Post image for Vinyl Review: Jackie McLean – Lights Out! (Electric Recording Co. 180g)

Vinyl Review: Jackie McLean – Lights Out! (Electric Recording Co. 180g)

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Sound: (see below)
Pressing/packaging: 9.9
Value: (see below)

Original released by Prestige Records in 1956. Catalog Number: LP 7035. Recorded by: Rudy Van Gelder. Supervised by: Bob Weinstock.

The Electric Recording Co. reissue released in 2017. 180g, 33RPM, Mono. Catalog Number: ERC024. Numbered, Limited Edition. UPC: None. MSRP: £300.

What if a company decided to reissue golden era jazz and classical LPs in the most authentic way possible, without worry for cost or time? What would it take? They would have to use restored tape and cutting equipment from the ’50s and ’60s. They’d have to use letterpress printing methods to reproduce the cover art. And they’d have to construct the jackets using the same techniques used to make the originals.

Enter the Electric Recording Co. of London, England. They painstakingly produce only 300 copies of each release, and they charge £300 per record ($368 US as of this writing). Think of them as the opposite of the fly-by-night European reissue label that sources recordings from CDs and prints cover art on laser printers. They are meticulous. They love the art of record making, and they are very, very good at it.

So it is with this release, recorded at the famed Van Gelder Studio in Hackensack, and originally released as Prestige LP 7035 in 1956. No expense has been spared in recreating the music, the vinyl or the packaging. It looks and feels like the nicest, most lovingly created record you’ve ever held. It was even cut with a mono cutting head, just like they did in 1956.

Unfortunately for me, unlocking the magic on this record is not possible with my current setup. With my Ortofon 2M Black cartridge, the inner third of each side of this disc had such distortion as to make it unlistenable. Same goes for my Denon DL-103 and Signet TK7E. These are all stereo carts, with smaller styli than the 1 mm of real mono carts, so that could be the issue. At least, I hope that is the issue.

As an experiment–and not a very good one, given the hypothesis above–I took the record down the street to my favorite hi-fi shop, Definitive Audio, here in sunny Seattle, WA. They didn’t have a mono cartridge to try, but they did have a Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement cartridge on a Clearaudio Master Innovation turntable, connected to D’Agostino amplification and Wilson Audio Alexx loudspeakers.

One of the most expensive records played on one of the most expensive turntables. Sonic bliss? Not so fast.

This is a top flight setup by any measure, and it costs more than most homes. Result? Same. Bad distortion on inner third of each side. Very transparent, articulate distortion, but distortion nonetheless. So, at least I know it’s not my setup.

In playing maybe 5,000 records in my lifetime, a really small percentage have been mono and cut with mono heads (mono heads were used in the ’50s and early ’60s, before stereo cutting heads became the norm). And some of those old monos had terrible distortion. I always thought it was due to groove wear or bad pressings. Perhaps it was simply that I was using the wrong cartridge?

So, this isn’t so much a review as a lesson–for me, mostly. I actually wasn’t aware that one might need a mono cartridge to properly play mono records cut by a mono head. If it is true, then I just learned a valuable hi-fi lesson. If it is not true, then this copy of this record is a dud. Which is a big deal, given the price.

Never a big mono fan in the first place, I’m going to request a review copy of ERC’s latest release, Bruckner’s 9th performed by VPO and conducted by Carl Schuricht. A monster recording I’ve yet to hear on a proper pressing. It’s stereo, so should be a safer bet based on my stereo-only cartridge options. Regardless, I’ll let you know how it sounds.

Reinhard April 11, 2017 at 8:03 am

It seems to me that you don´t have basic knowledge of record cutting and its history.

Mark Wieman April 11, 2017 at 8:17 am

Perhaps you can enlighten me?

Reinhard April 11, 2017 at 10:33 am

Hi Mark,
what´s the use of a super duper monstrous turntable when the cartridge is wrong?
The Electric Recording Co. uses an Ortofon DS522 mono cutter head.
A stereo cartridge does not track a mono groove the way it should be done.
So please read:
I myself use an AT 33 Mono cartridge which is not expensive and does a fairly good job. Another inexpensive recommendation is the Ortofon MC Qintet Mono.

Mark Wieman April 11, 2017 at 11:47 am

Hi Reinhard,

Thanks for the comment and link. I had read similar articles but not that one in particular.

For the record (!), I do mention several times in the review that I assume the distortion is due to my use of stereo carts for this disc, but that I could not know for sure since I have no mono cart to test with. Apologies if I wasn’t explicit enough about this.

BTW, testing on the Clearaudio turntable was a quick (if silly) way to make sure the issue wasn’t related to my arm, alignment, etc. Wish I had a mono cart on hand!

David January 9, 2018 at 3:22 pm

From the way you describe the degree of distortion you’re hearing, I’d be surprised if that’s the result of simply using a stereo cartridge on a mono cut. I own hundreds of mono pressings, from 50s and 60s originals up to higher quality mono reissues cut with a mono head by Bernie Grundman, one of the few engineers who still uses them. While a mono cart would improve fidelity, I’ve never experienced serious distortion as a result of playing a mono cut with any stereo cartridges I’ve owned. I’m curious to hear what someone who has tested one of the ERC Prestige reissues with a mono cart would say, but this sounds like an issue with the pressing, not your choice of cartridge.