For a record collector like me, lacquers of classic albums are a bit of a holy grail. Lacquers are the fragile pressings that are later used to make stampers which produce the final LP. Typically collectors pay hundred of dollars for these lacquers because they are inherently rare and offer up some of the best possible sound of an album. Led Zeppelin lacquers can exceed a thousand dollars. Now these pressings are made available to folks who run record labels so they can judge the quality of the mastering, the process whereby an analog tape is converted to an LP. So you can pay big bucks for a lacquer or find a record executive who has some lacquers. I ran into Shane Buettner at RMAF and we talked a bit about how much I liked my first Intervention Records release, Look Sharp by Joe Jackson. This album has been on heavy rotation in the basement listening room for a while. Shane mentioned that he was still involved with Vandersteen and happened to have lacquers of a few select cuts that he could play me on the big Vandersteen Seven system. Would I be interested in this? Heck yeah.
It gets better. Lately I have managed to get into the Reference line from Audio Research. This new set of electronics has taken my stereo to a new level. I have the Ref 5SE and the Ref Phono 2 for my analog playback but the system we were about to hear would have the more recent and better sounding Ref 6 preamp, Ref Phono 3, and the Reference CD9 CD player. Analog source was quite stellar as well, an AMG Viella 12 with the 12ST tonearm and a DS Audio Master 1 optical cartridge and amp. Speakers were the top of the line Vandersteen Seven Mark 2 floorstanders ($62K a pair) powered by the Vandersteen M7-HPA liquid-cooled mono-block amplifiers ($52K a pair). The speakers have a built-in 400 watt amp for the included sub but the bass was actually provided by the new SUB NINE pre-production subwoofer. Cabling was from AudioQuest and power conditioning was from the new AudioQuest Niagara designed by Garth Powell and getting some buzz in audiophile circles.
I had visited this room earlier with my pal Chris and the sound was very, very good. The Sevens with the M7 amp have a nice present, warmth to them. The resolution of the ARC preamps and the M7s seemed a great fit and the bass of the Sevens which have a powered subwoofer is tremendous. This a large, wide room situated on the balcony of the Marriott and I’m sure a bit of a challenge in the acoustics department but the imaging was very good with a wide and deep soundstage. Detail was quite good and I know from personal experience the Ref components from Audio Research were helping there. Their new Ref 6 and phono are superb.
On the second visit, we got to hear the lacquers from Intervention Records. Not everyone is aware of this new label but it is headed by long-time industry guy Shane Buettner and is focused on some neglected masterpieces from bands a bit “under the radar” but still brand name. I’ve long been a fan of Joe Jackson’s Look Sharp album which had superb songwriting, performance, and sound. This album launched the big hit “Is she really going out with him?” but much of the album is a faster paced, punk-like rock that many folks would not immediately associate with Joe Jackson. This was a soundtrack of my junior high school years. As soon as I got into LPs this was an early album. Original pressings sound very good. But Shane is no dummy; he has been around good sound and knows what audiophiles want. He has Kevin Gray of Cohearent Audio or Ryan Smith of Sterling Sound cut the albums from analog tapes in an all-analog process. Many of you may know Kevin from many reissues and the sublime Music Matters 45 and 33 rpm LPs. Ryan Smith has done many of the excellent Analogue Productions records. Pressings are 180 gram vinyl. Jackets are done by Stoughton, the renowned maker of thick board, “tip on” jackets. This is a first class label all around.
First up was the lacquer for Stealer’s Wheel “Stuck In The Middle With You”. This was a revelation on the Sevens. Chris loved the sound and so did I. The Sevens are very open and the bass is terrific.
Second was lacquer for Joe Jackson’s “Sunday Papers”. An early critique of the press way ahead of its time, this just rocked. The extra detail of the lacquer seemed to be lifted out of the groove quite well by the Master 1/AMG/Ref Phono 3 combination. Joe’s secret weapon on this album is English bass player Graham Maby, likely in the running for best bass player of his day. Graham has toured with They Might Be Giants, Graham Parker, and Natalie Merchant more recently. He lays down a solid foundation for the entire record and Kevin Gray brings it out in this mastering that it thumps my chest when I play the record at home. And that is on Maggies! Pro tip: play “Fools in Love”, a favorite demo cut of both myself and Shane. Got an original pressing? Great. Buy this new one. It’s that good.
Intervention Records is off to a flying start. They just announced two Erasure titles (The Circus and Wonderland) and there are two more Joe Jackson titles in addition to Look Sharp, the classic Night & Day and I’m The Man. Stealer’s Wheel is available for both their self-titled and Ferguslie Park. Then you have Everclear and This is Big Audio Dynamite. Vandersteen continues to impress with a true flagship speaker that offers detail, warmth, and beautifully defined bass.
Kudos as well to AudioQuest, AMG and Audio Research, a fine supporting cast.
Now it’s time for me to order that Big Audio Dynamite LP!