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Super Hot Stamper - Nat "King" Cole - To Whom It May Concern

Super Hot Stamper

Nat "King" Cole
To Whom It May Concern

Capitol Records
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$149.99
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$149.99
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Sonic Grade

Side One:

Side Two:

Vinyl Grade

Side One: Mint Minus Minus*

Side Two: Mint Minus Minus

  • An outstanding copy of Nat "King" Cole's wonderful 1959 release with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from top to bottom
  • The presence and immediacy of Nat's vocals here are '50s Capitol Recording Magic at its best - you won't believe how good this early stereo pressing sounds
  • With the biggest, clearest, richest, most present and most natural vocal reproduction, this copy took Nat's performance to another level, which is exactly what earned this copy its Three Pluses
  • "For this album, Cole had the idea of putting together a set of newly written songs in the classic style, with typically sympathetic arrangements by Nelson Riddle..."
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*NOTE: A mark on the edge makes 9 moderate to light pops during the intro to track 1, To Whom It May Concern, before the lyrics begin.

Set the volume right and Nat is right between your speakers, putting on the performance of a lifetime. The selection of material and the contributions of all involved (Nelson Riddle among them) are hard to fault.

This vintage Capitol LP has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern pressings barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn't showing any sign of coming back.

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much in the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real Nat King Cole singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of older recordings (this one is now 62+ years old), I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it -- not often, and certainly not always -- but less than one out of 100 new records do, if our experience with the hundreds we've played can serve as a guide.

What the best sides of To Whom It May Concern have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1959
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange -- with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio

No doubt there's more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

The Hunt

Naturally we're always on the lookout for Nat King Cole records with good sound. In our experience finding them is not nearly as easy as one might think it would be. Far too many of his recordings are drenched in bad reverb, with sound that simply can't be taken seriously -- fine for old consoles but not so good on modern audiophile equipment.

At least one we know of has his voice out of phase with the orchestra on most copies, which put a quick end to any hope of finishing the shootout we had started.

If anything the sound on his albums gets even worse in the '60s. Many of Nat's albums from that decade are over-produced, bright, thin and shrill.

We assume most audiophiles got turned on to his music from the records that Steve Hoffman remixed and remastered for DCC back in the mid-'90s, For those of you who were customers of ours back then, you know that I count myself among that group. I even went so far as to nominate the DCC of Nat's Greatest Hits as the best album DCC ever made. (I know now, as I expect you do, that that's really not saying much, but at the time I thought it was a pretty bold statement.)

What We're Listening For on To Whom It May Concern

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next -- wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information -- fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness common to most LPs.
  • Tight, note-like bass with clear fingering -- which ties in with good transient information, as well as the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency -- the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the players.
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren't "back there" somewhere, way behind the speakers. They're front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would have put them.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing -- an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Devoting the Resources

Having long ago given up on Heavy Vinyl LPs by DCC and others of their persuasion -- a clear sign of having made Progress in Audio -- these days we are in a much better position to devote our resources to playing every Nat King Cole album on every pressing we can get our hands on, trying to figure out what are the copies -- from what era, on what label, with what stampers, cut by whom, stereo or mono, import or domestic -- that potentially have truly Hot Stamper sound, the very Raison d'être of our business.

We have to play each and every one of the records we've cleaned for our shootout anyway, whether we think it's potentially the best pressing or not. There is no other way to do it. Right Stamper, Wrong Sound is an undeniable reality in the world of records. It's not unheard of for the same stampers to win a shootout, do moderately well on another copy and then come in dead last on a third.

Vinyl Condition

Mint Minus Minus is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)

Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of later pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don't have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.

If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that's certainly your prerogative, but we can't imagine losing what's good about this music -- the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight -- just to hear it with less background noise.


Side One

To Whom It May Concern
Love-Wise
Too Much
In The Heart of Jane Doe
A Thousand Thoughts of You
You're Bringing Out The Dreamer in Me

Side Two

My Heart's Treasure
If You Said No
Can't Help It
Lovesville
Unfair
This Morning It Was Summer

AMG Review

The albums that Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, and other classic pop singers made in the 1950s usually consisted of standards from the golden era of pop songwriting in the 1920s, '30s, and '40s. For this album, Cole had the idea of putting together a set of newly written songs in the classic style, with typically sympathetic arrangements by Nelson Riddle. "Personally, I hear the magic in all these selections," Cole wrote in the liner notes. "It will be interesting to see whether I'm right." The magic listeners hear today is in Cole's voice...