Choose Your Weapons Well..

by Brad Kay

...when playing 78s! The size and shape of the diamond stylus is crucial to good frequency range and dynamics, as any experienced remastering engineer will confirm. "Clementine" responds beautifully to a 4.0 mil truncated elliptical stylus. That size fits the groove perfectly, maximizing the signal, giving a solid frequency response from top to bottom. There's plenty of high end on this record.

I think that in terms of sheer sound from '20s electricals, Victor beats them all. OKeh and Columbia had the advantage of those smooth laminated surfaces, which give better signal-to-noise ratio than the sometimes gritty solid-stock shellac Victor was using. But the Victor engineers seem to have known their stuff best. When a Victor 78 is in pristine condition (or you have a better pressing, such as a laminated Australian or French HMV, or better yet, a vinyl master pressing from the '50s on, or if you're REALLY lucky, a metal mother), the revealed superiority of the Victor sound is evident. It's usually lush, smooth, transparent and undistorted, with great frequency range and excellent instrumental balances. I have some Whiteman/Bix vinyls that would make your hair either stand on end, or fall out completely.

It's too bad the original metal for "Clementine" had disappeared by the mid-'30s. Victor had to dub it for the 1936 reissue (25283), by which time their shellac was much improved over 1927. Also, most original copies of "Clementine" have bass blasting in the first 30 seconds. Steve Brown's bowing almost breaks through the groove walls. One or two careless plays with a steel needle would finish the job. A flawless copy of 20994 owned by a collector friend has no such distortion and reveals rococo continents of lovely sound that no other label could match.

-Brad K

Posted on Apr 20, 2012, 12:01 AM

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