Hats off to the people who thought of this wheeze:
…a £6,300 lacquer of Sarah Vaughan that only survives one play
Yes, it’s a recording on a lacquer-coated aluminium disc, such as is used in the manufacture of LPs. It’s soft, and if it is played it is destroyed in the process. You can buy one of a limited edition of thirty for £6,300, to be played just once. And if you like Sarah Vaughan that would be a bonus.
Presumably the idea is that it gets you one step closer to the original musical event.
But not so fast. This one is derived from a digital transfer. And not just a straight transfer. They digitise the original live recording tapes and then do a bunch of signal processing, explicitly removing some of the original event in the process.
Once the signal is digitised, it’s treated using processing algorithms to try and reduce residual noise – a process that isn’t always easy. While the tapes were in good condition, the Peterson performance proved the most difficult. The tapes hadn’t been opened since 1962, and had much more analog noise than the others.
D’Oria-Nicolas also told us how, in the Evans’ recording, “the drums were too close to the piano and some frequencies did make some drum skins vibrate… We successfully managed to delete that.”
Obviously, the closest you can get to the original event is by playing the analogue tapes, and a straight digital transfer of these will be indistinguishable from the tape. Noise, drop-outs and all.
‘Photoshopping’ is the next stage, and you can actually download the photoshopped version and listen to it. Digital cleaning-up of scratched, dusty images can be a very positive thing, and the audio equivalent may be too. This version may, or may not need some further manipulation in order to cut the lacquer master on a lathe, plus it needs filtering for RIAA equalisation.
As I understand it, in the LP process (which I view with affection, rather like any other ‘heritage’ industry such as keeping steam trains going), the lacquer is then coated in metal and the two layers separated to produce a metal negative of the lacquer disc. This is then coated in metal and the two layers separated to produce a metal positive copy of the lacquer. This is then coated in metal and the two layers separated to produce a negative: the stamper. Multiple stampers are produced – stampers wear out. The stampers are then used to press blobs of hot vinyl to produce the final LPs! It is amazing to me that it works so well.
You can then play the vinyl record using a tiny stylus, a cantilever, and a coil/magnet arrangement to produce a tiny voltage. This is amplified and filtered with the reverse RIAA curve before sending it via the volume control to the power amp and speakers.
A vinyl record is quite a long way from the original event!
In this case, the earliest point in the chain that we have access to is the processed digital file. This is regarded by audiophiles as the poor man’s version of the recording. We pay extra (a lot extra) to listen to the output of the next stage – the self-destructing lacquer. Or, for somewhat less, we can buy the result at the end of the chain: the standard vinyl LP.
Obviously, the people behind this scheme understand exactly what they are doing, and have a good sense of humour. But it does highlight a particular audiophile belief, I think: that music – even the devil’s own digital music – can be purified and cleansed if it is passed through ‘heritage’ technology built by craftsmen and artisans.
The rational person might assume that the earlier in the chain you go should give you the best quality, but audiophiles will pay more – much more – to hear the music passed through extra layers of sanctified materials, such as wood, oil, cellulose, varnish, bakelite, animal glue, silver wire, diamond, waxed paper and