Kind of Blue, Kind of Screwed...

A couple of months back I wrote a piece for The Absolute Sound about Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. I listened to all the available digital reissues and found that the Legacy Edition was the best CD version available. But truth be told, even the Legacy edition is kind of screwed...

AR-blue3a.jpgAnd why do I dare write that one of the most cherished recordings in the jazz lexicon is screwed? Because it has some fundamental (and repairable) technical flaws that make the recording far lower fidelity than it could have been.

The first and most pervasive flaw is flutter and wow. If you listen carefully to the piano, it's easy to hear the flutter's effects on its pitch, especially during the decay of the trailing notes. You can also hear the flutter on the decay of the saxes.

AR-blue4a.jpgThe second flaw is the microphone amplifier distortion on the saxes (and to a much lesser extent on the piano) on "All Blues." On earlier versions I've heard folks say the distortion was "spit" or the sound of the moisture in the sax's spit valve. Nope, it sounds a lot more like intermodulation distortion and clipping caused by misadjusted microphone levels than spit.

When the 192/24 version of Kind of Blue came out on HDTracks I had hopes that some of the most pervasive flaws would be addressed and corrected. My hopes were in vain. The latest master does nothing to address the pitch and distortion issues, but it does make it much easier to hear and identify them.

AR-blue 2a.jpgFrankly, I'm disappointed that project producer decided not to attempt to fix the sonic problems on Kind of Blue, especially since they had the tools available to do the project right. If only they had used the Plangent Processes during the initial tape to digital transfer they could have removed all the time-based errors causing the audible flutter and wow.

As for the microphone distortion on "All Blues," That is a thornier issue. While I doubt the distortion could be eliminated completely, it could have been reduced by going back to the three-channel masters and readjusting the levels of the individual tracks, well as some judicious use of EQ and filtering where needed.

AR-blue1a.jpgSome audiophiles might argue that "cleaning up" the technical recording errors on Kind of Blue would destroy the essential nature of the recording. The counter-argument is that removing the technical recording errors on Kind of Blue would be like removing hundreds of years of grime from a Tintoretto. Just as modern art lovers finally had an opportunity to see what a painting looked like when it was new, audiophiles would finally have a chance to hear what the original studio engineers heard when the recording was made...

Maybe next time the powers that be will finally get Kind of Blue right. But so far, no cigar...

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