Classic's Clarity Pressings

It’s fair to ask how many audiophile pressings of John Coltrane’s Blue Train do we need? Yet Mike Hobson of Classic Records makes a compelling case for this answer: one more. Classic is putting out a whole new type of LP, and though its technical tweak seems preposterous—a parody of vinylphilic obsession—it really does yield a substantial improvement; it makes the head spin.

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.

Ernie Edwards's picture

Was not the reason for adding carbon black to the vinyl formulation to improve its longevity?It will be interesting to learn if the sound quality degrades more rapidly.

John Temmerman's picture

How can I submit my new independent jazz CD for potential review?

selfdivider's picture

Thanks for the report FK. With your recommendation, I have one more reason to spend extra. =(

R. Gould-Saltman's picture

OK, I may be a cranky skeptic, but until someone shows me that 'philes can actually consistently distinguish these in blind ABB (not just a-b)testing, I'm sorry, but I'm consigning these to the same bin as green edging for CD's, and ultra-fancy cabling, particularly since the source tape or disc was recorded at state-of-the-art for 1960!

S. Chapman's picture

I don't doubt that there's some increase in quality with this process, but I have a whole shelf of Classic single-sided 45s that I never play. To me, the distraction and annoyance of changing the record every 8-10 minutes outweighs any audible improvement. Also, I'd rather use my limited funds to support new jazz artists rather than get yet another reissue.

Tony's picture

This is nuts! $50 a pop too. Apparently the recession isn't hitting everyone equally. The real shaame is that while some folks obsess over minute (if real at all) "improvements" in sound quality. a world of music passes them by. Silly, wasteful and wrongheaded.

Al's picture

I have Classic's Clarity Vinyl of Cannonball Adderely’s "Something Else." When Analogue Productions issues its 45 this month of the same title, I'll compare them.

Marc Stager's picture

This is great. Wonderful sound from 1960's musically involving, simple, gimmick free recordings of first rate music and talent.But the downside is the need to change disks every ten minutes or so, interrupting the joy of listening to this great music. So, do you make the compromise of listening to a CD or regular LP with fewer interruptions but less stellar sound?Problem solved. I found an old Garrard record changer in a thrift shop and bought it for $5.00, complete with a Pickering cartridge. Now I can just stack the disks and they play without interruption. Thanks, Stereophile!