Classic's Clarity Pressings
And there’s a nice story to it, a story involving Hobson and Stereophile’s own Michael Fremer.
On a recent visit to Fremer’s house, Hobson heard a demo of the Furutech DeMag, a device that demagnetizes LPs. The concept seems ludicrous (what kind of magnetic force could a slab of vinyl give off?), but I’ve heard the same demo, and believe me, it works: the music sounds cleaner, clearer, more dynamic, less muddy.
It turns out that the carbon black additives used in pressing vinyl record albums contain trace metals. I’m not sure if the following is observed science or speculation, but the idea is that these metals become magnetized and produce electrical distortions in a phonocartridge during playback, causing a bit of sonic smear.
Hobson wondered if the same improvement could be wrought by pressing an album without carbon black additives. Hence his new line: Classic Clarity pressings. The pressing’s surface is clear, not black. The conclusion (mine as well as his): these records sound fabulous.
It’s not just the clear surface. These albums are also pressed at 45 rpm (which, as we all know, widens the tight curves that a cartridge has to navigate, thus reducing additional distortions). And the grooves are stamped on only one side of the disc; the other side is blank; as a result, mechanical resonances are absorbed by the turntable platter. (I’ve done A/B comparisons between one- and two-sided LPs before; sounds fishy, but there is a difference, and while it’s not enormous, it’s far from trivial.)
But the additive-free pressing is the wowzer here. Along with the first four releases in this line—Blue Train, Cannonball Adderely’s Something Else (a wonderful album of ballads, with Miles Davis as sideman on trumpet), Duke Ellington & Louis Armstrong’s Recorded Together for the First Time and their sequel, The Great Reunion—Hobson sent me, just for comparison, a disc of each that was mastered in exactly the same way (45 rpm, single-sided) except that it’s black carbon. The difference is big enough that I’d pay extra for the Clarity: it lets you hear more of an instrument’s texture and more of the air around it; sounds are warmer and more detailed; and there’s more depth to the soundstage.
I have original pressings of all these albums (Coltrane and Adderley on Blue Note, the Ellington-Armstrongs on Roulette), as well as several generations of audiophile reissues. The Classic Clarity pressings sound best of all (though the original LP of The Great Reunion comes very close and has slightly tighter, thumpier bass—but try to find one in good condition).
They’re $50 per title (each spread out over four single-sided 45 rpm 12” slabs of clear vinyl). If it contains music you love, and if you have a stereo that can make the extraordinary shine, they’re worth it.