privilege to hear so far, there is an overall quietness and lower noise floor than I am used to with vinyl. This results in a transparency that just isn’t quite there in the other two pressings.

When you combine the quietness, transparency, musical flow and tonality, even with a little loss of scale, I feel the Classic Records 45 rpm 200g Clarity pressing is the best choice and could even be considered a bargain considering the price and rarity of the original mono pressings. My only complaint is they take four discs to do this, but then I guess I’m just lazy. This is a LP that every jazz enthusiast should own; and while all three will let you experience its beauty and emotional involvement, I highly recommend Classic Records 45 rpm 200g Clarity version!

Black vs. Clear:

Louis Armstrong Satchmo Plays King Oliver

Disc One: Audio Fidelity ST 91058-45-200G- Clarity pressed by Classic Records
Disc Two: Audio Fidelity ST 91058-45-200G

Here we have two versions of the modern day 45 rpm single. They are full 12 inch LPs with only one song per side from very desirable albums. They are especially well suited for audio show. In this case they are also especially well suited to listen to for the difference between one that is pressed on good old high quality black vinyl, and the other on Classic Records new Clarity vinyl.

On Classic Records website they describe Clarity Vinyl as representing the ultimate in vinyl formulations because it is comprised of over 90% percentage of the highest quality co-polymer available. It seems that co-polymer is a key component in vinyl pellets used for manufacturing LPs. Clarity Vinyl also has no carbon black additives, common in vinyl formulas for LPs. They say that Carbon Black contains trace metals that become magnetized and cause “electrical distortions” during playback that smears the sound. By taking out the Carbon Black, Classic Records claims to dramatically reduce the “electrical distortions” and thus bring more “Clarity” to the playback process, providing a more realistic musical experience to the listener and LP enthusiast.

So, with these two discs both being cut at 45 rpm from the same sources we have a wonderful chance to compare these black vs. clarity vinyl. I listened to them both several times over a few days, and even had someone else put them on and off the table so I didn’t know which was playing, so I think I have a pretty good understanding of how they sound compared to each other.

On either LP the “St. James Infirmary” selection is so good that it is hard to imagine how anyone could listen to this on a good system and not be moved to applaud at the end. Still, as good as the black vinyl sounds I never once made the mistake of thinking it was the Clarity LP. The Clarity is simply a little better in every way. It is quieter, more transparent, more detailed, and more musical all at the same time. It does this without giving up anything to the black vinyl. So if you own the black LP of these two songs the solution is simple; hurry up and get the Clarity version and keep the black one for a backup, or better yet give it to a music lover who doesn’t have it. (That’s me. –Ed.) I think the black one is out of print anyway, so they should really thank you.

Congratulations to Classic Records, so far the Clarity pressing I have heard have all been superb!

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One Response to The Beatnik’s Vinyl Showdowns: mono vs. stereo Round One & Two


  1. Hermann Heraux says:

    Hello there Sir!
    I read with utmost attention and interest, your take on monophonic Vinyl LPs and the required monophonic cartridge necessary to truly enjoy the many very fine albums available out there to the discriminating enthusiast for close to nothing in garage sales, thrift stores and the likes… I have been into Vinyl LPs since the early 70’s as a young lad and only briefly stopped because of the advent of the CD and decline and almost demise of the Long Playings… Fortunately, more and more people have rediscovered them and they are on a serious comeback.
    Well, my attention on mono LPs was called when I was listening to a recent find, The Longines Symphonette’s Reflection and Meditation – a 4 mono albums set in a gorgeous case and all in near mint conditions, at my local Salvation Army’s store for just 2 bucks. While listening to them on my stereo setup I could not believe that mono records could sound so… true, articulate and palpable! No backgroud noise whatsoever. It’s like I was right there at the recording session, over 50 years ago, standing against the back wall! My preconceived thoughts about mono records was further dispelled when I decided to do more research on monophonic cartridges and your review here has done it. Next month for my birthday, making me a senior citizen (it sneaked on me!?!), I will gratify myself to a strictly mono setup from the ground up… Thank you for removing the fog that was still lingering in my mind. I am delighting in the reveries of many enchanted hours of music and the rummaging for more mono (and stereo) LPs… an addiciton that hit me 15 years or so ago… I just got 55 45’s all but a few being monophonic, on the bay for 28 cents each including S & H!
    Happy thanksgiving!

    Gratefully,
    Hermann Heraux

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