Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2014 • Are All Discs Created Equal?

by Marc Mickelson | October 24, 2014

The premise for our seminar "Are All Discs Created Equal?" was a simple one that duplicated the sort of listening we audiophiles do when we buy new versions of favorite recordings. We play the music and ask ourselves, Does it sound better? In the case of our seminar, I played four different recordings, and up to four different versions of each, for attendees, who ranked them, best to worst. I played less than two minutes of each recording -- the same passages in the same order for each session -- and the attendees didn't know which versions were being played or their format. I didn't match levels, simply for the sake of playing each passage as quickly as possible, although I did play the very first passage twice, so people could acclimate to the sound of the system, which consisted of Wilson Benesch Square Five speakers, an Aesthetix Janis Signature preamp and Atlas Signature amp, a Luxman D-06 CD/SACD player, and Nordost Tyr 2 interconnects, speaker cables and power cords.

The results are shown below. The rows show the number of votes for each recording at each ranking spot, with #1 being the highest. The recordings were played in this order during the seminar.

Kind of Blue, "So What" #1 #2 #3 #4
Hybrid SACD - Sony Japan SICP 10083 3 15 15 15
Single-Layer SACD - Columbia/Legacy CS 64935 5 6 14 19
CD - Sony Music 88697883272 (JVC K2) 17 4 12 14
CD - Columbia Legacy CK 52861 (Gold, MasterSound) 19 17 5 5

Getz/Gilberto, "So Danco Samba" #1 #2 #3 #4
CD - Mobile Fidelity UDCD 607 (Gold) 5 9 10 20
CD - First Impression Music LIM K2HD 036 ("99.9999% Silver") 8 6 17 13
CD - Verve Master Edition 314521414-2 13 15 17 4
Single-Layer SACD - Verve UCGU-9001 (SHM SACD) 19 15 7 5

Bartók - Concerto for Orchestra, Giuoco delle coppie #1 #2 #3
Hybrid SACD - BMG/Living Stereo 82876613902 3 13 26
CD - Victor JMCXR-0007 (JVC XRCD2) 20 17 5
CD - Sony BMG 88765414972-05  (from Living Stereo set) 20 14 8

The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" #1 #2 #3
Hybrid SACD - Columbia CH 90321 8 11 23
Hybrid SACD - Mobile Fidelity UDSACD 2081 18 18 8
CD - Columbia CK 8786 17 18 10

For those of you counting, you'll notice that the number of rankings for each recording is different. That's because some people didn't give a rating for certain recordings, and others rated some as tied. (My directions for rating the recordings were also less than ideal, leading to some confusion.) I didn't register a vote when none existed, as I didn't know how to interpret this, and I gave a vote to both recordings in the case of a tie. Forty-six people turned in sheets, so the number of votes for each recording comes close to that.

The closest to clear winners -- as far as they could be determined -- were the Columbia/Legacy MasterSound CD of Kind of Blue and the SHM SACD of Getz/Gilberto. Both received the most first- and second-place votes and consequently the least third- and last-place votes. As for trends, I would have thought that the SACDs as a group would come out near the top, but that wasn't the case across all of the recordings. The two SACD versions of Kind of Blue, for instance, received only eight first-place votes combined and the Bartok SACD had only three.

Even if you didn't attend any of the sessions, there is still worthwhile information to glean here, but the greatest benefit is for those who did attend. They now have a better idea of their preferences based on how they ranked the recordings. On the other side of that coin, after the show, I discussed the results with someone who has a hand in remastering and reissuing recordings. His strong opinions about some of the versions I played made me wish that he had been to one of the sessions. I think he would have surprised himself.

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