Friday, July 25, 2014

Mastering comparison and review of 2014 Sun Ra Mastered for iTunes Remasters Part 1

In honor of Sun Ra's Centenary in 2014 Michael "The Good Doctor" Anderson (Sun Ra's personally appointed archivist) and Irwin Chusid have begun to re-release highlights from Sun Ra's discography in partnership with Sun Ra LLC via iTunes, in digital "Mastered for iTunes" form - using new hi-res transfers from the master tapes where available.

This is such a treasure trove of music, that it will take the Sun Ra community years to truly evaluate and absorb all of the details and comparisons - from the unreleased material to the new masterings, and how they compare to the myriad of releases that have preceded.

In my research, I have always made the point to collect as many versions of the same release as I can acquire, in an effort to determine what the truly best masterings of the material are.

I normally choose physical, lossless and hi-res formats when purchasing my music and was highly skeptical about buying the catalog yet again, let alone in a lossy lower bit rate format.

In general, from a mastering, dynamics, noise reduction and EQ standpoint, I can say that each new 2014 Remaster I have analyzed is the best version currently available, and that the Anderson/Chusid team have done a great job, and made tasteful mastering choices that honor Sun Ra's legacy. 

One thing that did surprise me, is that many of the previous issues and reissues are not as terrible as the consensus has built them up to be. In some of the comparisons, you will find some of the differences require real attention to perceive, while some are glaringly obvious. I think what it comes down to, is that the source material can be less that ideal, and that the mastering choices made by the engineer are very important - this is where I give Mr. Anderson and Mr. Chusid high praise. They have made very tasteful and musical choices with their technical approach.

You can be assured that if you are new to the music, or an old fan that knows the records inside and out, that you can have confidence in purchasing all of these new remasters. The only thing to deter you is if Mastered for iTunes 256 kbs AAC's are unacceptable. Luckily, from the sounds of it physical versions will follow sometime in 2015 after Apple's exclusive license expires. 

However, if you're a true Sun Ra devotee, less than ideal sound quality is something you've learned to accept. That is not to say that these new 2014 Remasters don't sound excellent, I just suspect that in the original 24-96 khz realm that they were sampled in, that there is a lot more to be heard on these tapes from a dynamic range and "breath of life" standpoint.

Here's are the first 4 shoot-outs I did. I look forward to hearing your thoughts - please contribute your opinions via the comments section below.

Mastering comparison for Sunology, Pt. 1 from Super-Sonic Jazz (19560413-19561000 RCA Studios; Chicago, IL)
00:00:00 - 00:37:62 Saturn H7 0P 0216 and H7 OP 0217 LP
00:37:62 - 01:03:50 A.B.C. Records/Impulse AS-9271 LP
01:03:50 - 01:39:10 Evidence ECD 22015-2
01:39:10 - 02:34:25 Scorpio Reissue LP SR-LP-0216
02:34:25 - 05:42:00 Mastered for iTunes Remaster 2014

Mastering comparison for Enlightenment from Jazz In Silhouette (19590306 Chicago, IL)
00:00:00 - 01:30:50 El Saturn Records LP 5786
01:30:50 - 03:12:50 Evidence ECD 22012-2
03:12:50 - 05:02:00 Mastered for iTunes Remaster 2014

Mastering comparison for Plutonian Nights from The Nubians of Plutonia (19580000-19590000 Chicago, IL)
00:00:00 - 00:59:40 Saturn LP
00:59:40 - 01:58:25 Evidence ECD
01:58:25 - 02:58:00 Scorpio Reissue LP
02:58:00 - 04:19:00 Mastered for iTunes Remaster 2014

Mastering comparison for Tiny Pyramids from Angels and Demons at Play (19560000-19600000 Hall Recording Company, Rehearsals, RCA Studios)
00:00:00 - 00:42:00 Saturn LP
00:42:00 - 01:22:25 ABC/Impulse LP
01:22:25 - 02:02:25 Evidence ECD
02:02:25 - 02:41:30 Scorpio Reissue LP
02:41:30 - 03:36:00 Mastered for iTunes Remaster 2014

From "The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra: The Sound of Joy Is Enlightening" by Chris Raschka.
From "The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra: The Sound of Joy Is Enlightening" by Chris Raschka.


Unknown said...

Good work! Have bought Nubians of Plutonia on this advice and am amazed by the quality on the Atlantis excerpts - I have the Impulse reissue but iTunes shines a whole new light on the music.

MSM said...

Thanks for the comparisons. The new remasters sound terrific. I'm still going to hold out for flac or a better a better resolution recording. If you can tell the powers that be to issue them that way, there will be plenty of fans coming to buy them.

Unknown said...

sorry, but i am not sure if the mastering done anything good to those sun ra's recording - already on the evidence CDs the sound of the drums sounded way too pushy (for my ears) - as compered to the vinyl records. now with those new "remasters" it's even more aggressive and on some of the tracks it does quite some damage --- example: "angels and demons at play" track: "urnack" --- all the high percussion is unbearable - i compared all 3 formats on 3 different speaker - and in all modes, the only version that i really enjoyed was the vinyl and those new "remasters" were always my last choice