You are reading the older HTML site

Positive Feedback ISSUE 66
march/april 2013


AudioQuest: Old is New Again, Some of the Best Early SACDs are Back in Print
by Teresa Goodwin


The AudioQuest Music blues recordings are among the finest stereo SACDs I've ever heard, and have been prominently featured in all of my best of SACD lists. AudioQuest Music was sold to Valley Entertainment in 2001, after which nothing new was released, and they gradually went out-of-print. They are now back in print on the Sledgehammer Blues label, owned by Valley Entertainment, and available on SACD and CD.

AudioQuest Music recorded "live" direct to either 2 track 30 IPS tube analog, or 2 track DSD with no editing. The resulting recordings sound so realistic, and the music is so spontaneous without the overproduction and editing of most modern recordings. The talent of the musicians on these AudioQuest recordings were of such a high caliber that editing would not be necessary anyway.

The music is some of the greatest blues I've heard from any recording company. Watch out Blind Pig; move over Alligator, this is the definitive blues label from both a musical and sonic perspective, in my personal opinion. The soundstage is so real, it's just like the musicians are in the room with me!

Joe Harley produced all these wonderful recordings; he was and is vice president of AudioQuest, a high-end audio cable manufacturer now concentrating primarily on cables and accessories. Many audio companies have tried their hand at music recording, and many of those sound excellent, however, the music was not always first rate. AudioQuest Music was one of the few exceptions to this rule, as they released some of the finest blues and jazz music I've heard.

After AudioQuest Music quit making new recordings, Joe Harley continued to be a very in demand producer, and made mostly blues and jazz recordings with Enja, ECM, Telarc, and Groove Note. His latest venture is the new reissue LP label Music Matters  he founded with jazzologist Ron Rambach. They release re-mastered versions of classic Blue Note recordings on 45rpm 2 LP sets.

BluesQuest Sampler

"Get up, Get Ready" (Terry Evans), "One Good Woman" (Doug MacLeod), "Dirty Ground Hog" (Joe Beard), "Too Proud" (Mighty Sam McClain), "Country Girl" (Pinetop Perkins/Ronnie Earl), "The Prowler" (Bruce Katz), "Going Back Home" (Sherman Robertson), "Old Country Road" (Doug MacLeod), "50 Pounds of Bone" (Robert Lucas), "See See Rider" (Joe Beard/Sam Beard), "Ronnie's Blues" (Pinetop Perkins/Ronnie Earl/Willie "Big Eyes" Smith/Calvin "Fuzz" Jones), "Somebody Help Me" (Mighty Sam McClain)

Stereo Hybrid SACD from the original AudioQuest analog master tapes.

Sledgehammer Blues 55-AQM-1052

I recommend getting this sampler first; there are some great Blues tunes on this that AudioQuest Music never released separately on SACD. I consider this one of the most important SACDs ever released. Great blues in some of the best sound I've ever heard, every track is a treasure. If you only get one blues sampler this is it. Once I heard this sampler, I purchased all the full SACDs that were available, about half of the recordings were never released on SACD.

Mighty Sam McClain, Give It Up To Love

"Give It Up To Love," "Too Proud," "What You Want Me To Do," "Here I Go Falling In Love Again," "Got To Have Your Love," "Child Of The Mighty Mighty," "I'm Tired Of These Blues," "I Feel Good," "Love Me If You Want To," "Don't Turn Back Now," "Lonesome Road"

Mighty Sam McClain - Vocals

Bennie Wallace - Sax (Tenor)

Bruce Katz - Organ, Piano, Hammond B-3

Kevin Barry - Guitar

Lorne Entress - Drums

Michael Rivard - Bass

Stereo Hybrid SACD from the original AudioQuest analog master tape.

Sledgehammer Blues 55-AQM-1015

This is actually a new SACD release as Mighty Sam McClain's classic "Give It Up To Love" was previously available on LP, CD and XRCD on the AudioQuest label, Sledgehammer Blues reissues it for the first time ever on SACD.

Soul Survivor: The Best of Mighty Sam McClain

"Too Proud," "Can You Stand the Test of Love," "Who Made You Cry?," "New Man in Town," "What You Want Me to Do?," "Where You Been So Long?," "Honey Chile," "Here I Go Falling in Love Again," "Lord Will Make a Way," "Hanging on the Cross," "I'm Gonna Love You," "When the Hurt Is Over," "Give It Up to Love"

Stereo Hybrid SACD from the original AudioQuest analog master tape.

Sledgehammer Blues 55-AQM-1053

This is the best of Sam McClain's AudioQuest recordings of his unique and powerful spiritual blues.

Unmarked Road − Doug MacLeod

"Unmarked Road," "Necessary Clothes," "Little Songbird," "Home Cookin'," "Talking With Strangers," "Roll Like a River," "Lost Like the Wind At Night," "I Want You," "Children Like You," "Night Run To Freedom," "Cross-eyed In the Mind," "Old Country Road"

Stereo Hybrid SACD from the original AudioQuest analog master tape.

Sledgehammer Blues 55-AQM-1046

Whose Truth, Whose Lies? − Doug MacLeod

"Whose Truth, Whose Lies?," "Plaquemine," "'Splain It To Me," "Norfolk County Line," "My Black Pony," "Saint Louis On My Mind," "Can't Give Me Nothin' (I Ain't Already Had Before)"," Unlonely," "Rise Up, Sweet Ride," "Goin' Down Country," "You Won't Find Me," "Time For A Change"

Stereo Hybrid SACD from the original AudioQuest DSD master.

Sledgehammer Blues 55-AQM-1054

Both of Doug MacLeod's SACDs offer great blues with superb sonics. My favorite of the two is Unmarked Road, but Whose Truth, Whose Lies? is its near equal. However, I prefer the sound quality of the 30 IPS 2 track master over the 2 track DSD master. I have always found this unusual in that SACDs are in the DSD format. The quote by Joe Harley at the end of this article, called LPs Dirty Little Secret offers me some clues. For posterity's sake I wonder if recording in high quality analog is perhaps the best choice.

These two SACDs offer great acoustic blues recording influenced by soul, rock, and folk, as well as country and urban blues. Doug MacLeod's voice and acoustic guitar and are accompanied by percussion, bass, and sometimes piano.

For Real − Joe Beard

"Drinking Old Taylor," "Don't Start Me Talking," "It's up to You," "See See Rider," "Dirty Groundhog," "Reap What You Sow," "Elem," "Who's Using Who," "The Things I Used to Do," "If That's What Pleases Her," "She's Wonderful," "37 Years Old," "Airplane Blues"

Joe Beard - Guitar, Vocals

Duke Robillard - Guitar

Bruce Katz - Piano, Hammond B-3

Jerry Portnoy - Harmonica

Rod Carey - Bass

Per Hanson - Drums

Stereo Hybrid SACD from the original AudioQuest analog master tape.

Sledgehammer Blues 55-AQM-1049

Dealin' − Joe Beard

"The Bitter Seed," "You Don't Love Me Anymore," "Just Like A Fish," "Life Without Parole," "My Eyes Keep Me In Trouble," "Holding A Losing Hand," "Give Up and Let Me Go," "Three Day Love Affair," "Making A Fool Out Of Me," "Long Tall Shorty," "That 'So-Called' Friend Of Mine," "You'd Better Be Sure," "If I get Lucky"

Stereo Hybrid SACD from the original AudioQuest DSD master.

Sledgehammer Blues 55-AQM-1055

These two SACDs by Joe Beard, an emotionally potent and rhythmically compelling singer of straight ahead electric blues, once again offers state-of-the-art sonics. And once again, I find a slight sonic edge in the one from 2 track 30 IPS analog tape as illogical as that is.

His fantastic band consists of the great guitar stylist Duke Robillard, along with Bruce Katz, Per Hanson, and Rod Carey, better known as Ronnie Earl's crack band − The Broadcasters. Jerry Portnoy, known for his awesome harp work with Muddy Waters and Eric Clapton, joins in on four of the tracks. "For Real" is a combination of Beard originals and an homage to Lightning Hopkins and John Lee Hooker.

Three Feet Off the Ground − The Bruce Katz Band

"Beef Jerky," "In The Shadow," "Wrecking Ball," "Way Down Time," "Three Feet Off The Ground," "Walk With Me," "You're It," "Jet Lag," "The Hook," "Key To The City," "Switchin'"

Stereo Hybrid SACD from the original AudioQuest DSD master.

Sledgehammer Blues 55-AQM-1056

Over a decade of piano training led a young Bruce Katz to a wide appreciation of music, including blues, jazz, rock, and honky tonk. After studying jazz and bebop at Berklee College, he hit the road for roughly fourteen years playing with such greats as Big Mama Thorton, Mighty Sam McClain, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Johnny Adams, Jimmy Witherspoon, and Ronnie Earl. In the early 1990s, tired of constant jamming, he returned to the New England Conservatory where he received his Masters in jazz. He recorded with Ronnie Earl's Broadcasters and then formed his own band.

Puttin' It Down − Terry Evans

"Money In Your Pocket," "Too Many Ups And Downs," "Walking In The Same Tracks," "Down In Mississippi," "In This Day And Time," "Rooftop Tomcat," "A Lover Like You," "One Sided Love Affair," "Nasty Doll," "Blues No More"

Stereo Hybrid SACD from the original AudioQuest analog master tape.

Sledgehammer Blues 55-AQM-1038

Mississippi Magic − TerryEvans

"Big Bad Daddy Good," "Where The Southern Crosses The Dog," "Iíd Rather Trick My Own Self," "Donít Let The Green Grass Fool You," "Blues & Wine," "I Want To Love You," "Mellow Down Easy," "Let Love Begin," "You Better Get Your Shit Together," "Where We Gonna Go"

Stereo Hybrid SACD from the original AudioQuest DSD master.

Sledgehammer Blues 55-AQM-1057

For the third time we are offered a 2 track 30 IPS tube analog recording and a 2 track DSD recording by the same artist, and as you may have guessed by now, I like the analog recorded one the best, despite it being released on SACD. Not only that, but Terry Evans' Puttin' It Down is my favorite AudioQuest SACD with my favorite song of all time, "Rooftop Tomcat." However, there are many other heavenly delights including "Money In Your Pocket," and "Down In Mississippi." Both SACDs are fantastic musically and sonically, it's just the tubed analog sounds more real to my ears.

Terry Evans is one of the most soulful male singers around today. Besides adding vocal accompaniment to songs by Ry Cooder, John Fogerty, John Lee Hooker, Rosanne Cash, Boz Scaggs, Joan Armatrading, Dave Alvin, Burton Cummings, Maria Muldaur, Pops Stapes, Van Dyke Parks, and even some guitar work to Marvin Gaye's live album, Evans has put his own personal style on his solo albums.

He began his music career as a duo, with Bobby King, performing soul and gospel songs. They released a couple of albums and eventually teamed up with Ry Cooder to provide backing vocals on several of his albums. Terry Evans sang lead on the Crossroads movie soundtrack album.

LPs Dirty Little Secret

While these SACDs are sonically among the finest I've heard from any digital, you may actually prefer the LP versions. Producer Joe Harley gives the best explanation I've read yet in a post at the Audio Asylum. 

Here is a response by Joe Harley to the late Allen Wright of Vacuum State

"...How do my recordings compare SACD to vinyl? SACD sounds great but vinyl rules.

Now, you ask a very interesting question. Which is more like the master tape? I've had many opportunities to compare analog, DSD, lacquers, and LPs of the same material....all in the same mastering suite. (Usually Bernie Grundmans.)

Here's what I think: SACD and the original lacquer sounds most like the master tape. Vinyl sounds better. Confusing, eh? If you play a master tape, and then play the LP of the same material, you will hear that the LP has more bloom and sense of "air." Some of this is actually a distortion. But it is a distortion we love! I include myself; I LOVE the sound of far my favorite playback medium in my own home rig.

SACD, the original lacquer, and the master tape all sound much "tighter" than the final LP. If you ever want to hear how LPs veer away from reality, listen to a cutting lacquer compared to the LP stamped from it. You will be shocked.

But when I'm home and want to get lost in the music, I pull out the LP. It's a beautiful, seductive lie. But a lie that I love.

There it is. The dirty little secret."

Rediscovering this post by Joe Harley has answered many questions of my own. As some of you know, due to financial issues concerning my disability, I had to sell my turntable, reel to reel, Nakamichi tape deck, and all the LPs, open reel tapes, and cassettes a few years ago. My favorite audiophile LPs, which I can still listen to at 24/96 on my Mac Mini, have always sounded the best to me, even better than PCM recordings at the same bit depth and sampling frequency. So, when I get money ahead I think I will get a new turntable, as for me nothing beats the sound of a great LP, even if it's a beautiful, seductive lie.

Still there is a lot to be said for the convenience of SACD over the labor intensive LP playback, and in my opinion SACD is the closest I've heard digital get to the sound of live music and the seductive sound of vinyl.

Sledgehammer Blues / AudioQuest Music 10 SACDs

Sledgehammer Blues / AudioQuest Music 70 recordings