In 1984, a man named Chad Kassem moved from Lafayette, Louisiana to Salina, Kansas in order to “get sober”. He began collecting vinyl records and took a job as a line-cook making minimum wage. As his record collecting drifted into an obsession, he began to buy and sell used records out of his apartment through his own mail-order catalog. Two years later he decides to quit his job and roll with vinyl full time. These were the early days of Acoustic Sounds, now the world’s largest supplier of audiophile LPs.
This was all happening at a time when the CD was taking over the industry – the first CD ever was made on August 17, 1982 – and the death bells were ringing for vinyl. Yet, the analog medium endured. Never a fan of the CD, Kassem explains, “vinyl is more emotional. It feels better. It draws you in. You start playing a CD and dogs leave the room.” Kassem pushed forward and found his niche market as his business continued to grow.
Eventually he tired of the consistently lackluster condition of the used vinyl he encountered, especially on great recordings. So, he decided to just go ahead and reissue records and sell them through Acoustic Sounds. But he wanted to make sure he did it right, every step of the way. He cherry-picked his favorite recordings, located and licensed the original master tapes, had them re-mastered using top mastering engineers and then pressed them onto high quality vinyl. In 1992, Kassem reissued the Vanguard recording of Stowkowski conducting Virgil Thomson’s The Plow That Broke The Plains – the first Analogue Productions release.
The story just continues to snowball. In time, Kassem began yet another arm of the Acoustic Sounds family, APO Records (Analogue Productions Originals), a label that would record and release new music from primarily older blues musicians. Then came a recording studio housed in a former Church, Blue Heaven Studios. And in 1998, Kassem began throwing an annual blues festival in Salina. Acoustic Sounds moved from a two-bedroom apartment into an office space, then came a 6,000 square foot warehouse and then an 18,000 square-foot space. And since 2011, Acoustic Sounds resides in a 70,000 square-foot, three building compound that includes Quality Record Pressings (QRP), the company’s very own record pressing plant (which happens to produce some of the finest vinyl pressings today).
Let’s get back to Analogue Productions. AP is all about the quality. All reissues on AP use the master tape as a source, hence the name. AP has released over 300 titles to this date, including ambitious projects such as the Blue Note reissues and the Fantasy Records reissues. As of 2011, all AP reissues are pressed and plated at QRP.
Over the years, there have been an intense amount of great sounding records released under the Analogue Productions name in the 33rpm and 45rpm format. In the late 1970’s, the 12” 45rpm vinyl began to appear to delight of audio lovers and boutique audiophile labels. Recently, AP has been at the forefront in a surge of popularity concerning the 12” 45rpm audiophile reissue.
A few notes on the 12” 45rpm format. The grooves on a 45rpm LP are spread out wider than that of a 33rpm LP. Because of the higher speed, the cutting stylus is able to produce a longer path, stretching out the information over a greater distance. Thus, the playback cartridge has an easier time tracing the groove, allowing for greater accuracy in the retrieval of information. There is also the problem concerning the physical shape of the LP itself. According to mastering engineer Kevin Gray (of AcousTech Mastering fame): “In record mastering, the higher the recorded level and frequency, the greater the groove curvature. Curvature isn’t usually a problem, per se, on the outside of a 12” 33 1/3 record, but as the groove moves toward the center, its relative speed slows down and curvature increases. Yes, it is still turning at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute, but consider: one revolution takes 1.8 seconds. 1.8 seconds at a 12” diameter is covering a lot more territory than at the minimum 4.75” diameter. The result is actually a loss in high frequencies, and increase in distortion as the groove moves to the center. The problems start when the curvature of the groove equals or exceeds the diameter of the playback stylus.”
One major technical trade-off with the 45rpm is that the higher speed can result in more surface noise (the benefits are maxed-out at 45rpm — any faster and the gains of fidelity will most likely be lost to surface noise). That is why high quality pressings producing quiet vinyl are crucial. Another limitation of the 45rpm LP is length of time. Because only so much music can fit per side, an album must be broken up into two separate LPs. Admittedly, there are some albums you won’t want to get up and flip the LP every couple of songs – it could change the experience. But some sound so damn good at 45rpm, you won’t think twice. Lastly, 45rpm 12″ vinyl is expensive. Real expensive. So choose wisely and you will be well rewarded.
Today’s list concerns a collection of 45rpm AP reissues that we feel deserve your attention. They will easily make you a proud momma or poppa. They will help your system sound complete. They will make you smile, they will induce chills. They will lighten your wallet. Of course, if you could afford to buy each and every reissue that AP has ever produced, you might as well go ahead and do it. But we felt that these titles are a great place to start for the discerning listener.
Five Must-Have 45rpm Reissues From Analogue Productions
Mastered by Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray at AcousTech Mastering, Camarillo, CA. Originally recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s Studio in Englewood Cliffs, NY in 1957. Numbered 1000 copies. Pressed at QRP.
This is the only solo album Coltrane released on Blue Note. More importantly, it was the first album where Coltrane chose his accompanying musicians, and choose well he did. Blue Train is a moody hard-bob record that is an undeniable classic. Each song is a treasure and captivating in its own right. Perhaps some of the best music Blue Note ever released. And the sound of this reissue is king. Tonally, everything sounds exactly as it should. Originally released in mono, this stereo presentation provides a natural and unified sense of instrument placement. (There are a few stereo reissues –the Classic Records 45rpm comes to mind – that simply spread the image way to far, taking the listener out of the music and into space). If you want to dig deep into the mellow tones and dense harmonies Blue Train has to offer, this LP delivers the goods in spades.
Mastered by George Marino at Sterling Sound from the original three-track masters. Pressed at RTI.
Everybody loves Sam Cooke. His voice just makes people feel something special. And on this recording, he has the songs to match. Recorded by Dave Hassinger, Night Beat is an intimate and soulful affair. The songs are all knockouts. “Please Don’t Drive Me Away” is killer, with its lazy vibe and with quite possibly the loveliest soul guitar sound I’ve ever heard captured on record. “I Lost Everything” will make you believe in Sam Cooke. The transparency and patience of “Lost and Lookin” will give yer gut a push with its spacious sound and the heartfelt pleading vocals. A 16 year-old Billy Preston brings it home on the Hammond organ, complimented by the fluid piano playing of Raymond Johnson. The guitar playing is stunning. But the star of the show here is Mr. Samuel Cook, the King of Soul. Get yourself this 45rpm reissue and hear the magic. This record is as satisfying as they come. The entire record sounds incredible, providing warmth, detail, and undeniable presence.
#3: Lightinin’ Hopkins, Goin’ Away
Mastered by Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray at AcousTech Mastering, Camarillo CA. 1000 Copies Numbered Limited Edition – Pressed at RTI, Tip-On Jacket, 200 gram vinyl.
Recorded in 1963 for Prestige Bluesville, Lightnin’ Hopkins is backed by Leonard Gaskin (bass) and Herb Lovelle (drums), both straight Jazz musicians. Yet, this pairing results in an unpretentious sound that allows Lightnin’ Hopkins to do his thing. Part of the Fantasy reissue series, this AP pressing is dead quiet and the sonics are great. Hopkins slinky acoustic guitar playing is relayed with crisp detail. The songs on Goin Away are stripped-down to the most basic elements, allowing for the presence of the recording space to come through naturally. The dripping blues swagger of the title song will infect you. It sounds as if Lightnin’ Hopkins is playing and singing in your room. It’s spooky. You get two songs per side, but the sound of blues-in-the-flesh is worth getting off yer ass to flip the LP.
Mastered by George Marino at Sterling Sound, Pressed at QRP. 200gram vinyl.
In January of 1957, a 22 year-old Elvis Presely went into Thorne Nolgar’s Hollywood recording studio to prepare for the film “Loving You”. Elvis and the Jordanaires each had their own microphones, with the band mixed down to one track since the entire session was to be put down in mono. The stereo tracks were recorded as backups, never to see the light of day — they had the word “ERASE” clearly written in bright red, a fact that engineer Bones Howe disregarded as he stored them in a bank vault for over 30 years. And thankfully so. Because, although this is not “real” stereo — Elvis is panned hard to one side and the Jordanaires to the other — or even a “real” album — the songs are presented as if part of an outtakes reel — the sound is amazing. Elvis comes through clear as day and the recording is infected with a richness of tone.
This record lets you time travel back into the studio with Elvis and the gang. Whether you hear Elvis burst out laughing or stop a song dead-in-its-tracks because he sang the wrong lyric, you feel as though you are on the inside of the making of this record. The performances take on a documentary style, and the songs are mostly throw-aways, but the sound is just effortless. The Jordanaires come through like sunshine, just listen to “Peace In The Valley” and it will leave you spellbound.
Mastered by Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray at AcousTech Mastering, Camarillo, CA. Pressed at RTI.
I surprised myself by including this LP. Not because it doesn’t sound amazing, it does, but I’ve never really dug Charlie Byrd. His records never left a lasting impression, in part due to the light, “easy-listening” sound I associate him with. Regardless, I put this album on a year ago and was knocked flat. I kept it spinning for months on end.
World famous for his 1962 collaboration with Stan Getz, Jazz Samba, this early live recording finds the Jazz guitarist in an intimate trio setting. Traces of Django and Charlie Christian are everywhere, but Byrd really brings something special to the table in terms of phrasing and control. It’s an easy album to listen to, something you put on to relax, but then jump out of your seat because the guitar sounds so goddamn real you think you’ve been dosed. (The guitar is pushed upfront in the mix throughout the entire LP.) This Riverside recording is a pleasure and the AP 45rpm reissue procures a natural sound, one without any sense of struggle or limitation. Seriously, this vinyl is worth buying for the classical guitar tone alone. It is insane.