PS: Fred Hersch's Whirl ON VINYL

Soon after raving over Fred Hersch’s new piano-trio album, Whirl, I learned that it was also available on 180-gram vinyl. I’ve since obtained a pressing and can report that, good as the CD sounded, the LP sounds considerably better.

Hersch’s piano sounds airier, a bit more extended in the highs. More striking, Eric McPherson’s drums, while still somewhat compressed (the only serious sonic complaint I had about the CD), come off much more detailed. His rhythmic subtleties are clearer, and the individual pieces of the drum kit are more distinctive. At the opening of the first track, you can hear, practically feel, the skin of the bass drum.

Palmetto Records, which put out both the CD and the LP, is just beginning to dip into the vinyl market. Whirl is the second title in what may be a series (the first was Lonnie Smith’s Spiral, which I haven’t heard). Palmetto’s general manager, Pat Rustici, told me that he pressed 1,000, and has thus far sold about 400, copies of each.

A nice start, but the Hersch LP could have sounded better. A.T. Macdonald, who mastered the CD, told me in an email exchange that James Farber digitally recorded the session at a high resolution —32 bits and 88.2 kHz sampling. Macdonald then down-rez’d the results on a wav file at 16 bits and 44.1 kHz (as must be done to fit the CD format).

Rustici contracted a Czech company to press the LPs. (Stereophile’s Michael Fremer, who knows such things, tells me the company is quite good.) But, according to Rustici himself, he sent them the wav files to use as the source. Why didn’t he send the higher-resolution master files? Doing so wouldn’t have cost any more, and the resulting LP, it stands to reason, would have sounded better, maybe much better. (Macdonald confirms that the masters do sound better.)

Next time, Palmetto. We’re all eagerly waiting.

Will's picture

Interesting blog Fred! This installment was particularly pertinent since I recently purchase this LP, but not the CD. My first impression was "what's wrong with my TT now!" Even though it is quite enjoyable mucically, there's this slight harshness. You resolved it for me (16/44 transfer), thanks.I'll be reading you in the future, keep it coming...Will W